Special Election called for the Blairsville City Council

News
emergency declaration qualifying election

BLAIRSVILLE, Ga – Blairsville City Council will be holding a special election on November 2, 2021 to fill the vacancy left by Council Member Betty Easter’s passing at the beginning of September.

Easter’s seat wasn’t one of the three up for reelection in 2021, so a special election is necessary. Once elected, the individual will take office on November 9, 2021 and serve until December 31, 2023.

Qualifying for the office will be held from Monday, September 20 through Wednesday, September 22 at City Hall between the hours of 8:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. and from 1:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Anyone interested in running can pick up a qualifying packet starting on September 15 at City Hall during business hours. The qualifying fee for the office is $162. To serve on the city council, candidates must be 21 years old, a resident of Blairsville, Georgia for at least one year from the time of the election, a registered voter in municipal elections, and committed to remaining a city resident for the entire term.

Early voting will begin on October 12, 2021 and will continue each weekday through October 29, 2021 as well as on two Saturdays, October 16 and October 23, from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. each day at City Hall.

To request an absentee ballot by mail contact City Clerk Kaye McCann at 706-745-2000. The last day to request an absentee ballot by mail is October 22, 2021.

Blairsville to add third sewer-only rate for developers

News
Blairsville Sewer

BLAIRSVILLE, Ga – The city of Blairsville decided to change its processes concerning the delivery strategy for sewer services by adding a third rate for wastewater-only services.

The service delivery strategy act was last addressed in 1997. Union County Development Authority Director Mitch Griggs presented the proposal to

“We have a bit of a challenge in providing sewer service outside of the city’s water service area,” Griggs stated.

Water services in Union County are split between Blairsville, Coosa Water Authority, and Notla Water Authority. Well water is also an option for Union County residents.

Blairsville is the only wastewater service provider. When trying to run sewer outside of the city territory, it becomes more difficult in part because of the rate structure. Additionally, an intergovernmental agreement is necessary if running water into Coosa or Notla territory.

Sometimes the intergovernmental agreements aren’t approved by both parties. Union County Development Authority proposed an ordinance change concerning wastewater to adopt a third wastewater-only rate. The rate would be equal to providing water and wastewater so the city could potentially make a profit from the service.

R to L: City Clerk Kaye McCann and Mayor Jim Conley

R to L: City Clerk Kaye McCann and Mayor Jim Conley

According to Griggs, the city doesn’t currently make a profit from sewer services but does from water. He added that developers would be willing to pay the third-rate price option because they must include sewer on the properties.

Coosa or Notla would provide like they normally would, but Blairsville would provide a wastewater line. The developer would cover the cost of the line. No intergovernmental agreement would be necessary.

“You wouldn’t have to change your business practices at all. You would bill the sewer according to water usage. You could either arrange with the other water providers to simply read their meter or you could require you put your own meter in line with there’s, so you go your own meter if you just felt better about that. Of course, the developer would have to pay the cost of the second meter there,” Grigg’s explained.

Any development looking for sewer services, the city council would still have to approve it. They can still deny service to any incoming project if they feel it will cause problems from a capacity standpoint.

Griggs added from his understanding Blairsville’s wastewater plant has the capacity to process more sewer water.

Council Member Tony Dyer asked what development was interested in this arrangement. Griggs said two projects were under consideration, but one was assisted living residential development.

“We’re not going to furnish them one red cent for anything to come to our sewer connection. The developer has to put it all in, everything is strictly by city specs,” Mayor Jim Conley confirmed.

All the council members present were in favor of making the change. Council Member Mary Ruth Cook was absent, and one seat is vacant following the passing of Betty Easter on September 2.

Additional Business

The 2022 group insurance was approved for the upcoming year with the majority of the policy staying the same from 2021. Some premiums even went down, but other co-pays like an emergency room visit increased $50.

The Airport insurance policy was approved for the year as well.

Downtown Development Authority Manager became a full-time position.

Past due bills from Fatz Café were written off. The amount was approximately $10,000 and both previous owners of the now-closed establishment declared bankruptcy.

A special election will be held on November 2 to fill the vacant council seat after the passing of Betty Easter.

Qualifying packets available at City Hall for upcoming city council election

Community, News
emergency declaration qualifying election

BLAIRSVILLE, Ga – Qualifying packets for the upcoming municipal election became available at City Hall on August 2. The election will be held on November 2.

The actual qualifying days for the mayoral and council seats will start Monday, August 16 through Wednesday, August 18. Anyone interested in qualifying for the November 2 election can turn in their packets on those dates from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

The qualifying fees are as follows:

Mayor – $1,080

Councilmember 1 – $162

Councilmember 2 – $162

The place of qualifying shall be the office of the City Clerk of the City of Blairsville, Georgia being the office of the Election Superintendent, located at City Hall, 62 Blue Ridge Street, Blairsville, Georgia.

