Blue Ridge, Ga – The Fannin County Board of Commissioners approved a memorandum of agreement (MOA) with Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) for Madola Road bridge construction during the Tuesday, April 23 board meeting.
The commissioners and GDOT must agree on the proposed budget before construction or improvements can proceed. Costs for the project will be split between the state of Georgia and Fannin County with the county expected to pay 50%. The shared cost includes not only bridge work but right of way acquisitions and expenses during the construction process.
GDOT recently recalculated the initial estimate of $327,000 and lowered the proposed expenses to $150,000 total with Fannin paying $75,000 instead of $163,500.
“I like that quite a bit compared to what we had,” said Fannin County Chairman Stan Helton.
“It’s an important bridge to the community. The state’s going to be taking a majority of the cost. I think $75,000 is a very good number for Fannin County,” stated Post One Commissioner Earl Johnson.
Construction will not begin until July 1, 2022, or later. The state still needs to approve the proposed project budget. Only once the budget receives the sign-off from the state will the county have to pay $75,000. Also, the expected amount could still change between now and the start of construction.
Madola Road Bridge built in 1956 was downgraded to a 5-ton weight limit in 2017 by GDOT. The department marked the bridge for replacement during that same inspection. Due to the limited usage, these improvements will open the road back up to motorists with larger hauls.
The Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the MOA and go forward with the project.
Next, Robert Graham, Fannin County EMA Director, announced that the county received a $26,000 federal grant to update the hazard mitigation plan.
A hazard mitigation plan is in place to help lessen the impact of disasters through identifying risks and vulnerabilities and developing long-term strategies to protect people and property. Fannin County’s current plan is updated every five years with November 2016 being the most recent plan approval.
Graham added, “These grants are only available after there has been a disaster in Georgia, then the federal government makes this hazard mitigation money available.”
The grant amount broke down as follows:
• Federal Share: $19,500
• State Share: $2,600
• Local share: $3,900
According to Graham, previously the county portion was paid via in-kind labor, and he expects the same this time, meaning the local portion will be minimal if anything at all.
If approved, Graham will have a new plan in place in 2020.
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.
Blue Ridge, Ga. – The North Georgia Mountain Crisis Network (NGMCN) is not often highlighted among the nonprofit charities in our community. With the sensitive nature of the services they provide, it is a fine line that the charity must walk in order to financially continue operations and still protect the anonymity of the victims who seek their help.
Started in 1986, the NGMCN is entering its 33 year of service.
“There are a lot of non profit organizations in our community providing care and support to residents of Fannin County,” NGMCN Board Member Steven Miracle said explaining where the charity’s services fall, “Our mission is to provide safety and support to survivors and their children of sexual abuse and domestic violence.”
Miracle went on to explain that there are four major areas in which the organization focuses:
- Sexual Assault. Through NGMCN victims of sexual assault are provided counseling and support services to help navigate them through a very difficult time.
- Domestic Violence. While NGMCN offers the counseling and services to victims of domestic violence as it does to victims of sexual assault, it also offers shelter to house these victims and their children.
- Legal Advocacy. NGMCN has a trained staff that will help victims navigate the sometimes daunting legal system.
- Education Awareness. NGMCN helps to spread the word of domestic and sexual violence through community outreach. This includes working hand in hand with law enforcement, hospitals, and different organizations that provide services to these victims.
In 2018, NGMCN housed 129 residents at their shelter. This accounted for 3,173 bed/nights (a measure of occupancy for one person assigned to one bed for one night). Residents of the shelter were also provided with well over 10,000 units of service.
“That’s actually sitting across from a survivor and their children within the shelter to be able to make phone calls, to be able to help them with any type of individual support,” NGMCN Executive Director Julie Welch explained the term “units of service”.
Outreach clients or those who did not require a shelter stay for last year totaled 158 clients and 8,700 units of service.
So far in 2019 the charity has already provided 380 bed/nights, 87 hotline calls, and 600 units of service.
Once a victim has stayed at the NGMCN shelter, the services continue even after that person has checked out. The charity works with community services in the area that the victim chooses to move to and helps provide a network of resources.
