Opinion: How Should Blue Ridge Proceed?

Opinion

Written By : Logan Fitts

Athens, GA
Atlanta, GA

These are two cities in Georgia that see an influx in people from all over. These are cities that we see a lot of visitors come from. These are the cities that I travel to often. These are also the cities that have went under quarantine since COVID-19 has hit the state.

Since this initial post, Murphy NC has went on full lock-down and curfew in light of discovering that visitors were sick with the virus. Mind you, Murphy is only 20 miles from Blue Ridge.

I want to make a few remarks.

First, I have talked to quite a few city leaders and asked questions:
What can we do? What’s the plan? Can you close the downtown district? Can we limit or begin to dwindle the amount of foot traffic coming into our city and county, as this is a hot destination for Spring Break? I’ve asked many times: “So, what can be done?”

These are the answers thus far:
I’ve had one city leader tell me that they have no control, I’ve had a leader tell me that it is illegal to tell downtown business owners to close their doors, I’ve had one tell me that the Governor has given discretion to each county/city to make decisions up to this point about protocol, and this leader told me that they don’t feel like downtown needs to close at this time, but restaurants should do curbside pickups.

I’ve even had another concerned citizen of Blue Ridge tell me that their answer they’ve received from our very own Speaker Ralston is that at this point, it is up to our leaders in the area to make decisions at the discretion of the charter. Understandable — not verified.***

I ended up feeling even more lost. Who’s telling the truth? Does anyone know what protocol is? This is an unprecedented situation.

Second,
I’ve watched town like a hawk. Groceries stores have been covered up, go figure. Rentals are packed, so we have out of town visitors buying groceries, we have second home owners buying groceries (some being my past clients), we have full time locals buying groceries — all understandable and we all know that going to these places you must practice caution and there are ways to keep your space to protect your health. And I have to note, grocery stores are having to evolve with the situation and look out for clientele. They’re having to close early to sanitize. They’re changing hours. They’re recognizing the situation at hand.

I’ve also watched Downtown Blue Ridge. I’ve driven the streets. I’ve watched hundreds of pedestrians go up and down throughout the week. I find myself getting irritated when I go through, but remind myself that they’re on vacation. They feel anonymous. There’s less of a sense of responsibility when it’s not your home, and I get it to a certain point. But I also know that we have people coming here because it is quiet and removed and it feels safer. I know of friends of mine that are from this area that have traveled to Florida to take advantage of the break to attempt to vacation and use the Coronavirus to their advantage and find great deals on lodging, shopping, dining, etc (they know my stance on their travels). Many of the places they’re at in Florida are closing commercial activity, which leads me to my next point.

At this point, with little to no safeguards on the biggest red flag in the area, Blue Ridge is not a safe area to be in should this virus run rampant. A few things to note: downtown has two public restrooms equipped with hand dryers (recommended not to be used by many articles I’ve read). Downtown’s business owners, as I’ve learned in my time, don’t particularly want shoppers using their facilities. I also know there’s a huge shortage in sanitary equipment in the area and at a certain point, individual stores can’t provide each shopper or diner sanitizer, soap, wipes, etc. (Maybe they have stocks in what I’ve mentioned and can keep up in the cleaning and sanitizing of patrons, but I doubt it). Most stores in the downtown area are not more than 1500 square feet (total rough estimate). Allow enough people in the store at the right moment, one person sneezes and doesn’t know they have the virus, the whole store can be contaminated without even knowing it. Our county and the surrounding counties’ hospitals and medical campuses are not ready for a virus like this. Bottom line.

Third,
I want to say this to all of my fellow business owners, self-employers, service staff, to my friends, family, and clients: I am by no means trying to come off harsh. I am SO sorry that this is unfolding. I would love to support, and will continue to support small businesses throughout the town.

But I say that to say this. I know people will come and go throughout the coming weeks. I know that we can’t stop them, nor do I think we should. BUT, I certainly think that there has to be dialogue. There has to be a plan. There has to be answers to MANY concerned citizens’ questions other than the simple answer “we have a plan.” That’s one of the joys of small town America, right? We all know what’s going on. 😉 AND I ask, I don’t know what anyone else’s stance is, for this to be something done on and off Facebook. Let the elders know. Let the people who don’t use social media know. Keep everyone informed.

Finally,
I want to conclude my persistence on this matter. While many bigger cities and counties are erring on the side of caution but not stringency for retail, for dessert houses, cafes, for gyms, or even offices until there’s a confirmed case in the area, Blue Ridge is different. These bigger cities have a stronger infrastructure. They have bigger hospitals, more staff, more equipment, they’re better prepared. This is not to belittle our hospital workers, nurses, pharmacists, sanitary personnel, etc., but to state what’s been the consensus from my friends and family in those fields and across the globe. These cities might have the safeguards to wait until they dreadfully find out that they have a confirmed case. Unfortunately, I think Blue Ridge has to be more proactive.

In terms of solutions, here are my thoughts.
I know it’s almost impossible to ask any business to close to foot traffic. I know it’s difficult on the owners, the staff, the patrons. I know that leaders don’t want to harm businesses. They don’t want to be the ones to make that call, if they can. Understandable. Who would want to make that call? So maybe not go there at this point. Maybe monitor the area. How many patrons are in each store? Maybe provide sanitizing stations throughout the area (this could’ve been done a long time ago when we first saw the virus hit Georgia). Maybe post signs warning people what already should be instilled in their brains: STAY HOME. Or “Caution: this is a high risk area should a pedestrian have COVID-19.” per CDC, President Trump, the whole 9.

So I resolute to this: city & county leaders, where are we with this? What is your answer to the big problem that seems to be (UNDERSTANDABLY) avoided? Can we count on you to make decisions for the well-being of the majority? We need leaders.

I don’t have all of the answers; I may not have any answers.

But I have a lot of concerns. And I have a lot of love for my hometown and my people.

Stay strong.

 

 

**Editor’s Note** This opinion was originally written and shared via Facebook. You can read the original post by clicking here : Logan Fitts Original Post

Mayor Donna Whitener also responded via the City of Blue Ridge Facebook page. You can read the official response by clicking here: City of Blue Ridge Response 

Author

Natalie Kissel

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

Transparency obstructed at McCaysville City Council meeting

Community, News

McCaysville, Ga. – Mayor Thomas Seabolt tried to bring to an end the reading of the monthly bills, as new councilmember Gilita Carter had done at previous meetings since taking office.

Carter had stated in a previous meeting: “I’ve been coming to a lot of meetings and it always comes up, about paying the bills. Well, I often sit there and wonder, what bills? Whose bills?”

Click Here to read about previous meeting concerning McCaysville finances.

Since taking office Carter has read each line item of the monthly bills aloud to the public, but Seabolt put a stop to this by asking for a motion before Carter could address the public.

McCaysville, Fannin, Georgia, City Council, Transparency, Finance, Bills, Mayor, Attorney, Thomas Seabolt, Sue Beaver, Gilita Carter, Susan Kiker, Jason Woody, Larry Collis, Cortney Stuart, Expenditures

Council-member Gilita Carter and Mayor Thomas Seabolt exchange words over the city’s transparency.

“I just don’t want to take the time to read everything because they’ve already been approved through payment in a sense,” Seabolt spoke to Carter of his reasoning behind not continuing to read the individual bills submitted by city departments.

