FANNIN COUNTY, Ga. – With previously approved expenditures coming back to the county with changes, Fannin County approved two major increases to planned expenditures this month through the Library and the Public Safety Department.
Fannin County has celebrated a state grant in support of building a new library within the county. Even hosting House Speaker David Ralston at the more recent announcement of an increase to that grant. This month saw the Board of Commissioners return to that agenda item to adopt the official resolution to increase the county’s expenditures to match the doubled grant amount.
That amount from the state was originally set at $1.3 million and has since doubled to $2.6 million. Now, with this approval the county has officially increased its match from the original $650,000 to $1.3 million. Approved unanimously by the Board of Commissioners, this agenda item solidified the county’s final commitment to the project increase.
Within the Public Safety a Ford F250 pickup truck hasn’t been received from the dealership one year after its order. Approved on June 22, 2021, the order for a new truck in the department still hasn’t come in at the end of July 2022. Furthermore, according to EMA Director Robert Graham, it could be very late this year or even next year before its even in production as he has been told by the dealership.
To answer the immediate need, the department has found another vehicle, a 2022 Chevrolet 2500 Heavy Duty Crew Cab Truck. With rising costs of materials and shortages on supplies in the nation, prices have continued to rise since the original trucks order, though. The Ford was ordered for a price of $32,789.64. The new vehicle, the chevrolet, has already been produced and is for sale for $54,000.
The departments current vehicle in use has over 179,000 miles and needs replacing. Graham told the Board of Commissioners that it is run every day for medical and fire calls. The vehicle responds out of Station 1.
Director Graham is requesting that the county use SPLOST to purchase the Chevy for use, but not instead of the Ford F250. Graham stated, “We will never get another new vehicle at that price. I suggest we leave it on order to come in next year or something for future use. At $32,000, you’re not going to get a three-quarter-ton pickup for that price anymore. As long as we keep it on order, they’ll have to hold to that price.”
The troubles continue as the department also looks ahead to future orders as Graham reported that Chevrolet opened to receive “fleet orders” for only four hours on one day and will not accept any more orders again until next year.
The county approved the request for expenditures from SPLOST to cover an extra $54,000 on top of last year’s approved purchase and is looking to continue along with the previous order as requested, although some early discussion came that the Ford truck could be used in another department if a major need arises before it is delivered. Even if production does start on the vehicle in late 2022, the county could still see delivery not coming until 2023.
Blue Ridge, Ga. – Discussions continue as Blue Ridge City Council Member Mike Panter asks County Commissioners to consider a feasibility study for a proposed aquatic center in Fannin County.
“I am speaking not necessarily on behalf of the City Council,” Panter opened, stating that at the time he was speaking as a resident who had done research into a project and is hoping to gain support from not only the Fannin County Board of Commissioners but also from Blue Ridge City Council and the Fannin County Board of Education.
“The closest swimming facility is in Blairsville and it’s owned by the hospital,” Panter said of the lack of a comparable facility in our area. He did point out that currently the City of Calhoun in Gordon County has an aquatic center but that it is aging.
Some students from the Fannin County School System make several trips a week to utilize the Calhoun facility for aquatic sports, which is a 2 hour round trip.
There has been recent discussion of Fannin County putting in a splash pad for residents. The splash pad at Meeks Park in Union County was brought up as a comparison for price. The Meeks Park splash pad was installed in 2016 with an approximate cost of $360,000.
Panter also noted Lincoln County’s splash pad with a price tag of $156,000, “The reason it was so cheap was because they filled in their pool. They already had a bathroom facility and sewer.”
The City of Blue Ridge had looked into a similar possibility of a splash pad, due to the costly repairs needed at the city’s current outdoor pool.
Panter pointed out that the current city pool repairs could have a price tag of over $100,000 and would only be able to be used three to four months each year.
The proposed aquatic center could incorporate a splash pad, along with a heated indoor pool and a health club.
A similar plan for an aquatic center has recently been approved in Lumpkin County.
The Lumpkin County Aquatic Center website states :
“This state-of-the art facility will not only have indoor and outdoor swimming, but will also have a lazy river and splash activities for children, outdoor rental spaces, and a therapy pool for those who desire low impact exercise or need rehabilitation after illness or surgery.”
