BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – During the Tuesday, April 24, Fannin County Board of Commissioners meeting, the board discussed what was described as “misinformation” circulating throughout the county and put a six-month moratorium on tiny homes in the county.
Immediately following public commentary, Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee took a moment to address recent comments circulating in the community that suggest the county needs to create a five-year comprehensive plan. Sosebee clarified the county already has a 10-year joint comprehensive plan in place together with the municipalities of Blue Ridge, McCaysville and Morganton, which was created under the guidance of the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission (NWGRC).
“Without this document (comprehensive plan) right here, we couldn’t get grants. We couldn’t have got the water grant we got. We couldn’t get LMIG (Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant) money to research the roads,” Sosebee added.
Sosebee also stated the source of these comments estimated the population of Fannin County would reach 40,000 within the next few years.
“Well, that’s a lot of people for a county that’s surrounded by forest service land and can’t contain that many people,” Sosebee said.
According to the NWGRC, as noted by Sosebee, Fannin’s population is expected to peak at 24,349 by 2030.
Chairman Stan Helton explained the 10-year comprehensive is a 161-page document that is available to the public through the Georgia Department of Community Affairs at the www.dca.ga.gov.
Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson stated, “I know sometimes people accidentally spread misinformation, but I want everyone to realize that when you speak information as if it’s true, it affects people who are serving this county. And I don’t like it reflecting negatively on me, myself, that this county doesn’t have a plan in place.”
Later, county Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Director Robert Graham, Fire Chief Larry Thomas, EMA Deputy Director Darrell Payne, and Deputy Director of E911 Patrick Cooke came to the podium as County Attorney Lynn Doss opened three sealed bids for the purchase of three specialized desks for 911 dispatchers at the forthcoming public safety complex on Windy Ridge Road.
As Doss opened the bids, two were revealed to be duplicates bids from Watson Consoles, of Matthews, North Carolina. The Watson bid was for a total of $49,739.23, which includes $37,116.23 for the product, $9,517 for installation, and $3,106 for freight.
The other bid, from Xybix, of Littleton, Colorado, gave a total of $44,257.42, which includes $2,314.74 for sales tax, $4,100 for freight, and $4,775 for installation. Doss explained because the county is tax exempt, the total cost of the Xybix bid would more accurately be just under $42,000.
After Johnson asked Graham if EMA would need to review the specifications of the bids and the director affirmed that the department would, the bids were tabled to the next meeting for approval.
Following this, the conversation again turned to “misinformation,” this time concerning the Fannin County EMA and Fire Department (FCFD).
“As stated earlier, there’s been some misinformation out in the public,” Graham said, “that our fire department may not be in compliance with state and federal standards, and I just want to clear that up a little bit. We are in complete compliance with Georgia Fire Safety Training Center, which is the organization that certifies fire departments in the state of Georgia. We actually have a certificate hanging on the wall at each fire station to say that we’re in compliance.”
Showing the one of the certificates to the commissioners, Graham explained although the certificate is dated 2004, the certification remains with the department unless that department becomes non-compliant. Though Graham admitted the department does rely heavily on volunteer firefighters, FCFD has “30 full-time paid employees whose duties include fire fighting, and we have never had a fire call go unanswered.”
Graham also stated the EMA currently has seven total ambulances, four of which are on-duty ambulances and three are make-up ambulances.
After Helton asked about the prospect of doubling the number of firefighters and the cost involved, both Director Graham and Chief Thomas estimated the added cost would be around $1.5 million annually for personnel along with further costs for facility upgrades.
“It’s a shame – by one person spewing misinformation – it is a shame that you have to stand here and talk about this,” Commissioner Johnson told Graham, Thomas, Payne and Cooke. “They know that we’ve had plans, they know exactly that we are state-certified … It’s a shame to me that you have to stand here and defend yourselves over something that one person in an interview just felt like he had to say … All of you have been in government a long time. It’s just election time … I appreciate you all coming up here taking your time and explaining, trying to make the people feel comfortable again.”
