Commissioners haven’t given support for Blue Ridge’s aquatic center

Board of Commissioners, News
aquatic center

BLUE RIDGE, Ga – All three Fannin County Commissioners affirmed that they haven’t committed to Blue Ridge City Council’s proposed aquatic center.

Chairman Jamie Hensley explained that the city made an initial presentation in a private meeting but hasn’t seen any follow-up plans or cost analysis.

“There’s so many unanswered questions. The questions haven’t been answered or haven’t been asked,” Hensley said.

Post Two Glenn Patterson added that the commissioners don’t know that much about the proposed pool and community center. Additionally, he hasn’t been formally approached.

Chairman Jamie Hensley

Chairman Jamie Hensley

Outgoing Post One Earl Johnson remarked, “When something gets said in another council session, it doesn’t mean it’s true in here.” He was commenting on the statements from members of Blue Ridge City Council who said the commissioners were in favor of building an aquatic center.

Johnson further stated if the council wants to propose a project to the county that they need to do so in a county meeting. Once council members present an idea within a county meeting, then it’s on record and everyone in the county will know exactly what happened. It would prevent rumors from starting.

“The biggest problems are these deals that are getting talked about outside this room,” Johnson stated.

Blue Ridge City Council meets at 5 p.m. on the second Tuesday and can overlap with one commission meeting which takes place at 6 p.m. on the second Tuesday. However, Fannin County meets on the fourth Tuesday at 6 p.m. as well.

He brought up the previous annexation debacle which became a he-said, she-said on if the county was informed or not. Johnson asked if anyone saw a councilmember present anything about the annexation in a county meeting.

“We all should working in unison with the city of Blue Ridge, the city of McCaysville,” Johnson commented. “Until it starts being done the right way, the best advice I can give anybody is just don’t believe what you hear.”

Also, Johnson asked why the recreation board wasn’t consulted if Blue Ridge wants to build a new pool and if the recreation board even knew if residents wanted a new pool.

Money hasn’t been allotted by the county for a new pool and community center at this time.

Bottom line: Johnson’s parting thoughts were the county and the cities need to come together and communicate more effectively.

Post One Earl Johnson

Post One Earl Johnson

At the end of the meeting, Hensley thanked Johnson for his dedication to Fannin County and for staying on while elected Post One Johnny Scearce recovered from COVID-19 related illnesses. Scearce is scheduled to take his oath of office on Friday, March 26.

Additional County Business

EMA Director Robert Graham presented the Debris Management Plan and the commissioners approved it so now the document goes to the state. The document could result in an extra two percent in disaster match money from FEMA.

Liquid springs for the second new ambulance was approved for a total cost of $12,300. The springs were necessary because the chassis on the new ambulances sits higher than expected and makes it hard to load patients. It will take two to three weeks for the liquid springs to be applied and it will hopefully last as long as the truck is in service.

Director of Public Works Zack Ratcliff presented the LMIG Safety Project from GDOT which is a crash-related action plan. GDOT will provide $350,000 to fix roads with high traffic accident statistics. The county would have to match 30 percent, but the number could come down with more data. GDOT advised Salem Road receive improvements with the safety project money. Some of the safety improvements include striping, width, and right of way criteria.

Johnson advised making sure roads are wide enough before overlaying them because every time a road is overlaid it becomes narrower.

Fannin discusses how to enforce litter ordinance

Board of Commissioners, News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga – The predicament of loose trash on Fannin roads and fixing the litter issue took center stage during the commissioner meeting.

Originally, Chief Land Development Officer Marie Woody approached the commissioners about changing some language on the Adopt a Road application. She had a list of 67 individuals and families in her records and 37 are still active. Four new people recently signed up as well.

Woody commended an Adopt a Road participant who picks up the trash and then sorts out the recycling before bagging it.

Woody presenting the new Adopt a Road program application.

Woody presenting the new Adopt a Road program application.

COVID-19 has prevented the Colwell Detention Center crews from picking up garbage since last March. As part of the contract with Colwell, Fannin only pays for the detainees if they work. Recently, local probationers have begun picking up trash every Saturday. The first Saturday, they worked several miles and picked up a dumpster full of garbage.

After some discussion about trash being strewn about the county, the conversation turned to the private garbage haulers. A letter about litter was sent to those businesses in early February.

Post One Earl Johnson relayed a story about witnessing a private garbage collector lose a bag on the road. The person stopped and picked up the bag but didn’t collect the pieces that fell out of the bag. When asked by Johnson if he would pick the garbage up, the individual drove away.  He believed the only way to stop littering is to crack down on those businesses.

Some haulers don’t cover the garbage or secure it in any way.

“Why can’t we make these people secure their loads?” Johnson inquired. “I just want us to do something, to do our job, to get them to start securing their load.”

He cited that one of the Adopt Road participants stated it picks up six bags a week.

Fannin does have an ordinance in place stating it’s unlawful for any vehicle to transport loose materials on any road or street without “suitable covers to securely fastened to the vehicle.” In the collections operation portion of the document, the ordinance also mandates that collection/transportation vehicles “shall be loaded in a way that the contents will not fall, leak, or spill” and “be covered when necessary to prevent the blowing or falling of materials from the vehicle.” Read entire Litter Control Ordinance 2009

Section of litter ordinance addressing littering and spillage

Section of ordinance addressing transportation of loose materials

Woody mentioned rewriting the solid waste ordinance to add clearer specifications for pick-ups, large trucks, along with tarp and enclosed backends. Johnson asserted that the state has a secured load law for vehicles.

However, Woody can’t issue a citation due to a change in Georgia law. The state changed the law to say that only a mandated officer can write a citation. She’s a code enforcement officer, not a state mandated officer.

“[The citation] would have to come from an officer who’s been to mandate school,” Woody said.

 

 

 

Chairman Jamie Hensley mentioned that they’ve talked about a potential county Marshall to enforce ordinances. The person would travel around and issue violation citations. It could be an off-duty officer as long as the person it mandated. The fine could range between $410 to $1,000, per day.

Chief Land Development Officer Marie Woody

Some rental properties and associated cleaners may bear some responsibility for loose bags of trash in the community.

Public Works Director Zack Ratcliff found a bag on Colwell Church Road, which contained a note from weekend cabin renters.

“The note inside of the garbage said, “We did not find an outside garbage can, so we left the garbage in the kitchen,’” Woody explained. “So, whoever picked it up from the cleaning job took it and deposited it out on Colwell Church Road.”

Woody asked for a list of all the cabin rentals in Fannin – all 1,600 owners. She’s considering sending a letter about littering to them as well.

“At this point, we got to do something. If’s there’s not any fear of losing bags of garbage, it’s going to just keep on. It’s went on so long now; it’s just awful,” Johnson commented.

Mineral Springs and more business

The commissioners granted Mineral Springs 2021 funding early after the facility asked for assistance due to the hardships of COVID-19.