Terms of office will begin January 1, 2022 and will expire on December 31, 2025. Eligibility to serve requires candidates be 21 years of age, a resident of the City of Blairsville, Georgia for at least one year immediately prior to the date of such candidate’s election, a registered and qualified voter in the municipal election, and shall continue to reside in the city during term of office.

A county-wide TSPLOST referendum will also be on the ballot on November 2.

Blairsville City Council approves agreement with county to receive TSPLOST funds

News
TSPLOST

BLAIRSVILLE, Ga – Blairsville City Council approved the intergovernmental agreement with Union County for the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (TSPLOST) referendum during the July 2021 meeting.

The approval is one in a series of steps necessary for TSPLOST to appear on a special election ballot in November 2021.

The intergovernmental agreement allows Blairsville to receive a portion of proceeds from a one percent sales tax. TSPLOST would raise the total sales tax from 7 to 8 cents on the dollar. The state allows a county up to 9 cents in sales taxes. The state levies the first 4 cents.

The intergovernmental agreement would last for five years and is contingent on voters approving TPLOST in the fall. Measures such as LOST, SPLOST, ESPLOST, and TSPLOST must be approved by registered voters in Union County.

2021 is an off-year for county elections, but the county could call a special election just for TSPLOST. Municipal elections for Blairsville are being held this year.

As the name implies, TSPLOST funds go solely toward transportation projects, unlike SPLOST which covers most capital outlay efforts for a county and city. TSPLOST must meet a transportation need outside of regular SPLOST or free up SPLOST funds for other projects.

With the intergovernmental agreement in place, the county could levy a fractional rate of up to 1 percent. If Blairsville hadn’t passed the agreement, then the levy amount would stop at .75 percent.

If passed, TSPLOST could generate up to $5 million a year and the city of Blairsville would receive between five or eight percent of those funds.

The closest county to Union with TSPLOST is Lumpkin. Gilmer recently put TSPLOST on the ballot and it failed. Here’s a copy of Georgia’s Sales and Use Tax Rate Chart.

Sales taxes, such as LOST, SPLOST, ESPLOST, and TSPLOST, are meant to alleviate the tax burden on local property owners. Since sales taxes are consumption-based and everyone who makes a purchase within the county contributes. In communities like Union County, weekends often see an influx of tourists looking to escape for the weekend. For the last few years, sales tax-related revenue has continued to increase for Union County at a rate higher than expected.

Copy of ACCG map indicating TSPLOST counties and areas in Georgia.

Property owners in Union County experienced a tax increase of 17 percent last year, and they just received property revaluation notices from the tax commissioner’s office. Several experienced significant property value increases.

Sole Commissioner Lamar Paris remarked throughout last year’s tax increase process that the new property evaluations would result in the millage rate dropping this year. As a result, property owners should see their tax burden decrease.

Those wanting to lower their property values can make a case to the tax assessor’s office, but it doesn’t guarantee values will go down. Property owners have 45 days to appeal.

Blairsville becomes a Purple Heart City

Community, News
Purple Heart City

BLAIRSVILLE, Ga – Blairsville City Council officially proclaimed the city a Purple Heart City at the July 2021 meeting.

“City of Blairsville has a highly decorated veteran population including Purple Heart recipients, and Blairsville appreciates the sacrifice of the Purple Heart recipients made in defending our freedoms and believe it is important and we acknowledge them for their courage and show them the honor and support they have earned,” a portion of the proclamation read.

Last month, Union County became a Purple Heart County. The move makes it easier for the county and the city to become a stop on the Purple Heart Trail.

The trail creates “a symbolic and honorary system of roads, highways, bridges, and other monuments that give tribute to the men and women who have been awarded the Purple Heart medal.” It serves as a visual reminder to those on the road that someone paid a high price for them to travel comfortably in the states.

Veteran and member of the Order of Purple Heart Ryan McPherson accepted the proclamation on behalf of those who fought and were injured or died in service to the country.

McPherson reading the Purple Heart City Proclamation.

McPherson reading the Purple Heart City Proclamation.

“We’re so thankful you guys took the initiative to continue to make Blairsville and surrounding community a veteran-friendly community. This an honorary and symbolic way, we connect cities, counties, and towns, and roads and bridges together to Purple Heart Trail this entire nation,” McPherson stated.

McPherson is semi-retired in Blairsville, originally from Atlanta. One of the reasons he chose Blairsville was the veteran community.

