BLUE RIDGE, Ga – Fannin County Commissioners opted for a 30-day moratorium on special use permits for alcohol licenses while they gather more information and the ordinance is rewritten.
When Fannin County added the alcohol permit ordinance to its official code, commissioners did not include a special use provision, but the application for a special use permit is available to the public.
The first special permit didn’t cause any issues with the county, and the sheriff’s office gave the go-ahead for the second event requesting a special use permit.
Post One Johnny Scearce asked, “Is there any liability that can fall back on the county?” County Attorney Lynn Doss stated the county wouldn’t be liable for these events.
Special event permits require hired security to be always on the scene. Doss added she believed the requirement for special events is one off-duty officer for every 200 to 300 people.
More venues are becoming available throughout the county and a special use permit might benefit their businesses. However, parameters need to be set in place to prevent everyone from applying for a special use beer and wine permit.
County Attorney Lynn Doss doesn’t know where the application came from, she didn’t create it, nor knows how it became available to the public.
“It’s not that it’s a bad idea. It might be a great idea. It’s just that literally in our ordinance there’s no provision for it. There’s no regulation of it. If the commission feels okay with just continuing on and letting individuals make applications until we can get the ordinance rewritten, which we’re in the process of doing, that’s fine. Another idea is just to say there is a moratorium there will be no special use permits issued until the ordinance is rewritten,” Doss explained.
Since beer and wine came into the county, two special use permits have been approved for use.
Liquor sales aren’t allowed within the county, but the city can sell liquor, beer, and wine. Liquor requires a vote, and when alcohol was placed on the ballot previously, it failed. The commissioners at the time found a way around the citizen’s opinion and brought just beer and wine into the county.
“I just think when it comes to alcohol you’ve got to have things in place that’s going to cover you. There is a lot of liability,” Scearce remarked. “Our responsibility here is to make sure we’re looking at the best interest of the people.”
Special use permits would only be for beer and wine.
Plus, if the county grants a license, the Georgia Department of Revenue still must approve a license for a business going forward.
“Willow Falls can get a permit that’s not a special event permit that would be good for a year,” Doss explained, “It has to renew every year.”
The first issuance of an alcohol license is $10,000 and the renewal is $150. It’s also tied to food sales. The markers serve as a buffer to keep people out of the market.
Chairman Jamie Hensley posed a hypothetical for a person who received their alcohol license, “I start going to different venues in the county…how is that fare that I’m able to do that when say Toccoa Restaurant had to pay $10,000 to be able to sell it…If I’m the person that gets to put on that one-time event at this location and now I can go to this location and do it again because I’ve got my license.”
Doss confirmed that a situation is something that needs to be addressed in the updated ordinance. She then cited a Supreme Court Case that stated an alcohol license is a privilege is not a right. The county can put in place different stipulations depending upon the business and use purposes.
Anyone who serves alcohol in Georgia must pass a background check, which is currently reported to the state.
A facility in Georgia can only hold 24 special use permits a year. Public parks are considered county property and will never be allowed as a location for alcohol events.
Some Fannin County restaurants would prefer that the new ordinance included Sunday beer and wine sales to compete with Blue Ridge establishments.
The updated ordinances in Fannin are in process but likely won’t be finalized till the end of the year. Ordinance updates require two public hearings before final approval as well.
In 30 days, the commissioners will decide to either extend or eliminate the moratorium. During this time, they will review all existing materials and decide on the best course forward.
BLUE RIDGE, Ga – Fannin County Commissioners declared May 2021 as Mental Health Awareness Month.
Members of Fannin County Connection accepted the proclamation. Nearly 1 in 5 Americans are diagnosed with a mental health condition per year. 46 percent of Americans will be diagnosable with a mental health condition at some point in their lifetime and half of those will be before the age of 14.
At this time, 44 million Americans are experiencing mental illness with 42.5 million suffering from an anxiety disorder. Anxiety is one of the more prominent disorders in America.
24.6 million Americans don’t receive treatment for their mental disorders whether it’s anxiety, substance abuse, depression, bipolar, post-traumatic stress, schizophrenia, or suicidal thoughts.
