Fannin County School System aces SPLOST audit

Community, News, Rebel's Corner

Blue Ridge, Ga. – An audit of the Fannin County School System’s SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) collection and spending has shown that the district is being good stewards of these funds.

Fannin County School Superintendent Dr. Michael Gwatney explained the purposes of the independent audit were a requirement by the state when SPLOST collections exceed $5 million within a county.

SPLOST collections for 2017 totaled approximately $5.1 million and collections for 2018 topped that number bringing in $5.6 million.

Finance Director Susan Holloway explained that the Fannin County School calendar year ran from July 1, 2017 to June 30, 2018, and that collections during this period was the first fiscal school year that the system met the amount requiring an audit.

Georgia code section O.C.G.A.20-2-491 requires public school systems to maintain continuing performance audits for expenditures of sales tax.
Mauldin and Jenkins was selected to carry out the audit for the school system.

“They audit 40 school systems, including more schools in Georgia than any other firm. They also audit 53 counties including more counties in Georgia than any other firm, and they audit 112 cities including more cities in Georgia than any other firm,” Holloway said explaining the reason for choosing Mauldin and Jenkins and added, “We felt they were solid.”

The audit’s purpose was to find out if the Fannin County School System was meeting 3 requirements:

  • 1. Provide a goal that ensures tax funds are spent efficiently and economically, so that the school district receives the maximum benefit from dollars collected.
  • 2. Provide reports not less than once annually to ensure that the terms laid out in item 1 are being met.
  • 3. Provide for periodic public recommendations not less than once annually for improvements in meeting the goal specified in item 1.

Mauldin and Jenkins tested approximately 60 claims. These claims accounted for $1,027,970 or 15.3 percent of total disbursements for the year.
Holloway announced the findings of the audit saying that Mauldin and Jenkins “concluded that the Fannin County School District’s SPLOST is operating in compliance with all laws and regulations, the referendum approved by the county citizens and industry best practices.”

Special recognition was given to Director of Maintenance and Facilities Danny Shinpaugh by the auditing firm for his role in providing the BOE with continuous and thorough updates regarding construction projects relating to school properties.

Having looked into the bidding and decision making processes involved, focusing on the recently constructed Agricultural Center, along with negotiations that had been made, Mauldin and Jenkins also recognized Shinpaugh’s outstanding management in overseeing construction projects.

“It was a very fair process,” Holloway said of the manner in which the audit was performed and gave special credit to her team in the finance department for the hard work and many hours they put in all year: “There’s a lot of times they’re the first ones here and the last ones to leave and they’re willing to dig in.”

“With the Superintendent and the Board’s support I have been able to hand pick these awesome ladies. I appreciate you for that,” Holloway said expressing thanks for all her fellow coworkers.

Dr. Gwatney shared his thoughts on the findings of the SPLOST audit: “It’s comforting to have the reassurance of an external audit to show that these funds that are being collected are being utilized legally, properly, ethically and in the manner that matches the referendum.”

The Fannin County School System is now hoping that the residents of Fannin County will continue the district’s success and provide the school system with a continuation of collections for SPLOST.

With the SPLOST IV referendum allowing the school system to collect but not exceed $27.5 million by March 2021, projections are indicating that this goal will be met before the ability to collect SPLOST funds expires.

It is the hopes of the BOE and fellow faculty with in the Fannin County School System that the public will allow for a continuation of this collection with the increased cap amount to be $34.5 million.

A Special Election will be held on Tuesday, March 19 for the approval of the SPLOST V referendum and Early Voting is taking place now. If passed the new referendum would allow FCSS to move the cap of SPLOST funds to $34.5 million.

 

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 advertise@FetchYourNews.com

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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 advertise@FetchYourNews.com

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Fannin County Schools will seek SPLOST continuation

Community, News, Rebel's Corner
Blue Ridge, Fannin County, Georgia, Board of Education, GEMA, FEMA, Michael Ruple, EMA Director Robert Graham, Lt. Darvin Couch

Blue Ridge, Ga. – The Fannin County Board of Education (BOE) has voted in favor of the continuation of collections for SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) and now they hope the public will do the same.