2020 budget CARES Act Reimbursements was approved for four departments, totaling $78,000.

Janie Bearden was reappointed to the Tax Assessor Board.

Larry Chapman and Angie Arp were reappointed to the Water Authority Board.

Departments’ 2020 budgets didn’t reflect CARES Act reimbursements

Board of Commissioners, News
CARES Act reimbursements

BLUE RIDGE, Ga: Several county departments never received their CARES Act reimbursement funds in 2020 despite the county having the money.

Chairman Jamie Hensley addressed the matter during the February 9, 2021 meeting, stating that at least one department was showing over by 175 percent.

“Unbeknownst to the commissioners, I can honestly say that they really didn’t know. This is something that we just found out,” Hensley said.

These departments spent funds from their capital outlay budgets to safely maintain operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. The state gave Fannin CARES Act funds specifically for coronavirus-related improvements.  T

The departments’ financials weren’t changed to reflect the addition of the CARES Act. The money went into the general fund account. Board of Commissioners needed to move a line item to demonstrate that these departments weren’t grossly overbudget.

“We’re not actually putting money back into their budget. It’s all in one pot like in the general fund. It’s just going to be a reflection of the actual budget line-item number,” County Clerk and Interim CFO Sherri Walker explained.

Outgoing Chairman Stan Helton and resigned Chief Financial Officer Robin Gazaway never met with Hensley before he assumed office. The CFO resigned before he took office. As a result, no one explained the reasoning for leaving the money in the general fund and not updating departments’ budgets.

Fannin Board of Commissioners also discussed Whitepath.

Hensley asked the department heads for all their receipts to accurately adjust, monitor, and reimburse their COVID-19 expenses. Presently, at least five departments need their budgets to be made whole from 2020.

Post One Earl Johnson

Post One Earl Johnson wanted to know why the CARES Act reimbursement money sat in the general fund.

“We applied for that to receive COVID funding to do all those things. All we’re doing is using the money for what it was intended for, not to beef up the general fund account. I have no idea why or how it happened,” Post One Earl Johnson stated, “I think all of these budgets, in my opinion, need to be made whole for expenditures that were caused by COVID because we got federal funds to do so.”

Post Two Glenn Patterson echoed that sentiment.

To prevent a similar situation from happening in the future, Hensley suggested setting up a separate account for such funds as the CARES Act. With an established account, the county can know the exact amount remaining or if a department needs reimbursement.

County Attorney Lynn Doss added that legally Fannin needs a file that documents all COVID-19 expenses in case of a future audit.

The board agreed to get all the receipts together before making a motion to approve moving the money.

They’re in the process of interviewing for a new CFO and human resources person.

Future of WhitePath building in continued limbo

News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga: The Whitepath building discussion resumed during the February 9 meeting without a resolution on how to proceed.

At a previous meeting, Post Two Glenn Patterson asked for site testing, such as asbestos, mold, mildew, and underground rock, to be performed before further plans were developed. According to Patterson, the recommended testing fell around $11,000, but it would remove several unknowns surrounding the project. The board asked County Attorney Lynn Doss to contact companies asking if they could perform soil testing and asbestos testing before the February meeting.

Hayes James promised to provide an estimate after the February meeting, and the county reached back out to Contour to “reduce the scope” of the testing to cut the price hopefully.

The board doesn’t believe parking lot drilling for rock will be necessary because most of Fannin’s ground doesn’t contain difficult to remove stone like granite.

“I just want to be as frugal as we possibly can with the county’s money,” Chairman Jamie Hensley stated.

The chairman also reached out to the UGA extension office because it conducts some of the testing needed at Whitepath. If a plausible solution, the extension office might save Fannin some money.

Administration, Library, or Both

Another point of conversation was the intended use of the Whitepath building – will it include the library or just administration offices?  

When Patterson and outgoing Post One Earl Johnson agreed to purchase the building in 2019, they bought it solely for administration purposes. Whitepath cost the county around $1.3 million.

In January 2020, the state bestowed a $1,383,000 grant for a new library, and Whitepath would be the proposed location.

County Attorney Lynn Doss spoke with bound council Gray and Panell, who previously worked with Fannin on SPLOST matters. The law office confirmed it’s not uncommon to house a library within an administrative building.

Johnson geared the SPLOST allocated for the new administrative building could be “lambasted by the library board” without established terms. 

The SPLOST specifically addressed creating new administrative offices to make it easier for the public to access. It didn’t include a new library as part of those funds when passed by Fannin County citizens.

“If the library goes in the building, there can be some sort of reimbursement made,” Johnson commented. “If the plan can come together for the library and the funds be appropriated to maybe reimburse SPLOST and purchase, say, a wing of the building or an acre of the property, then I would never have an objection to that.”

Outgoing Post One Earl Johnson

Patterson agreed that the SPLOST funds should go toward the administrative building, not the library.

Additionally, the $1.3 million grant likely won’t cover all library expenses, and the project would need more funding. Some on the library board estimated the new building would cost around $5 to $8 million.

The current square footage of the Fannin County Library is approximately 6,800 square feet. Previously, library board member Ron Bolin stated that according to state standards the new library would need at least 19,000 square feet.

Georgia Director of Library Planning and Construction Nate Rall has promised to help Fannin through the process.

Hensley wasn’t present for the purchase of Whitepath asked if the county had any other options before buying the building?

Johnson confirmed it wasn’t the only option, but ultimately, it’s the direction the board went. With the hot real-estate, it’s unlikely the county will find another piece of property for a similar value.

Changes on the way for Fannin Commission meetings, Walker selected interim CFO

Board of Commissioners, Featured News, Featured Stories, News
Fannin commission meeting

BLUE RIDGE, Ga – At the first commission meeting of the new administration, Chairman Jamie Hensley proposed several changes to the format.

Going forward, for a trial period, the meetings will be moved until 6 p.m., instead of 5:15 p.m. The later start time will hopefully give more citizens an opportunity to attend the meetings, which remain on the second and fourth Tuesday of the month.

“You can’t get a good pulse from the citizens if they can’t get here,” Post One Commissioner Earl Johnson commented.

Post Two Glenn Patterson asked if county costs would go up if the meeting moved to a later time. He furthered explained if the meeting was later, would county employees add that as extra time to their workday if asked to attend. He also commented the meeting would start after dark for five months out of the year if moved to 6 p.m. Some older individuals prefer not to drive in the dark, he added.

Hensley stated, “Nobody is able to attend and have the input or anything they might want to say. I want everybody to understand I work for the county, for the citizens of Fannin County…I want to give every opportunity they possibly can.”

Board meetings will move to 6 p.m. on a trial basis.

Also, public comments will occur at the end of the meeting, not the middle. The time limit for speakers will be extended from three minutes to five minutes. Again, this change will begin on a trial basis.

