FANNIN COUNTY, Ga. – With previously approved expenditures coming back to the county with changes, Fannin County approved two major increases to planned expenditures this month through the Library and the Public Safety Department.
Fannin County has celebrated a state grant in support of building a new library within the county. Even hosting House Speaker David Ralston at the more recent announcement of an increase to that grant. This month saw the Board of Commissioners return to that agenda item to adopt the official resolution to increase the county’s expenditures to match the doubled grant amount.
That amount from the state was originally set at $1.3 million and has since doubled to $2.6 million. Now, with this approval the county has officially increased its match from the original $650,000 to $1.3 million. Approved unanimously by the Board of Commissioners, this agenda item solidified the county’s final commitment to the project increase.
Within the Public Safety a Ford F250 pickup truck hasn’t been received from the dealership one year after its order. Approved on June 22, 2021, the order for a new truck in the department still hasn’t come in at the end of July 2022. Furthermore, according to EMA Director Robert Graham, it could be very late this year or even next year before its even in production as he has been told by the dealership.
To answer the immediate need, the department has found another vehicle, a 2022 Chevrolet 2500 Heavy Duty Crew Cab Truck. With rising costs of materials and shortages on supplies in the nation, prices have continued to rise since the original trucks order, though. The Ford was ordered for a price of $32,789.64. The new vehicle, the chevrolet, has already been produced and is for sale for $54,000.
The departments current vehicle in use has over 179,000 miles and needs replacing. Graham told the Board of Commissioners that it is run every day for medical and fire calls. The vehicle responds out of Station 1.
Director Graham is requesting that the county use SPLOST to purchase the Chevy for use, but not instead of the Ford F250. Graham stated, “We will never get another new vehicle at that price. I suggest we leave it on order to come in next year or something for future use. At $32,000, you’re not going to get a three-quarter-ton pickup for that price anymore. As long as we keep it on order, they’ll have to hold to that price.”
The troubles continue as the department also looks ahead to future orders as Graham reported that Chevrolet opened to receive “fleet orders” for only four hours on one day and will not accept any more orders again until next year.
The county approved the request for expenditures from SPLOST to cover an extra $54,000 on top of last year’s approved purchase and is looking to continue along with the previous order as requested, although some early discussion came that the Ford truck could be used in another department if a major need arises before it is delivered. Even if production does start on the vehicle in late 2022, the county could still see delivery not coming until 2023.
Blue Ridge, Ga. – Discussions continue as Blue Ridge City Council Member Mike Panter asks County Commissioners to consider a feasibility study for a proposed aquatic center in Fannin County.
“I am speaking not necessarily on behalf of the City Council,” Panter opened, stating that at the time he was speaking as a resident who had done research into a project and is hoping to gain support from not only the Fannin County Board of Commissioners but also from Blue Ridge City Council and the Fannin County Board of Education.
“The closest swimming facility is in Blairsville and it’s owned by the hospital,” Panter said of the lack of a comparable facility in our area. He did point out that currently the City of Calhoun in Gordon County has an aquatic center but that it is aging.
Some students from the Fannin County School System make several trips a week to utilize the Calhoun facility for aquatic sports, which is a 2 hour round trip.
There has been recent discussion of Fannin County putting in a splash pad for residents. The splash pad at Meeks Park in Union County was brought up as a comparison for price. The Meeks Park splash pad was installed in 2016 with an approximate cost of $360,000.
Panter also noted Lincoln County’s splash pad with a price tag of $156,000, “The reason it was so cheap was because they filled in their pool. They already had a bathroom facility and sewer.”
The City of Blue Ridge had looked into a similar possibility of a splash pad, due to the costly repairs needed at the city’s current outdoor pool.
Panter pointed out that the current city pool repairs could have a price tag of over $100,000 and would only be able to be used three to four months each year.
The proposed aquatic center could incorporate a splash pad, along with a heated indoor pool and a health club.
A similar plan for an aquatic center has recently been approved in Lumpkin County.
The Lumpkin County Aquatic Center website states :
“This state-of-the art facility will not only have indoor and outdoor swimming, but will also have a lazy river and splash activities for children, outdoor rental spaces, and a therapy pool for those who desire low impact exercise or need rehabilitation after illness or surgery.”
The cost of Lumpkin County’s new endeavor is roughly $8 million, which Panter projects Fannin County to have a similar cost. Panter stated that the cost would not necessarily have to be a lump sum and that the project could be done in phases.
Using the current location of the Blue Ridge Farmer’s Market building could save at least $1 million in on site prep work according to Panter, “The city has no debt on that property whatsoever.”
“The high school themselves, they are being pushed to have an aquatics program,” Panter stated when asked if the school system was considering building its own aquatic facility but added of the general public’s ability to use a facility strictly owned by the school system, “As all of us know in the school systems, a lot of the school facilities are locked down. It’s hard to use the school facilities.”
Panter stressed that this was another reason that he felt an intergovernmental agreement between the three entities would best serve the community.
While no Commissioners seemed outright opposed to the idea of an aquatic center, concerns were expressed of the long term benefits, costs and responsibilities of such a facility.
Fannin County Commission Chairman Jamie Hensley stated that with a project of such magnitude being proposed, he wants to make sure it would be done correctly the first time and that it is truly something that would benefit the community in the long term.
Concerns were also raised of Panter’s proposed location of the City’s Farmer’s Market building, with Post 1 Commissioner Johnny Scearce directly discussing these concerns.
“That Farmer’s Market has been sitting there for 10 years unused,” Panter answered Scearce’s questions, “We’ve spent over $100,000 in tax payers money on the Farmer’s Market just to keep it there.”
