Commissioners agree to move toward a broadband community

Board of Commissioners, Community, News
broadband ready

BLUE RIDGE, Ga –   Executive Director of the Development Authority Christie Gribble presented a strategy to bring the community up to broadband speed, so to speak, and commissioners approved going ahead with the process.

Gribble hoped to have Fannin broadband ready by the fourth quarter of 2020.

“I think it’s an absolute necessity that we move forward with it,” asserted Chairman Helton.

“I don’t see how we could not move forward,” confirmed Post One Earl Johnson.

The Georgia Broadband Ready program was created in 2018 to promote “deployment in areas not currently served at a minimum speed of 25 megabits per second, download, and three megabits per second, upload.”

“This program is something I want the county to apply for and I can apply through economic development, but I want to talk about why it’s important,” said Gribble.

To become eligible, the county must adopt a model ordinance and amend the 10-year regional commission comprehensive plan.

“It shows the state [that] at a local level we have taken steps to reduce obstacles to broadband infrastructure investment,” explained Gribble. “Reducing obstacles can really be addressed in the ordinance. It provides a single point of contact for anyone applying for a permit for a broadband network permit.”

Marie Woody was nominated to serve as that point of contact since she already deals with permitting.

The ordinance also provided timelines for reviewal, approval, and denial of an application for anyone who wants to expand broadband.

The commissioners unanimously approved moving forward with the creation of an ordinance for a broadband ready community. The ordinance isn’t in effect because two public hearings need to occur as well as it needs to be published in the legal organ.

“It has the potential to really help people that work out of their homes, particularly in the rural areas,” stated Helton.

When amending the 10-year plan, the program asked to identify areas that have little to no connectivity.

Gribble gave further explanation of FCC policy, “It can be harder to do than one might think. If you look at an FCC map, there are a lot of places in Fannin County that are shown to have coverage, when that isn’t the case. The way the FCC looks at that data is if one person is in a Census block that is served, that whole Census block is marked as served when 99 people aren’t served.”

Currently, Georgia has a team working to identify any underserved areas and plans to have that information available to the counties by the Summer. Gribble recommended waiting until then to amend the plan.

“We can’t apply to be a broadband ready community until the ordinance has been adopted and the amendment has been made,” said Gribble.

Once becoming a broadband ready community, Fannin County is on record that it’s looking at possible options. Possibly in the future, when Georgia has a fund for the program, the county could apply for grant funding. However, at this time, the state doesn’t have grant money set aside.

The state has four designated broadband ready communities – Woodbury, Banks, Evans, and Oglethorpe – and six applications under review.

Fannin as a county can’t expand the internet, but if a utility shows interest, the county can request grant money to help with the development.

Fannin County’s New Library : Boards work together for a common goal

Community, News
Fannin County, Board of Commissioners, Fannin County Public Library Board, Mountain Regional Library Board, Chairman, Director, Board member, Post One, Post Two, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Glenn Patterson, Ron Bolin, Claudia Gibson, Georgia House of Representatives, Speaker, David Ralston, grant, library, Sutton Architectural Services, Peter Sutton, Whitepath

Blue Ridge, Ga. – Will Fannin County finally have its stand alone library that so many citizens have petitioned for in the past? No, but the possibility of moving the current library to a larger more accommodating space is something that all agreed would be a vast improvement over the library’s current situation.

The Fannin County Board of Commissioners, the Fannin County Public Library Board and the Mountain Regional Library Board held a joint meeting to discuss the future of Fannin County’s Library and how to move forward to achieve a common goal.

“The purchase of the Whitepath building and moving the Administrative offices out of the courthouse fulfills a mandated referendum that was approved by the voters in Nov. 2016,” Fannin County Chairman Stan Helton said explaining the purpose of the called meeting. 

Fannin County, Board of Commissioners, Fannin County Public Library Board, Mountain Regional Library Board, Chairman, Director, Board member, Post One, Post Two, Stan Helton, Earl Johnson, Glenn Patterson, Ron Bolin, Claudia Gibson, Georgia House of Representatives, Speaker, David Ralston, grant, library, Sutton Architectural Services, Peter Sutton, Whitepath

Petere Sutton discusses possible options for the Fannin County’s new library.