In other business, Chief Land Development Officer Marie Woody addressed the board on the prospect of enacting a tiny home ordinance. At the April 10 commissioners meeting, Woody and the board opened a discussion regarding tiny homes but tabled that discussion to the next meeting.
On Tuesday, Woody stated Fannin is one of only four counties (Fannin, Lumpkin, Towns and Union) north of Cherokee County, Georgia, that has not passed some form of zoning. She also added that in surveying 15 nearby counties, none of the counties have specific ordinances on tiny homes and eight are currently considering tiny home ordinances, but of those eight, most have not yet decided on the square footage requirements.
Helton stated one subdivision development for tiny homes was already in the works in the county.
“We do not want to pull the rug out from under him with the investment he’s already made,” Helton said of the developer of the proposed subdivision, “but as we go forward, the concern would be that we don’t want something that is going to negatively affect other property owners in Fannin County.”
When asked about the minimum size of lots currently allowed by the county, Woody stated for a fresh tract of land with its own water and sewer system, lots could be subdivided as small as a one-third (0.33) of an acre though land development recommends no less than a 0.55-acre lot. For separate lots with water wells and septic systems, Woody explained the county recommends between 1.33-acre and 1.5-acre lots.
Johnson stated he was not so much concerned with the size of tiny homes as he was with the size of lots within potential developments and subdivisions for tiny homes.
Helton proposed to the post commissioners the idea of placing a moratorium on building tiny home subdivisions and developments and asked the commissioners for input on an exact time frame for the moratorium. After discussion, it was decided and approved unanimously to enact the moratorium for six months beginning July 1, 2018.
Robin Gazaway, county finance director, presented the monthly budget update for the county through March 31. Overall, according to Gazaway, the county is 25 percent through the fiscal year and 22 percent of its budget has been expended, leaving the county $829,415 under budget.
Departments seeing significant under-budget amounts were Public Roads ($557,168 under budget), Sheriff’s Office ($89,520 under), and Recreations ($27,148 under). Gazaway stated two departments were currently over budget – Fire/EMS/EMA ($34,983 over budget) and Tax Assessors ($18,257 over). She explained Fire/EMS/EMA was over budget because of an ambulance purchase early in the year and the Tax Assessors department was over budget because of the purchase of two vehicles but added that both departments are expected to balance out before the end of the year. The Recreation department was reported to have a $80,768 revenue, which Gazaway stated was due to the collection of gate receipts and increased concessions.
Also, Gazaway said both Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) and Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) collections were up for the year as of March 31. LOST collections, according to Gazaway, stood at $916,490.42 compared to $867,439.17 in the first quarter of 2017. SPLOST collections were $1,209,712.71 as opposed to $1,145,146.18 last year.
After an executive session, the commissioners reconvened and approved three decisions.
The board approved a filing in Superior Court to abate a public safety nuisance on Ada Street. Last month, the board unanimously approved a property on Ada Street to be dilapidated and for it to be condemned.
Also, the board approved to forward with bringing an unauthorized junkyard on Mobile Road into compliance with county ordinances.
Lastly, the board granted Rene Hamby’s transfer to the Public Works department and approved the hiring of Lauren Hein as the new human resources director for county government.
[Featured image: Members of the Fannin County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) and Fire Department display a Certificate of Compliance from the state. Seen here are, from left, EMA Deputy Director Darrell Payne, Fire Chief Larry Thomas, Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Director Robert Graham, and Deputy Director of E911 Patrick Cooke.]
BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – In a called meeting of the Fannin County Board of Assessors (BOA) Tuesday, Feb. 27, to forward an appeal to Superior Court, Chairman Lane Bishop shared with the board that he would not be reappointed at the Board of Commissioners (BOC) meeting, which followed later that evening. At the commissioners meeting, local business owner Angelina Powell was appointed unanimously by the commissioners to replace Bishop on the BOA following a motion from Fannin County BOC Chairman Stan Helton and a second from Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee.
