ELLIJAY, Ga. – “This is the kind of project that will spread prosperity throughout our entire region. It is the kind of skin-in-the-game project that deserves support…” Georgia Speaker of the House, David Ralston praised the CORE Facility in Ellijay who hosted their official ribbon-cutting today.
Nestled just off Maddox Drive on the banks of the Coosawattee River in Ellijay, Georgia, the CORE Facility hosts business offices and incubation locations for entrepreneurs and start-ups in need of an office or workspace without the hassles of long-term investment.
However, the facility’s impact reaches so much farther than the city limits or the county’s borders. Today marked a celebration for the region and for the state. Representatives statewide joined together for this ribbon cutting including Gilmer Commission Chairman Charlie Paris, Gilmer Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson, Pickens Commission Chairman Rob Jones, Fannin Commission Chairman Stan Helton, Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston, State Senator Steve Gooch, State Representative of District 11 Rick Jasperse, Ellijay City Mayor Al Hoyle, Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs, and many representatives from the Ellijay and East Ellijay City Councils and Gilmer Board of Education. Efforts from many organizations have led into combined organizations such as the Greater Gilmer Joint Development Authority (JDA) and the Greater Gilmer Community Foundation.
That Foundation was the birthplace of the initiative to build CORE. According to Kent Sanford, Executive Director of the Greater Gilmer JDA and part of the Greater Gilmer Community Foundation, a 14-month birth cycle has finally come to full fruition.
While the celebration was a culmination of efforts so far, it is only the beginning. It is a project that holds great impact on the future, according to Ralston who said, “It will create jobs in our area. The jobs of tomorrow will be possible because of the work that goes on in this building.”
Ralston also dedicated support to the facility as he announced, “Because of the local commitment to the CORE building the State of Georgia, through our OneGeorgia Authority, is awarding $420,000 to this project to be used for Facility purchase and improvement costs. This $420,000 grant is historic, both in terms of its dollar amount and the impact it will have on this project and community.”
Ralston continued speaking about the economic development and job creation in the county before offering the second announcement of the day regarding the Center for Rural Prosperity & Innovation, also known as Georgia’s Rural Center.
Ralston stated at the ribbon-cutting, “I am proud to announce that the new North Georgia of the Georgia Center for Rural Prosperity & Innovation will be housed right here in Ellijay in this facility. The office will be led by Janet Cochran.”
Ralston’s office later offered a full Press Release on the announcement stating the center serves as a central information and research hub for rural best practices, including community planning, industry-specific assistance and cooperative efforts with community partners. The center was proposed by the House Rural Development Council in 2017 and was created by House Bill 951, which was enacted in 2018.
These announcements were applauded by those present and praised by the Chairman of the Gilmer Chamber, John Marshall, who said, “Mr. Speaker, once again you have proven yourself to be the very epitome of a stalwart and faithful advocate not only to your hometown and all the other communities in these beautiful North Georgia Mountains, but to each and every corner of the state of Georgia.”
President of the Gilmer Chamber, Paige Green also praised the facility as the realization of a dream for the community that has spread to benefit not only one county but something larger that now spans the region.
Today was a celebration of completing the first steps of a larger plan for the facility. Though it is now open, it is only the first phase of that dream. Director Sanford noted last year that the hopes for the facility include two more phases.
In Phase II, the foundation will continue renovation onto the second floor to open up a larger area for education and training in a 1,200 square foot space upstairs.
In Phase III, hopes for the CORE Facility could extend into the schools for things like STEM Classes, STEM Saturdays, or other forays into education connection. Consolidating resources for these could include shared STEM kits or a shared expense for a STEM subscription service involving 3d-printing necessary components. However, specific details into PHASE III have yet to be finalized.
Ultimately, the CORE wants to continue spreading and growing this larger community where possible. Opportunities that may come have yet to be revealed, but one ribbon-cutting today, one celebration, can lead to something bigger than imagining tomorrow.
Blue Ridge, Ga – Commissioners approved reroofing of the old firehouse located next to the courthouse in a two to one vote with Post Two Commissioner Glenn Patterson dissenting.
Chairman Stan Helton brought up the need for a new roof on the old firehouse during the last meeting. The committee tabled the issue until the July 9 meeting.
“It is leaking. It’s not in danger of falling in right now, but another hard winter over there could really take us backward a long ways,” commented Helton.
