Fannin proposed 2021 budget features 2 percent increase

News
insurance

BLUE RIDGE, Ga – The 2021 proposed county operating budget features a 2.8 percent increase from the 2020 budget.

The total will be $29,356,858 and a public hearing concerning the 2021 budget will take place on December 8, 2020 at 5:15 p.m. in third-floor assembly room. All interested parties are invited to attend. Following the public hearing, the board of commissioners will approve the budget during the December 8 commission meeting.

The 2020 budget was $28,564,665. The largest portion of the budget will go towards risk management, which includes health insurance. The county recently moved from self-insured to a fully insured plan.

“The challenge we have this year with the budget is the same challenge that every county, every state is having to deal with that is the [unexpected COVID-19 expenditures],” Chairman Stan Helton explained.

He cited the $2 billion of cutbacks in the state budget due to the pandemic. Helton also recognized that the hotel/motel tax and SPLOST assisted in seeing Fannin County through the difficult times.

“We really won’t know how the year is until the end of January when the new administration is here. By that time, they will have final 2020 revenue and cost numbers. My personal opinion that the times warrant being as conservative as we can with our budget, and at the same time, when the new administration is here, they’ll have a chance to look at it. If they choose to amend any department, they’ll have the option to do that.,” Helton furthered detail the reasoning behind the proposed budget.

2021 proposed budget

Fannin hasn’t laid off or furloughed employees during the pandemic.

Post One Earl Johnson came out against the increase during a year when everyone is focused on saving money.

“I don’t know any of us that are spending more money…We’re not giving all our employees raising at least in my company and it’s kind of throughout all county governments,” Johnson said. “I’m going to ask everyone until this pandemic is over, we need to be very smart…I would suggest everyone be comfortable where you’re at.”

He added that he doesn’t want to leave “any future administration’s in a bind” and is against increasing any department’s budget in 2021. No one knows when the pandemic will end.

Post Two Glenn Patterson stated that some people are still hurting financially and inquired to the cost of living increases.

Helton then explained that the only increased in the 2021 budget were part of a state unfunded mandate for salary increases to reelected officials. It’s a state-level requirement for county governments to fulfill. CFO Robin Gazaway explained that one elected official will receive an estimated salary increase of $9,000 from county funds. The state doesn’t have to pay anything.

Commissioners accept 2021 millage rate rollback

News
millage rate

BLUE RIDGE, Ga – The Board of Commissioners approved lowering the county’s portion of the 2021 millage rate to 3.862 from 3.938 at the August 10, 2020 meeting.

If the millage rate remained at 3.938, tax revenues for Fannin would have increased by $186,000. Additionally, Fannin County would have to legally declare it a tax increase. It would also only provide a net gain of $120,000 to the budget.

To stay at a zero percent tax increase, the millage rate must drop to 3.862. With this tax revenue still increases by $62,000, but it’s not considered a tax increase by the state of Georgia.

“If I had to go through the effort of declaring a tax increase, it would have to be for a heck a lot more than $186,000 out of a $28M budget,” stated Chairman Stan Helton.

Post Two Glenn Patterson expressed how a lot of people in Fannin County are financially hurting due to COVID-19, and he didn’t favor a tax increase at this time.

“I’m not going to be remembered for raising taxes in the middle of a pandemic,” added Post One Earl Johnson. “Right now, is not the time.”

Last year, Johnson expressed that at some point taxes would go up to keep up with the growth of Fannin County. However, 2020 isn’t the year to add another financial burden to Fannin County residents.

In 2021, the hotel/motel tax will go up to six percent for the county, bringing in an additional $20,000, if tourism numbers stay the same. SPLOST and LOST numbers are also up in 2020, which will assist in covering county expenses without taxing citizens.

All three commissioners voted in favor or accepting the millage rollback. Now, the school board must decide on its millage rate. After the school approves a millage rate, commissioners must vote to finalize the 2021 millage rate.

Commissioners discuss limiting 2020 spending

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fannin County’s New Library : Boards work together for a common goal

Community, News
Fannin County, Board of Commissioners, Fannin County Public Library Board, Mountain Regional Library Board, Chairman, Director, Board member, Post One, Post Two, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Glenn Patterson, Ron Bolin, Claudia Gibson, Georgia House of Representatives, Speaker, David Ralston, grant, library, Sutton Architectural Services, Peter Sutton, Whitepath

Blue Ridge, Ga. – Will Fannin County finally have its stand alone library that so many citizens have petitioned for in the past? No, but the possibility of moving the current library to a larger more accommodating space is something that all agreed would be a vast improvement over the library’s current situation.

The Fannin County Board of Commissioners, the Fannin County Public Library Board and the Mountain Regional Library Board held a joint meeting to discuss the future of Fannin County’s Library and how to move forward to achieve a common goal.

“The purchase of the Whitepath building and moving the Administrative offices out of the courthouse fulfills a mandated referendum that was approved by the voters in Nov. 2016,” Fannin County Chairman Stan Helton said explaining the purpose of the called meeting. 

Fannin County, Board of Commissioners, Fannin County Public Library Board, Mountain Regional Library Board, Chairman, Director, Board member, Post One, Post Two, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Glenn Patterson, Ron Bolin, Claudia Gibson, Georgia House of Representatives, Speaker, David Ralston, grant, library, Sutton Architectural Services, Peter Sutton, Whitepath

Petere Sutton discusses possible options for the Fannin County’s new library.

Helton added, “During the move, moving there and design, we have an opportunity to offer the library a better space with improved parking.”

The two boards took the time to open up dialogue and lay the groundwork for the library’s possible move. 

Peter Sutton with Sutton Architectural Services was also present to help work through concerns and share his thoughts on the redesign of the Whitepath building.

Sutton pointed out that the buildings structure, upon initial inspection, was in good standing and that the process would really be one of converting the building from it’s industrial function to a building of administrative function.

Among Sutton’s ideas were the possibility for the library to have its own entrance, and noted that as the building stands now there would be enough room for the library to double its square footage.

Interim Regional Library Director for Mountain Regional Library System, Claudia Gibson spoke on the current library, “From what I’ve seen. I do think the library is very inadequate for library services. It’s very small. The parking, as you all know I’m sure, is very bad. We worry about children. They have to cross the street.”

The size of the new library was a key topic of discussion among library board members. The current square footage of the Fannin County Library is approximately 6,800 square feet.

Fannin County Public Library board member Ron Bolin stated that according to state standards the new library would need at least 19,000 square feet. Bolin added, “For me it is critical that we meet state standards.”

State standards of square footage for a library is based upon projected population growth and while Fannin County would ideally like to see 19,000 square feet for the new library, it is possible that the new facility could start out with less footage and be expanded at a later date.

