Fannin Operating Two Percent Under Budget

News
2020 Budget

Blue Ridge, Ga – Fannin County’s operating two percent under budget through April of 2019.

As of April 30, 33 percent of the budget’s been spent for the year with Fire/EMS/ EMA, Tax Assessor, Sheriff’s Office, and County Jail still showing over budget due to the first of the year lump sum lease and loan payments made at the beginning of the year.

Per the April 23 meeting, Chief Financial Officer Robin Gazaway broke out the Public Works and SPLOST Budget to provide more clarity about where the money comes from and is going.

Fannin County Board of commissioners budget

Several departments are still showing over for the year.

“The public works old SPLOST is because we’re going to use the old money on the roads until it runs out, and then we’ll start on the new SPLOST,” explained Gazaway.

Baseball admissions factored in slightly into the recreation budget, but the month of May was not reflected in this report.

“We’re two percent under budget because we’re making up some of the differences from earlier in the year,” stated Gazaway, “LOST and SPLOST collections are up again this month from the prior years.”

Thirty-three percent into the county’s operating budget as of April 30, 2019.

 

 

EMA Director Robert Graham advised choosing Custom Works for the ambulance remounts at $104,980 as the most acceptable vendor for the job. The business also priced an add-on door locking systems for the ambulance at $1,800, bringing the total to $106,780.

“The locking system on the doors on the box [will be] activated front door locks when we lock the front doors,” said Graham, “We need this because we make many trips out of town to hospitals, and we need to lock the back of the truck. Our drugs and equipment are all in the back.”

Currently, seven doors and compartments must be locked with a key when getting out of the truck, and EMA employees must remember to unlock these doors when going back out to have access to them.

“It would be a great benefit to add that to this truck and going forward in the future to the standard bid specs,” lobbied Graham.

The truck won’t be available until closer to 2020 due to Chevrolet chassis unavailability.

Graham also confirmed that the county wouldn’t be short on equipment during this time with back-up trucks and placing an order for a new ambulance to replace an aging one with 90,000 plus miles on it.

Next, Graham introduced bids for a new ambulance to be purchased in the 2020 and on that year’s budget. Currently, new ambulance models aren’t available, but a waiting list has formed for 2020. Graham wanted to go ahead and get Fannin’s EMA name on the list.

“If we don’t get a truck each year that we fall behind and have maintenance issues,” said Graham.

“You had this idea that it was better to go ahead and place an order with the stipulation that it wouldn’t be delivered until after the first [of the year] because in the past you wouldn’t get this new ambulance until fall,” explained Helton to the room.

MEDIX proposed $140,130 for a 2020 model Chevrolet with the delivery after January 1, 2020. Custom Trucks and Bodyworks offered $143,021 for a 2020 model Chevrolet with the delivery after January 1. ETR, LLC proposed $187,768 for a 2019 model Ford F-450 with the delivery after January 1.

The Commissioners approved Custom Works for remount and tabled the new ambulance bids after Graham asked for more time to review.

Waste Management decision was tabled again to give the commissioner’s more time to review Advanced Disposal Systems and CASH proposals after meeting with both organizations.

Director of Public Works Zack Ratcliff experienced an equipment emergency after losing a 16-year-old mower in the middle of mowing season and had found a used replacement mower for $43,500 with 70,000 hours on it.

Post One Commissioner Earl Johnson said, “The piece that [the used mower] is replacing, we salvage it and get rid of it. It’s got way too many hours to put any more money into it.”

Ratcliff stated that he had no plans to fix the old mower with over 100,000 hours in it already.
The emergency purchase puts the county back at 10 mowers and back on track with mowing for the spring and summer.

Road Construction Beginning in June

News

Blue Ridge, Ga – GDOT (Georgia Department of Transportation) grants determine county road projects for the year and construction will begin soon.

Director of Public Works Zack Ratcliff approached the Fannin County Board of Commissioners with updated grant money estimates from GDOT for road improvements.

New asphalt construction will begin around June.

