Towns accepting rollback millage rate, new parks and recreation director

News
millage

HIAWASSEE, Ga – At the October county meeting, Sole Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw announced the county would be accepting the rollback millage rate for 2021.

Towns County hasn’t increased taxes since 2008. The 2021 millage digest is 4.753 mills.

The city of Hiawassee accepted a rollback earlier in the year after a contested 3-2 vote. The rollback was 1.977 mills.

Towns County Board of Education’s millage rate is 6.863 net mills.

Commissioner Bradshaw earlier in the meeting discussed the financial standing of the county. Visitors continue to pour into the community and aren’t afraid to spend money. He asked for a comparison of last year’s sales tax to 2021.

  • 2020: $1,288,777.91
  • 2021: $1,661,020.71

The increase amounts to $372,242.79.

“That’s a huge increase in sales tax collection. I call that very good,” Bradshaw stated.

Towns constantly looking for new events and ways to bring people into the community along with the Chamber of Commerce, Hiawassee, and Young Harris.

New Recreation Director

After four years, Matthew Youngblood is leaving the Parks and Recreation Department for a new career.

“Matt has done a wonderful job and I wanted to publicly thank him. He’s been so easy to work with and so professional at taking care of parks and recreation,” Commissioner Bradshaw commended him.

Stuart Nichols will be taking over as the Director of the Parks and Recreation Department.

“Stuart is a very, very good man – a youth pastor at his church, loves children, loves interacting with children, has coached sports,” Bradshaw stated. “Stuart has jumped right in and is doing a wonderful job.”

COVID-19 cases in Towns County continue to drop from previous highs over the summer, but some people in the community are still struggling with serious illness. Last week, the mask mandate for the Enotah Judicial District Courthouses was lifted for the area.

A public safety grant from ACCG of $4,000 was awarded to Towns County for public safety officials. The money will be used to purchase safety equipment for the road department.

Towns elections in need of poll managers and workers

News
poll workers

HIAWASSEE, Ga – Towns County Elections and Registration Office needs poll workers for the upcoming 2022 election season.

“With COVID, we’re having a problem getting poll workers guys. We need experienced poll workers especially,” Sole Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw said at the county meeting.

Many poll workers are older, and COVID-19 predominately affects that age group. Anyone interested in becoming a poll worker can visit the Elections Office next to the civic center and ask for Office Supervisor Rachel Edwards.

The November election appears to be covered, but the 2022 election needs more people.

If they can’t appropriately cover the mid-term elections, the idea being floated is the Macedonia and Hiawassee vote at the same precinct. Young Harris would vote at the same location. It would be a temporary solution, not a permanent one.

“In order to do that, you have to get that to the state, the end of October, early November,” Bradshaw added.

Poll workers would need to be signed up by mid-October of this year for the 2022 election or the temporary combining of precincts might be necessary.

“Our challenge is we need managers. Poll workers, we desperately need, and right now we’re so short on managers,” Elections and Registration Chairman Janet Oliva explained. “Although we’re short on poll workers without those seasoned managers, it’s a challenge of trying to get them trained that’s not something you can do overnight and that’s been our challenge.”

Bradshaw asked people to reach out to others to try and help the county find poll workers and experienced managers.

Bradshaw commented that COVID-19 in Towns County appears to be on the decline again. He’s also spoken with more and more individuals who are getting vaccinated.

“Talked to the CEO of the hospital quite often and he told me that 93 percent of the COVID patients in the hospital are unvaccinated. That tells me a lot right there, I’m not one of these guys gonna tell people what to do, but the numbers don’t lie. They tell you how it is. Anyway, we’re very happy about that as we go into the fall season and the holiday season,” Bradshaw stated.

The 2020 audit will likely be presented at the next meeting.

The transfer station will soon be separated according to commercial and bag garbage. New signage will direct people on where to go. People will be able to just drop their bagged garbage over a two-foot wall. It’s expected to be completed this fall.

Courthouse progress has slowed down due to the market and the inability to readily gather materials. However, soon Bradshaw hopes to start interviewing construction companies for the project.

Towns County becomes a Purple Heart County

Business
purple heart proclaimation

HIAWASSEE, Ga – Sole Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw signed the Purple Heart County Proclamation during the July commission meeting.

“We support our veterans very strongly. The county supports them in every way we can,” Bradshaw stated.

Veteran and Purple Heart recipient Ryan McPherson attended to accept the proclamation and say a few words.

“It’s important that the way of life, American Values are founded on are never forgotten, faith, family, and freedom,” McPherson commented. “We must do all we can to remember and to protect those values. We must also remember American Military Servicemen. They come from all walks and backgrounds.”

