Financial impact of courthouse cleaning, new COVID-19 protocols

News
cleaning

BLUE RIDGE, Ga – After experiencing a COVID-19 exposure, the entire Fannin County Courthouse closed for deep-cleaning and sanitization. Due to the unexpected health hazard, the county approved a $70,059 emergency expenditure to pay American Property Restoration for its service.

Chairman Stan Helton stated that he is continuing to try a negotiate the price down, and the $70,059 would be the maximum price. However, the state of Georgia also released CARES act funds to smaller counties for COVID-19-related expenses. These funds should cover the cleaning cost.

According to a letter of guidance from Gov. Brian Kemp, local governments must apply to receive their share of the 30% of $1.23 billion. Once processed, the allocation will be available for “immediate advancement.” A local government has to provide supporting documentation for qualified expenditures.

American Property Restoration in action. Image courtesy of the company.

22 people in hazmat suits cleaned the courthouse using foggers, fans, and sanitizer. The fans circulated sanitizer throughout the ventilation system to disinfect every inch of the courthouse.

“We have to be careful in the future. No one should feel at fault if they actually brought this in. It’s an invisible enemy,” said Helton.

Helton admitted that he underestimated the square footage of the courthouse at 69,752 sq. ft. He initially estimated cost would be between $50K and $60K. American Property Restoration charged full price for 30,000 sq. ft. and half-price for the remaining 39,752 sq. ft. However, he asked them to continue looking for rate discounts.

“It’s a huge cost, but the good thing is there are funds set aside for us to help recoup. I honestly believe something had to be done because the alternative is more cases break out. It would be said that no one did anything. I’m glad all the employers and taxpayers that come in are safe yesterday and today from any lingering infection,” added Post One Earl Johnson.

Since the exposure was an emergency, the county didn’t have time to take bids on the cleaning process.

Courthouse Protocols 

The Board of Commissioners office instated a mask mandate for its employees and asked them to minimize visiting other departments. Marks will be required when visiting other county departments or in the hallways. The Board of commissioners also encouraged other elected offices to start the same or similar policy.

Board of Commissioners employees must wear masks inside the courthouse. Visitors will receive temperature checks.

All courthouse employees and visitors must enter through the front of the building to have their temperature checked. If an employee runs a temperature, then they will be asked to get a COVID-19 test and can’t return until they receive a negative result. The security area will also provide hand sanitizer to visitors and employees. 

As for the public, the commissioners can’t mandate masks inside the courthouse.

“We may be able department by department to department to ask the employees to make masks mandatory in their work areas. We can’t legally demand that the public do that. We can ask them, urge, plead. We can strongly recommend that they wear a mask, but we can’t prevent someone from coming in here without a mask,” explained Helton.

However, in offices, not inside the courthouse, like the 911 call center, all visitors must wear masks.

“We need to recognize this thing is still around. We need to follow through and be diligent. Don’t let your guard down, don’t get lax and do these things,” said Post Two Glenn Patterson about following guidelines.

Johnson echoed that everyone needs to be as careful as possible, but still live their life. With numerous out of towners in Fannin, it’s impossible to prevent people from catching the virus. “Be as smart and careful as you can possibly be,” stated Johnson.

As for potential future exposures, county attorney Lynn Doss suggested following the GaDOE and DPH outline. If someone tested positive and they wore a mask, socially distanced, and not in contact with others for more than 15 minutes, then the immediate area would be closed and sanitized.

Read more about the COVID-19 exposures in Gilmer and Fannin Courthouses here.

Financial report delivers good news for Fannin County

News
Fannin County

BLUE RIDGE, Ga – The county financial report through May 2020 provided some good news in the era of COVID-19 economic uncertainty.

Overall, Fannin’s revenue was only off by two percent compared to 2019, and SPLOST and LOST collections were slightly ahead of last year. LOST and SPLOST went up around $50,000.

“We were really doing very well up until the mid-point of March when COVID hit, and we had to restrict a lot of tourism in the county,” Helton explained. “From mid-March until the end of April, that period was very bad on revenue, but in May, those numbers are starting to come back.”

Risk management also came in at eight percent under budget – insurance normally goes over budget due to claims.

Public works’ general fund budget was under $129,170, and new SPLOST for public works was under $950,531.

“The public works department been doing a lot of things to try and keep that capital expenditure, and SPLOST expenditure down,” said Chairman Stan Helton.

LOST and SPLOST collections through April 2020.

The county paid half of its debt for 2020, which left three payments before paying off the new courthouse building entirely. The recreation department was $54,534 under budget. The fire department went over because of the lease payments. Sheriff’s office had capital outlay expenses that resulted in an overage, and jail’s overage resulted from inmate medical expenses. However, the overages should go down as the year continues.

The total expenditures dropped eight percent through May 2020.

“That’s good that we are down by eight percent because when you look at the revenue, we anticipated for this year, through May, it’s off two percent – that’s not as bad as we thought it would be at this point,” explained Helton.

All departments previously received instruction to review their expenses and make necessary cuts to prevent shortfalls.

“It’s a very good sign that it’s only off by that percentage. I hope the monies continue to come in, and we stay on the line we’re on now, and hopefully, it will get a little better,” added Post One Earl Johnson.

Most departments appeared under budget almost half-way through the year.

Department Business

Clerk of Superior Court Dana Chastain presented a plan to build an interior wall within her office to allow everyone to conduct business safely. The wall would be in the shape of an “L” and would protect her staff and clients from potential germs. The Clerk’s capital outlay budget would pay for the addition, and it will cost $35,377.

“The way we have always done business is it’s an open concept. explained Chastain. “We’re like a hub to do business, and if we were to shut down, banks couldn’t lend money. They couldn’t get their filings timely.”

Chastain also outlined her current plan to allow attorneys into the office on Fridays and Saturdays. She also sent her staff home on those days to keep them safe, and she would deep clean the area.

Fannin County

Clerk of Superior Court Dana Chastain

“I want the public to know that they have access to anything that’s in my office. All they have to do is request it, and like I said, we have a great staff,” said Chastain.

Another $600 received Commissioner approval to repair the rain damage in the Clerk of Superior Court’s office. Rain leaked through the window and resulted in mold growth.

Road Paving

Public Works Director Zack Ratcliff gained approval to bid out a road paving job for three roads. The county would use LMIG funds from GDOT and a 30 percent match from the county to pay for the work. LMIG would contribute $732,476.14, and the county would pay $219,742.84.

If Fannin doesn’t use the LMIG funds from GDOT, the money disappears, or the county could be required to pay it back.