SPLOST has helped in the funding of several projects within the Fannin County School System (FCSS). Some of the more recent notable projects include the construction of the Agricultural Building located off of Windy Ridge Road and the technology upgrades seen throughout the FCSS campuses.

Blue Ridge, Board of Education, Fannin County School System, Fannin County Superintendent, Dr. Michael Gwatney, Fannin County, Georgia, Terry Bramlett, Finance Director, Susan Holloway, Director of Planning, Policy, & Curriculum, Darren Danner, Lynn Doss,  Raymond James and Associates, Gray Pannell and Woodward LLP, Mary Ann Conner, Chuck Cook, Fannin County Elections and Registration, SPLOST IV, SPLOST V, Special Election, March 19, 2019

The new Agricultural Center located off of Windy Ridge Road is a direct result of Fannin County SPLOST collections.

“That’s where I feel like we are being good stewards of our taxpayer dollars,” FCSS Finance Director Susan Holloway addressed the BOE concerning SPLOST funds, “Because what we have is aged facilities, but we are doing, I think, an excellent job of maintaining and keeping them in top notch shape.”

The latest SPLOST update for Nov. 2018 in the amount of $500,946.90 shows that collections in the account are following an increasing trend.
With the SPLOST IV referendum allowing the school system to collect but not exceed $27.5 million by March 2021, projections are indicating that this goal will be met before the ability to collect SPLOST funds expires.

Holloway explains, “We’re in our SPLOST IV referendum and that referendum is for $27,500,000.00. The collections for this referendum began in April of 2016. It ends in March of 2021. A SPLOSTt referendum runs for 5 years. If we stay on this path that we are on we are probably going to cap out at that $27.5 million before we get to that date.”

It is the hopes of the BOE and fellow faculty with in the FCSS that the public will allow for a continuation of this collection with the increased cap amount to be $34.5 million.

The school system has worked closely with local council Lynn Doss, Raymond James and Associates, Gray Pannell and Woodward LLP, and Mary Ann Conner and Chuck Cook with the Fannin County Elections and Registration Office to have an SPLOST referendum added as a Special Election in 2019.

Based on projections from Gray Pannell and Woodward LLP, the FCSS is asking for the increased amount of $34.5 million. Holloway explains the number, “We should not cap out on this one. Hopefully in five years we’ll get the life out of this SPLOST.”

Along with the additional requested SPLOST collections, the BOE discussed preapproval of bonding $14 million for emergency purposes.
“The Board of Education utilizes bonding not to complete projects, but as emergency funding,” Fannin County School Superintendent Dr. Michael Gwatney clarified the discussion for the preapproval.

School Board Member Terry Bramlett expanded on the subject, “We’re simply reserving the right to do that (obtain a bond) should we have an emergency, because there would be interest related to a bonded portion of the money. All efforts would be exhausted not to do that.”

What will the Fannin County School System use SPLOST collections for? According the new referendum the purpose of these funds will be allocated in the following areas:

  • A) adding to, renovating, repairing, improving, equipping, and demolishing existing school buildings, school system facilities, parking lots and driveways, physical education/athletic facilities and fields;
  • B) updating and purchasing HVAC systems, system technology, electrical systems, nutritional equipment and electronic communications systems;
  • C) acquiring new computer hardware, technology equipment, safety and security equipment, and software;
  • D) acquiring miscellaneous new equipment, fixtures, and furnishings for the school district;
  • E) acquiring school buses and other vehicles, transportation and maintenance equipment and facilities;
  • F) acquiring, constructing and equipping new buildings and facilities useful and desirable, including but not limited to, a new          STEM/Science wing at Fannin County Middle School, a new Health and Wellness Multipurpose Facility; a new professional development facility;
  • G) acquiring and/or improving land for school system facilities;
  • H) purchasing traditional and electronic textbooks, purchase new and upgrades to print and electronic media collections

The new projected STEM/Science wing at Fannin County Middle School, along with the new projected Health and Wellness Multipurpose Facility at Fannin County High School were highlighted as projects of the SPLOST V referendum.