McPherson received his badge after being injured during a tour of duty in 2008 in Iraq. He’s semi-retired and moved to Union County from Marietta, Georgia.

“The American soldier is the backbone of this great nation, and their sacrifice can never be understated or under-recognized,” McPherson remarked.

Ryan MxPherson

McPherson earned his Purple Heart merit in 2008 after a tour of duty 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.

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

Towns County can now be recognized as a stop on the Purple Heart Trail which symbolically honors recipients across the nation.

“[It’s] a visual reminder to those who use our roadways that others have paid a high price for freedom for them to travel along those roads and to live in a free society,” McPherson added.

Military Order of the Purple Heart was established in 1992. It begins in Mt. Vernon, Virginia, and has designated sections in 45 states and Guam.

Towns still deciding how to properly use American Rescue Plan funds

News
testing site American Rescue Plan Bradshaw

HIAWASSEE, Ga – In a short and sweet June Towns Commission meeting, Sole Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw gave an update on local business and the American Rescue Plan funds.

Towns County received just over $1 million in American Rescue Plan funds last month and Bradshaw’s still deciphering how exactly the money can be used. On Wednesday, the county attorney will be in the courthouse helping to determine where the funds can be spent.

Since the initial approval of the American Rescue Plan earlier in 2021, the strings attached and approved areas for spending has continued to change. Previously, the Democrat-led plan stipulated states that accepted funding couldn’t cut taxes. This provision has since been removed after protests from Republican states.

“We want to make sure that we’re very clear on how the money is to be used. Anytime you get money from the federal government there’s not many strings attached to it, is there?” Bradshaw joked for a second.

He’s spoken with Union County Commissioner Lamar Paris and both are dedicated to understanding the ins and outs of these federal funds.

“My main concern with the money is doing what we can for our county employees first and then see how we can use the money as we go forward. Our county employees worked all through the pandemic. We didn’t have people quit. We didn’t have people leave. They showed up. They went to work. Several people caught COVID, were very sick, and were out several weeks, but back to work they come. When a lot of other places were shut down, the county government can’t shut down,” Bradshaw explained. “I’m very proud of all public safety, all county employees for sticking with us, doing there job, not whining and crying, doing the extra work they needed to do.”

However, the areas for spending are still changing. Water, sewer, and broadband access appear to be the services consistently approved for spending. Public health was on one version but later was removed.

More information about Towns County’s plans for the funds will be available once they thoroughly review all the information.

Bradshaw commended Towns County Fire Department for their efforts in public safety and spoke about the department recently receiving a $1,000 donation from homeowners whose house caught fire seven years ago.

A camera surveillance system for Bell Mountain was approved for $2,500 and a $75 per month maintenance fee.

The road into Tate City is being regraded and repaired for public safety needs. The county rented a bulldozer and the road department will take charge of the project. They plan to check on it every few months.

“Once we get the road done, I’m going to call the [Sheriff], and on the weekends, he’s going to have special people who do that zone go up Hightower and wait on the jeepers to come out and have a friendly talk with them,” Bradshaw stated.

The Pickleball courts will be redone for $18,000.

The Georgia Mountain Regional Commission will be helping Towns County to update its Joint Comprehensive Plan. The process requires public hearings and the first one will be Tuesday, June 29 at Foster Park. Denise McKay was reappointed to the Georgia Mountain Regional Council as Towns County’s private sector representative.

The Georgia Indigent Defense Services Agreement for those who need public defenders was renewed. Towns County pays the state for these services along with the other counties in the Enotah Judicial District. Towns pays 12 percent of a $409,105.44 annual contract.

Transfer station updates on the way

Community, News
transfer station ARP

HIAWASSEE, Ga – Sole Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw provided some insight into the future of the transfer station during the May 18, 2021 meeting.

Bradshaw and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have worked together to develop a safe layout that makes dumbing household garbage easier for residents.

“Right now, as you know, you back in under that big shed, you get out, you throw your garbage in that big trailer sitting down there. A lot of days when we’re busy there’s garbage backed up, they’re trying change out the trailer this, that, and the other. You get out, you’re carrying your trash through all this junk in the floor,” Bradshaw explained.

People will continue to pay in the same place, but the residential and commercial garbage drop points will be separate.

“We’re going to cut a road that goes around all the scrap metal that’s there, you go all the way around…you’ll be dumping straight across [from the existing garbage drop-off point],” Bradshaw stated.