Bolin also brought to the forefront the issue of funding, stating that not only is the grant from the state for $1.3 million not a done deal, but also that it was his understanding that the county was running on deficit in 2020 and wondered where the county’s portion of funds would come from.

The library board members all expressed that Speaker of the Georgia House Representatives David Ralston’s announcement of the grant had taken them off guard, and pointed out that the grant is still up in the air.

Fannin County’s library funding from the state is on a list at the capitol to be voted upon but that vote has not taken place yet. Funding from the state, if voted to be given to the Fannin County project, would not be available until July 2020 at the earliest.

Regardless of the question of funding, both parties agreed to take care of due diligence in order to give the county the best possible chance of receiving state grant. Members of the Board of Commissioners and the two boards representing the library system expressed enthusiasm in moving forward with the project.

Post One Commissioner Earl Johnson conveyed what seemed to be a mutual feeling of everyone involved, “I think it’s a very good avenue for all of us combined.”

The boards will meet at a later date to go over findings with state standards and discuss design and needs.

2 to 1 Vote Approves New Roof for Old Firehouse

News, Police & Government
property taxes increase non-critical state of emergency 2020 Budget

Blue Ridge, Ga – Commissioners approved reroofing of the old firehouse located next to the courthouse in a two to one vote with Post Two Commissioner Glenn Patterson dissenting.

Chairman Stan Helton brought up the need for a new roof on the old firehouse during the last meeting. The committee tabled the issue until the July 9 meeting.

“It is leaking. It’s not in danger of falling in right now, but another hard winter over there could really take us backward a long ways,” commented Helton.

Two quotes came back for the roof, one from Steve Stacy Roofing at $30,723.16 and from J&D Construction and Excavating at $28,147.

“J&D Construction did our old jail that houses our maintenance office,” state Helton, “As far as I can tell that work has turned out fine.”

Patterson visited with the old fire station and expressed concern in the state of the entire building.

“It’s in pretty bad shape,” commented Patterson, “My concern is if that roofing is going to do the job. We might have some drainage issues as well. I know that these two quotes checked the roof out and I guess we’ll get the roof on it and see.”

Patterson wanted to add a new roof, but the drainage and potential mold issues also merited consideration. He was unsure how long offices could remain usable in the current state.

“We don’t want any danger to our employees,” said Patterson.

Patterson brought up multiple issues with the old fire station.

Post one Commissioner Earl Johnson agreed that the building needs a new roof and the county should start there as it’s the most pressing issue.

“The concern I would have with the building. We start with the roof, stop all the leaks. There’s no telling how old that roofing is and how long it’s been on there,” commented Johnson.

J&D Construction will remove the entire roof and replace with new shingles and materials. Johnson recommended using J&D for that reason and because Stacy Roofing’s bid accounted for $65 per sheet of plywood fixes. Stacy’s estimate could result in extra charges once the project begins.

“When I parked this afternoon, I noticed all the fascia boards and most of them were rotten, and [J&D]’s quote states that they’re going to replace all the fascia boards and replace with new,” said Johnson, “Not only just price but the amount of work that’s going to be done. It looks like a significant amount more with J&D.”

Helton responded to Patterson’s concerns about the long-term usability of the firehouse. The building needs to be available for office space for the county, and other entities might need it in the future. With rental rates increasing, more departments might need to move into the old fire station.

“It is a county asset; there’s value to it. If we take care of it like we should do our county assets, we should make some usable space available. If we do the roof, which I really believe we should do this year, and we can discuss at a later time what we should do next,” explained Helton.

Patterson asked to address the baseboards, flooring, and doors after installation of the new roof.

Johnson added that he wanted to clarify with J&D about the gutters and if they accounted for gutters in the initial scope of work.
Helton confirmed neither company included guttering in the initial quote. Patterson asked to include it in the project costs because it’s necessary for a new roof.

“We may have some leverage if we wait with the guttering on the drainage issue,” said Patterson.

“I don’t have a problem moving forward with the roof and negotiating the guttering,” stated Johnson.

Helton made a motion to approve the J&D bid for the new firehouse roof, which passed 2 to 1 with Patterson against the decision due to lack of guttering in the initial quote.

Road Detail Update

Director of Public Works Zack Ratcliff approached the board for permission to buy a 2010 Van 13K to transport the work detail from Blairsville.

“I’ve looked high and low at our dealerships, and a passenger van is really hard to find,” stated Ratcliff, “Lucked up on one at AA Auto Rental, I went up and drove it. $13,000 is the price on it with 100,000 miles on it.”

Colwell Detention Center requires counties to have a way to transport work details back and forth from the facility to the roadside.

“We expected this when we decided to hire them,” said Johnson.

The van will be available on Monday, July 22, after it is fitted to meet all detention center requirements.
The board unanimously approved the purchase.

Fannin Commissioners Commit to 2020 Census

News, Police & Government
Census

Blue Ridge, Ga – Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA) presented their case for participation in the 2020 census.

DCA Specialist Khuyen Nguyen spoke to the Board of Commissioners about DCA’s initiative to record everyone in the upcoming census. She outlined three methods available to Fannin county citizens, including online form, calling in, or paper copy of the survey designed to record the United States population.

“We’re looking at one representation, but two, more importantly, we’re looking at $6,075,000,000 in federal funding that’s going to be distributed to the 50 states based on population. It’s going to be impacting, not only at the national level but at the state and local levels as well. We want to make sure that Georgia and Fannin County get their fair share,” explained Nguyen.

In March 2020, every household will receive a postcard listing the three options to complete the form, and everyone can complete the census according to their comfort level.

She also asked for the county to form a complete count committee. Christy Gribble is heading up the search for the complete count committee.

DCA is also hiring part-time local employees to assist with the process.

ETC Renewal

Board of Commissioners renewed community television company franchise agreement with ETC. It’s a 15-year agreement. The contract gives ETC permission to cross the county’s right of way to work on cables and provide continual service and currently in effect.

“They provide a big service for the community, and I think we need to let them continue,” said Post One Commissioner Earl Johnson.

Old Fire Station Remodel

Chairman Stan Helton initiated the discussion of remodeling the old fire station next to the courthouse. The old building will soon need a new roof and commissioners also addressed updating the exterior.

“Since we took the garage down, it kind of sits out there by itself and makes all the scratches and flaws on it a lot more evident than in the past,” stated Helton, “It will need a new roof in the near future, a gutter and roof, and the sidings looking pretty rough.”

Chairman Helton brought up the need for the old firehouse to be remodeled in the near future.