After asking for a motion to pay the bills with no further explanation, council-member Sue Beaver gave that motion, with fellow council-member Larry Collis gave a second. When asked all in favor Carter abstained along with council-member Susan Kiker.

“In the basis of transparency and in the fact that I stated before, that no one ever knew what the bills were, I will at least give the total for each department,” Carter said before reading each department’s total bills.

Mayor Seabolt responded to Carter’s reading of the totals by saying, “If they want a copy they can ask for public records.” 

This sparked a short exchange between Carter and Seabolt, with Carter ending, “I won’t read them individually any more, but for transparency purposes people need to know what the city bills are. Transparency is what I’m going to stand for.”

Council-member Jason Woody proposed having a print out of detailed monthly bills available for citizens at the regular monthly meetings.

Ultimately, Carter voted no to paying the bills to show opposition in how the City Council is handling getting the information to the public.

The department totals for bills in the month of Feb. are as follows:

  • Administration – $3,828.24
  • Police Department – $2,439.42
  • Court – $519.60
  • Street Department – $3,693.45
  • City Park – $295.39
  • Water and sewer – $29,889.85

Later in the meeting Carter proposed that the City put in place a system for filing expenditure reports and receiving reimbursement. Her proposal includes basing the City’s millage rate reimbursement on Federal standards and having clear cut forms so that reimbursement would be organized and uniform.

Another topic of financial discussion came about when City Attorney Cortney Stuart pointed out during the meeting that no resolution actually exists that requires spending over $500 to come before the council for approval.

This topic and the topic of expenditure reports are expected to be discussed by council in a workshop meeting.

Author

Natalie Kissel

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

New council members halt previously unchecked city spending

Community, News

McCaysville, Ga. – The City of McCaysville has been spending outside of their means and newly elected council members are making it a goal to bring the City’s spending back under control.

Revenue for the city for the month of  Jan. 2020 was $109,309.44 and the expenses came to  $201,502.12 

“We’re going in the wrong direction,” Council member Gilita Carter spoke of the city’s financial situation. “We’re going to have to tighten our belts and look at things very very closely.”

Carter referenced that the procedure for the departments of the city is for any expense over $500 to be brought before the council for approval: “These things are put in place for a purpose and should be followed.” 

Carter had consulted with McCaysville City Attorney Cortney Staurt about the legalities of this process not being followed, and according to Stuart there are legal ramifications for city employees not following the protocol.

“Anything over $500 has to come before the council for approval,” Stuart explained, “That has not been followed in the past. The danger with that is that if it is not followed and the council does not approve it, the council member could then become personally liable for it and the city could have to sue the council member to pay that.”

Stuart added, “We are in a financial situation right now and we do need to have more oversight on it.” 

Among the departments that did not seek approval for spending was the McCaysville Police Department. After having several items questioned at the Jan. 2020 meeting, Chief of Police Michael Earley was once again questioned about his spending.

Several of the City’s officers had attended continuing education courses and while the expenses for these courses exceeded the $500 pre-approval limit, nothing pertaining to these courses were brought before council for approval.

“Let’s face it, we’re not doing very well with our expenses,” Carter said as she questioned Earley over his department’s spending.

Earley explained the state mandated the schooling process, “We have to have a minimum of 20 hours a year training or we lose our certification as a police officer. I have to have 40 hours a year as your Chief of Police training or I lose my certification.”

Earley, who is a post certified instructor, admitted that he is able to provide this training and moving forward would try to offer more in house solutions: “I know the city’s under some constraints with the budget. I’m going to do everything I can to make our budget fall down.” 

Carter did not hide her feelings as Earley made the request for the council to hire a full-time officer: “We have too many policemen in this city.”

Carter along with other council members did vote to hire the officer on full-time.

More financial woes came when Mayor Thomas Seabolt read from a prepared statement: “About the new city park, I made a mistake when we filed for the work that Holloway Trenching, LLC. completed on our new park.” 

Anna Hensley with the Georgia Department of Community Affairs and Executive Director of OneGeorgia informed Seabolt that the City would not be getting reimbursed for approximately $340,000 of money already spent on park renovations. This leaves taxpayers responsible for the bill.

Seabolt did tell council that the city could file a six month extension for the $300,000 left in grant money if they would like to move forward with completing the park, and assured everyone that all outlines of the grant would be followed in the future to receive reimbursement.

Some of the work left to complete the park includes renovating the building in the center of park, building two large pavillions, and purchasing and planting an estimated 70 trees per EPD (Environmental Protection Division) recommendation.

“Well we want the park finished for certain.” Council member Sue Beaver motioned to proceed but follow all rules laid out by the OneGeorgia grant. Council unanimously approved to move forward.

It was later brought to the attention of new council members that this “move forward” is how the city ended up on the hook for the money not reimbursed through the grant. The Revitalization Committee headed by Mayor Seabolt took the vote to proceed previously as an okay from council to not bring any purchases before them for approval.

Newly elected council member Susan Kiker wanted to be sure that this process would not be repeated.

“We need to see the plans,” Kiker said of proceeding with the park and added that anything over $500 was to brought before the council for approval. “We were elected by the taxpayers.”

Carter, who began her term providing more transparency to the citizens of McCaysville in regards to finance, said, “Everything is falling through the cracks. Everyone spent money like it is going out of style and that’s why we’re trying to get a hold on everything.”

Author

Natalie Kissel

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

McCaysville Revitalization Committee fires back at Council and Attorney

Community, News

McCaysville, Ga. – The McCaysville Revitalization Committee had a lot to say after they felt that their work had been villainized by the City Council and the City Attorney in a previous meeting.

“It has been stated that this committee has way too much power and I am here to assure the council and the citizens that we have no governing power at all,” Chairman of the Revitalization Committee Zachary Welch spoke first on behalf of the group. “We can’t hire. We can’t fire, nor can we bind contracts or vote on anything on behalf of McCaysville.”

McCaysville, Fannin County, Georgia, City Council, Attorney, Revitalization Committee, Chairman, Zachary Welch, Ann Williams, Marilyn McNeill, Mayor, Thomas Seabolt, Susan Kiker, Cortney Stuart, Michael Earley, Spending, Finance

Council discussing the Revitalization Committee at the previous meeting.

Welch added of the committee’s members, “The make-up of the Revitalization Committee is well represented with people who have been and are invested in this community.”

Welch pointed out that the purpose of the committee was to bring new ideas on ways to improve the city and cited some of the accomplishments that this group has brought forth. Among these accomplishments Welch pointed out that the committee had acquired new park benches to tune of approximately $51,000 and all of this had come in the form of donations.

Welch also listed flower boxes and hanging baskets throughout the city, with these and other area landscape projects being undertaken and maintained through donated material and labor.

The Revitalization Committee has also taken advantage of an LMIG grant (Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant) that had been available to the city for some time with the city not utilizing it. The use of this grant provided a sidewalk from the Welcome Center to the City Park.

“Time, talent, energy and hard work,” Welch said of the committee and stressed, “all as a donation (to the city). This committee has excelled at making this happen.”

“This committee has helped raise over $600,000 in new money being received for improvements to our community in the last 2 years,” Welch explained and stated that beyond this the committee had garnered the attention of both local and state governments and was  recently awarded the Community Service Award from Fannin County Chamber of Commerce.

