CASH Environmental Resources accepts glass recycling

Announcements, News
glass recycling

BLUE RIDGE, GA – CASH Environmental Resources’ [CASH] Representative Brandie Townsend presented the services that the waste and recycling business can offer the county after the bid it received earlier in the year. These services include glass recycling of all colored bottles as long as they are empty and clean.

“We’ll be excepting commercial waste as we normally do at the Sugar Creek transfer station, [Municipal Solid Waste] by the bag, and then all recyclables paper, plastic, glass, and metal. I’m not sure if glass is accepted in your county recycling, but it will be accepted at Sugar Creek,” stated Townsend, “we’ll accept all colors that are clean as well as plastic bags.”

Post Two Glen Patterson commended the acceptance of glass recycling as a big need for citizens of Fannin County.

Additionally, Sugar Creek has a vending machine to collect aluminum cans in exchange for cash.

CASH and Advanced Disposal Services are now available to Fannin County citizens to use. CASH is open now from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and will be open on Saturdays starting Dec. 14.

“We’ve got two companies who will be competing for citizens of the county, household garbage,” confirmed Chairman Stan Helton. Earlier in the year, CASH and ADS presented two bids to manage waste services for the county. ADS won the primary bid.

The business has a plan to eventually rework the road to Sugar Creek Transfer Station to make it more accessible to the public.

“I’m glad you’re actually fixing a problem we’ve had with people in the county who wanted to recycle glass, said Post One Earl Johnson, “Our other vendor felt as if they shouldn’t recycle glass, or felt they didn’t have a market, I’m glad you found the market. Most people do it because they feel like they are doing the right thing.”

Johnson also commented that a lot of people have asked about recycling glass for the county, and CASH offered a very good price per bag for people unloading their garbage at Sugar Creek.

“We’re excited to serve the county as a convenience center,” commented Townsend, “Georgia has eight paper mills; we can take all the paper you got. Recyclables are very valuable.”

Big Budget Changes Proposed by Fire Department and Sheriff

News, Police & Government
Public Budget hearing

BLUE RIDGE, GA – Commissioners began the 2020 budget approval process with hearings held on Wednesday, Oct. 9 with some departments requesting major changes.

Overall the proposed general fund budget for 2020 is $20,433,581, which is a 7.5 percent increase from the 2019 general fund of $19,010,743.

These hearings served as the opening discussion between the commissioners and government departments for the coming fiscal year. The 2020 budget will be approved during the Dec. 1 Board of Commissioners Meeting.

Board of Tax Assessors

Opening with the Board of Tax Assessors, Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran discussed the desired increases to salaries and uniforms. The department seeks an $18,795 or 9.5 percent increase to salaries due to continued education and certifications for employees. Additionally, some have reached eligibility for retirement according to ACCG standards.

Chairman Stan Helton commented, “The salary increase represents a four and a half percent increase from last year. It has to be agreed on by the board, but over the last few years, we try to hold salary increases at a standard of two percent.”

Promotions and additional workload were cited as the reasoning behind the four and a half percent projected salary increases. The department downsized from 15 to 11 employees and those employees are doing more work.

Helton stated that the previous payroll numbers would be adequate to cover the salary increases since the department has downsized.

Tax assessors also have seven vehicles and some only have 11 miles on them.

“We’ve got a report that goes back a year’s time for mileage of vehicles,” said Helton, “One car being used 11 miles per day, another six miles per day, 15 miles per day, and seven miles per day.”

The county is looking to move vehicles that aren’t being used as much to other departments in need of new vehicles to save money.

Board of Assessors agreed that they might be able to share a vehicle with other departments.

Firefighters

Chief Larry Thomas presented a plan for 12 full-time firefighters with four per day on a 24-hour shift. They would be paid $12 an hour with benefits, which would cost $29,952 a year. The total increase for all 12 would be $380,000 before benefits and an estimated $56,000 in benefits.

“It’s necessary, but it’s a lot of money,” commented Post One Glenn Patterson, “We were starting at four to six and now, we’ve gone to 12. What is your rationale?”