Welch said of this work, “That way we can provide a net of services so they don’t fall through the cracks.”
Over $60,000 were provided to those who reached out to NGMCN in 2018. This financial assistance is used when a client leaving a threatening situation has no source of income initially or is needed as short-term emergency funds.
“The fact that we are part of the budget is very much appreciated,” Miracle spoke to the Fannin County Board of Commissioners about the role the county plays, “and the support that you provide in helping us provide services to survivors and victims of our community is very, very much appreciated.”
Fannin County Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson shared his thoughts, “I admire what you do because quite simply, every situation you deal with is not a good situation, and you continually do it and your passion about what you do and everything that your organization does do, no one knows. I admire people who work behind the scenes. They do the things that they do. They don’t do it for any glamour or glory, they do it just for the reason you all do it because that’s what you feel like you should do.”
Welch acknowledged that it takes many volunteers, staff, and the community as a whole to provide these services: “It’s not just us. There’s a whole host of other people. It’s a team and working with law enforcement, the judicial system, hospitals…it’s completely a team and community effort.”
“I know some people that you literally saved their lives,” Fannin County Chairman Stan Helton thanked Miracle and Welch for the work they do. “Getting them out of situations that are horrendous. I’m not sure how many people in the county are aware of what a great thing you do. You do such a great thing for the community.”
There are currently 49 clients in their legal advocacy program and NGMCN is housing 14 people in their 12 bed shelter.
“Often times we will have moms that come in that will have small children,” Welch explained the high occupancy.
NGMCN serves both men and women who are victims of domestic and sexual violence. They hope by promoting education and awareness in these areas that eventually the cycle of abuse will come to an end.
Blue Ridge, Ga. – Feed Fannin is celebrating 10 years of serving Fannin County and throughout the years the all volunteer organization has grown and become a template for other projects across the state of Georgia.
Feed Fannin was founded in 2009 by Barbara Ferer who had a vision of bringing individuals together to “educate and encourage our community towards self-sufficiency while providing food for those in need”.
The very first garden planted in Fannin County was at Davenport Brothers Wood Yard and from there smaller gardens popped throughout the community.
“Our primary goal is to provide food or funds for the pantry,” Feed Fannin Board of Directors member Jane Kimzey said explaining the mission of the organization, and what Feed Fannin has provided to the Family Connection food pantry.
Through organically gardening a variety of produce, which varies year to year, Feed Fannin was able to raise and contribute 7,415 pounds of vegetables to the community in 2018. This large amount is predominantly attributed to, beyond the vast hours of work volunteers put in regularly, the Fannin County School System leasing a tract of land on Ada Street.
According to John Sugg, Chairman of Feed Fannin, acquiring the Ada Street property allowed the organization to grow exponentially.
“We are here today and we have one purpose, to tell you all thank you. This partnership means a lot to us,” Sugg spoke recently to the Fannin County Board of Education.
The Ada Street property was first leased from the school system in 2013, with the first garden being planted on site in April of 2014. The land, which is leased for $1.00 per year, not only allowed for Feed Fannin to move forward in their mission but also opened up an ongoing mutually beneficial relationship between the organization and the local schools.
Working side by side with Fannin County’s Future Farmers of America (FFA), Feed Fannin is excited to see the school system’s new Agriculture Center completed adjacent to their gardens.
“We work closely with their new Ag Center which is a jewel in this community,” Sugg said of the relationship shared with Fannin County schools.
Assistant Superintendent Robert Ensley spoke of the school system’s appreciation for Feed Fannin, “They have been a great partner to us. Through our STEM program and different things, they have helped us financially and been a partner in the community. They do a lot of great things.”
Since their beginning in 2009 Feed Fannin has provided the local food pantry and community with 64,797 pounds of produce. Along with this produce Feed Fannin works to raise money for the Family Connection food pantry.
“We either give the money directly to the food pantry in some cases, but in some cases we use it to purchase milk and eggs,” Kimzey spoke of the use of the funds raised each year.