Committee member Ann Williams was less subdued when addressing the council and McCaysville City Attorney Cortney Staurt.

“That is untrue,” Williams spoke to Stuart about whether the grant writing for the city park had been given to a person in Blairsville to complete, “It’s a lie.” 

Stuart clarified that while she had heard that Williams, who had been paid by the city to do grant writing, did hire someone from Blairsville for this reason, that she had never stated this rumor was true. Stuart did not back down when Williams confronted her over her comments of the committee having too much power: “Yes ma’am, I do believe that.”

“Getting out and begging money for flowers and benches,” Williams retorted to Staurt’s remark, “if you call that power, then I’ve got it and I’ll accept it and I am proud of everything I’ve done.” 

City Council member and Revitalization Committee member Sue Beaver came to Williams’ defense, “Ann is such a hard worker and we just have to give her all the credit because she works 8 to 12…14 hours a day, volunteer. She does not get paid.”

Beaver added that Williams had been selected because of her previous work in similar scenarios to that of McCaysville. 

The meeting had to be called to order during Williams’ address by Chief of Police Michael Earley after citizens in the audience began to go back and forth with Williams.

Committee member Marilyn MacNeill was last to address the council:  “It’s unbelievable that the Revitalization Committee is here this evening defending the work and the accomplishments that’s been made over the last two years.” 

“Let me make this perfectly clear, to be lectured or called on the carpet by an attorney is just not going to happen,” McNeill spoke of Stuart’s suggestion to have the committee present to make the boundaries of their roles clear.

McNeill ended wishing everyone well moving forward and added, “It has been my pleasure working with the McCaysville Revitalization Committee and the council, and I thank those who have been supportive and with that I’m stepping off of the Revitalization Committee.”

“None of this stuff is coming before the council.” Staurt said not only of spending by the committee but also of the grant process. “Going forward perhaps a resolution would be if a member of the Revitalization Committee, it could be the council members on there, come every month and there’s a report as to what’s going on with it (the committee’s progress).” 

Mayor Thomas Seabolt appointed new City Council member Susan Kiker to sit on the Revitalization Committee, taking the seat vacated by former council member Rodeney Patterson. The seat vacated by Marilyn McNeill remains open.

 

 

Featured Image courtesy of Fannin County Chamber of Commerce.

Author

Natalie Kissel

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

New council shows more transparency in city meeting

Community, News

McCaysville, Ga. – The new year brought in new faces to the McCaysville City Council, and these new members wasted no time stepping away from the status quo of city council meetings. 

Council member Gilita Carter brought pause to the meeting’s proceedings early on when a motion was made to “pay the bills for January”.

“I’ve been coming to a lot of meetings and it always comes up, about paying the bills,” Carter spoke to the Mayor and Council, “Well, I often sit there and wonder, what bills? Whose bills?”

In meetings past, a motion would come to pay the city’s bills for the month, followed by a second, and unanimous approval. There was never given any explanation or break down of what these bills were or an amount to be paid.

Carter, who is assigned to look at city financials, continued, “We (the city) did operate at a loss and we need to look closely at these things and keep track.” She followed this statement by reading a detailed list of the monthly bills to be approved broken down by department.

The department totals for the month were as follows:

  • Administration – $1,633.37
  • Police Department – $17,190.74
  • Court – $519.50
  • Street Department – $1,272.94
  • City Park – $1419.39
  • Water and Sewer – $15,971.69

After completing the list of bills due, Carter questioned, “Have all of these, to this point, been approved? Is there anything on here that had to go before prior approval?”

McCaysville City Clerk Nancy Godfrey clarified the spending process of the city for new council members: “We do have a policy or resolution in place that anything over $500 is supposed to be approved by council.”

“The water department is different. All of those things don’t have to come before the council because they’re chemicals that are required to treat water,” Godfrey explained, but added that there was one item in the department’s bills that was questionable.

No representative from the Water and Sewer Department was present to give insight to council about this item.

McCaysville Chief of Police Michael Earley was present and did explain his department’s bills that had a total over $500.

One of these bills in particular accounted for the bulk of the department’s expenditures for the month. $11,300.87 was requested to pay Resurgens Orthopaedics.

This item was easily explained by Earley. Resurgens Orthopaedics is where suspect James Larry Parris, Jr. was treated after the officer involved shooting that took place in Aug. 2019.

“Once, you discharge your weapon on someone, they automatically become in custody,” Earley explained and continued, “so we assume all of their medical bills from that point forward and while they’re in jail.”

There were a few more items listed for the police department that had needed prior council approval. Council member Jason Woody questioned Earley, “Was it in the budget to purchase those items?” 

Earley answered Woody that all purchases were in the budget and offered to code his budget showing where each line item is taken from.

In the police department bills was an invoice for $702.08 for new tires (including balancing and mounting) for a Tahoe.

While Earley agreed that moving forward he would seek approval on expenditures over $500, he added, “There’s a few things in a police department that, if we have a few blow outs on our vehicles, I can’t wait to get tires for a vehicle. I have to get our vehicle back on the road.” 

Earley suggested that he meet with council to go over necessities for the department and get an ongoing pre-approval of certain items that his department needs to function immediately, so that if need arose he would already have the go ahead to purchase.

Council agreed to this suggestion by Earley.

Moving forward the City Council agreed that all department purchases over $500, that is nonessential for the department’s continued operation, would need to have prior approval before spending can take place.

Author

Natalie Kissel

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

McCaysville : Are taxpayers on the hook for $342,459.35 in lost grant money?

Community, Featured Stories, News

McCaysville, Ga. – Reimbursement of grant money, or lack thereof, was a major point of discussion at the Jan. McCaysville City Council meeting, and based on the discussion, taxpayers could be on the hook for over $300,000 in park renovations.

“Mayor, I hate to beat a dead horse, but have we got our money back for the park yet?” former Council Member Rodney Patterson spoke during public commentary.

The approved grant for the City of McCaysville from Georgia One was in the amount of up to $500,000 and was to be used for improvements to the city park. According to the grant the city is responsible for any initial costs and if guidelines are properly followed, the city would be reimbursed for monies spent.McCaysville, Georgia, City Council, City Attorney, Mayor, Georgia One, Grant, Revitalization Committee, Park, Thomas Seabolt, Rodney Patterson, Cortney Stuart, Ann Williams, Reimbursement, Gilta Carter, Jason Woody, Larry Collis, Susan Kiker, Sue Beaver

McCaysville City Attorney Cortney Staurt stated that the grant had very “specific guidelines” and while she personally had not had any involvement with the grant process, she is aware of the issues being faced with getting reimbursement.

“There are reasons that it has been denied, or is in the process of being approved, that is a better way to put it,” Stuart spoke to the citizens and council,  “The quick answer is, they (Georgia One) need more information. It needs to be resubmitted with the correct information, and then at that point we will know whether or not they approved it.” 

If not approved, tax payers could be shelling out $342,459.35 to cover the costs of work already completed and this amount according to Patterson was never approved by the council to be spent: “I’m still trying to figure out how you (Mayor Seabolt) spent $342,459.35 out of the city budget and never got approval for it.”

The grant outlines that any jobs over $100,000 must be put out to bid. The city, however, used a sole source provider to complete these jobs. The jobs were finished and paid for in Sep. 2019.