Two quotes came back for the roof, one from Steve Stacy Roofing at $30,723.16 and from J&D Construction and Excavating at $28,147.
“J&D Construction did our old jail that houses our maintenance office,” state Helton, “As far as I can tell that work has turned out fine.”
Patterson visited with the old fire station and expressed concern in the state of the entire building.
“It’s in pretty bad shape,” commented Patterson, “My concern is if that roofing is going to do the job. We might have some drainage issues as well. I know that these two quotes checked the roof out and I guess we’ll get the roof on it and see.”
Patterson wanted to add a new roof, but the drainage and potential mold issues also merited consideration. He was unsure how long offices could remain usable in the current state.
“We don’t want any danger to our employees,” said Patterson.
Post one Commissioner Earl Johnson agreed that the building needs a new roof and the county should start there as it’s the most pressing issue.
“The concern I would have with the building. We start with the roof, stop all the leaks. There’s no telling how old that roofing is and how long it’s been on there,” commented Johnson.
J&D Construction will remove the entire roof and replace with new shingles and materials. Johnson recommended using J&D for that reason and because Stacy Roofing’s bid accounted for $65 per sheet of plywood fixes. Stacy’s estimate could result in extra charges once the project begins.
“When I parked this afternoon, I noticed all the fascia boards and most of them were rotten, and [J&D]’s quote states that they’re going to replace all the fascia boards and replace with new,” said Johnson, “Not only just price but the amount of work that’s going to be done. It looks like a significant amount more with J&D.”
Helton responded to Patterson’s concerns about the long-term usability of the firehouse. The building needs to be available for office space for the county, and other entities might need it in the future. With rental rates increasing, more departments might need to move into the old fire station.
“It is a county asset; there’s value to it. If we take care of it like we should do our county assets, we should make some usable space available. If we do the roof, which I really believe we should do this year, and we can discuss at a later time what we should do next,” explained Helton.
Patterson asked to address the baseboards, flooring, and doors after installation of the new roof.
Johnson added that he wanted to clarify with J&D about the gutters and if they accounted for gutters in the initial scope of work.
Helton confirmed neither company included guttering in the initial quote. Patterson asked to include it in the project costs because it’s necessary for a new roof.
“We may have some leverage if we wait with the guttering on the drainage issue,” said Patterson.
“I don’t have a problem moving forward with the roof and negotiating the guttering,” stated Johnson.
Helton made a motion to approve the J&D bid for the new firehouse roof, which passed 2 to 1 with Patterson against the decision due to lack of guttering in the initial quote.
Road Detail Update
Director of Public Works Zack Ratcliff approached the board for permission to buy a 2010 Van 13K to transport the work detail from Blairsville.
“I’ve looked high and low at our dealerships, and a passenger van is really hard to find,” stated Ratcliff, “Lucked up on one at AA Auto Rental, I went up and drove it. $13,000 is the price on it with 100,000 miles on it.”
Colwell Detention Center requires counties to have a way to transport work details back and forth from the facility to the roadside.
“We expected this when we decided to hire them,” said Johnson.
The van will be available on Monday, July 22, after it is fitted to meet all detention center requirements.
The board unanimously approved the purchase.
Blue Ridge, Ga – Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA) presented their case for participation in the 2020 census.
DCA Specialist Khuyen Nguyen spoke to the Board of Commissioners about DCA’s initiative to record everyone in the upcoming census. She outlined three methods available to Fannin county citizens, including online form, calling in, or paper copy of the survey designed to record the United States population.
“We’re looking at one representation, but two, more importantly, we’re looking at $6,075,000,000 in federal funding that’s going to be distributed to the 50 states based on population. It’s going to be impacting, not only at the national level but at the state and local levels as well. We want to make sure that Georgia and Fannin County get their fair share,” explained Nguyen.
In March 2020, every household will receive a postcard listing the three options to complete the form, and everyone can complete the census according to their comfort level.
She also asked for the county to form a complete count committee. Christy Gribble is heading up the search for the complete count committee.
DCA is also hiring part-time local employees to assist with the process.
Board of Commissioners renewed community television company franchise agreement with ETC. It’s a 15-year agreement. The contract gives ETC permission to cross the county’s right of way to work on cables and provide continual service and currently in effect.
“They provide a big service for the community, and I think we need to let them continue,” said Post One Commissioner Earl Johnson.
