EMS rates are increasing in Fannin County

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EMS rates

BLUE RIDGE, Ga – The billing rates for emergency medical services (EMS) in Fannin County will be increasing for the first time in 10 years.

The increase will still put Fannin below the average prices of surrounding counties like Gilmer and Pickens. One reason for the rise in rates is inflation. PPE products have fallen victim to inflation much like groceries, cars, and building materials. The cost of gloves went from $75 per case to $160 per case.

“The main thing that is going to increase a little bit is specialty care. The more drugs and the more critical a patient is the more we have to do,” EMS Director Becky Huffman explained. “Mostly, we’re right along now with what Medicare will allow. We’ll be a little bit above that but speaking with our billing she said most people have supplemental insurances and they will pick up the difference.”

The new rates would help offset costs with people who utilize the service but don’t pay taxes in Fannin. In some instances, the increase would be $100, and the mile cost is up by $3 to $13 per mile.

New rates breakdown

The new advanced life support specialty care rate ($800) in Fannin is less than half of what Pickens charges for the same service.

N95 masks cost the department more than $1,000 and they’re required to use N95 masks on every call. EMS workers are trying to reuse masks when possible and looking into purchasing respirator masks as a permanent option. However, Huffman wants to find one that will last before purchasing a new product.

“I think we go ahead and increase it. We’ll still be lower than other counties,” Post Two Glenn Patterson stated.

Post One Johnny Scearce echoed a similar sentiment, expressing he’s “all for it.”

The county EMS doesn’t receive reimbursement from the hospital if an ambulance transports an individual from the hospital elsewhere. Fannin owns four ambulances to service the county so it’s a strain to transport people outside of the county from the hospital.

Fannin Regional Hospital is working with Prestige to transport people from its facility, but Prestige doesn’t have a Georgia license at this point. Once the state of Georgia grants Prestige a license, it will take some stress off Fannin EMS.

The commissioners approved the purchase of two power stretchers and one stair chair for the EMS Department as well. The cost comes out of the SPLOST budget for $4,100.

Public Works

Fannin Commissioners approved the purchase of a used bucket truck for the road department to assist with cutting down dead trees and limbs. The purchase comes out of SPLOST funds for $45,000.

Public Works Director Zack Ratcliffe assured the truck was in good condition and he’s talking with Tri-State EMC so the piece of equipment can receive regular testing.

Another SPLOST purchase of $50,000 was approved for striping in the county. The cost of striping roads is up because of the scarcity of product. Only one facility in Texas services most of the southeast with striping paint.

Ratcliffe added that all bridges in Fannin County are safe and GDOT inspected. All bridges must be inspected by GDOT every two years.

Phyllis Matthews was appointed to the Tax Assessor Board by Post One Johnny Scearce after Casey Eaton had to step down from the role.

Fannin County FFA Alumni Association Youth Fair

Announcements, Community, Feature News, Press Release
Fannin County FFA

Fannin County FFA Alumni Association Youth Fair:

Students must be a Pre club 4-H, FFA, or 4-H member of Fannin County.

 When: Saturday, September 18, 2021

Where: Fannin County School System Ag Facility, 43 Station Ridge Blue Ridge

Weigh-in for sheep, goats and market hogs: 8:00-8:30am

Check-in for other animal species: 8:00-9:00 AM

Show starts at: 9:00 AM

 Order of Classes:

1. Sheep–showmanship and weight class, grand and reserve

2. Goats–showmanship and weight class, grand and reserve

3. Pee Wee Sheep and Goat showmanship– (kids under 1st grade may borrow animal from older exhibitor, older exhibitor will walk with the younger exhibitor)

4. Market hogs–showmanship and weight class, grand and reserve

5. Horses— showmanship, mare and gelding halter, grand and reserve

6. Rabbits–purebred and crossbred bucks and does, best of show

 

7. Guinea pigs–purebred and crossbred male and female, best of show

8. Chickens–fancy and commercial roosters and hens, best of show

 *Sheep and goats must have a current certificate of veterinary inspection, Horses must have a current negative Coggins test*

*Rabbits/Guinea Pigs/Chickens must be healthy and free from mites*

 *Sheep, Goats, market hogs must be entered in the Georgia National Livestock Show in Perry in October*

 *Breakfast and lunch concessions will be available*

 * There are no entry fees but pre-registering animals through your ag teacher or 4-H office is preferred but not required

*Prizes will be awarded*

 * Spectators are welcome*

 

 For more information and to Register, please contact: 

Emily Fellenbaum, FCHS FFA [email protected]

Seth Davis, FCMS FFA [email protected]

Rachel Wasserman or Kayla Robertson, 4-H 706-632-3061

Aquatic Center discussions continue

Board of Commissioners, Community, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – Discussions continue as Blue Ridge City Council Member Mike Panter asks County Commissioners to consider a feasibility study for a proposed aquatic center in Fannin County.

Aquatic Center, Fannin County, Board of Commissioners, City Council, Board of Education, Farmer’s Market, Rec Center, Study, Cost, Chairman, Jamie Hensley, Post 1, Johnny Scearce, Mike Panter, Brian Higgins

Council member Mike Panter discusses proposed aquatic center with Fannin County Board of Commissioners.

“I am speaking not necessarily on behalf of the City Council,” Panter opened, stating that at the time he was speaking as a resident who had done research into a project and is hoping to gain support from not only the Fannin County Board of Commissioners but also from Blue Ridge City Council and the Fannin County Board of Education.

“The closest swimming facility is in Blairsville and it’s owned by the hospital,” Panter said of the lack of a comparable facility in our area. He did point out that currently the City of Calhoun in Gordon County has an aquatic center but that it is aging.

Some students from the Fannin County School System make several trips a week to utilize the Calhoun facility for aquatic sports, which is a 2 hour round trip.

There has been recent discussion of Fannin County putting in a splash pad for residents. The splash pad at Meeks Park in Union County was brought up as a comparison for price. The Meeks Park splash pad was installed in 2016 with an approximate cost of $360,000.

Panter also noted Lincoln County’s splash pad with a price tag of $156,000, “The reason it was so cheap was because they filled in their pool. They already had a bathroom facility and sewer.”

The City of Blue Ridge had looked into a similar possibility of a splash pad, due to the costly repairs needed at the city’s current outdoor pool.

Panter pointed out that the current city pool repairs could have a price tag of over $100,000 and would only be able to be used three to four months each year.

The proposed aquatic center could incorporate a splash pad, along with a heated indoor pool and a health club. 

A similar plan for an aquatic center has recently been approved in Lumpkin County.  

The Lumpkin County Aquatic Center website states :

“This state-of-the art facility will not only have indoor and outdoor swimming, but will also have a lazy river and splash activities for children, outdoor rental spaces, and a therapy pool for those who desire low impact exercise or need rehabilitation after illness or surgery.”

The cost of Lumpkin County’s new endeavor is roughly $8 million, which Panter projects Fannin County to have a similar cost. Panter stated that the cost would not necessarily have to be a lump sum and that the project could be done in phases.

Using the current location of the Blue Ridge Farmer’s Market building could save at least $1 million in on site prep work according to Panter, “The city has no debt on that property whatsoever.”

