Fannin and ETC applying for broadband funds from the state

News
broadband

BLUE RIDGE, Ga – As part of the county’s commitment to bring broadband to the underserved, the commissioners approved the application of another grant with ETC to hopefully increase the coverage area.

Another grant application with Blue Ridge Mountain EMC (BRMEMC) already in process. If approved, BRMEMC would strive to provide broadband internet South of Old Hwy 76 to the east side of Fannin County.

The resolution approved during the August 11 meeting to apply for the Georgia Fiscal Recovery Fund Broadband Infrastructure grant is with ETC. This grant would help to provide broadband service would likely be in the Hardscrabble area, but exact specifics are still being determined.

The Georgia Fiscal grant opened on August 1 and will close on August 31. It’s an unusually small window for a very competitive grant. South Georgia has more unserved areas as far as internet is concerned. However, North Georgia has a larger population.

ETC is still determining the exact dollar amount and locations for the grant application with the Fannin Development Authority. However, the details don’t change the county’s or the Development Authority’s support of the grant or the work the entities put into it.

“The main competitiveness on the grant is how many locations you can serve for the amount of least money,” ETC Representative Frankie Rigdon explained. “Each entity, that may be applying for the grant right now, that’s what they are trying to do.”

The ultimate goal would be to provide high speed, reliable internet to everyone in Fannin County.

Georgia Fiscal grant has around $300 million to dole out across the state and ETC is hopefully, they will receive a portion for Fannin.

Arial cable is the most cost-effective option for ETC and buried cable is the most expensive. They talk to customers and household to gauge interest in buried cable before starting a project. ETC’s still determining cost versus homes to understand their potential coverage area better for the grant application.

To make both grants more competitive, Fannin Development Authority Executive Director Christie Gribble explained it’s better to have skin in the game. BRMEMEC and ETC are offering to include matching funds for their portions of the grant. BRMEMC will offer to match 10 percent of the total amount of the awarded grant if they receive it. ETC is still deciding.

Fannin County approved a motion to support its broadband expansion partners by offering to match one percent of the service providers matching portion, not to exceed $15,000. For BRMEMC, Fannin’s matching portion would be $14,000.

The money for the matching portion would come out of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARP) funds. The federal government passed ARP earlier this year and the strict guiding principles for use of funds include broadband infrastructure.

Fannin received $2 million from the first ARP payment. The second ARP payment will come later.

ADA-Compliant Playground Equipment

New ADA-compliant playground equipment will be coming to Tom Boyd and Horseshoe Bend Parks. Children with disabilities will be able to use the new playsets once installed.

The Tom Boyd playground will cost$43,986 from Bliss Products, and the new Horseshoe Bend set will cost $162,592 from PlaySouth.

Tom Boyd cost includes the mulch and ground covering for the playset. The old playground was donated by the Kiwanis Club for $37,000.

Chairman Hensley announced that the Chamber of Commerce agreed with the county to use the lodging tax money for this project. At the start of the year, the lodging tax was increased to six percent.

The hotel/motel tax is split 50/50 with the Chamber of Commerce and the county funds would go toward public safety. The change would go into effect on January 1, 2021. 50 percent of the taxes collected must go to marketing and tourism.

Recreation Department Director Eddie O’Neal also asked for $11,600 to clean out the drainage ditch between the tee-ball fields and the after-school area. It would come out of SPLOST funds.

The after-school program has a waiting list of 25 kids, but the building can’t house any more children. The recreation department needs a larger building to continue to grow.

Public Works Department purchased a new sign truck, a 2017 Ford F250, for $38,287. The old truck had 300,000 miles and will be retired from service. A snowplow will potentially be added to the new vehicle to help clear roads in the winter.

Commissioners share thoughts on tax increase

News
proposed tax increase

BLUE RIDGE, Ga – During the first public hearing concerning the proposed tax increase, Fannin County Commissioners explained the importance of providing quality of life for county employees.

The proposed tax increase would be 2.30 percent by maintaining the current millage rate of 3.862 mills and not accepting the rollback recommended by the state. In other words, a home with a fair market value of $200,000 would see a property tax increase of $6.96. For non-homestead property with a fair market value of $150,000, owners would experience an increase of $5.22.