Since 2009 Feed Fannin has raised over $320,000 to support area projects. Besides general upkeep of gardens and equipment, all money raised goes directly into the community, as there is no paid staff and the organization runs on a volunteer basis only.
Much of the funds raised for Feed Fannin come from the annual Bowls of Hope fundraiser. 2018 saw record breaking numbers as this fundraiser alone was responsible for bringing in almost $32,000.
So what’s in store for the future of Feed Fannin? Currently more than 168 volunteers work to provide services to the county. These services include year long educational classes, working with local elementary schools on gardening programs, continuing a relationship with Fannin County’s FFA program and stocking shelves with home grown goods for the local food pantry.
Feed Fannin has recently added a research and development team to keep up with the latest methods in gardening and to look into ways to improve an already successful program. An experimental garden has also been added to the Family Connection property and is being funded by an independent organization.
There is work being done to expand Feed Fannin’s allotment garden where individuals with less than ideal conditions for gardening can make use of the community land and plant their own small gardens.
Chairman of the Fannin County Board of Commissioners Stan Helton read from a proclamation acknowledging the work done by Feed Fannin, “Where as hunger in Fannin County continues to be problem, Feed Fannin, a group of individuals have joined forces to eliminate hunger in Fannin County by helping others help themselves through community gardening, education and shared resources.”
Feed Fannin invites all citizens of Fannin County to celebrate with them as they mark 10 years of service in our area. The annual fundraiser, Bowls of Hope, will be held on April 27, 2019 at Willow Creek Falls and Vineyard.
Blue Ridge, Ga. – The Fannin County Emergency Management (EMA) team continues to move forward with preparedness for the future.
Throughout 2017 and 2018 Fannin County’s EMA made steps to secure the safety and readiness of the department due to projected growth in our area. Grants were applied for and received to better equipment our emergency personnel, and purchases were made by the county to handle residential expansion.
While disasters are rare in our area, they can happen and our EMA is preparing for an all case scenario.
Fannin County EMA Director Robert Graham approached the Fannin County Board of Commissioners (BOC) earlier this year to seek approval for obtaining bid contracts that would take effect if a situation arose that required more than the county is equipped to handle.
At the Nov. 27 BOC meeting Graham was present to open sealed bids that had been received.
The number of bids was surprising as Fannin County Attorney Lynn Doss opened a total of nine packages received from disaster relief businesses across the nation.
“Did you tell these people that we have golden roof tops up here or something?” Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson joked as the bids were opened.
“I wish we could have gotten this many bids on anything else we do,” Johnson added on a serious note. “In six years, I have never seen this many bids.”
Graham explained the purpose of the contracts: “This is bids for pre-contracts that would be in place in case we have a disaster. We do not pay anything at this time and unless we activate the contract we don’t ever pay anything. It’s there in case we need additional resources to help remove a lot trees, a lot more than we can handle with our own resources.”
According to Graham the debris removal goes beyond just downed trees, it could include garbage, housing material, or hazardous waste to name a few.
Fannin County Chairman Stan Helton added about having a contract in place, “This is really just to put us in a position for additional federal funds.”
“It’s nice to have this in place,” Graham stated verifying Helton’s comment, “It makes us eligible for an additional 2 percent of disaster match money, should there be a disaster.”
The following companies responded to Fannin County’s request for this pre-contract bid:
Cres Environmental Services (Sarasota, Fl.)
Custom Tree Care Disaster Response (Topeka, Ks.)
Disaster Debris Removal (Ft. Lauderdale, Fl.)
DRC Emergency Services (Galveston, Tx.)
Graham County Land Company (Robbinsville, Nc.)
KDF Enterprises (Alpharetta, Ga.)
Southern Disaster Recovery (Washington, Ga.)
Phillips and Jordan (Knoxville, Tn.)
TRF Enterprises (Lanier, Tx.)
No action was taken in awarding a winning bidder for this contract. Graham requested time for his team to thoroughly review each bid, stating that credentials and references would need to be confirmed: “We’re going to have to vet the companies and make sure they are qualified to provide these services and that they have resources to provide the services as they say they do.”