Mental Health Awareness Month began in 1949 by Mental Health America (MHA). Each year MHA presents a theme for the month. This year it continues on the Tools2Thrive theme from 2020 and “providing practical tools that everyone can use to improve their mental health and increase their resiliency regardless of their personal situation.”
The tools provided pertain to:
- Adapting after trauma and stress
- Dealing with anger and frustration
- Getting out of thinking traps
- Processing big changes
- Taking time for yourself
- Radical acceptance
MHA’s website offers several mental health checks and tests for anyone wanting to gain a better understanding of themselves.
More county business
Zack Ratcliff was reappointed to the Water Authority Board by Post One Johnny Scearce.
The purchase of a used trackhoe for the public works department was approved for $57,700. The used model is a K2057 with 104 hours on it. SPLOST money will be used for the purchase.
Four bids for the new 911 radio console system were received and opened. The issue was tabled for two weeks to give everyone time to review the bids.
BLUE RIDGE, Ga – Following an executive session, all three Fannin County Commissioners voted to terminate Animal Control Department Head John Drullinger.
When asked about the dismissal later, Chairman Jamie Hensley stated it was time to make a change and go in a different direction.
The public began calling for Drullinger’s termination months ago. Several of those who came forward questioned if they had been personally slighted by the department head because of their opposition to his leadership style. The most recent calls for termination came on April 13, 2021.
Read more about individuals’ complaints with the former Animal Control Head here.
Since Hensley took office, the county’s been making changes to improve the animal control facilities like fixing the drainage issue inside the building, trucks now have a GPS monitoring system, new sink installed, new hours, an account for donations, and started a volunteer of the month.
Anyone interest can donate to Fannin County Animal Control on the county website.
The animal control facility was recently deep cleaned and organized on April 27. Hensley’s hopeful these positive strides forward will continue in the future.
J.R. Cornett was placed as interim head of Animal Control. He’s been with the department for more than five years.
Fannin’s also accepting applications for those who are qualified to lead Animal Control.
BLUE RIDGE, Ga – Blue Ridge City Councilmember Mike Panter attended the April 27 Board of Commissioners meeting to present his idea for an aquatic and wellness center.
Though not officially on the agenda, the commissioners granted Panter time to present during public commentary. Previously, the commissioners all encouraged the city council to publicly present the idea at a county meeting.
He began by stating he wants to develop a communal space for the city, county, and school on the unused farmer’s market property. The area’s been closed for almost 12 years according to Mayor Donna Whitener.
The proposed aquatic and wellness center would include an indoor heated pool, outdoor splash pad, two indoor gyms, indoor playground, fitness center, wellness center, two multipurpose conference rooms, and indoor/outdoor walking tracks.
Panter estimated the project will cost between $7 and $9 million since the city already owns the land – 4.91 acres. In-depth cost analysis wasn’t addressed during the meeting.
“Lot of opportunity, a lot of money that can be raised for a facility of this size. Now $7 to $8 million dollars sounds like a lot of money. If we wait 10 years from now that same facility will be $25 million based on our growth,” Panter explained, “What I’m proposing is that the city of Blue Ridge do a joint venture with the school system and the county government to see if we can use this piece of property, we’ve got sitting right here in the heart of our community.”
The project could be completed in phases. According to the handouts provided by Panter, phase one would include the main building and pool. The pool would be enclosed during phase two with PEMB and openable glass doors.
Panter commented that the center could be a profitable venture for the county, city, and school. Under the current plan, volunteers would predominately operate the facility. The city would pay for the three or four full-time employees.
“If we continue to allow our land to be developed to go high-end commercial to people outside of our community, that land’s not going to be recreated for us down the road. And one of the things I talked to the council about, I said ‘why don’t we take this facility and see if we can work with the county and school system and put something together,” Panter explained.
He added that SPLOST, LOST, hotel/motel tax, and possibly grants could pay for a portion of the project. According to the materials provided, the aquatic and wellness center might qualify as a tourism product development under Georgia Code 48-13-50.2(6)(A-P).
“And other ‘creation or expansion of physical attractions which are available and open to the public and which improves destination appeal to visitors, support visitors’ experience, and are used by visitors,’” the handout document stated.