According to Bramlett SPLOST “allows people who visit our fair country to participate rather than having to rely solely on the property owners.”

Attorney Lynn Doss backed up this statement saying that statistically between 54 -70 percent of SPLOST collections in Fannin County comes from visitors.

Director of Planning, Policy, & Curriculum Darren Danner spoke of the SPLOST V referendum: “This is not an additional tax. This is a continuation of SPLOST IV. If we meet that threshold before March of 2021,” adding, “If Fannin County voters approve this it will kick in immediately.”

Gwatney summed up the feelings of the BOE with a simple statement: “Thankful for SPLOST.”

A Special Election will be held on Tuesday, March 19 for the approval of the SPLOST V referendum, allowing FCSS to move the cap of SPLOST funds to $34.5 million. This referendum is expected to be the only item on the ballot.

 

 

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 advertise@FetchYourNews.com

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Completion of fire station halted

Community, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – For now construction on the new emergency center / fire station located off of Windy Ridge Road in Blue Ridge will come to a halt. Plans to finish the current construction and move emergency personnel in will continue but a portion of the building that was not deemed to be finished in the current phase will remain undone for the time being.

At the Oct. 9 Fannin County Board of Commissioners meeting unexpected high bids were received for the completion of the project.

Fannin County Emergency Management Director Robert Graham explained that the completion of this particular area of the facility was not necessary for the building itself to be a functional space for emergency management staff.

The main purpose of the incomplete area will be for training and living quarters.

Graham reached out to 25 contractors in hopes of finding a winning bidder to complete the project. Local contractors were included in this list of 25, but no local companies opted to bid.

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Chairman, Post 1 Commissioner, Post 2 Commissioner, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, Fannin County Attorney, Lynn Doss, Emergency Management Agency, Director, Robert Graham, Fire Station, Windy Ridge, Egineered Structures Inc., JM Williams Contractors

An interior picture of the new emergency center during construction.

Fannin County Attorney Lynn Doss opened two sealed bids at the meeting.

The first bid came from Engineered Structures, Inc. of Kennesaw, Ga. in the amount of $486,460, and the second bid came from JM Williams Contractors of Marietta, Ga. in the amount of $439,927.

Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson was first to express his opinion after a lengthy silence from all the commissioners: “I think it’s way too much money.”

“I feel like that’s really high,” Graham said agreeing with Johnson and adding, “I don’t know what happened between now and last year. That’s almost double what we started out at.”

Graham said this referring to a quote that was given previously for the completion of the area that was substantially less than either of the two new bids.

County Chairman Stan Helton, agreeing with opinions expressed by Johnson and Graham, questioned Graham if any issues, either from safety or structure, would arise by not completing this particular section at the present time.

Graham responded that there would be a need to heat the space in cold temperatures due to the sprinkler system in that area already being live and functioning.

Johnson clarified that the sprinkler system was a wet system: “The lines on a wet system are charged with water at all times and in a dry system they are only charged once needed.”

Graham suggested heating the area with a propane heater, possibly a hanging heater, and that there would be no safety issues in doing so as long as the heater had proper ventilation.

“I’m disappointed that we couldn’t get a more favorable bid on this,” Helton concluded.

Johnson motioned,” I make the motion that we deny both bids due to the extreme cost.”

This motion passed unanimously.

With the area partially complete, Johnson made a last suggestion of looking into the cost of piecemealing the project out to specialized contractors in hopes cutting costs and also encouraging local businesses to bid on the process.

Specific areas mentioned that would need completion include sheetrock, flooring, heating and air, plumbing and electrical.

 

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 advertise@FetchYourNews.com

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Discussions continue over Board of Education $250,000 land purchase

News, Rebel's Corner

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – After news spread of the Fannin County Board of Education’s recent approval to purchase one acre of land on Highway 515 for a price tag of $250,000, citizens questioned the necessity of this purchase and inquired about the legalities of its use.