“I have mixed emotions,” Patterson remarked about public comments. “I know we deal with a lot of things up here. Some things can be very controversial…The way we do it now. We don’t feed the fire. They come up there thinking about what they want to say.”

Patterson believed the middle of the meeting commentary allows for cooler heads to prevail.

“You’re going to get it whether it’s here or right out there, so take your pick,” Johnson said. “In here, it’s usually more reserved, civil, or go right out there and you might hear something that really hurts your feelings.”

Johnson added moving public commentary to the end gives citizens an opportunity to congratulate the board or quickly get something off their chest instead of “stewing” for two weeks.

“I see both sides,” Hensley stated. “I’m always the one if there’s an issue, I want to know now that way we can put the fire out so to speak, and move forward. I know they are things will have to take a step back on, but I always want to move forward.”

The trial period for the meeting time and public comments runs from January through April. After that, the board will decide to make the change permanent or not.

Additional Bussiness

County Clerk Sherri Walker was selected as the interim Chief Financial Officer following the resignation of Robin Gazaway in December.

Sherri Walker will serve as interim CFO.

The board also granted the tax commissioner approval to accept checks, cash, debit, credit cards on behalf of Fannin County and disperse property tax and motor vehicle tax bimonthly.  Additionally, the commissioners approved the tax commissioner’s ability to waive interest or penalties for valid reasons.

Commissioners accepted the Division of Family and Children Services budget for 2021.

Two variances were tabled, and one was approved.

Read more about why Post One Earl Johnson is continuing to serve, here.

Johnson agrees to serve as Post One Commissioner for 90 days

News
earl johnson

BLUE RIDGE, Ga – Former Post One Earl Johnson took a moment to clear up the details surrounding his extended time in office.

Johnson acknowledged that he’s comfortable continuing to serve the county for a period of time while Post One-elect Johnny Scearce continues to recover. However, he did put a time limit on his return – 90 days or six meetings.

“I’ve always taken my position here very seriously,” Johnson remarked. “Our current circumstances in Fannin County it’s unordinary and unusual event that’s taken place.”

Additionally, Johnson asked to abstain from all votes unless he was needed to break a tie between Chairman Jamie Hensley and Post Two Glenn Patterson. He wouldn’t receive any compensation from the county either.

“This is a new administration, new times, moving forward – essentially my role would be here if needed,” Johnson stated.

County Attorney Lynn Doss reviewed the terms of office again commenting that the newly elected officials must be “elected and qualified.” For that reason, Johnson’s term carries over until Scearce is qualified.

“[Scearce] could take the oath of office via Zoom, but he has expressed to wait until he is a little stronger and he could actually be back in Fannin County,” Doss added.

She also stressed the issue that if the Post One seat sat empty and a mishap befell one of the two existing commissioners, then county government would halt. The county would no longer have a quorum to pass or fail business. Day-to-day functions would continue, but larger decisions couldn’t be voted on.

According to the law and Doss, the only person available to serve as Post One until Scearce takes his oath of office is Johnson.

“I’m just trying to make a good gesture and help Fannin County government continue to move forward.  As of the last election, it was very clear that people wanted a different direction,” Johnson commented.

Hensley added he had no objection to it, and Patterson commended Johnson as a “valuable asset” for county government.

Fannin thanks Post One Johnson for his service

Community, News
Sheriff Dane Kirby and Post One Earl Johnson

BLUE RIDGE, Ga: After his last official meeting as Post One Commissioner, Earl Johnson received a heartfelt thanks for his years of service to Fannin County.

Post Two Glenn Patterson presented Johnson with his plaque and said a few words about his time serving with Johnson.

“It’s not an easy job, to say the least. It has it’s stressful moments, and tough decisions have to be made,” Patterson expressed. “We appreciate Mr. Johnson and his service to the community. I’ve learned a lot from Earl in a short period of time.”

Post Two Commissioner Glenn Patterson

Post Two Glenn Patterson spoke about his appreciation for Johnson. Chairman Stan Helton left before the ceremony.

Patterson recognized Johnson’s efforts to strengthen the post commissioner positions within the Fannin County government. Johnson always made known his stance on the issues and put the citizens of Fannin County first. The three commissioners might not have always agreed, but perhaps differences are necessary to keep a government honest.

Some of Johnson’s accomplishments include Fire Station One and dedication to ensuring Fannin County operated within its means.

“I especially appreciate Earl’s sense of humor even during tense moments,” Patterson stated.

Of his time in office, Johnson said, “I don’t know what to say. Eight years has been a whirlwind in many different ways. It’s kind of bittersweet. I’m going to miss seeing all the people every two weeks. I’m going to miss being involved…Without holding a public position like this, I would have never understood how detailed our county is and how big our county is.”

One of the biggest lessons learned as Post One Commissioner was how to hold his temper. It’s also taught him how to work through disagreements and finish projects productively.

“It’s been a huge learning experience. I appreciate all the people of Fannin County for entrusting me for eight years,” Johnson remarked.

Post One Earl Johnson

Johnson looking at his plaque.

He also thanked his family for their sacrifices and opening themselves up to scrutiny just because he held a public office.

“One day, you might see me back involved. I have nothing negative to say,” Johnson said. “I appreciate anyone who does fill these seats. It’s getting to the point now where it’s so tough to be in public service.”

For now, Johnson looks forward to enjoying a nice meal and returning to being an everyday citizen again.

Feature image includes Fannin Sheriff Dane Kirby and Post One Earl Johson.

 

 

Financial impact of courthouse cleaning, new COVID-19 protocols

News
cleaning

BLUE RIDGE, Ga – After experiencing a COVID-19 exposure, the entire Fannin County Courthouse closed for deep-cleaning and sanitization. Due to the unexpected health hazard, the county approved a $70,059 emergency expenditure to pay American Property Restoration for its service.

Chairman Stan Helton stated that he is continuing to try a negotiate the price down, and the $70,059 would be the maximum price. However, the state of Georgia also released CARES act funds to smaller counties for COVID-19-related expenses. These funds should cover the cleaning cost.

According to a letter of guidance from Gov. Brian Kemp, local governments must apply to receive their share of the 30% of $1.23 billion. Once processed, the allocation will be available for “immediate advancement.” A local government has to provide supporting documentation for qualified expenditures.

American Property Restoration in action. Image courtesy of the company.

22 people in hazmat suits cleaned the courthouse using foggers, fans, and sanitizer. The fans circulated sanitizer throughout the ventilation system to disinfect every inch of the courthouse.

“We have to be careful in the future. No one should feel at fault if they actually brought this in. It’s an invisible enemy,” said Helton.

Helton admitted that he underestimated the square footage of the courthouse at 69,752 sq. ft. He initially estimated cost would be between $50K and $60K. American Property Restoration charged full price for 30,000 sq. ft. and half-price for the remaining 39,752 sq. ft. However, he asked them to continue looking for rate discounts.