Brian Higgins, a long time proponent of bringing back Blue Ridge’s Farmer’s Market to the unused facility, spoke during public comments, “We are totally in agreement on the aquatic center. It’s the location that we have a difference of opinion on.”
Higgins pointed out that the Farmer’s Market is one of the few nostalgic properties left in the city limits and feels that the Rec. Center would be a more appropriate location.
Citing that it makes more sense to build an aquatic center where the county’s main sports hub already resides, Higgins also pointed out that the Rec. Center has much more land, giving Fannin County the option of expansion as need arises in the future.
Panter is hoping that a feasibility study can help point everyone in the right direction and clarify a lot of the uncertainties surrounding the proposed project.
The cost of a feasibility study could run around $75,000.
Panter is expected to present again to all three entities once he obtains a quote. His hope is to get approval from the Fannin County Board of Commissioners, Blue Ridge City Council and the Fannin County Board of Education on splitting the cost of the study, so that everyone can get an accurate idea of what will be involved in moving forward with the project.
Featured Image: City of Blue Ridge Farmer’s Market Property
Blue Ridge, Ga. – The Fannin County Fire Department (FCFD) along with Fannin County EMA/EMS took time to recognize the past Fire Chiefs of Fannin County.
“It is an honor to be a part of this with you guys,” Fannin County Chairman Jamie Hensley was present to give his thanks: “The hard work and dedication that you all put into even forming this and keeping it going throughout the years, you paved the way for all of us to be here.”
Fannin County Post 2 Commissioner Glenn Patterson echoed Hensley’s sentiments, “You guys up there laid the foundation of what you see today. We do appreciate you all and what you built from the ground up. Your contributions are invaluable.”
Among those present to be recognized were Darrell Payne, Tony Petty, Jack Worthey, Larry Waters, Walter Taylor, and Robert Graham. Those that couldn’t be present for the event were Spencer Kitchens, Ryan McDaris and William Wright.
Current Fire Chief Larry Thomas thanked the previous fire chiefs, many of whom he had worked with, “I want to give my thanks to each and everyone of you all.”
Thomas spoke of how their work and dedication helped to bring the department to where it is today.
Each one of the former Fire Chiefs spoke and it quickly became apparent that while they were given the title to lead the department, none felt they alone could take credit for how far the department has come.
The speeches quickly gave way to stories. The camaraderie of those working in emergency services showed as it was evident to everyone in the room, whether past or present, after serving your community you are always family.
Walter Taylor, Fannin County’s first official Fire Chief shared how, with the help of others, the first fire truck in Fannin County was built. According to Taylor it was a 1957 Chevrolet 6 cylinder: “We put two 500 gallon tanks on it.”
Taylor also shared a personal experience where those presently working in public safety had been called in to aid him. He gave an emotional thank you to the ones who answered the call, crediting them with saving his life.
Larry Waters, former Fannin County Fire Chief, gave insight into being a Fire Chief before the department received funding for full-time staff, “While I was Fire Chief, I was working full time at Levis Strauss and Co. and during the daily activities Tony took over as assistant chief.”
Waters spoke of firefighters and emergency personal running concession stands, parking cars, and “whatever we could do to raise money” for equipment. He also spoke of the pride the department felt when their new used equipment would arrive.
Former Fire Chief Tony Petty gave advice to those new to the field, “To be a fireman you’ve got to want to help people” and added that everyone involved is what makes a successful department: “You can be the best Chief in the world but if you ain’t got good people under you, you ain’t got nobody. I couldn’t never done it without you (all the volunteers).”
“I come in as a paid Chief,” Jack Worthey, former Fire Chief and 40 year veteran in the field, said of his reluctance to be honored with the others, adding that it is an “honor to come in and appreciate what these men have done.”
Standing with the others and looking around the crowded room Worthy noted that it is a “privilege to be a firefighter”.
There was a noticeable sense of pride in the room as emergency personnel listened to the stories shared from the previous Fire Chiefs. A humble sense of pride not only in the work that they face day to day but also a pride to be a small part of a larger team that helped write the history of Fannin County and continues to shape the future.
Former Fire Chief Worthey came to Fannin County, after having worked with the DeKalb County Fire Department for 30 years and had this to say of Fannin County, “This is the best volunteer fire department in the state of Georgia.”
FANNIN COUNTY, Ga – The polls have closed for the August 11 runoff election. To review the unofficial election returns for your local, state, and federal races, check out the list below. Please remember all the results are unofficial until certified by the Secretary of State.
Precincts: 12 of 12 reporting
Stan Helton (I) – 1,097
Jamie Hensley – 3,956
U.S. House of Representatives District 9
Andrew Clyde – 2,826
Matt Gurtler – 2,147
Devin Pandy – 344
Brooke Siskin – 179
To see the state election returns, click here. This article contains the overall race winner and identified runoffs for State House, State Senate, U.S. House, and U.S. Senate in FYN’s coverage area.
The General Election is scheduled for November 3 as well as the jungle primary for Senator Kelly Loeffler’s seat.
Blue Ridge, Ga. – The August 11, 2020 runoff is fast approaching and only one seat in Fannin County will be seen on the ballot. That seat is for Fannin County Commission Chairman. Incumbent Stan Helton faces Challenger Jamie Hensley for the Republican nomination.
With no Democratic nomination for the seat, the winner of the August runoff will be the presumed winner of Fannin County’s next Chairman.
FYN sent several questions to both Incumbent Helton and Challenger Hensley, so that voters will know where the two candidates stand on key topics in Fannin County.
SPLOST and tax collections in general are expected to take a hit due to statewide business closures. How do you plan to navigate the areas impacted by less revenue?