Fannin County School Superintendent Dr. Michael Gwatney, along with Fannin County Attorney Lynn Doss and Fannin County School System’s Director of Facilities and Maintenance Danny Shinpaugh, sat down with FetchYourNews to answer questions and address concerns over this purchase.

This one-acre plot of land, which will serve as a connector to the school system’s new agricultural development positioned off of Ada Street, is located along Highway 515 between Windy Ridge Road and Josh Hall Road.

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County School System, Board of Education, Superintendent, Dr. Michael Gwatney, Fannin County Attorney, Lynn Doss, Director of Facilities and Maintenance, Danny Shinpaugh, Agricultural Department, Ada Street, Highway 515, Windy Ridge Road, Property Purchase, $250,000, Georgia Department of Transportation, GDOT

Main entrance to agricultural campus will be shared with Fannin County’s new fire station and E-911 center.

Doss explained that the 31 acres off of Ada Street has been under the ownership of the Fannin County School System for many years: “The school system has owned that property for about 15 years.”

According to Doss, the Ada Street land was originally purchased in 2006 with plans to build a new school if the need arose. The land itself was centrally enough located and met state requirements at that time for a new school.

Since the need for a new school never came to pass, the school system, over the years, have looked at a number of ways in which to utilize this property and, in recent years, decided that it would be ideal for an agricultural facility.

The property currently has an entrance/exit along Ada Street, but Gwatney pointed out that it would be used very minimally and primarily in the event of an emergency.

The property’s main point of access is along the Windy Ridge Connector, where the school system has partnered with Fannin County, and a roadway will be shared with the new fire station and allow access to the agricultural facility.

Questions arose about the need for the acre of land located on Highway 515 and the logistics of its use after Gwatney released a statement explaining the purchase.

In the statement, Gwatney said, “If you hear that our school system paid $250,000 for an acre of property, it is true; however, there is more that you need to know about this purchase, and I want you to have the facts.”

Gwatney also pointed out in the same statement that district personnel, including himself, has already met with the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), and it has been determined that a deceleration lane may be placed ahead of the existing entrance to the property on Hwy. 515.

No official approval has been granted to the school system to make changes to the property in the GDOT right of way, but a GDOT representative did confirm with school officials that these changes were possible.

Gwatney clarified about circumstances of the possible deceleration lane: “We just wanted to make sure whether it was feasible, and that’s what we talked to GDOT about.”

In order for any improvements to be made to the entrance of the property, including a deceleration or an acceleration lane, permission would have to be granted from GDOT and special permits would need to be obtained by the Fannin County School System.

Fannin County School System’s Director of Facilities and Maintenance Danny Shinpaugh confirmed that any of these improvements would have to be carried out by GDOT-approved contractors and engineers and meet GDOT-approved standards and plans.

According to the GDOT Regulations for Driveway and Encroachment Control, a right turn lane may be required of the school system in order to use this property as an entrance: “Right turn deceleration lane must be constructed at no cost to the Department if the daily site generated Right Turn Volumes (RTV) based on ITE Trip Generation (assuming a reasonable distribution of entry volumes) meet or exceed” 50 right turns into the property daily.

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County School System, Board of Education, Superintendent, Dr. Michael Gwatney, Fannin County Attorney, Lynn Doss, Director of Facilities and Maintenance, Danny Shinpaugh, Agricultural Department, Ada Street, Highway 515, Windy Ridge Road, Property Purchase, $250,000, Georgia Department of Transportation, GDOT

Ownership and maintaining of a deceleration lane after completion is also described in the GDOT regulations as: “The R/W for accel/decel lanes may be dedicated in fee simple to the Department for the Department to maintain or the applicant must sign an agreement with the Department to maintain the lane to the Department’s standards and to hold harmless the Department in the event that section of roadway is identified in any liability action.”

While the addition of the deceleration lane could be an expensive venture for the school system, Gwatney stated that there are currently no plans to implement the right turn lane, and the main reason for the purchase of the property was for direct Hwy. 515 access and to allow for a variety of options in traffic control onto and off of the land.