“That didn’t happen,” Stuart said of the city receiving bids but added, “My understanding, there were bids, they just wasn’t submitted to the city.” 

Now the city is in the process of tracking down these possible bids in order to resubmit paperwork for reimbursement.

So how did the City of McCaysville end up in this predicament?

According to Patterson and Stuart, there was a series of missteps that took place in the process.

Initially Paragon Consulting Group, Inc. a company out of Griffin, Ga., was hired to oversee the work done at the park, but several people felt that their spending was more than necessary, and upon the recommendation of Mayor Thomas Seabolt and citizen Ann Williams, Paragon Consulting Group, Inc. was let go.

“I was opposed to ever hiring Paragon in the first place,” Stuart spoke on this move and added of who took over the project, “In my opinion I think the Revitalization Committee is great but they should not have that power and they have too much power right now. They have way too much power. They are making council decisions and they should not be able to.”

While Stuart stated that the Revitalization Committee is “not a bad thing”, she did feel that specific guidelines need to be publicly made clear to the committee, namely that they cannot purchase on behalf of the city and that all purchases should be approved by the city council: “I’m not saying the Revitalization Committee is bad. I’m saying, somehow, all this money got spent and the council didn’t approve it.”

“It has got us in problems,” Stuart acknowledged about the actions taken by the Revitalization Committee without City Council oversight.

Another point of contention surrounds Ann Williams, who was paid $15,000 by the city for continuing the grant writing process.

It was noted during commentary that Williams was paid out of General Fund money that would not be reimbursed and that she had subcontracted the work to a person in Blairsville.

On the subject of Ann Williams receiving the grant writing contract, Stuart shared her opinion, “I do know that she got a contract. Which I was completely opposed to.”

Patterson questioned Mayor Seabolt about Williams and the possibility of the city not being reimbursed, “Does she got to pay back the $15,000 if we lose the grant? Or did we just give it to her?”

City Council plans to meet with the Revitalization Committee to discuss moving forward on city improvements in the future and establish clear guidelines between the two groups.

The city is also in the process of gathering more information to resubmit to Georgia One in hopes that the $342,459.35 will be reimbursed.

When questioned directly by Patterson about when the city will see the reimbursement, Seabolt simply replied, “I’m working on it. It will come. Just don’t worry about it.”

Author

Natalie Kissel

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

McCaysville Mayor Seabolt criticized over job performance

Community, News

McCaysville, Ga. – The final 2019 meeting of the McCaysville City Council was anything but business as usual, as conversations aimed at the Mayor became heated and accusations came to light.

Council member Rodney Patterson, who ran against Mayor Thomas Seabolt in the recent city election, used his last meeting with the council to “clear his conscious”. Patterson brought to the forefront some of the issues that he felt the re-elected Seabolt was not being completely transparent about.

The first of Patterson’s reveals were the Mayor’s reimbursement filings for the use of his personal vehicle to conduct city business. According to Patterson, Seabolt had turned in $2,055 in claimed vehicle expenditures last year.

McCaysville, Georgia, City Council, Mayor, Police, Thomas Seabolt, Rodney Patterson, Richard Wagner, Attorney, Cortney Stuart, Sue Beaver, Beavers Home Improvement, Tamberlyn Tanner, Park, Budget, CDL, Illegal, Expenses, Michael Earley, Park, Restrooms

Mayor Thomas Seabolt received criticism at the Dec. 2019 City Council meeting.

“That’s equivalent to 822 gallons of gas at $2.50 a gallon,” Patterson said explaining his concern and added, “That’s 12,335 miles at 15 miles per gallon.”

Patterson questioned Seabolt if he had done that many miles in less than a 2 square mile city. Seabolt responded, “I might have. I don’t know.”

Seabolt pointed out that the amount also covers “wear and tear” on the vehicle and that he had adhered to the City Charter when turning in his expenditures.

Council member Richard Wagner came to Seabolt’s defense stating that the expenditures also cover vehicle insurance: “I don’t think it’s being abused at all.” 

“I’ve never turned in no expense,” Patterson retorted, stating that he has used his personal vehicle for city business as well,  “I figured the $200 a month (city council salary) they give me was fair enough for me to do my traveling.” 

Patterson then turned his attention to recent renovations being completed at the city park. $28,000 was set aside for renovations of the park’s restrooms. This remodel was to include five toilets and one urinal.

Beavers Home Improvement was put in charge of the job and the city did manage to stay under budget only spending $23,346. However, renovations were not done as expected. Patterson pointed out that the restrooms ended up only having 3 toilets and one urinal, and that no insulation or heating and cooling were put into place, so the restrooms could not even be left open during the Winter months due to the threat of freezing pipes.

A citizen in the audience, a former plumber with over 30 years experience, chimed in on the restroom issue.

“I’ve never seen a job that was done so shabby,” the citizen addressed Seabolt speaking of pipes being installed at improper heights and the lack of quality of the fixtures.

The citizen went on to express his feelings on the possibility of nepotism playing a role: “This man is not a plumber. He is not a qualified contractor. He’s not licensed, but yet he gets a job to go down there and gets paid by the city and his mother’s on the council. This is not right.”

Wondering why the job wasn’t inspected before payment was given the citizen summed up his feelings by stating, “I’ve never in my life seen my tax dollars thrown down the drain like I did down there.”

Although the restroom remodel came in under budget, the park budget itself is $42,459 over the original $300,000 agreed upon by council to spend. Patterson asked Seabolt why the city had not been reimbursed through grant money for the amount spent on the park, and wondered if the city would see the reimbursement at all. Patterson felt the bid process was not done properly by the city and this could disqualify them for reimbursement.

Lastly, Patterson questioned why city employees were driving a Class A vehicle without a CDL license. 

According to the United States Department of Transportation, a Class A CDL is required to drive tractor-trailer, or combination vehicles that have a gross combined weight rating of 26,001 pounds or higher with the towed portion of the vehicle that weighing more than 10,000 lbs.

“Why did we not send them to Tri County?” Patterson questioned about the licensing, saying that he had brought this issue to the council before and it was brushed aside. “I just want to know why our employees is driving around illegally in a CDL Vehicle, and there is not a single employee in the City of McCaysville that is licensed to drive it.”

Patterson pointed out the liability to the city and asked City Attorney Cortney Stuart what would be the end result if there were an accident in the vehicle without proper licensing. Stuart replied, “It’s a problem.”

Seabolt also took criticism from citizens in the audience. 

Tamberlyn Tanner addressed the workload that McCaysville Chief of Police Michael Earley has taken on. Earley gives monthly updates at City Council meetings, and usually these updates pertain to more than just police business.

In these updates Earley will often speak of upkeep taking place within the city. It is clear from the updates that Earley is the point of contact on many projects including roadwork, bridge inspection, and city infrastructure.

Tanner expressed that these responsibilities should fall on the Mayor and not the city’s Chief of Police.

“How are you supposed to do your job plus do his job?” Tanner spoke to Earley and then turned to Seabolt, “You’ve added things on his plate that you should be doing and you should be taking care of, not him.”

Tanner said that Earley’s main concern should be to protect and serve the citizens of the city, and wonders how he can continue to do so when new responsibilities are being added to his plate regularly.

This turned into a heated debate between Tanner and Seabolt about Seabolt’s inability or unwillingness to handle the responsibilities of mayor with Seabolt finally stating to Tanner, “I’m not going to sit here and listen to you.”

