Local Candidates Qualify for 2020 Election

Board of Education, Board of Elections, Community, Election 2020, News
qualifying election

Blue Ridge, Ga. – Qualifying has officially ended in Fannin County, and many candidates came out to have their names put on the ballot for the open seats in the 2020 Election.

The following candidates have officially qualified in Fannin County:

Fannin County Chairman

Stan Helton (Incumbent – Republican)

Bill Simonds (Republican)

James Hensley (Republican)

Vincent Davis (Republican)

Fannin County Post 1 Commissioner

Johnny Scearce (Republican)

Susan Hayes (Republican)

Debra Holcombe (Republican)

Dixie L. Carter (Democrat)

Fannin County Board of Education (Succeed Terry Bramlett)

Terry Bramlett (Incumbent – Republican)

Greg Staffins (Republican)

Board of Education (Succeed Lewis Deweese)

Lewis Deweese (Incumbent – Republican)

Kathy Smyth (Democrat)

Lorraine Panter (Republican)

Board of Education (Succeed Chad Galloway)

Chad Galloway (Incumbent – Republican)

Teresa “TC” Dillard (Democrat)

Fannin County Coroner

Becky Callihan (Incumbent – Republican)

William  “Billy” Lake Standridge, Jr  (Republican)

Fannin County Tax Commissioner

Rita Newton (Republican)

Fannin County Sheriff

Dane Kirby (Incumbent – Republican)

Fannin County Clerk of Court

Dana Chastain (Incumbent – Republican)

Fannin County Chief Magistrate Judge

Brian Jones – Incumbent 

Fannin County Probate Judge

Scott Kiker (Incumbent)

Fannin County Surveyor

Shelly Bishop (Incumbent – Republican)

Sam Walker (Republican)

STATE Qualifying

District 7 State Representative

David Ralston (Incumbent – Republican)

Rick Day (Democrat)

State Senate District 51

Steve Gooch (Incumbent – Republican)

June Krise (Democrat)

Public Service Commission District 4

Lauren “Bubba” McDonald, Jr. (Incumbent – Republican)

Nathan Wilson (Libertarian)

Daniel Blackman (Democrat)

John Noel (Democrat)

Judge of Superior Court Appalachian Circuit

Brenda Weaver (Incumbent – Non-partisan)

District Attorney Appalachian 

B. Alison Sosebee (Incumbent – Republican)

FEDERAL Qualifying

Ninth District U.S. Congress

Michael Boggus (Republican)

Andrew Clyde (Republican)

Matt Gurtler (Republican)

Maria Strickland (Republican)

Kevin Tanner (Republican)

Ethan Underwood (Republican)

Devin Pandy (Democrat)

Paul Broun (Republican)

John Wilkinson (Republican)

Dan Wilson (Democrat)

Kellie Weeks (Republican)

Siskin (Democrat)

United States Senate – Perdue Seat

James Knox (Democrat)

Jon Ossoff (Democrat)

Teresa Pike Tomlinson (Democrat)

Tricia Carpenter McCracken (Democrat)

Sarah Riggs Amico (Democrat)

Shane Hazel (Libertarian)

Marc Keith DeJesus (Democrat)

Maya Dillard Smith (Democrat)

David Perdue (Incumbent – Republican)

United States Senate – Loeffler Seat (Special Election in November) 

Kelly Loeffler (Incumbent – Republican)

Doug Collins (Republican)

A. Wayne Johnson (Republican)

Kandiss Taylor (Republican)

Tamara Johnson-Shealey (Democrat)

Matt Lieberman (Democrat)

Joy Felicia Shade (Democrat)

Ed Tarver (Democrat)

Richard Dien Winfield (Democrat)

Al Bartell (Independent)

Allen Buckley (Independent)

Brian Slowinski (Libertarian)

Derrick E. Grayson (Republican)

Rod Mack (Write-In)

Qualifying for the presidential preference primary election occurred in Dec. 2019 and will take place on March 24, but the general primary for the state is on May 19, 2020. For the general primary, early voting begins on April 27.

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

Community, News, Non Profit

Blue Ridge, Ga. – The North Georgia Mountain Crisis Network (NGMCN) is not often highlighted among the nonprofit charities in our community. With the sensitive nature of the services they provide, it is a fine line that the charity must walk in order to financially continue operations and still protect the anonymity of the victims who seek their help.

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

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

Started in 1986, the NGMCN is entering its 33 year of service.

“There are a lot of non profit organizations in our community providing care and support to residents of Fannin County,” NGMCN Board Member Steven Miracle said explaining where the charity’s services fall, “Our mission is to provide safety and support to survivors and their children of sexual abuse and domestic violence.”

Miracle went on to explain that there are four major areas in which the organization focuses:

  • Sexual Assault. Through NGMCN victims of sexual assault are provided counseling and support services to help navigate them through a very difficult time.
  • Domestic Violence. While NGMCN offers the counseling and services to victims of domestic violence as it does to victims of sexual assault, it also offers shelter to house these victims and their children.
  • Legal Advocacy. NGMCN has a trained staff that will help victims navigate the sometimes daunting legal system.
  • Education Awareness. NGMCN helps to spread the word of domestic and sexual violence through community outreach. This includes working hand in hand with law enforcement, hospitals, and different organizations that provide services to these victims.

In 2018, NGMCN housed 129 residents at their shelter. This accounted for 3,173 bed/nights (a measure of occupancy for one person assigned to one bed for one night). Residents of the shelter were also provided with well over 10,000 units of service.

“That’s actually sitting across from a survivor and their children within the shelter to be able to make phone calls, to be able to help them with any type of individual support,” NGMCN Executive Director Julie Welch explained the term “units of service”.

