Free COVID-19 test site open in Blairsville

News, Press Release
union general hospital COVID-19

UNION COUNTY – District 2 Public Health is partnering with LTS to provide FREE COVID-19 drive-thru testing at the Union General Hospital in Blairsville. 

The health department assisted in opening the location to alleviate some of the stress on the hospital. LTS medical professionals will be conducting the onsite tests.

If an individual needs a COVID-19 test for work or school, or if they are feeling ill and would like to be tested for COVID-19 in Union County, the lab will offer Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests.  These are not rapid tests and it will take 36 hours for results.

Testing will be available Monday through Saturday from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. The testing site will be located at 35 Hospital Road, Blairsville, GA 30512.  The testing site will not be open on Labor Day, September 6.   

While no appointment is required, registration with LTS Labs is encouraged to decrease wait times at the testing site.  Registration information can be found at https://honumg.info/LTSGA015.

Union County accepting rollback for 2021 millage rate

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public hearings millage rate courthouse Qualifying meetings state of emergency property

BLAIRSVILLE, GA – The 2021 millage rate will be dropping to 6.024 mills from last year’s 7.187 mills in Union County.

“The State Computation form indicates this is a 0.00% tax increase. The rollback rate is set by the State of Georgia using the county’s net digest number,” the county notice stated.

Union County recently completed a county-wide property reevaluation where many citizens saw substantial increases. At public hearings on the matter, Sole Commissioner Lamar Paris promised the millage rate would come down from last year. The property taxes for the year had not been calculated yet.

2020’s millage rate triggered a 17 percent property tax increase on the county side, not including the board of education millage rate. The board of education is also lowering its 2021 millage rate.

The Georgia Department of Revenue has the net tax percent increase on the 2021 Tax Digest at 10.63 percent. The number is “based on growth in the county only (new properties, additions, etc.), NOT inflationary growth.”

The total county net tax increase in dollar amount for $997,886. The total digest value is $1,723,597,819 and the total M&O taxes levied for 2021 is $10,382,953. See the tax digest for a breakdown of the unincorporated and incorporated areas of Union County.

The next county meeting is on September 16 at 6 p.m. at the Union County Courthouse.

Union County leadership pens letter regarding COVID-19 outbreak

Community, News, Press Release
union general hospital COVID-19
Dear Union County residents,
We want to take a few minutes to express our thoughts on the current increase in COVID-19 cases in Union County and to beg your assistance in helping us get through this difficult time. Here is what you need to know:
Union General Hospital is currently above capacity with patients in their hospital and in their emergency room and have been for a couple of weeks. The dedicated staff at Union General Hospital want to communicate that although they are at and beyond capacity, they will continue to do their best to take care of our community. Please don’t avoid coming to the hospital if you need care. We do want you to know that more than 80 percent of the patients admitted to the hospital are sick with COVID, and it is becoming more difficult to find beds for critical patients in any of the surrounding larger hospitals. We have added 263 new COVID cases since August 1st, with 76 of those in the last two days.
Each one of us loves Union County and wants to continue “business as usual”, so this is our reminder to everyone that we do not want to shut down our recreation activities, county facilities and programs, festivals, etc. So, we would like to encourage and remind you to wear a mask, social distance, wash hands, and even more important, get vaccinated if you can. Those with vaccines are much less likely to get severely ill and be hospitalized with COVID compared to those who are not vaccinated. Currently, at Union General, 92% of the patients who are admitted to the hospital with COVID are unvaccinated. This percentage has consistently been >90% unvaccinated.
Let’s all do our part to get through this difficult time and protect ourselves, our friends and family, and especially our children.
Union County Commissioner Lamar Paris and staff
Sheriff Mack Mason
Major Shawn Dyer
Honorable Raymond E. George, Chief Judge Enotah Judicial Circuit
Union County Fire Chief, EMA Director, and 911 Director David Dyer and staff
City Police Chief Bear Baxter
City of Blairsville Mayor Jim Conley
Union County 911 Dispatch Lt. Millie Baxter
Union General Hospital

Where to get vaccinated in Union County

COVID VACCINE INFORMATION at the Union County Health Department:
No appointment is needed. Can be done on a walk-in basis. All Vaccines are provided: Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson
  • Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday: 8:00 AM- 11:00 AM and 1:00 PM -4:00 PM
  • Tuesday: 8:00AM-11:00 AM and 1:00PM-6:00 PM
  • Friday is 8:00 AM-11:00 AM
Location is 67 Chase Drive, Blairsville GA
Local pharmacies are also offering the COVID-19 vaccine. Some require appointments and others do not.