The building’s currently worth more than $200,000 and houses the extension office, Red Cross, Chaplin, and coroner’s office. It’s not currently leaking but might after one more winter. Helton was unsure if the county wanted to take the chance of another winter with the current roof.

“Definitely need to keep a roof on it, but as far as the exterior, it’s been ugly for a long time, and it can stay ugly for a little while longer,” stated Johnson, “It’s a good reminder of where we come from.”

Helton said he had some rough numbers and wanted to see if the Post One and Post Two Commissioners wanted to do something with the firehouse this year or put it on the 2020 budget.

“I’d like to see a cost analysis,” said Post Two Commissioner Glenn Patterson.

Helton told Patterson to speak with Mr. Hawkins for the rough estimates on the project. The building offers a lot of space for the county to use.

Commissioners tabled the issue until the next meeting.

Cooler Days for Jail and Courthouse with new AC Agreement

News
AC Trane System

Blue Ridge, Ga – Sheriff’s Office resolved its air conditioner (AC) problems and entered into a new maintenance agreement with Trane.

Sheriff Dane Kirby advised partnering with Trane Heating and Cooling for all future AC issues with the jail and the courthouse. The two service agreements one covers mechanical and the other maintains the computer equipment. The mechanical agreement is roughly $10,000 annually, broken into $2,500 quarterly. The computer agreement is $3,570, with quarterly payments of $896. Together, the agreements totaled $13,570 a year.

“I think maintenance would really help. I’m not even going to get into what they found. They said one of them looked like it had a dead dog in it, but we’ve got [the system] going now,” said Kirby.

Kirby presents case for AC service agreement

Sheriff Kirby presented a case for entering into a maintenance agreement with Trane for future AC repairs.

Over the years, the jail and Sheriff’s Office faced constant AC issues and applied fixes deemed appropriate. Normally, the office called local contractors to fix the problems.

However, the system broke again a few weeks ago, and a Trane specialist advised setting the system back to zero. After resetting the system, Trane wanted to enter into a maintenance agreement with the county.

“We’ve reached a point that with the age of those units that if we don’t do something to maintain them, and see that the maintenance is done on an ongoing basis, we could be looking at some severe costs,” said Chairman Stan Helton.”

The life expectancy of a maintained Trane AC unit is 10 to 15 years.

The bill for the service charges totaled at $16,000, but with the proposed service agreement, Trane dropped the bill to $13,091.

“Looks like it’s very necessary to get it done,” stated Post Two Commissioner Glenn Patterson, “I think it would be well worth it to do so.”

With the new maintenance agreements, the county will pay $13,750 a year for the next three years.

Kirby’s 2019 budget didn’t account for the of the new service agreements but felt it would save money in the future.

Post One Commissioner Earl Johnson said, “It’s right in line with what we’ve spent on the system every year. I know last year we spent $15,000 or $16,000. I think it’s a good idea to let the people whose unit it is to actually fix it, and it sounds even better if they are going to maintain the courthouse as well.”

Also, the Board of Commissioners approved the purchase of a new ambulance from Custom Works for a total of $143,821, included in the 2020 budget.

Custom Works was the higher bid than MEDIX, who previously supplied ambulances for the county. However, MEDIX no longer has a service representative in Georgia. Trucks would have to travel to Indiana to receive service.

Custom Works offered a Georgia location for service with no exceptions to the requirements put forth by Director of EMA Robert Graham.

County Encourages Tobacco Users to Quit

News

Blue Ridge, Ga – Board of Commissioners offer county employees incentives to quit tobacco in the 2019 healthcare plan.

In a called meeting of the Board of Commissioners, the commissioners added a $50 a month surcharge to monthly premiums for tobacco users. Studies have shown that tobacco use causes poor health in individuals who partake over a number of years. The addition to the premium is an effort to promote good health among the employees of the county government.

Fannin County employees have six months to stop using tobacco, starting on July 1.

“The fair thing is to give employees a chance, a timeframe to stop, to cease the use of tobacco and then along with that plan to offer some tools that helps them to get off of it,” said Chairman Stan Helton.

Sheriff Dane Kirby confirmed with Chief Financial Officer Robin Gazaway that current premiums and how the $50 monthly charge would break down week to week.

“It would be about $11.50 or $12 extra a week,” said Gazaway.

Post Two Commissioner Glenn Patterson asked, “Are we going to provide them with things to help them stop?”

Benefit Support’s Representative Lena Andrews assured him that the health plan will offer them tools to quit. Starting in July, which is when the new healthcare year will start, tobacco users will have access to cessation methods as well that the county will pay for. They can choose the patch, gum, lozenge, inhaler,  and nasal spray to help them quit.

County employees have six months to stop their tobacco use before the $50 surcharge goes into effect.

However, if employees haven’t quit by January 2020, they will be charged the $50 surcharge on their insurance premium. January 1, 2020, would be when the county sent out the first surcharge. Employees can also choose to quit to take advantage of the cessation methods at any time.

Additionally, the county included a spousal carve-out clause to their insurance plans. Essentially, if an employee’s husband or wife has the opportunity to be insured by their employer, then they must be covered through their employer.

“If the spouse has access to coverage through their employer, then that spouse is required to sign up for coverage through that employer. They can stay on the county if so desired, but the county becomes secondary to the other group health insurance plan,” explained Total Insurance Representative Ron Offord, “That being said, a lot of employers don’t offer spousal coverage because they are allowed to do that under Affordable Care Act plans.”

Spouses have 60 days to make the change, and the effective date must be July 1 for the individual to be covered on their new plan. The healthcare providers plan to meet with each and every employee to go through all the details.

A prescription step-up plan was also added, which states the lowest cost prescription is the first choice by the healthcare plan. If a doctor prescribes a more expensive prescription, however, the insurance will cover the cost.

No raises in insurance premiums this year for Fannin County employees.

The county’s making these changes in an effort to keep employee premiums down and provide the most benefit to everyone. The program’s self-funded and claims greatly affect health insurance rates, so by helping employees become healthier and fewer people on the insurance plans the rates can remain low.

“We’re not raising, this year, their premiums,” said Helton, “it will happen. We don’t know when, but we felt strongly that we needed to look at some other options before going to the pocketbook.”

Post One Commissioner was absent during this called meeting, and all present department heads decided the changes were fair when asked at the end of the meeting.

Road Construction Beginning in June

News

Blue Ridge, Ga – GDOT (Georgia Department of Transportation) grants determine county road projects for the year and construction will begin soon.

Director of Public Works Zack Ratcliff approached the Fannin County Board of Commissioners with updated grant money estimates from GDOT for road improvements.

New asphalt construction will begin around June.