Chairman Jamie Hensley explained, “In a time where it’s hard as the dickens to find employees, my focus then becomes to retention of employees that we have with the possibility of enticing more employees to come to work for us.”

By maintaining the current millage rate, Hensley believes 42 employees could earn a “livable wage.” The county has 194 full-time employees.

“As bad as it is to say, you can actually go to a fast-food restaurant and make more money than you can some of these employees make here now,” Hensley added.

Post Two Glenn Patterson commented on the growth of Fannin County and the necessity of keeping up infrastructure as well as services.

“It’s good to say we’re the lowest millage rate in the state. At some point in time, looking at the people, it’s making sure you can take care of the people,” Patterson said in agreement with Hensley.

Post One Johnny Scearce continued that he’s always been for employees because he has experience leading local government departments.

“They’re going to be more productive if you’re taking care of them,” Scearce added. “Now, we’re bringing up the pay for 42 people, that’s awesome. That’s a good thing we should be doing because not only do we take care of our citizens, we take care of our employees.”

He expanded that he’s not a “big tax person” but sometimes taxes are necessary to maintain a high quality of life in the community.

The only public comments were from individuals agreeing with the commissions on the need to take care of their employees.

The next public hearing concerning the proposed tax increase will be held on August 17th at 6:00 p.m. & August 24th at 5:30 p.m. in the Jury Assembly Room at the Fannin County Courthouse.

Fannin County Courthouse paid off

Board of Commissioners, News
courthouse

BLUE RIDGE, Ga – Fannin County government paid off the remaining debt on the courthouse slightly ahead of schedule.

“I think myself and Commissioner Scearce are just happy to be hard on the tail end of that, the payoff. Due to the hard work of every administration before us, we were able to pay that off. I just want to thank them for always working hard to make sure that we were able to stay afloat to be able to do this. My hat’s off to the former commissioners and to commissioner Patterson, he’s our senior member, so we’re thankful to all those,” Hensley commented.

The bond on the courthouse was paid in full on March 25, 2021. The budgeted amount for the year was 1,120,750 and the actual final amount was 1,122,375. The extra amount accounts for interest on the loan. The debt for the new courthouse was assumed in the early 2000s.

property jail

Fannin County Courthouse

The financial report for the first six months of 2021 indicated that several departments were operating under budget. By the end of June, the county is 50 percent into the budget for the year and most departments fell into the 30 and 40th percentile range. Fire services were 63.32 percent into its yearly budget.

Net revenues for the county continue to increase with healthy SPLOST, LOST, and lodging tax numbers. The lodging tax was recently increased to 6 percent with 3 percent going to the Chamber of Commerce and 3 percent to the Board of Commissioners.

SPLOST and LOST are two major revenue generators for Fannin separate from property taxes.

When comparing the lodging tax for the first six months of 2020 to 2021, the cumulative variance is $1,154,118.96. This includes April 2020 during the lockdown when the county only netted $19,745 in lodging tax compared to the $100,000-plus it was collecting in early 2020.

Still, after people began flocking to the North Georgia Mountains in 2020, the amount of revenue doubled during the second half of the year. Once the lodging tax increase went into effect in January, the tax amount also doubled from the same time last year. January in 2020 was $117,980.50 and in 2021 was $332,355.76.

According to the lodging tax data, the summer and fall months see a larger influx of visitors in the county. It will be interesting to see if the trend of doubling continues during the back half of the year.

Administration Department operating budgets six months into the year.

The previous board opted to keep a flat budget for 2021, but the current board amended it at the start of the year to include a cost-of-living raise. The chairman commented on rising inflation across the county, but the government remains within budget.

“The county can run between six and seven months,” Hensley explained in the event of a government shutdown. He also thanked the departments for effectively managing their budget.

Post One Johnny Scearce and Post Glenn Patterson echoed Hensley’s sentiments about the hard work of the department heads and their employees to be cost-efficient.

“Net revenues are up over last year,” Hensley added, “We’re a little bit over on our expenditures, and that’s a result of several different things.”

However, he expected the expenditures will even out by the end of the year.

Hensley did apologize for the financial reports not being quarterly as they had been in the past. He promised they would be from now on. He assumed the chairman role in January and the chief financial officer left the job without informing him in December 2020.

Public Safety operating budgets six months into the year.