Outreach clients or those who did not require a shelter stay for last year totaled 158 clients and 8,700 units of service.

So far in 2019 the charity has already provided 380 bed/nights, 87 hotline calls, and 600 units of service.

Once a victim has stayed at the NGMCN shelter, the services continue even after that person has checked out. The charity works with community services in the area that the victim chooses to move to and helps provide a network of resources.

Welch said of this work, “That way we can provide a net of services so they don’t fall through the cracks.”

Over $60,000 were provided to those who reached out to NGMCN in 2018. This financial assistance is used when a client leaving a threatening situation has no source of income initially or is needed as short-term emergency funds.

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

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

“The fact that we are part of the budget is very much appreciated,” Miracle spoke to the Fannin County Board of Commissioners about the role the county plays, “and the support that you provide in helping us provide services to survivors and victims of our community is very, very much appreciated.”

Fannin County Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson shared his thoughts, “I admire what you do because quite simply, every situation you deal with is not a good situation, and you continually do it and your passion about what you do and everything that your organization does do, no one knows. I admire people who work behind the scenes. They do the things that they do. They don’t do it for any glamour or glory, they do it just for the reason you all do it because that’s what you feel like you should do.”

Welch acknowledged that it takes many volunteers, staff, and the community as a whole to provide these services: “It’s not just us. There’s a whole host of other people. It’s a team and working with law enforcement, the judicial system, hospitals…it’s completely a team and community effort.”

“I know some people that you literally saved their lives,” Fannin County Chairman Stan Helton thanked Miracle and Welch for the work they do. “Getting them out of situations that are horrendous. I’m not sure how many people in the county are aware of what a great thing you do. You do such a great thing for the community.”

There are currently 49 clients in their legal advocacy program and NGMCN is housing 14 people in their 12 bed shelter.

“Often times we will have moms that come in that will have small children,” Welch explained the high occupancy.

NGMCN serves both men and women who are victims of domestic and sexual violence. They hope by promoting education and awareness in these areas that eventually the cycle of abuse will come to an end.

 

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

Advanced Disposal contract up for discussion

Community, News

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

Fannin County opens door for competition in waste removal pricing

Business, Community, News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

Fannin County 4 percent under budget

Uncategorized

Blue Ridge, Ga. – With 83.33 percent of the budget complete, Fannin County Finance Director Robin Gazaway revealed that the county is in good shape and currently four percent under budget for the 2018 fiscal year.

Gazaway presented an overview of the county’s budget at the latest Board of Commissioners meeting. Showing the standing of the county budget through Oct. 31 of this year, most departments are reporting right at their projected spending or a little below.

The Parks and Recreation Department is reporting approximately $224,000 in revenue for the year, and the Hotel/Motel tax has produced record numbers for the county.

Special Purpose Local Options Sales Tax (SPOLST) revenues are also up in 2018. All of this added revenue points to a healthy economy in Fannin County.

A few departments showed overages with one being the Administration Department.

“The biggest difference is the health insurance cost,” Gazaway said explaining the slight overage in Administration.

The Administration Department recently took on the role of managing all healthcare costs and insurance, rather than having the cost divided among departments. This was due in large to protecting the anonymity of employees when it comes to healthcare.

Gazaway explained that this number will “level out” some as the county is reimbursed for monies spent and also pointed out that healthcare is an area of budgeting that is more difficult to predict.

The Public Safety Department also showed to be over their projected budget through October.

“Mostly that is due to the detention center,” Gazaway explained that Public Safety is another area that is difficult to plan ahead, “and that is something that just cannot be predicted. Most of the overages is due to the fact that there is more inmates.”

This point of interest regarding the Public Safety Department led to discussion about how spending is handled for inmates being held at the detention facility.

“Inmate medical is based on the number inmates,” Gazaway stated of the current system, “It’s not really based on if they are sick or not. They just have a set rate per inmate.”

Fannin County Chairman Stan Helton clarified, “I know that inmate medical and food, those two line items were quite a bit over for the year, and again it just gets back to having more inmates.”

Chief Deputy, Major Keith Bosen was present at the meeting and shed light onto the influx in Fannin County’s inmate population: “Numbers fluctuate. This time of the year they end up going a little bit higher over the colder part of the season. More crimes are being committed, as well as the holiday season is coming up. So you’re going to have some burglaries, people trying to steal things because people are buying them (gifts) getting ready for Christmas and the holidays.”

Bosen also added about inmate medical costs, “They either have this (illness) when they come in and they have no medical insurance and we’re stuck with it, or some do have medical insurance.”

“That’s just something out of our control,” Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson stated of the unpredictability of the matter.

Despite some departments showing slight increases in the budget for the year, Fannin County is still in good standing overall by being four percent under budget with less than 20 percent of the fiscal year remaining.

 

 

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

Tourism brings big dollars to Fannin County

Community, Fannin County Chamber, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – There is no denying that our area is a hot spot for tourists and the Fannin County Chamber of Commerce gave a 2018 update letting citizens know just how much money our thriving tourist industry is bringing to our area.

Last year alone, $39 million was collected in local lodging tax by both the City of Blue Ridge and Fannin County.

“That’s just the ones who pay the tax,” Jan Hackett, President of Fannin County Chamber of Commerce spoke of the significance of these numbers, “so anyone out there who is an Airbnb or a VRBO who is not paying the tax is not in that number.”

In recent years Georgia Tech teamed up with the Chamber of Commerce to do a study on our economic impact numbers. According to Hackett the purpose of this study was to determine the amount of dollars spent in our local economy based on the lodging taxes collected.

Georgia Tech was able to produce an equation that they felt would portray an accurate number based on percentages of sales in direct comparison with lodging taxes.

