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, 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go into effect following the 4 p.m. and will remain in effect until Monday, April 13 at 11:59 p.m., unless otherwise rescinded.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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.”
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.
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.”
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 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?”
Several candidates for Commission Chairman and Post One were in attendance and had an opportunity to make their viewpoints known.
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.
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.”
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
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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?”
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 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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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?”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Blue Ridge, Ga – Fannin County’s 2019 millage rate dropped by 5.7% after Board of Education and Commissioners both lower their portions.
Commissioners decreased their rate to 3.938, which was .875 mills down from 2019. The Board of Education dropped to 10.593 from 2018’s 11.20 mills.
The combined rate equals 14.531 for the total millage rate in 2019.
Post Two Glenn Patterson asked if the lowering had, “Any negative effects?”
Post One Earl Johnson explained the county is worth more this year than last year.
“There’s more taxable dollars on the digest that means we can’t keep charging the same millage rate or it’s going to be considered a tax increase,” stated Johnson, “I don’t think there’s going to be any negative effects. I just think learning situations like [ISO rating] that needs to be in the old churner a lot sooner.”
A net gain of $200,000 will go into the general fund for the county even with the millage rollback.
“I think the citizens of the county deserve any tax relief we can give them,” said Chairman Stan Helton.
“It’s nice having the cheapest millage rate in the county, but if it’s not allowing you to equal good services,” said Johnson, “At some point in time, there’s a Board of Commissioners going to have to evaluate our services versus our millage rate and evaluate accordingly.”
Helton added that a tax increase is the last option and would rather cut budgets to maintain county operations.
Commissioners unanimously approved the rollback.