Helton added, “During the move, moving there and design, we have an opportunity to offer the library a better space with improved parking.”

The two boards took the time to open up dialogue and lay the groundwork for the library’s possible move. 

Peter Sutton with Sutton Architectural Services was also present to help work through concerns and share his thoughts on the redesign of the Whitepath building.

Sutton pointed out that the buildings structure, upon initial inspection, was in good standing and that the process would really be one of converting the building from it’s industrial function to a building of administrative function.

Among Sutton’s ideas were the possibility for the library to have its own entrance, and noted that as the building stands now there would be enough room for the library to double its square footage.

Interim Regional Library Director for Mountain Regional Library System, Claudia Gibson spoke on the current library, “From what I’ve seen. I do think the library is very inadequate for library services. It’s very small. The parking, as you all know I’m sure, is very bad. We worry about children. They have to cross the street.”

The size of the new library was a key topic of discussion among library board members. The current square footage of the Fannin County Library is approximately 6,800 square feet.

Fannin County Public Library board member Ron Bolin stated that according to state standards the new library would need at least 19,000 square feet. Bolin added, “For me it is critical that we meet state standards.”

State standards of square footage for a library is based upon projected population growth and while Fannin County would ideally like to see 19,000 square feet for the new library, it is possible that the new facility could start out with less footage and be expanded at a later date.

Bolin also brought to the forefront the issue of funding, stating that not only is the grant from the state for $1.3 million not a done deal, but also that it was his understanding that the county was running on deficit in 2020 and wondered where the county’s portion of funds would come from.

The library board members all expressed that Speaker of the Georgia House Representatives David Ralston’s announcement of the grant had taken them off guard, and pointed out that the grant is still up in the air.

Fannin County’s library funding from the state is on a list at the capitol to be voted upon but that vote has not taken place yet. Funding from the state, if voted to be given to the Fannin County project, would not be available until July 2020 at the earliest.

Regardless of the question of funding, both parties agreed to take care of due diligence in order to give the county the best possible chance of receiving state grant. Members of the Board of Commissioners and the two boards representing the library system expressed enthusiasm in moving forward with the project.

Post One Commissioner Earl Johnson conveyed what seemed to be a mutual feeling of everyone involved, “I think it’s a very good avenue for all of us combined.”

The boards will meet at a later date to go over findings with state standards and discuss design and needs.

Author

Natalie Kissel

Natalie@FetchYourNews.com

Why is Stan Helton Wasting Taxpayer’s money?

Community, Politics

What has Helton really done for Fannin County?

Election, Politics

“Paid advertisement by the Campaign to Elect Bill Simonds Chairman of Fannin County”

CORE receives grant and state office at ribbon-cutting

News

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.

Left to right, Gilmer Commission Chairman Charlie Paris, Fannin Commission Chairman Stan Helton, and Pickens Commission Chairman Rob Jones celebrate with Greater Gilmer JDA Executive Director Kent Sanford at the CORE Facility ribbon-cutting in Ellijay, Georgia, on July 24, 2019.

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.”

Speaker of the House, David Ralston announces a $420,000 state grant for the CORE facility to applause from attendees at the ribbon-cutting on July 24, 2019.

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.

The Georgia Center for Rural Prosperity & Innovation, also known as Georgia’s Rural Center, was officially announced to open a North Georgia Office at Gilmer’s CORE facility during a ribbon-cutitng on July 24, 2019.

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.

Author

2 to 1 Vote Approves New Roof for Old Firehouse

News, Police & Government
2020 Budget

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.

Patterson brought up multiple issues with the old fire station.

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.

Fannin Commissioners Commit to 2020 Census

News, Police & Government
Census

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.

ETC Renewal

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.”

Chairman Helton brought up the need for the old firehouse to be remodeled in the near future.

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.

Budget Adjustment Spread Out Department Overages

News
Courthouse budget adjustment

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.”

Gazaway and Johnson participated in a lengthy discussion about the need for the adjustment and keeping commissioners’ updated on the budget.

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.

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