“Well, you will because I pay taxes here,” Tanner replied. 

Seabolt offered no further explanations or defense during the public comments and adjourned the meeting.

 

 

Featured Image : Previous McCaysville City Council meeting. (L-R) Rodney Patterson, Richard Wagner, Thomas Seabolt, and Larry Collis

Author

Natalie Kissel

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

Sidewalk Ordinance in the works for City of Blue Ridge

Uncategorized

Blue Ridge, Ga. – City Council, along with the Mayor, say that a sidewalk ordinance is in the works. Still in the beginning stages, the sidewalk ordinance stands to address complaints and concerns expressed by local business owners and visitors.

Drew Dillard, owner of Juliana’s Boutique, a clothing and accessory shop on East Main Street, spoke to council about his personal dealings with a particular street performer who regularly sets up in front of his store.

“For the last year I’ve had a street performer set up outside of my store over two dozen times,” Dillard spoke during the Blue Ridge City Council meeting, “He has a donation bucket, a microphone stand, an umbrella , an umbrella stand, his guitar case, a speaker and a large piece of luggage that he uses to role all of his equipment in.”

Dillard pointed out that this vendor essentially blocks the sidewalk and he has witnessed pedestrians having to walk into the street to get around the performer. He questioned if this would cause a liability issue for the city should there be an accident.

The noise from the performer, however, was Dillard’s main complaint when addressing the council. In order to combat the music being played by the performer, Dillard says he has to close the doors to his shop and turn up his own music: “I have had dozens of customers who have complained to me about it, and there’s nothing I can do because there’s no ordinance in place.”

Beyond the noise, liability, and inconvenience street vendors could cause in the city, Dillard also pointed out that “legitimate business owners” also pay a plethora of fees and taxes, including licenses fees, property taxes, and individual taxes. Local businesses also collect sales tax which in turn gets reinvested in our community.  

Dillard suggested that vendors should pay a permit fee and that the city could designate areas for them to set up.

Upon Dillard completing his argument, Mayor Donna Whitener immediately replied that an ordinance was already being worked out.

Council member Nathan Fitts backed Dillard’s complaints stating, “I’ve had several complaints and phone calls too.” 

“Just so you know we’ve already started that process,” City Attorney James Balli spoke of city efforts on the matter.

Balli pointed out that the city has to do its due diligence in composing the ordinance and must be careful in the wording due to First Amendment rights. The City of McCaysville passed a vendor ordinance earlier this year that was met with controversy for this reason after a street preacher claimed that preaching was no longer allowed on the streets.

Regardless of the wait while an ordinance is being drafted, Balli did say referencing the safety and liability issues: “There may be some other things that can be done if someone is blocking the sidewalk.”

Author

Natalie Kissel

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

Sunday Alcohol Sales Pass, McCaysville Election Results

Election, News

McCaysville, Ga. – Polls have closed and votes have been tallied in the City of McCaysville 2019 General Election.

The hot topic on the ballot for this 2019 election was Sunday alcohol sales within city limits. The proposal and reading of the new ordinance was met with little opposition and overwhelming favor at public hearings and City Council meetings.

Georgia, McCayville, Alcohol, Sunday, Election, Early Voting, City Hall, Mayor, City Council, Larry Collis, Sue Beaver, Gilta Carter, Jason Woody, Susan Kiker, Steve Stanley, Tamberlyn Tanner, Nathan Turpin, Rodney Patterson, Thomas Seabolt, Attorney, Cortney Staurt

Although, there appeared to be little opposition to the new ordinance the final count of the votes told a different story with the votes being split on the yes/no question.

Ordinance 19-08-13 currently reads that a licensed establishment within city limits would be allowed “Sunday sales of malt beverages and wine for consumption on the premises”.

These sales can include beer or wine (hard ciders will also be allowed) on Sundays between the hours of 12:30 p.m. and 11:45 p.m.

Voters ultimately decided to allow these sales with a final tally of:

  • Yes (in favor) – 90
  • No (opposed) – 87

Thomas Seabolt will remain as Mayor of McCaysville, beating out opponent Rodney Patterson. Incumbents Larry Collis  and Sue Beaver will also remain as members on the City Council. Newcomers Gilta Carter, Susan Kiker, and Jason Woody will take the three seats vacated by previous council members.

***These election results are unofficial until being certified by the Secretary of State’s office***

ELECTION RESULTS

MAYOR

  • Thomas Seabolt – 117
  • Rodney Patterson – 63

CITY COUNCIL

  • Jason Woody – 146
  • Gilta Carter -131
  • Larry Collis – 122
  • Susan Kiker – 120
  • Sue Beaver – 112
  • Steve Stanley – 93
  • Tamberlyn Tanner – 48
  • Nathan Turpin – 69

Author

Natalie Kissel

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

Early voting begins in McCaysville

Community, News

McCaysville, Ga. – Voters will have a lot to decide in the upcoming Nov.5 election in the City of McCaysville. Early voting officially opens Monday, Oct. 14 and will run through Friday, Nov. 1. 

Early voters can cast their ballots at the McCaysville City Hall, Monday – Friday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

The hot topic on the ballot for this 2019 election is Sunday alcohol sales within city limits. The proposal and reading of the new ordinance was met with little opposition and overwhelming favor at public hearings and City Council meetings.

Ordinance 19-08-13 currently reads that a licensed establishment within city limits would be allowed “Sunday sales of malt beverages and wine for consumption on the premises”. 

These sales can include beer or wine (hard ciders will also be allowed) on Sundays between the hours of 12:30 p.m. and 11:45 p.m.

Establishments, serving alcohol, who stay open beyond 45 minutes of the allowed alcohol sales time window are subject to legal action. No alcohol sales will be allowed on Christmas Day in city limits.

Voters will be asked to answer yes or no to the following question:

“Shall the governing authority of the City of McCaysville Georgia be authorized to permit and regulate Sunday sales of distilled spirits or alcoholic beverages for beverage purposes by the drink?”

Georgia, McCayville, Alcohol, Sunday, Election, Early Voting, City Hall, Mayor, City Council, Larry Collis, Sue Beaver, Gilta Carter, Jason Woody, Susan Kiker, Steve Stanley, Tamberlyn Tanner, Nathan Turpin, Rodney Patterson, Thomas Seabolt, Attorney, Cortney Staurt, Ballot

Incumbent Thomas Seabolt (L) will face Challenger Rodney Seabolt (R) for the seat of Mayor.

McCaysville City Attorney Cortney Stuart clarified that the current ordinance will not allow for the sale of hard liquor even though wording on the ballot suggests otherwise. Staurt explained that by law the term “distilled spirits” had to be included on the ballot.

“Distilled spirits is liquor,” Staurt said explaining the wording,  “however, in the City of McCaysville, now as the ordinance stands, there is only malt beverages and wine allowed inside the City of McCaysville.” 

Staurt did confirm that future councils would have the option of amending the alcohol ordinance to allow liquor sales.

New faces will also be seen on the City Council following the 2019 election. Current council members Tommy Quintrell and Richard Wagner will not be seeking re-election. Council member Rodney Patterson will also be vacating his seat in his bid to become McCaysville’s next mayor.