GDOT’s Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant (LMIG) goes toward improving roads and bridges in the county. The organization gave Fannin County $664,195.59 to lay new asphalt. The amount increased by $4,000 from 2018.

The estimated total for the paving project is $1.5M, which includes the grant with a 30 percent match required from the county. It would be paid out of the roads and bridges SPLOST.

The project is now out to bid according to Georgia’s guidelines. The acceptance of bids will run for a couple of weeks, and the paving should start around the first of June.

Commissioner Earl Johnson said, “He is glad of the amount that we’re receiving from the state.”

Next, GDOT’s Safety Assistance Program, part of LMIG, is providing funds for striping of county roads. The grant is for $69,000 with the county providing a 30 percent match for a total of $89,700.

Thermal Plastic will be used for the restriping in the county.

Chairman Stan Helton added, “We have to do this according to their standards, which is pretty exacting and pretty expensive, but it’s still worth it since they’re giving us this kind of money.”

Helton also commended Ratcliff for going to GDOT’s district office to lobby for more funds to update the county’s road striping project.

“This comes out to $8,800 per mile, and we’re looking at ten miles,” Post Two Commissioner Glenn Patterson contributed.

This restriping will be eight miles of Aska Road and two miles of Old 76. These roads were chosen by GDOT. The material used will be thermal plastic. It’s heated up to 400 degrees and sits on top of the pavement. The plastic’s more durable than water-based paint typically used by the county and can last up to three times as long as paint.

Post One Commissioner Earl Johnson clarified that striping season only lasts for five months out of the year, and weather will wear striping off the road. Ratcliff added that striping can’t be laid in unfavorable conditions.

“You can go on some state roads right now and it’s hard to see the yellow line. It’s just the nature of the business, and the only way to take care of that is restriping every year. And no one can afford that. At all times, some of our road striping is going better than others and that’s why. It’s just not cost effective to restripe every road every year,” said Johnson.

Fannin County Board of Commissioners considers budget item

News, Politics

Commissioner Chairman Stan Helton welcomed everyone at 5:15 p.m. for its bi-monthly meeting on Tuesday, February 26, 2019.

District Attorney Alison Sosabee

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.

EMS Director Robert Graham

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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North Georgia Mountain Crisis Network continues to provide much needed services in our area

Community, News, Non Profit

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.

Fannin County, North Georgia, North Georgia Mountain Crisis Network, Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, Victims, Advocacy, Services, Awareness, Shelter, Board Member, Steven Miracle, Executive Director, Julie Welch, Fannin County Board of Commissioners, Post 1 Commissioner, Post 2 Commissioner, Chairman, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Glenn Patterson

NGMCN has two thrift stores, one located in Blue Ridge and one in McCaysville. Both stores help to provide financial assistance to the charity organization.

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.

Fannin County, North Georgia, North Georgia Mountain Crisis Network, Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, Victims, Advocacy, Services, Awareness, Shelter, Board Member, Steven Miracle, Executive Director, Julie Welch, Fannin County Board of Commissioners, Post 1 Commissioner, Post 2 Commissioner, Chairman, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Glenn Patterson

NGMCN will host a 5k run or 1 mile walk on April 13, 2019 in downtown Blue Ridge.

“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.

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at [email protected]rNews.com

Fannin County Governmental Departments recap 2018

Community, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – At the most recent Board of Commissioners (BOC) meeting, the public got to hear first hand the accomplishments of several departments within the Fannin County government.

Among the departments represented was the Blue Ridge Mountains Arts Association, Land Development, Animal Control, Emergency Management Agency, Fire Department, Recreation Department, and Public Works.

BLUE RIDGE MOUNTAINS ARTS ASSOCIATION (BRMAA)

BRMAA saw over 38,000 visitors in 2018. The economic benefits of having this many visitors to the area are estimated to be $493,000 locally and $1.1 million for the region.

“These numbers are based on Georgia Council for the Arts as well as Americans for the Arts Economic Operations,” BRMAA Executive Director Nichole Potzauf said explaining how economic impact is decided.

The Art Center hosted 37 exhibits and events in 2018 and was awarded the 2018-19 Vibrant Communities Grant from the Georgia Council for the Arts.

Fannin County, Georgia, Blue Ridge, Board of Commissioners, Chairman, Post One Commissioner, Post Two Comissioner, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Glenn Patterson, Departments, Department Heads, Update, Blue Ridge Mountains Arts Association, BRMAA, Land Development, Animal Control, Emergency Management Agency, Fire Department, Parks and Recreation, Public Works, Director, Animal Control Officer, Chief Officer, Fire Chief, Deputy Director, Fannin County Attorney, Nichole Potzauf, Marie Woody, John Drullinger, Darrell Payne, Larry Thomas, Eddie O'Neal, Zack Ratcliff

Visitors to the Art Center for one of the many exhibits hosted throughout the year.

The Vibrant Communities Grants helps to support single art projects in Georgia. These projects could include an art exhibit, a theater production, a series of workshops for children, or an artist residency.

Potzauf said of the intentions for the grant’s use, “We’re utilizing that to begin a program call the Appalachian Initiative Grant Program and we are focusing on Appalachian craft and culture.” She listed some examples including weaving and bee keeping.

Along with the exhibits and events, the Art Center also hosted 4198 students that attended one of their 190 classes offered.

There was a notable success from the annual Cork and Canvas fundraiser as well.

“All the proceeds from this event benefit our youth programming. In 2018, based on just that fundraiser alone we were able to provide $2,000 in youth scholarships, some art classes as well as college advancement for any student that is advancing their career in the college arts,” Potzauf said of this event, and reminded everyone that the 2019 Cork and Canvas fundraiser is approaching and will be held on March 29.

Expect to see a one of a kind exhibit displayed between April and June of 2020 as it makes its way across the state of Georgia.

While no specific details were given Potzauf did say of the future exhibit, “We have been selected as one of six cities in the state of Georgia to represent the Smithsonian exhibit that will be coming here to celebrate rural communities throughout the United States.”

Currently the Art Center is displaying over 1,800 pieces of artwork and is open to the public Tuesday through Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

FANNIN COUNTY LAND DEVELOPMENT

The Land Development department saw 270 building permits in 2018. This number is slightly down from 2017. Along with the building permits there were 16 Erosion and Sedimentation Control Plans, 5 new residential developments, 2 private commercial developments, 2 apartment applications, 2 church developments, 2 assisted living developments, 1 school development, and 1 tiny home/RV park development.

One of the largest issues facing the Land Development department is the ongoing matter of litter control.

“I get about one or two calls a week about garbage. Sometimes it’s easy and I find the name in it and sometimes I can run down those folks and sometimes I can’t,” Chief Land Development Officer Marie Woody addressed the complications in combating the littering problem in Fannin County.