According to Bishop, his term expires Feb. 28. Bishop, who served on the assessors board for over three years, took time to issue a statement to BOA members Janie Bearden and Mark Henson as well as county Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran and BOA secretary Heather Wright. BOA members Troy Junnier and Anthony Holloway were not present for the called meeting.
“I talked to Stan Helton yesterday (Feb. 26) and he is not going to reappoint me to this board. I asked him why and he said he didn’t have to explain anything to me. And I said, ‘Stan, at least give me one more year because there’s two items that I want to finish. ‘One of them is our 10,000 (parcels in the county yet to be reappraised).’ I said I want to see that that’s done. That’s been my baby all this time. He said, ‘No.’ His mind was made up … I told him he had no reason not to reappoint me. Well, he does have a reason though. He’s got several reasons that is nothing but pure backstabbing politics in Fannin County. That’s why I’m not being reappointed, and I want the tax payers to know it. And they’re going to know it … I wanted to announce it to this board. I wanted to thank you (Bearden and Henson) for being on the board … and I hope you all will continue trying to run this board honestly, honestly for the tax payers of Fannin County. It was not run that way when we first took it over and Janie (Bearden) knows it and I know it and a lot of us know this. It is now being run honest and I think we’ve got some honest people on it. There’s some politics in it, yes. I’m very much aware of the politics. There are dirty, backstabbing politics and that’s why I’m being removed … I wish I could be a little softer in my remarks, but I don’t think so because Stan (Helton) said he hoped there were no hard feelings. I told him there were some bad hard feelings and because I know why I’m being removed and it’s wrong … plain wrong. He and Larry Joe Sosebee, I hope, will answer for what they’re doing to me.”
In the public eye at least, relations have seemed somewhat strained between the Board of Assessors and Board of Commissioners for the past six months. At an all-day workshop Sept. 20, 2017, at which the commissioners met with representatives from all county departments to discuss their respective 2018 budgets, Bishop and Bearden questioned the recent appointments of Henson and Junnier and were met with a firm rebuttal from Chairman Helton. Those appointments expanded the BOA from three members to five.
In early December, just as the commissioners were finalizing all revisions to the county’s proposed 2018 budget, the BOA publicly questioned the commissioners’ recommended, and ultimately approved, 2018 budget of $848,265 for the Board of Assessors. The assessors requested budget was $977,370.
Following the budget talks, the BOA experienced mechanical troubles with two vehicles in its six-vehicle fleet in January rendering them both inoperable, and Junnier spoke on behalf of the BOA at the Jan. 29 Board of Commissioners meeting to lobby for the purchase of two replacement vehicles. During that session, Chairman Helton questioned some end-of-the-year purchases made by the tax assessors department, and Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson told Junnier that if the commissioners approved the purchases, he did not want to hear about the problems of the tax assessors’ vehicle fleet again while he was in office. Ultimately, the commissioners did approve the purchase of two 2016 Ford Escapes in the amount of $20,000 each at their Feb. 13 meeting.
In a post-meeting interview with Bishop Tuesday, the tax assessors chairman pointed to Commissioner Sosebee as the origin of contention against him from the Board of Commissioners. Bishop said in addition to the reappraisal of the 10,000 parcels, he had hoped to stay on the BOA long enough to be sure a relapse did not occur within the tax assessors department: “The main thing is that the Board (of Assessors) does not go back to the ‘good ole boy’ syndrome and start favoring some of the more wealthy people in this county.”
Bishop referred back to the period before he joined the BOA when it was alleged that several Fannin County residents received favors from within the tax assessors department by not having their tax bills recorded and added to the tax digest.
“This (department) was corrupted. It was the ‘good ole boys’ syndrome going right here in this tax office,” Bishop stated. “When we took over this office within the first two weeks or so, we added $10 million to the digest. Now where do you think that $10 million came from? It came from returns that had never been put on the digest.”
