FANNIN COUNTY, Ga – Post One Earl Johnson announced he wouldn’t seek reelection at the Feb. 25 Board of Commissioners’ meeting, citing family and negativity as reasons.
“I’ve been back and forth whether to announce reelection or not, through some recent events and changes with my family and my son, where he is going to attend college and numerous reasons. I’ve decided to announce that I will not be seeking reelection for Post One,” stated Johnson.
He remarked on the good and bad times he experienced during his seven and a half years as Post One Commissioner. However, Johnson felt that for the past three to four years, nothing good has been recognized and couldn’t see a reason to continue to serve.
“I enjoy my job; I’ve taken my job seriously. I’ve done everything I could possibly do to try and do a good job for the taxpayers,” explained Johnson. “In the current climate we have, people wanting more money, Sheriff’s Office wanting more money, Facebook ads, Facebook posts, what’s that’s going to entail, and I hate it for whoever serves on this board, what that means is higher taxes. If everybody gets what they want, it’s going to cause the county to have higher taxes.”
Additionally, Johnson noted the rarity of Tuesday’s meeting because the citizens in Fannin turned out to show support for the Second Amendment Sanctuary County Resolution.
“It felt nice for people to actually show us support for something, but this show tonight is very rare, very uncommon. We have five to ten people in this county…they haven’t found a thing that has went right in this county so far,” said Johnson. He wanted to give someone else a chance to solve county issues. It’s not as easy as other people seem to think.
Johnson called for a change in the way of thinking in Fannin County because much of the time, the commissioners receive derision from one or all sides. He mentioned shedding some light on the good things that the community pulls together to accomplish. For instance, officials tried to save flooded businesses in the county development authority building, but no one their efforts.
Instead, everyone focused on the Whitepath storage shed that flooded. According to Johnson, the shed had nothing to do with the building that was purchased in 2019.
“Somewhere along the line, we’re going to have to find a positive in Fannin County. We’re going to have to find a positive. We’re going to have to start working off a little bit of positive information because right now, no matter what side of any decision that is made, you’re wrong,” declared Johnson.
Also, the library development caused Johnson “angst and turmoil” because Speaker Ralston’s announcement caught him unaware and unprepared. The situation turned into one of the deciding factors for seeking reelection of not.
Johnson stated, “It’s all too premature, the library needs to figure out what they need on their own. They need to figure all those things out. I don’t do anything, and I hope I haven’t gentlemen or previous gentlemen, I haven’t ever made a decision that’s caused you any grief, and that’s all I do. All I expect from anyone else.”
Under constant scrutiny and negativity, he believed anyone would find it difficult to effectively lead the county. However, it might change with better people filling government positions.
“I hope Fannin County finds a better person than me because I haven’t been able to do it. I hope they find a smarter, more business savvy, more straight shooter than I am because that’s all I’ve ever been, and it hasn’t done me very well,” said Johnson.
Johnson has promised to fulfill his term and work with the board of commissioners but hopes for something to eventually “be right in Fannin County.” He thanked the citizens of Fannin County for allowing him to serve, and he looks forward to spending time with his family.
“You put your heart and soul into this county. You’ve been a part of a lot of good things that happened, and we have 10 more months to continue that. I’m looking forward to what we can accomplish in the next 10 months, and I mean that sincerely. I appreciate what you’ve done for the county,” said Chairman Stan Helton.
Post Two Glenn Patterson also affirmed his belief that Johnson has done a great job in his role in Post One for the past seven years.
Qualifying for 2020 local elections begins on Monday, March 2 at 9 a.m. and ends on Friday, March 6 at noon.
Fannin County Post One Commissioner Earl Johnson makes announcement about his political future.
Posted by Fetch Your News on Tuesday, February 25, 2020
BLUE RIDGE, Ga – Executive Director of the Development Authority Christie Gribble presented a strategy to bring the community up to broadband speed, so to speak, and commissioners approved going ahead with the process.
Gribble hoped to have Fannin broadband ready by the fourth quarter of 2020.
“I think it’s an absolute necessity that we move forward with it,” asserted Chairman Helton.
“I don’t see how we could not move forward,” confirmed Post One Earl Johnson.
The Georgia Broadband Ready program was created in 2018 to promote “deployment in areas not currently served at a minimum speed of 25 megabits per second, download, and three megabits per second, upload.”
“This program is something I want the county to apply for and I can apply through economic development, but I want to talk about why it’s important,” said Gribble.
