BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – After hearing many words of support and opposition regarding the previously discussed short-term rental ordinance, the city council voted to adopt this ordinance during the council meeting on Tuesday, April 9, 2019.
Council member Nathan Fitts (30:47) states that several changes have been made to the proposed ordinance since it was initially read. The two major changes being that on lines 118-122, a provision has been included to require the holder of the rental certificate to identify the identification number (provided by the platform being used by the holder of the certificate) on their monthly hotel tax returns so that it stays current with the city.
Fitts goes on to state that in section 10, lines 193-207 (31:50), it’s made clear that this only allows short-term rentals in commercial zones, and not in residential, with the exception that someone holding a current short-term rental files an application seeking a variance or re-zoning 30 days from the effective date of the ordinance (which has been set for Monday, June 3, 2019) may be grandfathered in for a 12-month period, or until there is a change in ownership.
In short, Fitts states that there is an ability of someone living in a residential zone to submit an application to change this, at which time neighbors will be notified and then opinions may be made to the council, and proposed changes to the variance or re-zone may be made.
The council voted in favor of this short-term rental ordinance via roll-call vote, with only Fitts opposed.
Because of the dangers imposed to the fire fighters that leave the department on Windy Ridge, the council also voted to put stop signs on each side of the department, thus implementing a three-way stop (36:30). Mayor Donna Whitener says this will hopefully slow traffic down in an area that people are often confused by the road layout.
The final vote was on a Minor Land Use Map Amendment proposed by Russ Stevenson of 65 Depot Street (30:00). The purpose of this amendment is to rezone a tract of land from R1 (low-density residential) to R3 (high-density residential). The property map and parcel number of the subject property is BR02 258 and contains +- 0.38 acres. The council voted in favor of this amendment with none opposed.
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BLUE RIDGE, Ga.—Oct. 9 the Blue Ridge City Council reviewed two separate proposals for two four-ways. One, on McKinney St. connecting to West Main St., and the other four-way between Church St. and West First St. The Blue Ridge City Council also discussed putting a caution light up on Mountain Street and lowering the Speed Limits.
The concern for the four-way stop between Church St. and West First St. was tabled until the next meeting.
Sheriff Dane Kirby mentioned that if you look at other towns they sometimes have flashing lights on their stop signs or caution signs.
Mayor Donna Whitener spoke of past efforts, “So, we had to change a lot of our old signs [to get them up to code]. The other thing is when we had the striping done, I went ahead and asked that they put bars down at the stop signs. So, those fade quickly, and we’ve had them repainted before, so we just have to stay on top of those and make sure they painted.”
Whitener responded, “We used to have a caution light at Mountain Street and I hear all the time from folks that go into Main Street and Mountain Street that we need to think about a four-way stop. We used to have a red light there when I was a kid. We went to a flashing light and I really think we put the flashing light back up. So, people coming down the hill know.”
Council member Nathan Fitz asked, “Where?”
Whitener replied, “At the end of Main Street and Mountain Street and that intersection.”
Council member Haight and Mayor Whitener mentioned the importance of safety in this section of town because of how busy it is and there’s a constant flow of traffic.
Sheriff Kirby mentioned that school buses take that route, too, and that’s something the Council needs to be mindful about.
Council member Fitz stated, “I’m not sure about a red light, but maybe just a caution light so people will pay attention to people who cross the road.”
Council member Haight added, “We were talking, you know, council woman Cornelius and I were talking about possibly looking at speed limits. It’s busier and the streets are crowded. In front of the co-op it’s 30mph and that’s what people are talking about because there’s speeders through there.”
Kirby replied, “The average speed down there goes anywhere from 30mph to 45mph and that’s recorded. Now, there are some cases where one person was going 68 and we don’t know what kind of car it was, whether it was a police car or an ambulance. But not everyone is speeding down that road. Now, I do believe the speed limits need to be lowered because there’s a lot of foot traffic and cars down there.”
Council member Fitz stated, “I think all this needs to be planned together [meaning the road signs and speed limits]. I don’t disagree with some of these but I think we need to look at these…My personal opinion is that I would prefer not to have so many different signs all in downtown Blue Ridge…so I think we need to look at this as part of all of our signage in downtown so it can all be consistent and look good.”
Mayor Whitener responded, “The thing is with those stops signs and things there are height regulations and things like that…I think we can go ahead and divide these out to what we can go ahead and approve and then what we can decide for next time. This way, people can see it in the newspapers and out in town about what’s going to happen in that area and then it can take affect Nov 1 or Nov 10…so do you want to go ahead and start making motions?”
Council Member Fitz made the motion that they put a four-way stop on the corner of McKinney and West Main Street. Council woman Haight seconded the motion, and all were in favor for the new four-way.
Fitz made a motion that the Blue Ridge City Council table the stop sign at Church Street and West First Street and all were in favor.
Haight made the motion that the council put up the flashing light at Mountain Street. Fitz seconded the motion, and all were in favor.
BLUE RIDGE, Ga.—Oct. 9 Blue Ridge City Council came together Tuesday evening to vote on the approval of a new bid for propane gas.