Helton – County revenues and SPLOST were down in the latter part of March and April. However, YTD our TOTAL County revenues are down only 2% and LOST & SPLOST collections are actually slightly ahead. We have put a strong emphasis on watching our costs and thru May – the County is actually 8% under budget on expenditures. We are already addressing potential shortfalls by delaying any Capital projects that will not hamper essential services. We also plan to scale back paving this year to about 50% from our previous rate which will keep the Roads and Bridges expenditures to a minimum. That will help protect our SPLOST fund balance.
Hensley – As it stands now there will be State funding cuts that will affect Fannin County, but locally I would need to see the final numbers to make decisions on whether or not steps need to be taken to balance any budget issues. Fannin County has shown to be resilient in the past and right now the economy in our area is demonstrating that resilience again.
Recently the City of Blue Ridge took steps toward annexation of county territory. Would you be for the city expanding its limits?
Helton – The County has not received any official documents from the City of Blue Ridge and the article in the County news organ is all I can respond to. It appears that the primary impact would be to extend City liquor laws into the County without an approved referendum by the voters. I am not in favor of excluding the voters on this important issue and oppose Annexation without a thorough and proper process.
Hensley – At this time, I would not be for the City of Blue Ridge annexing portions of the county. There needs to be planned growth in Fannin County and there needs to be a focus on infrastructure and public services being able to handle the change and growth. I worry that annexation and the large developments that were proposed could negatively impact residents. For example, with property value and taxes. There needs to be citizen input on these major decisions in the county.
Many states and cities are increasing property taxes to make up for lost revenue. Would you be for increasing the millage rate to make up for this lost revenue? If not, how would you manage oversight on property values to ensure that inflation does not occur?
Helton – Raising Millage rates and increasing property taxes is a last resort. With the cooperation of the Chamber , the BOC has voted to raise the Hotel/Motel tax from 5% to 6% which is paid by tourists. Also, continuing to challenge other County offices to find budget savings is another alternative to raising the Millage rate. The Tax Assessors Board and office is responsible for managing the property valuation in Fannin County, not the Board of Commissioners. The continued influx of people that move into Fannin County buying property and building homes will naturally increase values for all property owners.
Hensley – My goal is to keep Fannin County’s Millage rate the lowest in the State of Georgia. That is something that we have been proud of for many years and I would like to continue to maintain this status. Being proactive by looking at the overall county budget and finding ways to save taxpayers’ money within our operations is the action I would take before considering raising the Millage rate.
The purchase of the Whitepath property has been divisive in the community. Do you feel it was a good purchase and how would you move forward with the project?
Helton – It was a GREAT investment for Fannin County and was MANDATED by the voters on the 2016 SPLOST referendum. $3,150,000 was allocated for this goal and we have used $1,300,000 cash out of that fund balance to make this purchase ( which was voted on in an open meeting back in May 2019 ). There is $1,850,000 SPLOST available to repurpose that building and possibly move the library over and double their space from the current crowded location in the Courthouse. This is a great value for the County and is less expensive than building a new Administration Building. The BOC has simply followed through with what the voters already approved in November 2016- – – namely, move the administrative functions out of the crowded Courthouse to improve parking and citizen access. There should be no controversy in doing what the people voted on and mandated.
Hensley – I understand the need for residents to have easier access to Fannin County public services. The current location of the courthouse has issues like parking that poses a problem for many. I do have questions on whether the Whitepath building is the best option to relocate these services. I understand that the building was purchased with SPLOST funds for this specific reason, but would like to propose another option, if possible, to explore. I would like to see the building used to bring industry and jobs back to the county. With the grant that the library received, I would like to look into a stand alone library. Space in the courthouse, as well as parking, would be freed up just by moving the library.
Are there any areas of our local government that you feel need to be looked into and possibly reformed? How would you go about making changes?
Helton – The voters have a chance for reform every four years – – – – it’s called an election and candidates should present their ideas for change or reform to the citizens before the election. Voters can then make their choice on what needs changing. I think Fannin County works pretty well and I don’t support expanding the BOC members or making a change to our type of local government.
Hensley – There are departments within our local government, like any government, that could improve. A way to get these improvements would be to stop using Fannin County as a training facility for workers. When we find quality workers we need to offer competitive wages and benefits to keep these workers here. I would look to make all departments self sufficient by hiring and retaining quality employees.
There is concern of a second wave of Covid-19 hitting in the Fall. What steps would you take for public safety if this were to happen? How do you feel about the county’s response to the first wave in March?
Helton – There have been lessons learned from the Federal Government to the State of Georgia on down to the local level in dealing with this unforeseen pandemic. Fannin County initiated our Health Emergency Declaration Order nine days before the Governor implemented his HEDO. I feel our response was timely and effective in slowing down the COVID – 19 spread by reducing the influx of tourists into Fannin from highly infected areas outside the County. If a second wave hits again the Governor would issue orders that would reimplement his previous HEDO (supercedes County orders ) and we would by law fall under the State decree.
Hensley – Fannin County handled the first wave of Covid-19 very well considering the information that was presented to us at the time. This is completely new territory for everyone. The decisions made during March laid the groundwork for how to tackle similar situations in the future. If there were further outbreaks causing a need for action, I would use the guidelines and recommendations given by the State and the CDC, along with common sense, to form a plan of action for our county.
What personal qualities do you feel sets you apart from your opponent? Why do you feel like you are the better person for the job?
Helton – I have a BBA Degree from the University of Georgia and thirty five years running large business during my Oil Industry career. I’m an ACCG Certified County Commissioner and have the experience to run a $28.5 million dollar County budget. I’m willing to make tough decisions that benefit the citizens and not special interests that are moving here or are already part of the establishment. I am the only candidate that has NOT accepted any donations , and not compromised by nepotism or favoritism.