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month

News
sexual assault awareness

BLUE RIDGE, Ga – Fannin County Commissioners signed a proclamation declaring April 2021 Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

North Georgia Mountain Crisis Network (NGMCN) employees accepted the proclamation and Executive Director Kim O’Neal thanked the commissioners for their support.

Sexual assault is any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs without consent. In today’s world, it isn’t limited to in-person harassment, abuse, or assault. Online spaces can present victims with harmful content or behaviors too.

“As technology has evolved to become a part of our everyday lives, our awareness of how it can be used to bully, threaten and commit abuse has grown as well,” said Yolanda Edrington, Executive Director of NSVRC. “The ‘We Can Build’ campaign promotes how you can practice consent and support survivors online. New platforms will continue to emerge as technology expands, and by leading with these foundational principles, we can build safe online spaces now and into the future.”

NSVRC encourages individuals and communities to commemorate SAAM and show support for survivors of sexual harassment and abuse by wearing teal — the color of sexual violence prevention — on April 6th and posting a selfie to Twitter or Instagram using #SAAM2021. Wearing teal signals that you support survivors and are a safe person to talk to if they need to reach out.

In Georgia, one in three women and nearly one in four men have experienced sexual violence involving physical contact. One in five women have endured rape or attempted rape; one in 38 men have experienced the same brutality.

According to NGMCN, in 2015 the Appalachian Judicial Circuit responded to 51 reports of sexual assault.

NGMCN’s mission is “to provide safe shelter and support services for all survivors of domestic violence, their children, and survivors of sexual assault; promote community awareness and education to help prevent and break the cycle of violence; provide an environment of encouragement, compassion, and support for all survivors.”

2021 marks the twentieth year of Sexual Assault Awareness month, and NSVRC hopes by continuing to raise awareness, one day we can stop sexual assault before it happens.

If you’ve been sexually assaulted, please go to a safe place either with a parent, family member, or friend. You can also call the local rape crisis center or NGMCN at 1-800-334-2836.

Fannin Commissioners approve 2021 budget

Board of Commissioners, News
2021 budget

BLUE RIDGE, Ga – The three Fannin County Commissioners approved the 2021 operating budget after some discussion about the sheriff’s account.

The total 2021 budget was $29,356,858 plus $87,675 for the sheriff’s office. The addition kept the sheriff’s account the same as it was in 2020.

“A good flat budget. I’m pleased that everybody’s pitched in to try and get us through a very difficult time and keep the county financially whole,” Chairman Stan Helton said.

Sheriff Dane Kirby came before the commission board to discuss adding $87,675 back into his budget for car purchases. The amount would leave the sheriff’s office with the same operating budget as in 2020.

Previously, the Sheriff’s Office budget had a line item for lease purchases, and they asked for it to be moved to salaries, according to Chairman Stan Helton. They made their final lease payment in 2020, so Kirby wanted to use the money to buy vehicles in 2021.

“Our last meeting, we had, we were not going to put any salary increases for anyone other than what was mandated by the state,” Helton explained. He also addressed that the sheriff’s office received 25 percent of public safety SPLOST. The sheriff’s office has $34,000 budgeted for capital outlay in 2021, and $100,000 will come from SPLOST.

Sheriff Kirby explained that the amount would purchase three cars, and the office needs five. Without adding the $87,675 back, Kirby would have used the $50,000 from the small equipment and tools line item.

“We will know at the end of January where the county stands because everything will be finally tabulated for 2020,” Helton commented. “What my strategy was: is to leave [it]. You have $134,000 that is immediately available, and if you needed to get two more cars, it would be just a matter of the new board to amend your budget from that.”

Sheriff Dane Kirby wanted his budget restored to the 2020 amount.

“I asked everyone to stay where they were at. I didn’t agree to cut anybody,” Post One Earl Johnson said.

Kirby explained that he tell the car dealer if they were committed to purchasing the car.

“He’s got a handful of vehicles on the lot, and we’ve got five of them spoken for, but if we don’t take them right after the first of the year, he’s going to have to sell them to somebody else,” Kirby commented.

The cars would be fully equipped and cost approximately $42,000 each.
Kirby also spoke about the need to increase salaries in the sheriff’s office, stating it’s difficult to recruit people into the county when neighboring areas are paying more.

The recreation department’s budget increased in 2021 because of the pre-school program – approximately $58,000.