Union County issues five substance abuse grants to local non-profits

News
substance abuse grants

BLAIRSVILLE, Ga – Five substance abuse and mental health non-profits received grant funding from Union County.

The funds come from a portion of the alcohol license fees. In 2010, $50,000 was set aside in alcohol licensing fees to give back to the community for the purpose of combatting local substance and alcohol abuse.

“Roughly half of these funds are distributed each year in the form of grants that interested organizations can apply for,” Sole Commissioner Lamar Paris explained. “A completely independent committee reviews the applications and does the grants.”

Paris isn’t involved with the committee or selection process of the grant recipients.

The five organizations each received $5,000 at the August Commissioner meeting. A Change in Our World, Inc., Freedom Ministries, New Hope Counseling, Positive Pathways, Inc, and Union County Family Connection were the organizations that received funding.

“There’s such a tremendous problem nationwide with the opioid crisis, it’s very nice to know we have these non-profit organizations spending their time and effort to assist locally,” Paris added.

A Change in Our World focuses on suicide prevention and conducts the majority of its work with teenagers. The organization founded by Rebecca Brendle brings young people together and helps to employ teenagers at Blairsville Ice Cream and Mini-Golf, next to Rib Country.

“We’ve kinda given them something to do in addition to our ministry work. We also can take volunteers,” Brendle stated.

New Hope Counseling Director Troy Beaver explained the organizations’ role in helping out individuals with substance abuse problems.

“It takes addressing the medical, psychological, and spiritual in order to treat addiction,” Beaver said. “New Hope Counseling is the only state-certified facility in Union County that is certified by the Georgia Department of Behavioral Health, DUI Division Program, DDS, and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Association.”

All counselors are Georgia Addiction Counselor Association certified in substance abuse counseling. The group provides assistance in a number of ways to anyone suffering from addiction and trying to correct life choices.

Families receive free consults if they suspect someone is experiencing addiction. They will refer people to more intensive programs if necessary.

The grant funding at New Hope will go toward treatment for individuals who meet certain requirements such as Union County resident, desire to make a change, and fall beneath the poverty level.

“We appreciate this money and the people who get this money will appreciate this money, but they’ll get a little more than appreciation,” Beaver added. “It will give them a little hope for a hopeless situation.”

Beaver touched on Georgia’s accountability courts. The systems are an intensive two-year program to help those suffering from addiction. However, one can only take part in accountability courts if a felony is committed.

Positive Pathways is the newest organization in Union County. Founders Summer Crest and Shawna Harkins spoke about their recovery organizations.

Positive Pathways founders

“We provide peer support counseling. We want to be the hope for people who are struggling to come to us…There’s a lot of issues in our small town that a lot of people don’t talk about, but we want to thank the commissioner and the board, and everyone that supports us. We hope to do a lot of great things in Union County,” they said.

Positive Pathways has community events with the next one scheduled for September 3 at Meeks Park.

A lot of programs exist in Union County to help those with substance abuse problems such as AA, NA, Celebrate Recovery, Redemption Point, and some more unofficial groups who gather.

Family Connection and Freedom Ministries couldn’t attend due to illness.

County Business

Union County and Legacy Link entered into an agreement for the fiscal year 2022 to help run the Senior Center. The contract was $95,000.

Georgia Department of Transportation and the county agreed on $92,204 in grant funding for the 5311-transit system. GDOT will provide $46,000 and Union will match $46,000.

MedLink Georgia Inc, and Union County entered into a lease agreement for $100.00 for a medical facility in Suches. The lease is for three years. At the beginning, the medical office will be open once a week with the goal for the facility to be open three times a week.

COVID-19 cases among children in Union County

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COVID-19 children

BLAIRSVILLE, Ga – As the Delta Variant spreads in Union County and Georgia, confirmed cases in children continue to outpace previous COVID-19 strains.

On August 12, Union County reported a total of 245 confirmed cases in the 0 to 22 age group. One week later, the Department of Public Health recorded 21 new cases for the age range. For comparison, the case change from the August 6 report to August 13 was nine.

Union County from July 31 to August 13 documented 59 new cases total and has recorded 2,361 cases since last year.

The Delta Variant is highly contagious. Health professionals have compared its transmission rate to chickenpox spread. The number of COVID-19 cases in children jumped over 1,100 percent when Delta hit Georgia.