According to Woody, while there are fines in place for Fannin County residents who dump trash on the side of roadways when it comes to residents from out of state, if found, little or nothing can be done.

Those that litter in Fannin County or dump garbage on the side of the roadways and are from Tennessee or North Carolina often get off with no consequences because Woody simply does not have the jurisdiction to fine them.

Fannin County, Georgia, Blue Ridge, Board of Commissioners, Chairman, Post One Commissioner, Post Two Comissioner, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Glenn Patterson, Departments, Department Heads, Update, Blue Ridge Mountains Arts Association, BRMAA, Land Development, Animal Control, Emergency Management Agency, Fire Department, Parks and Recreation, Public Works, Director, Animal Control Officer, Chief Officer, Fire Chief, Deputy Director, Fannin County Attorney, Nichole Potzauf, Marie Woody, John Drullinger, Darrell Payne, Larry Thomas, Eddie O'Neal, Zack Ratcliff

(L-R) Steve Oakley, Marie Woody, Jane Oakley. The three have worked closely to propose a Fannin county clean up program.

Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson expressed his feelings that a majority of the trash he encounters along the roadways is bulk, and expressed holding the garbage haulers in the county more responsible.

“Is there something in our ordinance where someone has to identify themselves as a garbage hauler?” Johnson questioned Woody about possible solutions. “I know for four years it’s been a huge issue. It just seems like this last year, maybe two years, there’s just a lot more private haulers.”

After brief discussion the members of the Board of Commissioners and Fannin County Attorney Lynn Doss, all agreed to review the county’s current ordinances and look into the possibility of having private haulers register.

Woody, along with Fannin County residents Steve and Jane Oakley presented the county with a vision to start an “Adopt the Mountains” program.

The program, still in its conceptual phase, will aim to curb littering through education, and will work to get citizens more involved in area clean-ups.

Fannin County Chairman Stan Helton praised the Oakleys for their willingness to get involved: “I’m personally very grateful for citizens that step up and are willing to get their hands in the soup, so to speak. It’s a never ending battle and it takes a lot of people to make that effort to see some results.”

When questioned by the Fannin County Post 2 Commissioner Glenn Patterson about an education program for high school age children, Woody replied that she thought it would be better to focus the educational programs on younger children.

“I think we need to teach the children, not the teenagers,” Woody said responding to Patterson’s question. “When you get into the teenage years, you’re kind of set in what you’re going to do, but if we start ingraining it into the children maybe kindergarten, first, second grade; if we can educate them I think that would be your best bet. Then they could educate mom and dad.”

Woody said that the educational program could go hand in hand with the proposed Spring Clean Up outlined in the Oakley’s program.

Along with the new programs hoped to be initiated in the county, Woody will be seeking another Tire Grant clean up.

In 2018, a tire removal project was implemented through use of this grant and was met with great success. Woody is hoping to continue this momentum in the county.

Finally Woody would like to see Fannin County’s Adopt a Road program revamped. Advanced Disposal has agreed to pick up specific colored bags along the roadways where citizens have collected litter.

FANNIN COUNTY ANIMAL CONTROL

Fannin County Animal Control (FCAC), Animal Control Officer, John Drullinger updated the BOC with the work that his department had accomplished in 2018.

Last year, FCAC took in 405 dogs and puppies. Of the 405 that were taken in 118 were reclaimed by owners, 83 were adopted out of the facility, and 189 were pulled by various animal rescues.

Drullinger spoke of the improvements done to the FCAC facility in 2018: “Without a doubt one of the biggest ones was the completion of the 13 outside dog kennels. Which improved both the animals lives and ours as well.”

According to Drullinger this addition to the facility has made a vast improvement on the reduction of noise, and has added greatly to the safety of employees as they now can more easily get into kennels for disinfecting.

Fannin County, Georgia, Blue Ridge, Board of Commissioners, Chairman, Post One Commissioner, Post Two Comissioner, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Glenn Patterson, Departments, Department Heads, Update, Blue Ridge Mountains Arts Association, BRMAA, Land Development, Animal Control, Emergency Management Agency, Fire Department, Parks and Recreation, Public Works, Director, Animal Control Officer, Chief Officer, Fire Chief, Deputy Director, Fannin County Attorney, Nichole Potzauf, Marie Woody, John Drullinger, Darrell Payne, Larry Thomas, Eddie O'Neal, Zack Ratcliff

A volunteer working one-on-one with a dog at FCAC helps to improve the odds of adoption.

“Our new volunteer program has been a huge success. We’ve got some days up to 10 or 12 volunteers down there walking our dogs, helping clean, do laundry, work with some of the shy dogs, some of the fearful ones, teaching them tricks,” Drullinger said of the recently implemented program. “Some of our volunteers are doing legs of transports helping move some of the dogs out, helping rescues.”

Johnson spoke of the volunteers at FCAC improving the cause, “The other people that have been getting involved here recently, I hope they keep it up , keep the interest.”

“We have a great group of people. Some come pretty regular, some come on certain days, some come everyday. They are very motivated and willing to help out,” Drullinger affirmed Johnson’s thoughts and added that the FCAC donor program has been a huge success as well with people donating items such as blankets, towels, toys and treats for the dogs.

The local area animal rescues were acknowledged for their help in moving dogs out of the facility and into permanent homes. A new group, Team Dahlonega, has also stepped up, helping to advertise the dogs held at FCAC and raise pledges for individual dogs to be pulled into rescues.

Drullinger said of Team Dahlonega’s efforts, “That’s been instrumental in helping us with our rescues, that have already been helping us move out a lot more dogs.”

The efforts of the volunteers, rescues and staff are noticeable. As of this update there were only six dogs in the facility. Drullinger said of this accomplishment, “That’s lowest number that has ever been there since I’ve been there.”

Drullinger closed his update with a reminder: “I would like to remind the public about ID-ing their dogs. If we had more people have ID’s on the collars and / or micro-chipped we could get dogs back to the owners a lot quicker and sooner.”

FANNIN COUNTY EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT AGENCY AND FANNIN COUNTY FIRE DEPARTMENT

Fannin County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Deputy Director Darrell Payne and Fannin County Fire Department (FCFD) Fire Chief Larry Thomas updated the BOC and residents on the busy year the departments had.

“Last year we had a busy call season,” said Payne before giving the statistics of 911 calls in Fannin County.

The EMA / EMS received 3,641 911 calls in 2018. There were an additional 1,115 non emergency calls that the department handled.

According to Thomas the FCFD responded to 416 fire calls, nine structure fires, three commercial fires, and one chimney fire.