Fannin thanks Post One Johnson for his service

Community, News
Sheriff Dane Kirby and Post One Earl Johnson

BLUE RIDGE, Ga: After his last official meeting as Post One Commissioner, Earl Johnson received a heartfelt thanks for his years of service to Fannin County.

Post Two Glenn Patterson presented Johnson with his plaque and said a few words about his time serving with Johnson.

“It’s not an easy job, to say the least. It has it’s stressful moments, and tough decisions have to be made,” Patterson expressed. “We appreciate Mr. Johnson and his service to the community. I’ve learned a lot from Earl in a short period of time.”

Post Two Commissioner Glenn Patterson

Post Two Glenn Patterson spoke about his appreciation for Johnson. Chairman Stan Helton left before the ceremony.

Patterson recognized Johnson’s efforts to strengthen the post commissioner positions within the Fannin County government. Johnson always made known his stance on the issues and put the citizens of Fannin County first. The three commissioners might not have always agreed, but perhaps differences are necessary to keep a government honest.

Some of Johnson’s accomplishments include Fire Station One and dedication to ensuring Fannin County operated within its means.

“I especially appreciate Earl’s sense of humor even during tense moments,” Patterson stated.

Of his time in office, Johnson said, “I don’t know what to say. Eight years has been a whirlwind in many different ways. It’s kind of bittersweet. I’m going to miss seeing all the people every two weeks. I’m going to miss being involved…Without holding a public position like this, I would have never understood how detailed our county is and how big our county is.”

One of the biggest lessons learned as Post One Commissioner was how to hold his temper. It’s also taught him how to work through disagreements and finish projects productively.

“It’s been a huge learning experience. I appreciate all the people of Fannin County for entrusting me for eight years,” Johnson remarked.

Post One Earl Johnson

Johnson looking at his plaque.

He also thanked his family for their sacrifices and opening themselves up to scrutiny just because he held a public office.

“One day, you might see me back involved. I have nothing negative to say,” Johnson said. “I appreciate anyone who does fill these seats. It’s getting to the point now where it’s so tough to be in public service.”

For now, Johnson looks forward to enjoying a nice meal and returning to being an everyday citizen again.

Feature image includes Fannin Sheriff Dane Kirby and Post One Earl Johson.

 

 

Commissioners discuss limiting 2020 spending

Board of Commissioners, News
property taxes increase non-critical state of emergency 2020 Budget

FANNIN COUNTY, Ga – Chairman Stan Helton, Post One Earl Johnson, and Post Two Glenn Patterson were in total agreement about suspending non-critical capital improvement projects for the foreseeable future.

“We know the cost potentially is going to go up potentially for what we have to deal with and most certainly revenue coming in. Our LOST and SPLOST can be impacted,” stated Helton. “For non-critical capital improvement projects, I would recommend that we suspend those until we have a better idea for the next two to three months when we start getting better information on what’s happening with our revenue and how that’s going to impact our budget.”

These projects wouldn’t be canceled just tabled until Fannin County can make an accurate estimate about costs and revenue for the future. Until COVID-19 hit the United States, the county experienced continual growth in LOST and SPLOST collections.

Gov. Kemp extended his shelter in place for medically fragile and senior citizens as well as extended Georgia’s Public Health Emergency until June 12. These actions will also affect county revenue as many individuals are still confirmed to their homes. However, short-term rentals can now book guests. The ban expired on Friday and due to Kemp’s executive order, counties can’t enact legislation to strengthen or lessen the gov’s actions.

“Yes, with all the uncertainty, we just don’t know what is going to happen in the future,” affirmed Patterson. “We do not need to put any more undue stress on the citizens and the system. I think it would be a wise move at this time.”

“I believe we do not need to spend a single dollar that is not necessary at this point,” Johnson stated. “I don’t think we need to spend any money at all that is not necessary. I think it’s a good idea, and I think it’s absolutely critical that we move in that direction right now.”

Helton added that the issues can be addressed one at a time. Before the next commission meeting on May 12, department heads are asked to inform them of any critical spending needs. If an essential project is identified, the commissioners will address it at the May 12 meeting.

“Hopefully when all this nears an end, we can get a better handle on it, but as we move forward just watch every penny that we have,” Johnson said.

As far as 2020 revenue thus far, the first quarter did continue to see overall growth.