Hensley – I have served the public for over 30 years operating a business. I am a citizen of Fannin County like everyone else. Over the years I have listened to the good and I have listened to the bad, and as Chairman, I will continue to listen and to get out and interact with residents. I want to unite and to move forward on common ground and I will do this by listening to and working with the people. I know that not every decision can make everyone happy, but I will always do my best to make the right decision.
***NOTE regarding the upcoming runoff***
Early voting will begin July 20th and end on August 7th
Hours : 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday
Location: Fannin County Board of Registration and Elections, 400 West Main St., Suite 301.
The Board of Registration and Elections will be practicing social distancing, have a sanitizing table set up and will also be sanitizing the office and voting equipment throughout the day.
All Precincts will be open on August 11, 2020 7:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m. Social distancing and sanitizing will be observed in all Precincts.
If you voted in the June 9, 2020 General Primary, you must vote the same ballot style you selected then, with the exception of Nonpartisan. Nonpartisan will be allowed to select either party’s ballot style.
If you did not vote in the June 9, 2020 General Primary then either ballot style can be chosen.
The Board of Registration and Elections are accepting ballot applications, as well as poll worker applications . If anyone has any questions please call 706-632-7740.
Blue Ridge, Ga. – Qualifying has officially ended in Fannin County, and many candidates came out to have their names put on the ballot for the open seats in the 2020 Election.
The following candidates have officially qualified in Fannin County:
Fannin County Chairman
Stan Helton (Incumbent – Republican)
Bill Simonds (Republican)
James Hensley (Republican)
Vincent Davis (Republican)
Fannin County Post 1 Commissioner
Johnny Scearce (Republican)
Susan Hayes (Republican)
Debra Holcombe (Republican)
Dixie L. Carter (Democrat)
Fannin County Board of Education (Succeed Terry Bramlett)
Terry Bramlett (Incumbent – Republican)
Greg Staffins (Republican)
Board of Education (Succeed Lewis Deweese)
Lewis Deweese (Incumbent – Republican)
Kathy Smyth (Democrat)
Lorraine Panter (Republican)
Board of Education (Succeed Chad Galloway)
Chad Galloway (Incumbent – Republican)
Teresa “TC” Dillard (Democrat)
Fannin County Coroner
Becky Callihan (Incumbent – Republican)
William “Billy” Lake Standridge, Jr (Republican)
Fannin County Tax Commissioner
Rita Newton (Republican)
Fannin County Sheriff
Dane Kirby (Incumbent – Republican)
Fannin County Clerk of Court
Dana Chastain (Incumbent – Republican)
Fannin County Chief Magistrate Judge
Brian Jones – Incumbent
Fannin County Probate Judge
Scott Kiker (Incumbent)
Fannin County Surveyor
Shelly Bishop (Incumbent – Republican)
Sam Walker (Republican)
District 7 State Representative
David Ralston (Incumbent – Republican)
Rick Day (Democrat)
State Senate District 51
Steve Gooch (Incumbent – Republican)
June Krise (Democrat)
Public Service Commission District 4
Lauren “Bubba” McDonald, Jr. (Incumbent – Republican)
Nathan Wilson (Libertarian)
Daniel Blackman (Democrat)
John Noel (Democrat)
Judge of Superior Court Appalachian Circuit
Brenda Weaver (Incumbent – Non-partisan)
District Attorney Appalachian
B. Alison Sosebee (Incumbent – Republican)
Ninth District U.S. Congress
Michael Boggus (Republican)
Andrew Clyde (Republican)
Matt Gurtler (Republican)
Maria Strickland (Republican)
Kevin Tanner (Republican)
Ethan Underwood (Republican)
Devin Pandy (Democrat)
Paul Broun (Republican)
John Wilkinson (Republican)
Dan Wilson (Democrat)
Kellie Weeks (Republican)
United States Senate – Perdue Seat
James Knox (Democrat)
Jon Ossoff (Democrat)
Teresa Pike Tomlinson (Democrat)
Tricia Carpenter McCracken (Democrat)
Sarah Riggs Amico (Democrat)
Shane Hazel (Libertarian)
Marc Keith DeJesus (Democrat)
Maya Dillard Smith (Democrat)
David Perdue (Incumbent – Republican)
United States Senate – Loeffler Seat (Special Election in November)
Kelly Loeffler (Incumbent – Republican)
Doug Collins (Republican)
A. Wayne Johnson (Republican)
Kandiss Taylor (Republican)
Tamara Johnson-Shealey (Democrat)
Matt Lieberman (Democrat)
Joy Felicia Shade (Democrat)
Ed Tarver (Democrat)
Richard Dien Winfield (Democrat)
Al Bartell (Independent)
Allen Buckley (Independent)
Brian Slowinski (Libertarian)
Derrick E. Grayson (Republican)
Rod Mack (Write-In)
Qualifying for the presidential preference primary election occurred in Dec. 2019 and will take place on March 24, but the general primary for the state is on May 19, 2020. For the general primary, early voting begins on April 27.
My name is Jamie Hensley and I am running for Fannin County Commission Chairman. I would like to share why I am asking for your vote on May 19th. I am a lifelong resident of Fannin County, raised in the Mineral Bluff area. Growing up in our home, my mom, Marie and my dad, the late “Verl” Hensley, taught me and my sisters the importance of faith, family, and giving back to our community.