Three 54-inch-tall roll-offs will go in the grassy area across from the current site. The container will also have lids. Lids on the containers eliminate the necessity of a roof over the bins. Recycling will remain in the same place.

“It will cut down on the wait time, on getting in and getting out,” Bradshaw remarked, “Plus it will make it neater and cleaner for the residential people.”

Bradshaw’s wanted to renovate the transfer station for a couple of years but wanted to find ways to save money on the project too. The road department will pave the road and some grading will be necessary for runoff toward the leachate pond. Reid Dyer of Hayes, James, and Associates has been helping the county plan the layout.

It isn’t expected to be completed until late fall or Christmas.

Colwell Detention Center crews are returning to work. One crew is back out in Towns and working on cleaning Foster Park. They hope to have a second crew back by July. Towns usually has three crews, but since COVID-19 hit, all Colwell detention crews have been locked down.

Progress on the new courthouse is still slow-moving, but the architect thinks they could break ground in late Spring 2022.

Farmers Market is expected to open by the first of June.

Towns created a bid package with the assistance of KCI for the Georgia Department of Transportation’s LMIG striving and paving grant for 2021. The $130,000 grant will include thermal striping and marking along Fodder Creek, Upper Bell Creek, Gumlog, Owl Creek, Frank Creek, and Byers Creek roads.

It’s a matching grant and the county will contribute $78,140.

Commissioner Bradshaw reviews 2021 operating budget

News
2021 operating budget

HIAWASSEE, Ga – Sole Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw presented the 2021 operating budget for the county which features a $90,000 increase from last year.

The 2020 budget was $11,174,990, and the total for 2021 is $11,265,590. The county’s currently in the midst of a spending freezing because of COVID-19, and Towns’ officials’ frugality will actually place them under budget for 2020.

“It’s a very sound budget. We have added a few things to this, animal control,” Bradshaw commented. “[The sheriff-elect] is going to hire a deputy/ animal control person.”

Since Towns County is so small, the individual will perform both deputy and animal control duties. The animal control budget will be $104,000. It includes the salary, benefits, training, supplies, shelter donations, and spay and neuter program. The expense could increase or decrease next year according to what the county needs. They already have a truck and kennel for an animal control program. In the past, the road department managed animal control. Bradshaw asked Sheriff Clinton to take over animal control when Bradshaw took office.

“I feel like we need the next level of animal control. Someone with a badge and trained to take liability off the county. Somebody’s that’s trained for animal control,” Bradshaw explained.

Sheriff-elect Ken Henderson received an additional $30,000 for new uniforms and re-decal the patrol cars. It’s part of his plan to improve the sheriff’s office image.

The library budget increased by $49,700 to assist in reopening the Young Harris library. The building temporarily closed to the public on December 1. Hopefully, it will reopen by the end of January 2021.

Bradshaw assured there was adequate money to “improve the road on Bell Mountain.”

The 2021 budget also featured a $0.50 per hour salary increase, which equates to around $150,000.

“I’m excited through frugal, frugal business practices and the help of Mrs. Linda and Andrea that we’ve been able to supply all the services and even upgrade a lot and give raises and we haven’t had to raise the millage rate,” Bradshaw remarked.

The Towns County millage rate hasn’t increased since 2008.

Sales tax revenue, SPLOST and hotel/motel, unexpected soared in 2020 putting Towns County in good financial shape to offer raises and plan for the future.

Andrea Anderson, finance director, stated, “When the governor opened back up, our revenues went up, our tourism went up.”

Neither Bradshaw nor Anderson wanted to guess if the upward tractor would continue in 2021 with a new president and COVID-19 still lingering.

“I don’t know what to anticipate,” Bradshaw said. “I’m looking at it as a business and we’re going to be as frugal as we can because we don’t know what the future is going to be.”

This conservative nature will continue until Bradshaw feels secure about the economic direction of the country.

Towns County Library celebrates Branch Manager Debbie Phillips

Community

HIAWASSEE, Ga – Sole Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw acknowledged Towns County Library Branch Manager Debbie Phillips’s service to the community during the December meeting.

Phillips retired from the library after serving 30 years in the Mountain Regional Library System. During her time with the library, she served on statewide PINES committees, the Board of Trustees advisory council as branch manager, bookkeeper, and she’s assisted the library board as well as friends of the library.

“I want to congratulate Debbie. She’s been an outstanding public servant,” Board of Trustees Chair Barbara Hale said. “I can tell you right now, Debbie’s work is more than dedication, it’s more than duty, it’s more than responsibility, she loves this community.”