 

 

 

In recent wars, thousands of soldiers received Purple Hearts:

  • 320,000 in World War I
  • Over 1,000,000 in World War II
  • 118,000 in the Korean War
  • 351,000 in Vietnam
  • 600 in the Persian Gulf
  • 12,000 in Afghanistan
  • 35,000 in Iraq

George Washington created the Purple Heart as a badge of military merit in 1782. He pinned it on three people. It was also the first American Service Award made available to the common soldier.

Council considers traffic safety measures for downtown

News
traffic safety

BLAIRSVILLE, Ga – Local business owner June McEldowney presented her case for a crosswalk between City Hall and Merchant’s Walk, along with other safety improvements.

The pedestrian traffic between the two areas continues to increase as more businesses open downtown. Since the opening of Lucky’s Taqueria and Cantina, one could make the argument that foot traffic back and forth has doubled because restaurant-goers use the adjacent parking lot.

“Daily I see from our store, I see pedestrians trying to cross over from the parking lot. They are literally taking their life into their hands. Those cars do not see that yield sign, and they’re coming at a pretty good clip over that hill and they’re very, very close to meeting up with a pedestrian in seconds,” McEldowney stated.

After some discussion, it was discovered the yield sign was a caution sign. Nevertheless, no one notices it when driving along Blue Ridge Street.

McEldowney also brought up adding a flashing light to alert drivers to the crosswalk and maybe another crosswalk with a flashing light on the square. Additionally, she turned in a petition from downtown merchants about fixing the sidewalks and restriping parking. 20 business owners signed the petition.

Mayor Jim Conley agreed “wholeheartedly that a crosswalk is something we’re going to have to do.” However, the traffic must be slowed down first. A flashing light and prominent signage are necessary for that effort.

Councilmember Mary Ruth Cook agreed but wanted to know how it could be done. Councilmember Tony Dyer offered the crosswalk at Union General Hospital as the perfect example.

Last month, the council hired Kevin Hamby as a SPLOST administrator to help with some city needs. Conley said they could discuss safety issues like a crosswalk and flashing lights with him.

Police Chief Michael “Bear” Baxter added that flashing lights are needed on all four crosswalks on the square.

The subject of lowering the speed limit came up, but nothing was settled on. The current speed limit is 25 mph.

Other City Business

The council approved the alcohol ordinance change to move server and pourer background checks in-house.

They also approved Ricky Rich Construction to fix the drainage issue at Tanyard Apartments. The estimate was $35,000 and $2,000 for new soil if needed. The owners of Tanyard agreed to pay 75 percent of project costs and the city will pay 25 percent using SPLOST funds.

Michaelee’s Italian Life Café was granted an alcohol license for malt beverages and wine for on-premise consumption.

Jason Helton was hired as a new operator at the water waste treatment plant.

The council agreed to purchase a metal building for $21,000 for the water and sewer maintenance shop. The building will fit all the trucks and replace the current ruined building.

Blairsville City Council agenda for April meeting

News

BLAIRSVILLE, Ga – Blairsville City Council has the following items on the docket for the April 2021 meeting.

  • Approve Kay Wilcox as a full-time accounting clerk
  • Approve end of probation hourly rate increase for Dan Firebaugh, Assistant Airport Manager
  • Approve purchase of valve actuators for WTP from Charles Finch Company – $19,506.24
  • Approve FY2021-22 Georgia Department of Corrections detail contract – $50,906
  • Discuss background investigation process for alcohol servers
  • Approve policy for purchasing/credit cards issued to Elected Officials per OCGA §36-80-24(c)
  • Approve SPLOST Consultant services with Kevin Hamby – $500/month

Also one occupational tax credit for Appalachian Hospice, LLC is set to be approved.

Blairsville looks to become more tourist friendly

Community, News
welcome center

BLAIRSVILLE, Ga: Blairsville City Council and the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) Board contentiously debated the necessity of a tourism welcome center before deciding to move forward with public parking and bathroom planning.

The bathrooms and parking lot will be built on the Haralson property either behind City Hall or closer to the main street depending upon the survey. A gravel lot exists behind Michaelee’s Italian Life Caffe. Previously, the city and DDA had plans to pave the lot and most likely still will once they nail down a firm plan.

DDA Program Manager Darren Harper addressed the need for infrastructure in Blairsville, including public restrooms, parking, and potentially a welcome center.

DDA Program Manager Darren Harper

Harper advocated for the necessity of some type of welcome center.

He elaborated on downtown’s continued growth and the need for a center to direct tourists in the area.

“A lot of our income from the DDA comes directly from people outside this community, and anything we can do to encourage people to visit, spend their money, and go home is in everyone’s best interest,” Harper remarked.