“The high school themselves, they are being pushed to have an aquatics program,” Panter stated when asked if the school system was considering building its own aquatic facility but added of the general public’s ability to use a facility strictly owned by the school system, “As all of us know in the school systems, a lot of the school facilities are locked down. It’s hard to use the school facilities.”

Panter stressed that this was another reason that he felt an intergovernmental agreement between the three entities would best serve the community.

While no Commissioners seemed outright opposed to the idea of an aquatic center, concerns were expressed of the long term benefits, costs and responsibilities of such a facility. 

Fannin County Commission Chairman Jamie Hensley stated that with a project of such magnitude being proposed, he wants to make sure it would be done correctly the first time and that it is truly something that would benefit the community in the long term.

Concerns were also raised of Panter’s proposed location of the City’s Farmer’s Market building, with Post 1 Commissioner Johnny Scearce directly discussing these concerns. 

“That Farmer’s Market has been sitting there for 10 years unused,” Panter answered Scearce’s questions, “We’ve spent over $100,000 in tax payers money on the Farmer’s Market just to keep it there.” 

Brian Higgins, a long time proponent of bringing back Blue Ridge’s Farmer’s Market to the unused facility, spoke during public comments, “We are totally in agreement on the aquatic center. It’s the location that we have a difference of opinion on.”

Higgins pointed out that the Farmer’s Market is one of the few nostalgic properties left in the city limits and feels that the Rec. Center would be a more appropriate location.

Citing that it makes more sense to build an aquatic center where the county’s main sports hub already resides, Higgins also pointed out that the Rec. Center has much more land, giving Fannin County the option of expansion as need arises in the future.

Panter is hoping that a feasibility study can help point everyone in the right direction and clarify a lot of the uncertainties surrounding the proposed project.

The cost of a feasibility study could run around $75,000. 

Panter is expected to present again to all three entities once he obtains a quote. His hope is to get approval from the Fannin County Board of Commissioners, Blue Ridge City Council and the Fannin County Board of Education on splitting the cost of the study, so that everyone can get an accurate idea of what will be involved in moving forward with the project.

 

Featured Image: City of Blue Ridge Farmer’s Market Property

Fannin sets property tax increase hearings

News
property jail

BLUE RIDGE, Ga – At the previous commission meeting in July, Chairman Jamie Hensley announced he anticipated the millage rate would remain the same as last year’s. Since the county isn’t accepting the state’s rollback rate, it’s viewed as a tax increase.

“Fannin County, a political subdivision of the State of Georgia, has tentatively adopted a millage rate which will require an increase in property taxes by 2.30 percent,” reads the public hearing announcement.

By leaving the millage rate at 3.862, it’s interpreted as an increase of 0.87 mills. In other words, the rollback rate provided by the state would be 3.775 mills.

According to the notice, “the proposed tax increase for a home with a fair market value of $200,000 is $6.96 and the proposed tax increase for non-homestead property with a fair market value of $150,000 is approximately $5.22.”

The public hearing schedule is as follows:

  • Tuesday, August 10 at 5:30 p.m.
  • Tuesday, August 17 at 6:00 p.m.
  • Tuesday, August 24 at 5:30 p.m.

All public hearings will be held on the third floor of the courthouse in the Jury Assembly Room.

For the past few years, Fannin has accepted the rollback rate and continuously kept taxes low in the county.

Previous Post One Earl Johnson advised in the past that at some point in time, Fannin Commissioners would have to raise taxes to keep up with local services.

“It’s nice having the cheapest millage rate in the county, but if it’s not allowing you to equal good services,” said Johnson in 2019, “At some point in time, there’s a Board of Commissioners going to have to evaluate our services versus our millage rate and evaluate accordingly.”

The 2020 board of commissioners agreed the pandemic year wasn’t a good time to raise taxes on the public. They also kept the budget flat for the year. The new board that took office in 2021 issued a budget adjustment to account for cost-of-living increases for the county’s employees.

Fannin’s not the only county dealing with property tax increases. In 2020, Union County raised the county portion of taxes by 17 percent and is currently in the process of determining the new millage rate after a countywide property reassessment.

Several north Georgia counties are experiencing trouble hiring and keeping qualified public service staff with deputy and fire services talent seeking out higher-paying jobs in neighboring counties.

The next Fannin County Commissioners meeting is on July 27 at 6 p.m. in the Jury Assembly Room.

Council overrides Mayor’s Veto

City Council, Downtown Blue Ridge, News
Blue Ridge, Georgia, Height, Zoning, Building, Restriction, Veto, Override, Fannin County, City Council, Post 1, Harold Herdon, Post 2, Rhonda Haight, Post 3, Mike Panter, Post 4, Robbie Cornelius, Post 5, Nathan Fitts, Mayor, Donna Whitener

Blue Ridge, Ga. – City Council voted to override the Mayor’s veto of new height restrictions to be placed on future construction in the Central Business District (CBD) of the City of Blue Ridge.

The most current ordinance that stood regarding building height placed the restriction at 60 feet. The new ordinance brings the height restriction down to 41 feet (35 feet with up to an additional 6 feet to act as a buffer for any mechanical components that accompany the building).

At the June 8, 2021 City Council meeting all council members voted unanimously in favor of the 35 foot height restriction in the CBD after the recommendation of 35 feet came from the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Blue Ridge, Georgia, Height, Zoning, Building, Restriction, Veto, Override, Fannin County, City Council, Post 1, Harold Herdon, Post 2, Rhonda Haight, Post 3, Mike Panter, Post 4, Robbie Cornelius, Post 5, Nathan Fitts, Mayor, Donna Whitener

The Gartrell Building is one of the taller historical buildings still remaining in the CBD.

Mayor Donna Whitener vetoed the council’s vote on this height restriction and released a letter to the public explaining her stance.

Among her reasons explained Whitener stated : 

“Two different Zoning Administrators have proposed numerous times to reduce the height on buildings in the CBD area to 45 ft. While I am not in favor of the 60 ft height, it is my opinion that the 35 ft suggestion might not be adequate either.”

During the July 13, 2021 City Council meeting, zoning was a major topic of discussion with the proposed Town Hall Meeting on the subject being canceled last minute due to lack of adequate notice.

Whitener expressed that the height restriction could devalue current properties and felt that council and zoning should seek further training and guidance on the matter before making such a drastic change to the ordinance.

“I really feel like it needs to be looked at and evaluated and we need to come up with a good number so that we’re not battling lawsuits,” Whitner stated of her decision.

“Our Zoning Administrators have both recommended 45 feet” Whitener added, “With that I also feel like if we are going to do a reduction we need to talk about mechanicals being on top. I do think you should have a parapet wall, as we’ve discussed a little bit.”

A parapet wall is an extension of a wall at a roof line. This is often used to hide rooftop mechanics for aesthetic purposes.

Overall Whitener proposed looking into making the ordinance reduction from 60 feet to 45 feet.

Council member Mike Panter addressed Cindy Trimble, a member of the Planning and Zoning Commission, asking her if her recommendation of 35 feet still stood after all that she had heard during the meeting.

“I still stand where we voted, 35 feet, plus the addition for the equipment,” Trimble replied, also stating that she felt the 6 foot addition would be enough to cover any mechanics on a roof.