To become eligible, the county must adopt a model ordinance and amend the 10-year regional commission comprehensive plan.
“It shows the state [that] at a local level we have taken steps to reduce obstacles to broadband infrastructure investment,” explained Gribble. “Reducing obstacles can really be addressed in the ordinance. It provides a single point of contact for anyone applying for a permit for a broadband network permit.”
Marie Woody was nominated to serve as that point of contact since she already deals with permitting.
The ordinance also provided timelines for reviewal, approval, and denial of an application for anyone who wants to expand broadband.
The commissioners unanimously approved moving forward with the creation of an ordinance for a broadband ready community. The ordinance isn’t in effect because two public hearings need to occur as well as it needs to be published in the legal organ.
“It has the potential to really help people that work out of their homes, particularly in the rural areas,” stated Helton.
When amending the 10-year plan, the program asked to identify areas that have little to no connectivity.
Gribble gave further explanation of FCC policy, “It can be harder to do than one might think. If you look at an FCC map, there are a lot of places in Fannin County that are shown to have coverage, when that isn’t the case. The way the FCC looks at that data is if one person is in a Census block that is served, that whole Census block is marked as served when 99 people aren’t served.”
Currently, Georgia has a team working to identify any underserved areas and plans to have that information available to the counties by the Summer. Gribble recommended waiting until then to amend the plan.
“We can’t apply to be a broadband ready community until the ordinance has been adopted and the amendment has been made,” said Gribble.
Once becoming a broadband ready community, Fannin County is on record that it’s looking at possible options. Possibly in the future, when Georgia has a fund for the program, the county could apply for grant funding. However, at this time, the state doesn’t have grant money set aside.
The state has four designated broadband ready communities – Woodbury, Banks, Evans, and Oglethorpe – and six applications under review.
Fannin as a county can’t expand the internet, but if a utility shows interest, the county can request grant money to help with the development.
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.
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.
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.
Blue Ridge, Ga – Rushton & Company presented 2018 audit findings and attempted to address the reasoning behind adjusting each line item at the end of the year.
The company’s representative Sam Latimer outlined 2018 audit and issued an unmodified opinion aka no areas for concern. However, left 12 comments for improvements in their report.
Overall, Fannin County Government behaved fiscally responsible according to the audit, not exceeding the operating budget. However, health insurance significantly overspent.
The operations budget took in $26,680,936M in net investment in capital assets, $6,639,299M in restricted assets, $9,304,456M in unrestricted assets, and $42,624,691 for a total net position.
Revenue over expenses for the year equaled $1,194,327, which occurred because of the increase in property and sales taxes. Property tax increased $229,000 and a total revenue increase of $740,000, most of that comes from sales tax. LOST is up $260,000, and title ad valorem increased by $186,669. Fines and forfeitures decreased by $175,000, and other revenues increased $80,000.
Expenditures increased by $1.1M, largely due to insurance claims. The health insurance claims accounted for $700,000, superior court increased around $100,000, and fire increased by $527,000, due to buying three new trucks.
The unassigned fund balance accounts for 6.7 months of operation with $10,314,184, which is considered great shape by the auditors. The state of Georgia requires counties to have at two to four months of operating expenses stored away.
Post One Commissioner Earl Johnson questioned who made the recommendation and decision behind moving each line item at the end of the year.
“You’re here to just look at what we’re doing. Why are you helping move funds from one line to another?” asked Johnson.
Latimer explained that he just advises and management makes the final decisions. Rushton and Company make recommendations.
“Why are you helping CFO move numbers around,” questioned Johnson, “The reason why I am asking is because I think it’s part of my job.”
Rushton and Company has always made the three percent adjustments, and try to advise, but not make final decisions. Latimer stated he didn’t know why the final adjustment took place so late into the year this year.
Johnson stated that he would have loved to talk to Latimer before this meeting, but he never spoke to him or anyone from Rushton and Company this year. It’s difficult to understand the budget when you can add $500,000 to roads for one large adjustment at the end of the year. It suggests that maybe some budgets don’t need to be as large.
“Nothing raised a flag on my end,” said Latimer, “If adjustments should be done earlier and throughout the year, then that might need what we get to. The year-end adjustment then hopefully would be pretty small. We would come to you for approval of each adjustment. ”
Blue Ridge, Ga – Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA) presented their case for participation in the 2020 census.