“Several years ago we had several chimney fires. We were looking at anywhere from 12 to 15 on a given year,” Thomas spoke on the importance of having chimneys inspected, a step that can easily help to prevent a home fire. “Now these numbers have gotten down and I’m hoping that it’s our education that we are spreading throughout the county as far as cleaning chimneys. Right now is the most dangerous time of the year.”

Thomas explained that most chimneys are now prefabricated. Fires in these chimneys can easily spread to structures such as attics and rooftops.

Fannin County, Georgia, Blue Ridge, Board of Commissioners, Chairman, Post One Commissioner, Post Two Comissioner, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Glenn Patterson, Departments, Department Heads, Update, Blue Ridge Mountains Arts Association, BRMAA, Land Development, Animal Control, Emergency Management Agency, Fire Department, Parks and Recreation, Public Works, Director, Animal Control Officer, Chief Officer, Fire Chief, Deputy Director, Fannin County Attorney, Nichole Potzauf, Marie Woody, John Drullinger, Darrell Payne, Larry Thomas, Eddie O'Neal, Zack Ratcliff

Fannin County rescuers working to bring an injured fisherman to safety.

EMA / EMS also received two new ambulances which were placed in the Dial section of Fannin County, and hope to obtain a new ambulance in 2019 to replace one currently located at Station 4 in McCaysville.

Both Thomas and Payne reported that emergency calls are on the rise in the county, and Thomas attributes many of these calls taking place from people exploring the outdoors in our area: “We’re having more and more trail calls.”

Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson spoke of the importance of residents in Fannin County marking their homes and properties with signage that is easily visible to emergency crews: “A lot of people get black and black just blends in.”

Blue reflective number signs can be purchased at Kevin Panter Insurance. These signs, usually placed at the beginning of driveways, are clearly and highly visible which saves time for responders during an emergency situation.

A portion of the money received from the purchase of these signs goes directly back to the Fannin County EMS department.

“It does help. It really does. It reflects, it’s right at the end of the driveway,” Thomas said speaking of the blue signs available for purchase to the public.

“We have just recently moved into our new facility and we are very proud of it,” Payne spoke of the progress taking place at the new Fannin County Public Safety Complex, “and we want to thank the commissioners, you all for supporting us on that. It’s something we’ve needed for a long time. I think it’s something that the people, the county, can be proud of also.”

FANNIN COUNTY PARKS AND RECREATION

The Fannin County Parks and Recreation Department had a successful year. Many new programs were added to benefit those living in Fannin County and those visiting.

In 2018, 820 children participated in some kind of youth activity offered by the department.

The third annual Basketball Christmas Tournament also brought in large numbers for the county. Sixty-six teams participated in the three day tournament which took place Dec. 26-28. A total of 116 games were played with an average of 2,000 in attendance throughout each day.

“We had a kid playing on the Forsyth team and FetchYourNews, they broadcast it live through Youtube and we had a dad who was a marine,” Fannin County Parks and Recreation Director Eddie O’Neal spoke of how the tournament had international attention in 2018, “He got in contact with us and said he appreciated it. It was the first time he saw his kid play basketball in two years. It was amazing to be able to provide that to someone.”

Fannin County, Georgia, Blue Ridge, Board of Commissioners, Chairman, Post One Commissioner, Post Two Comissioner, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Glenn Patterson, Departments, Department Heads, Update, Blue Ridge Mountains Arts Association, BRMAA, Land Development, Animal Control, Emergency Management Agency, Fire Department, Parks and Recreation, Public Works, Director, Animal Control Officer, Chief Officer, Fire Chief, Deputy Director, Fannin County Attorney, Nichole Potzauf, Marie Woody, John Drullinger, Darrell Payne, Larry Thomas, Eddie O'Neal, Zack Ratcliff

One of the many games hosted during the Parks and Recreation Christmas Basketball Tournament.

Events like this tournament have large economic impacts on the county as whole. Visitors stay in hotels, rent cabins, eat at local restaurants, shop in locally owned stores, and many times plan to come back to our area for a second visit.

Parks and Recreation brought in $57,078.43 in youth concession sales, $52,257.60 in admission fees, and $59,574 in registrations in 2018. Pavillion rentals at parks added an additional $7,775, along with nonresident gym use fees for $3,051, after school programs at $20,860, summer day camp an additional $20,556.25, and $30, 568 food grant for summer day camp was obtained. Major programs accounted for approximately $251, 721.23, bringing a grand revenue total to approximately $280,000.

“That comes from tons of volunteers in the county. People that volunteer to help with programs, volunteer to coach, or volunteer to tutor with our after school program. We really do appreciate all the help,” Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson spoke of the Parks and Recreation Department’s success.

Johnson added, “The complaints I’ve received have been very minimal and what that tells me is you’re running the programs the way the should be ran and handling problems the way they should be handled. I appreciate you doing that.”

“Being in sports myself and education, the job you do with the young kids is very commendable,” Post 2 Commissioner Glenn Patterson complimented the work being done by the department.

Fannin County Chairman Stan Helton added to this, “I think the public, I hope they understand, certainly the parents do, what a relationship our Recreation Department is. I mean it’s for everyone, young and old alike.”

O’Neal shared plans to to begin senior programs in 2019: “Starting in February we will start a Silver Sneakers program for active senior adults. We have an employee trained to handle that exercise program that will take place two times a week.”

This new Silver Sneakers program will be an exercise based program specially geared towards an older crowd. The class size, initially, will accommodate 10 to 15 people.

Next up for Parks and Recreation will be a restroom remodel at their main facility. Commissioners voted unanimously to move forward with a bid from Wolfcreek Builders, LLC. in the amount of $50,075.

This remodel would include a metal roof, hardy plank siding, tiling the interior space, all new fixtures, and metal doors. The contract is for labor only. The county will supply materials.

Heating and air for the newly remodeled space will take place in a separate bid.

FANNIN COUNTY PUBLIC WORKS

Zack Ratcliff, Director of Public Works in Fannin County, has not only managed to cut the department’s expenses by close to $1,000,000 in just two years but his management has also led the Public Works department to more than double productivity in many areas.

In 2016 the Public Works department had 53 employees with a budget of $1,826,505 in payroll alone. The number of employees dramatically decreased by 2017 to 35. This brought payroll expenditures down to $1,308,744.