The cost of Lumpkin County’s new endeavor is roughly $8 million, which Panter projects Fannin County to have a similar cost. Panter stated that the cost would not necessarily have to be a lump sum and that the project could be done in phases.
Using the current location of the Blue Ridge Farmer’s Market building could save at least $1 million in on site prep work according to Panter, “The city has no debt on that property whatsoever.”
“The high school themselves, they are being pushed to have an aquatics program,” Panter stated when asked if the school system was considering building its own aquatic facility but added of the general public’s ability to use a facility strictly owned by the school system, “As all of us know in the school systems, a lot of the school facilities are locked down. It’s hard to use the school facilities.”
Panter stressed that this was another reason that he felt an intergovernmental agreement between the three entities would best serve the community.
While no Commissioners seemed outright opposed to the idea of an aquatic center, concerns were expressed of the long term benefits, costs and responsibilities of such a facility.
Fannin County Commission Chairman Jamie Hensley stated that with a project of such magnitude being proposed, he wants to make sure it would be done correctly the first time and that it is truly something that would benefit the community in the long term.
Concerns were also raised of Panter’s proposed location of the City’s Farmer’s Market building, with Post 1 Commissioner Johnny Scearce directly discussing these concerns.
“That Farmer’s Market has been sitting there for 10 years unused,” Panter answered Scearce’s questions, “We’ve spent over $100,000 in tax payers money on the Farmer’s Market just to keep it there.”
Brian Higgins, a long time proponent of bringing back Blue Ridge’s Farmer’s Market to the unused facility, spoke during public comments, “We are totally in agreement on the aquatic center. It’s the location that we have a difference of opinion on.”
Higgins pointed out that the Farmer’s Market is one of the few nostalgic properties left in the city limits and feels that the Rec. Center would be a more appropriate location.
Citing that it makes more sense to build an aquatic center where the county’s main sports hub already resides, Higgins also pointed out that the Rec. Center has much more land, giving Fannin County the option of expansion as need arises in the future.
Panter is hoping that a feasibility study can help point everyone in the right direction and clarify a lot of the uncertainties surrounding the proposed project.
The cost of a feasibility study could run around $75,000.
Panter is expected to present again to all three entities once he obtains a quote. His hope is to get approval from the Fannin County Board of Commissioners, Blue Ridge City Council and the Fannin County Board of Education on splitting the cost of the study, so that everyone can get an accurate idea of what will be involved in moving forward with the project.
Featured Image: City of Blue Ridge Farmer’s Market Property
Blue Ridge, Ga. – The Fannin County Fire Department (FCFD) along with Fannin County EMA/EMS took time to recognize the past Fire Chiefs of Fannin County.
“It is an honor to be a part of this with you guys,” Fannin County Chairman Jamie Hensley was present to give his thanks: “The hard work and dedication that you all put into even forming this and keeping it going throughout the years, you paved the way for all of us to be here.”
Fannin County Post 2 Commissioner Glenn Patterson echoed Hensley’s sentiments, “You guys up there laid the foundation of what you see today. We do appreciate you all and what you built from the ground up. Your contributions are invaluable.”
Among those present to be recognized were Darrell Payne, Tony Petty, Jack Worthey, Larry Waters, Walter Taylor, and Robert Graham. Those that couldn’t be present for the event were Spencer Kitchens, Ryan McDaris and William Wright.
Current Fire Chief Larry Thomas thanked the previous fire chiefs, many of whom he had worked with, “I want to give my thanks to each and everyone of you all.”
Thomas spoke of how their work and dedication helped to bring the department to where it is today.
Each one of the former Fire Chiefs spoke and it quickly became apparent that while they were given the title to lead the department, none felt they alone could take credit for how far the department has come.
The speeches quickly gave way to stories. The camaraderie of those working in emergency services showed as it was evident to everyone in the room, whether past or present, after serving your community you are always family.
Walter Taylor, Fannin County’s first official Fire Chief shared how, with the help of others, the first fire truck in Fannin County was built. According to Taylor it was a 1957 Chevrolet 6 cylinder: “We put two 500 gallon tanks on it.”
Taylor also shared a personal experience where those presently working in public safety had been called in to aid him. He gave an emotional thank you to the ones who answered the call, crediting them with saving his life.