Council Member Rhonda Haight brought an end to discussion saying to Whitener, “You’re more concerned about the values and properties downtown, not about the aesthetics and not about what the people want.”

Haight motioned for the veto to be overridden and council voted unanimously in favor, with Council Member Harold Herndon not present to vote.

Fannin Economic Development Updates

Business, Development Authority, Feature News, Press Release
high school job fair
Fannin Economic Development Updates
Internet needs:
Please take under 5 minutes to help Fannin County with a survey related to internet service at your home in Fannin (or in close proximity to Fannin, such as Cherry Log). This survey data will help determine areas of the county with the greatest need for improved internet (ie high-speed internet service from Blue Ridge Mountain, TDS, or ETC). Click here to complete the survey. Please share this survey with employees, friends, and family.
Upcoming Webinars:
Upcoming webinars through the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) can be found here. A few topics include: Access to Capital, Quickbooks, and Financial Statements. As a reminder, the SBDC provides tools, training, and resources to help small businesses grow and succeed. Contact information for our local office can be found here.
Unemployment:
Effective 6/26/21, Georgia is no longer participating in the Federal Program American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA). We hope that you start to see a return of employees to the workforce. Click here for a full guide to unemployment changes.
Contact:
Christie Gribble
(706) 632-4450

Chamber Offers Flexible Space for Meetings and Internet Access

Announcements, Business, Fannin County Chamber, Featured News, Press Release
register for fall decorating contest
Chamber offers flexible space for meetings and internet access.
chamber offers flexible space
Due to increased demand, the Chamber now has flexible meeting space for the use of visitors, businesses and local organizations who need access to the internet for trip planning and work. The Business Center also offers printing, fax and scanning, along with comfortable space for individuals and small group meetings. In addition, there is private office space available for those who need a quiet place for a business meeting or teleconference. Traditional meeting rooms are available for group meetings from 8 to 40. For more information, contact Meagan Gourley: [email protected], 706-632-5680.
Flexible Space available:
·        Private Office for up to 4
·        Business Center for one to eight
·        Meeting Room for up to 14
·        Conference Room for up to 40
For use as:
·        Internet Hot Spot with printing, fax and scan;
·        Private space for Zoom meetings and teleconferencing;
·        Business Meetings
·        Board Meetings
·        Training and Workshops
Available to:
Chamber Members
Visitors
Residents
Second Homeowners
Civic Organizations
Elected Officials

RCut funding causes debate among City Officials

City Council, Downtown Blue Ridge, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – The “look of impropriety” fueled debate over the City of Blue Ridge’s recent involvement in improvements to Highway 515.

Previously the University of North Georgia (UNG) had approached the city looking for help in obtaining funds to create an RCut in the median of Hwy. 515. This RCut would allow motorists to make a left hand turn off the highway and into the entrance of the campus.

Blue Ridge, Georgia, RCut, Fannin County, City Council, Post 1, Harold Herdon, Post 2, Rhonda Haight, Post 3, Mike Panter, Post 4, Robbie Cornelius, Post 5, Nathan Fitts, Mayor, Donna Whitener, Attorney, James Balli, University of North Georgia, John Kieffer, Senator, Steve Gooch, LMIG, grant, funding

Almost completed RCut on Hwy. 515 allowing access to the UNG campus.

GDOT (Georgia Department of Transportation) looked into the project and determined there was a need for the RCut due to potential traffic flow and for safety reasons.

“The developer couldn’t pull a DOT permit,” Mayor Donna Whitener stated as to the City’s initial involvement but clarified that the request for the RCut came from UNG.

Councilmember Nathan Fitts stated that he had no issue with the City being a vehicle for obtaining the permit but took issue with taxpayer dollars being spent on the project.

GDOT initially slated $150,000 towards providing the RCut this funding came through LMIG (Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant) and developer, John Kieffer put in approximately $48,000 towards surveying and engineering fees.

The low bid for the project came in at $220,978.61. UNG agreed to contribute $35,000 to the RCut project but this still left a shortfall of $35,978.61.

UNG approached both the City of Blue Ridge and the Fannin County Commissioners asking for funds to cover the shortfall but neither entity would agree to pay with local tax dollars.

“I’ve not even officially got word of that and I’m a councilmember. No one has ever given me notice,” Councilmember Rhonda Haight explained that none of the council was notified that funds to complete the project had been gathered and wanted an explanation as to where and how the funds came about.

The remaining funds came through another LMIG grant from GDOT in the amount of $35,000 and UNG made up the remainder $978.61.

Fitts conveyed his disappointment that the remaining funds came from taxpayers, even if at a state level: “This is a developer expense. It’s always been a developer expense and it is not right for the city taxpayers and in my opinion the state taxpayers to pay for a developer’s entrance.”

The developer is assumed to substantially increase the monetary value of the remaining parcels for sale by obtaining the RCut according to Fitts. 

“Me and Rhonda talked to Mr. Keiffer and said that on our watch we would not approve it through the city,” Fitts said, explaining that he didn’t feel tax dollars should be spent for the financial gain of a private developer and that projects of this nature should be at the developer’s expense.

Fitts stated that in private conversation the developer had initially said he would be paying for the expenses but that the narrative changed.

“The college did need it, but the conversation that was told to us was that he (Kieffer) needed help from us because he had lost money on that property he had sold to the college,” Fitts said of the ordeal adding that taxpayers should not be on the hook for a developer’s bad business decision.

Blue Ridge, Georgia, RCut, Fannin County, City Council, Post 1, Harold Herdon, Post 2, Rhonda Haight, Post 3, Mike Panter, Post 4, Robbie Cornelius, Post 5, Nathan Fitts, Mayor, Donna Whitener, Attorney, James Balli, University of North Georgia, John Kieffer, Senator, Steve Gooch, LMIG, grant, funding

Signage advertising remaining parcels for sell in the development.

“It is a look again of impropriety that the City keeps getting itself into, that we all the sudden are paying for a personal developer to have an RCut,” Haight added.

Evidence of the boost to property value and appeal can be seen by a recent sign placed that advertises the RCut coming soon as well as the remaining tracts for sale.

“Are we going to have to pay for all the developers from here on out?” Haight questioned if the City would be setting a precedent for future transactions, and added, “As a state taxpayer I’m a little appalled that my money went to pay for this private RCut.”

The second LMIG in the amount of $35,000 came from the state when Whitener spoke with state level representatives about the issue. This was done without council knowledge according to Haight and Fitts.

“Thanks to Steve Gooch and GDOT. I really appreciate their help,” Whitener said, explaining that the state came in and saw a need for the RCut or would not have given the go ahead on the project.

Whitener also pointed out that LMIG funds could be used anywhere in the state.

“I’m glad that those state tax dollars are being allotted for our area,” Whitener stated, “It is going toward improving safety for the people driving down 515, one of our busiest roads.”

 

***Featured Image is sign placed by real estate agent representing the developer advertising remaining property and RCut

City Parking Contract to be investigated

City Council, Downtown Blue Ridge, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – The City of Blue Ridge parking continues to be a topic of discussion as accusations and controversy surround the management of the paid municipal lots.