The three roads are Galloway (3.5miles), Curtis Switch (2.2 miles), and Sugar Creek (1 mile). Curtis Switch and Sugar Creek will receive an extra foot of asphalt to widen the shoulder.

All bids must include a third-party inspector to monitor the work.

Public Works Director Zack Ratcliff

Land Lease Agreement

The commissioners accepted a land lease agreement with Verizon Wireless for the company to build a 250 ft. cell tower. The tower would increase cell service by a 3-mile radius and be located next to the public works department. Fannin collected a $500 signing bonus and $9,000 payments over five years. If renewed after five years, the amount increases by 10 percent.

Commissioners extended the UGA Extension Agent Contract for another year. Fannin pays $7,400 in employee compensation and benefits for the local extension agent.

 

Hydrants remain damaged months into the ISO reevaluation plan

News
hydrants

BLUE RIDGE, Ga – Commissioners raised questions about the status of fire hydrants within the county. Fire Chief Larry Thomas revealed that several are still out of service months after broaching the subject with city mayors.

Post Two Glenn Patterson asked about the hydrants, “Are we moving forward on that are far as the ones that need to be fixed?”

Thomas affirmed that reports of out of service hydrants are down, but the fire department hasn’t checked every fireplug this year.

Fire Chief Larry Thomas

“Who’s keeping up with where they’re out of service [and] when they’re put back in service?” asked Post One Earl Johnson.

Thomas replied that the cities restore hydrants and should keep up with the functionality. The fire chief has added that he asked for the cities to update him on any completed repairs. Otherwise, firefighters might not know a hydrant works or not until they see the yellow tape and bag around it.

Johnson believed the fire department could execute a better plan for recording fireplug repairs. For example, the “fire department checked hydrant A on this date, issued notice to the city, and the hydrant put back in service.”

Officials could revisit the record later and identify which fireplugs still need repairing.

“For my remaining six months here, I want to hear how we’re progressing, not what we’re doing, but how are we progressing to get this number back because it’s a concern of everyone, who pays insurance in this county,” stated Johnson. “If we’re just going around testing hydrants, and ‘well we tried that hydrant that day we were trying to put that fire out, and it didn’t work.’ I think we need to have a baseline of the ones we’ve checked.”

Thomas emailed the cities about out of service hydrants, and the fire department continued to find improperly addressed fireplugs. He estimated around 1,000 hydrants exist in Fannin County, but he doesn’t have the exact, current, number of hydrants out of service.

Thomas confirmed the fire department does have a list of the damaged hydrants. However, he hasn’t heard back from the cities about the current functionality of the fireplugs.

“Really you don’t know if we’re improving that much or not?” commented Patterson.

“I don’t think the number of hydrants being out of service is going to hurt us. We’re letting them know. Yes, it’s a disaster if we’re got a fire there, and the hydrant’s out of service. If we’ve got a fire there, it’s bad,” added Thomas.

Ultimately, cities must fix damaged or out of service hydrants.

L to R: Post One Earl Johnson, Chairman Stan Helton, Post Two Glenn Patterson

“I think the fire department and the county need to have that information, not necessarily as leverage, but by gosh, we need to know if they’re helping to fix them or not… If it’s their lines, it’s their responsibility,” Johnson stated.

Until now, no one took the initiative to locate all the fire hydrants in Fannin County. The county should know how long fire plugs/hydrants were out of service and who to speak with on the issue. According to Johnson, the fire department and county need to maintain good records and take action to motivate the cities.

“This could cost a life too if we’re not handling it,” added Chairman Stan Helton. “What needs to be done for us to put this on the front burner with all the other water systems?”

Thomas acknowledged maps exist of the water systems that should detail hydrant locations. He also stated that he could start talking to cities’ mayors and water authority officials again.

Helton asked Thomas to develop a plan on how to handle the problem and present it at the next county commission meeting.

“It’s everybody’s problem, but we’re the ones that seem to be ultimately responsible for the biggest part of it,” finished Helton.

During the ISO update, Thomas assured commissioners the rating should go back down once the Fannin Fire Department services complete a reexamination. However, the new evaluation won’t take place in July, but November of 2020.

“I talked with the lady that I had most of the conversations with a year and a half ago. She said we would have to go by the effective day. The July date on the letter didn’t actually say that one year, “explained Thomas. “We had to be in place with that effective date from November 2019 to November 2020 until we get them back in to actually do that one-year process.”

Firefighters took part in online training because COVID-19 protocols prevented hands-on activities. All the trucks finished pump testing on Tuesday, June 22. The new crews have begun answering calls and working on hydrants.

New insurance plan for county employees

Board of Commissioners, Community, News
insurance

FANNIN COUNTY, Ga – Commissioners decided to move Fannin County to a fully-insured health insurance plan and off the partially self-funded policy. In previous years, the county chose to go to the self-funded insurance route.

United Healthcare will now serve as the county insurance provider with English and Alford acting as the insurance agent. English and Alford represented the county under a partially self-insured plan as well. The agency collected quotes from Benefit Support and Humana for self-insured and United Healthcare as well as Aetna for fully insured. The county also reached out to another company ACCG for a fully insured quote from Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Quotes were as follows:

  • Benefit Support – $2,779,637.28
  • Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield – $2,743,497
  • United Healthcare – Option 1: $2,425,182, Option 2: $2,254,468
  • Aetna – $3,097,168.32
  • Humana – $2,558,360

With a fully insured plan, the insurance company assumes the entirety of the risk. In other words, Fannin County would only pay the contracted amount, no financial surprises. However, premiums might be higher than a self-insured option and the county could face a greater tax burden.

Under United Healthcare, county employees can choose from two plan options. Fannin could budget out an established amount each month.

“The plan, the providers, and the doctors seem to very closely matched what we have now, meaning that there would not be a lot of disruptions with employees having to go to different doctors,” explained Chairman Stan Helton.

Helton also discussed passing the reduced costs with Option Two on to the employees since the county receives a seven-percent reduction in overall costs. The weekly employee deduction would be seven percent less and could save a family $273 a year.

“That’s a pretty good saving for the county and another savings for the employees if they chose to take that,” stated Helton. “I’m pretty solid with going with United Healthcare and allowing the employees to choose which option they would want to go.”

Co-pays differ on the two options. On the first plan, there are no co-pays on primary care for children, but the second option has a lower co-pays overall.