Old Fire Station Remodel
Chairman Stan Helton initiated the discussion of remodeling the old fire station next to the courthouse. The old building will soon need a new roof and commissioners also addressed updating the exterior.
“Since we took the garage down, it kind of sits out there by itself and makes all the scratches and flaws on it a lot more evident than in the past,” stated Helton, “It will need a new roof in the near future, a gutter and roof, and the sidings looking pretty rough.”
The building’s currently worth more than $200,000 and houses the extension office, Red Cross, Chaplin, and coroner’s office. It’s not currently leaking but might after one more winter. Helton was unsure if the county wanted to take the chance of another winter with the current roof.
“Definitely need to keep a roof on it, but as far as the exterior, it’s been ugly for a long time, and it can stay ugly for a little while longer,” stated Johnson, “It’s a good reminder of where we come from.”
Helton said he had some rough numbers and wanted to see if the Post One and Post Two Commissioners wanted to do something with the firehouse this year or put it on the 2020 budget.
“I’d like to see a cost analysis,” said Post Two Commissioner Glenn Patterson.
Helton told Patterson to speak with Mr. Hawkins for the rough estimates on the project. The building offers a lot of space for the county to use.
Commissioners tabled the issue until the next meeting.
Blue Ridge, Ga – Auditors recommended adjustment of $20,699 or three percent of the 2018 budget, which led to calls for clarity as to why some departments were showing over.
Chief Financial Officer Robin Gazaway presented the auditors Rushton and Company’s recommendation to adjust each line item by three percent as a result of overestimation in the initial report. Also, the adjustment spread out the amounts from departments or categories that went over in 2018. Three percent over or under is the traditional amount auditors use to justify budgets.
“It’s just for the financial statements and everything to make it look presentable for everybody, explained Gazaway, “for the general fund, I estimated that we would go into fund balance at about $556,000, and after the audit and all the adjustments, we only actually used a fund balance of $536,000.”
When reviewing the budget, Post One Commissioner Earl Johnson stated, “Though we may be $20,000 under what was total budgeted, some of the different categories and department of the county, going down the list, a lot of these have gone way over budget. We’re going to have to figure out a way that when they’re close to going over budget, the board needs to know about it.”
Gazaway used the Fire Department as an example, “They were like $700,000 over budget, but that’s an accounting adjustment that I have to make because of the lease payment on the three fire trucks. Technically, the only expense that is out of that is the first lease payment, but when I have to in accounting at the end of the year, I have to put the full amount on the books, and that is what made them look way over budget.”
According to Gazaway, the capital lease revenue item washes out the majority of the expense, which still shows the Fire Department a little over budget. It’s currently around $18,000 over for the year 2018.
Health insurance went over $1.8M for the year, but Roads and Bridges was $498,000 under for the year.
The auditors adjusted the Roads and Bridges budget by $254,000, so it fell into the three percent recommendation. Since the category underspent, it took on some of health insurance’s overages from 2018.
“Their issue is over/under three percent. Even if you save a lot of money according to this, it could turn out negative,” stated Chairman Stan Helton.
Gazaway clarified that auditors want budgets to stay close to the actual number, so they can easily explain it to the state. Therefore, each line item adjusted by three percent to fall as close as possible to the actual budget number.
The initial budget featured Gazaway’s prediction for the year. The amended budget revises that number and produces another total, but trouble starts when the final amended number exceeds the initial yearly budget.
“This is one of the only things I can judge by, where people wound up at the end of the year, said Johnson, “I guess I should just get a copy of the actual amount that every one of departments stood for the year.”
Helton suggested the auditors arrive early and meet with the commissioners to answer any questions about the final budget.
Johnson also addressed the need to know when departments go over or likely to go over budget. Due to the monthly budget reports showing a month behind, the commissioners vote to spend money without current budget estimates.
Gazaway explained that she speaks to unexpected expenses in her reports, and she can send her monthly summary to the other commissioners.
Rushton and Company should present the final amended budget and answer questions on the budget adjustment at the next Board of Commissioners’ meeting on June 25.
Blue Ridge, Ga – Sheriff’s Office resolved its air conditioner (AC) problems and entered into a new maintenance agreement with Trane.