He added that the board needed the city’s blessings and involvement, as well as a discussion of finances and expectations. According to Harper, the last infrastructure piece to go into downtown was Bob Head Street. Currently, business owners direct tourists to activities around Blairsville and Union County.

“There’s no one central place for them to get information about: ‘where can I take my kids, where can we go do this,’” Harper stated. “We have the Chamber up on the golf course, which is a great facility, but it’s extremely difficult to tell people how to get there.”

Mayor Jim Conley agreed that public restrooms and parking were necessary for the area, especially after COVID-19. However, he never heard mention of a welcome center until recently.

Mayor Jim Conley

Mayor Conley wasn’t sold on the idea of building a new welcome center.

“I can’t see us giving up a lot of parking spaces for a building that really should be something that benefited the Chamber of Commerce,” stated DDA board member Paul Thompson. “I think the DDA needs to concentrate on the bathrooms that would be necessary in the right place and completing the parking lot. That’s what we initially were supposed to do was get the city’s money back to the property as best we could and develop parking and bathrooms.”

Chamber of Commerce President Steve Rowe mentioned the idea of placing a kiosk with information or small office next to the bathrooms for people to pick up information. He also believed the area offers an opportunity to create a pavilion/park area in the lot behind City Hall, along with the bathrooms.

Conley suggested using the DDA office for a welcome center, but some renovations would be necessary to separate the office space. Harper agreed it was doable but added that public restrooms need monitoring. He conjectured that a building that included the bathrooms and a welcome center would kill two birds with one stone.

DDA Board member Robert Rogers expressed that the lot behind City Hall wasn’t the best option for a welcome center. He preferred the lot next to old Pat Haralson law office, also known as the property Steve Cockerham was going to turn into condos until last year.

“I think that is something not just on the city to take on. I think that would be on the city and county to take on jointly as far as staffing it, the cost of it, and so on,” Rogers stated. “You need to be able to find it. We’ve got a beautiful welcome center now; you can’t find it, that’s the problem.”

He added it would need to be large enough to generate some income as well.

Before making any commitments, Rogers commented that they needed to know what’s possible. He spoke with surveyor Jason Henson who’s willing to draw up options for minimal cost. The DDA and city needed to consider existing sewer, power lines, and ADA accessibility for bathrooms.

Harper objected to another surveyor plan because they previously laid out the area. Rogers said the topographical area changed since the last layout. The previous survey pulled lot elevations from county GIS aerial flights, so a field run topo is necessary to entirely understand the situation.

The gravel lot is on a steep grade that must be taken into account.

Henson will draw up three different bathroom placements on the Haralson property; He will also address the parking lot.  Previous bathroom plans included four stalls with ADA accessible stalls.

Rogers commented that the area behind City Hall might benefit from a pavilion and picnic tables. However, they should consider other sites for a welcome center.

“We also need some sort of budget limitations. We don’t need the tail wagging the dog,” DDA board member Paul Thompson echoed.

According to Conley, the DDA board has approximately $219,000 in its budget. However, if they chose to build a welcome center on the lot previously owned by Cockerham, they could absorb $225,000. The DDA hoped if the county agreed to participate, it would cut some of the cost. Conley expressed doubt that the county would participate. Harper pondered about tourism grant funding becoming available for projects such as a welcome center.

“If you want us to expand our scope, then you need to be prepared to help us pay, so it’s really up to y’all,” Thompson said to the council.

Rogers asked Chamber President Rowe if there was a need for another welcome center in Union County. Rowe expressed that there wasn’t, and a kiosk would fulfill the job.

“I feel like we need something with information for visitors and tourists who come to this area because I feel like I’m the information center a lot of times when people come in our store. I don’t mind it because they’re coming in our store,” DDA Board member June McEldowney explained. “A kiosk or welcome area, something that can direct people in a general area to facilitate our downtown area.”

welcome center

The area behind City Hall could become the new bathroom area or a place for picnic tables.

Conley echoed again the Harper’s office would be the ideal area for a welcome center. For now, it appears the idea of a downtown welcome center is tabled.

The new bathrooms and parking lot surveys should be completed within 30 days.

Alcohol sales approved for Super Bowl Sunday in Blairsville

Community, News
Sunday sales

BLAIRSVILLE, Ga: Superbowl Sunday is right around the corner, Sunday, February 7. Blairsville City Council approved Sunday alcohol sales for local businesses on that day only.

Ordinarily, Blairsville doesn’t allow Sunday sales, but this coming weekend, the council is making an exception. Restaurants with alcohol licenses can serve alcoholic beverages, but it must be consumed on the premises.