Option Two offers a $0 client cost-share on primary care, mental health and substance abuse, and Tier 1 prescription drugs. Urgent Care copay is $50. Specialists’ co-pays don’t begin until the initial deductible is reached. However, on Option One, the specialist copay is $35.

For those who opt for Option Two, United Healthcare provides Fitbits to everyone. If employees achieve a predetermined number of steps, then United Healthcare will make a deposit to their HRA accounts. The maximum amount the insurance plan will deposit is $1,500 for the member and another $1,500 for the spouse. These deposits can go toward the specialists’ deductible.

United Healthcare would pay for the Fitbits; it’s not an additional cost for the county. Fannin can also choose to add benefits-to-cost-ratio (BCR) target on the plan, and if it exceeds the objective, the county can share in the surplus.

“If the county runs well, there will be surplus and that surplus will be shared back with the county 50/50,” explained United Healthcare representative Mark Bailey.

However, if Fannin had a poor year in claims, the debt wouldn’t carry over to the next year. The BCR could provide the county with a rate cap for the next plan year if they reach a certain number of participants. However, the members must meet the steps goals for the county to receive a cap.

Post One Glenn Patterson stated “I feel like fully insured would fit us better at this time. United Healthcare is very cost-effective, got a real good price. Of course, price is not everything. I think it’s a very reputable company. Covers claims well usually.”

He added that he liked their customer service, the plan options, and wellness incentives.

Post Two Earl Johnson didn’t disprove of the plan, but the agents, English and Alford, were a “train wreck.” The representatives couldn’t answer his questions or provide satisfactory information about the plans. Johnson wanted whoever represented employees during the claims process to provide seamless service.

“I left the workshop more confused when they all talked about Fitbits and what one does or doesn’t do. The part I really didn’t like is the agent said he been in this for 40 years, and he said he’d never had anyone complain. That’s kind of hard for me to imagine,” explained Johnson. “I would hope whatever is settled on this time; we stay with it a long time.”

He believed the county should spend the extra money and go with Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield/ACCG. The company previously handled Fannin’s insurance. Johnson came off of county insurance last year because he felt the service didn’t meet standards.

“As far as my opinion, I know what we would be getting if we had them, and it was quite a pleasant experience in my first three years dealing with them. They are more expensive though and that’s something I’m always against – trying to get more bang for the buck. I know since we have switched from them, every year seemed not to live up to my expectations,” Johnson clarified.

With Anthem/ACCG, the process was more streamlined and easier to discuss claims or benefits. All claims and county benefits discussions would go through the same people. However, Fannin initially switched from the company ecause of the price tag.

Johnson agreed that a fully-funded insurance plan was the best option, and the county’s no longer “rolling the dice when someone gets critically sick or ill.”

Partially Self-Insured Option

Benefit Support only offered a partially self-insured plan. Under this proposal, Fannin assumed most of the risk and are expected to pay for employee medical claims out of general funds. However, once the claims reach a set amount, reinsurance will begin to cover claim expenses.

Benefit Support also lasered some employees. As a result, these employees would pay higher deductible because they are considered higher risk than others. The amount lasered was $1,255,000.

The supposed pro of a partially self-insured plan was to save money, but Fannin hasn’t saved any under the aforementioned benefits structure. Costs continued to rise because no one can predict insurance claims from year to year.

Last year, Fannin implemented a spousal carveout and smoking cessation program to try and bring costs down as well as keep premiums at the same rate. It’s unclear at this time if the county will continue these measures. All insurance agents favored keeping the spousal carveout.

Benefit Support Representative Lena Andrews affirmed the spousal carveout and smoking cessation program brought costs down. She didn’t have an exact number though because no one can predict claims. The total claims payment in 2019 was $1,678,000, and reinsurance paid out $572,000 as of April 2020. The maximum liability would be $3.8 million.

Andrews added that self-insurance was working for the county and that costs are $600,000 lower this year than last year. The perceived savings didn’t convince the commissioners who all agreed on a fully-funded plan.

Patterson moved to go with the fully funded United Healthcare plan and Helton seconded. They voted in favor of the motion and Johnson voted against.

$10,000 hike in costs to hire detainee road crews

Board of Commissioners, News
increase non-critical state of emergency 2020 Budget

FANNIN COUNTY, Ga – The cost of hiring detainees to keep Fannin roads clean increased unexpectedly and exponentially from the previous year.

A one-year contract for six to ten detainees from Colwell Detention Center and one detention officer rose by $10,000 from 2019 to 2020. Chairman Stan Helton discovered the increase when it became time to renew for the next year.

“The contract that is expiring is we pay for one detention officer, who supervises and oversees the work that’s being done,” explained Helton. “The payment that we have essentially pays for that employee. Last year, it was $39,000. Well the contract for this year, the sum is a big increase from $39,000 to $49,000.”

The Department of Corrections reported that the reasoning behind the increase is that the organization hadn’t updated its rates in several years. This hike in price was needed to keep up with an officer’s base salary.

“It’s kind of a hard time to get that increase during a pandemic,” stated Post Two Glenn Patterson. “They do a wonderful job. I just hate to have an increase during this time when everyone is kind of hurting.”

The new contract would go into effect in July, and the county doesn’t pay if the team can’t work.

“It’s kind of a steep increase that’s a very big increase. It should have been in an incremental deal, rather than $10,000 increase in a year, said Post One Earl Johnson. “It was a very good deal for the amount of workers we get, but when it becomes $50,000, it becomes a lot less attractive to me.”

Helton assured the board that this rate hike is occurring statewide, and several neighboring commissioners expressed dissatisfaction with the unexpected increase. According to Helton, Colwell Detention Center was unaware of the situation when he contacted them.

The chairman also broke down the costs and said the rate comes out to $2.50 an hour with the 25 percent increase.

“I still personally feel like it’s well worth it,” Helton added.

Johnson was still skeptical about rehiring the detainees because Fannin also must provide transportation, equipment, and associated expenses. He offered that maybe the county should investigate contracting the service out to have “specialized help, rather than supervised help.”

“It’s a great rate, but a lot of times that rate is cheap, but you’re not getting the best labor,” offered Johnson. “I honestly think if everyone would balk on a $10,000 increase in one year, they’d probably meet [us] halfway. That’s solely the reason why I’m not in favor of it.”

“I understand what Commissioner Johnson is saying, but until we look into further contracting that out, prices and things like that. I’d like to have them back,” conceded Patterson. “I feel like it would be a good investment at this time until we found something that would replace what they do.”

Fannin County finally had an opportunity to hire detainees last year once a team became available.