Sheriff Dane Kirby advised partnering with Trane Heating and Cooling for all future AC issues with the jail and the courthouse. The two service agreements one covers mechanical and the other maintains the computer equipment. The mechanical agreement is roughly $10,000 annually, broken into $2,500 quarterly. The computer agreement is $3,570, with quarterly payments of $896. Together, the agreements totaled $13,570 a year.
“I think maintenance would really help. I’m not even going to get into what they found. They said one of them looked like it had a dead dog in it, but we’ve got [the system] going now,” said Kirby.
Over the years, the jail and Sheriff’s Office faced constant AC issues and applied fixes deemed appropriate. Normally, the office called local contractors to fix the problems.
However, the system broke again a few weeks ago, and a Trane specialist advised setting the system back to zero. After resetting the system, Trane wanted to enter into a maintenance agreement with the county.
“We’ve reached a point that with the age of those units that if we don’t do something to maintain them, and see that the maintenance is done on an ongoing basis, we could be looking at some severe costs,” said Chairman Stan Helton.”
The life expectancy of a maintained Trane AC unit is 10 to 15 years.
The bill for the service charges totaled at $16,000, but with the proposed service agreement, Trane dropped the bill to $13,091.
“Looks like it’s very necessary to get it done,” stated Post Two Commissioner Glenn Patterson, “I think it would be well worth it to do so.”
With the new maintenance agreements, the county will pay $13,750 a year for the next three years.
Kirby’s 2019 budget didn’t account for the of the new service agreements but felt it would save money in the future.
Post One Commissioner Earl Johnson said, “It’s right in line with what we’ve spent on the system every year. I know last year we spent $15,000 or $16,000. I think it’s a good idea to let the people whose unit it is to actually fix it, and it sounds even better if they are going to maintain the courthouse as well.”
Also, the Board of Commissioners approved the purchase of a new ambulance from Custom Works for a total of $143,821, included in the 2020 budget.
Custom Works was the higher bid than MEDIX, who previously supplied ambulances for the county. However, MEDIX no longer has a service representative in Georgia. Trucks would have to travel to Indiana to receive service.
Custom Works offered a Georgia location for service with no exceptions to the requirements put forth by Director of EMA Robert Graham.
Blue Ridge, Ga –Three-part motion named the more expensive company the primary waste management facility for Fannin County, awarded the second contract to the lower-cost company, and then placed a moratorium on industry permits.
The ongoing discussion between Advanced Disposal Services (ADS) and Cash Environmental Resources (CER) reached a quick conclusion. The three-part motion awarded both companies contracts and added a moratorium on solid waste collection and disposal permits for the next three years.
Post One Commissioner Earl Johnson stood in opposition to the motion and said that “It was confusing language and harder to understand than the Declaration of Independence.” Johnson also noted that no one discussed the three-part motion before or after it’s presentation to the Board.
No one addressed why ADS won the primary contract over CER. ADS will cost the citizens of Fannin more because it charges per ton or per pound. CER offers a pay per bag system to the general public.
The two companies bided for the responsibility of Fannin County’s waste in the May 14 Board of Commissioners meeting. The organizations presented their proposals in a workshop on May 26.
During the workshop, the commissioners and facilities addressed the idea of both operating in the county but tabled the final decision to review pricing before awarding the primary contract. The bids included a rundown of prices, as follows:
ADS quoted a host fee of $0.20 per ton for the county with the following detailed breakdown: $57.64 per ton for commercial haulers, $57.64 per ton for general public across the scales, $57.64 per ton for general public trash bag delivery at scales, $0.12 per pound for general public at convenience centers, and $12.50 for bulky items and appliances. ADS can process a total of 866 tons per month.
CER quoted $1 per ton for the county host fee with the following itemization: $52 per ton for commercial haulers, $52 per ton for general public across the scales with a $40 minimum, $1 per bag for general public trash bag delivery, $1 per bag for general public at convenience centers, $3 per bag for contractors, $0.10 per pound for CND, yard debris, $15 for bulky items, $15 for appliances, $12 per pound for tires, and free recycling. Prohibited waste includes batteries, fluorescent lightbulbs, and non-hazard liquid waste.
“It’s been an objective Fannin County Board of Commissioners to provide competitive options to the citizens and visitors to the county for waste stream collection and disposal,” stated Chairman Stan Helton when he began reading the motion.
Still, ADS won the primary responsibility of hauling and disposing of garbage in a non-exclusive, three-year contract. The company also received access to convenience centers owned by the county.