“We would have acquired this property without that (deceleration lane),” Gwatney said, explaining the school system’s stance on the purchase. “It wouldn’t be near the worth if we couldn’t do that.”

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Fannin County School System, Board of Education, Superintendent, Dr. Michael Gwatney, Fannin County Attorney, Lynn Doss, Director of Facilities and Maintenance, Danny Shinpaugh, Agricultural Department, Ada Street, Highway 515, Windy Ridge Road, Property Purchase, $250,000, Georgia Department of Transportation, GDOT

Site where possible future deceleration/acceleration lanes would be placed.

A question also arose pertaining to whether the property’s existing entrance was already zoned for commercial use, as getting a commercial entrance onto Hwy. 515 could be difficult and costly.

According to the GDOT regulations, in the case of Non-commercial Driveways “a driveway serving a school, government building, church, hospital or other non-commercial organization inviting public use. Design guidelines relating to commercial driveways will be applicable to driveways serving these land uses.”

However, Fannin County Attorney Lynn Doss said that this is not a concern for this project: “It’s not a thing where we are because we’re outside of the city limits. In the county, we don’t have zoning, so we have no commercial, residential or industrial.”

While the plans for the one-acre tract are yet to be determined, Gwatney suggested some possible uses. The land could serve as an exit from the facility for southbound traffic turning right onto Hwy. 515, and the main entrance off of Windy Ridge Connector would serve as an exit for northbound traffic allowing this traffic access to a traffic light in order to turn left onto Hwy. 515.

Another plus noted by both Gwatney and Shinpaugh in relation to purchasing this land is the use of the existing buildings on the property.

“The school system is always hurting for storage,” Shinpaugh noted.

The property currently has 18 storage units, all of which have the space to house large equipment. These buildings will be put to use by the school system.

As for the purchase of this tract, Gwatney explained that it was not needed for the land’s original purpose in 2006, but as the purpose of the land changed, so did the needs to accommodate the facility: “It makes our existing project better.”

The new agricultural facility is expected to be completed by June 30 of this year.

[Featured Image: Entrance onto recently purchased property from Highway 515. According to Doss, this entrance will not require a commercial zoning permit.]

 

 

 

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 advertise@FetchYourNews.com

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Natalie Kissel

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Fannin County enters into opioid litigation

Community, News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – The Fannin County Board of Commissioners (BOC) voted to enter into litigation involving opioids and the impact that these drugs have on Fannin County.

At the Feb. 13 BOC meeting, Fannin County Attorney Lynn Doss presented a proposal that the county be represented in a legal case involving pharmaceutical companies and their distributors.

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Geoorgia, Board of Commissioners, Chairman, Post One Commissioner, Post Two Commissioner, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, Fannin County Attorney, Lynn Doss, Opioid Litigation, Opioid Crisis, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC

Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee signs a contract to enter into litigation regarding the opioid epidemic that has hit Fannin County.

“There has been similar litigation about other drugs in the past,” Doss explained, citing the settlements reached from tobacco companies in the late 1990s.

On Oct. 27, 2017, the state of Georgia acknowledged the opioid crisis as a public health emergency. Between June 2016 and May 2017, opioid doses prescribed in Georgia reached a soaring 541 million. That roughly breaks down to 54 doses for every man, woman and child in the state.
“It’s real. It’s here in Fannin County,” Fannin County Chairman Stan Helton spoke of the need for the county to acknowledge and address this ongoing epidemic.

The statistics for Fannin County are even higher than that of the state average. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the prescribing rate in Fannin County for 2016 was 154.3 doses per 100 people.

The national prescribing rate in 2016 was 66.5 doses per 100 people, and the rate for the state of Georgia was 77.8 per 100 people.

Fannin County also saw five deaths due to overdose in 2016.

“In this county, if you take law enforcement, the jail, you take the court system, this county puts in over five million dollars a year in all those different segments,” Helton said of areas in our county where taxpayers can directly see a loss due to this ongoing crisis.