GDOT’s Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant (LMIG) goes toward improving roads and bridges in the county. The organization gave Fannin County $664,195.59 to lay new asphalt. The amount increased by $4,000 from 2018.

The estimated total for the paving project is $1.5M, which includes the grant with a 30 percent match required from the county. It would be paid out of the roads and bridges SPLOST.

The project is now out to bid according to Georgia’s guidelines. The acceptance of bids will run for a couple of weeks, and the paving should start around the first of June.

Commissioner Earl Johnson said, “He is glad of the amount that we’re receiving from the state.”

Next, GDOT’s Safety Assistance Program, part of LMIG, is providing funds for striping of county roads. The grant is for $69,000 with the county providing a 30 percent match for a total of $89,700.

Thermal Plastic will be used for the restriping in the county.

Chairman Stan Helton added, “We have to do this according to their standards, which is pretty exacting and pretty expensive, but it’s still worth it since they’re giving us this kind of money.”

Helton also commended Ratcliff for going to GDOT’s district office to lobby for more funds to update the county’s road striping project.

“This comes out to $8,800 per mile, and we’re looking at ten miles,” Post Two Commissioner Glenn Patterson contributed.

This restriping will be eight miles of Aska Road and two miles of Old 76. These roads were chosen by GDOT. The material used will be thermal plastic. It’s heated up to 400 degrees and sits on top of the pavement. The plastic’s more durable than water-based paint typically used by the county and can last up to three times as long as paint.

Post One Commissioner Earl Johnson clarified that striping season only lasts for five months out of the year, and weather will wear striping off the road. Ratcliff added that striping can’t be laid in unfavorable conditions.

“You can go on some state roads right now and it’s hard to see the yellow line. It’s just the nature of the business, and the only way to take care of that is restriping every year. And no one can afford that. At all times, some of our road striping is going better than others and that’s why. It’s just not cost effective to restripe every road every year,” said Johnson.

Tax assessor vehicle situation brought before commissioners

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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.”

 

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

 

Author

Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

Vehicle needs discussed at Fannin assessors meeting

News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – The condition of two fleet vehicles and the potential purchase of up to two vehicles for the Fannin County Board of Assessors were discussed at the Friday, Jan. 12, assessors meeting.

Chief Appraiser Dawn Cochran told board members Friday that Board of Commissioners Chairman Stan Helton had recently asked Director of Public Works Zack Ratcliff to perform a thorough inspection of the vehicles in the tax assessors fleet. The inspections, as Cochran explained, were conducted using a points rating system, which takes into consideration the mileage of the vehicle along with issues related to the vehicle’s engine, chassis, transmission, brakes, steering and driveline.

According to Cochran, from those inspections, two vehicles out of the fleet of six received questionable ratings. A 2003 Chevrolet 1500 four-wheel drive truck with 193,384 miles was rated a 36 on a 99-point scale. Also, a 2004 Ford Explorer with 190,252 miles was rated a 43.

“Anything less than a 40 is something that really needs to be replaced,” Cochran stated to the board in a paraphrase of Ratcliff’s explanation of the ratings to her previously.

Explaining some of issues with the two vehicles, Cochran stated the Chevrolet truck was leaking motor oil and transmission fluid, and after the recent inspection, the rear end of the truck had “locked down” making it inoperable.  Cochran also said early estimates projected the cost to repair the truck to be around $1,000. As for the Ford Explorer, Cochran explained that inspections determined the sub-frame of this vehicle to be badly rusted, lending itself to potential safety hazards in the event of a side impact.

“That’s the county’s mechanic (performing the inspection), not the Board of Assessors,” Board member Troy Junnier pointed out. “The county mechanic telling you it’s unsafe – I wouldn’t let anyone drive it.”

Cochran assured Junnier that both vehicles have remained parked and out of use. She also told the board that in her talks with Chairman Helton, the chairman told her he wanted to receive reports of the inspections from Ratcliff and invited the Board of Assessors to present the department’s vehicle situation at the next Board of Commissioners meeting Jan. 23.