In total at least 3 seats on the 5 person council will be vacant for newcomers. Voters will decide the next 5 members by popular vote and will have the following to choose from:

  • Larry Collis (Incumbent)
  • Sue Beaver (Incumbent)
  • Gilta Carter
  • Jason Woody
  • Susan Kiker
  • Steve Stanley
  • Tamberlyn Tanner 
  • Nathan Turpin

Voters will also need to decide between incumbent Thomas Seabolt or challenger Rodney Patterson for seat of Mayor.

The General Election will be held Tuesday, Nov. 5. Voters can cast their ballots at McCaysville City Hall on the day of the General Election or during the designated early voting times.

 

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that covers Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. FYN attracts 300,000+ page views per month, 3.5 million impressions per month and approximately 15,000 viewers per week on FYNTV.com and up to 60,000 Facebook page reach. If you would like to follow up-to-date local events in any of those counties, please visit us at FetchYourNews.com

Author

Natalie Kissel

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

McCaysville to add full-time officer after recent events

Community, News

McCaysville, Ga. – With growth comes crime, and McCaysville is not immune to this statistic. McCaysville Chief of Police Michael Earley made a plea to city council to help him keep the citizens of the city safe.

“I know we just passed the budget, but I am asking the council to help me out,” Earley began as he asked council members to find funds somewhere in the budget to hire another full-time officer for night shift.

The McCaysville Police Department is currently comprised of only 6 full-time officers with the remaining force being part-time. 

McCaysville, Police, Fannin, Shooting, Officer involved

James Larry Parris, Jr., age 51, is the alleged gunman who caused McCaysville Police to use lethal force.

August has been the busiest month that the department has experienced. Earley laid out statistics for the month stating that the department received 53 dispatch calls, 121 phone calls, 15 walk-ins, and 68 vehicle stops.

Among the calls to come in during the month of August, Earley referenced one in particular that reinforced his feelings that the city and his department would be safer with another full-time officer. This incident made statewide news as an officer involved shooting.

Patrolman Bill Higdon was first to arrive on the scene of an unstable gunman holding 3 citizens hostage. According to Earley, Higdon, alone on the scene, screamed into the radio for backup as the suspect was actively discharging a weapon inside the home.

Earley stated that he does not want his officers working alone on night shift. Being in pairs will provide extra security to the officers and enable them “to effectively protect the citizens of this city that we live in”.

“I know this is going to take more money and I don’t know where that money is going to be found, but if you all would consider trying to find that money somewhere,” Earley said about the need for another full-time officer, and added, with visible emotion, about the night of the hostage situation, “We came out ahead and lives were saved that day and we all went home safe. This is just one event that could very easily happen again.”

Council member Rodney Patterson answered Earley immediately addressing fellow council, “I think we could find it in the budget for him to have help.” 

Patterson also made mention that the purchase of 3 new body shields at a price tag of $300 a piece would add to the safety of the force.

“I think if our chief needs something then we try to get it for him,” Council member Sue Beaver agreed with Patterson.

Patterson made the motion for a full time officer to be added to the police force and for the purchase of three body shields, council member Richard Wagner gave a second and the council voted unanimously in favor.

Earley mentioned the possibility of moving a part-time officer to the full-time position. This hire would save the city money in that the officer would already have the necessary training to fill the full-time spot.

Author

Natalie Kissel

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

McCaysville holds public hearing for proposed budget

Community, News
McCaysville, Georgia, Ga, Budget, 2019, 2020, fiscal year, city council, mayor, Larry Collis, Sue Beaver, Rodney Patterson, Richard Wagner,Tommy Quintrell, Thomas Seabolt, SPLOST, Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, Administration, Police Department, Street Department, City Park, Municipal Court, Water Distribution, Sewer, Water Treatment Plant

McCaysville, Ga. – The McCaysville City Council held a public hearing on Aug. 29 to discuss the city’s 2019 – 2020 budget.

Read by McCaysville Mayor Thomas Seabolt, the resolution to adopt the 2019 – 2020 budget was met with no opposition by citizens who were present for the hearing.

According to the proposed budget the City General Fund is projecting a revenue of $1,455,526.00 and projecting expenses to be $1,455,526.00. Similarly the city’s Water and Sewer Service is projecting a revenue of $2,105,450.00 and projecting expenses to run $2,105,450.00.

These projections give the City of McCaysville a balanced budget for the 2019 – 2020 fiscal year that will end June 20, 2020.

“I think the budget’s wonderful,” Councilmember Sue Beaver shared her opinion of the proposed budget noting that the city needs everything that is in the expenditures in order to function.

Points of interest in the budget include the following departments:

Administrative proposed budget : $234,259.00

Police Department proposed budget : $585,047.00

Street Department proposed budget : $245,615.00

City Park proposed budget : $374,250.00

Municipal Court proposed budget : $16,355.00

Water Distribution proposed budget : $1,614,995.00

Sewer Collection and Disposal proposed budget : $389,455.00

Water Treatment Plant proposed budget : $101,000.00

 

General Fund projected revenue : $1,455,526.00

 

SPLOST projected revenue : $333,020.00

SPLOST Capital Outlay proposed expenditures : $202,500.00

The proposed budget for the City of McCaysville 2019 – 2020 fiscal year is expected to be voted in unanimously on Sep. 10 at the councils’ next regular monthly meeting.

Author

Natalie Kissel

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

CORE receives grant and state office at ribbon-cutting

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – “This is the kind of project that will spread prosperity throughout our entire region. It is the kind of skin-in-the-game project that deserves support…” Georgia Speaker of the House, David Ralston praised the CORE Facility in Ellijay who hosted their official ribbon-cutting today.

Nestled just off Maddox Drive on the banks of the Coosawattee River in Ellijay, Georgia, the CORE Facility hosts business offices and incubation locations for entrepreneurs and start-ups in need of an office or workspace without the hassles of long-term investment.

Left to right, Gilmer Commission Chairman Charlie Paris, Fannin Commission Chairman Stan Helton, and Pickens Commission Chairman Rob Jones celebrate with Greater Gilmer JDA Executive Director Kent Sanford at the CORE Facility ribbon-cutting in Ellijay, Georgia, on July 24, 2019.

However, the facility’s impact reaches so much farther than the city limits or the county’s borders. Today marked a celebration for the region and for the state. Representatives statewide joined together for this ribbon cutting including Gilmer Commission Chairman Charlie Paris, Gilmer Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson, Pickens Commission Chairman Rob Jones, Fannin Commission Chairman Stan Helton, Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston, State Senator Steve Gooch, State Representative of District 11 Rick Jasperse, Ellijay City Mayor Al Hoyle, Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs, and many representatives from the Ellijay and East Ellijay City Councils and Gilmer Board of Education. Efforts from many organizations have led into combined organizations such as the Greater Gilmer Joint Development Authority (JDA) and the Greater Gilmer Community Foundation.

That Foundation was the birthplace of the initiative to build CORE. According to Kent Sanford, Executive Director of the Greater Gilmer JDA and part of the Greater Gilmer Community Foundation, a 14-month birth cycle has finally come to full fruition.

While the celebration was a culmination of efforts so far, it is only the beginning. It is a project that holds great impact on the future, according to Ralston who said, “It will create jobs in our area. The jobs of tomorrow will be possible because of the work that goes on in this building.”

Speaker of the House, David Ralston announces a $420,000 state grant for the CORE facility to applause from attendees at the ribbon-cutting on July 24, 2019.