“It’s a huge cost, but the good thing is there are funds set aside for us to help recoup. I honestly believe something had to be done because the alternative is more cases break out. It would be said that no one did anything. I’m glad all the employers and taxpayers that come in are safe yesterday and today from any lingering infection,” added Post One Earl Johnson.

Since the exposure was an emergency, the county didn’t have time to take bids on the cleaning process.

Courthouse Protocols 

The Board of Commissioners office instated a mask mandate for its employees and asked them to minimize visiting other departments. Marks will be required when visiting other county departments or in the hallways. The Board of commissioners also encouraged other elected offices to start the same or similar policy.

Board of Commissioners employees must wear masks inside the courthouse. Visitors will receive temperature checks.

All courthouse employees and visitors must enter through the front of the building to have their temperature checked. If an employee runs a temperature, then they will be asked to get a COVID-19 test and can’t return until they receive a negative result. The security area will also provide hand sanitizer to visitors and employees. 

As for the public, the commissioners can’t mandate masks inside the courthouse.

“We may be able department by department to department to ask the employees to make masks mandatory in their work areas. We can’t legally demand that the public do that. We can ask them, urge, plead. We can strongly recommend that they wear a mask, but we can’t prevent someone from coming in here without a mask,” explained Helton.

However, in offices, not inside the courthouse, like the 911 call center, all visitors must wear masks.

“We need to recognize this thing is still around. We need to follow through and be diligent. Don’t let your guard down, don’t get lax and do these things,” said Post Two Glenn Patterson about following guidelines.

Johnson echoed that everyone needs to be as careful as possible, but still live their life. With numerous out of towners in Fannin, it’s impossible to prevent people from catching the virus. “Be as smart and careful as you can possibly be,” stated Johnson.

As for potential future exposures, county attorney Lynn Doss suggested following the GaDOE and DPH outline. If someone tested positive and they wore a mask, socially distanced, and not in contact with others for more than 15 minutes, then the immediate area would be closed and sanitized.

Read more about the COVID-19 exposures in Gilmer and Fannin Courthouses here.

Financial report delivers good news for Fannin County

News
Fannin County

BLUE RIDGE, Ga – The county financial report through May 2020 provided some good news in the era of COVID-19 economic uncertainty.

Overall, Fannin’s revenue was only off by two percent compared to 2019, and SPLOST and LOST collections were slightly ahead of last year. LOST and SPLOST went up around $50,000.

“We were really doing very well up until the mid-point of March when COVID hit, and we had to restrict a lot of tourism in the county,” Helton explained. “From mid-March until the end of April, that period was very bad on revenue, but in May, those numbers are starting to come back.”

Risk management also came in at eight percent under budget – insurance normally goes over budget due to claims.

Public works’ general fund budget was under $129,170, and new SPLOST for public works was under $950,531.

“The public works department been doing a lot of things to try and keep that capital expenditure, and SPLOST expenditure down,” said Chairman Stan Helton.

LOST and SPLOST collections through April 2020.

The county paid half of its debt for 2020, which left three payments before paying off the new courthouse building entirely. The recreation department was $54,534 under budget. The fire department went over because of the lease payments. Sheriff’s office had capital outlay expenses that resulted in an overage, and jail’s overage resulted from inmate medical expenses. However, the overages should go down as the year continues.

The total expenditures dropped eight percent through May 2020.

“That’s good that we are down by eight percent because when you look at the revenue, we anticipated for this year, through May, it’s off two percent – that’s not as bad as we thought it would be at this point,” explained Helton.

All departments previously received instruction to review their expenses and make necessary cuts to prevent shortfalls.

“It’s a very good sign that it’s only off by that percentage. I hope the monies continue to come in, and we stay on the line we’re on now, and hopefully, it will get a little better,” added Post One Earl Johnson.

Most departments appeared under budget almost half-way through the year.

Department Business

Clerk of Superior Court Dana Chastain presented a plan to build an interior wall within her office to allow everyone to conduct business safely. The wall would be in the shape of an “L” and would protect her staff and clients from potential germs. The Clerk’s capital outlay budget would pay for the addition, and it will cost $35,377.

“The way we have always done business is it’s an open concept. explained Chastain. “We’re like a hub to do business, and if we were to shut down, banks couldn’t lend money. They couldn’t get their filings timely.”

Chastain also outlined her current plan to allow attorneys into the office on Fridays and Saturdays. She also sent her staff home on those days to keep them safe, and she would deep clean the area.

Fannin County

Clerk of Superior Court Dana Chastain

“I want the public to know that they have access to anything that’s in my office. All they have to do is request it, and like I said, we have a great staff,” said Chastain.

Another $600 received Commissioner approval to repair the rain damage in the Clerk of Superior Court’s office. Rain leaked through the window and resulted in mold growth.

Road Paving

Public Works Director Zack Ratcliff gained approval to bid out a road paving job for three roads. The county would use LMIG funds from GDOT and a 30 percent match from the county to pay for the work. LMIG would contribute $732,476.14, and the county would pay $219,742.84.

If Fannin doesn’t use the LMIG funds from GDOT, the money disappears, or the county could be required to pay it back.

The three roads are Galloway (3.5miles), Curtis Switch (2.2 miles), and Sugar Creek (1 mile). Curtis Switch and Sugar Creek will receive an extra foot of asphalt to widen the shoulder.

All bids must include a third-party inspector to monitor the work.

Public Works Director Zack Ratcliff

Land Lease Agreement

The commissioners accepted a land lease agreement with Verizon Wireless for the company to build a 250 ft. cell tower. The tower would increase cell service by a 3-mile radius and be located next to the public works department. Fannin collected a $500 signing bonus and $9,000 payments over five years. If renewed after five years, the amount increases by 10 percent.

Commissioners extended the UGA Extension Agent Contract for another year. Fannin pays $7,400 in employee compensation and benefits for the local extension agent.

 

Hydrants remain damaged months into the ISO reevaluation plan

News
hydrants

BLUE RIDGE, Ga – Commissioners raised questions about the status of fire hydrants within the county. Fire Chief Larry Thomas revealed that several are still out of service months after broaching the subject with city mayors.

Post Two Glenn Patterson asked about the hydrants, “Are we moving forward on that are far as the ones that need to be fixed?”

Thomas affirmed that reports of out of service hydrants are down, but the fire department hasn’t checked every fireplug this year.

Fire Chief Larry Thomas

“Who’s keeping up with where they’re out of service [and] when they’re put back in service?” asked Post One Earl Johnson.

Thomas replied that the cities restore hydrants and should keep up with the functionality. The fire chief has added that he asked for the cities to update him on any completed repairs. Otherwise, firefighters might not know a hydrant works or not until they see the yellow tape and bag around it.