“(Helton) wants the Board of Assessors to get together before (Jan. 23) … and decide how we want to move forward,” Cochran said. “Then, he wants the Board of Assessors to present that (decision) ahead of time, in some sort of writing, for (the commissioners) to look at it, and then it will come up on the agenda on the 23rd.”

The board weighed repair options versus the purchase of two new vehicles or dependable used vehicles. Among the many ideas discussed was the potential purchase of two new hard-top four-wheel drive Jeep Wranglers. Board member Anthony Holloway also suggested the possibility of both presenting the commissioners with a request to purchase two vehicles while also repairing the Chevrolet truck and using the truck as a backup vehicle, if the safety of the truck could be assured. Throughout the discussion, Board of Assessors Chairman Lane Bishop urged the board to come to a definite agreement on the situation.

“Let’s not forget … we’ve still got these 10,000 parcels (to be appraised),”  Bishop said adamantly. “We’ve got to get that done.”

Ultimately, it was decided that Cochran would speak with Ratcliff about the possibility and cost of repairing the Chevrolet truck, study prices and options available for two new Jeep Wranglers as well as other new or used vehicles and report the findings back to the Board of Assessors in order to draft a presentation to offer to the Board of Commissioners ahead of the Jan. 23 meeting.

The board also adopted a locked gate/access denied policy for field appraisers. Last month, Cochran presented the board with a draft of the policy, and a decision was made to forward the policy to County Attorney Lynn Doss for review. At Friday’s meeting, Cochran explained Doss had reviewed the policy and made a few grammatical changes to the policy. Following this, the policy was officially adopted by the board.

The new policy has four primary steps. Upon first visit to a property, a door knocker complete with date, appraiser and reason for the visit will be placed at the gate of the parcel. A time-stamped photo of the knocker will also be taken and filed in the property account in the Board of Assessors system. After that, a phone call to the named owner of the property will be made, if possible. If no contact can be made at that point, a certified letter will be mailed to the property owner, as reflected in the Fannin County Tax Assessors’ records, again requesting access. Finally, if the department still does not receive a response, the assessors will utilize any information, such as aerial photography, building and/or septic permits and real estate ads and/or listings, to estimate a value for all structures on the property.

Cochran addressed the upcoming 2018 timber valuation with the board and stated that 12 letters would be sent to property owners with significant acreage containing timber with the potential to be cut and sold.

“Any (parcel) 20 acres or over that took place in a sale in 2017, the state says that if there’s marketable timber that (the tax assessors) need to take into consideration – timber is not valued until it is cut and sold – we back this value out,” Cochran explained. “If a 100-acre tract sold for $200,000 and our timber (evaluator) says there’s $5,000 worth of timber, we back it out (of the property assessment).”

Last year, as Cochran stated, the tax assessors office utilized Allen Baker, a registered forester with Allen Forest Management, to value such tracts of land at a cost of $20 an hour to the county, which came to a total cost of $2,000 for 100 hours of service. Cochran further stated Fannin County received the most accurate timber valuation in the state of Georgia last year after the county’s digest review from the state. The board approved the use of Baker again for 2018 at the same rate as last year and approved the list of letters to be sent to the 12 applicable property owners notifying them of the upcoming valuation.

The board also approved the state values for public utilities. According to Cochran, the state of Georgia sets the value of public utilities such as electric, gas and phone companies.

Cochran also presented the board with the 2018 tax digest schedule and discussed several important dates and deadlines for Fannin County tax payers.

Author

Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

UPDATE: Winter Storm Inga incoming, early release for schools, county offices

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PEACHTREE CITY, Ga. – UPDATE: The impending threat of a fast-moving winter storm has prompted Fannin County Schools to issue a three-hour early release of students at all schools within the system Tuesday, Jan. 16, according to the Fannin County Schools information hotline.

In addition, all Fannin County Government, Blue Ridge City Government, and McCaysville City Government offices will close at 3 p.m. this afternoon and will delay opening Wednesday, Jan. 17, until 10 a.m. due to expected snow.

The tail of an Alberta clipper is expected to impact parts of north Georgia and the surrounding region as early as tomorrow afternoon, bringing with it up to an inch of snow and bitter cold temperatures. The winter storm named Inga has prompted the National Weather Service in Peachtree City, Georgia, to issue a winter weather advisory for north Georgia.