Cesar Martinez, President of the Blue Ridge Business Association and Chairman of the Downtown Development Authority, read from an incident report filed to EPS (Executive Parking Systems) from one of its employees.

The incident, which took place on Saturday, May 29, 2021 during the Arts in the Park festival, involved EPS charging motorists to park at City Hall.

“I was pretty appalled,” Martinez said of the filed complaint, “The verbal attack on the parking attendants on May 29th was reprehensible and unacceptable.” 

According to the complaint, a parking attendant with EPS was confronted by Councilmember Nathan Fitts about the company charging and accepting cash to park in the lot.Blue Ridge, Georgia, Parking, Fannin County, City Council, Post 1, Harold Herdon, Post 2, Rhonda Haight, Post 3, Mike Panter, Post 4, Robbie Cornelius, Post 5, Nathan Fitts, Mayor, Donna Whitener, Attorney, James Balli, Executive Parking Systems, Shelli WoJohn, Bid, Process, Contract, Cesar Martinez, Downtown Development Authority, Blue Ridge Business Association, Georgia Municipal Association, GMA, investigation

The parking attendant claims that Fitts drove into the lot and became irate when discussing the issue, telling the attendant that the collection of money for this particular lot was not authorized and that Fitts flaunted his position of power with statements like “I’m the top of the food chain”.

Fitts denies these claims and states that he had four witnesses with him who are willing to testify in court that this was not what took place.

Fitts said that he went to City Hall after receiving numerous complaints from residents and business owners.

“It would have been nice if you (Martinez) and or the Mayor were going to make these decisions, that you notify us council members or got our permission so we could let our downtown business owners know this,” Fitts spoke directly to Martinez, “It is not up to you to run this town.”

According to Fitts, once in the parking lot to verify that motorists were being charged, he called Zach Wojohn, President of EPS, and placed him on speaker phone.

Fitts explained to Wojohn that business owners had been told that City Hall would be free parking for employees and asked who had given permission to charge for the lot.

According to Fitts, Wojohn replied, “I have the Mayor on my side. I don’t have to answer anything to you” and hung up on him.

“The parking attendants were just there to do their jobs,” Martinez spoke to Council, “They had no knowledge of anything Mr. Fitts was ranting about.”

Martinez went on to say that he felt Mr. Fitts owes many apologies concerning the incident.

Fees for parking at City Hall have been collected during major events for several years now and Martinez pointed out these fees were collected “without objection”.

“Festivals have always been where we charge for parking at City Hall. It’s been done several times and nobody, including yourself (Fitts), ever raised a word,” Martinez said, adding about the new concern over parking, “There’s one big thing that’s changed and that’s the toxic vendetta filled politics plaguing our city.”

The issue of City parking came to the table once again during the meeting with Fitts and Councilmember Rhonda Haight giving their legal findings regarding the City’s contract with EPS.

Recently Council voted to not terminate the existing contract with EPS and not utilize the sealed bid process, with the tie breaking vote being cast by Mayor Donna Whitener.

“The more and more I dig into this, the more and more I find that I do not have it in me for the City of Blue Ridge to get taken advantage of in any shape, form or fashion,” Fitts said of the current contract with EPS.

Fitts and Haight, who have spent over $20,000 of their own money seeking legal opinion, recently asked several questions of former City Attorney David Syfan regarding the current contract and the legalities of EPS collecting and keeping money from non-special event parking.Blue Ridge, Georgia, Parking, Fannin County, City Council, Post 1, Harold Herdon, Post 2, Rhonda Haight, Post 3, Mike Panter, Post 4, Robbie Cornelius, Post 5, Nathan Fitts, Mayor, Donna Whitener, Attorney, James Balli, Executive Parking Systems, Shelli WoJohn, Bid, Process, Contract, Cesar Martinez, Downtown Development Authority, Blue Ridge Business Association, Georgia Municipal Association, GMA, investigation

When asked his legal opinion on whether the process of the City’s parking management should go through the sealed bid process, Syfan quoted the City Charter and stated in a written statement, “The clear answer is that under Georgia law, Section 630. That does not allow the City to bypass the sealed bid process or the auction process.”

Section 630 refers to general contracts entered into by the City and Fitts explained that every other service with the exception of parking management has gone through the sealed bid process.

Syfan went on to point out that the wording of the second contract with EPS, which has never been approved, makes it evident that the company according to current contract is only to be paid a percentage of monies during special events.

Wording in the second unapproved contract, states that EPS would collect funds for day to day operations. This wording is added and not in the current contract with the City.

City Council never gave permission to EPS to collect funds on day to day operations according to Haight and Fitts.

“Since EPS has no valid contractual right to those funds, EPS should turn over to the City all of those funds that were not event related and that were received due to unauthorized use of City property,” Syfan stated in an email.

Haight reached out to the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) who agreed to review all evidence relating to the parking contract and advise the City for a fee of $1,500.

Haight expressed her feelings of allowing GMA to investigate the matter and felt the City would benefit from their unbiased opinion.

A motion was made by Haight to move forward with a GMA investigation and seconded by Councilmember Mike Panter. Council unanimously voted to move forward with the investigation.

Fannin County man arrested for drug trafficking in North Carolina

News, Press Release

Murphy, NC— Sheriff Derrick Palmer announced the May 18, 2021 arrest of 29-year-old Cecil Jessy Cable, of Fannin County Georgia for charges stemming for violations of the North Carolina Controlled Substances statutes.

On May 18, 2021 Detectives with the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office conducted a traffic stop on vehicle occupied by Cable. During the traffic stop the detectives developed probable cause and conducted a search of the vehicle operated by Cable. During the search of the vehicle a trafficking amount of methamphetamine was seized.

Cable was arrested and is currently incarcerated in the Cherokee County Detention Center under a $215,000.00 secure bond for Trafficking in Methamphetamine, Possession with Intent to Manufacture, Sell, or Deliver Controlled substances. Cable was also arrested for two Failure To Appear charges from a previous arrest. Cable has made his initial appearance in Cherokee County District Court.

Sheriff Derrick Palmer stated “We continue our struggle in fighting the drugs that are coming into Cherokee County. Each arrest helps in that fight as well as information provided from our community.”

To report suspicious activity and suspect violations of the law please call 828-837-1344 or submit a tip at [email protected]

Panter and Fitts give their opinion on recent affordable housing vote

City Council, Community, News
Blue Ridge, Georgia, Affordable Housing, Beverly J. Searles Foundation, Philip Searles, Housing Authority, Traver Aiken, HUD, Family, Senior, Age Restrictive, Mineral Springs Drive, Fannin County, City Council, Post 1, Harold Herdon, Post 2, Rhonda Haight, Post 3, Mike Panter, Post 4, Robbie Cornelius, Post 5, Nathan Fitts, Mayor, Donna Whitener, Attorney, James Balli, Planning Commission, Family Connection, Sherry Morris

Blue Ridge, Ga. – Councilmembers Mike Panter and Nathan Fitts are sharing their reasoning behind a recent controversial vote on a proposed housing project presented by the Beverly J. Searles Foundation.

The following are direct statements from Panter and Fitts regarding their votes and opinions on the matter.