Phillips sought to take care of Towns by providing them with the necessary tools in their library. Her entire family also contributed to her dedication to the role.

“There’s no one more honest, more diligent, more dedicated than Debbie. I love her and she loves this community. This community is really going to miss her. The vision that she had for that library and saw through to fruition,” Hale stated.

Bradshaw expounded that Phillips’s dedication to the library was “unbelievable.” She would call him for anything the library needed.

Towns Branch Manager Debbie Phillips and Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw

Towns Branch Manager Debbie Phillips and Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw

Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales also praised Phillips and her willingness to always help out the city.

“She always took care of that building and of course, the citizens were her first love,” Bradshaw said. “I’m sure there are more things you’re going to do in the community as we go forward.”

Of her time at the library, Phillips said, “I’ve enjoyed every minute. I’ve had a vested interest in the library. Most of us in our jobs if we stay that long, we love what we do or we wouldn’t do it.”

She acknowledged she would miss a lot of things such as the people but would still be around when necessary.

Towns County Courthouse renovations on the way

News, Police & Government
courthouse

HIAWASSEE, Ga – Now that the new SPLOST tax passed, Towns County’s courthouse renovation can officially begin. Sole Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw took a moment to speak about the new project at the June county meeting.

“I want to thank the Towns County Citizens for passing the SPLOST and Freeport Tax,” said Bradshaw.

Taxes didn’t increase with the passage of SPLOST; everything remains at seven percent.

“Now we can bring our courthouse up to date, not only in looks but the function of the courthouse,” Bradshaw added.

Bradshaw explained the architect’s plans during the first regularly scheduled meeting since March.

The bulk of the money will be spent on the interior of the current courthouse. They will gut the building to bring it up to code and add an offset to the back. The entire process should take around 18 months.

“The addition on the back will be courtrooms, holding cells, a judge’s office. It will be three courtrooms – two at 120 capacity and one at 60. The one at 60 will be the probate judge,” Bradshaw explained to the room.

Bradshaw and the architects went through several rounds of drawings before deciding on the final layout. Once the architects found drawings of the original courthouse, they incorporated its style into the add-on. The concept will break up the square box look and incorporate darker brick against the light brick.

“They will gut everything out of this building – the wiring, the plumbing, the heating and air, the windows. Everything will be new, more energy-efficient, and I can get Margie and Brooke out of the closet in our office.”

The new building will also create a commissioner’s conference room.

Rendering of the renovated courthouse.

The current plan is to build the new addition first and let everyone move that building. The commissioner’s office might move into the civic center. The exact details are still to be determined. After the completion of the addition, construction crews should take another nine months to finish renovating the existing courthouse.

The process will take longer than normal, but the county is saving money because it won’t have to rent trailers, sewer, internet, etc.

Around $500,000 of SPLOST funds will go to the road department and $140,000 for the recreation department.

Commissioner Bradshaw thanked everyone for passing SPLOST and the Freeport tax exemption.

Freeport Exemption

The Freeport Tax will put Towns County on an equal footing with surrounding counties as far as job creation is concerned.

“It will help our businesses in the future for the employees to have job creation because it will save them money on their taxes on their raw materials. It does open the door for a business to start here because we’re equal to every other county and if we put on a better sales pitch, we’ll get ‘em,” Bradshaw explained.

Around 93 percent of Georgia counties have adopted a Level One Freeport Exemption, which can be set at 20, 40, 60, 80, or 100 percent of the inventory value. According to the state of Georgia, t can apply to the following types of property:

  • Inventory of goods in the process of being manufactured or produced including raw materials and partly finished goods;
  • Inventory of finished goods manufactured or produced within this State held by the manufacturer or producer for a period not to exceed 12 months;
  • Inventory of finished goods on January 1 that are stored in a warehouse, dock, or wharf which are destined for shipment outside this State for a period not to exceed 12 months;
  • Stock in trade of a fulfillment center which on January 1 are stored in the fulfillment center.

Runoff details emerge; Anderson qualified for tax commissioner

Election, News
runoff

TOWNS COUNTY, Ga – Board of Elections announced that the August 11 runoff elections will take place in the same polling location as the General Primary.

After speaking with the Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office, Board of Elections Chairman Janet Olivia and Office Supervisor Rachel Edwards stated that the runoff election must “be consistent” with the primary. In other words, the decision to only open one polling station will still be in effect for the runoff.

COVID-19 forced the Board of Elections to close four of the five polling stations in Towns County. The decision took into account the safety of residents and poll workers as well as liability concerns.