Larry Waters, former Fannin County Fire Chief, gave insight into being a Fire Chief before the department received funding for full-time staff, “While I was Fire Chief, I was working full time at Levis Strauss and Co. and during the daily activities Tony took over as assistant chief.”
Waters spoke of firefighters and emergency personal running concession stands, parking cars, and “whatever we could do to raise money” for equipment. He also spoke of the pride the department felt when their new used equipment would arrive.
Former Fire Chief Tony Petty gave advice to those new to the field, “To be a fireman you’ve got to want to help people” and added that everyone involved is what makes a successful department: “You can be the best Chief in the world but if you ain’t got good people under you, you ain’t got nobody. I couldn’t never done it without you (all the volunteers).”
“I come in as a paid Chief,” Jack Worthey, former Fire Chief and 40 year veteran in the field, said of his reluctance to be honored with the others, adding that it is an “honor to come in and appreciate what these men have done.”
Standing with the others and looking around the crowded room Worthy noted that it is a “privilege to be a firefighter”.
There was a noticeable sense of pride in the room as emergency personnel listened to the stories shared from the previous Fire Chiefs. A humble sense of pride not only in the work that they face day to day but also a pride to be a small part of a larger team that helped write the history of Fannin County and continues to shape the future.
Former Fire Chief Worthey came to Fannin County, after having worked with the DeKalb County Fire Department for 30 years and had this to say of Fannin County, “This is the best volunteer fire department in the state of Georgia.”
FANNIN COUNTY, Ga – The polls have closed for the August 11 runoff election. To review the unofficial election returns for your local, state, and federal races, check out the list below. Please remember all the results are unofficial until certified by the Secretary of State.
Precincts: 12 of 12 reporting
Stan Helton (I) – 1,097
Jamie Hensley – 3,956
U.S. House of Representatives District 9
Andrew Clyde – 2,826
Matt Gurtler – 2,147
Devin Pandy – 344
Brooke Siskin – 179
To see the state election returns, click here. This article contains the overall race winner and identified runoffs for State House, State Senate, U.S. House, and U.S. Senate in FYN’s coverage area.
The General Election is scheduled for November 3 as well as the jungle primary for Senator Kelly Loeffler’s seat.
Blue Ridge, Ga. – The August 11, 2020 runoff is fast approaching and only one seat in Fannin County will be seen on the ballot. That seat is for Fannin County Commission Chairman. Incumbent Stan Helton faces Challenger Jamie Hensley for the Republican nomination.
With no Democratic nomination for the seat, the winner of the August runoff will be the presumed winner of Fannin County’s next Chairman.
FYN sent several questions to both Incumbent Helton and Challenger Hensley, so that voters will know where the two candidates stand on key topics in Fannin County.
SPLOST and tax collections in general are expected to take a hit due to statewide business closures. How do you plan to navigate the areas impacted by less revenue?
Helton – County revenues and SPLOST were down in the latter part of March and April. However, YTD our TOTAL County revenues are down only 2% and LOST & SPLOST collections are actually slightly ahead. We have put a strong emphasis on watching our costs and thru May – the County is actually 8% under budget on expenditures. We are already addressing potential shortfalls by delaying any Capital projects that will not hamper essential services. We also plan to scale back paving this year to about 50% from our previous rate which will keep the Roads and Bridges expenditures to a minimum. That will help protect our SPLOST fund balance.
Hensley – As it stands now there will be State funding cuts that will affect Fannin County, but locally I would need to see the final numbers to make decisions on whether or not steps need to be taken to balance any budget issues. Fannin County has shown to be resilient in the past and right now the economy in our area is demonstrating that resilience again.
Recently the City of Blue Ridge took steps toward annexation of county territory. Would you be for the city expanding its limits?
Helton – The County has not received any official documents from the City of Blue Ridge and the article in the County news organ is all I can respond to. It appears that the primary impact would be to extend City liquor laws into the County without an approved referendum by the voters. I am not in favor of excluding the voters on this important issue and oppose Annexation without a thorough and proper process.
Hensley – At this time, I would not be for the City of Blue Ridge annexing portions of the county. There needs to be planned growth in Fannin County and there needs to be a focus on infrastructure and public services being able to handle the change and growth. I worry that annexation and the large developments that were proposed could negatively impact residents. For example, with property value and taxes. There needs to be citizen input on these major decisions in the county.