DCA Specialist Khuyen Nguyen spoke to the Board of Commissioners about DCA’s initiative to record everyone in the upcoming census. She outlined three methods available to Fannin county citizens, including online form, calling in, or paper copy of the survey designed to record the United States population.
“We’re looking at one representation, but two, more importantly, we’re looking at $6,075,000,000 in federal funding that’s going to be distributed to the 50 states based on population. It’s going to be impacting, not only at the national level but at the state and local levels as well. We want to make sure that Georgia and Fannin County get their fair share,” explained Nguyen.
In March 2020, every household will receive a postcard listing the three options to complete the form, and everyone can complete the census according to their comfort level.
She also asked for the county to form a complete count committee. Christy Gribble is heading up the search for the complete count committee.
DCA is also hiring part-time local employees to assist with the process.
Board of Commissioners renewed community television company franchise agreement with ETC. It’s a 15-year agreement. The contract gives ETC permission to cross the county’s right of way to work on cables and provide continual service and currently in effect.
“They provide a big service for the community, and I think we need to let them continue,” said Post One Commissioner Earl Johnson.
Old Fire Station Remodel
Chairman Stan Helton initiated the discussion of remodeling the old fire station next to the courthouse. The old building will soon need a new roof and commissioners also addressed updating the exterior.
“Since we took the garage down, it kind of sits out there by itself and makes all the scratches and flaws on it a lot more evident than in the past,” stated Helton, “It will need a new roof in the near future, a gutter and roof, and the sidings looking pretty rough.”
The building’s currently worth more than $200,000 and houses the extension office, Red Cross, Chaplin, and coroner’s office. It’s not currently leaking but might after one more winter. Helton was unsure if the county wanted to take the chance of another winter with the current roof.
“Definitely need to keep a roof on it, but as far as the exterior, it’s been ugly for a long time, and it can stay ugly for a little while longer,” stated Johnson, “It’s a good reminder of where we come from.”
Helton said he had some rough numbers and wanted to see if the Post One and Post Two Commissioners wanted to do something with the firehouse this year or put it on the 2020 budget.
“I’d like to see a cost analysis,” said Post Two Commissioner Glenn Patterson.
Helton told Patterson to speak with Mr. Hawkins for the rough estimates on the project. The building offers a lot of space for the county to use.
Commissioners tabled the issue until the next meeting.
Blue Ridge, Ga – Auditors recommended adjustment of $20,699 or three percent of the 2018 budget, which led to calls for clarity as to why some departments were showing over.
Chief Financial Officer Robin Gazaway presented the auditors Rushton and Company’s recommendation to adjust each line item by three percent as a result of overestimation in the initial report. Also, the adjustment spread out the amounts from departments or categories that went over in 2018. Three percent over or under is the traditional amount auditors use to justify budgets.
“It’s just for the financial statements and everything to make it look presentable for everybody, explained Gazaway, “for the general fund, I estimated that we would go into fund balance at about $556,000, and after the audit and all the adjustments, we only actually used a fund balance of $536,000.”
When reviewing the budget, Post One Commissioner Earl Johnson stated, “Though we may be $20,000 under what was total budgeted, some of the different categories and department of the county, going down the list, a lot of these have gone way over budget. We’re going to have to figure out a way that when they’re close to going over budget, the board needs to know about it.”
Gazaway used the Fire Department as an example, “They were like $700,000 over budget, but that’s an accounting adjustment that I have to make because of the lease payment on the three fire trucks. Technically, the only expense that is out of that is the first lease payment, but when I have to in accounting at the end of the year, I have to put the full amount on the books, and that is what made them look way over budget.”
According to Gazaway, the capital lease revenue item washes out the majority of the expense, which still shows the Fire Department a little over budget. It’s currently around $18,000 over for the year 2018.
Health insurance went over $1.8M for the year, but Roads and Bridges was $498,000 under for the year.
The auditors adjusted the Roads and Bridges budget by $254,000, so it fell into the three percent recommendation. Since the category underspent, it took on some of health insurance’s overages from 2018.
“Their issue is over/under three percent. Even if you save a lot of money according to this, it could turn out negative,” stated Chairman Stan Helton.
Gazaway clarified that auditors want budgets to stay close to the actual number, so they can easily explain it to the state. Therefore, each line item adjusted by three percent to fall as close as possible to the actual budget number.
The initial budget featured Gazaway’s prediction for the year. The amended budget revises that number and produces another total, but trouble starts when the final amended number exceeds the initial yearly budget.