“Based on their percentages the amount of money that visitors spent directly was $170.5 million dollars,” Hackett said explaining the findings for calendar year 2018 and added that this number is based on overnight visitors alone and does not account for day trippers and our area’s population of second home owners.

According to these numbers and based on SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) collections last year, overnight visitors made up roughly a third of all retail sales in the county. SPLOST reported a record breaking $555 million is sales last year for Fannin County.

Hackett broke down the numbers into a daily average. On average per day lodging brings in $100,795 and visitors spend roughly $484,375. This equates to $39,347 of taxes collected locally.

While our county can become crowded due to the visitors, there is a definite positive impact these visitors bring with them. Roughly one-third of the jobs in Fannin County (excluding governmental) are supported by the tourist industry, and all the extra revenue saves residents approximately $865 in taxation per household.

Hackett pointed out that in 2001: “At that point in time we had less in retail sales than any county in the four around us.” These counties include Fannin, Glimer, Pickens, and Union.

Fast forward to recent years and Fannin County is now leading the way in retail sales and economic growth. A comparison shows that in 2001 retail sales were approximately $150 million and in 2018 retail sales were $555,697,658.

With the lodging tax now being split 50/50 between the chamber and the county, Hackett reported that the decrease from the 70 percent that the chamber previously received has not posed any negative effect on the ability to market our area.

Fannin County Chairman Stan Helton explains where the extra revenue the county is now getting from the split in lodging tax is being spent, “When we adjusted this ratio between the board of commissioners and the chamber, our intent was to take half of that increase and put it into safety.”

Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson is credited with the idea of investing the funds into public safety, and had pointed out in previous meetings that his reasoning is simply with more people visiting and more events being held in our area there becomes an increased demand for emergency services to be provided.

Up next for the Chamber of Commerce is to continue to promote growth and visitation in our area. Hackett said of moving forward, “Our mission is only to help make Fannin County a better place to live, work and play.”

The chamber has recently focused efforts into making the Copper Basin area a desirable place to visit and has teamed up with the University of Georgia Carl Vinson Institute of Government Study to produce an in depth study of McCaysville, Copperhill, and Ducktown.

“The Carl Vinson Institute is doing a kind of strategic planning process for McCaysville, Copperhill, and Ducktown….the Copper Basin,” Hackett said of the partnership and added that she is expecting the study to be complete by the end of February.

The study and planning will work to make the Copper Basin area a more appealing place to work, live and visit. Its focus is to re-brand the area. Under the name the Copper Basin Renaissance, the partnership with UGA is focusing its campaign on the slogan “Copper Basin. Too Great for One State”.

Hackett said of the chamber’s focus, “As Blue Ridge has gotten more crowded, it only makes since to try to do more in McCaysville and Copper Hill and the Basin, so that when visitors are here we’ll have them spread out in the county.”

The Fannin County Chamber of Commerce debuted a new website that went live in March of last year. 617,905 users visited the site and of those users 82 percent were new.

The new design of the website landed the chamber a prestigious Silver Adrian Award from the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International.

“To give you an idea of what an honor that is, the Jackson Hole Wyoming website also won a silver,” Hackett said of the accomplishment.

The Fannin County Chamber of Commerce plans to continue efforts in 2019 to once again bring in record numbers to our area and help define Fannin County as a resilient place to visit or to make home.

Featured Image: A small sample of the Fannin County Chamber of Commerce new award winning website.

 

 

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

GMASS meets with Board of Assessors to discuss future plans

Community, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – The Board of Assessors (BOA) called a one-on-one meeting with Georgia Mass Appraisal Solutions & Services (GMASS) to discuss the Tax Assessor’s office and the role that GMASS would potentially play in the future.

GMASS Chief Financial Officer Kristi Reese broke the ice by stating, “I feel like maybe there is some hostility between us because we don’t really know how all of this came about. We did not come into Fannin County with the intent of firing anybody or having anything of that nature done.”

Reese explained that GMASS is simply a company that can assist counties with appraisal work and in no way advocates or is responsible for the removal local office staff: “I do not want our name associated with any of that.”

Members of the BOA acknowledged that what Reese was saying was true and that they value the ongoing working relationship between GMASS and the Fannin County Tax Assessors.

“I think that the commissioners are trying to force something that they don’t truly understand every part, ” BOA board member Troy Junnier replied to Reese, “I think they are looking at just the money. They are not looking at everything that goes into that.”

Fannin County, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Chairman, Post 1 Commissioner, Post 2 Commissioner, Board of Tax Assessors, Tax Assessors, Chier Appraiser, Land Development, GMASS, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, Dawn Cochran, Janie Bearden, Troy Junnier, Mark Henson, Anthony Holloway, Angelina Powell, Marie Woody, Kristi Reece, Budget, Consent, Georgia Mass Appraisal Solutions & Services

The Board of Assessors sits down with representatives from GMASS to work out future plans for the Tax Assessor’s office.

Fannin County Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran added, “I personally know what it takes to run this office. The commissioners do not know what it takes to run this office. GMASS knows what it takes to do their part but does not know what it takes to do our county with our circumstances.”

The Board of Commissioners did make initial contact with GMASS requesting a bid for appraisal and maintenance services. This contact came about due to an inability for an agreement to be made regarding the budget of the Tax Assessor’s office.

Cochran stated bluntly of the move to hire GMASS, “In order for you all to come in and do your work, people would have to lose their jobs.”

Cochran explained that when Fannin County came under consent from the state of Georgia for not complying with regulations that the county opted then to fully staff the department instead of using GMASS at that time.

Now that the county is out from under the consent order Cochran added, “The timing of this is kind of a gut punch.”