During last month’s meeting, council members Nathan Fitz and Ken Gaddis questioned the propane bid from Appalachian Propane. The council chose to open the bid and read a price of $1.44 per gallon.
At that time, discussion between the council members and Mayor Donna Whitener, led to Council Member Fitz making the motion that they ‘table’ the propane bid for the next meeting.
After putting out another bid for propane rates, the city of Blue Ridge received one more bid from Ford Mountain Propane for a rate of $1.09 per gallon.
Council member Gaddis commented, “This is the gas company that the school board uses. They’ve used [them] over the last 3 years.”
Mayor Whitener responded, “And I did call Appalachian Propane because I was asked to do that to see if they could match [the price] and because Japan is getting all the excess gas—they think they’re even going to have a shortage of gas—they couldn’t match the price. I just hope the other company makes sure they have enough gas for us, if they reserve enough.”
Council member Robbie Cornelius responds, “[They] never got to my house to install it…in over 9 or 10 months. I called 7 or 8 times and so I’m not really happy with them.”
Mayor Whitener, “Do I have a motion?”
Council member Cornelius, “And the school board uses this propane now?”
Mayor Whitener responded, “That’s what Ken said.”
Council member Fitz asked, “So, the school board uses them and everything’s fine?”
Council member Gaddis responded, “Yes. They [the school board] just renewed their contract with them [Ford Mountain Propane].”
Council member Gaddis made the motion that the board accept Ford Mountain’s bid and council member Fitz seconded the motion.
Appalachian Propane has been the previous supplier for gas for the city of Blue Ridge and its employees for the last several years. Last calendar year, the city of Blue Ridge put out a bid for gas—as per usual—and where they normally get at least three bids back, this time, they only received one bid from Appalachian Propane.
While discussing Appalachian Propane’s bid, new council members wondered aloud what the current rate was. Now, the city has the option to not reveal the single bid so that they may rebid, however, the city council and Mayor Donna Whitener decided to publicly state the amount of the single bid. Had the newer council members known this, they may not have asked to hear the current rate.
Even though propane prices are based on an open market, some council members were unsure about the current propane rates. This year’s propane price is $1.44 for City and $1.54 for employees.
Council member Nathan Fitz asked, “And what was last years rate?”
After some digging, Finance Director Alicia Stewart found the price which was reported as $1.04.
Council member Ken Gaddis asked, “Can we do that again [send out another bid]?”
Council member Rhonda Haight responded, “To be honest, it wouldn’t really be fair if you went back and asked for a lower rate now, but what you could do is hold off and renegotiate. Call the owner and see if he would renegotiate this. If not, just, it is what it is.”
Council member Ken Gaddis replied, “So can we table it and reach out to them and see if there’s any other rates we can do?”
Council member Haight responded, “We could actually make a motion probably to do it at this rate or a lower rate, but then, he wouldn’t change it would he? [after a comment within the council] Yeah, I’m recused.”
Council member Fitz made the motion, “Okay, I’m going make a motion that we table the propane gas 2018-19 quote until next month.”
Council member Gaddis second’ the motion and then they discussed whether or not there was an ‘official’ contract between Appalachian Propane and the city of Blue Ridge.
A city official responded that there may not be a contract because Blue Ridge usually goes with the bid that offers lowest rate.
Where will the Blue Ridge Council members go from here? Stay tuned for next month’s council meeting.
The city of Blue Ridge audit has been reviewed by Welch, Walker & Associates and they found no issues or changes needed to be made in the report. This information is summed up from December 31, 2017. The audit was finished in June of 2018 and has been approved with no changes.
The auditors are looking at items like capital projects, funding, big downtown projects, and new water rates. The auditors judge the financial reports based on a three-tier system: the highest level is 3) Material Weakness (most serious issues), 2) Significant Deficiencies and the lowest level is 1) Management Comments—these aren’t even shared in the report as they are minute.
Findings found in the Blue Ridge financial report that are tested. There were three Significant Deficiencies findings within the Blue Ridge audit.
2015-01: “Lack of segregation of duties” and this is a very common finding in a ‘small-town’ community. This just means that there’s only one person working in a position where mistakes can be made and there’s no additional person to go back and check over reports, data entry, etc.
2015-02: “Lack of contract for revenue transactions” a few years ago it was spotted that the franchise tax agreement between the tri-state EMC and the city of Blue Ridge is outdated and it’s not been renewed officially on paper. There are a few things that need to be updated within the contract and it needs to be signed by Tri-State EMC. This has been addressed and is something the city of Blue Ridge has been working on.
2017-01: “Rates were not calculating properly in the software” this is a new finding but has already been addressed and fixed. For the new water bills in 2017, the rates were not calculating correctly in the software but was fixed in May of 2018 while they were going over the audit. Since the amount of money was ‘material’ it needed to go in the report. The ‘material’ amount was 32,110.00 from 2017 and 12,850.00 from January-May of 2018.
The 2017-01 error was the city’s software error and will not be charged to the citizens of Blue Ridge.