“In a completely unmitigated environment—where no one is vaccinated or wearing masks—it’s estimated that the average person infected with the original coronavirus strain will infect 2.5 other people,” Dr. F. Perry Wilson, a Yale Medicine epidemiologist, says. “In the same environment, Delta would spread from one person to maybe 3.5 or 4 other people.”

Several schools started back at the beginning of August, and the virus spread is evident. Union County Primary had to close its building for this week because too many teachers were out sick. UCS 2021-2022 school year started on August 12. The previous week Towns County Elementary closed for the same reason too many ill staff.

The Department of Public Health (DPH) keeps track of COVID-19 in children and release school-age data each week. A breakdown of Union County’s 14-day case rate for children indicated significant increases in the school-age group.

8/12 Union County Case Report

  • 0-4 – 1 case
  • 5-17 – 9 cases
  • 18-22 – 3 cases
  • 23+ – 73 cases

8/20 Union County Case Report

  • 0-4 – 5 cases (+4)
  • 5-17 – 17 cases (+8)
  • 18-22 – 8 cases (+5)
  • 23+ – 115 cases (+42)

While DPH doesn’t provide a county-by-county breakdown of hospitalizations, it includes statewide data on the topics. These reports come out every week and cover two weeks of data.

DPH COVID-19 in Children graph

Emergency room visits related to COVID-19 in children are spiking along with respiratory-related visits. However, hospitalizations appear to have taken a turn downward in most age groups.

Statewide the 5-17 age range is facing the most significant spike in the school-age report. When broken down, 5-10 and 14-17 are experiencing a laboratory higher case rate than 11-13. It’s unclear why from the information provided by the DPH.

Union County Schools COVID-19 Procedures

Union County Schools have procedures regarding positive cases, close contact, quarantine, isolation, and seating charts to try and keep its students safe.

A close contact student, who’s within three feet of a positive case, must quarantine for five days.

Positive students must quarantine for ten days and may return to school after symptoms end or 24 hours without a fever or fever-reducing medicine.

None of these students can participate in extracurricular, after-hours, or athletic activities.

Potentially exposed employees can still work under the essential worker status. If they exhibit any COVID-19 related symptoms, they must inform their supervisor, and essential worker status will be revoked. These individuals must quarantine for ten days from the onset of symptoms.

For the time being, the parents can decide on the necessity of a mask. On Friday, August 20, Assistant Superintendent Dr. David Murphy told FYN that a mask mandate is a “diametrically opposed issue. Families have determined what they feel is best for them. We believe that wearing a mask is the parent/student’s right to choose.”

Additionally, Murphy explained the elementary, middle, high, and Woody Gap Schools aren’t experiencing the same staff absenteeism as the primary school.

COVID-19 K-12 breakdown from DPH

The Primary had nearly four times the percentage of teachers absent than its closest school by comparison. They simply didn’t have enough staff to operate the building effectively.

Pfizer vaccine was fully approved for individuals who are 16 and older on Monday, August 23. Children 12 and older can also receive a vaccine under emergency use authorization.

Children younger than 12 haven’t been cleared to take the vaccine yet. It’s currently undergoing testing.

Blairsville City Council approves agreement with county to receive TSPLOST funds

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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.

Paris addresses COVID-19 vaccine and county updates

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Lamar Paris

BLAIRSVILLE, Ga – Sole Commissioner Lamar Paris ran an efficient meeting and covered several topics during the March 2021 meeting.

He reported that over 500 vaccine doses were administered at the last mass vaccine event but wasn’t sure if another mass vaccine day would occur. Also, Union County’s supply went from the Moderna to Pfizer vaccine.  Over 7,000 first doses and 5,000 second doses have been given in Union County. Georgia opened the vaccine up to everyone 16 and older on Thursday.

A new restroom is coming to Meeks Park, and TVA is funding approximately $25,000 for the project. It is located next to the intended location for an amphitheater.

Union’s economy is still performing well despite the pandemic. Paris stated that all new restaurants appear to be full almost every night.

The county entered into an agreement with the Georgia Forestry Commission allowing for Union County Fire Department to use surplus Forestry equipment when fighting fires. It’s a five-year agreement that needed to be updated due to a change of leadership. Administrative fees are $100 per transaction for non-title property and $200 per transaction for titled property.

A bank account was opened with United Community Bank for SPLOST 5 which is scheduled to kick in either late April or early May.

Two grants were accepted from the Accountability Courts Supplemental State Funds for Enotah Mental Health Court in the amounts of $29,280 and $6,470.

