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

Community, News, Outdoors

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

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

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

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

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

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

KOA

KOA campgrounds try to give back to the local community.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thomas Addresses ISO Rate Change and Presents Action Plan

News
ISO Rate

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s a numbers game,” stated Thomas.

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

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

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

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

Fannin County hasn’t recently conducted any flow testing.

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

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

Image from a past fire in Blue Ridge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commissioners Approve 2019 Millage Rate

News
2019 millage rate

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.”

Johnson addressed that one day the county services and millage rate will need to be analyzed.

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.

CFO Spends 45 Minutes a Day Reading Celebrity News

Featured, News
celebrity news

Blue Ridge, Ga – Internet history showcased Fannin CFO spends 45 minutes a day using county computer for personal use, including celebrity news and job searches.

After CFO Gazaway’s entanglement in the juror Facebook selfie controversy that cost the county $7,100, lost a week of criminal court, and pushed back a child rape and aggravated assault case, she was noticeably absent from the August 13 board of commissioners’ meeting.

Post One Commissioner Earl Johnson and Post Two Commissioner Glenn Patterson called for an executive session, which appeared to be about Gazaway. However, that can’t be confirmed, but it did relate to personnel matters.

After exiting the executive session, Chairman Stan Helton and Johnson seemed to be upset.

The commissioners took no action concerning personnel matters during that executive session. To make a motion for personnel matters, like a dismissal, the county attorney provides the commissioners with proper wording to absolve the county of any wrongdoing. The executive session serves as a place to make these requests. Fannin County’s attorney is hired by the chairman to serve at his/her pleasure.

Gazaway’s regularly reading gossip articles and researching jobs on her work computer.

When asked about Gazaway’s absence, Helton responded that she had something else to do that night.

Helton also praised Gazaway’s ability to perform her job, “Mrs. Gazaway is a highly competent CFO. She works very hard for the county. She made a mistake like we all do from time to time, and I am ready to move forward.”

Helton did confirm that he and Gazaway had a serious conversation about her behavior on social media and ensures it will not happen again. The county didn’t add anything to Gazaway’s personnel file concerning the incident.

When reached for comment, Johnson stated, “My confidence in the CFO was at the bare minimum before the [Facebook incident]. Gazaway should not be posting to social media during work.”

Gazaway’s county computer internet history confirmed that she wasn’t using the county computer to check her social media accounts.

However, the history did show Gazaway spending an average of 35 to 45 minutes a day researching celebrity gossip articles and other finance director jobs.

Internet history pulled from multiple days established this trend for Gazaway. She arrives at work at 7 a.m. and leaves around 5 p.m. Her internet history does provide work-related searches.

However, it deviates throughout the day to celebrity news articles such as “Pink dyes daughter’s hair pink in support of Jessica Simpson,” “Which celebrity children look like their parents,” or “Brie Larson’s Love Life.”

When asked if regularly researching entertainment articles was appropriate for employees during the workday, Helton said it was not appropriate.

“[Gazaway] is here at 7 a.m. or earlier until 5 p.m. and is entitled to breaks. I am sure that she will be more careful in the future,” stated Helton.

As for the job searches, Helton explained that Gazaway sometimes likes to research other CFO positions and show the Chairman the pay scale to joke with him about her salary.

Commissioners Approved Advertisement of Lower Millage Rate

News, Police & Government
2019 millage rate

Blue Ridge, Ga – Commissioners move toward lowering Fannin’s millage rate for another year.

In the August 13, 2019 meeting, Chairman Stan Helton proposed lowering the rate for 2019 and advertising it in the legal organ.

The proposed millage rate for 2019 is 3.938 from 2018’s rate of 4.176 after reviewing the ad valorem tax digest for 2019.

The final decision pends Fannin Board of Education approval of their 2019 rates as well.

Currently, the board of education has to decide on lowering their rate to 10.593. On Aug. 23, the school will decide and approve the intended rate.

millage rate

Board of Education Tax Digest and Levy from last five years.

On Aug. 27, the county will vote to approve the new millage rate for 2019. In 2018, commissioners decided to drop it from 4.604 mills to 4.176 mills.

The millage rate ensures that the county receives enough in tax revenue to operate from year to year and to roll back the rate, the commissioners and board of education must determine than a decrease will not negatively affect income. Additionally, it affects local property taxes.

For example: In a county with a rate of 25 mills, the property tax on a house worth $100,000 would be $1,000 because the assessed value is 40%. In other words, $25 for every $1,000 of assessed value or $25 multiplied by 40 is $1,000.

Post Two Commissioner Glenn Patterson had no problem with lowering the rate.

“We’re right now the lowest we’ve been in 25 years and with this change, we would continue that trend, said Helton, “Fannin will continue to have the lowest millage rate in the state of Georgia.”

New Fire Station Completed and Ready to Assist Citizens of Fannin County

Community
Fire Station

Blue Ridge, Ga – The new Fire Station/Public Safety Complex reached completion after two years of effort with an open house scheduled for Aug. 30.