“They’ve been very helpful, very effective with trash pickup, and helping with trimming, weeding areas around the county roadways. Particularly guardrails, we’ve had some places where we had blockages of culverts. These guys have been very effective,” Helton stated.

However, the detainee crew stopped working in March because of COVID-19 pandemic and might not be back on the job until September.

“I spent the first three years trying to get a crew available to us,” Helton explained. “I have to say that I’ve been pleased with what we’ve gotten from this investment with them.”

Helton and Patterson voted in favor of approving the service for another year and Johnson voted against.

In other financial business, the commissioners also approved a bid from J&D Construction for repairs to the Mineral Bluff fire station for $6,500. The building suffered wind damage from the storms in April.

ACCG Insurance Program’s compensation fund issued a $32,958 for the county’s share a cash return for qualifying members. It’s an additional compensation from what Fannin received in the past.

Commissioners extend state of emergency to April 30, address tourism

Board of Commissioners, News
increase non-critical state of emergency 2020 Budget

FANNIN COUNTY, Ga – In a called meeting on April 8, the Fannin County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved extending the state of emergency until April 30, 2020, at 11:59 p.m.

Fannin County was one of the first North Georgia counties to declare a state of emergency on March 25. Originally, the order ended on April 13, but with Gov. Kemp’s extension of the statewide emergency declaration, the commissioners decided to follow suit.

The Regional Health Board and Fannin Regional also urged the commissioners to extend the state of emergency as the best method to ensure the health of citizens.

Chairman Stan Helton addressed some emergency service-related data since Fannin enacted its declaration. In-service 911 calls have dropped by 40 percent since March 25, but administrative calls have increased exponentially because citizens want more information about the state of emergency and shelter in place orders.

Rental occupancy has fallen for March and April with most of the decline occurring in the last two weeks. Overnight bookings for cabin rentals are reportedly down 70 percent from the 2019 numbers. However, the June and July booking numbers are normal for that time of year.

“A big concern has been that as the tourism activity has declined that this activity would be replaced by folks that are coming up here from high-risk areas to shelter in Fannin County,” said Helton.

Helton is one of the 12 commissioners who signed a letter to the governor to close state parks. Fannin Board of Commissioners also closed tourism rentals in its original state of emergency declaration, but the governor overturned many local ordinances in his April 2 shelter in place order that didn’t fall into accordance with his declaration. However, on April 8, Kemp issued a suspension of short-term rentals in effect until April 30.

Sheriff Kirby spoke with Gov. Kemp’s Chief of Staff about the influx of people to the mountains.

“I can tell you it’s been a real fight keeping the beat crowds back up here because everyone is wanting to come to the mountains and hide and get away,” explained Sheriff Dane Kirby. “If we were to lift [the state of emergency], I don’t think it would have a positive effect.

Kirby also relayed that he spoke with Kemp’s Chief of Staff about restricting people from visiting the area just for recreation purposes.

“What we need is we need some avenue to stop people from coming here just on day trips,” said Kirby. “I think the steps that they took were a portion of what we asked for,” said Kirby. He also hopes a more detailed plan might be presented to the public later in the week.

“I want everyone who is dependent on the tourism and rental business to understand that I believe we all understand this is impacting every one of them. But, at this point, I don’t see how we could do anything to lift the emergency ordinance and continue on the trajectory we are on now,” stated Post One Earl Johnson.

He also referenced the decrease in 911 calls and protecting first responders, law enforcement, and health care workers under the existing order.

Post Two Glenn Patterson affirmed everyone’s sentiments, “I concur with what you just said as far as citizens well-being that would be relevant for us to extend at this time knowing the data we see. We don’t want to start it too early and then shut it back down again.

“We need all our citizens to work together for a little longer and hopefully, everyone realizes the real enemy is not tourist, people from any other part of the state. The real enemy is this coronavirus. As long as everyone has that in mind, I think we can all work together,” asserted Helton.

The State of Emergency will last through April 30 to expire at 11:59 p.m., unless otherwise extended or rescinded.

Other Business

The commissioners also voted to vacate the scheduled April 14 meeting and will meet again on Tuesday, April 28.

The purchase of three new law enforcement vehicles was also approved for approximately $99,000 as well as the acquisition of accompanying equipment for $20,232. The expenses were in the budget for the fiscal year.

“They are in our budget. I’ll have to move about $6,000 from one line to another because the price of cars has gone up. But it’s all there, it will just have to be moved,” explained Kirby.

The vehicle and equipment purchases were unanimously approved.

Live Call-in With Fannin County Commission Chair Stan Helton

Community

BKP asks Fannin County Commission Chair Stan Helton their plans for Fannin over COVID-19. Chairman Stan Helton said that his main goal is to protect and reduce the risk to citizens. But what does this include especially with the amount of tourist visiting?

 

Fannin County declares a state of emergency

Board of Commissioners, News
emergency

FANNIN COUNTY, Ga – The Fannin County Board of Commissioners declared a public health state of emergency on Wednesday, March 25, the ordinance included a shelter in place recommendation and placed restrictions on public gatherings, businesses, and tourism.

The state of emergency will go into effect following the 4 p.m. and will remain in effect until Monday, April 13 at 11:59 p.m., unless otherwise rescinded.

Nonessential businesses are encouraged to close, work remotely, or practice social distancing within the workplace.

Essential businesses were listed as: healthcare facilities, grocery stores, farms, farmer’s markets, produce stands, food banks, convenience stores, and any similar businesses that sell food or household consumer goods, news media, gas stations, financial institutions, hardware stores, plumbers, electricians, exterminators, shipping and postage businesses, educational institutions, laundromats, and restaurants, businesses that ship groceries, home care, retirement facilities, childcare, construction services, professional services, and utilities. Restaurants can only offer carry out, curbside, or drive-thru services.

No public gathering – organized group larger than ten – may convene on any county-owned or controlled property. This does not include sidewalks or pedestrian areas in parks, except for organized exercise.

All businesses that cater to tourists are prohibited under this ordinance.

Any resident of Georgia that is subject to a stay at home order and not physically present in Fannin County may not be allowed to enter the county during the declaration. However, this does not affect traffic through the county on state and federal roads and doesn’t voluntarily stop in county limits.

All Tourism rentals – short-term rentals, hotels, bed and breakfasts –  are declared non-essential business and must stop operation, except basic functions. Anyone currently staying in a rental may finish their stay but can’t extend it. All other customers must vacate their rental within 48 hours of the ordinance going into effect.

Tourism rentals can’t accept reservations during the declaration and should make potential customers aware that the state of emergency could be extended.