I currently reside in the Epworth area with my wife of 26 years, Faith. We have raised our two wonderful daughters, Lauren and Kaelyn, to have the same values. Our son-in-law, Josh, currently serves our country in the Army National Guard, and our beautiful granddaughter Lainey rules the roost. I am an East Side Wildcat and a 1989 graduate of Fannin County High School. I am a member of Mineral Bluff Lodge #483 and a member of Helping Hand Fellowship Church. Now, I want to use my deep-rooted values to serve all of Fannin County.
The qualities I feel the citizens of Fannin County expect and deserve from their Commission Chair go hand-in-hand with the leadership skills I have acquired during my 24-year career at Circuit World. I started out as a delivery driver, was quickly recognized for my hard work, dedication, determination, and was soon promoted to General Manager. I have been the General Manager of five locations for over 15 years. One of my main responsibilities is managing the operation of the businesses within a budget. I have had to be a good steward of the company’s money and not waste it. My success in business has been due to my ability to deliver on promises. I keep my word. If I tell you I am going to do something, you can count on it. I thoroughly understand budgets, purchasing, negotiations, hands on training, and public relations. I excel in leadership qualities. Leadership is not telling people what to do – it is listening to ideas, prioritizing the needs, and finding the best solution to accomplish the goal. As Commission Chairman of Fannin County, I will never forget it is YOUR money.
I have a long-time record of community involvement. For years, I have been involved with youth sports. I have coached softball since 1999 and enjoyed every minute of it! I was part of the coaching staff that landed Fannin County’s first ever 14U State Champs. Currently, I serve as President of the Fannin County Lady Rebels Softball Booster Club, and I am an active board member of the Blue Ridge Humane Society.
I believe Fannin County needs positive leadership. Fannin County, as you know, has grown immensely in the last 25 years. I feel we need to take a more proactive approach instead of simply being reactive to our community’s growth. We are proud of our history and must remember our past, but we must accept the fact that we are growing. If we don’t proactively plan for future growth and steer the “ship” properly, the county will experience uncontrolled growth.
I will improve communication between county offices, departments and government. We must work as a team to ensure that all departments are properly staffed and equipped to give the best service to our citizens that they so richly deserve. A better line of communication needs to be established with volunteers. Our county has a wealth of volunteers wanting to serve, especially in the area of animal control.
I support our public safety and will work diligently to ensure that our EMS/EMA, law enforcement, and first responders are given the resources necessary to do their jobs, which is to KEEP US SAFE. Additionally, I will work daily to see that our roads are maintained for all travelers. It is my belief that the main function of government is to provide for the peace, safety, and prosperity of its citizens.
I fully understand the scope and responsibilities of the Chairmanship of the Fannin County Board of Commissioners, and I am committed to making Fannin County an even better place to live.
McCaysville, Ga. – The City of McCaysville has been spending outside of their means and newly elected council members are making it a goal to bring the City’s spending back under control.
Revenue for the city for the month of Jan. 2020 was $109,309.44 and the expenses came to $201,502.12
“We’re going in the wrong direction,” Council member Gilita Carter spoke of the city’s financial situation. “We’re going to have to tighten our belts and look at things very very closely.”
Carter referenced that the procedure for the departments of the city is for any expense over $500 to be brought before the council for approval: “These things are put in place for a purpose and should be followed.”
Carter had consulted with McCaysville City Attorney Cortney Staurt about the legalities of this process not being followed, and according to Stuart there are legal ramifications for city employees not following the protocol.
“Anything over $500 has to come before the council for approval,” Stuart explained, “That has not been followed in the past. The danger with that is that if it is not followed and the council does not approve it, the council member could then become personally liable for it and the city could have to sue the council member to pay that.”
Stuart added, “We are in a financial situation right now and we do need to have more oversight on it.”
Among the departments that did not seek approval for spending was the McCaysville Police Department. After having several items questioned at the Jan. 2020 meeting, Chief of Police Michael Earley was once again questioned about his spending.
Several of the City’s officers had attended continuing education courses and while the expenses for these courses exceeded the $500 pre-approval limit, nothing pertaining to these courses were brought before council for approval.
“Let’s face it, we’re not doing very well with our expenses,” Carter said as she questioned Earley over his department’s spending.
Earley explained the state mandated the schooling process, “We have to have a minimum of 20 hours a year training or we lose our certification as a police officer. I have to have 40 hours a year as your Chief of Police training or I lose my certification.”
Earley, who is a post certified instructor, admitted that he is able to provide this training and moving forward would try to offer more in house solutions: “I know the city’s under some constraints with the budget. I’m going to do everything I can to make our budget fall down.”
Carter did not hide her feelings as Earley made the request for the council to hire a full-time officer: “We have too many policemen in this city.”
Carter along with other council members did vote to hire the officer on full-time.
More financial woes came when Mayor Thomas Seabolt read from a prepared statement: “About the new city park, I made a mistake when we filed for the work that Holloway Trenching, LLC. completed on our new park.”
Anna Hensley with the Georgia Department of Community Affairs and Executive Director of OneGeorgia informed Seabolt that the City would not be getting reimbursed for approximately $340,000 of money already spent on park renovations. This leaves taxpayers responsible for the bill.
Seabolt did tell council that the city could file a six month extension for the $300,000 left in grant money if they would like to move forward with completing the park, and assured everyone that all outlines of the grant would be followed in the future to receive reimbursement.
Some of the work left to complete the park includes renovating the building in the center of park, building two large pavillions, and purchasing and planting an estimated 70 trees per EPD (Environmental Protection Division) recommendation.
“Well we want the park finished for certain.” Council member Sue Beaver motioned to proceed but follow all rules laid out by the OneGeorgia grant. Council unanimously approved to move forward.