SPLOST and LOST collections were up by 10 percent in the first quarter, but with the statewide shutdown and short-term rental ban, the second quarter most likely won’t experience a similar financial boom.

Overall, Fannin was operating four percent under budget from January to March. The total budget for 2020 is $28,563,575, and through March, departments should be 25 percent into their budgets. Some areas were over such as risk management at 27 percent. It includes health insurance, an area that continues to eat up everyone’s budgets as healthcare costs continue to rise.

The courthouse debt payment is also made during the first quarter. The budget expenditure is $1,120,000. The county paid half of the amount already. The second will be made later in the year.

“After this year, that would leave us at $1.1M on the debt of this courthouse, which has been a debt that has been out there for 16 to 17 years. It’ll be a great moment in the county when we get that long-term debt off our financials,” Helton affirmed.

A few other departments were over 25 percent. The fire department made its one-time lease payment for $61,000. EMS turned in extra overtime wages to the amount of $21,000. The detention center was over by one percent, or $14,000, because of pre-bought uniforms and wages, according to Helton. These overages should flatten out as the year progresses.

Johnson reminded department heads to be “very conservative as we possibly can at this moment to make sure that as we creep our way out of this that we can mitigate as much as we can the losses incurred throughout all taxes.”

Fannin County declares a state of emergency

Board of Commissioners, News
emergency

FANNIN COUNTY, Ga – The Fannin County Board of Commissioners declared a public health state of emergency on Wednesday, March 25, the ordinance included a shelter in place recommendation and placed restrictions on public gatherings, businesses, and tourism.

The state of emergency will go into effect following the 4 p.m. and will remain in effect until Monday, April 13 at 11:59 p.m., unless otherwise rescinded.

Nonessential businesses are encouraged to close, work remotely, or practice social distancing within the workplace.

Essential businesses were listed as: healthcare facilities, grocery stores, farms, farmer’s markets, produce stands, food banks, convenience stores, and any similar businesses that sell food or household consumer goods, news media, gas stations, financial institutions, hardware stores, plumbers, electricians, exterminators, shipping and postage businesses, educational institutions, laundromats, and restaurants, businesses that ship groceries, home care, retirement facilities, childcare, construction services, professional services, and utilities. Restaurants can only offer carry out, curbside, or drive-thru services.

No public gathering – organized group larger than ten – may convene on any county-owned or controlled property. This does not include sidewalks or pedestrian areas in parks, except for organized exercise.

All businesses that cater to tourists are prohibited under this ordinance.

Any resident of Georgia that is subject to a stay at home order and not physically present in Fannin County may not be allowed to enter the county during the declaration. However, this does not affect traffic through the county on state and federal roads and doesn’t voluntarily stop in county limits.

All Tourism rentals – short-term rentals, hotels, bed and breakfasts –  are declared non-essential business and must stop operation, except basic functions. Anyone currently staying in a rental may finish their stay but can’t extend it. All other customers must vacate their rental within 48 hours of the ordinance going into effect.

Tourism rentals can’t accept reservations during the declaration and should make potential customers aware that the state of emergency could be extended.

***Breaking – Fannin County, Ga.*** Board of Commissioners pass State of Emergency

Posted by Fetch Your News on Wednesday, March 25, 2020

These businesses can rent to Fannin County residents, who certify that the rental is needed to comply with any order issued by the President of the United States, Governor of the State of Georgia, or agencies and departments. Also, the potential renter must make it clear that the rental property will only house residents of Fannin County.

Rentals that serve healthcare or public safety officials and immediate family who are working in Fannin or adjacent counties are exempt from this order.

Any violation of this ordinance may be punishable by the termination of a business license/ tax certificate. An aggrieved business or party may appeal on a case by case basis, but it will not stay the order.

A curfew wasn’t enacted, but the Director of Emergency Services could still implement one at some point in the future. To enact a curfew, the commissioners would need 24 hour’s notice, and the public would need to be noticed 12 hours in advance over the NIXLE system. It would be between the hours of 9 p.m. and 5 a.m.

Violation of any part of the ordinance will result in a $1,000 fine.

emergencyemergencyemergency

Post One Earl Johnson won’t seek reelection

Board of Commissioners, Election, News
Post One Johnson

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’s tried to do his best by Fannin County for the past seven years.

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.

Commissioners expressed their appreciation of Johnson.

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

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