Alcohol sales can begin at 12:30 p.m. and last until Midnight that Sunday. However, it won’t carry over to next Sunday or next year’s Super Bowl Sunday. It’s a one-time approval.

Blairsville Police Chief Michael “Bear” Baxter told council member Mary Ruth Cook, “I don’t think it will affect anything that we do…We’ll still be policing. It won’t make any difference to us.”

In other words, the Blairsville Police Department will be patrolling the streets. Anyone choosing to partake in alcohol consumption should practice safe drinking, know their limits, and designate a driver for the evening.

According to the CDC, 38 million Americans drink too much, and 17 billion binge drinks are consumed annually. Binge drinking is considered four or more beverages in one sitting for women and five or more in one sitting for men.

Graphic courtesy of CDC

To drink in moderation, the CDC encourages one drink a day for women and up to two drinks a day for men.

The passage of resolution 2021-01 follows OCGA 3-3-7(r), which states:

“Notwithstanding any other provisions of law, in all counties or municipalities in which the sale of alcoholic beverages is lawful for consumption on the premises, the governing authority of the county or municipality, as appropriate, may by adoption of a resolution or ordinance authorize the sale of alcoholic beverages for consumption on the premises from 12:30 p.m. until 12:00 midnight on one Sunday during each calendar year that shall be designated in such resolution or ordinance. Any sales for consumption on the premises made pursuant to this subsection shall be subject to such terms and conditions as may be required by the governing authority of the county or municipality.”

Blairsville City Council previously approved Sunday sales for New Year’s Eve 2017.

The CDC also encourages small gatherings for the Super Bowl because of COVID-19. They fear large groups will result in a super spreader event.

Retirement Recognition

Ottis Franklin retired from his post as the water, sewer, and street maintenance department’s supervisor on January 31, 2021. He worked for the city for 36 years, beginning January 1, 1985.

“Needless to say, Ottis has been here a while,” Mayor Jim Conley said.

“I’ve been blessed to work here all these years,” Franklin stated. “I’m going to leave it in good hands. They’ve been around a long time too. They know what’s going on.”

Conley echoed that the city has benefited from good employees.

The city promoted Curtis Corn to water, sewer, and streets maintenance supervisor t to replace Franklin. 

Additional Business 

The city council also approved amending their yearly library contribution by $500. The 2021 operating budget already included the change. 

They also authorized the purchase of a New Holland B95 CSC backhoe from Nelson’s Tractor for water and sewer maintenance for $67,376 and trading in the existing backhoe.

38 city streetlamps will be upgraded with LED systems from City Plumping and Electric for $16,094.12. The new lights will provide more light around the square area.

The city council hired Kay Wilcox as a temporary accounting clerk.

They also hired Rod Carey.

Blairsville City Council sets election qualifying fees

News
election qualifying fees

BLAIRSVILLE, Ga – Blairsville City Council set about its business for 2021 during the first meeting of the year including approving the 2021 election qualifying fees and council appointments.

This year mayor and councilmembers are up for election and those interested in either position must pay qualifying fees.

  • Mayor: $1,080
  • Councilmember: $162

The fees went up slightly because the council received a salary increase in 2019.

As for city council appointments, each member received a department to partner with during 2021.

  • Airport: Robert “Buddy” Moore
  • Police: Tony Dyer
  • Roads: Mary Ruth Cook
  • Water/Sewer: Betty Easter
  • Downtown Development Authority: Rhonda Mahan
  • Historical Society: Jim Conley

Councilmember Dyer garnered the nomination for Mayor Pro Tempore from  Easter. Cook seconded and Easter, Cook, and Dyer voted in favor of the nomination. Mahan was absent from this meeting.

(L to R): Betty Easter, Tony Dyer, Mary Ruth Cook

(L to R): Betty Easter, Tony Dyer, Mary Ruth Cook

David Barrett was reappointed as city attorney and Kaye McCann was reappointed as city clerk and supervisor of elections.

The council renewed existing multi-year contracts and approved paying for the asphalt on LeCroy Drive for $13,500. The city will use SPLOST funds for the expense.

Finally, they approved the annual contribution to the library, $7,000. These funds go to the Union County library, not the one in Young Harris.

Arby’s received its occupational tax certificate and could be opened as soon as January 11.

Chamber of Commerce Report

Chamber of Commerce President Steve Rowe provided a positive update concerning local businesses. He stated that many businesses recovered from the 2020 lockdowns, and some even had record years. Tourists continued to flood into north Georgia which assisted businesses in their recovery efforts.

Still, because of COVID-19, the 2021 Chamber awards will be held online on January 21.