Many states and cities are increasing property taxes to make up for lost revenue. Would you be for increasing the millage rate to make up for this lost revenue? If not, how would you manage oversight on property values to ensure that inflation does not occur?
Helton – Raising Millage rates and increasing property taxes is a last resort. With the cooperation of the Chamber , the BOC has voted to raise the Hotel/Motel tax from 5% to 6% which is paid by tourists. Also, continuing to challenge other County offices to find budget savings is another alternative to raising the Millage rate. The Tax Assessors Board and office is responsible for managing the property valuation in Fannin County, not the Board of Commissioners. The continued influx of people that move into Fannin County buying property and building homes will naturally increase values for all property owners.
Hensley – My goal is to keep Fannin County’s Millage rate the lowest in the State of Georgia. That is something that we have been proud of for many years and I would like to continue to maintain this status. Being proactive by looking at the overall county budget and finding ways to save taxpayers’ money within our operations is the action I would take before considering raising the Millage rate.
The purchase of the Whitepath property has been divisive in the community. Do you feel it was a good purchase and how would you move forward with the project?
Helton – It was a GREAT investment for Fannin County and was MANDATED by the voters on the 2016 SPLOST referendum. $3,150,000 was allocated for this goal and we have used $1,300,000 cash out of that fund balance to make this purchase ( which was voted on in an open meeting back in May 2019 ). There is $1,850,000 SPLOST available to repurpose that building and possibly move the library over and double their space from the current crowded location in the Courthouse. This is a great value for the County and is less expensive than building a new Administration Building. The BOC has simply followed through with what the voters already approved in November 2016- – – namely, move the administrative functions out of the crowded Courthouse to improve parking and citizen access. There should be no controversy in doing what the people voted on and mandated.
Hensley – I understand the need for residents to have easier access to Fannin County public services. The current location of the courthouse has issues like parking that poses a problem for many. I do have questions on whether the Whitepath building is the best option to relocate these services. I understand that the building was purchased with SPLOST funds for this specific reason, but would like to propose another option, if possible, to explore. I would like to see the building used to bring industry and jobs back to the county. With the grant that the library received, I would like to look into a stand alone library. Space in the courthouse, as well as parking, would be freed up just by moving the library.
Are there any areas of our local government that you feel need to be looked into and possibly reformed? How would you go about making changes?
Helton – The voters have a chance for reform every four years – – – – it’s called an election and candidates should present their ideas for change or reform to the citizens before the election. Voters can then make their choice on what needs changing. I think Fannin County works pretty well and I don’t support expanding the BOC members or making a change to our type of local government.
Hensley – There are departments within our local government, like any government, that could improve. A way to get these improvements would be to stop using Fannin County as a training facility for workers. When we find quality workers we need to offer competitive wages and benefits to keep these workers here. I would look to make all departments self sufficient by hiring and retaining quality employees.
There is concern of a second wave of Covid-19 hitting in the Fall. What steps would you take for public safety if this were to happen? How do you feel about the county’s response to the first wave in March?
Helton – There have been lessons learned from the Federal Government to the State of Georgia on down to the local level in dealing with this unforeseen pandemic. Fannin County initiated our Health Emergency Declaration Order nine days before the Governor implemented his HEDO. I feel our response was timely and effective in slowing down the COVID – 19 spread by reducing the influx of tourists into Fannin from highly infected areas outside the County. If a second wave hits again the Governor would issue orders that would reimplement his previous HEDO (supercedes County orders ) and we would by law fall under the State decree.
Hensley – Fannin County handled the first wave of Covid-19 very well considering the information that was presented to us at the time. This is completely new territory for everyone. The decisions made during March laid the groundwork for how to tackle similar situations in the future. If there were further outbreaks causing a need for action, I would use the guidelines and recommendations given by the State and the CDC, along with common sense, to form a plan of action for our county.
What personal qualities do you feel sets you apart from your opponent? Why do you feel like you are the better person for the job?
Helton – I have a BBA Degree from the University of Georgia and thirty five years running large business during my Oil Industry career. I’m an ACCG Certified County Commissioner and have the experience to run a $28.5 million dollar County budget. I’m willing to make tough decisions that benefit the citizens and not special interests that are moving here or are already part of the establishment. I am the only candidate that has NOT accepted any donations , and not compromised by nepotism or favoritism.
