BLUE RIDGE, Ga – All three Fannin County Commissioners affirmed that they haven’t committed to Blue Ridge City Council’s proposed aquatic center.
Chairman Jamie Hensley explained that the city made an initial presentation in a private meeting but hasn’t seen any follow-up plans or cost analysis.
“There’s so many unanswered questions. The questions haven’t been answered or haven’t been asked,” Hensley said.
Post Two Glenn Patterson added that the commissioners don’t know that much about the proposed pool and community center. Additionally, he hasn’t been formally approached.
Outgoing Post One Earl Johnson remarked, “When something gets said in another council session, it doesn’t mean it’s true in here.” He was commenting on the statements from members of Blue Ridge City Council who said the commissioners were in favor of building an aquatic center.
Johnson further stated if the council wants to propose a project to the county that they need to do so in a county meeting. Once council members present an idea within a county meeting, then it’s on record and everyone in the county will know exactly what happened. It would prevent rumors from starting.
“The biggest problems are these deals that are getting talked about outside this room,” Johnson stated.
Blue Ridge City Council meets at 5 p.m. on the second Tuesday and can overlap with one commission meeting which takes place at 6 p.m. on the second Tuesday. However, Fannin County meets on the fourth Tuesday at 6 p.m. as well.
He brought up the previous annexation debacle which became a he-said, she-said on if the county was informed or not. Johnson asked if anyone saw a councilmember present anything about the annexation in a county meeting.
“We all should working in unison with the city of Blue Ridge, the city of McCaysville,” Johnson commented. “Until it starts being done the right way, the best advice I can give anybody is just don’t believe what you hear.”
Also, Johnson asked why the recreation board wasn’t consulted if Blue Ridge wants to build a new pool and if the recreation board even knew if residents wanted a new pool.
Money hasn’t been allotted by the county for a new pool and community center at this time.
Bottom line: Johnson’s parting thoughts were the county and the cities need to come together and communicate more effectively.
At the end of the meeting, Hensley thanked Johnson for his dedication to Fannin County and for staying on while elected Post One Johnny Scearce recovered from COVID-19 related illnesses. Scearce is scheduled to take his oath of office on Friday, March 26.
Additional County Business
EMA Director Robert Graham presented the Debris Management Plan and the commissioners approved it so now the document goes to the state. The document could result in an extra two percent in disaster match money from FEMA.
Liquid springs for the second new ambulance was approved for a total cost of $12,300. The springs were necessary because the chassis on the new ambulances sits higher than expected and makes it hard to load patients. It will take two to three weeks for the liquid springs to be applied and it will hopefully last as long as the truck is in service.
Director of Public Works Zack Ratcliff presented the LMIG Safety Project from GDOT which is a crash-related action plan. GDOT will provide $350,000 to fix roads with high traffic accident statistics. The county would have to match 30 percent, but the number could come down with more data. GDOT advised Salem Road receive improvements with the safety project money. Some of the safety improvements include striping, width, and right of way criteria.
Johnson advised making sure roads are wide enough before overlaying them because every time a road is overlaid it becomes narrower.
BLUE RIDGE, Ga: Several county departments never received their CARES Act reimbursement funds in 2020 despite the county having the money.
Chairman Jamie Hensley addressed the matter during the February 9, 2021 meeting, stating that at least one department was showing over by 175 percent.
“Unbeknownst to the commissioners, I can honestly say that they really didn’t know. This is something that we just found out,” Hensley said.
These departments spent funds from their capital outlay budgets to safely maintain operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. The state gave Fannin CARES Act funds specifically for coronavirus-related improvements. T
The departments’ financials weren’t changed to reflect the addition of the CARES Act. The money went into the general fund account. Board of Commissioners needed to move a line item to demonstrate that these departments weren’t grossly overbudget.
“We’re not actually putting money back into their budget. It’s all in one pot like in the general fund. It’s just going to be a reflection of the actual budget line-item number,” County Clerk and Interim CFO Sherri Walker explained.
Outgoing Chairman Stan Helton and resigned Chief Financial Officer Robin Gazaway never met with Hensley before he assumed office. The CFO resigned before he took office. As a result, no one explained the reasoning for leaving the money in the general fund and not updating departments’ budgets.
Fannin Board of Commissioners also discussed Whitepath.
Hensley asked the department heads for all their receipts to accurately adjust, monitor, and reimburse their COVID-19 expenses. Presently, at least five departments need their budgets to be made whole from 2020.
“We applied for that to receive COVID funding to do all those things. All we’re doing is using the money for what it was intended for, not to beef up the general fund account. I have no idea why or how it happened,” Post One Earl Johnson stated, “I think all of these budgets, in my opinion, need to be made whole for expenditures that were caused by COVID because we got federal funds to do so.”
Post Two Glenn Patterson echoed that sentiment.
To prevent a similar situation from happening in the future, Hensley suggested setting up a separate account for such funds as the CARES Act. With an established account, the county can know the exact amount remaining or if a department needs reimbursement.
County Attorney Lynn Doss added that legally Fannin needs a file that documents all COVID-19 expenses in case of a future audit.
The board agreed to get all the receipts together before making a motion to approve moving the money.
They’re in the process of interviewing for a new CFO and human resources person.
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: After his last official meeting as Post One Commissioner, Earl Johnson received a heartfelt thanks for his years of service to Fannin County.
Post Two Glenn Patterson presented Johnson with his plaque and said a few words about his time serving with Johnson.
“It’s not an easy job, to say the least. It has it’s stressful moments, and tough decisions have to be made,” Patterson expressed. “We appreciate Mr. Johnson and his service to the community. I’ve learned a lot from Earl in a short period of time.”
Patterson recognized Johnson’s efforts to strengthen the post commissioner positions within the Fannin County government. Johnson always made known his stance on the issues and put the citizens of Fannin County first. The three commissioners might not have always agreed, but perhaps differences are necessary to keep a government honest.
Some of Johnson’s accomplishments include Fire Station One and dedication to ensuring Fannin County operated within its means.
“I especially appreciate Earl’s sense of humor even during tense moments,” Patterson stated.
Of his time in office, Johnson said, “I don’t know what to say. Eight years has been a whirlwind in many different ways. It’s kind of bittersweet. I’m going to miss seeing all the people every two weeks. I’m going to miss being involved…Without holding a public position like this, I would have never understood how detailed our county is and how big our county is.”
One of the biggest lessons learned as Post One Commissioner was how to hold his temper. It’s also taught him how to work through disagreements and finish projects productively.
“It’s been a huge learning experience. I appreciate all the people of Fannin County for entrusting me for eight years,” Johnson remarked.
He also thanked his family for their sacrifices and opening themselves up to scrutiny just because he held a public office.
“One day, you might see me back involved. I have nothing negative to say,” Johnson said. “I appreciate anyone who does fill these seats. It’s getting to the point now where it’s so tough to be in public service.”
For now, Johnson looks forward to enjoying a nice meal and returning to being an everyday citizen again.
Feature image includes Fannin Sheriff Dane Kirby and Post One Earl Johson.