Fannin County, Georgia, Blue Ridge, Board of Commissioners, Chairman, Post One Commissioner, Post Two Comissioner, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Glenn Patterson, Departments, Department Heads, Update, Blue Ridge Mountains Arts Association, BRMAA, Land Development, Animal Control, Emergency Management Agency, Fire Department, Parks and Recreation, Public Works, Director, Animal Control Officer, Chief Officer, Fire Chief, Deputy Director, Fannin County Attorney, Nichole Potzauf, Marie Woody, John Drullinger, Darrell Payne, Larry Thomas, Eddie O'Neal, Zack Ratcliff

The Public Works crew taking care of the demo of Fire Station 1 in downtown Blue Ridge.

By 2018 employee total for the department sits at 36 with a payroll of $1,289,868. This alone has brought a little over $500,000 in savings to taxpayers each year.

In the last year, roughly 117 miles of road have been re-striped, 12 miles of road have been paved, 25 miles of road have been chip and sealed, the Aska Transfer Station also received chip and seal, as well as the Recreation Center parking area, 28 culverts have been installed, 600 road signs have been cleaned and straightened, and 649 new road signs were created for use throughout the county.

Johnson commented on how this kind of productivity saves money for residents: “The numbers that I see that aren’t reflected in these numbers, of other savings, is when you chip and seal a road, that is that many roads we’re not having to gravel, to grade or to maintain, other than clogged ditches and what have you. So really it’s hard to put a number on that (indirect savings).”

While the payroll is the most dramatic of the savings, other areas have improved in expenditures as well. The Fuel Master system was installed to track fuel use leading to greater accountability, through negotiations with various vendors the county is now receiving 2-10 percent discounts on its bills, and a new uniform provider was found that can provide uniforms at half the cost that the county was previously paying.

Ratcliff credits the success of the Public Works department to the employees in it and stated of the workers, “My crew is an efficient crew. Everybody’s professional.”

Johnson spoke of the dramatic affect one department can have on Fannin County as a whole, “These numbers right here is what keeps Fannin County’s millage rate the lowest in the state.”

“I think this is a great example of being able to professionally manage a department and do it effectively,” Helton added his thoughts on the accomplishments, “That’s real money. That’s big time money.”

The 2017 audit showed the initially savings of the now more efficient Public Works department as being $999,333.

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at [email protected]

Advanced Disposal contract up for discussion

Community, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – Tony Sidebotham, Advanced Disposal Operations Manager for the North Georgia Area, met with the Board of Commissioners (BOC) recently to discuss the terms of the upcoming waste disposal contract renewal.


The current contract was signed and agreed upon 2016, and is up for renewal on Sept. 1 of this year. According to the current contract the county must give Advanced Disposal 180 day notice if there are requests for changes or negotiation discussions that need to take place.


Currently Fannin County pays $54.16 per ton for waste disposal, and in the current contract this price is subject to increase by three percent annually. Advanced Disposal has approximately 150 to 170 tons of waste that move through their facilities daily.


“So your company hasn’t gotten to a point to where you felt like it would be fair not to utilize the three percent increase?” Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson questioned and added that at the current rate the county will be paying close to $60.00 per ton by the end of another 3 year contract. “$60.00 per ton is quite a bit higher than surrounding areas.”


Sidebotham explained that the three percent increase covers his cost of operations. He told commissioners that not only does pricing go up for the services Advanced Disposal utilizes but he also has to consider his employees and their raise requests and benefits.


Fannin County Chairman Stan Helton questioned how Fannin County’s pricing compares to those of surrounding counties.


“It’s hard to compare contract to contract,” Sidebotham replied and explained that each county has different needs and different circumstances.


One of the circumstances affecting the pricing in Fannin County is that with the exception of the Aska Road facility, which is county owned property, Advanced Disposal owns its own properties in the county.


Helton further questioned, “Is it feasible to look, if we own one facility of having a different rate at the place we own?”


Sidebotham replied that anything is up for discussion, and acknowledged the Union County does have different pricing because the county owns its own facilities.


“It’s going to hard because they own their facilities and in other counties they (the counties) own their facilities, so in the years past these contracts, being as they own the only transfer station in the county, our rates are automatically going to be higher,” Johnson expressed his opinion on what drives the pricing higher for our area.


Johnson also pointed out that when the contract was last up for renewal Advanced Disposal was the only bidder: “We’re where we’re at because there’s one company. You can’t get a competing price when no one else will bid.”


Johnson pointed out that Fannin County only allows for one transfer company to be present. He feels that this also plays a role in being unable to obtaining competing pricing.


Glass recycling was also discussed as it has been a concern for numerous residents since the option of recycling glass was discontinued.


As for now it looks like the possibility of this recycling option will not return to Fannin County. Sidebotham explains, “The easiest way I can explain it is, there’s no easy way to recycle glass now a days. For companies that recycle glass the most profitable way to make a return on it is to sort it by color and so to do that you need a large area of space, a large area to heat the glass. And then the shipping of it, there’s no returns on it. Even recyclers that we use, they’ve all gone away. There’s no place for us to get rid of the glass.”

A glass recycling facility in Pa. shows the large property needed to accommodate this type of recycling.


Advanced Disposal and their employees have taken proactive steps to become a positive impact on the community during the current contract.
Recently the business agreed to extend holiday hours in an effort to help Fannin County with their unique circumstances that causes an influx of visitors during these time.


Previously the waste disposal facilities in Fannin County were closed six days a year in observance of different holidays. Advanced Disposal agreed to open half days for three of these major holidays (Fourth of July, Labor Day, and Memorial Day) and only remain closed Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year day.


Advanced Disposal has also donated dumpsters and containers for community clean up events, and have recently agreed to pick up certain colored garbage bags from sides of roadways where litter collection has taken place.


The Fannin County Fire Department also benefits from the collection of aluminum cans at the Advanced Disposal sites. 100 percent of proceeds from these collections go to fund the fire department’s educational outreach programs.


A full time litter personnel was recently hired and will soon be seen in Fannin County two days a week to help combat the ongoing litter issue.


Sidebotham expressed that he would continue efforts at the facilities to hold trash haulers responsible for securing their loads. He explained that aside from having clear signage posted pertaining to the law, with first time offenders he often will have them pull to the side and secure their load before being allowed to tip.


“I have found that sometimes the inconvenience of having to do that, you know taking an extra 10 – 15 minutes, the next time they come through they would know that it has to be secured,” Sidebotham said of the effect the effort has on those pulled aside.


A new scale house will be seen at the Hwy. 60 waste disposal facility. The scalehouse will be placed to allow direct and immediate contact between Advanced Disposal personnel and drivers. This move will help to combat the issue of unsecured loads as well, as it can be addressed immediately upon the vehicle entering the scales.


While negotiations are expected to take place concerning the current waste disposal contract, all three commissioners acknowledged the work being done by Advanced Disposal in Fannin County and showed appreciation for the company’s willingness to get involved.