Bishop along with former BOA members Nathan Henson and Sonia Smith replaced the former BOA in May 2014 after that tax assessors board was removed entirely by the Board of Commissioners upon the recommendation of Appalachian Judicial Circuit Superior Court Judge Brenda Weaver due to departmental deficiencies. According to Bishop, one of the new BOA’s first moves then was to terminate two tax assessor employees in an effort to correct the deficiencies within the department.
“Well, one of those people happened to be a friend of Larry Joe Sosebee,” Bishop said, “and he’s held that against me ever since I’ve been on this board.”
As far as his relationship with Helton, Bishop said, “Stan Helton ain’t got one thing against me except what he’s been told.”
Concerning the reasoning for not reappointing Bishop, Helton, in a follow-up interview Tuesday, stated, “Well, I think I did give (Bishop) reason. Our board – me and the other two commissioners – are unanimous in that we feel that that office (tax assessors department) has gotten too big, and the budget that is there now is far in excess of our surrounding counties and it needs to go in the other direction.”
Helton pointed out the consent order from the state Department of Revenue was lifted in August of last year. “There’s no reason for that department to keep getting bigger or even be the size it is now. It’s too big,” Helton added.
The commission chairman further explained he feels the duties of the tax assessors office can still be accomplished with a smaller staff but that any future potential reductions would occur “slowly, over time.”
“We’re not talking about slashing the thing in half immediately,” Helton stated.
Helton also mentioned he felt a degree of resistance from the BOA regarding a downsizing movement and said, “I’m going to appoint someone who agrees with me.”
When asked about the BOA’s continued concern that a reduction in staff and/or budget could result in a relapse to the period leading up to state’s previous consent order on the BOA, Helton replied, “I do not accept that. Not at all. Because if people are going to do their job, that will not happen. And we will make sure, the Board of Commissioners will make sure that that does not happen … I don’t accept that attitude. I do not. And there are some real drastic things we could do.”
That “drastic” option Helton proposed, though he clarified he did not favor, would be to contract an independent company to do field appraisals and property evaluations. “We do have that option, (but) I don’t want to do that,” Helton added, saying he has always favored hiring locally.
“What I don’t accept is why our (tax assessors’) budget is 25 percent higher than what Gilmer (County’s) was, almost twice Pickens (County), and three times Union County. And we’re not talking about apples to oranges. We’re talking about counties that have similar numbers as far as properties that have to be appraised, demographics. I mean it’s too close,” Helton continued. “It’s not going to stay the biggest, most expensive budget in the four counties that surround us. It’s not going to stay that way.”
In a Wednesday morning interview, Commissioner Sosebee responded to Bishop’s claim that the lack of reappointment by the Board of Commissioners was a retaliatory tactic stemming from Sosebee. While Sosebee admitted he did have friends who worked within the tax assessors department years ago and who were terminated shortly after Bishop took office, the commissioner added, “That’s all water under the bridge.”
“I have never had any animosity toward Bishop or the BOA,” Sosebee explained. “If I did have any animosity, I would have gotten rid of Bearden.”
Instead, Bearden was reappointed to the BOA by the Board of Commissioners, as Sosebee’s personal appointment, at the Feb. 13 BOC meeting.
“This is not a personal vendetta,” Sosebee stated. “If (Bishop) feels that way, I’m sorry.”
Sosebee also stated the appointment of Powell at the BOC meeting Tuesday evening instead of the reappointment of Bishop came as a shock to him and denied influencing Helton in any way ahead of the decision.
“I never influenced Helton (on the move),” Sosebee said. “Mr. Helton is not one who is easily influenced by anyone. I had nothing to do with it.”
BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – At the Tuesday, Jan. 23, Fannin County Board of Commissioners meeting, county Board of Assessors member Troy Junnier presented the assessors’ case for two replacement vehicles for that department.
Junnier told the commissioners of the recent problems with two vehicles within the tax assessors’ fleet: a 2004 Ford Explorer with 190,252 miles and a 2003 Chevrolet 1500 four-wheel drive truck with 193,384 miles. According to Junnier, the county mechanic recommended that the Explorer be taken out of service due to a safety issue, as much of the sub-frame of this vehicle is badly rusted.