Hensley – I have served the public for over 30 years operating a business. I am a citizen of Fannin County like everyone else. Over the years I have listened to the good and I have listened to the bad, and as Chairman, I will continue to listen and to get out and interact with residents. I want to unite and to move forward on common ground and I will do this by listening to and working with the people. I know that not every decision can make everyone happy, but I will always do my best to make the right decision.
***NOTE regarding the upcoming runoff***
Early voting will begin July 20th and end on August 7th
Hours : 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday
Location: Fannin County Board of Registration and Elections, 400 West Main St., Suite 301.
The Board of Registration and Elections will be practicing social distancing, have a sanitizing table set up and will also be sanitizing the office and voting equipment throughout the day.
All Precincts will be open on August 11, 2020 7:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m. Social distancing and sanitizing will be observed in all Precincts.
If you voted in the June 9, 2020 General Primary, you must vote the same ballot style you selected then, with the exception of Nonpartisan. Nonpartisan will be allowed to select either party’s ballot style.
If you did not vote in the June 9, 2020 General Primary then either ballot style can be chosen.
The Board of Registration and Elections are accepting ballot applications, as well as poll worker applications . If anyone has any questions please call 706-632-7740.
My name is Jamie Hensley and I am running for Fannin County Commission Chairman. I would like to share why I am asking for your vote on May 19th. I am a lifelong resident of Fannin County, raised in the Mineral Bluff area. Growing up in our home, my mom, Marie and my dad, the late “Verl” Hensley, taught me and my sisters the importance of faith, family, and giving back to our community.
I currently reside in the Epworth area with my wife of 26 years, Faith. We have raised our two wonderful daughters, Lauren and Kaelyn, to have the same values. Our son-in-law, Josh, currently serves our country in the Army National Guard, and our beautiful granddaughter Lainey rules the roost. I am an East Side Wildcat and a 1989 graduate of Fannin County High School. I am a member of Mineral Bluff Lodge #483 and a member of Helping Hand Fellowship Church. Now, I want to use my deep-rooted values to serve all of Fannin County.
The qualities I feel the citizens of Fannin County expect and deserve from their Commission Chair go hand-in-hand with the leadership skills I have acquired during my 24-year career at Circuit World. I started out as a delivery driver, was quickly recognized for my hard work, dedication, determination, and was soon promoted to General Manager. I have been the General Manager of five locations for over 15 years. One of my main responsibilities is managing the operation of the businesses within a budget. I have had to be a good steward of the company’s money and not waste it. My success in business has been due to my ability to deliver on promises. I keep my word. If I tell you I am going to do something, you can count on it. I thoroughly understand budgets, purchasing, negotiations, hands on training, and public relations. I excel in leadership qualities. Leadership is not telling people what to do – it is listening to ideas, prioritizing the needs, and finding the best solution to accomplish the goal. As Commission Chairman of Fannin County, I will never forget it is YOUR money.
I have a long-time record of community involvement. For years, I have been involved with youth sports. I have coached softball since 1999 and enjoyed every minute of it! I was part of the coaching staff that landed Fannin County’s first ever 14U State Champs. Currently, I serve as President of the Fannin County Lady Rebels Softball Booster Club, and I am an active board member of the Blue Ridge Humane Society.
I believe Fannin County needs positive leadership. Fannin County, as you know, has grown immensely in the last 25 years. I feel we need to take a more proactive approach instead of simply being reactive to our community’s growth. We are proud of our history and must remember our past, but we must accept the fact that we are growing. If we don’t proactively plan for future growth and steer the “ship” properly, the county will experience uncontrolled growth.
I will improve communication between county offices, departments and government. We must work as a team to ensure that all departments are properly staffed and equipped to give the best service to our citizens that they so richly deserve. A better line of communication needs to be established with volunteers. Our county has a wealth of volunteers wanting to serve, especially in the area of animal control.
I support our public safety and will work diligently to ensure that our EMS/EMA, law enforcement, and first responders are given the resources necessary to do their jobs, which is to KEEP US SAFE. Additionally, I will work daily to see that our roads are maintained for all travelers. It is my belief that the main function of government is to provide for the peace, safety, and prosperity of its citizens.
I fully understand the scope and responsibilities of the Chairmanship of the Fannin County Board of Commissioners, and I am committed to making Fannin County an even better place to live.