The County meeting in April was rescheduled for Tuesday, April 20 at 6 p.m. at the courthouse.

Board of Elections Changes

Elizabeth “Libby” Stevens became the Board of Elections Chair for a term of February 1, 2021, to December 31, 2024. She was already serving on the board and Commissioner Paris picked her to keep some normalcy on the board with all the election issues currently going on in the state.

James Sterling Fitzgerald will be taking her spot on the board for the term of January 1, 2021, to December 31, 2023.

Carl Foutz was also appointed to the Board of Elections from January 1, 2021, to December 31, 2022. He is replacing Bill Parker.

Democrats appoint two members, and Republicans appoint two members. The Commission appoints the chairman.

Union County Sheriff’s Office Arrest Report 2/7 – 2/14

Arrest Reports, Police & Government

Arrest report provided by the Union County Sheriff’s Office with images.  The Georgia Open Records Act (O.C.G.A. 50-18-70) allows for FetchYourNews.com to obtain and post the arrest records of any and all individuals arrested in Union County GA. Those arrests are posted on FetchYourNews.com for viewing pleasure. Please remember that all individuals listed have been arrested and charged, however, they are presumed innocent until guilt has been proven in a court of law.

Union County Sheriff’s Office Arrest Report 1/25 – 1/31

Arrest Reports, Police & Government

Arrest report provided by the Union County Sheriff’s Office with images.  The Georgia Open Records Act (O.C.G.A. 50-18-70) allows for FetchYourNews.com to obtain and post the arrest records of any and all individuals arrested in Union County GA. Those arrests are posted on FetchYourNews.com for viewing pleasure. Please remember that all individuals listed have been arrested and charged, however, they are presumed innocent until guilt has been proven in a court of law.

Union County Sheriff’s Office Arrest Report 1/19 – 1/23

Arrest Reports, Police & Government

Arrest report provided by the Union County Sheriff’s Office with images.  The Georgia Open Records Act (O.C.G.A. 50-18-70) allows for FetchYourNews.com to obtain and post the arrest records of any and all individuals arrested in Union County GA. Those arrests are posted on FetchYourNews.com for viewing pleasure. Please remember that all individuals listed have been arrested and charged, however, they are presumed innocent until guilt has been proven in a court of law.

Union County hopes to vaccinate 1,000 in one day

Community
mass vaccination event

BLAIRSVILLE, Ga – Friday marked the first mass COVID-19 vaccination event for Union County, judging from the full schedule, one could label it a success.

The department of public health (DPH) controls who is eligible to receive the vaccine and individuals must sign up through the DPH website – more specifically the District 2 website. However, as of Thursday, the appointments were at full capacity and existing stock is committed as the second dose for other patients.

People signing in to receive vaccines. Photo courtesy of Paris.

The state left it up to local health departments to administer the vaccines to people, which can be difficult in a small county. The people eligible to receive the vaccine greatly outnumber the nurses and DPH only allows a certain number of vaccines to each county. DPH is bringing on extra employees to help meet demand as well.

“They’re trying to do all the retirement villages, nursing homes, everything…most of our public safety personnel have already been given the opportunity to get their shot. Now that they’ve opened it up to 65 years and older, we’ve realized it’s going to take months and months to get these shots out at the rate they’re going,” Sole Commissioner Lamar Paris explained.

The COVID-19 vaccination set up inside the sports center. Photos courtesy of Union County EMA.

Fire Chief and EMA Director David Dyer and the local health department created the mass vaccination event at the new sports center.

“We’re experimenting with the logistics of making it all work,” Paris said. “We’ll have six or eight more that are going to be certified [to give shots.]”

The mass vaccination began at 8 a.m. and lasted until 8 p.m. 50 volunteers participated to help make the event a success.

“We can’t tell you when you’re going to be able to get the shot. We’re just going to the Gainesville office and saying give us as many shots as you can.”

The county has set up a link on their website to schedule an appointment for the vaccination event. They started with 150 shots on Monday and grew to 1,000 shots by Thursday.

“The way COVID-19 is spreading throughout the county…There’s no rhyme or reason to who gets it and who doesn’t,” Paris added, “It’s a serious thing, and we take it serious here at the county.”

Union County hopes to hold more mass vaccination events in the future for residents who want the shot – potentially for four consecutive weeks. However, continued vaccination events depend upon DPH sending additional medicine.

The rotary club, county employees, recreation department staff, EMA, and local health department staff all played vital roles in hosting the clinic.