***Breaking – Fannin County, Ga.*** Board of Commissioners pass State of Emergency

Posted by Fetch Your News on Wednesday, March 25, 2020

These businesses can rent to Fannin County residents, who certify that the rental is needed to comply with any order issued by the President of the United States, Governor of the State of Georgia, or agencies and departments. Also, the potential renter must make it clear that the rental property will only house residents of Fannin County.

Rentals that serve healthcare or public safety officials and immediate family who are working in Fannin or adjacent counties are exempt from this order.

Any violation of this ordinance may be punishable by the termination of a business license/ tax certificate. An aggrieved business or party may appeal on a case by case basis, but it will not stay the order.

A curfew wasn’t enacted, but the Director of Emergency Services could still implement one at some point in the future. To enact a curfew, the commissioners would need 24 hour’s notice, and the public would need to be noticed 12 hours in advance over the NIXLE system. It would be between the hours of 9 p.m. and 5 a.m.

Violation of any part of the ordinance will result in a $1,000 fine.

emergencyemergencyemergency

Commissioners discuss declaring state of emergency

Board of Commissioners, News
state of emergency

FANNIN COUNTY, Ga – Fannin Board of Commissioners called an emergency meeting on Tuesday, March 24 to discuss declaring a COVID-19 related state of emergency.

If the county declares a state of emergency, then it has the power to determine essential and non-essential businesses, restrict lodging providers, and issue a shelter in place directive.

The restriction of lodging was a point of discussion due to the influx of out-of-towners into Fannin County since the COVID-19 outbreak in Georgia. Currently, the only restricted areas for lodging under 10 individuals in Georgia are Jekyll, St. Simmons, and Tybee Islands, according to County Attorney Lynn Doss. However, counties can close rentals that house more than 10 because it violates the nationwide mandate.

Doss explained the ins and outs of a state of emergency.

Doss said, “You have to have some lodging available if you’re going to have commercial traffic through here. I’m talking about the truckers coming in that might need to spend the night that brought in stuff to the hospital. I’m talking about utility workers that might be here. In a pandemic, it’s not like a tornado, where trees went down, but you still have to have lodging available.”

Post Two Glenn Patterson asked if individuals like that could show their license to prove why they’re in the community. This could hopefully be a way to identify tourists coming into the community.

“We cannot restrict travel,” stated Doss. “I’ve talked to no one who understands how a county government is restricting travel on a federal highway.”

The commissioner’s decision applies to the unincorporated areas of the county only, not Blue Ridge, McCaysville, or the schools.

“I’ve noticed since Friday is a huge number of out of town plates. State plates, but southern counties, neighboring counties,” stated Post One Earl Johnson. “I know my concern is all the people, they may be fleeing from these larger cities to maybe get to a less populated area. They’re still using our facilities, our grocery stores, EMS, and police force. It’s a sticky situation in my opinion. My idea would be how to try and convince people to stay where they’re at like we’ve all been instructed to do.”

He also asked how the county could enforce the declaration and stop people from renting out homes during this time.

The county has approximately 1,400 rental cabins and 4,500+ second homes, so if the county closes all of those to rentals, the owners can still come in to occupy it. However, it will be difficult to determine if the people in these cabins and homes are the owners or renters at first. The county wouldn’t know for certain until next quarter when the rental tax return comes out.

Restricting rentals all goes back to the property owners because they are ultimately responsible, not the property management company.

“I hate it’s going to hurt our economy, but the opposite of that is to save lives,” Patterson articulated.

Fannin County’s health system can’t support an extra 4,000 or more people according to Doss. She also said that the hospital could handle one to three cases without a ventilator. The Fannin Board of Health wants everyone to “actively discourage travel” at this time.

Chairman Stan Helton asked how the commission can create an easy-to-understand document that everyone can access and abide by.

“Right now, we just don’t know what people are bringing into the cabin or maybe have brought. You can talk about rental cabins; well you have folks that probably may come up here and think it’s a good time to buy property up here. They’re anticipating the market to go the other direction. How do you address that as well? I don’t have an answer. I guess I just have questions, said Helton. “From what I’ve heard at this point, if we can do something that’s very effective for two weeks, that might not eliminate what can get in here, but it may keep the numbers down.”

Tourist activities could be prohibited during a state of emergency. Peak tourism season is around June and judging from President Trump’s recent statement’s the country will be back to work by that time.

“People live in this county and work in Atlanta. Obviously, we can’t disturb that. Do we have any thoughts about asking people to not vacation at other places that run the potential to bring something back here? I don’t think we should fine people for something like that,” inquired Helton.

Doss replied that if a shelter in place is issued then people shouldn’t be visiting other cities unless it’s an emergency like a family member being taken to Emory in Atlanta.

“If we can’t educate our kids right now, we can’t worship however, we choose to, I think it’s very reasonable we cut out our tourist right now,” declared Johnson.

Under a state of emergency, the ultimate authority rests with EMA/EMS Director Robert Graham. It doesn’t supersede the daily operations of the tax commissioner, clerk of court, or anything that comes under the board of commissioners or chairman. Graham could order the courthouse closed or implement a curfew. A state of emergency also opens the doors to federal funding if the President issues a declaration.

If the federal or state government rescinds their states of emergencies, then Fannin’s would automatically end.

Fannin can add to a state of emergency if needed at a later time. The board can also do business by teleconference.

“We’re not trying to hurt any business, but we have to take some kind of measure to protect the people that live here all the time,” stated Johnson.

“I do know in our community there’s a lot of anxiety and a lot of fear. We don’t want that to turn to panic. We want to come up with measured responses that are effective but also give people peace,” Helton affirmed.

The Board of Commissioners is expected to declare a state of emergency at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, March 25.

Board opposes proposed annexation by city of Blue Ridge

Board of Commissioners, News
annexation

FANNIN COUNTY, Ga – Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to oppose the annexation of more property to the city of Blue Ridge, citing lack of knowledge about the proposed change.

The annexation request is currently at the Georgia General Assembly and has reportedly already passed in the House.

Chairman Stan Helton, Post One Earl Johnson, Post Two Glenn Patterson, and County Attorney Lynn Doss all confirmed that the city of Blue Ridge had not contacted them regarding the expansion.

“I have some concerns because of this expansion, from what I understand, they’re talking about expanding the city limits where it’s at right now Trail’s End, which is down the end toward McCaysville from Walmart, all the way to Gravely Gap. Also, from the Toccoa River near Tammen Park out near Forge Mill Road,” stated Helton.