“This is one of the only things I can judge by, where people wound up at the end of the year, said Johnson, “I guess I should just get a copy of the actual amount that every one of departments stood for the year.”
Helton suggested the auditors arrive early and meet with the commissioners to answer any questions about the final budget.
Johnson also addressed the need to know when departments go over or likely to go over budget. Due to the monthly budget reports showing a month behind, the commissioners vote to spend money without current budget estimates.
Gazaway explained that she speaks to unexpected expenses in her reports, and she can send her monthly summary to the other commissioners.
Rushton and Company should present the final amended budget and answer questions on the budget adjustment at the next Board of Commissioners’ meeting on June 25.
Blue Ridge, Ga – Sheriff’s Office resolved its air conditioner (AC) problems and entered into a new maintenance agreement with Trane.
Sheriff Dane Kirby advised partnering with Trane Heating and Cooling for all future AC issues with the jail and the courthouse. The two service agreements one covers mechanical and the other maintains the computer equipment. The mechanical agreement is roughly $10,000 annually, broken into $2,500 quarterly. The computer agreement is $3,570, with quarterly payments of $896. Together, the agreements totaled $13,570 a year.
“I think maintenance would really help. I’m not even going to get into what they found. They said one of them looked like it had a dead dog in it, but we’ve got [the system] going now,” said Kirby.
Over the years, the jail and Sheriff’s Office faced constant AC issues and applied fixes deemed appropriate. Normally, the office called local contractors to fix the problems.
However, the system broke again a few weeks ago, and a Trane specialist advised setting the system back to zero. After resetting the system, Trane wanted to enter into a maintenance agreement with the county.
“We’ve reached a point that with the age of those units that if we don’t do something to maintain them, and see that the maintenance is done on an ongoing basis, we could be looking at some severe costs,” said Chairman Stan Helton.”
The life expectancy of a maintained Trane AC unit is 10 to 15 years.
The bill for the service charges totaled at $16,000, but with the proposed service agreement, Trane dropped the bill to $13,091.
“Looks like it’s very necessary to get it done,” stated Post Two Commissioner Glenn Patterson, “I think it would be well worth it to do so.”
With the new maintenance agreements, the county will pay $13,750 a year for the next three years.
Kirby’s 2019 budget didn’t account for the of the new service agreements but felt it would save money in the future.
Post One Commissioner Earl Johnson said, “It’s right in line with what we’ve spent on the system every year. I know last year we spent $15,000 or $16,000. I think it’s a good idea to let the people whose unit it is to actually fix it, and it sounds even better if they are going to maintain the courthouse as well.”
Also, the Board of Commissioners approved the purchase of a new ambulance from Custom Works for a total of $143,821, included in the 2020 budget.
Custom Works was the higher bid than MEDIX, who previously supplied ambulances for the county. However, MEDIX no longer has a service representative in Georgia. Trucks would have to travel to Indiana to receive service.
Custom Works offered a Georgia location for service with no exceptions to the requirements put forth by Director of EMA Robert Graham.
Blue Ridge, Ga –Three-part motion named the more expensive company the primary waste management facility for Fannin County, awarded the second contract to the lower-cost company, and then placed a moratorium on industry permits.
The ongoing discussion between Advanced Disposal Services (ADS) and Cash Environmental Resources (CER) reached a quick conclusion. The three-part motion awarded both companies contracts and added a moratorium on solid waste collection and disposal permits for the next three years.
Post One Commissioner Earl Johnson stood in opposition to the motion and said that “It was confusing language and harder to understand than the Declaration of Independence.” Johnson also noted that no one discussed the three-part motion before or after it’s presentation to the Board.
No one addressed why ADS won the primary contract over CER. ADS will cost the citizens of Fannin more because it charges per ton or per pound. CER offers a pay per bag system to the general public.
The two companies bided for the responsibility of Fannin County’s waste in the May 14 Board of Commissioners meeting. The organizations presented their proposals in a workshop on May 26.
During the workshop, the commissioners and facilities addressed the idea of both operating in the county but tabled the final decision to review pricing before awarding the primary contract. The bids included a rundown of prices, as follows:
ADS quoted a host fee of $0.20 per ton for the county with the following detailed breakdown: $57.64 per ton for commercial haulers, $57.64 per ton for general public across the scales, $57.64 per ton for general public trash bag delivery at scales, $0.12 per pound for general public at convenience centers, and $12.50 for bulky items and appliances. ADS can process a total of 866 tons per month.