EMA Director Robert Graham presented aerial shots of the finished facility to the commissioners during the Aug. 13, 2019 meeting.

“We intentionally did not take any pictures of the inside because we want everyone to come out on Aug. 30 and see the facility for themselves,” said Graham.

The dedication starts at 11 a.m., and visitors can tour the public safety complex while munching on some refreshments.

“The building is something that Fannin County should really be proud of. It should serve the county well for years to come. We did finish up the back part of the building,” stated Graham.

Fire Station

Aerial shots of the complex courtesy of Fannin EMA.

“Unfortunately, Earl, I was not able to keep it under $200,000. It ended up being $200,869.02.”
However, the last bid from contractors was $439,000, so the county did it for around $200,000 cheaper than expected.

“It’s really pleasing to see what we all thought was true when we received the last bids, said Post One Commissioner Earl Johnson, “We saved $239,000 to build out the back spot. The money can carry on in other places and help in places where we need it.”

Graham thanked all the subcontractors who participated in completing the building.

The entire cost of the building ended up being $4,134,462.83 and paid upfront with taxpayer funds. The county owes nothing on the building.

“All the volunteers and employees are very proud of the facility, and I hope the citizens of Fannin County are too,” commented Graham.

The construction of the fire station resulted from a collaborative effort from everyone involved from previous commissioners to all EMS/EMA employees. Graham sought out opinions from everyone to ensure Fannin had the best facility possible for the future.

“When we did a reevaluation and redesign to keep the effectiveness of the fire station, you got input from everybody that works in your command,” said Chairman Stan Helton, “Their suggestions were extremely valuable to making this work.”

Fire Station

Direct Overhead shot from Fannin EMA.

Post Two Glenn Patterson also commended Graham and his department for the new fire station.

“It has been a long process,” said Johnson, “The good thing is we can go over there and touch everything. The taxpayers have something that they can touch and see, and know that they don’t owe a dime on it.”

The open house will be on Friday, Aug 30 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Health Insurance Claims Busting 2019 budget

Featured, Police & Government
insurance claims

Blue Ridge, Ga – July financial report informed commissioners that insurance claims blew 2019 risk management budget by 37 percent.

Chief Financial Officer Robin Gazaway delivered her monthly financial update for 2019 through June. Several departments were over budget six months into the year. Some departments carried pre-payments for leases from the beginning of the year.

Gazaway also met with all department heads to address line items individually.

However, Risk Management went 37 percent over budget, outpacing overages in other departments.

budget

Expenditures as of June 2019.

Health insurance claims represented the bulk of Risk Management expenditures. Post One Commissioner Earl Johnson, asked “what are we looking at as far as curtailing it. We’re already way over what we budgeted?

The new insurance policy which took effect on July 1 should help reduce the expense. The insurance company, who works with the county, expected with spouses coming off the policy that government could save over $200,000-$300,000 in insurance claims.

Gazaway stated, “We installed some new programs to hopefully keep employees healthier, but as far as claims go, that’s just when they go to the doctor.”

However, Gazaway doesn’t have the numbers of how many people stopped using county insurance in July. The number of claims was down from last year, but no guarantee about people’s health for the rest of the year.

In 2017, the fund balance covered the overages. However, if insurance claims continue to rise, then more health care changes could be coming for Fannin County employees or changing the entire insurance program.

“Certain people that have gone over a certain amount, reinsurance pays us back. We haven’t gotten some of that money back, but they will eventually if it’s the same people, give us money back, explained Gazaway, “We have a stopgap that we pay out before we get the money back.”

Currently, Fannin County has $200,000 in reinsurance claims.

“I’m very concerned about this number,” stated Johnson, “I’m not trying to be hard-nosed. I don’t deal with numbers where I just sit here and hope. It’s like me hoping none of my guys wreck today. I know what the cost could be if they all decide to hit each other.”

Gazaway assured that all the reinsurance money back from some employees, but has to go over the stopgap first. At the year-end, the county will get a check back if it spent over the maximum amount, which is $2.4M.

“I just budget less than that hoping we don’t have to spend that money,” stated Gazaway.
2019 marked the third year Fannin County operated off a self-insured plan.

“The motivation to go to that in the first place was the anticipation that there would be savings, which hasn’t happened,” stated Chairman Stan Helton, “I guess a conventional insurance program, they would tell us the cost so we can allocate it that way…I don’t like it either. It’s the biggest variable cost in the whole budget.”

Johnson asked, “Can we buy the amount down?”

Gazaway offered to raise deductibles or out of pocket costs, but everything affects the employee. For the last three years, deductible and premiums have remained the same.

“At some point, we’re going to have to be competitive with other benefit plans,” said Johnson, “eventually the county might have to absorb some of the costs because everything that happens can’t directly affect the employee. Other

plans might be more attractive to an employee.”

The county also pays for tobacco cessation methods on the new plan, which means the county will spend more money in the short-term with hopes that future claims decrease. Currently, a two-week supply of patches costs around $30 and a two-week supply of nicotine gum cost $40.