The proposed annexation extends down Hwy. 515 and Hwy. 5.

Doss thought the annexation was in the early stages and not in the General Assembly because no one from the city or city attorney had contacted her about it.

“I think it’s offensive and insulting for this to occur, frankly without any information at all. It just doesn’t seem right,” declared Patterson.

The chairman also inquired if city ordinances would supplant the county’s existing regulations, such as noise, speed limits, alcohol, and law enforcement jurisdictions.

Regarding alcohol, he said, “This is a huge issue. We’ve not had any input into this, and more importantly, the people in the county have not had any input, so all of a sudden, if they start seeing alcohol in places that they’ve not seen before and they don’t get a chance to vote on it. That’s going to be a big problem.”

Johnson wanted to know if the city could ask to annex any property in the county. The answer is must be contiguous to existing annexed property, but otherwise, yes.

“A lot of things are at stake when you start annexing that much property when you talk about major highways. Highway 5 is a major highway. Highway 515 is a major highway,” asserted Johnson. “I don’t know if the county was supposed to go along. I don’t know, and that’s why I am asking. I think everyone in the county needs to wonder where was the county’s input in this.”

Post Two Patterson asked if the county attorney had ever encountered the city by-passing county input in annexation matters. She said it doesn’t happen often, but stressed the importance of county involvment with these matters.

O.C.G.A. 36-36-6 addresses municipal governing authorities providing notice to county government about proposed annexation:

“Upon accepting an application for annexation pursuant to Code Section 36-36-21 or a petition for annexation pursuant to Code Section 36-36-32, or upon adopting a resolution calling for an annexation referendum pursuant to Code Section 36-36-57, the governing authority of the annexing municipality shall within five business days give written notice of the proposed annexation to the governing authority of the county wherein the area proposed for annexation is located. Such notice shall include a map or other description of the site proposed to be annexed sufficient to identify the area. Where the proposed annexation is to be affected by a local Act of the General Assembly, a copy of the proposed legislation shall be provided by the governing authority of the municipality to the governing authority of the county in which the property proposed to be annexed is located following the receipt of such notice by the governing authority of the municipality under subsection (b) of Code Section 28-1-14.”

Doss spoke to an annexation that occurred last year and confirmed that the city attorney sent over documents. Also, a notification about a change to the city charter ran in the paper. However, no one has contacted her about annexing property this year.

She also raised potential changes to LOST and county service delivery strategy if the annexation goes through. LOST distribution will come up for renegotiation in two years.

“One of the city’s arguments [during previous LOST negotiations] was their area and tourism and what they contributed to the pie. Well if they’re area is larger, they’re going to ask for a larger share of the pie. The pie hasn’t gotten any larger. So, they get a larger share of the pie, then do we have to come back and renegotiate the service delivery strategy because they got more money than the county does out of it, but the county still has to provide all the fire service,” explained Doss.

The expense might not come out of the county’s share either, but McCaysville as well. Morganton doesn’t qualify for a portion of LOST in part because of its size. However, if Blue Ridge continues to expand, then McCaysville could no longer qualify for a share of LOST.

The annexation could also affect the service delivery area of the water authority, who has reportedly also objected to the annexation. Members of the water authority were also made aware of the proposed annexation through third parties, not the city.

“I don’t know how in the world we got to where we’re at not talking about anything,” said Johnson. “It’s very amazing to me that’s it even being talked about, and we’re having to make a decision right now where to oppose or not, and no representative had any input whatsoever.”

“I ask for a motion that we oppose this annexation and that we instruct Mrs. Doss to alert the powers that be at the Capitol that this is the official position of the board,” stated Helton, “I would much rather have a face to face meeting, an open meeting with their council to find out exactly what they’re talking about.”

The commissioners unanimously approved the motion.

Fannin becomes a Second Amendment Sanctuary County

Board of Commissioners, News

FANNIN COUNTY, Ga – After an hour of passionate discussion from citizens, Fannin’s board of commissioners unanimously passed the Second Amendment Sanctuary resolution on Feb. 25, 2020.

The resolution states, “No agent, employee, or official of Fannin County, Georgia or any corporation doing business with the county shall provide material support or participate in any way the implementation of federal acts, orders, rules, laws, or regulations in violation of the Second Amendment.”

All three commissioners passed the resolution.

It goes on to say that, “The Board of Commissioners of Fannin County will not authorize or appropriate funds, resources, employees, agencies, contractors, buildings, detention centers, or offices for the purpose of enforcing or assisting in the enforcement of any element of any acts, laws, orders, mandates, rules, or regulations that infringe on the right to keep and bear arms.”

The piece of legislation closes with a declaration that any federal laws, rules, orders, or regulations that violate the Second Amendment or Article I Section I, Paragraph VIII of the Constitution will be considered invalid and “specifically rejected in Fannin County.”

“It is symbolic because county law does not supersede state law or federal law, but it is a very strong message to send,” explained Chairman Stan Helton. “There’s a way to resist this. As a board of commissioners, if we don’t fund certain actions, that makes it pretty difficult for someone to come in and do any confiscation or put in an order to the sheriff’s office do to that. There’s a number of ways to do this to resist – ways to respect our laws, but not lose our Second Amendment rights.”

Upon passage, the three commissioners received a standing ovation from the crowd, the majority supported the resolution. Fannin makes the 22nd Georgia county to officially recognize its support of the Second Amendment.

Community Response

Over 20 residents of Fannin County voiced their opinion on the resolution, both for and against. This took place before Helton read the legislation to the audience.

Several voiced their opposition to red flag laws, which gives a judge the option to take guns away from an individual they deem a threat.

Post Two Glenn Patterson thanked everyone for turning out to express their views and affirmed his support of the resolution. He also brought up the polarization in the United States.

“There’s no middle ground, and I remember someone running for President said, ‘I will take your guns’ and that woke me up. It kind set off an alarm that it could happen,” explained Patterson. “It’s time to speak now and show the state and federal officials what we believe in because we’ve got a voice right now.”

“I’m always going to support the Second Amendment, no matter what,” said Post One Earl Johnson. “The problem is, talking about symbolism, without your Second Amendment, you’re dependent on someone…I love our sheriff’s office and city law enforcement agencies, but in my home, my work, my family, if someone tries to harm me or my family, I’m not going to depend on [law enforcement]. There’s no way. I’m not going to be dependent on our government…I would urge you not to be dependent on anyone in government.”