CER quoted $1 per ton for the county host fee with the following itemization: $52 per ton for commercial haulers, $52 per ton for general public across the scales with a $40 minimum, $1 per bag for general public trash bag delivery, $1 per bag for general public at convenience centers, $3 per bag for contractors, $0.10 per pound for CND, yard debris, $15 for bulky items, $15 for appliances, $12 per pound for tires, and free recycling. Prohibited waste includes batteries, fluorescent lightbulbs, and non-hazard liquid waste.
“It’s been an objective Fannin County Board of Commissioners to provide competitive options to the citizens and visitors to the county for waste stream collection and disposal,” stated Chairman Stan Helton when he began reading the motion.
Still, ADS won the primary responsibility of hauling and disposing of garbage in a non-exclusive, three-year contract. The company also received access to convenience centers owned by the county.
In the second part of the motion, CER obtained a similar contract, but can’t operate out of ADS’s convenience centers. CER owns one transfer station, Sugar Creek C&D.
However, CER lacks a permit to haul solid waste, and the moratorium prohibits the company from attaining a waste management collecting and disposal permit for three years.
When asked about the decision, Chairman Helton stated, “The primary goal was to open up competition on this service and provide better service and economics to the citizens of Fannin as having only one provider has not been the best situation for the county.”
Currently, ADS manages collection for the county, and the contract expires in August 2019. The company’s also going through the process of being bought out by Waste Management Incorporated. This prompted the Board of Commissioners to open the service up to bid.
Blue Ridge, Ga – Fannin County hired a team of detainees from the Colwell Detention Center to start picking up litter on the roadsides over the next year.
After two and a half years of waiting for an opening, a detainee detail became available for roadside cleanup in Fannin.
By hiring Colwell, six to ten detainees will work for four, 10 hour days for 52 hours a week. The minimum amount of hours spent on the roads a year would be 12,000. Presently, only two part-time employees scavenge the Fannin County roads for trash. They can only work 32 weeks a year and limited to 2,560 hours a year.
“We can declare war on litter in Fannin County, and do some things along the road, keep them trimmed up, keep litter picked up,” explained Helton.
The public works budget will pay for the service at $39,500 annually, billing once a month. The agreement also offers a seven-day termination notice. The service begins on July 1, 2019, and expenses include a corrections officer to oversee the detail.
Director of Public Works Zack Ratcliff will direct the corrections officer and work detail to the roads for the day or week. From there, the officer supervises the job.
“I don’t think in any world, we could hire six people for that amount a year. It’s really a no brainer,” said Post One Commissioner Earl Johnson, “Our litter problem is an ongoing problem, and just the money, I feel safe in saying, I don’t know how much we’re paying, is going to offset, and the other saving we can look at some of these trees and intersections. The leaning trees can be cleaned up. We’re going to save money in overtime…I think we should feel very fortunate that this opened up.”
“We’ve been looking at this for quite a while. Some other counties around have like six teams in Union County. They’re definitely doing a good job with those guys,” said Ratcliff.
Additionally, paving bids came back for the county from: C.W. Matthews at $2,304,951.40, Colwell Construction Company at $1,774,980.74, and Colditz Trucking at $1,455,158.47. Colwell and Colditz didn’t provide a total for their bids and the amounts will be checked again before proceeding. The striping bid also came back at $92,000.
Ratcliff advised tabling the bids until he has time to review each one.
The GDOT grant covers approximately 70% of striping and paving costs.
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.
Blue Ridge, Ga – Fannin County’s operating two percent under budget through April of 2019.
As of April 30, 33 percent of the budget’s been spent for the year with Fire/EMS/ EMA, Tax Assessor, Sheriff’s Office, and County Jail still showing over budget due to the first of the year lump sum lease and loan payments made at the beginning of the year.
Per the April 23 meeting, Chief Financial Officer Robin Gazaway broke out the Public Works and SPLOST Budget to provide more clarity about where the money comes from and is going.
“The public works old SPLOST is because we’re going to use the old money on the roads until it runs out, and then we’ll start on the new SPLOST,” explained Gazaway.
Baseball admissions factored in slightly into the recreation budget, but the month of May was not reflected in this report.
“We’re two percent under budget because we’re making up some of the differences from earlier in the year,” stated Gazaway, “LOST and SPLOST collections are up again this month from the prior years.”
EMA Director Robert Graham advised choosing Custom Works for the ambulance remounts at $104,980 as the most acceptable vendor for the job. The business also priced an add-on door locking systems for the ambulance at $1,800, bringing the total to $106,780.