Johnson believed the fire department could execute a better plan for recording fireplug repairs. For example, the “fire department checked hydrant A on this date, issued notice to the city, and the hydrant put back in service.”

Officials could revisit the record later and identify which fireplugs still need repairing.

“For my remaining six months here, I want to hear how we’re progressing, not what we’re doing, but how are we progressing to get this number back because it’s a concern of everyone, who pays insurance in this county,” stated Johnson. “If we’re just going around testing hydrants, and ‘well we tried that hydrant that day we were trying to put that fire out, and it didn’t work.’ I think we need to have a baseline of the ones we’ve checked.”

Thomas emailed the cities about out of service hydrants, and the fire department continued to find improperly addressed fireplugs. He estimated around 1,000 hydrants exist in Fannin County, but he doesn’t have the exact, current, number of hydrants out of service.

Thomas confirmed the fire department does have a list of the damaged hydrants. However, he hasn’t heard back from the cities about the current functionality of the fireplugs.

“Really you don’t know if we’re improving that much or not?” commented Patterson.

“I don’t think the number of hydrants being out of service is going to hurt us. We’re letting them know. Yes, it’s a disaster if we’re got a fire there, and the hydrant’s out of service. If we’ve got a fire there, it’s bad,” added Thomas.

Ultimately, cities must fix damaged or out of service hydrants.

L to R: Post One Earl Johnson, Chairman Stan Helton, Post Two Glenn Patterson

“I think the fire department and the county need to have that information, not necessarily as leverage, but by gosh, we need to know if they’re helping to fix them or not… If it’s their lines, it’s their responsibility,” Johnson stated.

Until now, no one took the initiative to locate all the fire hydrants in Fannin County. The county should know how long fire plugs/hydrants were out of service and who to speak with on the issue. According to Johnson, the fire department and county need to maintain good records and take action to motivate the cities.

“This could cost a life too if we’re not handling it,” added Chairman Stan Helton. “What needs to be done for us to put this on the front burner with all the other water systems?”

Thomas acknowledged maps exist of the water systems that should detail hydrant locations. He also stated that he could start talking to cities’ mayors and water authority officials again.

Helton asked Thomas to develop a plan on how to handle the problem and present it at the next county commission meeting.

“It’s everybody’s problem, but we’re the ones that seem to be ultimately responsible for the biggest part of it,” finished Helton.

During the ISO update, Thomas assured commissioners the rating should go back down once the Fannin Fire Department services complete a reexamination. However, the new evaluation won’t take place in July, but November of 2020.

“I talked with the lady that I had most of the conversations with a year and a half ago. She said we would have to go by the effective day. The July date on the letter didn’t actually say that one year, “explained Thomas. “We had to be in place with that effective date from November 2019 to November 2020 until we get them back in to actually do that one-year process.”

Firefighters took part in online training because COVID-19 protocols prevented hands-on activities. All the trucks finished pump testing on Tuesday, June 22. The new crews have begun answering calls and working on hydrants.

New insurance plan for county employees

Board of Commissioners, Community, News
insurance

FANNIN COUNTY, Ga – Commissioners decided to move Fannin County to a fully-insured health insurance plan and off the partially self-funded policy. In previous years, the county chose to go to the self-funded insurance route.

United Healthcare will now serve as the county insurance provider with English and Alford acting as the insurance agent. English and Alford represented the county under a partially self-insured plan as well. The agency collected quotes from Benefit Support and Humana for self-insured and United Healthcare as well as Aetna for fully insured. The county also reached out to another company ACCG for a fully insured quote from Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield.

Quotes were as follows:

  • Benefit Support – $2,779,637.28
  • Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield – $2,743,497
  • United Healthcare – Option 1: $2,425,182, Option 2: $2,254,468
  • Aetna – $3,097,168.32
  • Humana – $2,558,360

With a fully insured plan, the insurance company assumes the entirety of the risk. In other words, Fannin County would only pay the contracted amount, no financial surprises. However, premiums might be higher than a self-insured option and the county could face a greater tax burden.

Under United Healthcare, county employees can choose from two plan options. Fannin could budget out an established amount each month.

“The plan, the providers, and the doctors seem to very closely matched what we have now, meaning that there would not be a lot of disruptions with employees having to go to different doctors,” explained Chairman Stan Helton.

Helton also discussed passing the reduced costs with Option Two on to the employees since the county receives a seven-percent reduction in overall costs. The weekly employee deduction would be seven percent less and could save a family $273 a year.

“That’s a pretty good saving for the county and another savings for the employees if they chose to take that,” stated Helton. “I’m pretty solid with going with United Healthcare and allowing the employees to choose which option they would want to go.”

Co-pays differ on the two options. On the first plan, there are no co-pays on primary care for children, but the second option has a lower co-pays overall.

Option Two offers a $0 client cost-share on primary care, mental health and substance abuse, and Tier 1 prescription drugs. Urgent Care copay is $50. Specialists’ co-pays don’t begin until the initial deductible is reached. However, on Option One, the specialist copay is $35.

For those who opt for Option Two, United Healthcare provides Fitbits to everyone. If employees achieve a predetermined number of steps, then United Healthcare will make a deposit to their HRA accounts. The maximum amount the insurance plan will deposit is $1,500 for the member and another $1,500 for the spouse. These deposits can go toward the specialists’ deductible.

United Healthcare would pay for the Fitbits; it’s not an additional cost for the county. Fannin can also choose to add benefits-to-cost-ratio (BCR) target on the plan, and if it exceeds the objective, the county can share in the surplus.

“If the county runs well, there will be surplus and that surplus will be shared back with the county 50/50,” explained United Healthcare representative Mark Bailey.

However, if Fannin had a poor year in claims, the debt wouldn’t carry over to the next year. The BCR could provide the county with a rate cap for the next plan year if they reach a certain number of participants. However, the members must meet the steps goals for the county to receive a cap.

Post One Glenn Patterson stated “I feel like fully insured would fit us better at this time. United Healthcare is very cost-effective, got a real good price. Of course, price is not everything. I think it’s a very reputable company. Covers claims well usually.”

He added that he liked their customer service, the plan options, and wellness incentives.

Post Two Earl Johnson didn’t disprove of the plan, but the agents, English and Alford, were a “train wreck.” The representatives couldn’t answer his questions or provide satisfactory information about the plans. Johnson wanted whoever represented employees during the claims process to provide seamless service.

“I left the workshop more confused when they all talked about Fitbits and what one does or doesn’t do. The part I really didn’t like is the agent said he been in this for 40 years, and he said he’d never had anyone complain. That’s kind of hard for me to imagine,” explained Johnson. “I would hope whatever is settled on this time; we stay with it a long time.”

He believed the county should spend the extra money and go with Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield/ACCG. The company previously handled Fannin’s insurance. Johnson came off of county insurance last year because he felt the service didn’t meet standards.

