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. – A crowd gathered on the steps of the Fannin County Courthouse to witness the swearing in of new Post One Commissioner Johnny Scearce.
Scearce, who is currently the City of Blue Ridge Chief of Police, won the seat of Post One Commissioner in the November 2020 General Election. Due to a long battle with Covid-19, however, Scearce had remained unable to fill the position.
Probate Judge Scott Kiker was present for the swearing in and spoke of his personal connection with Scearce.
“He’s helped renew my faith more than once in my life,” Kiker said of their friendship and added of Scearce’s recent illness, “His faith was demonstrated. His courage has been demonstrated through a trial that he didn’t anticipate.”
“Your fortitude. Your courage is an inspiration,” Kiker spoke directly to Scearce.
With his wife Brenda by his side, Scearce took the oath of office.
Scearce showed his good spirits by letting everyone know that by signing his name he was in fact using a pen and writing for the first time since his fight against Covid-19. He joked after signing that nothing had changed, he was still bad at it.
Scearce addressed the crowd stating, “I want to thank my lord and savior Jesus Christ.”
Next Scearce thanked his wife Brenda, “She was with me from day one and that pulled me through.”
Lastly, Scearce gave a heartfelt thank you to the community for their love and support, expressing the blessing he felt being surrounded by everyone’s love: “I’m so proud of my community. I’m going to do my best to help everybody I can and to help Fannin County.”
Feature Image : Fannin County Chairman Jamie Hensley, Post One Commissioner Johnny Scearce, Probate Judge Scott Kiker, Post Two Commissioner Glen Patterson
Blue Ridge, Ga – Blue Ridge Police Chief officially came home on Tuesday, February 3, 2021, after his release from the hospital in January 2021.
Scearce, who’s also the Post One-elect for Fannin County, spent 94 days in the CHI Memorial Hospital in Chattanooga, Tenn. battling COVID-19 and related health conditions, including a collapsed lung and MRSA. Before contract COVID-19, he didn’t have any pre-existing conditions. The hospital released a video of Scearce’s honor walk upon being discharged. Nurses and doctors lined the halls to cheer him on.
He began therapy after leaving the hospital after spending four months either in a wheelchair or hospital bed. His rehab discharge date was February 3.
People turned out along 515 to support Scearce’s ride home. He received a police escort. The Blue Ridge and Fannin County community have stayed vigilant with their prayers for the police chief’s health. Prayer vigils and fundraisers were held for Scearce’s wellbeing.
The neighborhood took to social media to share in the joy of Scearce returning home. Speaker of the Georgia House and Fannin Representative David Ralston even commented about the event.
“Many prayers were answered today when City of Blue Ridge Police Department Chief Johnny Scearce came home. Chief Scearce’s battle with complications from the Covid-19 virus has been long and challenging. Through it all, he has fought bravely — as we would have expected. Our City of Blue Ridge, Georgia community, has demonstrated again its goodness with an outpouring of prayers and support for Johnny, Brenda, and the entire family. Chief, we are all happy beyond words today. Welcome home!”
Scearce’s still on the road to recovery, but returning home will indeed prove to be a great motivation and healer for him. Those interested in helping the Scearce family cover medical expenses can donate to an established GoFundMe.
Blue Ridge, Ga. – After a long battle with Covid-19, Blue Ridge Chief of Police and recently elected Fannin County Post 1 Commissioner Johnny Scearce has been released from the hospital.
CHI Memorial Hospital released a video of Scearce being cheered on as he made his Honor Walk out of the hospital.
“Thank you all, God bless and what a great hospital and staff,” Scearce said as he made his way through a hall of staff cheering on his recovery.
Scearce had been in the hospital for 94 days according to CHI Memorial, but his battle with Covid-19 began in Sept. of 2020.
News of Scearce contracting the virus quickly spread via social media on Sept. 17 as his wife Brenda posted a personal post on Facebook asking for prayers for her husband.