“The locking system on the doors on the box [will be] activated front door locks when we lock the front doors,” said Graham, “We need this because we make many trips out of town to hospitals, and we need to lock the back of the truck. Our drugs and equipment are all in the back.”
Currently, seven doors and compartments must be locked with a key when getting out of the truck, and EMA employees must remember to unlock these doors when going back out to have access to them.
“It would be a great benefit to add that to this truck and going forward in the future to the standard bid specs,” lobbied Graham.
The truck won’t be available until closer to 2020 due to Chevrolet chassis unavailability.
Graham also confirmed that the county wouldn’t be short on equipment during this time with back-up trucks and placing an order for a new ambulance to replace an aging one with 90,000 plus miles on it.
Next, Graham introduced bids for a new ambulance to be purchased in the 2020 and on that year’s budget. Currently, new ambulance models aren’t available, but a waiting list has formed for 2020. Graham wanted to go ahead and get Fannin’s EMA name on the list.
“If we don’t get a truck each year that we fall behind and have maintenance issues,” said Graham.
“You had this idea that it was better to go ahead and place an order with the stipulation that it wouldn’t be delivered until after the first [of the year] because in the past you wouldn’t get this new ambulance until fall,” explained Helton to the room.
MEDIX proposed $140,130 for a 2020 model Chevrolet with the delivery after January 1, 2020. Custom Trucks and Bodyworks offered $143,021 for a 2020 model Chevrolet with the delivery after January 1. ETR, LLC proposed $187,768 for a 2019 model Ford F-450 with the delivery after January 1.
The Commissioners approved Custom Works for remount and tabled the new ambulance bids after Graham asked for more time to review.
Waste Management decision was tabled again to give the commissioner’s more time to review Advanced Disposal Systems and CASH proposals after meeting with both organizations.
Director of Public Works Zack Ratcliff experienced an equipment emergency after losing a 16-year-old mower in the middle of mowing season and had found a used replacement mower for $43,500 with 70,000 hours on it.
Post One Commissioner Earl Johnson said, “The piece that [the used mower] is replacing, we salvage it and get rid of it. It’s got way too many hours to put any more money into it.”
Ratcliff stated that he had no plans to fix the old mower with over 100,000 hours in it already.
The emergency purchase puts the county back at 10 mowers and back on track with mowing for the spring and summer.
Blue Ridge, Ga – GDOT (Georgia Department of Transportation) grants determine county road projects for the year and construction will begin soon.
Director of Public Works Zack Ratcliff approached the Fannin County Board of Commissioners with updated grant money estimates from GDOT for road improvements.
GDOT’s Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant (LMIG) goes toward improving roads and bridges in the county. The organization gave Fannin County $664,195.59 to lay new asphalt. The amount increased by $4,000 from 2018.
The estimated total for the paving project is $1.5M, which includes the grant with a 30 percent match required from the county. It would be paid out of the roads and bridges SPLOST.
The project is now out to bid according to Georgia’s guidelines. The acceptance of bids will run for a couple of weeks, and the paving should start around the first of June.
Commissioner Earl Johnson said, “He is glad of the amount that we’re receiving from the state.”
Next, GDOT’s Safety Assistance Program, part of LMIG, is providing funds for striping of county roads. The grant is for $69,000 with the county providing a 30 percent match for a total of $89,700.
Chairman Stan Helton added, “We have to do this according to their standards, which is pretty exacting and pretty expensive, but it’s still worth it since they’re giving us this kind of money.”
Helton also commended Ratcliff for going to GDOT’s district office to lobby for more funds to update the county’s road striping project.
“This comes out to $8,800 per mile, and we’re looking at ten miles,” Post Two Commissioner Glenn Patterson contributed.
This restriping will be eight miles of Aska Road and two miles of Old 76. These roads were chosen by GDOT. The material used will be thermal plastic. It’s heated up to 400 degrees and sits on top of the pavement. The plastic’s more durable than water-based paint typically used by the county and can last up to three times as long as paint.
Post One Commissioner Earl Johnson clarified that striping season only lasts for five months out of the year, and weather will wear striping off the road. Ratcliff added that striping can’t be laid in unfavorable conditions.
“You can go on some state roads right now and it’s hard to see the yellow line. It’s just the nature of the business, and the only way to take care of that is restriping every year. And no one can afford that. At all times, some of our road striping is going better than others and that’s why. It’s just not cost effective to restripe every road every year,” said Johnson.