Blairsville City Council approve 2021 meeting dates

News
millage 2021 meeting

BLAIRSVILLE, Ga – During a light December meeting, Blairsville City Council approved the meeting dates for 2021.

The meetings will still take place on the first Tuesday of the month at 6 p.m. at City Hall, except for the November 2021 meeting. It had to be moved due to the city council election that will take place the first Tuesday of the month.

The meeting dates are as follows:

  • January 5, 2021
  • February 2, 2021
  • March 2, 2021
  • April 6, 2021
  • May 4, 2021
  • June 1, 2021
  • July 6, 2021
  • August 3, 2021
  • September 7, 2021
  • October 5, 2021
  • November 9, 2021
  • December 7, 2021

The council also approved 2021 Alcohol License Renewals and occupational tax certificates for CSRA Probation Services, Inc, El Paso Grocery Store, Inc, and Kendrick & Associates Law, PC. Each business recently underwent a change in ownership.

Council entered executive session to discuss personnel matters. Once exiting, they approved a $.50/hour increase for Airport Manager and City Clerk, effective with the pay period ending December 15, 2020. A three percent pay increase will go into effect with the pay period ending December 15, 2020. Finally, the council approved payment to employees for vacation time accrued over160 hours as of December 31, 2020. 12/31/20. This will be paid with the December 15 payroll.

2020 city millage rate approved; 2021 budget hearing

News
city millage rate

BLAIRSVILLE, Ga – In the October 2020, Blairsville City Council meeting it approved the 2020 millage rate at 1.895 percent. The rate remains the same as the previous year.

According to the tax digest, the city will receive $899 less in taxes by maintaining the current millage rate.

The council also held the first public hearing and first reading for the 2021 operating budget. The budget is not yet adopted because the second reading and approval still need to occur.

Some departments are receiving an increase in 2021, such as the downtown development authority for salary increases.

Councilmember Mary Ruth Cook asked if the property taxes were down, but City Clerk Kaye McCann explained that the revenue may have slightly decreased due to property reevaluation. However, it wasn’t a large amount.

Blairsville Police Department received approval to hire a part-time officer Josh Owenby. Police Chief Michael “Bear” Baxter explained that while the police department hasn’t fallen victim to COVID-19, the Sheriff’s Office has experienced several positive deputies. With several part-time police officers who also work for the Sheriff, Blairsville Police Department needed to add an extra part-timer to ensure proper staffing for every shift.

The City council also granted approval for trade-ins and purchases of police vehicles. Jacky Jones Chevrolet will receive one Tahoe trade-in for a new 2021 model if the mileage is 12,000 or less.  The second car for car trade-in will go to Ware Chevrolet. Finally, the city is buying a new Ford Explorer for $32,103 from King Ford and trading-in a 2014 Dodge Charger. King will give the city $7,800 for the trade, so the total price for the new Explorer will be $24,303. Price is the main reason behind the purchase of the Explorer. A new car will be traded every year without any extra expenses.

All cars will be outfitted to meet police vehicle safety standards.

“It’s the same thing that we’ve done with the Tahoe year after year,” explained Chief Baxter, “It’s a win-win for the city and money-wise, we don’t have to spend anything other than fuel every year.”

Leachate-opposition representative Steve Herbst presented his petition to stop all future dumping of the chemical cocktail into Lake Nottely or surrounding waterways. The group would like an ordinance stating the city will never accept Leachate again. Herbst also spoke about developing a stakeholder’s task force made up of members from the Lake Nottely Improvement Association, Friends of Lake Nottely, MountainTrue Watershed, and Nottely Water Authority.

The council tabled Herbst proposal to give time for the city attorney to review the document.

Blairsville City Council ends Leachate Processing

News
leachate processing

BLAIRSVILLE, Ga – In a unanimous vote, Blairsville City Council decided to halt all leachate related-contracts and remove the chemicals from the waste treatment facility.

Citing the concern of the mayor and council, Mayor Jim Conley, made a motion to discontinue the leachate processing contract. All present councilmembers accepted the contract dissolution.

Councilmember Mary Ruth Cook asked about the remaining leachate currently in the wastewater treatment facility. Wastewater Treatment Facility Manager Jody Cook responded that around 3,000 gallons of the chemical waste remained at the plant. It was currently being moved through digestors and dewatered. However, it would not go back into the system. Once complete, Blairsville Wastewater Treatment Plant is finished with leachate.

Background Information

Blairsville Wastewater Treatment Facility began accepting leachate from the The Water Authority (TWA) in June 2019. Leachate is landfill municipal waste runoff that generates from liquids present in waste and outside water, such as rainfall. It must be properly treated before being discharged back into a water system.