Panter offered that some new residents of Fannin look for tax deduction opportunities and residents could donate money toward the proposed facility. His materials cited Internal Revenue Service Code section 170 (c)(1) which pertains to charitable donations to governmental units for tax deductions if made for a public purpose.
As for SPLOST funds, typically, when citizens vote to approve a new SPLOST tax, it lists the proposed projects. An aquatic and wellness center wasn’t included in the latest list of SPLOST projects, but that doesn’t mean a county can’t divert funds for the effort.
However, Fannin has yet to move forward with the voter-approved administrative facility aside from purchasing Whitepath in 2019. The future of that building for administrative offices faces continued uncertainty with a public hearing scheduled for next week.
Additionally, any decision regarding Whitepath could affect the future of the library. While the library hasn’t appeared on a SPLOST vote either, the state did provide $1.3 million to the library for a capital outlay project – namely the construction of a new facility, either at Whitepath or elsewhere. There’s also a timetable associated with those state funds. Basically, the county has several big-ticket projects to consider before entering into an intergovernmental agreement with the city for something new.
The aquatic and wellness center will be discussed at a later meeting, and Panter intends to speak at a board of education meeting to gauge their support.
Panter campaigned on bringing a YMCA-like facility to Blue Ridge before being elected to city council. He’s tried to develop a similar facility since 1990.
BLUE RIDGE, Ga – The predicament of loose trash on Fannin roads and fixing the litter issue took center stage during the commissioner meeting.
Originally, Chief Land Development Officer Marie Woody approached the commissioners about changing some language on the Adopt a Road application. She had a list of 67 individuals and families in her records and 37 are still active. Four new people recently signed up as well.
Woody commended an Adopt a Road participant who picks up the trash and then sorts out the recycling before bagging it.
COVID-19 has prevented the Colwell Detention Center crews from picking up garbage since last March. As part of the contract with Colwell, Fannin only pays for the detainees if they work. Recently, local probationers have begun picking up trash every Saturday. The first Saturday, they worked several miles and picked up a dumpster full of garbage.
After some discussion about trash being strewn about the county, the conversation turned to the private garbage haulers. A letter about litter was sent to those businesses in early February.
Post One Earl Johnson relayed a story about witnessing a private garbage collector lose a bag on the road. The person stopped and picked up the bag but didn’t collect the pieces that fell out of the bag. When asked by Johnson if he would pick the garbage up, the individual drove away. He believed the only way to stop littering is to crack down on those businesses.
Some haulers don’t cover the garbage or secure it in any way.
“Why can’t we make these people secure their loads?” Johnson inquired. “I just want us to do something, to do our job, to get them to start securing their load.”
He cited that one of the Adopt Road participants stated it picks up six bags a week.
Fannin does have an ordinance in place stating it’s unlawful for any vehicle to transport loose materials on any road or street without “suitable covers to securely fastened to the vehicle.” In the collections operation portion of the document, the ordinance also mandates that collection/transportation vehicles “shall be loaded in a way that the contents will not fall, leak, or spill” and “be covered when necessary to prevent the blowing or falling of materials from the vehicle.” Read entire Litter Control Ordinance 2009
Woody mentioned rewriting the solid waste ordinance to add clearer specifications for pick-ups, large trucks, along with tarp and enclosed backends. Johnson asserted that the state has a secured load law for vehicles.
However, Woody can’t issue a citation due to a change in Georgia law. The state changed the law to say that only a mandated officer can write a citation. She’s a code enforcement officer, not a state mandated officer.
“[The citation] would have to come from an officer who’s been to mandate school,” Woody said.
Chairman Jamie Hensley mentioned that they’ve talked about a potential county Marshall to enforce ordinances. The person would travel around and issue violation citations. It could be an off-duty officer as long as the person it mandated. The fine could range between $410 to $1,000, per day.
Some rental properties and associated cleaners may bear some responsibility for loose bags of trash in the community.
Public Works Director Zack Ratcliff found a bag on Colwell Church Road, which contained a note from weekend cabin renters.
“The note inside of the garbage said, “We did not find an outside garbage can, so we left the garbage in the kitchen,’” Woody explained. “So, whoever picked it up from the cleaning job took it and deposited it out on Colwell Church Road.”