“There hasn’t been a price told (to) us as to how to fix (the Explorer) … It’s a 2004 Explorer. It’s got 190-something thousand miles on it , so it’s probably done,” Junnier stated.
As for the Chevrolet truck, Junnier explained that all six of the tax assessors fleet vehicles had recently been inspected by the county mechanic, considering issues related to the vehicle’s engine, chassis, transmission, brakes, steering and driveline, and the Chevrolet truck received a rating of 36 out of a 99-point scale. In addition to the low rating, Junnier stated to the commissioners that the truck suffered transmission issues immediately following its inspection, which has left the vehicle out of commission.
“We were told by (Public Works Director) Zack (Ratcliff), out at the (county garage), it’s going to be somewhere between $3,000 and $6,500 to repair (the Chevrolet truck),” Junnier said. “The value of that truck is $3,000 to $3,500, so it’s not worth throwing $3,000 at it or $6,500 at it to put it back out on the road.”
Junnier went on to say that both the Explorer and Chevrolet truck were “hand-me-down” vehicles, given to the tax assessors department from other county departments.
“Hand-me-down vehicles probably aren’t the way to go with a department that needs vehicles to run,” Junnier told the commissioners. “Both of those vehicles were probably at or near the end of their life cycles when we got them.”
Junnier continued to explain that the tax assessors department had requested additional funds in its budget for the last two years to purchase one extra vehicle to add to the fleet, but the approved budgets from the Board of Commissioners has not allowed that proposed vehicle purchase for the department.
“Obviously, you don’t think we need the extra (vehicle),” Junnier said to the commissioners, “but with these two going down and out of service, we’re asking if we can … immediately get two vehicles to replace the two that were taken out of service.”
He continued to explain other county departments, such as the Sheriff’s Office and Emergency Medical Services (EMS), occasionally utilize the tax assessors’ vehicles during periods of inclement weather because all of the vehicles within the department’s fleet are four-wheel drive. Junnier also alluded to the recently lifted consent order from the Georgia Department of Revenue on the county’s tax assessor department and the accompanying $130,000 fine.
“We’re at a point to where we have to do something to maintain our ability to work,” Junneir stated. “We’ve got to meet certain requirements put out to us by the state.”
Junnier lobbied for the purchase of new vehicles, rather than slightly used, because of the accompanying warranties. He told commissioners the tax assessors department had investigated the potential purchase of two new Jeep Wranglers because of the maneuverability of such vehicles and said quotes the department had received were $30,000 each for a base model, which Junnier admitted he thought was a high quote.
Later, Board of Commissioners Chairman Stan Helton clarified that the tax assessors’ 2018 budget of approximately $848,000 is actually $54,000 more than the approximate amount of what was spent ($794,000) in the tax assessors department in 2017. Helton also questioned the reasoning behind the number of expenditures within the department that came later in 2017.
“What I don’t understand is we have purchases for chairs, we have purchases for laser measurers – which you may need – and computers. From about mid-to-late-November to December, there was something like $10,000 spent on things … if you needed them, why did you wait till the end of the year?” Helton asked.
Junnier told Helton the department prioritized the some of the less urgent expenditures until the end of the year so that the department would be sure to stay within its budget. He said, “When you prioritize things like that, you put things off until you know you’re going to have the money … The last thing you really want to do is come back to the Board (of Commissioners) and say, ‘Hey, we messed up. We don’t have the money we needed.'”
Helton clarified that the tax assessors department was currently borrowing one of the two vehicles designated for use by the Fannin County Land Development department and stated he did not foresee an issue with transferring that vehicle from land development to the tax assessors department provided that the vehicle was in good working condition.
Near the end of the discussion, Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson stated he did not want to give the tax assessors reason to fail and pointed out that the current Board of Assessors has a budget of nearly $300,000 more than the previous Board of Assessors from just a few years ago.