Ralston also dedicated support to the facility as he announced, “Because of the local commitment to the CORE building the State of Georgia, through our OneGeorgia Authority, is awarding $420,000 to this project to be used for Facility purchase and improvement costs. This $420,000 grant is historic, both in terms of its dollar amount and the impact it will have on this project and community.”

Ralston continued speaking about the economic development and job creation in the county before offering the second announcement of the day regarding the Center for Rural Prosperity & Innovation, also known as Georgia’s Rural Center.

Ralston stated at the ribbon-cutting, “I am proud to announce that the new North Georgia of the Georgia Center for Rural Prosperity & Innovation will be housed right here in Ellijay in this facility. The office will be led by Janet Cochran.”

Ralston’s office later offered a full Press Release on the announcement stating the center serves as a central information and research hub for rural best practices, including community planning, industry-specific assistance and cooperative efforts with community partners. The center was proposed by the House Rural Development Council in 2017 and was created by House Bill 951, which was enacted in 2018.

The Georgia Center for Rural Prosperity & Innovation, also known as Georgia’s Rural Center, was officially announced to open a North Georgia Office at Gilmer’s CORE facility during a ribbon-cutitng on July 24, 2019.

These announcements were applauded by those present and praised by the Chairman of the Gilmer Chamber, John Marshall, who said, “Mr. Speaker, once again you have proven yourself to be the very epitome of a stalwart and faithful advocate not only to your hometown and all the other communities in these beautiful North Georgia Mountains, but to each and every corner of the state of Georgia.”

President of the Gilmer Chamber, Paige Green also praised the facility as the realization of a dream for the community that has spread to benefit not only one county but something larger that now spans the region.

Today was a celebration of completing the first steps of a larger plan for the facility. Though it is now open, it is only the first phase of that dream. Director Sanford noted last year that the hopes for the facility include two more phases.

In Phase II, the foundation will continue renovation onto the second floor to open up a larger area for education and training in a 1,200 square foot space upstairs.

In Phase III, hopes for the CORE Facility could extend into the schools for things like STEM Classes, STEM Saturdays, or other forays into education connection. Consolidating resources for these could include shared STEM kits or a shared expense for a STEM subscription service involving 3d-printing necessary components. However, specific details into PHASE III have yet to be finalized.

Ultimately, the CORE wants to continue spreading and growing this larger community where possible. Opportunities that may come have yet to be revealed, but one ribbon-cutting today, one celebration, can lead to something bigger than imagining tomorrow.

Street preaching allowed. McCaysville City Council clarifies new ordinance.

Community, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – McCaysville City Council made attempts to clarify the purpose and the parameters surrounding the newly adopted “Vendor Ordinance” at their regular July monthly meeting.

The ordinance, adopted in June, was set in place for public safety according to council. By requiring vendors to obtain a permit before hitting the streets of the city, it allows for city officials to monitor activity and put in place necessary precautions ahead of events.

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Richard Peacock’s post via Facebook regarding the new city ordinance.

The ordinance requires street vendors to apply at City Hall for a permit, and there is a $25.00 application fee. This application fee is waived for nonprofit organizations and these groups can receive a permit for free.

The McCaysville City Council was moved to pass this ordinance due to the growth of the city and its festivals. Controversy was met, however, when Richard Peacock an open air preacher, posted to Facebook that the ordinance had stopped a young missionary from spreading his testimony.

“This is Aiden, he was saved last year and this year God laid it on his heart to be a missionary. Last week he handed out nearly 200 gospel tracts,” Peacock’s June 30 Facebook post read and goes on to say, “He (Aiden) wanted to go again but I have to tell him McCaysville, will not allow it without a permit. They passed an ordinance last week stopping Christians from sharing the gospel on the public sidewalk.”

FetchYourNews reached out to Peacock asking who had informed him that Aiden could no longer preach on the streets of McCaysville, but we are still awaiting a reply.

Peacock’s post fueled outrage by citizens over the new ordinance, and the McCaysville Chief of Police Michael Earley even became involved when he publicly replied to the social media post stating: “I have advised Brother Peacock as the Chief Law Enforcement Officer of the City of McCaysville I will not nor will my department enforce the ordinance and take away the right for some one [sic] to spread the word of God!”

After the backlash via social media, Councilmember Rodney Patterson addressed those present at the meeting: “Lets go ahead and clear it up. It was never meant for a preacher not to be able to preach on the street. I do want to say that. I would never take a fellar’s rights away who wants to preach. It’s freedom of speech.”

Patterson did clarify that while preaching on the streets did not require a permit, if a preacher were to hand out material such as pamphlets and gospel tracts a permit would be required, and that the permit is free for nonprofit organizations.

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McCaysville Chief of Police Michael Earley replies to Peacock’s social media post.

Jerry Rice, Reverend of Midway Baptist Church, was present at the meeting and inquired about if a permit would be necessary for his organization to hand out candy and gospel tracts in October, as they have done for many years.

Patterson replied to Rice’s inquiry, “That organization would have to have a permit.”

McCaysville City Attorney Cortney Stuart clarified, “You just need a permit. You also can’t pass out Satanic literature without a permit. It’s just meant for anybody, that’s going to do anything, to have a permit so that the city can monitor it and see what is going on.”

“It’s nothing against nobody,” Patterson added to Stuart’s comments and pointed out that in instances where a controversial group might be handing out literature or demonstrating, that the city would need to know to implement measures such as crowd control.

Stuart also clarified, “The city ordinance only concerns city property.” 

“So if you’re in the IGA parking lot and never touch a city street ain’t nothing we can do to you,” Patterson added, “That’s personal property.”

McCaysville Mayor Thomas Seabolt told the concerned citizens that the city would be holding a workshop to discuss the ordinance further: “I have talked to our lawyer, we’re going to have a workshop in a couple of months. We’ll work on something. I don’t know what will come of it, but we’ll have a workshop.”

With some clarification being given as to the rules of the new ordinance, FYN spoke with Police Chief Earley as to whether he would now enforce the ordinance in instances of preachers and missionaries handing out material without a permit, Earley replied, “I’ve not looked into that yet.”

Author

Natalie Kissel

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

New direction in City of Blue Ridge design

Community, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – Change and growth have become inevitable in the City of Blue Ridge. Cindy Trimble, a board member of both the Planning Commission and the Zoning Board of Appeals, brought before the Blue Ridge City Council on Tuesday a small step in establishing direction, consistency, and beautification of our growing town.

Trimble along with help from council member Nathan Fitts rolled out conceptual drawings for new way-finding signs in Blue Ridge.

“It is critical that we have a plan for signage,” Trimble stated due to growth, extra pedestrians, and extra traffic in the area.

Blue Ridge, Fannin County, Georgia, City Council, Mayor, Donna Whitener, Rhonda Haight, Robbie Cornelius, Nathan Fitts, Kenneth Gaddis, Harold Herndon, Planning Commission, Zoning Board of Appeals, Cindy Trimble, Street Signs, Beautification, Wayfinding Signs, Gateways, East First Street, Hwy. 515, Bill Holt Chevrolet, Cook Street, Burger King, West First Street, McDonald's, Windy Ridge Road, Orvin Lance Drive, CVS

Proposed design for City of Blue Ridge archways that will direct visitors to downtown.