URGENT – WINTER WEATHER MESSAGE
National Weather Service Peachtree City GA
2:25 PM EST Mon Jan 15 2018
…WINTER WEATHER ADVISORY IN EFFECT FROM 10 AM TUESDAY TO 7 AM
EST WEDNESDAY…

* WHAT…Snow expected along with very cold wind chill values.
Total snow amounts of around 1 inch with isolated higher amounts
in the mountains. Wind chill values will drop the single digits
Tuesday evening, and to zero to 5 below after midnight Tuesday
night.

* WHERE…Much of north Georgia generally along and north of a
line from Cedartown to Jasper to Hiawassee.

* WHEN…From 10 AM Tuesday to 7 AM EST Wednesday.

* ADDITIONAL DETAILS…Light snow will develop across northwest
Georgia late Tuesday morning and spread across the rest of north
Georgia Tuesday afternoon. The snow is expected to end Tuesday
night, however strong northwest winds will be dropping wind
chill values to dangerous levels.

PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS…

A Winter Weather Advisory for snow means periods of snow will
cause primarily travel difficulties. Be prepared for snow covered
roads and limited visibilities, and use caution while driving.
Also, cold wind chills as low as 5 below zero will cause
frostbite in as little as 30 minutes to exposed skin.

 

In Fannin County Monday morning, road crews were anticipating for what could be another crippling winter weather threat. Zack Ratcliff, director of Public Works, stated the county has 300 tons of salt at the garage on Aska Road and all available trucks are mounted and ready to treat county roads.

“Everything is pretty much ready to go, and right now, we’re just watching the weather,” Ratcliff said Monday of his crews’ readiness for the weather event.

Fannin County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) Director Robert Graham also shared similar confidence in the county emergency personnel’s readiness for a possible weather event and abilities of the county’s emergency vehicles and equipment.

Continue to follow FetchYourNews for up-to-date advisories, watches or warnings from the National Weather Service as well as school, office and business closings and delays announced throughout the county.

 

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

Author

Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

Madola Road bridge over Fightingtown sees decreased weight restrictions

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The Madola Road bridge over Fightingtown Creek recently experienced a reduction in load capacity limits.

EPWORTH, Ga. – Fannin County Director of Public Works Zack Ratcliff announced Thursday that the weight load capacity for the Madola Road (county road 159) bridge over Fightingtown Creek has been reduced from a 10-ton limit to a five-ton limit.

According to Ratcliff, the changes came after the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) completed a recent inspection of the bridge located near Epworth in early December and found deficiencies in it, leading to the state-mandated change in load capacity. Ratcliff added that signs informing drivers of the new capacity have already been posted at the bridge and the public works department also plans to post signs in the near future at either end of Madola Road telling motorists off the change.

Ratcliff asks all applicable drivers to abide by the new limits to the bridge, which was built in 1956. At present, no short and convenient detour route is available for drivers of vehicles that exceed the limit. However, detours are available by way of Mobile Road through Copperhill, Tennessee, and McCaysville or via Mobile Road to Colwell Road to old state Route 2. Both Mobile, which eventually becomes West Tennessee Avenue in the twin cities, and old state Route 2 cross Fightingtown Creek and connect with state Route 5.

The old state Route 2 bridge at McKinney Crossing is an option for vehicles over five tons unable to travel Madola Road.

While Ratcliff conceded the new change creates an inconvenience for some drivers, the state mandate required the county public works department to comply with the GDOT’s determination for the bridge by changing the load capacity or possibly face a withdrawal of federal funding.

“The option is not there,” Ratcliff said. “(The county) has to be in compliance with the state.”

 

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

Author

Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

Johnson on BOC: ‘We’re going down a bad road’

News

BLUE RIDGE, Ga. – In what Fannin County Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson described as a “bad nightmare,” the county Board of Commissioners addressed the notion of increasing the chairman’s spending limit from $4,500 to $25,000 during the commissioners meeting Tuesday, Nov. 14.