Commissioners will review the proposed budgets for the following month before making the final decision for the 2020 fiscal year.

Thomas said that after reviewing all the duties of day-to-day operations and community outreach, just two firefighters would be heavily tasked out during every shift. By hiring more firefighters, the county could adequately perform all associated firefighter duties, including EMS firefighters and general firefighters.

12 firefighters would allow Thomas to have someone in every station on every shift, but six firefighters with two per shift would operate out of the main station.

“We had a discussion when I first came into office that we were rapidly approaching a time when the county needed to hire full-time firefighters,” stated Helton, “12 full-time firefighters is an enormous amount of money for us to come up with. If we did that what it means for your budget, is a 68 percent increase in your budget.”

Additionally, 10 sets of new turnout gear for the fire department. 911 is taking over Fire, EMA, and EMS phone bills. Postage will now be paid by EMS. Volunteer firefighters would be adjusted down under this plan as well due to the hiring of new full-time firefighters.

“We discussed initially to have one shift constantly manned out of Station One, and I thought that is a good way to go and I still think it is a good way to go,” said Helton, “I feel like the route to go is to take that first step to improve services.”

Board of Elections

With the 2020 election approaching, the Board of Elections has several changes that need to be implemented with all new machines that print paper ballots, more poll workers, postage increases, and the need to have one person spending the night at voting precincts. This amounted to a total of $330,086.

Voters will have an opportunity to walk through the new voting process and poll workers will help them on Election Day.

Sheriff’s Office

Sheriff Dane Kirby presented at $239,000 in salaries for sheriff’s office and $158,000 for the detention center. This is an approximately 18 percent increase from last year. Kirby has no plans to hire any additional officers for the coming year with 35 current deputies.

Commissioners balked at this request since they raised deputy salaries by 16 percent three years ago.

“What does the county get by giving 18 percent in salaries per year?” asked Helton.

Kirby responded that he would rather have “quality than quantity” and he would rather have a “good barebones number” than a subpar larger staff.

Currently, according to Kirby, the surrounding counties have increased their pay rates, which is making it difficult to keep people on staff or find quality potential employees.

“We want to keep good people who have a good, genuine, sincere interest. They care about the community. They spend the time that they need to on their calls and fill out their reports the right way” stated Kirby.

Helton stated that these same reasons were presented when commissioners granted the 16 percent salary increase three years ago.

“We were losing people like flies,” commented Kirby when asked about the necessity of the previous increase. Now the issue has come back around due to Atlanta starting salaries at $60,000 for deputies, which is resulting in sheriff’s offices from across the state to raise wages.

“I’m not averse to taking a hard look to see what we can do, but I’ve got to be honest, if we paid your department in this short of time, an increase of 52 percent, I think the effort has been made by the taxpayers,” said Helton, “This is a very hard pill to swallow.”

Counties surrounding Fannin have recently raised wages for sheriff office employees.

Additionally, the drug task force comprised of Fannin, Pickens, and Gilmer disbanded, and Fannin is joining with the GBI for a drug task force employee and the GBI lab facilities.

Fannin county will no longer have to pay $45,000 into the disbanded drug task force, which was partially grant-funded. However, the GBI partnership will be around $42,000 a year to pay for the drug agent, and if Fannin qualifies for the grant from the GBI, the organization will reimburse Fannin 50%.

After the initial hearings, Fannin Commissioners will review each department’s proposed budget and discuss approval, disapproval, and potential cuts to each one.

October Proclaimed Domestic Violence Awareness Month

Announcements, Community
Domestic Violence

BLUE RIDGE, GA – The Board of Commissioners urged citizens of Fannin County to educate themselves about domestic violence by recognizing the epidemic in the month of Oct.

“Domestic violence affects people of all races, ages, income levels, genders, and religious backgrounds. It is an intolerable violent crime that affects the public health for victims, survivors, as well as family members, partners, neighbors, or peers,” read Chairman Stan Helton from the proclamation.