At the time of the original post Scearce was in a regular room at Fannin Regional Hospital but struggling with maintaining healthy oxygen levels.
A prayer vigil was held outside the hospital for Scearce on Sept. 19 and Brenda posted a heartfelt thank you from both her and her husband.
During his stay at Fannin Regional Hospital, Scearce was sedated and put on a ventilator for several days, but was able to overcome this hurdle and made significant improvements. Scearce was released from Fannin Regional Hospital and returned home at the end of Sept.
While Scearce continued to make steady improvements at home, he was still experiencing low oxygen levels. News broke on Oct. 12 that he was being transferred via ambulance to CHI Memorial Hospital in Chattanooga.
The City of Blue Ridge along with Scearce’s brothers in blue gathered for a prayer vigil at the City Park on Oct. 13 and it was there that information was given as to the critical level of Scearce’s condition.
The community continued to rally behind their Chief of Police over the next several months with fundraisers and prayers.
The news of Scearce’s release from CHI Memorial is a major milestone that was celebrated by many via social media. Scearce still faces a long road of rehabilitation but the community remains confident that he will overcome any hurdles that he may face.
BLUE RIDGE, Ga: With Post One-elect Johnny Scearce continuing to recover from COVID-19-related illnesses, Fannin County Commissioners discussed the board’s options until he assumes responsibilities.
At this time, there’s not a set timeline for Scearce to take his oath of office and begin his commission term. However, the law is ambiguous about when the oath of office must be administered – in other words, there’s not a deadline.
The most recent legislation concerning election officials in Fannin occurred in 1987, “Fannin County – Compensation, etc. of Board of Commissioners No. 1117.” In the act, it stated, “Thereafter, their successors shall be elected at the general election immediately preceding the expiration of their terms of office and shall take office on the first day of January immediately following their election for terms of four years and until their successors are elected and qualified.”
“Qualified” refers to a commissioner-elect taking the oath of office and being bonded. According to County Attorney Lynn Doss, since Scearce has yet to take his oath, former Post One Earl Johnson remains the commissioner.
“Mr. Johnson has agreed that if needed. He automatically holds over. His term of office doesn’t end until the next person is sworn in,” Doss explained. “He holds over with the same obligations and privileges as he has held for the previous four years to the extent needed, and he desires to and is willing to until Mr. Scearce can be sworn in.”
Chairman Jamie Hensley asked, “Let’s just say that Mr. Johnson decides he would be more than happy to help us. Three weeks down the road, he decides ‘I got out of it for a reason.”
According to Doss, if Johnson decided he didn’t want to continue with Post One duties, it wouldn’t be considered a vacancy because it doesn’t fall under the list of nine types of vacancies described by the state. It wouldn’t trigger a special election period because Johnson’s a “holdover” from the previous board until Scearce assumes his responsibilities.
“Then the two of you would continue on,” Doss asserted. She cited when Tommy Stephens died, the recall election, and other examples when two commissioners presided over the board.
However, none of those individuals were taking a new office at the time. The current situation has never occurred in Fannin County before.
The county attorney stated that the law doesn’t address how many meetings a commissioner can miss either. She cited the Georgia attorney general in 1991, who deemed that after three meetings with no communication as to why someone was absent, they can be “deemed to abandon their job.”
Georgia Code determines vacancies by the following criteria: death, resignation, competent tribunal declares office vacant, voluntary act or misfortune of the incumbent that renders them ineligible, non-citizens of state or county, failure to obtain certificates, commissions, or bond, and abandoning office.
Scearce made great strides to overcome COVID-19 and its related illnesses and would prefer to take the oath in person. If needed, he could obtain a doctor’s note to perform Post One duties remotely, but according to Doss, he physically doesn’t meet the “bodily infirmity” vacancy standard.
Hensley and Post Two Glenn Patterson wished Scearce a continued speedy recovery and prayers to him and his family.