Currently, BOC Chairman Stan Helton is allowed to approve county expenditures less than $4,500 himself without the approval of either Johnson or Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee. Expenditures greater than that amount require signatures from two of the three commissioners. The potential approval of the spending limit increase would have upped that amount to $25,000.

Helton cited Fannin County’s most recent audit, which listed the number of invoices needing Board approval as a “material weakness,” as a primary reason for the potential change in procedure. Helton also stated that about 400 checks this year have required Board approval. The chairman also read from the audit that “the approved purchase order policies and procedures are not being followed. Purchase orders are being obtained subsequent to the purchase.”

“In other words, we’re signing the checks after the fact,” Helton explained in his own words. In addition, he referenced surrounding counties – though no specifics were given – as other entities with higher chairman spending limits.

In follow-up interviews with both Sosebee and Johnson, neither commissioner could explain Helton’s reasoning for wanting to increase the spending limit as an effort to correct the audit deficiency. When reached for comment, Chairman Helton explained he felt a higher spending limit would increase payment efficiency and cut down 75 percent of the invoices that must be processed by commission approval. “The $4,500 spending limit creates a bottleneck of invoices that requires the county to chase down one of the other post commissioners for approval,” Helton said.

“I’ll just go ahead and tell you no,” Johnson said in the meeting after Helton asked the post commissioners for their input. “All these counties we’re comparing them to as well, the county attorneys work for the Board of Commissioners, so that’s how that kind of offsets that balance of power. If I have a problem or a question with an expenditure – if I’m in Pickens or Gilmer county – I can go to the county attorney … and I can get an answer that’s not biased. In Fannin County, our county attorney (Lynn Doss) still works for the chairman.”

Johnson later explained Pickens’ chairman spending limit is currently $25,000 and Gilmer’s limit is $50,000. He also referred to instances of former Chairman Bill Simonds overspending his limit, and when Johnson questioned Simonds’ ability to do this in the past, he said he did not receive a reasonable explanation from County Attorney Doss.

Sosebee agreed with Johnson saying, “I’m not for raising (the limit) at any level right now … Like Mr. Johnson said, this is Fannin County. We’re not in debt. Millage rate’s lower than any other county … We just went down this road (with the previous administration) and I don’t intend to walk it again.”

Sosebee also pointed out that in Helton’s campaign for the office, the current chairman advocated for controlling former Chairman Simonds’ spending limit.

Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson

Johnson added he was beginning to see a “pattern going in the wrong way” developing with too many “tweaks” during Helton’s administration, citing specifically the post commissioners’ commentary being taken off the agenda and Helton’s request for all comments to be addressed to him as stated on the commissioners meeting agendas.

The discussion quickly evolved into Johnson requesting moves be taken by the Board to allow Doss to represent the entire Board of Commissioners and not just the chairman. Helton explained he has encouraged Doss to communicate with the post commissioners and Doss said she had emailed both posts and had spoken with Sosebee about issues in the past.

Later, Johnson made a motion four times to take steps to amend the county’s structure to allow Doss to represent the entire Board, the first of which was seconded by Sosebee. Sosebee did not second any of Johnson’s subsequent motions after the chairman stated he had neither asked for a motion nor a second.

Helton resisted the motions calling his position the “most constitutionally weak chairman this county’s ever had” and added he was not in favor of weakening the position ever further. When the notion of evoking home rule was addressed, Johnson stated he would like to consult the county attorney on the matter but could not because she did not work for the full commission.

After Helton told the post commissioners the only motion he would entertain would be a motion to adjourn, the chairman made such a motion, but Johnson and Sosebee refused to second it. At this point, the meeting reached an impasse.

“To put this situation about changing the county attorney here on the spot like this is unacceptable,” Helton told Johnson. “Now we can sit here all night.”

Reconvening after a five-minute recess, Johnson said he wanted to make an example for everyone to see the “pickle” in which the post commissioners are put by not having the same level of legal representation from the county attorney that the chairman has.