The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that 1.3 million women and 835,000 men are victims of physical violence by a partner every year.

Approximately every nine seconds a woman in the United States is abused by her current or ex-significant other. One in four men are also victims of domestic violence.

“We serve Fannin, Gilmer, and Pickens counties,” North Georgia Mountain Crisis Network Director Kim O’Neal stated, “We offer [people who need the services] shelter and coordinate with them when they are in crisis.”

Additionally, women are 70 times more likely to be killed during the first several weeks after leaving an abusive situation than any other time according to the Domestic Violence Intervention program.

Conversely, five percent of men are killed each year at the hands of a significant other.

The cycle of violence often includes isolation of the victim as well as an emotional assault to the victim’s self-esteem, so he or she believe that they have nowhere else to go. It includes the “honeymoon phase” when the abuser abstains from violence and expresses love and affection to keep the victim close. However, this period is short-lived before the violence begins again.

The event evolved from the “Day of Unity” held in Oct. 1981 and conceived by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.  It soon became “Unity Week.” In 1989, Congress passed Public Law 101-112, officially designating Oct. as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Fire Chief Thomas Delivers First ISO Update

News, Police & Government
Thomas

BLUE RIDGE, GA – Fire Chief Larry Thomas delivered his first ISO update to the board of commissioners on Sept. 24 and reported that he has hired a temporary person for hydro-maintenance as well as added new training classes.

After last month’s report of Fannin County’s ISO rating increasing to a six, Thomas has implemented several methods to try and ensure a favorable report in July 2020.

Thomas has met with all the mayors in Fannin County as well as The Water Authority (TWA), and they have agreed to assist the fire department.

“Did you ever have any luck finding any companies that will do the flow tests or is that something the cities are agreeing to help?” asked Post One Earl Johnson.

Johnson stressed the importance of the ISO issue.

Thomas confirmed that Blue Ridge is providing the county with flow test data that is has recorded. The information from Blue Ridge goes back three years. McCaysville hasn’t offered that information but has promised to help in any way possible.

The temporary worker performing hydro-maintenance is servicing 20-27 hydrants a day, and Thomas would like to hire another temporary employee to assist with the 800 plus hydrants.

Chairman Stan Helton asked, “How long is it going to take them to [finish maintenance]?”

Thomas hopes the contracted workers will finish by the end of 2019. Then perform the maintenance again in early 2020, so when the insurance person comes back, the county will have two years completed.

The flow tests and maintenance should help the county earn up to seven points in the water department section of the ISO test. The money to pay for the hydrant servicing will come out of the fire department’s operations budget.

Johnson commented, “Have we found any contractors that do [flow tests] because I’m glad we have a guy going around greasing everything, but I think they need to be doing the correct flow test while they’re doing it.”

“I’ve talked to one,” confirmed Thomas, “I think he quoted me $75 per hydrant which would be $60,000 to do all of them. He would be able to do it, but I don’t know the time frame he would give for 800 hydrants.”

Two years of flow tests would each cost $60,000.

“The contract labor that you’re talking about hiring, they’re not going to be able to do an actual flow test,” stated Johnson, “They’re flowing the hydrant, just so we’re clear on the difference, a flow test has how many gallons per minute and probably pressure at that hydrant…We might want to look into if a contractor can do it all for $75 a hydrant.”

TWA’s looking to see if any other companies have done flow tests on record. Also, Thomas wants to see if the cities will help cover the costs of the flow tests.

Flow tests and maintenance needs to be performed every year.

For the fire department personnel section, the county has to hire paid firefighters, responding to fire calls, as well as preplanning for commercial, industrial, and institution buildings. Together, these efforts should increase the test score.

“We really need to start talking about that coming toward budget time to see what we can do to help the department,” stated Johnson, “Because I think that is another area that we’re going to have to move toward is having full-time fighters.”

Currently, a new rookie class is in training as well as additional training being offered volunteers.