Cochran acknowledged that the department has fallen a bit behind: “The Board of Assessors choose quality over quantity. So it has taken a little longer than expected.” She reasoned that the blame fell on the amount of work it took to come into compliance and the set back of her department not having enough vehicles to do this work.

“I feel like the commissioners are going to go forward with their budget cuts regardless of what we do here,” Reece stated of the direction of the BOA’s conversation. “I understand your concerns, but we don’t have control over anything at this point. We are just here to meet with you and calm some of your fears.”

Eventually the discussion veered toward what GMASS is able to provide the county. Cochran questioned GMASS of several areas including insurance, workload, and customer service.

Through this series of questions GMASS answered that they would be responsible for field appraisals and would complete one third of the county’s parcels each year keeping in compliance with state law.

Reece answered all questions leaving little doubt that GMASS is fully capable of completing their obligation as well as working side by side with the Tax Assessor’s office.

GMASS would essentially streamline the appraisal process, and Reece explained that this is because GMASS has staff to focus in specific areas. This is in contrast to the current staffing in most counties where appraisers must multitask in several areas.

Concern was expressed about customer service being provided, to which Reece replied that a GMASS representative would be happy to meet in person or discuss via phone with any taxpayer who has a question about their appraisal.

No action was taken at this meeting by the BOA regarding staffing of the office. Discussions are expected to continue at the next meeting to be held on Thursday, Dec. 13. The BOA and Board of Commissioners previously agreed to come to terms with a budget for 2019 by the end of this year.

 

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

Fannin County EMA plans ahead for disaster relief

Fannin County EMA/EMS, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – The Fannin County Emergency Management (EMA) team continues to move forward with preparedness for the future.

Throughout 2017 and 2018 Fannin County’s EMA made steps to secure the safety and readiness of the department due to projected growth in our area. Grants were applied for and received to better equipment our emergency personnel, and purchases were made by the county to handle residential expansion.

While disasters are rare in our area, they can happen and our EMA is preparing for an all case scenario.

Fannin County EMA Director Robert Graham approached the Fannin County Board of Commissioners (BOC) earlier this year to seek approval for obtaining bid contracts that would take effect if a situation arose that required more than the county is equipped to handle.

At the Nov. 27 BOC meeting Graham was present to open sealed bids that had been received.

The number of bids was surprising as Fannin County Attorney Lynn Doss opened a total of nine packages received from disaster relief businesses across the nation.

“Did you tell these people that we have golden roof tops up here or something?” Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson joked as the bids were opened.

“I wish we could have gotten this many bids on anything else we do,” Johnson added on a serious note. “In six years, I have never seen this many bids.”

Graham explained the purpose of the contracts: “This is bids for pre-contracts that would be in place in case we have a disaster. We do not pay anything at this time and unless we activate the contract we don’t ever pay anything. It’s there in case we need additional resources to help remove a lot trees, a lot more than we can handle with our own resources.”

According to Graham the debris removal goes beyond just downed trees, it could include garbage, housing material, or hazardous waste to name a few.

Fannin County Chairman Stan Helton added about having a contract in place, “This is really just to put us in a position for additional federal funds.”

“It’s nice to have this in place,” Graham stated verifying Helton’s comment, “It makes us eligible for an additional 2 percent of disaster match money, should there be a disaster.”

The following companies responded to Fannin County’s request for this pre-contract bid:

Cres Environmental Services (Sarasota, Fl.)
Custom Tree Care Disaster Response (Topeka, Ks.)
Disaster Debris Removal (Ft. Lauderdale, Fl.)
DRC Emergency Services (Galveston, Tx.)
Graham County Land Company (Robbinsville, Nc.)
KDF Enterprises (Alpharetta, Ga.)
Southern Disaster Recovery (Washington, Ga.)
Phillips and Jordan (Knoxville, Tn.)
TRF Enterprises (Lanier, Tx.)

No action was taken in awarding a winning bidder for this contract. Graham requested time for his team to thoroughly review each bid, stating that credentials and references would need to be confirmed: “We’re going to have to vet the companies and make sure they are qualified to provide these services and that they have resources to provide the services as they say they do.”

Graham hopes to have a decision made to present to the BOC during one of the January 2019 meetings.

 

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

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

Community, News

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Fannin County Fire Department upgrades life saving equipment

Community, Fannin County EMA/EMS, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – “I would like to say at this time, thanks to the public for the donations, and the taxpayers here in the county that are taking care of us,” Fannin County Fire Chief Larry Thomas spoke to the Board of Commissioners (BOC) on Tuesday about the purchase of new equipment for the department.

The Fannin County Fire Department will see an upgrade to their life-saving hydraulic extraction tools, better known as the Jaws of Life.

Fannin County, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Chairman, Post 1 Commissioner, Post 2 Commissioner, Fire Chief, Fannin County Fire Department, EMS, EMA, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Glenn Patterson, Larry Thomas, HURST, Jaws of Life, Equipment Upgrade, volunteers, public, donations

An example of Jaws of Life being used for extrication.

Thomas informed the BOC that volunteer firefighters had voted late in 2018 to use money from their donation account to purchase the new equipment: “The volunteers, in one of our volunteer meetings, voted to go ahead and start upgrading the Jaws of Life, the extrication tools that we carry on some of our vehicles.”

After researching pricing, the fire department chose to go with Hurst to provide this new equipment. Hurst now provides a battery operated version of this tool that can be operated by a single person.

This upgrade will save time for local rescuers who are often put in situations where every minute matters.

“Before, in the beginning, way back, it took two people to use a set of jaws,” Thomas said explaining the importance of the equipment upgrade.
The total price for three new sets of Jaws of Life would come to approximately $60,000. Thomas explained that his department had already put $17,000 towards this total with the intention of applying another $7,300 in the near future.