Union County Sheriff’s Office Arrest Report 1/4 – 1/10

Arrest Reports, Police & Government

Arrest report provided by the Union County Sheriff’s Office with images.  The Georgia Open Records Act (O.C.G.A. 50-18-70) allows for FetchYourNews.com to obtain and post the arrest records of any and all individuals arrested in Union County GA. Those arrests are posted on FetchYourNews.com for viewing pleasure. Please remember that all individuals listed have been arrested and charged, however, they are presumed innocent until guilt has been proven in a court of law.

Union County 2021 operating budget adopted

News
2021 operating budget

BLAIRSVILLE, Ga – The 2021 operating budget for Union County was officially set in a called meeting on December 28, 2020.

The total budget for $21,748,780 which was an 11.7 increase from 2020. In a public hearing, Sole Commissioner Lamar Paris cited several reasons for the rising budget including state cuts, property reevaluation, potential gun range costs, COVID-19 expenses, and other various expenses.

Paris thanked his staff, finance director Laura Driskell, purchasing director Pam Hawkins, and county manager Larry Garrett for working to create a streamlined budget.

The 2021 budget incorporated a property tax hike of 17 percent on the county side – a 6.8 percent increase overall. The previous year’s budget fell short of making ends meet by almost $1 million so a property tax increase was necessary. However, the ongoing property reevaluation could drop taxes next year.

SPLOST collections skyrocketed in 2020 and several SPLOST projects are planned in 2021 using the last four months of SPLOST 4 collections and eight months of SPLOST 5. The projects are as follows:

  • Jail Roof replacement
  • View Grill expansion
  • Courthouse HVAC – 2 large roof top units’ replacement
  • Meeks Park new restroom facility
  • New convenience center for trash and recycling on north end of county
  • Future jail property (second half of payment)
  • Sheriff’s Office vehicles
  • Road work and paving
  • City of Blairsville projects
  • New pumper engine/fire truck
  • Road department dump truck and other equipment and vehicles
  • Balls fields complex in front of Farmers Market
  • Senior Center upgrades/addition
  • SAFE shelter upgrades/addition
  • Suches Community Center floor replacement

For a more detailed breakdown of the 2021 operating budget, read this article.

Christmas Eve Snow blankets Union County

Community
Christmas Snow

BLAIRSVILLE, Ga – Beginning on Christmas Eve, the snow continued on-and-off throughout the night leaving a magical, still Christmas morning for north Georgia.

Estimates are between one and two inches of snow in Union County. According to the National Weather Service, there’s a 20 percent chance of snow showers on Christmas Day after 2 p.m.

As for the rest of the day: “Partly sunny, with a high near 26. West wind 10 to 15 mph, with gusts as high as 20 mph.”

Drivers are asked to use “strong caution” as black ice, iced roads, and slippery road conditions are possible. According to Commissioner Lamar Paris, the road department couldn’t scrap the frozen roads overnight and the “roads are a mess.” He advised people stay home unless “you have to assist Santa.” He hoped sunlight would help to melt some of the snow and ice, but temperatures are remaining below freezing.

Blairsville roads before sunrise. Image courtesy of Commissioner Lamar Paris.

GDOT is working on clearing state roads.

Some lost power last night for over an hour because of broken trees and tree limbs that fell because of the snowstorm.

The Union County Sheriff’s Office posted on Facebook, “The roads are very slick, and some are still impassable. Please stay off the roads and spend this white Christmas with your families.”

Please enjoy the snow, your family, and exercise extreme caution if venturing outside. If you have any snow pictures, send them over!

Paris presents 2021 budget, set to adopt Monday

News
2021 budget Union Commissioner Lamar Paris COVID-19

BLAIRSVILLE, Ga – In a public hearing for the 2021 budget, Sole Commissioner Lamar Paris presented the $21,748,780 budget. It will be adopted on December 28 at 4:30 p.m. at the Union County Courthouse.

The budget featured an 11.7 percent increase from 2020, which was $19,462,648. The reasons for the increases included three percent pay raise to county employees (+$440,000), property reevaluation (+$380,000), county’s potential share of gun range expenses (+$500,000), state cutting budgets (+$70,000), health care costs (+$100,000), vehicle and equipment repairs (+$20,000), repairs and maintenance (+$22,000), vehicle purchases (+$40,000), retirement plan matching (+$36,000), LMIG grants (-$104,000), operating costs for the new sports center, and COVID-19 expenses.

The county had to raise financing for the library, health department, court system, and other partially state-funded organizations because the state cut budgets by 15 percent.