In response, Junnier told Johnson, ” With the numbers that are mandated by the state, we’re actually one appraiser, almost one appraiser, short. If you do the math, the requirements are that each appraiser can only (appraise) 2,500 to 3,500 parcels (a year). But we’ve got 27,000 (parcels) and a few more. If you do the math, that comes to up to like 7.7 appraisers. Well, we’ve got nine, two of which do personal property, so that leaves us seven to do real property.”
Then, Junnier clarified that the Board of Assessors is not asking for another employee but rather for dependable equipment to perform field appraisals.
To this, Johnson replied, “Cars have been an issue in this office almost since I’ve sat here (as post commissioner) … I don’t want tax assessors driving new vehicles. I don’t want them going to homes, driving nicer vehicles than those people paying taxes drive.”
Following this, Helton stated the 2017 budget for Gilmer County’s tax assessors department, which Helton pointed out is under a state consent order, stood at $812,000 and Junnier responded by describing that county’s department as “clowns.” Helton also explained Pickens County’s tax assessors’ budget was $578,000 and Union’s was $318,000. The chairman further noted that the 2017 Fannin tax assessors budget was nearly $1,020,000.
“So they can’t all be ‘clowns,'” Helton said, referring to the surrounding counties’ tax assessors departments. “Why would this Board of Commissioners be attacked (by) saying that we’re cutting you and draining you when we’ve actually approved $54,000 more than you’ve spent last year? … We don’t need an antagonistic relationship with the tax assessors. We need realism.”
After Junnier told Helton the only budget cut he had mentioned was the proposed funds for an additional vehicle, the discussion again returned to resolving the Board of Assessors vehicle situation. As a board, Helton, Johnson and Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee agreed they were collectively not if favor of purchasing a new vehicle for the assessors. For a tentative plan, the board agreed to transfer the aforementioned land development vehicle to the tax assessors pending a thorough inspection by Ratcliff and the public works department. As for a second vehicle, Helton then explained to Junnier that if the tax assessors could present more specific and adequate information regarding the potential purchase of a dependable, used vehicle, the Board of Commissioners could make a decision at its next meeting on Feb. 13.
“Let’s get this vehicle situation straightened out because I, for one, am sick of hearing about it,” Johnson added.
When Junnier asked about the possibility of adding a seventh vehicle to fleet at a later date, Johnson stated, “I’m for two vehicles total (and) never hear about it again.”
BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – Fannin County Sheriff’s Office could receive a new vehicle after Chief Deputy Major Keith Bosen was involved in an accident on state Route 5.
Fannin County Sheriff Dane Kirby addressed the Board of Commissioners (BOC) on Dec. 12 with an unforeseen item that was not on the meeting agenda. Kirby explained to the board about the county vehicle that had been involved in the accident, “We got it out at Car Crafters, and they’re thinking it’s going to cost about what the vehicle is worth to fix it, so it’s likely going to be totaled.”
Kirby added, “We don’t have that set in stone.”
The vehicle suffered damage to the back end and also sustained damage to the frame. Kirby and Bosen had searched for a used vehicle after finding out about the extent of the damage, but we’re unable to locate one.
A new vehicle, which was found at Jacky Jones Ford in Cleveland, Georgia, has a price tag of $26,700. Kirby explained that he still had funds in his current budget to purchase this vehicle but had not allocated funds in 2018 for such a purchase.
Kirby stated that an insurance settlement from the wrecked vehicle would be used to partially reimburse the expenditure of securing the new vehicle.
Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee questioned, “What if they don’t total the car out?”
“We have a lot of options there,” Kirby replied. “If another office needed that vehicle, we could turn it over to you all to issue out however you all saw fit.”
Board of Commissioners Chairman Stan Helton looked for additional clarification: “So even if it’s fixed, it’s not something you want out there?”
Kirby and Bosen had discussed this possibility previously, and Bosen had expressed reluctance in continued use of the vehicle. “I’m not so sure I would want it for an emergency vehicle after all that damage has been done to it,” Kirby explained.