Although the fire department has enough funds available in the donation account, Thomas stated that they would like to finance the remaining amount of approximately $35,000 as to not deplete all monies currently in the donation account.

In order finance this remaining balance, Fannin County would need to “cosign” for the loan, as most banks cannot loan to volunteer groups.

Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson asked for clarification on the terms of the loan being sought, to which Thomas replied that they would be seeking a three year repayment period.

Although the loan terms would be set for three years, Thomas stated, “We’re hoping to pay it off next year” and pointed to the history the department has with paying off any loan debt before the loan fully matures.

“I think it’s a great thing really,” Fannin County Chairman Stan Helton expressed his opinion before the vote. “I appreciate the volunteers and the money they have brought in to pay for equipment that is going to serve the public.”

The three commissioners voted in favor of signing off on a loan for the fire department, and bringing this life saving upgrade to the county.

 

 

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

Board of Commissioners meeting cancelled

Uncategorized

Blue Ridge, Ga. – The Fannin County Board of Commissioners have cancelled there upcoming regular monthly meeting to be held on Tuesday Nov. 13.

An explanation on the county website states:

In that there are no new items that have been presented to come before the Board of Commissioners and in that there is no old business requiring Board action at this time, the November 13 meeting of the Fannin County Board of Commissioners is cancelled. The next County meeting is the regularly scheduled meeting of November 27, 2018. Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving.

The next regularly scheduled meeting of the Fannin County Board of Commissioners will take place on Tuesday, Nov. 27 at 5:15 p.m. on the third floor of the Fannin County Courthouse located on West Main Street.

 

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

Compromise reached on Tax Assessors budget

Community, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – Talks surrounding the 2019 Tax Assessor budget continued at Tuesday evening’s Board of Commissioner (BOC) meeting, and for the time being a compromise was met between the BOC and the Board of Assessors (BOA).

Fannin County, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Chairman, Post 1 Commissioner, Post 2 Commissioner, Board of Tax Assessors, Tax Assessors, Chier Appraiser, GMASS, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Glenn Patterson, Dawn Cochran, Janie Bearden, Troy Junnier, Mark Henson, Anthony Holloway, Angelina Powell, 2019 Budget, Consent, Georgia Mass Appraisal Solutions & Services

The Board of Commissioners look over numbers for the proposed Tax Assessor budget.

A tentative budget of $633,493 was passed for the Tax Assessors department in Dec. of 2018. This budget included $223,000 for a contract with Georgia Mass Appraisal Solutions & Services (GMASS) to help conduct appraisals in Fannin County and to remain in compliance with the state of Georgia.

After budget cuts within the department, Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran presented a counter-proposal  to the BOC in the amount of $683,209.22, roughly a $50,000 difference from the already approved budget.

The newly requested budget from Cochran only set aside $28,800 for services provided by GMASS. This amount includes two contracts in which the BOA would like to enter with GMASS.

The first of these contracts would be for rural land revaluation. “The total for that is approximately $18,300,” Cochran said explaining the breakdown of the two contracts, “and the reason that we have to have an approximate is the timber land reviews is based off of sales.”

The second contract in the amount of $10,500 would be for mapping. Recently, the BOA voted to restructure the GIS (Geographic Information System) department, in an attempt to decrease the overall budget. This move resulted in the loss of an employee.

All three county commissioners voted in favor of entering into these two contracts with GMASS.

Fannin County Chairman Stan Helton who previously stated, “I was elected to look after the taxpayers dollars and I’m not going to back off of challenging any department if I feel like we’ve got ways to improve and bring greater value to the tax paying citizens of the county. They deserve that and that’s what they’re going to get,” held true to his word.

Helton noted that the difference between the initial monies set aside for GMASS assistance and the monies needed for the two contracts would be approximately $194,200. He recommended moving that difference to the departments salaries and benefits without increasing the budget.

“We could cut the budget further,” Helton spoke of voting to amend certain line items, “or we could reapply that to other line items, which I would make the assumption that you would want to apply that back to employee benefits, salaries and social security.”

Cochran and newly appointed BOA chairman Troy Junnier argued that this amount would not be enough to cover all salaries and that further employees would have to be cut.

“We’re down from 15 to 11,” Cochran stated of the current number of employees, and went further to say that without the extra $50,000 requested two to three employees could lose employment.

“What we see here is a trend that it is improving,” speaking of the Tax Assessor’s proposed budget, Post 2 Commissioner Glenn Patterson added, “Budget cuts are always difficult and we can see there that they are trying.You can look at Ms. Cochran’s budget and she’s not spent all of her budget.”

Fannin County, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Chairman, Post 1 Commissioner, Post 2 Commissioner, Board of Tax Assessors, Tax Assessors, Chier Appraiser, GMASS, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Glenn Patterson, Dawn Cochran, Janie Bearden, Troy Junnier, Mark Henson, Anthony Holloway, Angelina Powell, 2019 Budget, Consent, Georgia Mass Appraisal Solutions & Services

Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran goes over GMASS contracts approved by the BOA.

Patterson, showing favor of the amendment, spoke to his fellow commissioners and members of the BOA: “I would like for us to have a better partnership and to have a good working relationship. I feel like in supporting this amendment that it would boost the spirits and morale showing them some support.”

“I’m glad to see some of these numbers coming down,” Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson addressed Cochran and Junnier, “By all of us having a dialogue for the first time in my six years of being here, people on different sides of the coin, at this point, the Tax Assessors Board and the Board of Commissioners, at this point, have somehow or another come up with $200,000 worth of savings in a two month period.”