Still, smokers are expected to pay an extra $50 on their insurance premium starting January 2020, and the county doesn’t cover cessation methods forever. Several tobacco users have informed Gazaway they will pay the $50, so county might not experience and expenses increase from covering cessation patches, gum, inhaler or lozenge.

SPLOST and LOST for 2019 continue to rise with SPLOST 10% ahead of 2018 intake at this time. Currently, the county’s budget even for the year, not under or over.

Recreation Department Improvements

Recreation Department Head Eddie O’Neal presented a bid for a TOPO survey of the park to fix drainage problems. The bid for $13,700 TOPO service provides Recreation Department with a starting point for creating solutions to heavy rains on soccer, baseball, and softball fields.

“Playing surfaces are lower than walking paths and parking lot, and it’s a continual fight to maintain,” said O’Neal,

“We can take the TOPO survey to engineers get help with drainage and what needs to happen on these fields.”

SPLOST funds will pay for improvements.

“We’ve had a considerable amount of rain,” stated Post Two Commissioner Glenn Patterson, “They wouldn’t be able to practice or play games.”

455 to 500 kids use those fields every year.

2 to 1 Vote Approves New Roof for Old Firehouse

News, Police & Government
2019 millage rate

Blue Ridge, Ga – Commissioners approved reroofing of the old firehouse located next to the courthouse in a two to one vote with Post Two Commissioner Glenn Patterson dissenting.

Chairman Stan Helton brought up the need for a new roof on the old firehouse during the last meeting. The committee tabled the issue until the July 9 meeting.

“It is leaking. It’s not in danger of falling in right now, but another hard winter over there could really take us backward a long ways,” commented Helton.

Two quotes came back for the roof, one from Steve Stacy Roofing at $30,723.16 and from J&D Construction and Excavating at $28,147.

“J&D Construction did our old jail that houses our maintenance office,” state Helton, “As far as I can tell that work has turned out fine.”

Patterson visited with the old fire station and expressed concern in the state of the entire building.

“It’s in pretty bad shape,” commented Patterson, “My concern is if that roofing is going to do the job. We might have some drainage issues as well. I know that these two quotes checked the roof out and I guess we’ll get the roof on it and see.”

Patterson wanted to add a new roof, but the drainage and potential mold issues also merited consideration. He was unsure how long offices could remain usable in the current state.

“We don’t want any danger to our employees,” said Patterson.

Patterson brought up multiple issues with the old fire station.

Post one Commissioner Earl Johnson agreed that the building needs a new roof and the county should start there as it’s the most pressing issue.

“The concern I would have with the building. We start with the roof, stop all the leaks. There’s no telling how old that roofing is and how long it’s been on there,” commented Johnson.

J&D Construction will remove the entire roof and replace with new shingles and materials. Johnson recommended using J&D for that reason and because Stacy Roofing’s bid accounted for $65 per sheet of plywood fixes. Stacy’s estimate could result in extra charges once the project begins.

“When I parked this afternoon, I noticed all the fascia boards and most of them were rotten, and [J&D]’s quote states that they’re going to replace all the fascia boards and replace with new,” said Johnson, “Not only just price but the amount of work that’s going to be done. It looks like a significant amount more with J&D.”

Helton responded to Patterson’s concerns about the long-term usability of the firehouse. The building needs to be available for office space for the county, and other entities might need it in the future. With rental rates increasing, more departments might need to move into the old fire station.

“It is a county asset; there’s value to it. If we take care of it like we should do our county assets, we should make some usable space available. If we do the roof, which I really believe we should do this year, and we can discuss at a later time what we should do next,” explained Helton.

Patterson asked to address the baseboards, flooring, and doors after installation of the new roof.

Johnson added that he wanted to clarify with J&D about the gutters and if they accounted for gutters in the initial scope of work.
Helton confirmed neither company included guttering in the initial quote. Patterson asked to include it in the project costs because it’s necessary for a new roof.

“We may have some leverage if we wait with the guttering on the drainage issue,” said Patterson.

“I don’t have a problem moving forward with the roof and negotiating the guttering,” stated Johnson.

Helton made a motion to approve the J&D bid for the new firehouse roof, which passed 2 to 1 with Patterson against the decision due to lack of guttering in the initial quote.

Road Detail Update

Director of Public Works Zack Ratcliff approached the board for permission to buy a 2010 Van 13K to transport the work detail from Blairsville.

“I’ve looked high and low at our dealerships, and a passenger van is really hard to find,” stated Ratcliff, “Lucked up on one at AA Auto Rental, I went up and drove it. $13,000 is the price on it with 100,000 miles on it.”

Colwell Detention Center requires counties to have a way to transport work details back and forth from the facility to the roadside.

“We expected this when we decided to hire them,” said Johnson.

The van will be available on Monday, July 22, after it is fitted to meet all detention center requirements.
The board unanimously approved the purchase.

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