Georgia’s House of Representatives currently has a bill similar to the aforementioned red flag laws, HB 435, Georgia Red Flag Protective Order Act. It allows residents or law enforcement to seek a superior court judge’s opinion if someone is a threat to themselves or others. If any cause is found, then the judge can order the individual to surrender all firearms and ammunition for a given amount of time. This bill has a low chance of passing in the House.

However, HB 751, Anti-Red Flag – Second Amendment Conservation Act asserts that anyone, including law enforcement, that tries to enforce a red flag law at either the federal or state level could face felony charges and a $5,000 fine. This bill also has a low passage chance in the House.

Sheriff Dane Kirby said he supports the Second Amendment rights of the people, “that [doesn’t] mean necessarily taking laws handed down by our federal or state government, and in a cowboyish way, standing up and saying, I’m not going to enforce that law. There are things that elected officials, citizens, and everybody else can do, other than just refuse to enforce laws that you think might be unconstitutional.”

He promised to do everything he can to prevent any unconstitutional law from being enforced in Fannin, but it has to be done “the right way.”

McCaysville Police Chief Michael Earley expressed his support of the Second Amendment and warned against government backstabbing of individual rights.

Additionally, Blue Ridge Police Chief Johnny Scearce stated that he “supports the Constitution – always have and always will.”

Noyes urged everyone to remember America is a democracy.

Citizen and business owner Barbara Noyes declared, “Criminals will still find a way to get weapons. Good abiding citizens have a right by the Second Amendment to always carry and bear arms to protect their families. Do not let a government become a dictatorship. We are a democracy, and we deserve to have guns to protect our families.”

A retired homicide and sex crimes investigator out of Miami, who now resides in Fannin, Jim Randazzo, spoke to the causation of crimes;

“We have laws against homicide, sex crimes, and drugs right now, yet it still occurs. What startling revelation are we going to have if we pass a law against guns that the bad guys are just going to go away? The bad guys are just going to stop? They don’t, they simply don’t,” he explained.

Randazzo made the point that criminals don’t abide by laws.

Randazzo also noted how many in Fannin carry guns responsibly, and the crime rates in the community are much lower than in Miami. Convicted felons aren’t going to stop committing crimes with the passage of a law.

Kathy Smyth spoke against becoming a Second Amendment Sanctuary County:

“It sets a dangerous precedent as it would represent a blatant disregard for laws that may be passed by our elected leaders. Our democracy only works when people have faith in it and those who have been elected to govern them. Laws that have been passed and enacted should be followed that is what the rule of law means. We have the right to protest and demonstrate. Local governments also have the right to dissent and lobby for change…I would hope that Fannin County would take a leadership role in our state and respect and enforce any law that is passed by the government….I would ask you to seriously consider the message that this decision sends to the youth of Fannin County. Will we be a county that respects our laws or one that encourages lawlessness?”

Candidates Speak

Several candidates for Commission Chairman and Post One were in attendance and had an opportunity to make their viewpoints known.

Second Amendment Sanctuary

Post One Candidate Dixie Carter

First Post One Candidate Dixie Carter expressed her dissent with a resolution, “I feel these resolutions encourage lawlessness. If the state legislature passes a law, you’re going to tell your county deputy not to enforce that law? That doesn’t sound like following the Georgia Constitution. Also, I think these resolutions stir up fear and confusion in our community….Lastly, I think the sanctuary resolution is a marketing tool of the NRA, that’s where it started from, so I hope you guys don’t take the bait and pass this resolution and spend county dollars and time on this resolution.”

Debi Holcomb, who is also running for Post One, voiced support in Fannin becoming a Second Amendment Sanctuary County.

 

“I do know that gun crime is very prevalent in the United States as it is all over the world. My family is a victim of that. My son at the age of 23, holding nothing, but a broken cue stick, was gunned down by a 17-year-old with an illegal gun that he stole. He would have had it no matter what the laws were. If they can’t get it legally, the criminals can get the gun no matter what,” said Holcomb.

Second Amendment Sanctuary

Post One candidate Debi Holcomb

Next, Chairman Candidate Vincent Davis addressed the room, “Our Second Amendment rights are to protect us from the tyranny of governments and for home protection… A lot of areas here, we don’t have a police department on every block…Crime happens in seconds, not minutes, so to defend our wives, children, families, it’s very important to have that Second Amendment right…10 counties in metro-Atlanta can control the rest of the state. It’s not to say that one day, we couldn’t have a Democrat governor, so that’s why it’s important to have this on the books.”

Second Amendment Sanctuary

Chairman candidate Vincent Davis

Another Chairman Candidate Bill Simonds addressed the growing socialist movement in America, “If you look at what’s going on in our country, two guys now are socialists, basically. Venezuela, and Hitler, was a socialist, that’s what these folks are going to do is try to take our guns. If they get in and do it, then next they take over us. So, I’m all for the Second Amendment and think we need to do everything in our power to keep it.”

Larry Sosebee, who also has declared his intent to run for Chairman, spoke out, “All for Secondment Amendment rights, still am, still will be. Y’all brought this to the table tonight, you see what response you’ve got. I think it should be brought up on resolution as soon as possible. I’m all for it, and I think most people in the audience are all for it.”

Jamie Hensley, Chairman candidate, couldn’t attend the Feb. 25 meeting.

Fannin County BOC Second Amendment Sanctuary County meeting.

Posted by Fetch Your News on Tuesday, February 25, 2020

2020 Budget Unanimously Approved by Commissioners

Feature News, Featured, News
increase non-critical state of emergency 2020 Budget

BLUE RIDGE, Ga – The $28,564,665 operating budget received full-approval from the commissioners after they tabled it in Nov. 26, 2019 meeting.

In the last meeting, Post One Earl Johnson refused to approve the 2020 budget until Chief Financial Officer Robin Gazaway provided an approximated fund balance, to accurately determine the county’s financial standing.

“I have a tree’s worth of paper.” commented Johnson, “I’m fine with the budget as presented. The only thing that still concerns me as far as presenting our revenues, as far as land development or 911, those are all still revenue generators it’d be nice to have those numbers, from here moving forward, in our reports too.”

The monthly reports don’t consistently include those numbers or presented as permits received. Johnson suggested including the year-to-year dollar amount in land development, as well as other revenue generators, to gain a detailed assessment of building revenues in Fannin.

“Reporting our revenues so we can all keep up with revenues in the departments to me is critical.” said Johnson, “I just think it’s a very good gauge to know where we’re going to have revenues and expenditures.”