“I feel like we can get the job done,” Cochran made one last case for the requested amendment, “The $50,000 lies within salaries, so you have employees right now that have been up in the air on whether or not they are going to have their jobs from November to December to January, and it’s really hard to hold a group and keep a team pushing forward under the circumstances.”

After brief discussion Helton reiterated his stance, “Anyway you look at it, it’s (Tax Assessor budget) absolutely the highest than any of the other counties, and I feel very strongly that we’ve got to get that back and I’m prepared to do that.”

Patterson made a motion to approve the amended budget giving the Tax Assessors office the requested $683,209.22. This motion, however, failed due to a lack of a second.

To this, Johnson presented a compromise of approving an extra $25,000 for the budget to meet halfway: “My motion would be that, much to my disagreement with it, I would meet halfway in between, and with that we would relook at it in six months at least.”

“You’re not getting exactly what you want and I’m not getting exactly what I want, but we are meeting in the middle,” Johnson spoke of the compromise. “We’re doing our jobs.”

Johnson’s motion to meet halfway with a total budget of $658,493 was seconded by Patterson, and passed with a two to one vote, with Helton against the increase.

The Board of Assessors have called a meeting to be held Friday, Jan. 11 at 2 p.m.

 

 

 

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

GMASS will not take over the tax assessors office

Community, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – The question was directly asked and was in turn directly answered. Will Georgia Mass Appraisal Solutions & Services (GMASS) take over the Fannin County Tax Assessors Office and the answer is no.

The budget of the tax assessors office made a large increase when it was found that Fannin County was not in compliance with state law. Being under a consent order from the state of Georgia, the county raised this budget as well as the number of employees to bring the department back into compliance.

Now that Fannin County is officially out from under the order of consent, the budget of the department has been an issue for both the Board of Assessors (BOA) and the Fannin County Board of Commissioners (BOC).

Fannin County, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Chairman, Post 1 Commissioner, Post 2 Commissioner, Board of Tax Assessors, Tax Assessors, Chier Appraiser, Land Development, GMASS, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, Dawn Cochran, Janie Bearden, Troy Junnier, Mark Henson, Anthony Holloway, Angelina Powell, Marie Woody, Kristi Reece, Budget, Consent

GMASS has currently worked with over 80 counties in the state of Georgia.

What has been a back and forth match between the BOA and the BOC came to head with a special called meeting held on Monday, Nov. 19. This public meeting was an opportunity for the two boards to sit down with each and with representatives from GMASS to discuss and move forward with a solution.

The possibility of GMASS working with the county was initially proposed in June of this year, and while it does have the potential to save Fannin County taxpayers several hundred thousands of dollars, it was met with opposition as this would mean a downsize of the tax assessors office.

Tensions were high in the room due to the nature of the meeting as well as false rumors being spread via social media about the proposition ‘being pushed through and voted on that night’.

Fannin County Chairman Stan Helton presented the room with a presentation of the direct comparison of Fannin County to nine surrounding counties in regards to the budget of this department.

It was found that Fannin County’s budget in this area was $968,265 in comparison to the average of the surrounding counties at $575,726.44.

“The point I am trying to make here, take the emotion out of this. I understand what we are talking about here, this is a difficult thing to address,” Helton said of his desire to bring the budget more in line with surrounding counties. “My whole career has been in running business and that’s what Fannin County is. It is a business. It’s a $27.5 million per year business. I am not remiss at all in asking every department to step up to the challenge and produce the best value products.”

Representatives from GMASS were also present to tell about their business, explain the role they would play in Fannin County and answer any questions from the BOA and BOC.

Shortly after the GMASS presentation, in which they demonstrated their ability and capability to streamline the appraisal process, questions from the BOA began with board member Troy Junnier being most vocal.

Junnier expressed his concerns over staffing and finally asked the question that was on many minds, will GMASS replace the tax assessors office in Fannin County.

Fannin County, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Chairman, Post 1 Commissioner, Post 2 Commissioner, Board of Tax Assessors, Tax Assessors, Chier Appraiser, Land Development, GMASS, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, Dawn Cochran, Janie Bearden, Troy Junnier, Mark Henson, Anthony Holloway, Angelina Powell, Marie Woody, Kristi Reece, Budget, Consent

Tension was high as the three parties worked towards a solution.

“The purpose of the proposal that we have given the county is not to take over the tax assessors office. That’s not our intent. That’s not what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to lend a hand to the tax assessors office and try cutting the budget at the same time,” Kristi Reese Chief Financial Officer for Gmass replied to Junier, adding, “We would work side by side with the tax assessors office. Not a come in and take over type of deal at all.”

Fannin County Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran questioned GMASS on where responsibilities would lie between the two groups.

“All that we are replacing is appraisers out in the field,” Reece replied, “We’re catching you up on your field work and maintaining your schedules.”

Cochran expressed concern that taking the office down to a staff of five which is required by law would create an inability for her staff to provide GMASS with all of the information they would need, and cited her long standing argument that Fannin County is currently experiencing a tremendous amount of growth in comparison to the other surrounding counties.

Fannin County Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson spoke up on this matter and pointed to that fact that the Chief Land Development Officer Marie Woody had spoken at a recent BOC meeting and had confirmed that new development had actually slowed and numbers were down from last year.

Johnson spoke on this issue at hand: “It’s a personal issue to many people. I was elected to handle every dollar of every tax payer frugally. I want to find a way to get back to where we were.”

“We have to take our personalities out of this because this is not our money,” Johnson said of the delicate issue.

Kristi Reece from GMASS added to this, “We don’t go in to alienate. We don’t go in to point fingers. We go in to help the county.”

Dialogue remained heated as Johnson finally stated, “If you all (BOA) can come up with a good reason why you don’t want to save the taxpayers $300,000, I want to hear it right now.”