Graham hopes to have a decision made to present to the BOC during one of the January 2019 meetings.
BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran expressed concern to the Fannin County Board of Assessors over the maps and aerials line item of the assessors budget at the board’s June 7 meeting.
Currently, the line item shows an over-budget amount of $7,524.11 due to an $8,000 payment to qPublic.net, the department’s public access tax records website, and a $23,524.11 amount paid for this year’s update of the countywide aerial photography mapping. The budget appropriation this year for maps and aerials is $24,000.
The mapping update was completed earlier this year using LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) technology, which produces high-resolution 3D imaging by using laser returns reflected from the earth’s surface back to a GPS-monitored aircraft.
Last year, prior to the approval of the mapping project, several county departments that will utilize the mapping technology as well as the municipalities of Blue Ridge, McCaysville and Morganton and utility entities all agreed to equally share the cost of the mapping and reimburse the assessors department upon completion of the project.
At Thursday’s meeting, Cochran explained while all of the county departments and outside entities have sent their reimbursement payments to the county, the reimbursement amount, which totals over $19,000.00, has yet to be credited to the assessors budget, leaving the aforementioned over-budget amount on paper. Once credited back to the assessors’ budget, an amount of approximately $12,000 would still remain in the maps and aerials line item, according to Cochran.
“I feel like we owe it to the tax payers to not be out of line, not be in the negative,” Cochran told the Board of Assessors.
She also said there would be additional expenditures throughout the rest of the year that would need to be deducted from the maps and aerials line item.
Also, Cochran stated the assessors were scheduled to be on the agenda at the next Board of Commissioners meeting June 12 to speak with the commissioners about the issue.
“I understand that there’s more (county) departments that are having kind of the same issue. It’s not just this department,” Assessor Troy Junnier said. “So it might be something that Robin (Gazaway, county finance director) is doing that – I don’t know – might makes things easier for her to track, but if that’s the case, it needs to be put to all the department heads that ‘This is what we’re doing and this is how it’s going to work.’ But then everything needs to flow correctly anyway.”
Referring to the Board of Commissioners, Cochran added, “They can make these things disappear at the end of the year at audit, but you’re at one person’s mercy that that get’s done. And so, I don’t feel comfortable with that, so I’ve kept you all a running total of what you’ve really spent versus haven’t. It’s been really time-consuming trying to keep both books, and the longer we do this, the more out-of-whack this is going to get.”
Cochran also shared with the assessors the results of the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts 2017 sales ratio study. The report studied a total of 322 samples from the county.
According to the study, the overall ratio for Fannin County stood at 38.36. This falls within the 36.00-to-44.00 range that is mandated by the Georgia Department of Revenue.
However, Cochran did note that the county’s coefficient of dispersion (COD) for residential property was high. The COD measures the uniformity within a classification or type of property.
The residential COD, according to the study, was 18.21 for 2017. Cochran explained this number should be 15.00 or less for residential property. For agricultural, commercial, and industrial, the COD was 18.17, 18.16 and 18.16, respectively, all of which fall in line with the state-mandated number of 20.00 or less.
“So, what the state will do, is they’ll send us a letter out once they get this audit, which is turned over to them. They’ll send a letter saying, ‘You need to take a look at your COD on the residential level. You have three years to look at this and go from there,’” Cochran told the assessors. “So, COD is what I was telling you all that, with rural land getting a little out of line, I knew this was probably heading that direction. There is evidence that rural land (revaluations) must be done next year.”
Despite the trouble with the residential COD, Cochran was optimistic of study. “I feel good about it … under the circumstances and the sheer number of sales that we’ve had,” Cochran said.
Cochran also presented the assessors with a consolidation value sheet for 2018, which essentially categorizes the parcel count, acreage and 40 percent value of the entire county property tax digest for the year. According to the information, the total gross taxable value for the county in 2018 stands at $1,685,565,308.
The chief appraiser told the assessors the digest increased by $42,442,741 over last year.