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.
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.
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!
“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.