Blue Ridge, Ga – Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson asked for revisions in the Public Roads/SPLOST department to clarify the monthly financial reports.
The Public Roads and SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) represented one line item of the budget summary report. Since financial updates began two years ago, Board of Commissioners’ Chief Financial Officer Robin Gazaway has presented the two items together.
Johnson stated that combining Public Works (budget and expenditures) and SPLOST makes it difficult to recognize where the money is being spent. “I don’t understand why we’re doing a report if I can’t see the numbers,” said Johnson. He also noted that other departments were separated and easier to comprehend.
Gazaway offered to break down SPLOST into four segments: Public Works, EMS, Recreation, and Administration and add a slide in the next budget meeting. She said, “It’s no problem to split [SPLOST] out and present it differently.”
She also suggested providing a detailed financial print report to the commissioners each month since she already has that information pulled for her records.
These updates will begin during the next financial update report at next month’s Board of Commissioners’ meeting.
Gazaway gives the financial update at the second board meeting of every month, and this report detailed all expenses from Jan. through March 2019. Departments were showing 1% over for the year, but Gazaway pointed out that lump sums, such as the courthouse loan debt and lease payments were due at the beginning of the year. As a result, the numbers should even out as the year goes on.
Commissioner Chairman Stan Helton welcomed everyone at 5:15 p.m. for its bi-monthly meeting on Tuesday, February 26, 2019.
District Attorney of the Appalachian Judicial Circuit of Fannin County B. Alison Sosabee appeared before the Board requesting funds to employ an administrative assistant. The new assistant would help alleviate the work load being placed upon the department due to an increase of 32% in criminal case loads being experienced in Fannin County.
According to http://www.ajcda.org/fannin-county, “The Fannin office is staffed by two assistant district attorneys, an investigator, a circuit-wide sex crimes investigator, two legal assistants, and a victim advocate; prosecuting cases in superior, probate, and juvenile courts.”
Sosabee stated there is a need for additional funding of “$28,481 which would increase her department’s budget to $381,657. The original budget set by the Commissioners for the District Attorney’s office was $353,176.”
Her department supervises the Youthful Offender Pretrial Program. Saying of the additional responsibility in man hours and case load increase, “We need help moving forward to effectively do our jobs.”
After a lengthy discussion, Johnson and Patterson voted to approve the amended budget request while Helton opposed.
EMA/911 Director Robert Graham presented to the Board the following proposals:
- A change in biohazard disposal companies: The current company has been charging the county $12,000 a year. He has contacted another source who will pick up biohazard materials for approximately $600-800 a year. Approved.
- There were nine bids to help county resources in case there would be a major disaster here in Fannin County. Contracts will be sent out to Southern Disaster Recovery, LLC from Simpsonville, SC, and Phillips & Jordan, Inc., Knoxville, TN winners of the bids. They will only be dispatched if the need arises, the companies will then be placed into action.
Requesting EMA be placed on the waiting list for a new ambulance truck for 2020. Currently an ambulance package chassis used for “remounting/refurbishing an ambulance is not due to be available until 4th quarter 2019,” Graham said. He suggested the county makes sure it has the required ambulances needed to service the growing community.
Post Commissioners Earl Johnson stated, “We need ambulances. We can’t do without them.” and Glen Patterson added, “Public safety is our highest priority.” The positive comments from the commissioners enabled a unanimous vote for EMA to be proceed with plans on the refurbishing of an ambulance and to make Request For Proposals on a new one.
Variances were approved for:
Frank M. Tate & Gregory Spencer: remodel and rebuilding a home on an existing foundation.
Joseph M & Bonnie Hrynyk: building a garage per specifications in variance order.
Oak Vista, LLC: building a carport only. Variance was asked originally for a patio and carport.
Serene Mountain Properties, Inc.: to build a house on a private road.
During the time set aside for public commentaries, local citizen Ralph Garner spoke to the commissioners regarding a comment by a board member at last months meeting. Garner felt it was inappropriate and disregarded local medias attempt to voice legitimate concerns over lack of transparency with North Georgia Mountain Crisis Network administration and management. He also voiced concerns and asked the board to keep abreast of investigations being made in the case of David Ralston, Georgia Speaker of the House.
The commissioners were unanimous in its vote to reappoint the following persons on the Fannin County Water Authority: Chairwoman Anita Weaver, Mark Berger, and Zack Ratcliff. It also voted to help purchase a fourth 911call center console for the EMA department at a cost of $16,749.11.