Doss shared information with the board on how the litigation will work: “It is being done directly by the counties instead of by the states. Any settlement comes directly to the county.”

Marc J. Bern and Partners, LLP will be representing the county in this suit. The agreement of the contract with this firm is that they will provide all upfront costs and would receive 25 percent of any settlement that Fannin County is awarded.

“There is absolutely no money out of pocket for Fannin County,” Doss assured the board.

“This is personal for me,” Fannin County Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson said, expressing his thoughts on the crisis itself. Johnson stated it is not uncommon for workers in the construction industry to be prescribed opioids due to injury from accident.

Mentioning that he has personally witnessed some hard workers succumb to addiction, Johnson added, “It’s just a shame to see what it does to people’s lives.”

Fannin County Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee motioned that the county enter into litigation concerning the opioid impact on our area, with Johnson seconding Sosebee’s motion. The board voted unanimously in favor of moving forward.

Doss could not give an exact timeline, but estimated that if the suit were successful, Fannin County could start recouping monies lost in two to three years.

 

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 advertise@FetchYourNews.com

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Natalie Kissel

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BOC takes steps to improve Lake Blue Ridge Hiking Trail

News, Parks and Recreation

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Fannin County could see improvements to local hiking trails. At the Nov. 28 Board of Commissioners (BOC) meeting, commissioners took steps to help secure funding for the Lake Blue Ridge Hiking Trail.

This area includes the Green Creek Campground. “It’s a beautiful little area, but it hasn’t been utilized in quite some time,” Fannin County BOC Chairman Stan Helton remarked.

Blue Ridge, Fannin County, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Post One Commissioner, Post Two Commissioner, Chairman, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, Finance Director, Robin Gazaway, Parks and Recreation, Eddie O'Neal, Development Authority, Lake Blue Ridge Hiking Trail, Green Creek Campground, SPLOST, General Fund, Hotel/Motel Tax, Fannin County Attorney, Lynn Doss, Coca-Cola

A view from Lake Blue Ridge Hiking Trail.

“The Development Authority has been working on an arrangement with the Forest Service where we would improve areas, the trailheads, make some ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accessibility along this trail,” Helton explained.

Helton went on to say, “This is a recreational trail grant. It is the second one we’ve actually applied for in the county. Maybe that will increase our odds of getting at least one of them.”

If obtained, the county would have to finance the projects up to $200,000. The grant would then make reimbursements to the county for 80 percent of funds spent.

The commissioners unanimously agreed to sign a resolution, which will allow the Development Authority to move forward with the application process to acquire grant money for improvements to the Lake Blue Ridge trail.

Director of Fannin County Parks and Recreation Eddie O’Neal was present at the meeting to submit a five-year contract renewal to the commissioners. This contract renewal would make Coca-Cola the exclusive provider of beverages for Fannin County concessions.

Describing the contract, O’Neal said, “It is just a basic beverage agreement, to re-up our contract with Coca-Cola. They will be basically your sole provider … to continue their service and delivery they provide to us for all the concessions.”

Coca-Cola recently reinstated a program to provide scoreboards for counties who choose Coca-Cola as their main supplier. In the contract renewal, Coca-Cola will provide Fannin County with three new LED scoreboards.

O’Neal informed commissioners that installation would be the only cost to the county. Helton questioned, “And they will do maintenance repairs on the scoreboards for us?”

Blue Ridge, Fannin County, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Post One Commissioner, Post Two Commissioner, Chairman, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, Finance Director, Robin Gazaway, Parks and Recreation, Eddie O'Neal, Development Authority, Lake Blue Ridge Hiking Trail, Green Creek Campground, SPLOST, General Fund, Hotel/Motel Tax, Fannin County Attorney, Lynn Doss, Coca-Cola

Eddie O’Neal discusses renewal of Coca-Cola contract with BOC.

To this, O’Neal responded that Coca-Cola would indeed be responsible for repairs. Two of these scoreboards will be delivered in 2018, and the third will come in 2019.

Before signing the contract Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson discussed the possibility of price increases with the contract and asked O’Neal, “So this is a set price throughout the remainder of the contract?”