Johnson stressed that it didn’t have to be exact, just a measure to see the financial direction of the county. He used 911/ambulance services as an example. The department has a $2 million budget expenditure but brings in around $1 million in revenues, so the department only spends $1 million.

“[The budget’s] increase[d] from the 2019 budget that was $27,710,456, that’s an increase of $854,000 or three percent increase over the previous year,” explained Chairman Stan Helton, “We’ll be going into the general fund for $678,616.”

Commissioners cut around half a million from the original budget proposal in Oct. 2019. In the future, the commissioners will receive a monthly approximated fund balance.

Post Two Glenn Patterson recognized, “It’s one of the most important things we do all year long. We took a second look at it and reviewed things that we might feel uncomfortable with.”

He also commended Gazaway, “She bent over backward to help me understand. It’s a big step for all of us to understand these things.”

Helton added, “I’m greatly appreciative of Commissioner Patterson and Johnson[…]everybody’s input is important. We all have the same goal, and that’s trying to get the best services for the fewest amount of dollars for the taxpayer.”

Additionally, the commissioners chose a new auditor for 2019. The state of Georgia recommends to change auditors every three to five years, and Rushton and Associates conducted the previously three audits. Bates, Carter, and Company won with a bid of $55,000. The financial company audited several county governments in the past.

Johnson calls for accurate numbers, refuses to vote on 2020 Budget

Feature News, News, Police & Government

BLUE RIDGE, Ga – In heated 2020 budget hearing and regular commissioners’ meetings, Post One Earl Johnson refused to vote on 2020 budget prepared by Chief Financial Officer Robin Gazaway and declared, “I don’t trust a single number on [the proposed budget].”

The proposed 2020 budget featured several increases:

  • Department – Increase
  • Risk Management – $230,000
  • Sheriff and Jail – $150,000 (this includes a 6% salary increase)
  • Board of Elections – $120,000
  • Fire Services – $175,000 (accounts for the hiring of six full-time firefighters)
  • Overall Wage Increase – $200,000

Chairman Stan Helton stated that these increases accounted for 95% of 2020 budget growth. The total expenditures sit at $28,564,665, and total revenue is $27,904,369, which created a shortfall for the county. As a result, Fannin must dip into the general fund balance to cover the expenses, approximately $676,616 for 2020. This is the second year that the county will use the fund balance but still has around 6 months in reserves. GASB recommends that governments keep at least two months in its unrestricted fund balance.

Johnson asked for the current fund balance number for the county. However, Gazaway didn’t have the exact number at the meeting and added it would be impossible to know. She said the 2019 fund balance wouldn’t be known until the auditors finished their yearly audit.

She stated that the 2018 audit put the general fund at $10M and estimated after removing the $500,000 shortfall in 2019, the fund balance could be around $9,500,000. However, she doesn’t know for certain.

“It’s a hard thing for us commissioners to know if we’re on track if we don’t know what that number is,” commented Johnson, “Otherwise, the only person who is going to know is the county CFO.”

Post Two Glenn Patterson asked, “We’re in a financially sound place?”

“Oh, yes” Gazaway responded. She explained that she sends out monthly budget reports to departments and reasoned that she “looks at the numbers every day” as to why she didn’t have an exact fund balance number ready.

Gazaway added, “I let Chairman Helton know if anything comes up.”

Johnson continued to press Gazaway on accurate numbers, “I’m not going to move forward until I have it. I think the CFO should have [the fund balance] number.”

Helton stepped in and asked, “Could we do an approximated fund balance?”

The CFO confirmed that it is possible and would be “pretty accurate,” but didn’t want to place any certainty behind it.

Helton also instructed Gazaway to print out the general fund bank account balance for the commissioners to review in the regular meeting.

Johnson also brought up the Risk Management number for the year asking where the county stood reinsurance wise. Gazaway said that Risk Management improved for the month from 105% to 102% into its 2019 budget. She believed it was at $1.6M currently. However, she “didn’t bring [her] budget papers at this time” and couldn’t confirm these numbers during the 2020 budget hearing.

Moving onto the regular board of commissioners meeting, Gazaway presented her financial report through Oct. 2019, which has the county operating 1 percent under. In this report, she presented Public Works New SPLOST as over budget by $175,542 and split out the GDOT LMIG grant of $732,476. The law does require grants to be listed separately from SPLOST or general fund revenue.

2020 budget

Public Works New SPLOST budget shows over, but the overall department isn’t over budget due to multiple grants from GDOT.

Johnson took issue with the presentation of this report because at a glance it appears that Public Works is over budget, but in fact, the department has around $800,000 from LMIG and SLMIG. Commissioners and the public in attendance have to do “a lot of math” to find accurate budget numbers.

He also asked why the SLMIG amount of $60,000 wasn’t included in the Oct. 2019 budget report.

Gazaway said, “Mr. Helton asked me just to put the LMIG on [the report].”

Helton agreed with Gazaway’s reporting of the budget report, “I guess if you look at it from just a general approach to it, we’re not [over budget in Public Works], but I guess the reporting on it as far as what has to be recorded as SPLOST, that number is what it is. That’s based-off of actuals to date.”

Gazaway doesn’t expect any additional money to come in to affect the new SPLOST number between now and the end of the year. The general fund in Public Works represents budget, salaries, and expenses which is under budget. The old SPLOST account was closed out, and Public Works began pulling from new SPLOST. This number is currently greater than expected in the approved 2019, but the LMIG and SLMIG grants counteract that overage.

“We’re told that we’re $175,000 over budget, but real money expended by county expenditures, we’re not. You have to decipher all this due to the way our CFO decides to report on these numbers. So since I don’t feel comfortable with a single number that you provided me with, I won’t be voting on the budget,” declared Johnson.

Patterson asked, “What can [other commissioners] do to make [Johnson] feel comfortable?”

“[The county] can provide real accurate fund balance numbers. We can act like every county around us,” said Johnson, “This is a county. It’s very serious to me and if you two feel good with those numbers, [vote on it].”

According to Johnson, Gazaway’s reports don’t accurately showcase how much the county owes against what the county has in the bank. Without any real numbers to judge the county’s financial position, he can’t vote to approve the 2020 budget.

Helton proclaimed that he was “okay with [the proposed budget] and ready to vote on it.”

The decision came down to Patterson, who ultimately elected to move the 2020 budget approval to Dec. 10. He suggested the Gazaway provide “paperwork that can be looked over beforehand to alleviate Johnson’s concerns.”

CASH Environmental Resources accepts glass recycling

Announcements, News
increase non-critical state of emergency 2020 Budget

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.

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