Woody asked for a list of all the cabin rentals in Fannin – all 1,600 owners. She’s considering sending a letter about littering to them as well.
“At this point, we got to do something. If’s there’s not any fear of losing bags of garbage, it’s going to just keep on. It’s went on so long now; it’s just awful,” Johnson commented.
Mineral Springs and more business
The commissioners granted Mineral Springs 2021 funding early after the facility asked for assistance due to the hardships of COVID-19.
2020 budget CARES Act Reimbursements was approved for four departments, totaling $78,000.
Janie Bearden was reappointed to the Tax Assessor Board.
Larry Chapman and Angie Arp were reappointed to the Water Authority Board.
BLUE RIDGE, Ga: The Whitepath building discussion resumed during the February 9 meeting without a resolution on how to proceed.
At a previous meeting, Post Two Glenn Patterson asked for site testing, such as asbestos, mold, mildew, and underground rock, to be performed before further plans were developed. According to Patterson, the recommended testing fell around $11,000, but it would remove several unknowns surrounding the project. The board asked County Attorney Lynn Doss to contact companies asking if they could perform soil testing and asbestos testing before the February meeting.
Hayes James promised to provide an estimate after the February meeting, and the county reached back out to Contour to “reduce the scope” of the testing to cut the price hopefully.
The board doesn’t believe parking lot drilling for rock will be necessary because most of Fannin’s ground doesn’t contain difficult to remove stone like granite.
“I just want to be as frugal as we possibly can with the county’s money,” Chairman Jamie Hensley stated.
Administration, Library, or Both
Another point of conversation was the intended use of the Whitepath building – will it include the library or just administration offices?
When Patterson and outgoing Post One Earl Johnson agreed to purchase the building in 2019, they bought it solely for administration purposes. In January 2020, the state bestowed a $1,383,000 grant for a new library, and Whitepath would be the proposed location.
County Attorney Lynn Doss spoke with bound council Gray and Panell, who previously worked with Fannin on SPLOST matters. The law office confirmed it’s not uncommon to house a library within an administrative building.
Johnson geared the SPLOST allocated for the new administrative building could be “lambasted by the library board” without established terms.
The SPLOST specifically addressed creating new administrative offices to make it easier for the public to access. It didn’t include a new library as part of those funds when passed by Fannin County citizens.
“If the library goes in the building, there can be some sort of reimbursement made,” Johnson commented. “If the plan can come together for the library and the funds be appropriated to maybe reimburse SPLOST and purchase, say, a wing of the building or an acre of the property, then I would never have an objection to that.”
Patterson agreed that the SPLOST funds should go toward the administrative building, not the library.
Additionally, the $1.3 million grant likely won’t cover all library expenses, and the project would need more funding. Some on the library board estimated the new building would cost around $5 to $8 million.
The current square footage of the Fannin County Library is approximately 6,800 square feet. Previously, library board member Ron Bolin stated that according to state standards the new library would need at least 19,000 square feet.
Georgia Director of Library Planning and Construction Nate Rall has promised to help Fannin through the process.
Hensley wasn’t present for the purchase of Whitepath asked if the county had any other options before buying the building?
Johnson confirmed it wasn’t the only option, but ultimately, it’s the direction the board went. With the hot real-estate, it’s unlikely the county will find another piece of property for a similar value.
BLUE RIDGE, Ga – At the first commission meeting of the new administration, Chairman Jamie Hensley proposed several changes to the format.
Going forward, for a trial period, the meetings will be moved until 6 p.m., instead of 5:15 p.m. The later start time will hopefully give more citizens an opportunity to attend the meetings, which remain on the second and fourth Tuesday of the month.
“You can’t get a good pulse from the citizens if they can’t get here,” Post One Commissioner Earl Johnson commented.
Post Two Glenn Patterson asked if county costs would go up if the meeting moved to a later time. He furthered explained if the meeting was later, would county employees add that as extra time to their workday if asked to attend. He also commented the meeting would start after dark for five months out of the year if moved to 6 p.m. Some older individuals prefer not to drive in the dark, he added.
Hensley stated, “Nobody is able to attend and have the input or anything they might want to say. I want everybody to understand I work for the county, for the citizens of Fannin County…I want to give every opportunity they possibly can.”