“As far as my opinion, I know what we would be getting if we had them, and it was quite a pleasant experience in my first three years dealing with them. They are more expensive though and that’s something I’m always against – trying to get more bang for the buck. I know since we have switched from them, every year seemed not to live up to my expectations,” Johnson clarified.

With Anthem/ACCG, the process was more streamlined and easier to discuss claims or benefits. All claims and county benefits discussions would go through the same people. However, Fannin initially switched from the company ecause of the price tag.

Johnson agreed that a fully-funded insurance plan was the best option, and the county’s no longer “rolling the dice when someone gets critically sick or ill.”

Partially Self-Insured Option

Benefit Support only offered a partially self-insured plan. Under this proposal, Fannin assumed most of the risk and are expected to pay for employee medical claims out of general funds. However, once the claims reach a set amount, reinsurance will begin to cover claim expenses.

Benefit Support also lasered some employees. As a result, these employees would pay higher deductible because they are considered higher risk than others. The amount lasered was $1,255,000.

The supposed pro of a partially self-insured plan was to save money, but Fannin hasn’t saved any under the aforementioned benefits structure. Costs continued to rise because no one can predict insurance claims from year to year.

Last year, Fannin implemented a spousal carveout and smoking cessation program to try and bring costs down as well as keep premiums at the same rate. It’s unclear at this time if the county will continue these measures. All insurance agents favored keeping the spousal carveout.

Benefit Support Representative Lena Andrews affirmed the spousal carveout and smoking cessation program brought costs down. She didn’t have an exact number though because no one can predict claims. The total claims payment in 2019 was $1,678,000, and reinsurance paid out $572,000 as of April 2020. The maximum liability would be $3.8 million.

Andrews added that self-insurance was working for the county and that costs are $600,000 lower this year than last year. The perceived savings didn’t convince the commissioners who all agreed on a fully-funded plan.

Patterson moved to go with the fully funded United Healthcare plan and Helton seconded. They voted in favor of the motion and Johnson voted against.

Commissioners reaffirm position on city annexation

Board of Commissioners, City Council, News
annexation

FANNIN COUNTY, Ga – In  March 2020, Fannin County Commissioners issued a letter of opposition regarding the city of Blue Ridge’s proposed annexation. Three months later, little has changed.

At the end of the June 1 called meeting, Post Two Commissioner Glenn Patterson took a moment to discuss the highly contested topic. He asked people to keep an open mind, but at this time, he opposes the measure.

Patterson added that he spoke with several members of the community, including a few who support it. However, most people were against the annexation of Hwy 5 and Hwy 515.

“I just feel like it wouldn’t be the right thing,” said Patterson. “I don’t see in looking at it that it would be the right thing for the county to do so.”

Post One Earl Johnson affirmed that it’s too early to even form a complete opinion either for or against. The commissioners haven’t received an annexation proposal from the city.

“I think until we see anything on paper, or in black and white, it’s going to hard for any of us to come to a conclusion on anything. I think that cart’s still way before the horse in my opinion,” stated Johnson.

Chairman Stan Helton had no comment on this issue.

At the May 26 commission meeting, Fannin resident Donna Thompson addressed the board about annexation. She supported the commissioners’ decision to oppose it.

“We saw firsthand how uncontrolled growth can destroy a community in a very short period of time,” explained Thompson. “When you talk about two developments that are highly dense…how is that going to be handled in terms of transportation, traffic control, accident response, general safety monitoring, etc? These things do impact the county.”

Thompson wasn’t against people earning a living, but residential developers focused on upscale housing, then some residents will be left out of the picture. She requested that the county and city consider the residents of Blue Ridge before making a decision based on furthering the tourism industry.

Blue Ridge City Council held a public town hall on Monday, June 1 at 5 p.m. The annexation currently sits in the hopper at the General Assembly for representatives and senators to vote on. If the city wants to rescind the measure, they must vote again and inform Speaker of the House David Ralston and Senator Steve Gooch.

The city chose the local act of General Assembly process for this proposed annexation. According to the Georgia Municipal Association, the procedure must follow these steps:

“In addition to annexation by home rule, the Georgia General Assembly may change a municipality’s boundaries and annex property into the municipal limits by enacting local legislation. Where more than 50% of an area proposed for annexation by local act is “used for residential purposes” and the number of residents to be annexed exceeds 3% of the city’s current population or 500 people, whichever is less, a referendum on annexation must be held in the area to be annexed. “Used for residential purposes” means that the property is a lot or tract five acres or less in size on which is constructed a habitable dwelling unit (O.C.G.A. § 36-36-16).

Land can also be deannexed from a city by the legislature. Note that the introduction of a local act of the General Assembly must be preceded by notice to the municipality affected and advertisement in the newspaper (O.C.G.A. § 28-1-4).”

Commissioners extend state of emergency to April 30, address tourism

Board of Commissioners, News
property taxes increase non-critical state of emergency 2020 Budget

FANNIN COUNTY, Ga – In a called meeting on April 8, the Fannin County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved extending the state of emergency until April 30, 2020, at 11:59 p.m.

Fannin County was one of the first North Georgia counties to declare a state of emergency on March 25. Originally, the order ended on April 13, but with Gov. Kemp’s extension of the statewide emergency declaration, the commissioners decided to follow suit.

The Regional Health Board and Fannin Regional also urged the commissioners to extend the state of emergency as the best method to ensure the health of citizens.

Chairman Stan Helton addressed some emergency service-related data since Fannin enacted its declaration. In-service 911 calls have dropped by 40 percent since March 25, but administrative calls have increased exponentially because citizens want more information about the state of emergency and shelter in place orders.

Rental occupancy has fallen for March and April with most of the decline occurring in the last two weeks. Overnight bookings for cabin rentals are reportedly down 70 percent from the 2019 numbers. However, the June and July booking numbers are normal for that time of year.

“A big concern has been that as the tourism activity has declined that this activity would be replaced by folks that are coming up here from high-risk areas to shelter in Fannin County,” said Helton.

Helton is one of the 12 commissioners who signed a letter to the governor to close state parks. Fannin Board of Commissioners also closed tourism rentals in its original state of emergency declaration, but the governor overturned many local ordinances in his April 2 shelter in place order that didn’t fall into accordance with his declaration. However, on April 8, Kemp issued a suspension of short-term rentals in effect until April 30.

Sheriff Kirby spoke with Gov. Kemp’s Chief of Staff about the influx of people to the mountains.

“I can tell you it’s been a real fight keeping the beat crowds back up here because everyone is wanting to come to the mountains and hide and get away,” explained Sheriff Dane Kirby. “If we were to lift [the state of emergency], I don’t think it would have a positive effect.

Kirby also relayed that he spoke with Kemp’s Chief of Staff about restricting people from visiting the area just for recreation purposes.