From Councilmember Mike Panter

Why I Voted No

To the Citizens of Blue Ridge, I have been asked multiple times sine May 11th, why I didn’t support the rezoning request and the affordable housing development with the Searles Foundation.Blue Ridge, Georgia, Affordable Housing, Beverly J. Searles Foundation, Philip Searles, Housing Authority, Traver Aiken, HUD, Family, Senior, Age Restrictive, Mineral Springs Drive, Fannin County, City Council, Post 1, Harold Herdon, Post 2, Rhonda Haight, Post 3, Mike Panter, Post 4, Robbie Cornelius, Post 5, Nathan Fitts, Mayor, Donna Whitener, Attorney, James Balli, Planning Commission, Family Connection, Sherry Morris

Let me begin by saying I do and have always supported the need for affordable housing in the City of Blue Ridge and Fannin County. However, just because you support something doesn’t mean you should automatically vote for something that is going to affect the citizens for the next 50 years. You must be able to support why you believe that this project is best for the city residents. Especially when over 100 citizens who live within a mile of the proposed project have signed a petition against the project.

When you stop and think about an additional 171 rental units being built and 200 additional automobiles daily, between two schools, on a heavily traveled road that has no traffic lights, turn lanes, street lights, sidewalks, roundabouts, any type of traffic study, or a 5-to-10-year strategic growth plan, it doesn’t make sense. You say to yourself there has to be a better location.

This project was started by the Haights on January 28, 2021. The variance application was not applied for until February 26, 2021. It was briefly introduced to the Council April 13, 2021 without any detailed information. It was presented to the zoning and planning board May 2, 2021 and to the council for final vote May 11, 2021. A lot of people didn’t understand that this was a land swap instead of a traditional purchase and sell. In my opinion both boards should have at least 30 days to research and verify their information before voting.

I was the only council member present at the one-hour meeting. Unlike other members of the audience, I was not allowed to speak or ask any questions because I am an elected official. Therefore, the majority of questions I would have asked were not addressed. One member of the Planning Commission was 30 minutes late to the meeting but still felt that they had enough information to make a motion to approve this 20 – 30-million-dollar project.

Is the Searles Foundation the right partner/developer for our city residents if we can only choose one?

  • Who are the partners that will be involved in the Searles Project?
  • Could the project ever be transferred or sold to another entity? What type of entity?
  • Who manages the project? Fairway Management Company? Haight House, LLC? Other?

Even though our current water and sewer is in good shape, the sewer plant was built 23 years ago and is currently in the design phase for a 5-million-dollar rehab. Can it handle another 171 apartments within the Mineral Springs area over the next 3 years?

What effect does President Biden’s 213-billion-dollar proposal for infrastructure and housing have on this project? Will the developer only allow current Fannin County citizens or will they be required to open up the development to qualified candidates within the state, southeast or country?

The following is a list of questions I have for the Foundation and Zoning Board.

  1. If we are going to have only one development within a 2-3 mile radius of the City, is this the best location?
  2. Will the current residents be forced to move?
  3. What is included in the rent? Water, power, cable?
  4. It has been stated that the Searles Foundation minimum rent is $600/month. The majority of residents are currently paying less than $300/month. Does their rent continue to stay the same?
  5. What out of pocket expense will the city residents and tax payers be responsible for?
  6. How do individuals with low to no income currently living in the woods behind businesses, cars, etc. afford the Searles Foundation project?
  7. What is the time period for construction?
  8. Will all of the trees be removed on the 15 acres?
  9. Will a center turn lane be added? If so when will the road be widened?
  10. Will sidewalks, traffic lights, streetlights or roundabouts be added?
  11. Who will be our new city residents? And can we have the answer to this question in a contract?
  12. Offering $40 thousand for road modifications at the end of Mineral Springs will by no means cover the expense. A traffic light and a roundabout would cost in excess of $100,000. Who pays the extra expense? City or County?
  13. Why is the Housing Authority pushing a 50-year contract when the current residents will be moved to the Searles project? There would be no need for this contract.
  14. Would the existing housing units be owned by the Haights and turned into personal rental income or torn down and developed into a trailer park?
  15. Can the Searles Foundation give us a plan or contract of what the current housing authority units will look like in 10 years?

These questions summarize why I requested an additional 2 – 3 days time before I was required to vote. How could I just vote Yes? I believe all of these questions need to be answered before a vote can take place which will affect our community for the next 50 years.

From Councilmember Nathan Fitts

I am extremely disappointed in some of our city elected officials and with the denial of the zoning for the affordable housing at the council meeting last week. To answer some of the outstanding questions I’ve heard and saw I wanted to outline the factual information as a council member. I know there have been some questions on why we didn’t table the vote for the rezoning.Blue Ridge, Georgia, Affordable Housing, Beverly J. Searles Foundation, Philip Searles, Housing Authority, Traver Aiken, HUD, Family, Senior, Age Restrictive, Mineral Springs Drive, Fannin County, City Council, Post 1, Harold Herdon, Post 2, Rhonda Haight, Post 3, Mike Panter, Post 4, Robbie Cornelius, Post 5, Nathan Fitts, Mayor, Donna Whitener, Attorney, James Balli, Planning Commission, Family Connection, Sherry Morris

First of all, I don’t know why we would have tabled the vote as that was one of the main objectives of the council meeting that was on the agenda. I am the council member who made the motion to APPROVE the zoning contingent upon all of the conditions that had been recommended to us by the Planning Commission and Zoning Board previously who had already heard the request. At a recent previous zoning hearing, the mayor actually violated the city’s meeting policy by allowing it to be tabled and when the question was raised at the meeting about the legalities of being able to table it, I was not willing to participate in anything other than what I knew to be the law and policy in place. Additionally, I had legal counsel who had advised me that we had to vote. Unfortunately, our city attorney was not present and was not available to provide legal advice at the time, so I made the motion and proceeded by the policy that was set for such which is that we were to vote immediately following the hearing. That rule is outlined on page 4 as Item 5 in the Meeting Rules of Procedures. Additionally, all council members had all of the information to review ahead of time. As a matter of fact, all of them had talked with the developer personally, got questions answered, and had from the zoning hearing time frame to the council meeting date to research and investigate any matters regarding this zoning request so a decision could be made the night of the hearing as required. There have been rumors that this hearing was “rushed” or “pushed” through in a matter of a couple of weeks, and I can attest to the fact that such statements are untrue. The amount of time for it was longer than what was required by law and this has been being discussed for many weeks. If there are any proven facts to the contrary, I have not been privy to it and have no knowledge of such.