After some discussion, the BOC voted unanimously to allow the purchase of the new vehicle for Fannin County Sheriff’s Department.
The purchase of the new vehicle was a main focus, but Sheriff Dane Kirby was also present to have the BOC renew two contracts. These annual contracts concern food and health services provided to Fannin County Jail.
The cost of the food service contract showed a 1 percent increase, and the contract concerning healthcare increased by 3 percent.
“I don’t think our food service or our health provider has asked us for a percent increase since I have been in office,” Kirby said of the price difference for the 2018 contracts. “We have not had anything but flawless performance out of both of those providers.”
The BOC collectively agreed that the increase in cost of these two contracts was not unreasonable and unanimously voted to re-enter into both of the agreements.
Deputy Director of Fannin County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Patrick Cooke was also on the agenda to discuss the purchase of a radio tower for the new 911 facility.
The county’s new 911 facility will be located at 930 Windy Ridge Road, and construction is already underway.
Cooke presented three bids to the board for the purchase of the new 911 radio tower. The lowest bid was $22,000, and the highest bid came in at $40,030. Cooke stated, “There’s no reason why we cannot go with the lowest bid on this one.”
Sosebee questioned, “Do you have it in your budget?”
Cooke explained that the purchase amount would be covered in the 2017 budget. A tower located on Bullen Gap Road had been damaged, and the majority of the cost of the new tower will come from an insurance reimbursement that the department had received.
The insurance settlement for $18,898.23 would offset the cost of the new tower to where only $3,101.77 would need to be pulled from the budget. The new tower would be able to communicate with the main repeater located on Brawley Mountain and would also act as a back up in the event that the main repeater went down.
The BOC voted unanimously for the purchase of the new radio tower, and construction of the new 911 facility is expected to move forward on schedule.
Fannin County Finance Director Robin Gazaway presented a monthly update of the county’s current budget prior to the BOC discussing and passing the county’s 2018 budget.
Through Nov. 30, the county is showing that it is under budget by approximately $500,000. Gazaway explained that as of the Nov. 30 date, the county was currently 92 percent into the budget for 2017.
Sosebee questioned specifically about the Tax Assessors budget, and Gazaway replied that they were $242,270 under budget for the year.
Gazaway did clarify, “I know they have a few more expenditures in December, but as of Nov. 30, they’re under budget.”
With information presented by Gazaway concerning the county’s spending and revenue, the BOC passed the 2018 Budget at the end of the meeting.
BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – After a budget proposal that was met with opposition from some county departments and heavily scrutinized by the Fannin County Board of Commissioners (BOC), agreements were finally made and the Fannin County 2018 Budget was passed on Dec. 12.
The BOC held an all-day public workshop to discuss the 2018 Budget on Sep. 20. At this workshop, most county department heads came before the board with their department’s request for next year’s budget.
During the workshop, some departments made large cuts in spending. One such cut came from Public Works Director Zack Ratcliff.
Ratcliff proposed approximately $300,000 in cuts to his department. These cuts came mainly from fuel purchases, tire allowances and payroll. This $300,000 decrease comes on top of an 11 percent decrease in the department’s budget last year.
Information from this workshop allowed Fannin County Finance Director Robin Gazaway along with the Board of Commissioners to review department line items and create a proposed budget for 2018.
This proposed budget was met with opposition from certain departments. The Board of Assessors (BOA) questioned the cuts proposed by the BOC. Having requested $977,370.00, the BOC ultimately only approved $848,265 for the BOA department.
Magistrate Judge Brian Jones also questioned the board at a public hearing held on Nov. 28. Jones had requested $114,240 in salaries for his department and was surprised to see that the proposed budget was only allocating him $104,958 in this area.
At the public hearing, Jones addressed the board by saying, “I would like you all to revisit the salary part of my budget. I am the only budget that was reduced in the salary portion.”
Jones stated that he did not care about his personal salary, which is mandated by the state of Georgia, but that he was concerned with the salaries of his staff. “I hired them at a beginner’s rate, or what I call a starter’s salary, and I think I should be allowed the opportunity to advance them as they learn and move forward in their jobs,” Jones explained.
