BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – During the Tuesday, April 24, Fannin County Board of Commissioners meeting, the board discussed what was described as “misinformation” circulating throughout the county and put a six-month moratorium on tiny homes in the county.
Immediately following public commentary, Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee took a moment to address recent comments circulating in the community that suggest the county needs to create a five-year comprehensive plan. Sosebee clarified the county already has a 10-year joint comprehensive plan in place together with the municipalities of Blue Ridge, McCaysville and Morganton, which was created under the guidance of the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission (NWGRC).
“Without this document (comprehensive plan) right here, we couldn’t get grants. We couldn’t have got the water grant we got. We couldn’t get LMIG (Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant) money to research the roads,” Sosebee added.
Sosebee also stated the source of these comments estimated the population of Fannin County would reach 40,000 within the next few years.
“Well, that’s a lot of people for a county that’s surrounded by forest service land and can’t contain that many people,” Sosebee said.
According to the NWGRC, as noted by Sosebee, Fannin’s population is expected to peak at 24,349 by 2030.
Chairman Stan Helton explained the 10-year comprehensive is a 161-page document that is available to the public through the Georgia Department of Community Affairs at the www.dca.ga.gov.
Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson stated, “I know sometimes people accidentally spread misinformation, but I want everyone to realize that when you speak information as if it’s true, it affects people who are serving this county. And I don’t like it reflecting negatively on me, myself, that this county doesn’t have a plan in place.”
Later, county Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Director Robert Graham, Fire Chief Larry Thomas, EMA Deputy Director Darrell Payne, and Deputy Director of E911 Patrick Cooke came to the podium as County Attorney Lynn Doss opened three sealed bids for the purchase of three specialized desks for 911 dispatchers at the forthcoming public safety complex on Windy Ridge Road.
As Doss opened the bids, two were revealed to be duplicates bids from Watson Consoles, of Matthews, North Carolina. The Watson bid was for a total of $49,739.23, which includes $37,116.23 for the product, $9,517 for installation, and $3,106 for freight.
The other bid, from Xybix, of Littleton, Colorado, gave a total of $44,257.42, which includes $2,314.74 for sales tax, $4,100 for freight, and $4,775 for installation. Doss explained because the county is tax exempt, the total cost of the Xybix bid would more accurately be just under $42,000.
After Johnson asked Graham if EMA would need to review the specifications of the bids and the director affirmed that the department would, the bids were tabled to the next meeting for approval.
Following this, the conversation again turned to “misinformation,” this time concerning the Fannin County EMA and Fire Department (FCFD).
“As stated earlier, there’s been some misinformation out in the public,” Graham said, “that our fire department may not be in compliance with state and federal standards, and I just want to clear that up a little bit. We are in complete compliance with Georgia Fire Safety Training Center, which is the organization that certifies fire departments in the state of Georgia. We actually have a certificate hanging on the wall at each fire station to say that we’re in compliance.”
Showing the one of the certificates to the commissioners, Graham explained although the certificate is dated 2004, the certification remains with the department unless that department becomes non-compliant. Though Graham admitted the department does rely heavily on volunteer firefighters, FCFD has “30 full-time paid employees whose duties include fire fighting, and we have never had a fire call go unanswered.”
Graham also stated the EMA currently has seven total ambulances, four of which are on-duty ambulances and three are make-up ambulances.
After Helton asked about the prospect of doubling the number of firefighters and the cost involved, both Director Graham and Chief Thomas estimated the added cost would be around $1.5 million annually for personnel along with further costs for facility upgrades.
“It’s a shame – by one person spewing misinformation – it is a shame that you have to stand here and talk about this,” Commissioner Johnson told Graham, Thomas, Payne and Cooke. “They know that we’ve had plans, they know exactly that we are state-certified … It’s a shame to me that you have to stand here and defend yourselves over something that one person in an interview just felt like he had to say … All of you have been in government a long time. It’s just election time … I appreciate you all coming up here taking your time and explaining, trying to make the people feel comfortable again.”
In other business, Chief Land Development Officer Marie Woody addressed the board on the prospect of enacting a tiny home ordinance. At the April 10 commissioners meeting, Woody and the board opened a discussion regarding tiny homes but tabled that discussion to the next meeting.
On Tuesday, Woody stated Fannin is one of only four counties (Fannin, Lumpkin, Towns and Union) north of Cherokee County, Georgia, that has not passed some form of zoning. She also added that in surveying 15 nearby counties, none of the counties have specific ordinances on tiny homes and eight are currently considering tiny home ordinances, but of those eight, most have not yet decided on the square footage requirements.
Helton stated one subdivision development for tiny homes was already in the works in the county.
“We do not want to pull the rug out from under him with the investment he’s already made,” Helton said of the developer of the proposed subdivision, “but as we go forward, the concern would be that we don’t want something that is going to negatively affect other property owners in Fannin County.”
When asked about the minimum size of lots currently allowed by the county, Woody stated for a fresh tract of land with its own water and sewer system, lots could be subdivided as small as a one-third (0.33) of an acre though land development recommends no less than a 0.55-acre lot. For separate lots with water wells and septic systems, Woody explained the county recommends between 1.33-acre and 1.5-acre lots.
Johnson stated he was not so much concerned with the size of tiny homes as he was with the size of lots within potential developments and subdivisions for tiny homes.
Helton proposed to the post commissioners the idea of placing a moratorium on building tiny home subdivisions and developments and asked the commissioners for input on an exact time frame for the moratorium. After discussion, it was decided and approved unanimously to enact the moratorium for six months beginning July 1, 2018.
Robin Gazaway, county finance director, presented the monthly budget update for the county through March 31. Overall, according to Gazaway, the county is 25 percent through the fiscal year and 22 percent of its budget has been expended, leaving the county $829,415 under budget.
Departments seeing significant under-budget amounts were Public Roads ($557,168 under budget), Sheriff’s Office ($89,520 under), and Recreations ($27,148 under). Gazaway stated two departments were currently over budget – Fire/EMS/EMA ($34,983 over budget) and Tax Assessors ($18,257 over). She explained Fire/EMS/EMA was over budget because of an ambulance purchase early in the year and the Tax Assessors department was over budget because of the purchase of two vehicles but added that both departments are expected to balance out before the end of the year. The Recreation department was reported to have a $80,768 revenue, which Gazaway stated was due to the collection of gate receipts and increased concessions.
Also, Gazaway said both Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) and Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) collections were up for the year as of March 31. LOST collections, according to Gazaway, stood at $916,490.42 compared to $867,439.17 in the first quarter of 2017. SPLOST collections were $1,209,712.71 as opposed to $1,145,146.18 last year.
After an executive session, the commissioners reconvened and approved three decisions.
The board approved a filing in Superior Court to abate a public safety nuisance on Ada Street. Last month, the board unanimously approved a property on Ada Street to be dilapidated and for it to be condemned.
Also, the board approved to forward with bringing an unauthorized junkyard on Mobile Road into compliance with county ordinances.
Lastly, the board granted Rene Hamby’s transfer to the Public Works department and approved the hiring of Lauren Hein as the new human resources director for county government.
[Featured image: Members of the Fannin County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) and Fire Department display a Certificate of Compliance from the state. Seen here are, from left, EMA Deputy Director Darrell Payne, Fire Chief Larry Thomas, Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Director Robert Graham, and Deputy Director of E911 Patrick Cooke.]
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