What is most disappointing, and heartbreaking is that one of the biggest opportunities in the history of this county, in my opinion, for the local community was lost. The need for affordable housing is real and needed in a bad kind of way. The chance for us as the city council and as the community as a whole to help the “locals” was there and stripped away due to political and personal reasons in my opinion. I might also add from knowing all of the facts and information surrounding this project as a whole, I feel that was the reason and reason alone that the mayor voted no for the project is out of spite as one of the parties involved which is ashamed in my opinion. This was not about her and anything political this was about doing what is needed in the area and doing the right thing for the people, something the mayor has lost sight of over the last few years it seems. The reason the mayor publicly gave as she voted no was because she wished she just had some more information and had some numbers for the sewer. I know my jaw probably dropped open when that was the reason given because the mayor is or should be very aware of the city’s infrastructure information as it was her herself who just a couple of weeks ago quoted the exact information at a city council meeting and also as the previous zoning hearing for another developer that she was now acting like she didn’t know anything about and had questions regarding. Well for the record, the question regarding the sewer, was information that she knows and all of us know and have known. As I made the statement at the meeting, the sewer upgrades the city has to do regardless and already have planned to do. Below is a snapshot of our master infrastructure needs for both water and sewer which you will see both of the items in question on that the mayor didn’t know anything about or have recollection of. Perhaps she forgot this spreadsheet even existed because the Mineral Springs sewer and Aska pump station have been on a list for repair/replacement for quite some time and even talked about publicly in March when this information was provided to the public. The mayor herself even spoke about it at the infrastructure meeting we had in April but now a month later for this situation she knows nothing about it. Very interesting. I would highly suggest going back and watching the meeting or reading the minutes of the meeting on infrastructure and you’ll see her concerns stated for the denial were already addressed and she’s fully aware of that. Please listen to the meeting of the April 21, 2021 meeting and compare it to Tuesday night’s council meeting. One would think it was two different Mayors speaking at each meeting. One sounds highly educated about our sewer/water and the other she sounds like she has not clue as to what is going on with it and is confused with questions. So, what was the real reason??? Is she really just totally out of the loop and neglecting her job duties as CEO of the city or did she just use that as an excuse and play dumb so she could vote against it? Now that everything is being researched and dissected and she’s been caught in lie after lie, I would think she would have learned some valuable lessons, however, it doesn’t seem she has. Each of you can do your own research, watch and listen and you can make your own conclusion.

Blue Ridge, Georgia, Affordable Housing, Beverly J. Searles Foundation, Philip Searles, Housing Authority, Traver Aiken, HUD, Family, Senior, Age Restrictive, Mineral Springs Drive, Fannin County, City Council, Post 1, Harold Herdon, Post 2, Rhonda Haight, Post 3, Mike Panter, Post 4, Robbie Cornelius, Post 5, Nathan Fitts, Mayor, Donna Whitener, Attorney, James Balli, Planning Commission, Family Connection, Sherry Morris

The water and sewer departments are both departments in which I am over so I can speak with firsthand knowledge of these items. These have been planned to be done and are slated to be completed by 2022 regardless of if this project had gotten approved or denied. The Aska pump station already has a task release number and will be applied for through grant at the beginning of next year. The cost is around $1,000,000. The Mineral Springs storm water problem is estimated at $500,000. It too is slated to be completed and corrected by 2021, but we will know more actually next week. Matt Smith, the city’s engineer from Carter and Slope, said that next week we will run another camera and he thinks the lines will have to be replaced as they are too small. He feels the high end of the project is $500,000. As stated, this is all in the works to be completed according to the plan by 2021 and is and has already been planned. The grant for the Aska Pump station would actually benefit from showing that we could have been adding more customers to this area. It shows we will have more ability to pay for these upgrades. Regardless of the project going forward or not, these two things HAVE TO BE DONE! There is no way around it.

In my opinion whether it be that used for the excuse or something else, there was going to be an excuse to vote no because of the underlying motif behind the denial. I had calls from people prior to the meeting trying to get what the true facts were about this project and the developers behind it as people were stating that they were called from the mayor personally giving information and her opinion on the project that were not even factual and were discrediting parties involved and doing what she’s been known to do best which is creating “chaos” to push her agenda. In addition to a personal vendetta towards some of the parties involved she also has been at odds with and has a strong dislike for the director of the housing authority for years. As a matter of fact, the housing authority as of this very minute still doesn’t have a signed coop agreement from the city that has expired, and they’ve been working diligently on getting done for months and months if not well over a year as I’ve been involved the last few months. Every time we get everything done and ready to vote and sign off on it, there’s another hurdle thrown up or excuse to delay it even further. Again, all power plays and personal dislikes which are putting the citizens and public’s best interest in the crossfire which is shameful and disgusting. For those people who are living in the tents around town, in campers and in tractor trailers, the homeless, and those living with family members because they can’t find housing and affordable housing at that in this area, they are the ones that this effected the most. This could have made an impact on their lives and it was an opportunity lost and only for the reasons for the mayor to flex her muscles for political and personal vendettas. I want to thank all of those people who have put so much time and effort in trying to get affordable housing in this area. It is needed way beyond what most people who live locally even realize. I hope that we can all do our part to help those in need and that there will be a new solution for affordable housing at some point in the near future for the residents of this area.

Softball Camp Next Week at the Rec Fields

Community, Featured News, Outdoors, Parks and Recreation, Press Release
softball camp next week
Softball Camp is next week! Starting Monday. June 7-9. You can pre register today at Rec Center or from 8am-9pm at the fields on Monday.
softball camp is next week at the rec fields

Fannin Economic Development Updates May 28, 2021

Business, Development Authority, Fannin County Chamber, Feature News, Press Release
register for fall decorating contest
Fannin Economic Development Updates
Internet needs:
Please take under 5 minutes to help Fannin County with a survey related to internet service at your home in Fannin (or in close proximity to Fannin, such as Cherry Log). This survey data will help determine areas of the county with the greatest need for improved internet (ie high-speed internet service from Blue Ridge Mountain, TDS, or ETC). Click here to complete the survey. Please share this survey with employees, friends, and family.
Job Fair 5/12:
Despite a cold and rainy day, we had a huge turnout of employers at UNG Blue Ridge for our first co-hosted job fair with Economic Development, Fannin Chamber, and the University. We all know workers are hard to come by lately, but we had some dedicated applicants come out in the rain. We will watch the need for employment over the coming months and consider another fair in the future. Meanwhile, you can post any jobs you have available on the Fannin Development Authority website. Just fill out this quick form.
Unemployment:
Effective 6/26/21, Georgia is no longer participating in the Federal Program American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA).
Here’s What Georgia Unemployment Insurance Looks Like Starting June 27, 2021.
To be eligible for state Unemployment Insurance (UI), individuals must:
  • Be unemployed through no fault of their own.
  • Be monetarily eligible (have enough wages from past employers to qualify).
  • Be able to work.
  • Be available for work.
  • Actively seek work.
  • Be registered with Employ Georgia.
  • Not refuse suitable work, if offered.
Remember that you can report fraud if individuals are taking advantage of unemployment. Click GDOL’s website here to report.

Management of City Parking will not go out to bid

City Council, Development Authority, Downtown Blue Ridge, News
Blue Ridge, Georgia, Parking, Fannin County, City Council, Post 1, Harold Herdon, Post 2, Rhonda Haight, Post 3, Mike Panter, Post 4, Robbie Cornelius, Post 5, Nathan Fitts, Mayor, Donna Whitener, Attorney, James Balli, Executive Parking Systems, Shelli WoJohn, Bid, Process, Contract, veto

Blue Ridge, Ga. – Tempers flared again as Blue Ridge City Council voted on whether it would be in the City’s best interest to put the management of municipal parking out to bid.

In a second Special Called Meeting held on Friday, May 21, 2021, Council Member Nathan Fitts proposed that the City release Executive Parking Systems (EPS) from their current contract managing the City’s parking and put the duties of parking management out to bid.