TWA approached Blairsville about receiving leachate for processing because the wastewater plant could accommodate the runoff. The plant’s tank had extra capacity, so the city agreed to accept the waste for processing. As part of the contract, TWA paid the city of Blairsville by the gallon.

Leachate, as illustrated here, collects at the bottom of landfills and requires processing before going into any water source.

The company serves as a transporter of leachate from landfills to treatment facilities across the state. TWA is partly owned by State Senator Steve Gooch, who represents Union, Fannin, Lumpkin, White, Gilmer, and Dawson counties.

Lake Nottely Improvement Association (LNIA) began protesting the leachate process last year first appearing at the September 2019 Blairsville City Council to voice displeasure. Mayor Jim Conley and Wastewater Treatment Manager assured the group that the water being released Lake Nottely passed EPD tests, including the PFAS test. Testing documents that Fetch Your News acquired in 2019 demonstrated that PFAS levels weren’t an issue in Lake Nottely even with the addition of leachate.

Fast forward to July 2020, LNIA continued to research the issue with chemical engineers, case studies, EPD, TWA, Gooch, and others. They discussed findings at two county commission meetings and one city council meeting. However, the county held zero responsibility for the leachate decision as the city managed the wastewater treatment facility and the TWA contract. Additionally, Lake Nottely is the property of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA); it’s not a county-owned lake.

Also, since the water continued to the chemical waste tests for PFAS, the county didn’t have a legitimate reason to step in. The decision to continue with leachate processing or suspend the contract sat squarely on Blairsville’s shoulders.

In the July 2020 City Council meeting, Wastewater Treatment Manager explained that they would never treat more than 11,000 gallons of leachate a day. Also, that the notice of a water treatment permit from the EPD wasn’t related to the leachate. It was part of the standard permit renewal process, which is required every five years.

However, on August 28, Mountain True Western Regional Director Callie Moore agreed that more extensive metals testing could be performed in Lake Nottely. Some of the concerns raised by LNIA about activity in the narrow corridor of Lake Nottely gave her reason to believe that MountainTrue might need to test for different types of pollutants. These new samplings won’t include a PFAS test because EPD continues to show that these aren’t an issue.

Blairsville City Council closes rental properties to fight COVID-19

Community, Health, News
emergency declaration qualifying election

BLAIRSVILLE, Ga – In a special emergency meeting held on April 2, 2020, Blairsville City Council unanimously approved the closure of city rental properties for the next 28 to 30 days and issued a shelter in place order for city residents.

The city council and mayor took these actions in order to slow the spread of COVID-19 within Blairsville, Union County, and the North Georgia mountains. On April 1, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp announced he would sign an executive order for a statewide shelter in place to last until April 13.

From the ordinance:

“The City of Blairsville is closing to all tourists and leisure visitors. Effective immediately, no lodging establishment shall accept reservations until further notice, including extension to current reservations. Effective Thursday, April 2, 2020 at 11:59 p.m., all hotels, short term (as defined as less than 28 days) vacation rentals, and other transient rentals to include marinas, RV parks, campgrounds, Airbnb, VRBO, rental cabins, rental homes and time shares shall cease renting to tourists for 30 days. This ban shall not apply to rentals to transitory military personnel, first responders, health care workers, construction workers actively engaged in projects in the City or in Union County, City employees and contractors engaged in essential City services and others engaged in formal business in the City of Blairsville.”

See entire ordinance here: Ordinance 2020-02

The North Georgia mountains and communities like Blairsville have experienced an influx of out-of-towners since the initial COVID-19 outbreak in Georgia. Many from the metro-Atlanta area have tried to escape the virus by visiting second homes or hiking on the weekends. Local county commissioners asked the United States Forest Service (USFS) to close the Appalachian trailheads, and USFS has done so.

Orange Cones were also placed by GDOT along Neel’s Gap to prevent tourists from parking along the road and walking any trails. Georgia Forestry Service received direction to keep a closer eye on park-goers, not permitting groups larger than ten to congregate.

City council declared a state of emergency on March 25, 2020, which banned large public gatherings, closed on-premise dining and several non-essential businesses. Essential businesses are defined according to Union County’s first amendment in its state of emergency.

Non-essential businesses, not previously listed, are asked to close, work remotely, and at a minimum practice social distancing under the shelter in place directive.

No curfew was put in place at this time.

Mayor Jim Conley did state that the council could always come back and make the ordinance stronger if necessary. The city can make an ordinance stronger than the impending order from the governor, but not lesser.

Councilmember Tony Dyer made the motion to approve the ordinance. Councilmember Betty Easter seconded it and members Rhonda Mahan and Mary Ruth Cook also voted in favor of the ordinance. Buddy Moore was absent.