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at [email protected]

Fannin County opens door for competition in waste removal pricing

Business, Community, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – The Fannin County Board of Commissioners (BOC) began the process of opening up the way for competition when it comes to waste removal in the county.

Recent commission meetings showed much discussion about the current contract with Advanced Disposal. The contract set to expire on Sept. 1 of this year, requires the BOC give at least 180 day notice if there is intent to amend or cease further business with the company.

Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson expressed his disappoint with the company’s automatic 3 percent increase in price annually and said, “We’re where we’re at because there’s one company. You can’t get a competing price when no one else will bid.”

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Chairman, Post 1 Commissioner, Post 2 Commissioner, Stan Helton, Earl Johsnon, Glenn Patterson, Advanced Disposal, Tony Sidebotham, Operations Manager, Contract, Renewal, Glass Recycling, Competition, Attorney, Lynn Doss

Board of Commissioners speak with attorney Lynn Doss about opening the door to competition.

All board members did recognize the asset Advanced Disposal has become to Fannin County through their community partnerships and participation.
“The intent is not to get rid of ADS. We still need them as an operator in our county,” Chairman Stan Helton spoke of the intentions behind the contract discussions.

Helton added that the BOC intentions were “to introduce competition, someone that can do the job, that would have a transfer station, and see if we (BOC) could open the door up for them to at least quote, bid, or prove to us that they would be a viable alternative, another resource for the county.”

An individual has come forward and spoken with commissioners about the possibility to offering their services to the county. Helton had a meeting with the individual that he referred to as being “positive”.

“This is a gentleman that has an interest in serving the community and he’s got equipment and a transfer station that would be available,” Helton said explaining the meeting and pointed out that the services the individual could provide would be on a much smaller scale than Advanced Disposal.

Post 2 Commissioner Glenn Patterson shared his thoughts that “competition’s always good”.

Previously Fannin County was under consent and by court order could only allow for one solid waste transfer station to operate. This order has since expired.

Fannin County Attorney Lynn Doss told the BOC that she would review the consent order and work towards allowing for the county to have more than one solid waste transfer station and recommended that the BOC develop a pricing template for waste removal before seeking bids.

Johnson added to this that the county needs a set of requirements, above the already mandated state requirements, to ensure that companies operating in the county are permitted by the state and capable of delivering the results that are agreed upon.

Helton reiterated that he is not in favor of eliminating Advanced Disposal’s services as the county’s primary supplier and added that he didn’t feel that anyone at this time is in a position to take the place of Advanced Disposal.

“We felt if there was some way to open up a little bit of competition, perhaps that would be the favorable result for the county,” Helton explained that perhaps in years to come that a door would open to receive numerous bids.

Johnson spoke of Advance Disposal, “Advanced, as far as I know, they handle all of the garbage the county has right now. They do a good job of it,” but added that his goal is to stabilize costs: “I think we should look at every route to try to reduce our prices.”

No official vote was needed in the matter and with all three commissioners in agreement about saving the residents of Fannin County money, they gave the go ahead to Doss to notify Advanced Disposal of their intent to negotiate the upcoming contract.

 

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at [email protected]

Tourism brings big dollars to Fannin County

Community, Fannin County Chamber, News

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.

 

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at [email protected]

$1,000,000 in savings. Public Works cuts budget and raises productivity.

Community, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – “I believe that smaller government is better government, but I also believe that in areas where government does play a legitimate role we should demand that it is done better.” Former Governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker spoke these words that echo true in the thoughts of many Americans across the nation. Here at home, in Fannin County, we are seeing the literal effects of these words when put into action.

Zack Ratcliff, Director of Public Works in Fannin County, has not only managed to cut the department’s expenses by close to $1,000,000 in just two years but his management has also led the Public Works department to more than double productivity in many areas.

In 2016 the Public Works department had 53 employees with a budget of $1,826,505 in payroll alone. The number of employees dramatically decreased by 2017 to 35. This brought payroll expenditures down to $1,308,744.

By 2018 employee total for the department sits at 36 with a payroll of $1,289,868. This alone has brought a little over $500,000 in savings to taxpayers each year.

“Any time you have change in administration or management there has always been that old fear, you hear that term cleaning house, you (Ratcliff) didn’t do that,” Fannin County Chairman Stan Helton said clarifying what allowed Ratcliff to make these cuts in payroll. “What you came out there and did, you set a standard of what was expected of employees.You raised the bar.”

Ratcliff confirmed Helton’s statement by saying that upon becoming the Director of Public Works he has only had one termination in the department.

With the department now having roughly two-thirds of the employees held in 2016, one would assume productivity or quality would be lacking, but Public Works has sacrificed neither of these by streamlining the department, and the number of jobs completed each year is actually on the rise.

In the last year, roughly 117 miles of road have been restriped, 12 miles of road have been paved, 25 miles of road have been chip and sealed, the Aska Transfer Station also received chip and seal, as well as the Recreation Center parking area, 28 culverts have been installed, 600 road signs have been cleaned and straightened, and 649 new road signs were created for use throughout the county.

Fannin County Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson commented on how this kind of productivity saves money for residents: “The numbers that I see that aren’t reflected in these numbers, of other savings, is when you chip and seal a road, that is that many roads we’re not having to gravel, to grade or to maintain, other than clogged ditches and what have you. So really it’s hard to put a number on that (indirect savings).”

Ratcliff has also managed to cut costs by strategically coordinating work done throughout the county. By coming up with a well mapped plan for the year, the department has cut time and fuel by focusing on specific areas within the county to complete multiple projects.

Along with cutting costs, Ratcliff has added over $85,000 back to the county’s General Fund through selling the department’s older vehicles and equipment.

While the payroll is the most dramatic of the savings, other areas have improved in expenditures as well. The Fuel Master system was installed to track fuel use leading to greater accountability, through negotiations with various vendors the county is now receiving 2-10 percent discounts on its bills, and a new uniform provider was found that can provide uniforms at half the cost that the county was previously paying.

Ratcliff credits the success of the Public Works department to the employees in it and stated of the workers, “My crew is an efficient crew. Everybody’s professional.”

Johnson spoke of the dramatic affect one department can have on Fannin County as a whole, “These numbers right here is what keeps Fannin County’s millage rate the lowest in the state.”

“I think this is a great example of being able to professionally manage a department and do it effectively,” Helton added his thoughts on the accomplishments of the Public Works department, “That’s real money. That’s big time money.”

The 2017 audit showed the initial savings of the now more efficient Public Works department as being $999,333.

When asked what motivates him to continue to look for ways to improve the department and save taxpayers money Ratcliff simply replied, “I’m a public servant.”

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at [email protected]

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