After a short recess was taken, all parties entered the room willing to take steps to see what could be done to resolve the budget.

Cochran had taken opportunity during recess to approach GMASS about setting up a meeting with just the BOA to further discuss ways in which to incorporate the company. GMASS agreed to this meeting.

Board of Assessors board member Anthony Holloway questioned the BOC: “How much time do we have to make this educated, if we can call it that, decision?”

Commissioners agreed to pass a budget during the timeline required by law (early Dec.) and would later amend the tax assessors portion of the budget once an agreement is made. This would allow the department more time to research what would need to take place between themselves and GMASS.

It was left unclear whether the BOC would adopt the budget requested by the department or adopt a budget based on a five person staff leaving it up to the BOA to come up from the bottom dollar number.

“This is real indicative of how difficult it is to cut government,” Helton said of the tense meeting. “We need to get this resolved before the end of this year.”

Fannin County Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee finally spoke up of his feelings after remaining silent through the duration of the meeting: “I’m all for saving money as well, but I’m not for getting rid of a bunch of employees. It’s kind of hard to do both.”

Helton concluded the meeting by asking the BOA directly, “Are you interested in working with us to save the taxpayer money and get this budget back to where it should be?”

To which all board members, less Junnier who had left after the recess break, agreed that they were willing to work on the matter.

 

 

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

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 [email protected]

Tax Assessors question county accounting practices

Community, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – A misunderstanding of county accounting practices and a misuse of terminology had the Board of Commissioners (BOC) questioning whether the Board of Assessors were keeping two sets of books.

Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran spoke at the June 12 Board of Commissioners meeting about a line item in the Tax Assessors budget that she felt was an error.

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Chairman, Post 1 Commissioner, Post 2 Commissioner, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, Tax Assessors, Board of Assessors, Chief Appraiser, Dawn Cochran, Troy Junnier, Budget, Line Item, Maps, Aerials, GMASS, Georgia Mass Appraisals and Services

Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran questions to the BOC on why her numbers do not match the county’s official accounting records.

The line item in question concerns the purchase of new aerial maps for Fannin County. According to an agreement made last year, the Tax Assessors Department would pay for the mapping upfront, but other departments who would benefit from use of the maps would reimburse the county for their portion of the overall price.

“We started at $24,000,” Cochran said explaining the line item, “We paid $8,000 out to QPublic. We paid $22,000 to EagleView which is for the maps. We paid $1,000 for LiDAR (Light Detection and Radar) and that put us a balance of negative $7,000.”

Cochran stated that the revenue to date for her department was $7,508.13 and that invoices had been sent out to other departments for their share in the mapping costs for a total of $12,513.35.

“The current balance that should be in the line item for maps and aerials is $13,021.68,” Cochran concluded.

Cochran approached the BOC because the department still has expenditures for the year that would need to come from that line item and worried that already showing a negative balance would reflect badly on continued spending.

Fannin County Chairman Stan Helton explained that crediting back revenue to a department is not how the county’s accounting practices work. Helton stated that the way the county keeps records of its expenditures and revenues is set by the county’s auditors, Rushton and Associates.

According to Helton, revenues from any department are put back into the county’s general fund. He cited the Tax Commissioners office as an example of why this is the practice. Helton stated that if revenues were credited back to a department, such as the Tax Commissioners, it would in a sense give the department unlimited spending abilities.

“They tell us that you don’t offset expenses with revenue,” Helton said explaining the auditors recommendations. “You just don’t do that.”

Helton went further to ask if Cochran had ever invited Fannin County’s Chief Financial Officer Robin Gazaway to a Board of Assessor’s meeting to explain this practice. Cochran replied that she had not, but that she had been in contact with Gazaway via email and that all board members were copied to the exchange.

Cochran did not back down from her claim saying that it is important to keep accurate numbers from the top down, adding “Our number’s don’t match up with Ms. Gazaway’s numbers.”

Helton questioned Cochran’s accounting background and why she felt that her knowledge was correct over the county’s hired CFO.

Cochran stated that her board was upset over this “false negative” and stated, “It’s really hard to try to keep two sets of books.”

This statement immediately caught the attention of the commissioners with Helton asking Cochran to clarify and if she had made both sets of books available to the county’s CFO Gazaway.

Fannin County, Blue Ridge, Georgia, Board of Commissioners, Chairman, Post 1 Commissioner, Post 2 Commissioner, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Larry Joe Sosebee, Tax Assessors, Board of Assessors, Chief Appraiser, Dawn Cochran, Troy Junnier, Budget, Line Item, Maps, Aerials, GMASS, Georgia Mass Appraisals and Services

Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson would like to see clearer lines of communication be established between departments and the Board of Commissioners.

Cochran replied that she does keep two sets of books and had made them available. Gazaway, however, stated that she had never seen the second set of books.

Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson questioned, “Your board is upset. Which set of books are they upset over?”

Later, Board of Assessors board member Troy Junnier would clarify Cochran’s statements, “Dawn brings up a spreadsheet. It’s not a separate set of books or anything like that.”

Junnier also stood behind Cochran’s questioning, “It looks bad on our department because we’re showing a negative line item when we’re really not.”

Helton explained that the negative line item would be amended at the end of the year budget review and that all of this could have been explained by Gazaway at one of the Board of Assessors meetings had she been invited to a meeting to discuss.

Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee pointed out that the BOC is more concerned with a department’s overall budget, “You’re concerned over a line item and your overall budget is right where it should be.”

“I understand why,” Johnson expanded on government accounting,”and if we all three (commissioners) understand why, you don’t have a problem because at the end of the year, as was said earlier, we’re going to vote to amend the budget, if you are over budget.”