“Everything’s about the chairman,” Johnson continued, “even our minutes. The only minutes that our clerk (Karen Jones) has recorded is what the chairman says … I do paving for a living and I don’t pave over a bad road. And we’re going down a bad road.”

Commission Chairman Stan Helton

After Helton again made a motion to adjourn, Sosebee seconded the motion under the provision that the county attorney issue be revisited at the next meeting. Helton agreed to this and the meeting adjourned.

Ultimately, no decision was made to increase the chairman’s spending limit, but Helton said he would personally examine ways to resolve the issue to comply with the standards of the audit.

Prior to this discussion, several items of business were addressed. Robert Graham, director of Fannin’s Emergency Management Agency (EMA), requested the purchase of a new ambulance for the county’s fleet. Graham informed the Board if the ambulance were ordered now, the contractor would honor the 2017 price of $124,280, which would result in savings of $4,000 to $5,000 for the county by not waiting until next year to make the purchase. Graham clarified the ambulance would be a second ordered ambulance after the county approved the purchase of a previous ambulance earlier this year. The Board unanimously approved the expenditure and Graham stated the county can expect the ambulance to be delivered by early February 2018. Also, he said the expenditure would come out of the 2018 budget.

Fire and Rescue Chief Larry Thomas requested the purchase of a used fire engine for $45,000 to replace Engine 13. Thomas said officials from the Fannin Fire Department had inspected the used engine and found it to be in “sound order.” The incoming engine will be used as a frontline engine, Thomas said, and Engine 13 would then be used as a tanker. The funds for the expenditure will come from the department’s 2017 capital outlay and the department would have a $17,000 balance remaining, according to Helton. The purchase was unanimously approved.

Also, the Board approved and instituted ACCG as the cancer insurance provider for the county’s fire department. In May, Georgia lawmakers passed House Bill 146, which mandates that fire departments provide firefighters with insurance benefits should they contract cancer while as a result of work conditions.

Several citizens spoke in public commentary concerning issues with Fannin County Animal Control and the recent incident in which two German shepherds were inadvertently turned over to an individual claiming to be the dogs’ rightful owner but was not. For a detailed account, please continue to follow FetchYourNews for the story covering the public commentary.

Public Works Director and Fannin County Water Authority (FCWA) board member Zack Ratcliff requested the purchase of a used trackhoe excavator for the Public Works department that the FCWA is selling for $42,000. Post Commissioners Sosebee and Johnson both rejected the purchase.

“I feel like we’ve got enough equipment out there right now than what we’ve got people to run it,” Sosebee told Ratcliff.

“I, for one, don’t why the Water Authority is selling it to begin with. Secondly, I don’t think we need it,” Johnson stated.

Chairman Helton gave no indication as to his thoughts on the purchase.

For the Recreation Department, the Board approved a bid of $8,735 from Praters Flooring to resurface the gymnasium floor at the Recreation Center. Recreation Director Eddie O’Neal said the project is slated to start Dec. 13 and the gymnasium will likely have to remain closed until Monday, Dec. 18.

Project Chimps, which provides a sanctuary for retired chimpanzees used in private research labs, will receive 10 additional chimpanzees after the Board approved a permit allowing for the additional group. The chimpanzees are expected to arrive at the sanctuary by Dec. 12.

From left, Post 1 Commissioner Earl Johnson, PruittHealth Community Relations Representative Brad Watkins, Chairman Stan Helton, PruittHealth Community Relations Representative Amy Beavers, PruittHealth Administrator Kelly Floyd, PruittHealth Administrator Dana Cole and Post 2 Commissioner Larry Joe Sosebee.

Representatives were present from PruittHealth of Blue Ridge for a proclamation declaring November to be Hospice and Home Health Month in Fannin County to encourage citizens to increase the awareness and importance of home health services both locally and nationally.

 

 

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Jason Beck

Born in Merrillville, Indiana, raised in Cleveland, Tennessee, and currently resides in Copperhill, Tennessee. Graduated from Bradley Central High School in 1996 and attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, eventually earning a B.A. and M.A. in English. Hobbies include hiking, camping and fly-fishing. Interests include baseball, hockey and cliff jumping.

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