All Special Events Canceled for City of Blue Ridge

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Blue Ridge, Ga. – In an unanimous vote the Blue Ridge City Council decided that any special events within the city limits will be canceled until further notice. This includes the cancelation of Blue Ridge’s Halloween SafeZone and Light Up Blue Ridge.

Discussion of canceling future events for the remainder of the year had previously taken place among council but no official vote had been made on the matter.

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Blue Ridge Halloween SafeZone 2019

“We need to make it official,” Council member Rhonda Haight spoke, referencing that since their previous discussion special events had been permitted to take place: “I felt like we should have voted last time.”

Mayor Donna Whitener expressed that she didn’t fully agree with the idea of canceling all events with no exceptions and pointed out that the recent prayer vigil held for Blue Ridge Chief of Police Johnny Scearce would technically fall under the special event category.

Haight made the motion of  “no more events allowed until further notice”, which carried without opposition.

Although the Halloween SafeZone has been canceled an alternative has been set up according to Cesar Martinez, President of the Blue Ridge Business Association (BRBA).

“We get 5,000 or 6,000 people downtown and we just can’t do it this year,” Martinez said and noted that state guidelines would just not make it feasible for the city to accommodate.

The BRBA will be partnering with Blue Ridge United Methodist Church to offer a drive thru option for families to enjoy. Booths will be set up along this route, where participants can hand out candy.

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Lighting of the Tree – Photo courtesy of Light Up Blue Ridge Facebook Page

Other locations that are offering Halloween festivities include Dairy Queen, Home Depot, and Kevin Panter Insurance Agency.

Light Up Blue Ridge will also not take place in an official manner. Festivities of the weekend that draw a large crowd in close proximity have been called off. This includes the annual parade and the lighting of the tree.

Even with these changes, Blue Ridge plans to make the city Christmas ready for those visiting the weekend following Thanksgiving. 

The tree will be lit in the park but without the lighting ceremony and Santa can still be found at the park’s gazebo but with safety precautions made due to the ongoing Covid-19 risk.

“We are suggesting that the city close East Main Street for the two days after Thanksgiving,” Martinez recommended to the council stating that this would give more room for the large crowds to social distance that weekend.

No official plans were made on how to handle the influx of visitors for the weekend following Thanksgiving, but discussions are expected to continue in future meetings.

Jasper considers 2.125 mill increase in early budgeting process

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JASPER, Ga. – The City of Jasper is holding meetings with citizens to discuss plans to move forward with a major increase of its Millage Rate.

The increase being considered is a 45.6 percent increase over the 4.655 mills that the city has held for three years now. In 2017, the rate was set at 4.655 mills from 2016’s 4.683 mills.

The proposed Millage Rate for 2020 is 6.78 mills. An increase of 2.125 mills.

Millage Rate

A comparison sheet shown by City Manager Brandon Douglas in the September 24, 2020, public hearing for the millage rate.

The last time the rate was raised was 2001 when it went from 4.630 mills to 4.710 mills. The last time the millage rate was over 6 mills was 1996 when it was set at 6.850 mills.

According to City Manager Brandon Douglas, he met with the finance department and department heads, they found that normal operating costs produced a preliminary 2021 budget held a deficit of roughly $551,000. He also noted that indications pointed to a two to two-and-half percent increase in revenues while expenditures increase at three to five-and-a-half percent per year.

Douglas said, “That is not a sustainable financial model.”

He went on to say that the city needs corrective action for the finances. The gap between revenue and expenditures that the city is seeing has come from not correcting these issues sooner.

Douglas also noted the importance of property taxes as they make up 30 percent of the total revenue budget for the city. Many of the sources of revenue that make up the other 70 percent are unknown or not directly controlled by officials and the city. This puts the point of the property tax as something directly controlled by these elected officials.

There will be another meeting of the city at 5:30 p.m. on October 5, 2020, to hear more from the public on the proposed millage rate as Douglas stated, “It is staff’s goal to work with the elected officials through this public hearing process to recommend and adopt a millage rate that is reflective of providing a balanced budget. It is not our goal to just simply adopt a 6.78 millage rate.”

He noted that by the October 5 meeting of the Jasper City Council, he hopes to have gotten with officials through their committees to identify “ways to reduce certain preliminary department budgets.”

As a part of the budget process, the millage rate is adopted before the budget is adopted. The plan for the 2021 budget, according to Douglas, is adoption on December 7, 2020. Working towards that  goal. This process is way to see what the budget could look like in order to have the budget in mind while adopting the millage rate which must be adopted first before the actual budget is adopted.

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