“We will continue to do as much public safety education as possible to gain points in that area,” said Thomas, “Additionally, Cherokee County Georgia Fire Chief Tim Prather has offered the services of his Investigations Manager Cheri Collett to assist us in reviewing the ISO findings.”

Collett’s expertise is free of charge for Fannin County. She will begin as soon as possible.

“If we keep saying it’s not going to raise things that much by one point, it’s really not going to be worth the county spending a bunch of extra money. So, we need to make our mind up, does the ISO rating mean anything or nothing,” stated Johnson, “We’re all in agreement that the ISO rating needs to go in the other direction. So to go in the other direction, it’s going to take money. I think we all understand that, so I don’t think we need to keep saying it’s not that big a difference.”

Thomas agreed and added that he believes in the fire department is progressing with the ISO rating and overall.
Helton added he would like to see how much it will cost the county to get the ISO rating back down.

Johnson finished with, “I was able to witness first-hand the need for some full-time firefighters. There was a fire in my neck of the woods and we should be very thankful for volunteers that participate. The glaringly obvious thing that I saw for all of your department, there needed to be more people.”

Commissioners Approve Raising Hotel/Motel Tax Resolution

Fannin County Chamber, News
Hotel.Motel Tax

BLUE RIDGE, GA – The process to move the hotel/motel tax from five percent to six percent has begun after commissioners unanimously approved the resolution.

Now, the resolution must go before the Georgia legislature for approval. Once the tax goes above five percent, the state must approve it. Due to this process, the increase won’t take effect until at least 2020.

However, after an extensive discussion, the commissioners and Chamber of Commerce representatives decided Jan. 2021 would result in an easier transition for local government and hotel/motel owners.

Currently, the hotel/motel tax’s split 50/50 between the chamber and Fannin County government. The one percent increase should give each $200,000 in extra funding. The chamber intends to spend the money on marketing and tourism development.

The increase mainly affects tourists who visit the county throughout the year.

“I talk to several cabin rental property people and the chamber board, and there wasn’t anybody who thought it would damage business at all,” stated Chamber President Jan Hackett.

The chamber also unanimously approved a decision to raise the tax rate and presented a letter attesting to that fact.
Commissioners agreed to spend the funds on public safety efforts since the increased tourism puts a strain on law enforcement, EMS, and EMA services.

“This would be a good way to elevate that some of that stress because even though folks, if they’re not from here, when they call 911, we don’t ask them if they’re a resident or not,” said Chairman Stan Helton, “If you need help, you’re going to get help.”

In 4:15 workshop, the commissioners worked out the hotel/motel tax increase resolution.

The increase in hotel/motel taxes can only begin on the first of a quarter, which led to the decision to move the start date to Jan. 2021. Once the resolution passes through the Georgia House and Senate, two public hearings and then adoption of the new rate would have to occur.

“I noted on the chart that Helen and White County are charging eight percent of hotel excise tax and we often charge five,” stated Hackett.

This entire process could take 12 to 15 weeks, which would result in an Oct. 2020 start date – right in the middle of the holiday season. Most book Thanksgiving and Christmas trips a year in advance. Hotels, motels, and Airbnb’s take hotel/motel tax at the time of booking. However, the county collects the tax at the time of the stay.

“The growth isn’t just to try and squeeze more out of people. When one house is being rented out, usually three or four people might live in it. Sometimes these houses, there are six or eight people coming, so when you double the number of people, the same tax is being paid, stated Post One Earl Johnson, “I don’t want anyone to believe that we’re just trying to squeeze an extra percentage out and it’s going to just disappear. We all feel like it should go to public safety.”

By raising the tax during the busy season, it could create unnecessary hardship on business owners and tourists. As a result, the start date has moved to Jan. 2021, one of the slowest months of the year.

For now, the county has to wait until the Georgia legislature reconvenes to present the hotel/motel tax resolution for approval.

Feature image is courtesy of Fannin County Chamber of Commerce website.