It was later brought to the attention of new council members that this “move forward” is how the city ended up on the hook for the money not reimbursed through the grant. The Revitalization Committee headed by Mayor Seabolt took the vote to proceed previously as an okay from council to not bring any purchases before them for approval.
Newly elected council member Susan Kiker wanted to be sure that this process would not be repeated.
“We need to see the plans,” Kiker said of proceeding with the park and added that anything over $500 was to brought before the council for approval. “We were elected by the taxpayers.”
Carter, who began her term providing more transparency to the citizens of McCaysville in regards to finance, said, “Everything is falling through the cracks. Everyone spent money like it is going out of style and that’s why we’re trying to get a hold on everything.”
McCaysville, Ga. – The McCaysville Revitalization Committee had a lot to say after they felt that their work had been villainized by the City Council and the City Attorney in a previous meeting.
“It has been stated that this committee has way too much power and I am here to assure the council and the citizens that we have no governing power at all,” Chairman of the Revitalization Committee Zachary Welch spoke first on behalf of the group. “We can’t hire. We can’t fire, nor can we bind contracts or vote on anything on behalf of McCaysville.”
Welch added of the committee’s members, “The make-up of the Revitalization Committee is well represented with people who have been and are invested in this community.”
Welch pointed out that the purpose of the committee was to bring new ideas on ways to improve the city and cited some of the accomplishments that this group has brought forth. Among these accomplishments Welch pointed out that the committee had acquired new park benches to tune of approximately $51,000 and all of this had come in the form of donations.
Welch also listed flower boxes and hanging baskets throughout the city, with these and other area landscape projects being undertaken and maintained through donated material and labor.
The Revitalization Committee has also taken advantage of an LMIG grant (Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant) that had been available to the city for some time with the city not utilizing it. The use of this grant provided a sidewalk from the Welcome Center to the City Park.
“Time, talent, energy and hard work,” Welch said of the committee and stressed, “all as a donation (to the city). This committee has excelled at making this happen.”
“This committee has helped raise over $600,000 in new money being received for improvements to our community in the last 2 years,” Welch explained and stated that beyond this the committee had garnered the attention of both local and state governments and was recently awarded the Community Service Award from Fannin County Chamber of Commerce.
Committee member Ann Williams was less subdued when addressing the council and McCaysville City Attorney Cortney Staurt.
“That is untrue,” Williams spoke to Stuart about whether the grant writing for the city park had been given to a person in Blairsville to complete, “It’s a lie.”
Stuart clarified that while she had heard that Williams, who had been paid by the city to do grant writing, did hire someone from Blairsville for this reason, that she had never stated this rumor was true. Stuart did not back down when Williams confronted her over her comments of the committee having too much power: “Yes ma’am, I do believe that.”
“Getting out and begging money for flowers and benches,” Williams retorted to Staurt’s remark, “if you call that power, then I’ve got it and I’ll accept it and I am proud of everything I’ve done.”
City Council member and Revitalization Committee member Sue Beaver came to Williams’ defense, “Ann is such a hard worker and we just have to give her all the credit because she works 8 to 12…14 hours a day, volunteer. She does not get paid.”
Beaver added that Williams had been selected because of her previous work in similar scenarios to that of McCaysville.
The meeting had to be called to order during Williams’ address by Chief of Police Michael Earley after citizens in the audience began to go back and forth with Williams.
Committee member Marilyn MacNeill was last to address the council: “It’s unbelievable that the Revitalization Committee is here this evening defending the work and the accomplishments that’s been made over the last two years.”
“Let me make this perfectly clear, to be lectured or called on the carpet by an attorney is just not going to happen,” McNeill spoke of Stuart’s suggestion to have the committee present to make the boundaries of their roles clear.
McNeill ended wishing everyone well moving forward and added, “It has been my pleasure working with the McCaysville Revitalization Committee and the council, and I thank those who have been supportive and with that I’m stepping off of the Revitalization Committee.”
“None of this stuff is coming before the council.” Staurt said not only of spending by the committee but also of the grant process. “Going forward perhaps a resolution would be if a member of the Revitalization Committee, it could be the council members on there, come every month and there’s a report as to what’s going on with it (the committee’s progress).”
Mayor Thomas Seabolt appointed new City Council member Susan Kiker to sit on the Revitalization Committee, taking the seat vacated by former council member Rodeney Patterson. The seat vacated by Marilyn McNeill remains open.
Featured Image courtesy of Fannin County Chamber of Commerce.
My name is Bill Simonds and I am a candidate for Chairman of Fannin County Commissioners. I am married to Glenda Sue Panter Amburn. Our home is on the Mineral Bluff Hwy. I have been in construction for most of my life. I was general superintendent on the Olympic Stadium, Turner Field, Coca-Cola World Headquarters in Atlanta, and John Deere Regional Distribution Center in Conyers. My duties included managing people, budgets and scheduling work between many contractors on those multi-million dollar projects.
I am an Air Force veteran, a member of the Blue Ridge Masonic Lodge #67 and a member of the American Legion. I love Fannin County: we have good people here and more good people moving here every day. My Campaign is about fiscal responsibility, strong economic growth, and standing strong for Fannin County!
- GUN RIGHTS ~ One of the first things I would do for Fannin County is start working to pass a resolution to ensure the 2nd Amendment rights of our Citizens and make Fannin County a gun sanctuary county!
- LOWER TAXES ~ I will start on day one protecting our Citizens from higher taxes. We can’t continue the same rate of spending without it leading to higher taxes. We can’t be ok with budget manipulation. We are not there to set a budget for people depending on who we like or dislike, We are there to set a fiscal budget to operate the county in a manner which is fair for everyone!
- SAFETY ~ I will maintain safety equipment, ambulances, fire trucks, deputy’s vehicles & safety equipment.