O’Neal explained that Coca-Cola had the option of increasing the price by three percent each year, but could not go over that percentage. BOC Chairman Stan Helton motioned to sign the contract, Johnson seconded the motion and all three commissioners approved the renewal of the Coca-Cola contract with the county.

Christmas bonuses for county employees were also approved. Helton and Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee discussed staying with tradition and approving $100 bonuses for all county employees.

Helton asked Johnson for his input on the bonuses to which Johnson replied, “I’m not going to be Ebenezer.” The bonuses were unanimously approved by the board.

Finance Director Robin Gazaway sought approval for the opening of two new bank accounts to earmark certain percentages of SPLOST funds for specific projects.

Gazaway stated, “I wanted to separate the money for each of the different (projects). Right now we have the roads and bridges, and we have the capital improvements. This new one we are going have roads and bridges, capital improvements, recreation department, and the admin(istration) parking deck.”

Sosebee pointed out that separating the accounts would be a positive step and would make for “more accountability.”

Discussion of these accounts lead Johnson to bring forward a long standing issue he has had with the hotel/motel tax being deposited into the general fund.

Johnson would like to be able to present the public with a more accurate account of where this money is being spent. All commissioners agreed this is an issue that should be addressed and would like to discuss setting up a public workshop on the matter in early 2018.

Johnson also took time at the end of the meeting to discuss items brought up at the Nov. 14 BOC meeting. He questioned when the commissioners would address whether or not County Attorney Lynn Doss would represent the entire board or would continue to only represent the BOC Chairman.

Sosebee felt that this matter would be better resolved if addressed after the passing of the 2018 Budget and after the holidays. Sosebee and Johnson agreed to revisit the issue in the beginning of the new year.

 

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Natalie Kissel

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JQC Dismisses all Claims against Judge Brenda Weaver

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“No evidence has been presented to show any violation of code of Judicial Ethics by Judge Weaver. Instead, the evidence appears to show a personal dislike of the Judge.”

Last week the Georgia Judicial Qualification Commission dismissed the complaint against Appalachian Judicial District Chief Superior Court Judge Brenda Weaver. 

Judge Brenda Weaver

“The complaint of Thomason, Stookey, Doss and the GCSPJ are without any basis in law or fact. The complaints are nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt to enlist the JQC in their fixation upon harming Judge Weaver. The JQC will have no further part in it. All complaints are hereby dismissed.”

The complaint was submitted to the JQC by Mark Thomason, former publisher of the Fannin Focus, his attorney Russell Stookey and Fannin County Attorney Lynn Doss.

In the JQC conclusions they addressed the Georgia Chapters Society of Professionals Journalist complaint that Weaver mounted an attack on freedom of the press.

“Calling oneself a “journalist” and “reporter” should not be a cover for pursuing personal vendettas.”

Stookey and Thomason with the assistance of Fannin County Attorney Lynn Doss raised a complaint to the FBI to initiate an investigation.   

JQC, “The FBI investigated the allegations raised by Stookey and Thomason but found no wrongdoing.”

On June 15th Atlanta Attorney Gerry Weber, representing Russell Stookey and Mark Thomason, sent a demand letter and Ante Litem Notice to Judge Brenda Weaver, District Attorney B. Alison Sosebee and Pickens County Board of Commissioners.

Part of Weber’s summary of claim, “This case has already garnered national attention. It involves breathtaking abuse of power by a Judge, prosecutor, and law enforcement who manipulated the criminal justice system to wage a personal vendetta against a local newspaper publisher and his attorney.”

Weber’s claim for damages conclusion, “Further accounting for damages stemming from the emotional distress in false arrest and malicious prosecution and for the punitive damages due to egregiousness of the actions leading to the arrests, Stookey’s and Thomason’s damages exceed 1,000,000.”

How far will this case go considering the FBI and JQC have closed their investigation both dismissing the possible charge of wrongdoing.

Click to read “Fannin Focus Publisher Mark Thomason Arrested, Journalist or Vendetta?

 

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