Deputy Director Darrell Payne retires after 38 years

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Darrell Payne retirement

BLUE RIDGE, Ga – Deputy Director Darrell Payne stated it’s been an honor to serve the people of Fannin as part of emergency services.

Payne’s seen EMS goes through several changes over the years and commended EMS employees and volunteers for their efforts. He added that Fannin has one of the best EMS departments in the state.

“It’s a role that you never know what you’re going to see when you go out there,” Chairman Jamie Hensley said, “We appreciate the job you’ve done for this county.”

Post One Johnny Scearce detailed his experiences working with Payne since they first started in their respective departments. He told Payne, “It has been an honor.”

EMA Director Robert Graham gave Payne a watch to recognize his years of service.

Becky Huffman will be replacing Payne as EMS deputy director. Huffman’s the first female to hold the role.

Hensley explained that several people interviewed for the position, and everyone brought something unique to the role. However, Huffman earned the job.

“She doesn’t care to come in there and tell me how she feels, sometimes that’s good, sometimes that bad. I appreciate that about her. I think she sees both sides and she’s going to do what’s best for both,” Hensley commented.

Huffman’s first order of business in her new role was to ask permission to bid out to replace an existing ambulance. They need to replace a truck and then remount the existing ambulance box on a new chassis.

Fire Department Update

Fire Chief Larry Thomas gave a good update concerning ISO rating. After speaking with the inspection manager, Fannin is expected to drop back down to a 5/5x rating. The new number will be published in November 2021.

COVID-19 resulted in a slow down of processing rate updates, but the manager told Thomas that he was pushing Fannin through.

“It takes work of water departments, 911, and the fire department. Everybody’s involved,” Thomas explained about the process.

Hensley asked for Thomas to create a list of all the steps necessary to drop down to a 4 ISO rating. It would give the commissioners a tangible goal to strive for in the future.

Thomas also presented quotes for a new squad vehicle and moving the current car into more of a utility vehicle role. The county approved the purchase of the lower quote from Blue Ridge Ford for $32,700.

30-day moratorium on special use permit for alcohol license

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special use permits

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.

police chief

Post One Johnny Scearce also serves as Blue Ridge Police Chief and has experience with alcohol regulations.

“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.

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