- ROADS ~ I will immediately work to get paving back on track. Tar & gravel is a waste of money and should not be used. It does not last and uses valuable resources which in the long run cost the taxpayers more.
- ECONOMIC GROWTH ~ I have the experience and ability to actively pursue opportunities which will bring jobs to FANNIN COUNTY! In my previous administration I was involved in bringing over 400+ jobs to our area.
- STABILITY ~ I have experience in management, working with people, and handling budgets. I understand infrastructure problems and how to solve them. During my administration we had a healthy fund every year – Didn’t borrow money – provided services to the citizens and all of this while keeping the lowest millage rate in Georgia!
I feel it takes a Leader with experience and ability to serve as YOUR CHAIRMAN of FANNIN COUNTY. I will make it a full time priority. I am asking for your vote and I pledge I will work diligently for tax payers of Fannin County!
Blue Ridge, Ga. – Will Fannin County finally have its stand alone library that so many citizens have petitioned for in the past? No, but the possibility of moving the current library to a larger more accommodating space is something that all agreed would be a vast improvement over the library’s current situation.
The Fannin County Board of Commissioners, the Fannin County Public Library Board and the Mountain Regional Library Board held a joint meeting to discuss the future of Fannin County’s Library and how to move forward to achieve a common goal.
“The purchase of the Whitepath building and moving the Administrative offices out of the courthouse fulfills a mandated referendum that was approved by the voters in Nov. 2016,” Fannin County Chairman Stan Helton said explaining the purpose of the called meeting.
Helton added, “During the move, moving there and design, we have an opportunity to offer the library a better space with improved parking.”
The two boards took the time to open up dialogue and lay the groundwork for the library’s possible move.
Peter Sutton with Sutton Architectural Services was also present to help work through concerns and share his thoughts on the redesign of the Whitepath building.
Sutton pointed out that the buildings structure, upon initial inspection, was in good standing and that the process would really be one of converting the building from it’s industrial function to a building of administrative function.
Among Sutton’s ideas were the possibility for the library to have its own entrance, and noted that as the building stands now there would be enough room for the library to double its square footage.
Interim Regional Library Director for Mountain Regional Library System, Claudia Gibson spoke on the current library, “From what I’ve seen. I do think the library is very inadequate for library services. It’s very small. The parking, as you all know I’m sure, is very bad. We worry about children. They have to cross the street.”
The size of the new library was a key topic of discussion among library board members. The current square footage of the Fannin County Library is approximately 6,800 square feet.
Fannin County Public Library board member Ron Bolin stated that according to state standards the new library would need at least 19,000 square feet. Bolin added, “For me it is critical that we meet state standards.”
State standards of square footage for a library is based upon projected population growth and while Fannin County would ideally like to see 19,000 square feet for the new library, it is possible that the new facility could start out with less footage and be expanded at a later date.
Bolin also brought to the forefront the issue of funding, stating that not only is the grant from the state for $1.3 million not a done deal, but also that it was his understanding that the county was running on deficit in 2020 and wondered where the county’s portion of funds would come from.
The library board members all expressed that Speaker of the Georgia House Representatives David Ralston’s announcement of the grant had taken them off guard, and pointed out that the grant is still up in the air.
Fannin County’s library funding from the state is on a list at the capitol to be voted upon but that vote has not taken place yet. Funding from the state, if voted to be given to the Fannin County project, would not be available until July 2020 at the earliest.
Regardless of the question of funding, both parties agreed to take care of due diligence in order to give the county the best possible chance of receiving state grant. Members of the Board of Commissioners and the two boards representing the library system expressed enthusiasm in moving forward with the project.
Post One Commissioner Earl Johnson conveyed what seemed to be a mutual feeling of everyone involved, “I think it’s a very good avenue for all of us combined.”
The boards will meet at a later date to go over findings with state standards and discuss design and needs.
“Paid advertisement by the Campaign to Elect Bill Simonds Chairman of Fannin County”
ELLIJAY, Ga. – “This is the kind of project that will spread prosperity throughout our entire region. It is the kind of skin-in-the-game project that deserves support…” Georgia Speaker of the House, David Ralston praised the CORE Facility in Ellijay who hosted their official ribbon-cutting today.
Nestled just off Maddox Drive on the banks of the Coosawattee River in Ellijay, Georgia, the CORE Facility hosts business offices and incubation locations for entrepreneurs and start-ups in need of an office or workspace without the hassles of long-term investment.
However, the facility’s impact reaches so much farther than the city limits or the county’s borders. Today marked a celebration for the region and for the state. Representatives statewide joined together for this ribbon cutting including Gilmer Commission Chairman Charlie Paris, Gilmer Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson, Pickens Commission Chairman Rob Jones, Fannin Commission Chairman Stan Helton, Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston, State Senator Steve Gooch, State Representative of District 11 Rick Jasperse, Ellijay City Mayor Al Hoyle, Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs, and many representatives from the Ellijay and East Ellijay City Councils and Gilmer Board of Education. Efforts from many organizations have led into combined organizations such as the Greater Gilmer Joint Development Authority (JDA) and the Greater Gilmer Community Foundation.
That Foundation was the birthplace of the initiative to build CORE. According to Kent Sanford, Executive Director of the Greater Gilmer JDA and part of the Greater Gilmer Community Foundation, a 14-month birth cycle has finally come to full fruition.
While the celebration was a culmination of efforts so far, it is only the beginning. It is a project that holds great impact on the future, according to Ralston who said, “It will create jobs in our area. The jobs of tomorrow will be possible because of the work that goes on in this building.”