Blue Ridge, Georgia, Parking, Fannin County, City Council, Post 1, Harold Herdon, Post 2, Rhonda Haight, Post 3, Mike Panter, Post 4, Robbie Cornelius, Post 5, Nathan Fitts, Mayor, Donna Whitener, Attorney, James Balli, Executive Parking Systems, Shelli WoJohn, Bid, Process, Contract

Payment kiosk installed by EPS for 24/7 collections.

Fitts stated his reasoning for his proposal was that by not placing the service out to bid there was a look of impropriety in allowing the contract to continue without any competition and that EPS was in violation of the terms that had been agreed upon.

“The fact that this agreement only applied to special events is further confirmed by the audio of the City Council meeting in October 2019 when the council voted on this issue,” Fitts said, explaining the breach of contract.

According to Fitts the agreement with EPS was for the company to handle Special Events parking only, not day to day collections that the company is currently providing.

Council Member Rhonda Haight played audio clips from a previous meeting between City Council and the Downtown Development Authority where Fitts does clarify that EPS would be used for Special Events only.

Fitts said that EPS continuing to collect money for parking that was not from Special Events was in fact illegal.

Fitts stated, “The council has a duty to the citizens to immediately stop these unauthorized funds that are being collected by Executive Parking.”

During discussion, fellow Council Member Mike Panter referred to an email sent by City Attorney James Balli that stated “In this instance, the parking contract is not required to be submitted to the sealed bid process”.

The current contract between the City of Blue Ridge and EPS states of parking that EPS will furnish duties “as needed or requested by the City” and that EPS would collect “20% of the Net Operating income from each event, which is the total income made per event minus EPS employee expenses”.

EPS had presented the City with an updated contract changing the wording of these two statements to duties furnished would be “24 hours a day/7 days a week/ 365 days a year” and collecting “25% of the Net Operating Income each month from all City Properties, which is the total income made per month per location”.

The updated contract, however, was never approved by council.

“I know what the contract says,” Mayor Donna Whitener expressed when questioned if she understood the contract,  “It says as needed and you all needed it.”

Fitts responded to Whitener saying that her opinion is invalid, “You have a conflict of interest because you sold them a piece of property. You’re in violation of the Charter.”

Blue Ridge, Georgia, Parking, Fannin County, City Council, Post 1, Harold Herdon, Post 2, Rhonda Haight, Post 3, Mike Panter, Post 4, Robbie Cornelius, Post 5, Nathan Fitts, Mayor, Donna Whitener, Attorney, James Balli, Executive Parking Systems, Shelli WoJohn, Bid, Process, Contract

EPS signage located in municipal parking off of Mountain Street.

Shelli Wojohn, General Counsel at Valet Vault & Executive Parking Systems, also spoke up saying, “An event is every time we operate as per stated in the contract.”

“So every day is an event in Blue Ridge?” Haight questioned WoJohn.

As the meeting began to unravel, Whitener tried to adjourn but Haight said adjournment would not take place since a motion had already been made and the Council was in the middle of a vote.

Cesar Martinez, Chairman of the Downtown Development Authority, was asked his opinion since he had been present throughout much of the discussions related to the City’s parking.

“In my opinion, and I am not a lawyer,” Martinez responded, “When we let them put the parking meter up in the city municipal lot that was under the request of the City. They were doing it as needed and requested by the City.”

Panter and Council Member Harold Herndon voted against putting the service out to bid.

“They’ve done a good job. There was a need. Income has been good,” Herndon explained his position, “I don’t think the City at this time of the year can afford a delay or holding up services for any length of time.” 

During fiscal year 2020 the City made $65,116.87 in revenues collected by EPS.

With two opposing votes (Panter and Herndon) and two in favor (Haight and Fitts), a tie breaking vote was cast by Mayor Whitener against bidding out parking management. Council Member Robbie Cornelius was not present for the meeting.

Haight went on record that she felt the Whitener’s vote was a direct conflict of interest due to a real estate transaction between the Mayor and EPS. 

Haight also stated of EPS continuing to collect revenues everyday and not just for Special Events, “Right now in my opinion they (EPS) are taking money that doesn’t belong to them and that’s theft.”

Council rejects rezoning request on affordable housing development

City Council, Community, News
Blue Ridge, Georgia, Affordable Housing, Beverly J. Searles Foundation, Philip Searles, Housing Authority, Traver Aiken, HUD, Family, Senior, Age Restrictive, Mineral Springs Drive, Fannin County, City Council, Post 1, Harold Herdon, Post 2, Rhonda Haight, Post 3, Mike Panter, Post 4, Robbie Cornelius, Post 5, Nathan Fitts, Mayor, Donna Whitener, Attorney, James Balli, Planning Commission, Family Connection, Sherry Morris

Blue Ridge, Ga. – The proposed affordable housing project to be located on Mineral Springs Drive has come to a halt after a tie breaking vote denied the rezoning request put forward by the Beverly J. Searles Foundation.

Emotions were high in a full room as City Council listened to sides both in support and in opposition of the new project.

The crowd gathered at City Hall on May 11 showed overwhelming support of the proposed affordable housing project, where at the Planning Commission meeting held on May 4, citizens present then were mainly in opposition of.

Despite the opposition, the Planning Commission chose to move forward, recommending rezoning of the area from R2 residential to R3 high density residential, contingent upon suggestions made through the staff analysis.

Blue Ridge, Georgia, Affordable Housing, Beverly J. Searles Foundation, Philip Searles, Housing Authority, Traver Aiken, HUD, Family, Senior, Age Restrictive, Mineral Springs Drive, Fannin County, City Council, Post 1, Harold Herdon, Post 2, Rhonda Haight, Post 3, Mike Panter, Post 4, Robbie Cornelius, Post 5, Nathan Fitts, Mayor, Donna Whitener, Attorney, James Balli, Planning Commission, Family Connection, Sherry Morris

Proposed plans of affordable housing development in City of Blue Ridge.

Among the supporters present at the City Council meeting were many who work directly with various charitable organizations in Fannin County.

“Without a stable place to call home, it is very difficult for working families to show up for work consistently,” Sherry Morris, Executive Director of Fannin County Family Connection, said of situations that she encounters daily, “I know it seems unbelievable but national statistics show that impoverished citizens work an average of 1.4 jobs. That’s right, it takes a great deal of working hours at service wages just to be poor. Let’s be a caring community and give a hand-up to our citizens.”

Philip Searles, President of the Beverly J. Searles Foundation, was also in attendance to give Council and the public a brief overview of the intended affordable housing units. 

Searles took the time to address several of the concerns that had been brought to his attention during the Planning Commission meeting.

Of these concerns, Searles addressed specifically the danger of the intersection at Mineral Springs Drive and Aska Road stating that his foundation was willing to work with the county and offer $40,000 towards a solution to the area, such as a traffic signal.

Searles also addressed nearby residents’ concerns of increased crime once the units were occupied. According to Searles, the units would not be available for occupancy to anyone with a previous felony that is on record. Searles also stated that he had spoken with local law enforcement on the matter.