 

Blairsville City Council closes on-premise dining, gyms, and salons in emergency declaration

Community, News, Police & Government
emergency declaration qualifying election

Blairsville, Ga – Blairsville City Council passed an emergency declaration and ordinance in an effort to combat the spread of COVID-19. It closed many non-essential businesses and banned on-premise dining within city limits.

In a 3 p.m. teleconference call, councilmembers Tony Dyer, Rhonda Mahan, and Mary Ruth Cook all voted to approve the public health state of emergency. Buddy Moore and Betty Easter were not in attendance, and Mayor Jim Conley doesn’t vote unless needed.

The ordinance goes into effect on Thursday, March 26 at 9 p.m. and lasts until Tuesday, April 7. The council can choose to extend the measure on April 7.

Restaurants must close their in-dining services but can offer to carry out, curbside, and drive-thru orders. However, establishments have to maintain “at least six (6) feet of personal distance between themselves and others.” If the restaurant has an alcohol license, it can sell unopened bottles or cans of beer or wine for take-out consumption off-premises.

Additionally, gyms, fitness centers, pools, social clubs, amusement facilities, massage parlors, hair and nail salons, and any other similar facility must close and remain closed for the duration of the state of emergency.

Grocery stores, pharmacies, and other businesses not addressed in the emergency declaration are instructed to “post signage on entrance doors informing consumers to maintain at least six feet of personal distance between themselves and others and shall not allow more than ten people into such establishment at any one time if such social distancing cannot be maintained.”

Public gatherings of ten or more are now prohibited on any property owned or controlled by the city, including “parks, public square, public space, playground, recreational area, or similar place of public gathering,” The ordinance does not restrict pedestrian use of sidewalks or “designated pedestrian areas of parks” for exercise “if they are not participating in an organized gathering.”

The major has the right to cancel any meetings under the city’s jurisdiction during this emergency. The council, boards, and commissions can conduct teleconference meetings as well.

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Mayor Conley has the power to determine “required” and “discretionary” services under the emergency ordinance.

For the duration of this state of emergency, the city won’t disconnect or turn-off any public utility service for non-payment. “Unless otherwise ordered by City Council, after the conclusion of the declared emergency, persons will have a period of forty-five (45) days to make such payments before service may be disconnected.”

At this time, the council did not issue a curfew or shelter in place directive but reserves the right to do so in the future.

See the entire declaration: Ordinance 2020-02.

The mayor can now identify city services as “required” or “discretionary” and assign employees to those services and can periodically review and modify categories. He can also use his discretion to permit telework. Discretionary services and direct employees may be instructed to not report to work until the service suspension is lifted or the Mayor “redirects the employee to other services.” He can contract and expend non-budgeted sums and services to meet the demands upon the city during the public health emergency. The expenses will be reported to the city’s governing authority.

If the major can’t fulfill his duties, then the emergency interim successor pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 38-3-50 will perform the duties. This person will be chosen by the city council. Again the emergency declaration will be reevaluated on April 7.

Incumbent councilmembers retain their seats in 2019 election

Announcements, Election
councilmembers

BLAIRSVILLE, GA – Election 2019 proved that the voting citizens of Blairsville agree with the job their councilmembers are doing by reelecting all three incumbents – Rhonda Mahan, Betty Easter, and Mary Ruth Cook.

The three councilmembers faced one challenger in Frank Pack, who has run for a seat on the council before to no avail. The votes broke down as follows:

Rhonda Mahan – 31

Betty Easter – 36

Mary Ruth Cook – 35

Frank Pack – 7

City council elections are based on a plurality of votes, in other words, the top three vote-getters are elected to the seats on the ballot. The terms up for elect will run from Jan. 1, 2020 to Dec. 31, 2023. 109 votes were cast out of a population of approximately 600.

When asked for comment, Mary Ruth Cook stated, “I try very hard to make decisions that’ll benefit everybody, not just one, and hopefully, I can continue to do that.”

Cook is the newest member of the city council and will begin her second term in office with this win.

Similarly, Betty Easter told the room that she was “thrilled” to be able to serve the city of Blairsville for another term.

Rhonda Mahan echoed a similar sentiment to Cook with an earnest responsibility to do the right thing for the entire town. Blairsville’s currently undergoing rapid development with assistance from organizations like the Downtown Development Authority and the influx of new businesses. During this growth, it’s integral that elected officials attempt to consider their constituents first.

“I’m not a politician,” said Mahan, “I was born and raised here and want to be a good steward of our town.”

***These election results are unofficial until certified by the Secretary of State’s Office.***

 

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