The designs included newly structured street signs with stone bases, covered kiosks with maps of businesses downtown, and gateways to the city. Trimble noted that those traveling along Hwy. 515 often do not know where to turn to enter the downtown historic area.

The gateways would be strategically placed in five areas to direct visitors to downtown. Trimble proposed placing the gateways on East First Street and Hwy. 515 near Bill Holt Chevrolet, Cook Street and Hwy. 515 near Burger King, West First Street and Hwy. 515 near McDonald’s intersection, Windy Ridge Road and Hwy. 515, and lastly Orvin Lance Drive and Hwy. 515 near CVS.

“Because these are city owned signs we cannot put them on the DOT right of way,” Trimble said explaining that the signs would need to sit back on side streets away from Hwy. 515 itself.

The gateways, designed as archways with mountain scenery and stone pedestals, would be back lit as to be visible at night and are designed to hold seasonal posters to display festivals and happenings in town.

Suggestions came from council to perhaps look into painting the Windy Ridge Road overpass to go along with design and planning. This option would require grants and permits, as well as permission from the state, but Trimble noted that it has been done in other towns and would be worth looking into.

Discussion also arose about the business directory or “you are here” map kiosks. These freestanding structures will be double sided and not only display downtown businesses, but also parking areas and trolley stops.

“There is an opportunity for advertising on this and it is something that we haven’t developed further,” Trimble stated of the kiosks.

Blue Ridge, Fannin County, Georgia, City Council, Mayor, Donna Whitener, Rhonda Haight, Robbie Cornelius, Nathan Fitts, Kenneth Gaddis, Harold Herndon, Planning Commission, Zoning Board of Appeals, Cindy Trimble, Street Signs, Beautification, Wayfinding Signs, Gateways, East First Street, Hwy. 515, Bill Holt Chevrolet, Cook Street, Burger King, West First Street, McDonald's, Windy Ridge Road, Orvin Lance Drive, CVS

Conceptual designs for most signage downtown including parking and business directory kiosks.

Trimble presented the idea of digital maps as an option: “That way as businesses change it would be easier to change it.” She also noted that it would give more opportunity for advertising and that the advertisements might be a way to supplement income to purchase the new signage.

“The next step is to take some of these, if the council is comfortable with the design direction,” Trimble explained the plan moving forward, “then what we will do is, we will have several of us get together and take a map of the city and we will go around and look at where we need some of these signs immediately.”

Mayor Donna Whitener questioned, “Is the goal to replace all the signage in town?”

Trimble replied that it would just be key locations for the time being. She noted that certain areas of town might experience more street scaping such as Roberts Way and the City Park, and would not move forward in those areas until work is completed.

Council chose to move forward with obtaining pricing for the new way-finding signs and this information will be presented in a later meeting.

 

 

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

Author

Natalie Kissel

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

Vacation rentals in downtown Blue Ridge

Downtown Blue Ridge, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – The Blue Ridge Council held a special called meeting to discuss the creation of the Downtown Development Authority. During this meeting the discussion of nightly vacation rentals in the downtown area garnered much attention.

The city has proposed a “City of Blue Ridge Short Term Vacation Rental Ordinance”.

CJ Stam was present to address the council on behalf of the Blue Ridge Lodging Association. Concerning this ordinance Stam stated, “This is an important issue to us. We’re not opposed to this. We actually appreciate it. We don’t mind having rules set in place.”

The Blue Ridge Lodging Association represents approximately 10 rental companies with over 500 different types of rental properties in our area.
Stam said that concern falls in the application process that the city is requiring, stating that it “seems a little bit cumbersome”.

According to the proposed ordinance, an application for a short term vacation rental certificate shall be submitted along with a non-refundable application fee to the City of Blue Ridge.

Along with proof of homeowners insurance and having staff available 24 hours a day for contact, the applicant would have to submit a large amount of information pertaining to themselves as well as the guests.

APPLICATION MINIMUM REQUIREMENTS

1. The name, address, telephone and email address of the owner(s) of record of the dwelling unit for which a certificate is sought. If such owner is not a natural person, the application shall identify all partners, officers and/or directors of any such entity, including personal contact information;
2. The address of the unit to be used as a short term vacation rental;
3. The name, address, telephone number and email address of the short term vacation rental agent, which shall constitute his or her 24-hour contact information and who shall:
a. Be reasonably available to handle any problems arising from use of the short term vacation rental unit;
b. Appear on the premises within 24 hours following notification from the City Clerk, Police Chief or the City Attorney, or his/her designee, of issues related to the use or occupancy of the premises.
c. Receive and accept service of any notice of violation related to the use or occupancy of the premises; and
d. Monitor the short term vacation rental unit for compliance with this ordinance.
4.The owner’s sworn acknowledgment that he or she has received a copy of this section, has reviewed it and understands its requirements;
5.The owner shall state the maximum occupancy for the residence, which shall be the same number as advertised and marketed to potential renters by or on behalf of the owner;
6. The owner’s agreement to use his or her best efforts to assure that use of the premises by short term vacation rental occupants will not disrupt the neighborhood, and will not interfere with the rights of neighboring property owners to the quiet enjoyment of their properties;
7. A copy of an exemplar agreement between the owner and occupant(s) which obligate the occupant to abide by all of the requirements of the ordinance, and other City ordinances, state and federal law, and that such a violation of any of these rules may result in the immediate termination of the agreement and eviction from the premises, as well as potential liability for payment of fines levied;
8. Proof of the owner’s current ownership of the short term vacation rental unit; and
9. Proof of homeowner’s insurance.

B. Registration under this code section is not transferable and should ownership of a short term vacation rental change, a new application is required, including application fee. In the event of any other change in the information or facts provided in the application, the holder of the short term rental certificate shall amend the filed application without payment of any additional application fee.

Questions also arose about the proposed ordinance not outlining where these rental properties could be placed. Stam stated of the matter, “It sounds like this ordinance supersedes the zoning that is in place and allows anybody to rent in any zoning as long as they have gone through the application process.”

Council member Nathan Fitts agreed with Stam: “It’s been very vague where there can be rentals.”

According to the ordinance a short term rental is defined as: “an accommodation for transient guests where, in exchange for compensation, a residential dwelling unit is provided for lodging for a period of time not to exceed 30 consecutive days. Short term vacation rental shall not include any residential dwelling unit not regularly offered for rental, which shall be defined as any residence offered for rental less than fourteen (14) days in any given calendar year. For the purposes of this definition, a residential dwelling shall include all housing types and shall exclude group living or other lodging uses.”

The ordinance goes further to state that “vacation rentals may be offered to the public for rental following issuance of a short term vacation rental certificate, receipt of an occupation tax certificate, and payment of any and all applicable State and City taxes” but does not address zoning.

Mayor Donna Whitener pointed out that currently short term rentals are only allowed in commercially zoned properties and are prohibited in residential zones, but acknowledged that there are rental properties in residential areas already.

“I’ve had a lot of people in the community who say they don’t want it in the residential areas,” council member Rhonda Haight said of possibility of allowing these rentals to continue.

After brief discussion Whitener suggested “cleaning up” the language of the ordinance to clearly define areas in which these short term rentals can be offered.

Further discussion is expected at the next Blue Ridge City Council meeting to be held on tonight, Dec. 11 at City Hall.

 

 

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