His foundation proposed that they would install a vehicle tag reader at the entrance of the complex. This reader would have a direct feed to law enforcement and police would be able to monitor whether any vehicle entering the premises is connected to an active warrant.

“I’m not expecting this to buy you all or make you all want me here, I get that, but I want to let you all know that I hear you all and I’m trying to do what I can,” Searles turned and spoke to a group of would be neighboring residents who had expressed concerns during the Planning Commission meeting.

Residents from neighboring properties still spoke in opposition and expressed concerns over the City’s infrastructure as well as decreasing property values.

Council Members discussed their concerns over the project, with Council Member Nathan Fitts stating that his main concern would be with the added traffic to the area.

Council Member Mike Panter questioned Searles over recently passed Federal legislation allowing for Federal Housing to be filled with persons outside of the general area. Searles assured Panter that this would not happen due to the need for the housing in Fannin County.

Blue Ridge, Georgia, Affordable Housing, Beverly J. Searles Foundation, Philip Searles, Housing Authority, Traver Aiken, HUD, Family, Senior, Age Restrictive, Mineral Springs Drive, Fannin County, City Council, Post 1, Harold Herdon, Post 2, Rhonda Haight, Post 3, Mike Panter, Post 4, Robbie Cornelius, Post 5, Nathan Fitts, Mayor, Donna Whitener, Attorney, James Balli, Planning Commission, Family Connection, Sherry Morris

Crowd storms out of City Hall after rezoning request is denied.

Traver Aiken, Manager of the Blue Ridge Housing Authority, explained that the demand in Fannin County is great for this type of housing. All of the Housing Authority units are currently occupied and according to Aiken there is a waiting list of approximately 70 applicants.

“I’ll be honest with you. I’m not ready to make a decision,” Panter stopped Council Member Nathan Fitts before a motion was made to vote, “We just got the report from the Planning Commission today.”

Discussion began of the legalities of tabling the rezoning request.  Tabling would allow Council Members more time to research the topic. 

With no clear guidance on whether delaying the vote was within the legal powers of the City Charter, Fitts motioned to accept the rezoning request with prior contingencies in place.

Council Member Rhonda Haight recused herself from the vote as she is the current owner of the property located on Mineral Springs in which the affordable housing complex would be built.

Council Members Nathan Fitts and Herald Herndon voted in favor of the rezoning request and Council Members Mike Panter and Robbie Cornelius voted against.

Mayor Donna Whitener cast the tie breaking vote in opposition of the rezoning request: “I don’t think anybody here is opposed to affordable housing but I just think that if we had had some more information, it would have been a little better. I would have liked to have known what this number is for sewer, so I vote no.”

 

Featured Image : Crowd gathers at City Hall for Council meeting regarding rezoning request for affordable housing development

Fannin County honors past Fire Chiefs

Community, Fannin County EMA/EMS, Featured Stories
Fannin County, Georgia, Fire Department, Emergency Management Agency, EMA, EMS, Fire Chief, Past, Present, Honor, Recognize, Larry Thomas, Darrell Payne, Tony Petty, Jack Worthey, Larry Waters, Walter Taylor, Robert Graham, Chairman, Jamie Hensley, Post 2 Commissioner, Glenn Patterson

Blue Ridge, Ga. – The Fannin County Fire Department (FCFD) along with Fannin County EMA/EMS took time to recognize the past Fire Chiefs of Fannin County. 

“It is an honor to be a part of this with you guys,” Fannin County Chairman Jamie Hensley was present to give his thanks: “The hard work and dedication that you all put into even forming this and keeping it going throughout the years, you paved the way for all of us to be here.” 

Fannin County, Georgia, Fire Department, Emergency Management Agency, EMA, EMS, Fire Chief, Past, Present, Honor, Recognize, Larry Thomas, Darrell Payne, Tony Petty, Jack Worthey, Larry Waters, Walter Taylor, Robert Graham, Chairman, Jamie Hensley, Post 2 Commissioner, Glenn Patterson

Chairman Hensley expresses his thanks to emergency personnel both past and present.

Fannin County Post 2 Commissioner Glenn Patterson echoed Hensley’s sentiments, “You guys up there laid the foundation of what you see today. We do appreciate you all and what you built from the ground up. Your contributions are invaluable.”

Among those present to be recognized were Darrell Payne, Tony Petty, Jack Worthey, Larry Waters, Walter Taylor, and Robert Graham. Those that couldn’t be present for the event were Spencer Kitchens, Ryan McDaris and William Wright.

Current Fire Chief Larry Thomas thanked the previous fire chiefs, many of whom he had worked with, “I want to give my thanks to each and everyone of you all.” 

Thomas spoke of how their work and dedication helped to bring the department to where it is today.

Each one of the former Fire Chiefs spoke and it quickly became apparent that while they were given the title to lead the department, none felt they alone could take credit for how far the department has come.

The speeches quickly gave way to stories. The camaraderie of those working in emergency services showed as it was evident to everyone in the room, whether past or present, after serving your community you are always family.

Walter Taylor, Fannin County’s first official Fire Chief shared how, with the help of others, the first fire truck in Fannin County was built. According to Taylor it was a 1957 Chevrolet 6 cylinder: “We put two 500 gallon tanks on it.” 

Taylor also shared a personal experience where those presently working in public safety had been called in to aid him. He gave an emotional thank you to the ones who answered the call, crediting them with saving his life.

Larry Waters, former Fannin County Fire Chief, gave insight into being a Fire Chief before the department received funding for full-time staff, “While I was Fire Chief, I was working full time at Levis Strauss and Co. and during the daily activities Tony took over as assistant chief.”

Fannin County, Georgia, Fire Department, Emergency Management Agency, EMA, EMS, Fire Chief, Past, Present, Honor, Recognize, Larry Thomas, Darrell Payne, Tony Petty, Jack Worthey, Larry Waters, Walter Taylor, Robert Graham, Chairman, Jamie Hensley, Post 2 Commissioner, Glenn Patterson

Family and friends, along with emergency personnel, continue to share laughs and stories after the recognition ceremony.

Waters spoke of firefighters and emergency personal running concession stands, parking cars, and “whatever we could do to raise money” for equipment. He also spoke of the pride the department felt when their new used equipment would arrive.

Former Fire Chief Tony Petty gave advice to those new to the field, “To be a fireman you’ve got to want to help people” and added that everyone involved is what makes a successful department: “You can be the best Chief in the world but if you ain’t got good people under you, you ain’t got nobody. I couldn’t never done it without you (all the volunteers).”

 

“I come in as a paid Chief,” Jack Worthey, former Fire Chief and 40 year veteran in the field, said of his reluctance to be honored with the others, adding that it is an “honor to come in and appreciate what these men have done.”

Standing with the others and looking around the crowded room Worthy noted that it is a “privilege to be a firefighter”.

There was a noticeable sense of pride in the room as emergency personnel listened to the stories shared from the previous Fire Chiefs. A humble sense of pride not only in the work that they face day to day but also a pride to be a small part of a larger team that helped write the history of Fannin County and continues to shape the future.

Former Fire Chief Worthey came to Fannin County, after having worked with the DeKalb County Fire Department for 30 years and had this to say of Fannin County, “This is the best volunteer fire department in the state of Georgia.”

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