The board adjourned at 7:22 p.m. Next meeting will be March 12, 2019 at the Fannin County Courthouse.
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Blue Ridge, Ga. – There is no denying that our area is a hot spot for tourists and the Fannin County Chamber of Commerce gave a 2018 update letting citizens know just how much money our thriving tourist industry is bringing to our area.
Last year alone, $39 million was collected in local lodging tax by both the City of Blue Ridge and Fannin County.
“That’s just the ones who pay the tax,” Jan Hackett, President of Fannin County Chamber of Commerce spoke of the significance of these numbers, “so anyone out there who is an Airbnb or a VRBO who is not paying the tax is not in that number.”
In recent years Georgia Tech teamed up with the Chamber of Commerce to do a study on our economic impact numbers. According to Hackett the purpose of this study was to determine the amount of dollars spent in our local economy based on the lodging taxes collected.
Georgia Tech was able to produce an equation that they felt would portray an accurate number based on percentages of sales in direct comparison with lodging taxes.
“Based on their percentages the amount of money that visitors spent directly was $170.5 million dollars,” Hackett said explaining the findings for calendar year 2018 and added that this number is based on overnight visitors alone and does not account for day trippers and our area’s population of second home owners.
According to these numbers and based on SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) collections last year, overnight visitors made up roughly a third of all retail sales in the county. SPLOST reported a record breaking $555 million is sales last year for Fannin County.
Hackett broke down the numbers into a daily average. On average per day lodging brings in $100,795 and visitors spend roughly $484,375. This equates to $39,347 of taxes collected locally.
While our county can become crowded due to the visitors, there is a definite positive impact these visitors bring with them. Roughly one-third of the jobs in Fannin County (excluding governmental) are supported by the tourist industry, and all the extra revenue saves residents approximately $865 in taxation per household.
Hackett pointed out that in 2001: “At that point in time we had less in retail sales than any county in the four around us.” These counties include Fannin, Glimer, Pickens, and Union.
Fast forward to recent years and Fannin County is now leading the way in retail sales and economic growth. A comparison shows that in 2001 retail sales were approximately $150 million and in 2018 retail sales were $555,697,658.
With the lodging tax now being split 50/50 between the chamber and the county, Hackett reported that the decrease from the 70 percent that the chamber previously received has not posed any negative effect on the ability to market our area.
Fannin County Chairman Stan Helton explains where the extra revenue the county is now getting from the split in lodging tax is being spent, “When we adjusted this ratio between the board of commissioners and the chamber, our intent was to take half of that increase and put it into safety.”
Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson is credited with the idea of investing the funds into public safety, and had pointed out in previous meetings that his reasoning is simply with more people visiting and more events being held in our area there becomes an increased demand for emergency services to be provided.
Up next for the Chamber of Commerce is to continue to promote growth and visitation in our area. Hackett said of moving forward, “Our mission is only to help make Fannin County a better place to live, work and play.”
The chamber has recently focused efforts into making the Copper Basin area a desirable place to visit and has teamed up with the University of Georgia Carl Vinson Institute of Government Study to produce an in depth study of McCaysville, Copperhill, and Ducktown.
“The Carl Vinson Institute is doing a kind of strategic planning process for McCaysville, Copperhill, and Ducktown….the Copper Basin,” Hackett said of the partnership and added that she is expecting the study to be complete by the end of February.
The study and planning will work to make the Copper Basin area a more appealing place to work, live and visit. Its focus is to re-brand the area. Under the name the Copper Basin Renaissance, the partnership with UGA is focusing its campaign on the slogan “Copper Basin. Too Great for One State”.
Hackett said of the chamber’s focus, “As Blue Ridge has gotten more crowded, it only makes since to try to do more in McCaysville and Copper Hill and the Basin, so that when visitors are here we’ll have them spread out in the county.”
The Fannin County Chamber of Commerce debuted a new website that went live in March of last year. 617,905 users visited the site and of those users 82 percent were new.
The new design of the website landed the chamber a prestigious Silver Adrian Award from the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International.
“To give you an idea of what an honor that is, the Jackson Hole Wyoming website also won a silver,” Hackett said of the accomplishment.
The Fannin County Chamber of Commerce plans to continue efforts in 2019 to once again bring in record numbers to our area and help define Fannin County as a resilient place to visit or to make home.
Featured Image: A small sample of the Fannin County Chamber of Commerce new award winning website.
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