“What we need is we need some avenue to stop people from coming here just on day trips,” said Kirby. “I think the steps that they took were a portion of what we asked for,” said Kirby. He also hopes a more detailed plan might be presented to the public later in the week.

“I want everyone who is dependent on the tourism and rental business to understand that I believe we all understand this is impacting every one of them. But, at this point, I don’t see how we could do anything to lift the emergency ordinance and continue on the trajectory we are on now,” stated Post One Earl Johnson.

He also referenced the decrease in 911 calls and protecting first responders, law enforcement, and health care workers under the existing order.

Post Two Glenn Patterson affirmed everyone’s sentiments, “I concur with what you just said as far as citizens well-being that would be relevant for us to extend at this time knowing the data we see. We don’t want to start it too early and then shut it back down again.

“We need all our citizens to work together for a little longer and hopefully, everyone realizes the real enemy is not tourist, people from any other part of the state. The real enemy is this coronavirus. As long as everyone has that in mind, I think we can all work together,” asserted Helton.

The State of Emergency will last through April 30 to expire at 11:59 p.m., unless otherwise extended or rescinded.

Other Business

The commissioners also voted to vacate the scheduled April 14 meeting and will meet again on Tuesday, April 28.

The purchase of three new law enforcement vehicles was also approved for approximately $99,000 as well as the acquisition of accompanying equipment for $20,232. The expenses were in the budget for the fiscal year.

“They are in our budget. I’ll have to move about $6,000 from one line to another because the price of cars has gone up. But it’s all there, it will just have to be moved,” explained Kirby.

The vehicle and equipment purchases were unanimously approved.

Fannin County declares a state of emergency

Board of Commissioners, News
emergency

FANNIN COUNTY, Ga – The Fannin County Board of Commissioners declared a public health state of emergency on Wednesday, March 25, the ordinance included a shelter in place recommendation and placed restrictions on public gatherings, businesses, and tourism.

The state of emergency will go into effect following the 4 p.m. and will remain in effect until Monday, April 13 at 11:59 p.m., unless otherwise rescinded.

Nonessential businesses are encouraged to close, work remotely, or practice social distancing within the workplace.

Essential businesses were listed as: healthcare facilities, grocery stores, farms, farmer’s markets, produce stands, food banks, convenience stores, and any similar businesses that sell food or household consumer goods, news media, gas stations, financial institutions, hardware stores, plumbers, electricians, exterminators, shipping and postage businesses, educational institutions, laundromats, and restaurants, businesses that ship groceries, home care, retirement facilities, childcare, construction services, professional services, and utilities. Restaurants can only offer carry out, curbside, or drive-thru services.

No public gathering – organized group larger than ten – may convene on any county-owned or controlled property. This does not include sidewalks or pedestrian areas in parks, except for organized exercise.

All businesses that cater to tourists are prohibited under this ordinance.

Any resident of Georgia that is subject to a stay at home order and not physically present in Fannin County may not be allowed to enter the county during the declaration. However, this does not affect traffic through the county on state and federal roads and doesn’t voluntarily stop in county limits.

All Tourism rentals – short-term rentals, hotels, bed and breakfasts –  are declared non-essential business and must stop operation, except basic functions. Anyone currently staying in a rental may finish their stay but can’t extend it. All other customers must vacate their rental within 48 hours of the ordinance going into effect.

Tourism rentals can’t accept reservations during the declaration and should make potential customers aware that the state of emergency could be extended.

***Breaking – Fannin County, Ga.*** Board of Commissioners pass State of Emergency

Posted by Fetch Your News on Wednesday, March 25, 2020

These businesses can rent to Fannin County residents, who certify that the rental is needed to comply with any order issued by the President of the United States, Governor of the State of Georgia, or agencies and departments. Also, the potential renter must make it clear that the rental property will only house residents of Fannin County.

Rentals that serve healthcare or public safety officials and immediate family who are working in Fannin or adjacent counties are exempt from this order.

Any violation of this ordinance may be punishable by the termination of a business license/ tax certificate. An aggrieved business or party may appeal on a case by case basis, but it will not stay the order.

A curfew wasn’t enacted, but the Director of Emergency Services could still implement one at some point in the future. To enact a curfew, the commissioners would need 24 hour’s notice, and the public would need to be noticed 12 hours in advance over the NIXLE system. It would be between the hours of 9 p.m. and 5 a.m.

Violation of any part of the ordinance will result in a $1,000 fine.

emergencyemergencyemergency

Commissioners discuss declaring state of emergency

Board of Commissioners, News
state of emergency

FANNIN COUNTY, Ga – Fannin Board of Commissioners called an emergency meeting on Tuesday, March 24 to discuss declaring a COVID-19 related state of emergency.

If the county declares a state of emergency, then it has the power to determine essential and non-essential businesses, restrict lodging providers, and issue a shelter in place directive.

The restriction of lodging was a point of discussion due to the influx of out-of-towners into Fannin County since the COVID-19 outbreak in Georgia. Currently, the only restricted areas for lodging under 10 individuals in Georgia are Jekyll, St. Simmons, and Tybee Islands, according to County Attorney Lynn Doss. However, counties can close rentals that house more than 10 because it violates the nationwide mandate.

Doss explained the ins and outs of a state of emergency.

Doss said, “You have to have some lodging available if you’re going to have commercial traffic through here. I’m talking about the truckers coming in that might need to spend the night that brought in stuff to the hospital. I’m talking about utility workers that might be here. In a pandemic, it’s not like a tornado, where trees went down, but you still have to have lodging available.”

Post Two Glenn Patterson asked if individuals like that could show their license to prove why they’re in the community. This could hopefully be a way to identify tourists coming into the community.

“We cannot restrict travel,” stated Doss. “I’ve talked to no one who understands how a county government is restricting travel on a federal highway.”

The commissioner’s decision applies to the unincorporated areas of the county only, not Blue Ridge, McCaysville, or the schools.

“I’ve noticed since Friday is a huge number of out of town plates. State plates, but southern counties, neighboring counties,” stated Post One Earl Johnson. “I know my concern is all the people, they may be fleeing from these larger cities to maybe get to a less populated area. They’re still using our facilities, our grocery stores, EMS, and police force. It’s a sticky situation in my opinion. My idea would be how to try and convince people to stay where they’re at like we’ve all been instructed to do.”

He also asked how the county could enforce the declaration and stop people from renting out homes during this time.

The county has approximately 1,400 rental cabins and 4,500+ second homes, so if the county closes all of those to rentals, the owners can still come in to occupy it. However, it will be difficult to determine if the people in these cabins and homes are the owners or renters at first. The county wouldn’t know for certain until next quarter when the rental tax return comes out.

Restricting rentals all goes back to the property owners because they are ultimately responsible, not the property management company.