Jones went on to list numerous responsibilities that his court has taken on from other courts in an attempt to “unclog the system.”
Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson asked Jones if he was happy with everything else in his budget. Jones replied, “I’m fine with all of that. I’m just not happy with the salary portion because I think I should be able to advance my employees as they deserve to be advanced.”
Gazaway explained how the proposed amount for salaries within the Magistrate Court was determined: “I actually added up what they’re currently making, all of them, and added 2 percent, and it made a reduction in salary.”
Fannin County Chairman Stan Helton added, “His employees are not getting cut on their salary. They’re getting a 2 percent raise, which is consistent with what we are doing with every other department in the county.”
At the Fannin County BOC meeting held Dec. 12, this issue was revisited before finalizing the 2018 Budget. Before the discussion of the budget took place, Finance Director Gazaway presented a graph depicting the county’s budget from 2014 to present, along with the county’s millage rate for this same time period.
During this period Fannin County’s spending budget has grown by approximately 40 percent, while the millage rate has dropped from 5.16 in 2014 to 4.176 in 2018. Gazaway stated, “We can’t keep this up.”
“This is really important for people to understand. If you go from 2014 to this year, in three years the budget has increased right at 40 percent with no tax increase,” Helton explained, “and that is unsustainable, and that is part of the reason why we are doing our best to start putting the brakes on that this year.”
The proposed 2018 Budget contains a 1.8 percent increase from the previous year (2017) budget.
Johnson agreed with the spending being unsustainable. He remarked, “It’s a question I asked a year ago with several departments: when are we ever going to start being able to scale back?”
Johnson then added, “My experience here in five years, once anyone gets it in their budget, we never see it again. It’s very rare that we have decreases in these budgets.”
Before passing the final 2018 budget, Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee expressed his thoughts on Magistrate Judge Brian Jones’ request to review the salary line item of his department.
Sosebee stated he had contacted Gazaway previously to discuss his views on the matter. Sosebee said to the board, “Two or three years ago, we went down the same path over an elected official, like Mr. Jones back here, and my opinion is we can’t tell them what to do with their line items. We might can suggest it, but as far as taking it away from them, I don’t feel like it’s necessary that we do that.”
Johnson, who also stated having previously spoken with Gazaway on the matter, agreed with Sosebee, “The problem I have with it is that that means our office is telling another elected official what he’s paying his people.”
Gazaway clarified that the amount Jones was requesting is an 11 percent increase in salaries.
Sosebee replied to the clarification, “When the 11 percent comes out in the paper, Mr. Jones will have to answer to his constituents that voted for him.”
BOC Chairman Stan Helton added his thoughts: “We have tried very hard to keep this salary and wages for all the county at a 2 percent level. When we approve a budget, it’s basically for the next year, but if we’re talking about approving wages and salaries, that’s not just this year, that’s going to be the year after, the year after, the year after. So that one area I do feel that we do have some oversight on.”
Helton then addressed Jones who was present at the meeting: “The overall increase, Judge Jones, for your department is an increase.”
Helton asked for a motion to approve the line item for Magistrate Court salaries as the requested amount versus the commissioners’ recommended amount.
Johnson, unhappy with this motion, commented, “So, we’re going to have to do that for everyone that changed theirs? Since we are making motions for line items and salaries.”
Sosebee agreed that a motion needed to be made to accept the entire budget, including the requested amount from Jones: “We’ll just do the total budget, cause if we start on 1 line item, we need to do them all.”
After a moment Johnson motioned to approve the 2018 budget, Sosebee seconded the motion and the budget was passed unanimously.
Later, Johnson remarked on his decision to approve the Magistrate Court’s requested salary budget: “We don’t control constitutional officers. They control their budget, and they answer to their own voters.”
Judge Jones was pleased with the decision that was made and stated, “I just want to thank the post commissioners. They did what was right.”