In the second part of the motion, CER obtained a similar contract, but can’t operate out of ADS’s convenience centers. CER owns one transfer station, Sugar Creek C&D.
However, CER lacks a permit to haul solid waste, and the moratorium prohibits the company from attaining a waste management collecting and disposal permit for three years.
When asked about the decision, Chairman Helton stated, “The primary goal was to open up competition on this service and provide better service and economics to the citizens of Fannin as having only one provider has not been the best situation for the county.”
Currently, ADS manages collection for the county, and the contract expires in August 2019. The company’s also going through the process of being bought out by Waste Management Incorporated. This prompted the Board of Commissioners to open the service up to bid.
Blue Ridge, Ga – Fannin County hired a team of detainees from the Colwell Detention Center to start picking up litter on the roadsides over the next year.
After two and a half years of waiting for an opening, a detainee detail became available for roadside cleanup in Fannin.
By hiring Colwell, six to ten detainees will work for four, 10 hour days for 52 hours a week. The minimum amount of hours spent on the roads a year would be 12,000. Presently, only two part-time employees scavenge the Fannin County roads for trash. They can only work 32 weeks a year and limited to 2,560 hours a year.
“We can declare war on litter in Fannin County, and do some things along the road, keep them trimmed up, keep litter picked up,” explained Helton.
The public works budget will pay for the service at $39,500 annually, billing once a month. The agreement also offers a seven-day termination notice. The service begins on July 1, 2019, and expenses include a corrections officer to oversee the detail.
Director of Public Works Zack Ratcliff will direct the corrections officer and work detail to the roads for the day or week. From there, the officer supervises the job.
“I don’t think in any world, we could hire six people for that amount a year. It’s really a no brainer,” said Post One Commissioner Earl Johnson, “Our litter problem is an ongoing problem, and just the money, I feel safe in saying, I don’t know how much we’re paying, is going to offset, and the other saving we can look at some of these trees and intersections. The leaning trees can be cleaned up. We’re going to save money in overtime…I think we should feel very fortunate that this opened up.”
“We’ve been looking at this for quite a while. Some other counties around have like six teams in Union County. They’re definitely doing a good job with those guys,” said Ratcliff.
Additionally, paving bids came back for the county from: C.W. Matthews at $2,304,951.40, Colwell Construction Company at $1,774,980.74, and Colditz Trucking at $1,455,158.47. Colwell and Colditz didn’t provide a total for their bids and the amounts will be checked again before proceeding. The striping bid also came back at $92,000.
Ratcliff advised tabling the bids until he has time to review each one.
The GDOT grant covers approximately 70% of striping and paving costs.
The three unidentified thieves, who stole two bikes and damaged a third at Fannin Recreation Park on May 26 at 8:30 p.m. in the evening, are still on the loose.
The Director of Recreation Department Eddie O’Neal told Fetch Your News that as of Monday, June 3, no arrests have been made in the case, but Fannin deputies do have a few leads that they are following up on. The Sheriff’s Office also pulled more video from the park’s security camera’s to review.
As can be seen in the security footage, three individuals approach the bike stand and proceed to break the locking mechanism then ride off. They return later to place the third damaged bike next to the stand.
Footage also reveals that the suspects loaded the two functioning bikes into the back of a small, older model, pick-up truck and drove away.
The suspects are all male, two are wearing dark clothes, and one in a light blue t-shirt. Ethnicities of the men are difficult to determine due to the quality of the security camera footage.
The ten Blue Ridge Fun Bikes were bought by Nancy Moore Smith for the enjoyment of residents for the county. Smith’s own health battle led her to start the program after she remembered how she enjoyed riding bikes during her rehabilitation from multiple heart attacks.
O’Neal estimated that Smith spent $1,300 on the bikes, but was unsure of the exact amount.
Commissioner Stan Helton had this to say about the theft, “Our bike program at the Recreation Center is provided by a private individual for the enjoyment of her fellow citizens. Unfortunately, there are those that repay this kindness with total disdain.”
Residents rent the bikes by downloading an app on that phone with a GPS system that tracks time spent riding throughout the park. Once they return the bike to the stand, users are charged for how long they spent on the ride.
The Recreation Department has a $500 reward out for information on the suspects, and ask anyone with knowledge about the theft to contact them of the Fannin County Sheriff’s office.