Also, public comments will occur at the end of the meeting, not the middle. The time limit for speakers will be extended from three minutes to five minutes. Again, this change will begin on a trial basis.
“I have mixed emotions,” Patterson remarked about public comments. “I know we deal with a lot of things up here. Some things can be very controversial…The way we do it now. We don’t feed the fire. They come up there thinking about what they want to say.”
Patterson believed the middle of the meeting commentary allows for cooler heads to prevail.
“You’re going to get it whether it’s here or right out there, so take your pick,” Johnson said. “In here, it’s usually more reserved, civil, or go right out there and you might hear something that really hurts your feelings.”
Johnson added moving public commentary to the end gives citizens an opportunity to congratulate the board or quickly get something off their chest instead of “stewing” for two weeks.
“I see both sides,” Hensley stated. “I’m always the one if there’s an issue, I want to know now that way we can put the fire out so to speak, and move forward. I know they are things will have to take a step back on, but I always want to move forward.”
The trial period for the meeting time and public comments runs from January through April. After that, the board will decide to make the change permanent or not.
County Clerk Sherri Walker was selected as the interim Chief Financial Officer following the resignation of Robin Gazaway in December.
The board also granted the tax commissioner approval to accept checks, cash, debit, credit cards on behalf of Fannin County and disperse property tax and motor vehicle tax bimonthly. Additionally, the commissioners approved the tax commissioner’s ability to waive interest or penalties for valid reasons.
Commissioners accepted the Division of Family and Children Services budget for 2021.
Two variances were tabled, and one was approved.
Read more about why Post One Earl Johnson is continuing to serve, here.
BLUE RIDGE, Ga – Fannin County first responders, firefighters, and sheriff’s office employees will be receiving hazard pay for their efforts during the pandemic. The commissioners finally reached an understanding on the subject in the November 24, 2020 meeting.
“These EMS workers, sheriff’s department, fire department, they can’t telefix anyone. They have to be right there with them, hands-on, dealing with them absolutely directly,” Post One Earl Johnson stated. “I feel even stronger about it now than our last meeting… If anybody is deserving of the $500 hazard pay, it’s our first responders at this moment.”
Read previous meeting hazard pay article.
Post Two Glenn Patterson agreed with Johnson and added that “you’re never going to have 100 percent support in anything you do. I think this would increase morale and give workers financial security and confidence.
Full and part-time paramedics, firefighters, sheriff’s deputies, jailers, school resource officers, and first responders will receive $500 or $250 depending on their employment status.
“If they’re employed by Fannin County full-time $500, part-time $250,” Johnson clarified. “
However, volunteer firefighters won’t be receiving any hazard pay.
“I think their name says it all. They’re not full-time, not that I don’t appreciate them. I think that was the big sticking point when we first started talking about this. How do you distinguish between, you know, people that are active volunteer firefighters and people that are still volunteer firefighters, but they’re not able to volunteer much…I think it would be hard to be fair with volunteers,” Johnson explained. “No one came up with a definitive way to do it and do it fairly. As of right now, it would be hard to include them in this.”
Patterson added that maybe after the first of the year, the county could consider an incentive for the volunteers.
Elected officials and department heads aren’t eligible to receive hazard pay.
The total amount for the county would be between $50,000 and $65,000. However, the money is reimbursable through the $1.3 million provided to Fannin County through the CARES Act.
Technically, Fannin County will experience less of a financial burden than neighboring counties for hazard pay. For example, Pickens County awarded its first responders $2,000 in hazard pay.
Fannin can’t award pay retroactively, so they must issue it in upcoming pay periods. However, Chairman Stan Helton and Post One Johnson can’t approve anything past December 31.
“If we’re dealing with federal money, I want to make sure that we’re not going to do anything that’s going to put us in a bind for next year. The retroactive pay that was discussed last meeting was a game-changer. This is an important thing that we’re trying to get to a decision, but it’s important stuff here that we don’t mess it up,” Chairman Helton explained.
Ultimately, the board left it up to the financial department to decide it a lump sum or 4-increments based on county employees’ most tax beneficial outcome.
Johnson made the motion, Patterson seconded, and all three commissioners voted in favor of it.