Ralston also dedicated support to the facility as he announced, “Because of the local commitment to the CORE building the State of Georgia, through our OneGeorgia Authority, is awarding $420,000 to this project to be used for Facility purchase and improvement costs. This $420,000 grant is historic, both in terms of its dollar amount and the impact it will have on this project and community.”
Ralston continued speaking about the economic development and job creation in the county before offering the second announcement of the day regarding the Center for Rural Prosperity & Innovation, also known as Georgia’s Rural Center.
Ralston stated at the ribbon-cutting, “I am proud to announce that the new North Georgia of the Georgia Center for Rural Prosperity & Innovation will be housed right here in Ellijay in this facility. The office will be led by Janet Cochran.”
Ralston’s office later offered a full Press Release on the announcement stating the center serves as a central information and research hub for rural best practices, including community planning, industry-specific assistance and cooperative efforts with community partners. The center was proposed by the House Rural Development Council in 2017 and was created by House Bill 951, which was enacted in 2018.
These announcements were applauded by those present and praised by the Chairman of the Gilmer Chamber, John Marshall, who said, “Mr. Speaker, once again you have proven yourself to be the very epitome of a stalwart and faithful advocate not only to your hometown and all the other communities in these beautiful North Georgia Mountains, but to each and every corner of the state of Georgia.”
President of the Gilmer Chamber, Paige Green also praised the facility as the realization of a dream for the community that has spread to benefit not only one county but something larger that now spans the region.
Today was a celebration of completing the first steps of a larger plan for the facility. Though it is now open, it is only the first phase of that dream. Director Sanford noted last year that the hopes for the facility include two more phases.
In Phase II, the foundation will continue renovation onto the second floor to open up a larger area for education and training in a 1,200 square foot space upstairs.
In Phase III, hopes for the CORE Facility could extend into the schools for things like STEM Classes, STEM Saturdays, or other forays into education connection. Consolidating resources for these could include shared STEM kits or a shared expense for a STEM subscription service involving 3d-printing necessary components. However, specific details into PHASE III have yet to be finalized.
Ultimately, the CORE wants to continue spreading and growing this larger community where possible. Opportunities that may come have yet to be revealed, but one ribbon-cutting today, one celebration, can lead to something bigger than imagining tomorrow.
Blue Ridge, Ga – Fannin County Government and Schools came together at the Board of Commissioners meeting to mark the start of their Summer Day Program for local children.
The intergovernmental agreement between the Board of Commissioners and Board of Education addresses the needs of school children to have somewhere to go over the summer months.
“140 school children are signed up for this wonderful program,” explained Chairman Stan Helton, “the school provides buses on a lease to the county, and they provide food, service, and staff to support the summer nutritional program, so all the kids can have a good meal. I’m very grateful that the school works with us in this manner.”
Children will spend days at the park from Monday to Friday from 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. They will have access to the gymnasium, football fields, ball fields, lobby for board games and arts-n-crafts and the After Schoolhouse. Also, field trips to Fannin Lanes, Blairsville Cinemas, Bill’s Roller Rink, and Amicolola Falls State Park are planned. The program accommodates children from kindergarten to fifth grade.
The program has three sessions Session 1 June 3- June 14, Session 2 June 17 – June 28, and Session 3 July 8- July 19. Currently, all sessions are sold out for the year.
Next, the Humane Society and Board of Commissioners formalized the relationship between the two entities. The county has an existing relationship but wanted a framework put in place to build a stronger one in coming years.
“We have a common goal that is to address the problem and issues that come with abandoned dogs and cats in Fannin County,” said Helton, “Their spaying and neutering program can hopefully be expanded with our relationship.”
The Humane Society can now call the county their partner and vice versa.
“It opens the door for the future to do things, a slow, correct way. The county will benefit greatly, and certainly, the animals will benefit greatly, said Helton.
Post Two Commissioner Glenn Patterson stated, “I looked over it, and it looks very good. I think it’s a good thing.”
Library Board Member Mark Tune was reappointed to a new term, effective through July 1, 2022.
Blue Ridge, Ga – Post One Commissioner Earl Johnson voiced his opinion on the changes to the county’s healthcare policy.
In the May 28 Board of Commissioner’s meeting, Johnson, who missed the called special session on healthcare, made his thoughts on the changes known.
“The reason I felt that we went to self-insured, two or three years ago, was to save money, and that hasn’t been the case. I would hope that next year that we get some different proposals, said Johnson.
He stated that he couldn’t disagree with the tobacco policy, but the spousal carve-out warranted further consideration before moving forward.
“The carve-out, I would have liked to have seen some numbers on how much that is going to save us, stated Johnson, “Some of the employees have worked here for numerous years, and now their spouses are going to have to receive healthcare from somewhere else. It could be an undue hardship.”
It’s still too early to tell how many employees will be affected by the carve-out. Employees have until the end of the month to decide what to do.
Johnson stressed looking into different options next year, “We’re paying about the same. I feel like we have to get permission from this new insurance company to get injured, so I would like to a few options for us all to look at. For myself, I am coming off it.”
He also expressed an issue with the decision being made in a called meeting. “We had a meeting that Tuesday. I wished we had presented it then,” said Johnson, “We’re taking two weeks to go over an ambulance bid, and we had one meeting to change the entire insurance for the county.”
In closing, Johnson stated, “We’re trying to do everything for the cost not to rise, and I feel like that is what the commissioner’s did even in my absence. Everyone’s trying to keep the cost from going up.”
“I’m certainly in favor of looking at anything that reduces insurance costs. The claims can be terrible, and it impacts everybody, and we tried to choose the route that impacted the fewest people, “said Chairman Stan Helton, “We’ll certainly take that under advisement.