The $500,000 budgeted for the gun range could decrease depending on the outcome of the project. DNR listed exacting specifications to receive aid.

copy of the 2021 budget

Several departments and offices experienced a budget escalation from 2020 with a few decreasing such as elections and health. The three percent employee raise and accounting for state budget cuts account for some of the increases.

“Every year our department heads and elected officials submit their budget requests to our office. We go through all the numbers and items compared to previous years budgets and actual expenditures and cut anywhere possible to get our total budget as low as we reasonably can. However, this is a difficult task because all our county offices and departments do an outstanding job each and every year to be practical and responsible with our budgets.” Paris stated.

County revenues grew in 2020 as well. SPLOST collections well outpaced previous years with November reaching $528,176.50.

The millage rate was set in the summer and increased to 7.361 mills. The overall increase will be 6.8 percent on the school property taxes are factored in. A homestead property with a market value of $100,000 will see a $46.25 tax hike. A non-homestead property valued at $200,000 will experience a $97.26 tax increase.

For years, Paris kept the millage rates low to save property owners money, but the county found it necessary to raise the millage rate this year to replenish the fund balance and cover operating expenses. According to the commissioner, if the counties maintained previous millage rates, Union County’s new rate would still rank in the lowest 10 percent in Georgia.

“Property tax revenue in 2020 was short almost $1 million dollars,” Paris explained.

The tax increase generated $1,629,229.

He also addressed the need to raise salaries for the sheriff’s office, jail, 911 dispatch to keep employees in the county. Paris thanked Sheriff Mack Mason for trying to keep costs low.

A state-required county property reevaluation is currently underway, so the millage rate could drop next year. The cost of the reevaluation is $380,000.

Christmas events in the Mountains

Community
Christmas events tour of trees

BLAIRSVILLE, Ga – The Christmas season is officially beginning in North Georgia, and Union County has several events to keep the family busy throughout December.

Starting on December 1 the Tour of Trees officially begins on December 1 and runs until December 31 from 9:00 a.m. to 5 p.m. In the past over 40 trees and wreaths have decorated the Union County Community Center. The Tour of Trees is free to the public. Also, on December 5, children can enjoy breakfast and pictures with Santa Christmas Train at the Community Center from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Christmas on the Square is also taking place on the evening of Saturday, December 5. A night-time caroling is scheduled for 6 p.m. The event also promises photos with Santa, a Christmas Market, and kid activities.

Southern Tree Plantation is ready to help the public find their perfect Christmas Trees with Pictures with Santa on Friday, November 27 from 11:00 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Saturday, November 28 from 10:30 a.m. to 2: p.m. The December dates are yet to be announced.

7M Family Farms will host its first annual Nightly Lights even from November 28 to January 1 from 6:00 p.m. to 10 p.m. Also, it’s first annual Christmas Festival will be on December 12 from 2:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. 7M Family Farms has invited 30 local arts and crafts vendors and Santa Claus for pictures. Candy Cane Lane will be a walk-thru light display. The event is free, but donations are welcome.

Blairsville Holiday Stop and Shop will be open from Friday, November 4, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturday, December 5, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Union County Civic Center. Over 50 vendors will be on hand.

St. Luke’s Anglican Church Fourteenth Annual Christmas Bazaar will be held on December 5 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the church’s open-air pavilion and social hall. The event will allow people to socially distance while they shop. Shoppers will find many traditional handmade gifts, a raffle for His and Her Garden themed gift, a Christmas Bazaar Sampler Basket, a silent auction, and baked goods. The proceeds of the event go toward North Georgia charities.

Vogel State Park Annual Tree Lighting will take place on December 12 at 5:00 p.m. Parking opens at 4:00 p.m. This year the program will take place from the “comfort of your vehicle” and park access will be restricted once they reach capacity.

Alpaca Holidays Open House will begin on December 26 and ends on December 29 at Lasso the Moon Alpaca Farm. The interactive tour is great for kids with tours beginning at 11:00 a.m., 12:00 p.m., and 1:00 p.m. Please go online to make a reservation. The tour is free.

For those looking for more holiday fun, Mountain Country Christmas in Lights started November 26 and runs through December 26 at the Georgia Mountain Fairgrounds in Hiawassee, Ga. It’s open every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 6:00 p.m. till 9:00 p.m. The event is an immersive light show with Christmas music, arts and crafts vendors, food, hot chocolate, and pictures with Santa. Those under 12 are free and 12 and older must pay $6.

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