Risk Management 87 Percent into Budget as of Aug. 2019

News, Police & Government
Risk Management

BLUE RIDGE, GA – As of August 2019, Fannin County’s operating three percent under budget with Risk Management already 87 percent into its expenditure for the year.

The majority of departments reported approximately 60% into yearly budgets, but Risk Management far exceeded the others due to health insurance claims.

Post Two Glenn Patterson commented, “Risk Management 87 percent and we’re at the end of September. Are we going to go over?”

Points of Interest in the 2019 budget.

CFO Robin Gazaway confirmed that yes, the county would go over expenditure wise. She then assured him that the stopgap and reinsurance would activate at $2.4M. Individual employees also have a stopgap set at a certain amount.

“That keeps our costs down overall. The last two years, we had very little over $2M in health care costs of reinsurance,” said Gazaway.

A few departments also showed over for the year with the Fire Department at $128,926. Gazaway stated that half of the cost comes from the lease payment.

“The other half of it is for expenditures that we had for the new fire station. We had some money left over that I anticipated we would spend but did not spend. I am reimbursing the general fund for those expenditures, but that did not happen until September,” explained Gazaway.

This report just shows through August, so next month’s report should show a decrease in the Fire Department overages.

The Fire Department has also generated $127K from a recent property sale.

Horseshoe Bend Restrooms

Commissioners unanimously approved the development of new heated bathrooms at Horseshoe Bend Park for $53,680.

The process will include grading and demolition of current bathrooms with new construction of 20×20 set of bathrooms with a 20×30 walkway. The new facilities will also include HVAC and electricity, which the current facilities lack.

“It will match exactly what’s in Tom Boyd Park with those earthy brown colors, so we can have a consistent theme throughout our parks,” explained Recreation Department Director Eddie O’Neal.

The new bathrooms will add a toilet in men’s and women’s units. O’Neal has a goal of completing the project by Dec. 2019.

Chairman Stan Helton asked, “Is there anything that we might look at to improve the security?”

O’Neal confirmed that it is time to add a gate at Horseshoe Bend, but the county will decide on that at a later time.

New RV Park Coming to Fannin, Next to the New North Georgia Campus

Community, News, Outdoors

BLUE RIDGE, GA – John Kieffer presented his plan for a proposed RV park in Fannin County that will have over 96 sites and accommodate the larger campers.

The park will be located next to the new North Georgia College Campus and be part of the KOA franchise. Kieffer intends to open the campsite one year from now.

“We’re going to own and operate the facility. It will be a true RV park in the sense that we’re not going to sell any of the lots. It will be for rent only. We’re going to manage the facility year-round, include amenities, a swimming pool, a bathhouse,” stated Kieffer.

It will be protected by the Toccoa River Ordinance and meets all requirements of the Fannin RV park ordinance.

Currently, larger RVs like fifth-wheels must travel to Union County or elsewhere to park for the night.

As part of the KOA franchise, the facility will benefit from the national organizations marketing, management, and software. In existence for 53 years, KOA has over 487 locations with a commitment to giving back to local communities through scout programs, environmental initiatives, and work/camp opportunities.

KOA

KOA campgrounds try to give back to the local community.

Post Two Glenn Patterson commented on the diversity of the intended sites from cabins to RV and tents.

Kieffer assured him that they wanted variety in the campground after extensive studies of families who camp together. An older couple might own a large RV while their children have a travel trailer, and the grandkids stay in tents, so the owners want to make sure everyone can stay in one place.

“We don’t want to be exclusive. What we’re going to do is offer sites for everybody,” commented Kieffer.

Additionally, the new recreational facility should contribute to the county’s hotel and motel tax.

“You offered the possibility that our emergency services people if they need to go into the river to rescue people,” said Chairman Stan Helton, “Being able to access from there is going to save time.”

The park has 1,300 feet of riverfront access. However, these details of this benefit could change. Still, Kieffer will offer the service if he can.

Post One Earl Johnson added, “I’m glad you chose Fannin County to invest your money.”

Also, Kieffer runs the development of the new North Georgia University Campus. Both projects are moving forward at this time.