“I hate it’s going to hurt our economy, but the opposite of that is to save lives,” Patterson articulated.

Fannin County’s health system can’t support an extra 4,000 or more people according to Doss. She also said that the hospital could handle one to three cases without a ventilator. The Fannin Board of Health wants everyone to “actively discourage travel” at this time.

Chairman Stan Helton asked how the commission can create an easy-to-understand document that everyone can access and abide by.

“Right now, we just don’t know what people are bringing into the cabin or maybe have brought. You can talk about rental cabins; well you have folks that probably may come up here and think it’s a good time to buy property up here. They’re anticipating the market to go the other direction. How do you address that as well? I don’t have an answer. I guess I just have questions, said Helton. “From what I’ve heard at this point, if we can do something that’s very effective for two weeks, that might not eliminate what can get in here, but it may keep the numbers down.”

Tourist activities could be prohibited during a state of emergency. Peak tourism season is around June and judging from President Trump’s recent statement’s the country will be back to work by that time.

“People live in this county and work in Atlanta. Obviously, we can’t disturb that. Do we have any thoughts about asking people to not vacation at other places that run the potential to bring something back here? I don’t think we should fine people for something like that,” inquired Helton.

Doss replied that if a shelter in place is issued then people shouldn’t be visiting other cities unless it’s an emergency like a family member being taken to Emory in Atlanta.

“If we can’t educate our kids right now, we can’t worship however, we choose to, I think it’s very reasonable we cut out our tourist right now,” declared Johnson.

Under a state of emergency, the ultimate authority rests with EMA/EMS Director Robert Graham. It doesn’t supersede the daily operations of the tax commissioner, clerk of court, or anything that comes under the board of commissioners or chairman. Graham could order the courthouse closed or implement a curfew. A state of emergency also opens the doors to federal funding if the President issues a declaration.

If the federal or state government rescinds their states of emergencies, then Fannin’s would automatically end.

Fannin can add to a state of emergency if needed at a later time. The board can also do business by teleconference.

“We’re not trying to hurt any business, but we have to take some kind of measure to protect the people that live here all the time,” stated Johnson.

“I do know in our community there’s a lot of anxiety and a lot of fear. We don’t want that to turn to panic. We want to come up with measured responses that are effective but also give people peace,” Helton affirmed.

The Board of Commissioners is expected to declare a state of emergency at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, March 25.

Board opposes proposed annexation by city of Blue Ridge

Board of Commissioners, News
annexation

FANNIN COUNTY, Ga – Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to oppose the annexation of more property to the city of Blue Ridge, citing lack of knowledge about the proposed change.

The annexation request is currently at the Georgia General Assembly and has reportedly already passed in the House.

Chairman Stan Helton, Post One Earl Johnson, Post Two Glenn Patterson, and County Attorney Lynn Doss all confirmed that the city of Blue Ridge had not contacted them regarding the expansion.

“I have some concerns because of this expansion, from what I understand, they’re talking about expanding the city limits where it’s at right now Trail’s End, which is down the end toward McCaysville from Walmart, all the way to Gravely Gap. Also, from the Toccoa River near Tammen Park out near Forge Mill Road,” stated Helton.

The proposed annexation extends down Hwy. 515 and Hwy. 5.

Doss thought the annexation was in the early stages and not in the General Assembly because no one from the city or city attorney had contacted her about it.

“I think it’s offensive and insulting for this to occur, frankly without any information at all. It just doesn’t seem right,” declared Patterson.

The chairman also inquired if city ordinances would supplant the county’s existing regulations, such as noise, speed limits, alcohol, and law enforcement jurisdictions.

Regarding alcohol, he said, “This is a huge issue. We’ve not had any input into this, and more importantly, the people in the county have not had any input, so all of a sudden, if they start seeing alcohol in places that they’ve not seen before and they don’t get a chance to vote on it. That’s going to be a big problem.”

Johnson wanted to know if the city could ask to annex any property in the county. The answer is must be contiguous to existing annexed property, but otherwise, yes.

“A lot of things are at stake when you start annexing that much property when you talk about major highways. Highway 5 is a major highway. Highway 515 is a major highway,” asserted Johnson. “I don’t know if the county was supposed to go along. I don’t know, and that’s why I am asking. I think everyone in the county needs to wonder where was the county’s input in this.”

Post Two Patterson asked if the county attorney had ever encountered the city by-passing county input in annexation matters. She said it doesn’t happen often, but stressed the importance of county involvment with these matters.

O.C.G.A. 36-36-6 addresses municipal governing authorities providing notice to county government about proposed annexation:

“Upon accepting an application for annexation pursuant to Code Section 36-36-21 or a petition for annexation pursuant to Code Section 36-36-32, or upon adopting a resolution calling for an annexation referendum pursuant to Code Section 36-36-57, the governing authority of the annexing municipality shall within five business days give written notice of the proposed annexation to the governing authority of the county wherein the area proposed for annexation is located. Such notice shall include a map or other description of the site proposed to be annexed sufficient to identify the area. Where the proposed annexation is to be affected by a local Act of the General Assembly, a copy of the proposed legislation shall be provided by the governing authority of the municipality to the governing authority of the county in which the property proposed to be annexed is located following the receipt of such notice by the governing authority of the municipality under subsection (b) of Code Section 28-1-14.”

Doss spoke to an annexation that occurred last year and confirmed that the city attorney sent over documents. Also, a notification about a change to the city charter ran in the paper. However, no one has contacted her about annexing property this year.

She also raised potential changes to LOST and county service delivery strategy if the annexation goes through. LOST distribution will come up for renegotiation in two years.

“One of the city’s arguments [during previous LOST negotiations] was their area and tourism and what they contributed to the pie. Well if they’re area is larger, they’re going to ask for a larger share of the pie. The pie hasn’t gotten any larger. So, they get a larger share of the pie, then do we have to come back and renegotiate the service delivery strategy because they got more money than the county does out of it, but the county still has to provide all the fire service,” explained Doss.

The expense might not come out of the county’s share either, but McCaysville as well. Morganton doesn’t qualify for a portion of LOST in part because of its size. However, if Blue Ridge continues to expand, then McCaysville could no longer qualify for a share of LOST.

The annexation could also affect the service delivery area of the water authority, who has reportedly also objected to the annexation. Members of the water authority were also made aware of the proposed annexation through third parties, not the city.

“I don’t know how in the world we got to where we’re at not talking about anything,” said Johnson. “It’s very amazing to me that’s it even being talked about, and we’re having to make a decision right now where to oppose or not, and no representative had any input whatsoever.”

“I ask for a motion that we oppose this annexation and that we instruct Mrs. Doss to alert the powers that be at the Capitol that this is the official position of the board,” stated Helton, “I would much rather have a face to face meeting, an open meeting with their council to find out exactly what they’re talking about.”

The commissioners unanimously approved the motion.

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