Johnson added that there needs to more face to face interaction with the BOC and the departments when issues arise. Johnson’s reasoning is that interacting face to face and in public meetings would help to eliminate miscommunication and misinformation being spread through media outlets.

“Stop the emailing. If there is a problem come to a meeting. If there is a problem, handle it at your meetings,” Johnson said to Cochran expressing his frustration with the current lines of communication. “I for one am sick of friction between the Board of Assessors and the Board of Commissioners. I’m tired of reading stuff in the papers before you even come here.”

“Before your accuse the county and the Board of Commissioners of essentially not knowing what they’re doing, you might ought to come here first,” Johnson added.

Cochran replied to Johnson saying, “I can’t help how the media takes things and what they do with it.”

“It seems like there is an effort to discredit this board and our CFO,” Helton expressed his feelings on the matter. “It needs to stop. We are doing things accurately.”

Junnier replied to the BOC, “We didn’t come to try to make it seem like we were trying to discredit anybody.”

“I was concerned that it (negative line item) would come back not only just the department head or the department itself, but also on the assessors board,” Junnier added.

In the end Junnier thanked the BOC for fully explaining the accounting practices of the county, and for addressing the negative line item in the Board of Assessor’s budget.

After Junnier and Cochran took their seats, Chairman Helton spoke with the commissioners about a possible way to lower the budget of the Tax Assessors department.

“You know I’ve expressed a concern for sometime about our budget in our Tax Assessors department,” Helton said proposing an alternative way to structure the department, “and I’ve spent quite a bit of time looking at the other counties. There’s some counties out there and their budget is just a fraction of ours.”

Helton presented the board with a 3 year contract proposed by independent appraisal company Georgia Mass Appraisal Solutions & Services (GMASS). In this contract, GMASS offers to appraise a third of the counties parcels each year for three years.

The cost of this outsourcing would be approximately $223,000 for the first two years and $338,000 for the final year. The total of this proposal would be $784,000 over three years.

Johnson pointed out that the total in the proposal for three years of service is less than the current budget of the Tax Assessors department for a single year.

“I’m for anything that saves money,” Johnson said addressing the current money being spent by the county in this area. ” I know I asked two or three years ago if our money would ever come back down and I was told no. After we came back into compliance, that it would never go back down.”

Helton clarified that he was not advocating to completely replace the tax assessors department: “You always need to have some local involvement and people there.”

Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran did confirm that her department already outsources rural parcels and had planned on asking for help with approximately 13,000 parcels, a little under half the county’s total parcels, in 2019.

The BOC agreed to look over the possibility of outsourcing appraisals and would address their findings and concerns at a later date.

 

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

Audit shows Fannin County finances in good standing

Community, News

Blue Ridge, Ga. – The Fannin County 2017 audit concluded with much praise from independent accounting firm Rushton and Company. The overall state of finances for the county are “very healthy”.

Sam Latimer, CPA and audit manager with Rushton and Company, gave citizens an overview of the Fannin County 2017 audit at the June 26 Board of Commissioners (BOC) meeting.

Rushton and Company was hired to analyze the county’s 2017 finances and give an unbiased opinion based on an in-depth look at all county run departments.

Latimer noted that working with the county and management had been very easy for the company, and that all county employees had been very cooperative and helpful in providing the firm with all the information they needed to conduct the audit.

“You (Fannin County) have a very capable finance department,” Latimer spoke specifically of the work done by Fannin County Finance Director Robin Gazaway.

Net assets were among the highlights given by Latimer. Net assets make up the county’s infrastructure (ex. roads and buildings), equipment, restricted funds (ex. SPLOST or Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax), and unrestricted funds (ex. funds remaining after the first two categories are filled).

During the 2017 fiscal year Fannin County net assets grew by $1.6 million, up 27 percent from 2016.

Latimer dubbed this increase a “very healthy year for the county”.

One of the largest components of Fannin County finances is the General Fund, and like the net assets, revenues to this fund showed positive growth with a 5.7 percent increase.

Nearly $1,000,000 of taxpayer funds were saved through cuts made to the budget of the Public Works department (Roads and Bridges).

“Due mostly to personal services,” Latimer said explaining where these cuts came from, “There was a large decrease in the number of employees.”

Latimer did note that the county’s insurance claims had risen by almost $1,000,000, but was not alarmed by this increase stating, “This is an area that is hard to control because your claims are based on people’s health.”

Insurance claims will fluctuate from year to year according to Latimer: “So that just happens to be up this year.”

The unassigned fund balance did decrease slightly from the previous year of 2016. The funds in this area, however, are still well above standard expectations.

According to the Association County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG) the unassigned fund balance should have enough finances available for a county to operate approximately two months if all revenues stopped.

“What that means,” Latimer spoke of the remaining balance in Fannin County’s unassigned fund, “is that if you were to close the doors today and stop receiving revenue; you could operate for almost seven months.”

“Most (counties) are probably between two and three months,” Latimer added, “You guys are definitely above what the average would be.”

Fannin County Chairman Stan Helton noted that spending had slowed, but stated that the ultimate goal of the county should be to bring expenditures down enough to begin adding revenues back to the fund balance once again.

Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson agreed with Helton on this matter and stated of the audit, “It shows that next year we’re going to make some, as you just said, either some cuts or we’re going to have to look at other ways of revenue.”

Johnson stated that the audit is a good way to see exactly where the county stands: “This will allow all of us to make a very informed decision as to where we are going to go next year.”

At the conclusion of the presentation, when asked about the overall strength of Fannin County financially, Latimer simply replied, “Very healthy. Very good.”

The full 2017 audit , including the management report, will be available for the public to view on the Fannin County Government website.

 

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

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