“We had trained 30 [poll workers], but when we get got a reply back, we had less than 12 that were interested in working,” Olivia explained. “Also, the individuals in control of the polling places were concerned about the issue of using the polling place locations because of the liability and responsibility.”

If the government owns the polling location, then it takes on the responsibility of sanitizing the area to combat the spread of COVID-19. EMS Director Brandon Walls and his team assisted in ensuring the cleanliness of the Board of Elections and Civic Center building.

Rachel Edwards (Left) and Janet Olivia (Right).

However, other polling locations, such as the lodge and church, private citizens would be responsible for cleaning and separating large crowds of people.

The elections and civic center building was only government facility available for the General Primary and just enough poll workers to staff it.

4,754 Towns residents voted during the June 9 General Primary with 2,732 absentee votes, and 1,166 early votes. Around 10,500 people are registered to vote in Towns County.

Early voting for the runoff will begin on July 20. Absentee ballots for the runoff must be requested. The Secretary of State won’t mass mail absentee applications for the August 11 election.

Races appearing on the August 11 runoff will be Towns County Sheriff between Kenneth “Ode” Henderson (R) and Daren “Bear” Osborn (R), State Senator District 50 between Stacy Hall (R) and Bo Hatchett (R), Congressional Ninth District on the Republican Ticket Matt Gurtler and Andrew Clyde, and Ninth District on the Democrat Ticket Devin Pandy and Brooke Siskin.

Due to J.C. Berrong’s untimely passing, the Towns County Republican Party can run another candidate in his place and one individual has qualified. Michael Anderson of Scataway will appear on the ballot for Tax Commissioner in November. Bruce Rogers (D-I) will also be on the ballot.

The Board of Elections applied for several grants to reimburse the expenses associated with the new voting machines as well.

Bradshaw commended the work the election staff performs to deliver accurate results.

“These ladies do a great job. They put in a tremendous amount of hours down there and I’m very thankful to have them. As commissioner, I don’t know what I would do without them. They are very dedicated and do a good job, added Sole Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw.

COVID-19 testing site coming to Towns County Health Department

Announcements, News

TOWNS COUNTY, Ga – In his public address on Friday, April 17, Sole Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw revealed that Towns County would soon receive a COVID-19 testing location at the local health department.

“We’re going to have a drive-thru testing site at Towns County Health Department, and it will be up and going in a few days. It will help us identify who has the virus, who doesn’t have the virus. You need to go isolate yourself or your fine, you can go back to work,” explained the commissioner.

According to Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales the testing site is open and taking appointments. Please call ahead before showing up at the health department. The number is (706) 896-2265.

Fetch Your News contacted District Two MPH Dave Palmer for further details about the testing location.  However, once all the specimen collection details are worked out, testing should begin soon.

Towns and Union County Health Department staff are being trained in COVID-19 testing protocols, and the Towns location will serve citizens from both counties.

“Specimen collection will take place at the health department and specimens will be sent to a lab for testing. Test results average 24 to 48 hours, explained Palmer. “The process will require an appointment. Individuals who have symptoms are asked to call the health department. A nurse will screen callers and then submit the information to a scheduler who will call the individual with a time to come to the specimen collection site.”

Those who take a COVID-19 test will receive a phone call with the lab results. All positive patients will work with a nurse regarding contact tracing.

How Towns received a testing location

Bradshaw contacted State Senator John Wilkinson and District 2 Public Health Director Pam Logan on Thursday, April 16 about getting a testing site. Up until now, Gainesville, Ga has been the closest drive-thru testing site for Towns County residents.

“I said can we not please get a testing site on this side of the mountain? We’ve got elderly folks here who are sick, and [they don’t feel like driving across the mountain.] To be honest with you after watching the local news and all this stuff about testing sites, I thought it would probably be impossible,” admitted Bradshaw.

At 5 p.m., Logan called back and confirmed Towns County could receive its own drive-thru site.

For those with questions about the testing site, call the health department at 706.896.2265.

“I’m very, very proud that we’re able to get this done,” said Bradshaw.

testing site

Commissioner Bradshaw gave a COVID-19 update to Towns County citizens.

He thanked everyone who made it possible including Wilkinson, Logan, Laura Ide, the office manager health department, Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales, Young Harris Mayor Andrea Gibby, and all the people involved in making it happen.

“This is a serious time. There’s no doubt about it and this is when Americans rise to the top. This is when we do our best. I’m thankful to all you guys, and I’m thankful to our citizens,” stated the commissioner.

Towns County Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw gives update on COVID-19.

Posted by Fetch Your News on Friday, April 17, 2020

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