Thomas Addresses ISO Rate Change and Presents Action Plan

News
ISO Rate

Blue Ridge, Ga – Fire Chief Larry Thomas presented his plan to lower Fannin County’s ISO rate by 2020.

Fannin County recently moved up to a six from a five on the ISO fire insurance rating, which caused many in the county to worry about their insurance increasing.

The last ISO evaluation occurred in 2012, and since then, significant protocol changes were put into place concerning scoring.

Thomas’s three-fold plan consists of flow tests, personnel, and fire planning to get the score back down by the July 2020 reevaluation.

“There are now more requirements for personnel, training, and response to fire calls,” said Thomas.

The current increased rate won’t go into effect until November 2019.

According to Thomas, ISO requires three volunteers to one paid personnel on the scene of a fire. Due to that ratio, if the county dispatched out three stations, Fannin would need to have between 60 to 80 firefighters on staff. This rule changed in 2014.

However, if Fannin dispatches out from one fire station and used the engines and tankers from other stations, then the personnel numbers change.

“It’s a numbers game,” stated Thomas.

The infrastructure of the county also changed since the last evaluation, which needs pre-fire planning. However, the fire department hasn’t had the time to dedicate to that task.

Currently, the paid EMS employees are trained firefighters, but medicals have increased to almost 500 a month, and their first responsibility is to that service. Volunteers also have less time to dedicate to firefighting due to job commitments.

Yearly hydrant and flow testing will be instituted to check for pressure and flow rates. Thomas confirmed he spoke with Mayor England and Mayor Seabolt in person and Mayor Whitener on the telephone to discuss the plans.

“It’s going to take us helping too as far as the way ISO wants these water studies done as far as the pressure testing, flow testing, and so forth,” commented Thomas.

Fannin County hasn’t recently conducted any flow testing.

Post Two Glenn Patterson inquired, “How hard do you think it will be [to get the score back down]?”

“My plan is to have it set early next year, so by July we can have a reevaluation,” stated Thomas.

Image from a past fire in Blue Ridge.

Thomas downplayed the idea of a 10 percent increase in insurance rates. He spoke to several insurance representatives and one expressed the opinion that the difference in a five and a six rating isn’t huge.

For homes to receive even lower ratings, they need to be within five miles of station and access to pressurized water.

Chairman Stan Helton asked, “How long will it take for them to change the classification?”

Thomas didn’t have an exact date or timeframe but assumed it would go “a whole lot quicker” since they would only be reevaluating two years of data.

“How soon would we have to hire these firefighters?” questioned Patterson.
The fire department’s budgeted to hire two on each shift for a total of six new firefighters.

“Lack of firefighters because five or six years ago, we had 25 firefighters show up at the scene and the numbers were good, but maybe two of those were full time,” commented Thomas.

Thomas also confirmed that he would ask his contact Michael Stokes about hiring two additional firefighters to see if it will even make a difference.

Post One Earl Johnson stated, “I don’t care about 10, 20, 30 years ago, I’m talking about learning that our ISO rating went up in the newspaper. If this was a problem in 2018, I think it should have been brought up somewhere in a meeting between now and then. We’re facing this, and we’re going to have to look at this in budgeting.”

Johnson even suggested he might have hesitated on rolling back the millage rate as much if he had known about this earlier.

Thomas knew the results of the ISO evaluation on August 14 and stated the personnel requirement changes were announced through the website only.

The ISO representative didn’t want to see the new equipment or stay the traditional five days for his report. He only reviewed paperwork and stayed around four hours.

“I don’t understand anything about it, but the county has spent oodles of money, and I am not saying it negatively, but we’ve spent a lot of money in seven years for this to pop up,” commented Johnson, “I don’t like knowing afterward at all. I promise you from here on out it’s going to be one of my concerns.”

Helton proposed a monthly or bimonthly update to keep the commissioners involved the progress on lowering the rating.

Counties around Fannin fall within the four to seven ISO rating.

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