ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners sat with departments and offices alike this month to look at proposed budgets that will make up the county’s finances in 2019.
At this time, these are all proposed budgets from the Department Heads and Elected Officials. This means that the county’s coming meetings on Tuesday, October 16, and Wednesday, October 17, will offer discussion as well as an expected Special Called Meeting later in the month to discuss cuts and balancing.
While Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris said he wished to look at increases in the department head’s salaries, no concrete number was set yet. Paris had mentioned $3,000 in one meeting, but later said it would be looking at this topic again when he could see a clearer picture of the budget and needs.
Additionally, concerns were raised through several meetings about capital budget requests and constraints on that side of the budget. As struggles continue with employee pay in many departments, the board is looking at a decrease in healthcare costs for the first time in years. As they have finalized numbers on the savings and their impact on the budget, an unexpected event occurred.
According to the county’s current 2019 budget request spreadsheet, they are currently looking at $686,894.42 difference of revenue over expenditures. This difference was discovered after the end of these meetings as the final numbers were calculated.
According to Gilmer County Finance Officer Sandi Holden, a large portion of this revenue over expenditures is made from the Health Insurance savings. However, she did note that the county could still have items come up in the budget as they have only gone through the budget once during these meetings. The county is preparing to revisit these in coming meetings.
Additionally, the difference here is only on the Maintenance & Operations part of the budget. The capital budget is still to be discussed and analyzed in the coming meetings as well.
Holden told FYN she cannot remember, in the eight budgets she has worked on, ever being in the black after the initial meetings.
Each video is logged for individual departments unless multiple departments are under single purviews like Roads and bridges with solid waste under Public Works or Probate and Elections.
One of the Animal Shelter’s major requests is for a full-time employee at 40 hours/week and a 50 cent rais for two of its current employees. This cost falls under the Maintenance and Operations budget, but in capital requests, the Animal Shelter is looking for a new truck as the shelter’s truck gets excessive use through animal sharing with other states. The large accruement of miles adds extra wear, however, discussion in the budget meeting may have already found a truck to donate in order to cut the capital expense. There is also a request for a storage shed for equipment. This as well may be offset by a request in maintenance for a larger shed, meaning the Animal Shelter may receive their old shed.
Board of Commissioners
The Board of Commissioners began speaking in their own meeting as Post Commissioner Travis Crouch brought up a subject concerning his position after he leaves. Expressing feelings that the Post Commissioners should receive more pay for the work and effort they put into the county, Crouch suggested an increase in salary. Currently, the Post Commissioners receive a salary of 10% of what the Commission Chairman is paid. The suggestion in the meeting was to raise this to 20%. However, Crouch would receive none of this increase as not only will he not be in office in 2019, a Post Commissioner cannot take advantage of the raise until a new post commissioner is elected or the current one is reelected. While this does mean an increase for the coming Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson, it also means that Post Commissioner Dallas Miller will not receive a raise in salary until his post’s next election cycle if re-elected.
Another major item on the Commissioner’s budget is funding for the recently reinvigorated push for dynamic welcome signage at the county line. It was reintroduced into discussion last month as citizens pushed for the county’s help in acquiring state recognition as the Wrestling Capital of Georgia. The commissioner’s decided to go further and incorporate the two state-capital recognitions the county has already received, Apple Capital and Mountain Biking Capital, and consider building a better county sign at the border welcoming travelers to the county and providing quick information about current events.
With updates to the Chamber’s coming Welcome Center on the square in downtown Ellijay, the Gilmer Chamber is looking at funding strains across the organization as discussion arose about changing the split in Hotel/Motel Tax (see Board splits on Hotel/Motel). Discussion included changing the split from 70/30 to 60/40, still in the Chamber’s favor. Chamber President/CEO Paige Green disagreed, calling the change a short-term answer with long-term detriment. While officially, the split has not been renegotiated, discussion continued about the expectations for Chamber Reports and duties in the future. Additionally, Paris also disagreed with changing the split. Miller did not indicate a leaning to either side saying that he would look at it if the budget demanded it.
Clerk of Court
The Clerk of Court’s office saw a $9,000 increase in supplies requests over last year’s budget due to increases in mandatory e-filings. However, the board is considering moving this to capital expenses as much of the need is for new computer equipment for the office.
There is also a $20,000 increase over this year’s budget as the office has lost three people in the last year with only two being replaced. Believing they are going to need to replace the third person as well now, they noted this as the major reason for the increase.
Code & Regulations
Like most of the departments, requests for salary and wages increases for the department were forefront. Again, the commissioners noted they are looking to offset this in Health insurance savings, but are waiting to see final numbers on the savings and budgets before final adoption.
The Appalachian Judicial Circuit is looking at a $150,000 budget increase next year as they add another administrative position to the office. Also in wages, the office is looking to add a 5% increase to “spacer” positions in the office. Spacer positions are classified as state employees and get benefits from the state. Their pay, however, ultimately comes from the county as the state pays them and the county reimburses the state.
In capital expenditures, the District Attorney’s office is looking to change audio/visual networks in the county’s courtrooms. District Attorney Alison Sosebee noted this is a need throughout the circuit. The request is to install the network instead of the current system of wheeling a single cart used for tv and audio evidence to the different courtrooms. The new system would individually upgrade all but one of the county’s courtrooms.
The county has indicated its intentions to move the offices of the Extension Agency into another location as they are looking to sell the building and land that the current office sits on. Noting continuing maintenance costs and issues, they spoke about possible locations and needs that the agency could be interested in. They are also looking at increasing education/training expenses and travel as classes are coming in Columbus, Ohio.
With expected continuations in overtime and education/training, rises in related expenses came from the Fire/EMA Department. But the major issue with the department in 2019 lies in the capital budget as vehicles and equipment are in need of replacing.
Pressing the highest priority in ambulances, the department noted that emergency calls have been increasing in 2018 alongside the continuing transport calls from the Piedmont Emergency Department in Ellijay. Capital expenses continue to include a 2,000-gallon pumper truck to carry water to areas of the county. Public Safety Director Tony Pritchett spoke to the board saying that several areas of the unincorporated parts of the county are without fire hydrants. As such, the need for large amounts of water to fight fires is especially important in those situations. Additionally, keeping a maintained and working truck for those areas and ambulance fleet were key factors in ISO safety ratings for the county as well, affecting insurance rates and liability.
Additional needs fell to turnout gear and equipment for the department’s firefighters, a new emergency operations command, and a new mobile command unit for the department.
With so many large expenses, the board has already indicated cuts in the area as they began questioning the department on what it would mean if they only got some of the turnout gear and options on the EOC and training increases as well as partnering with the school system as they have utilized the old Oakland Elementary building for training.
Requests for capital expense could see the Health Department changing its outside areas as concerns were raised over handicap accessibility at the Health Department. They are looking to put in automatic opening doors for handicap access as well as possibly changing the parking lot as to where the handicap parking is in relation to the access ramp.
The Library has increased its requests over the 2018 budget as they have seen increased traffic in the department. With more people utilizing the library for multiple needs and events, the budget has seen shortfalls this year. Salary increase requests could also see changes in the department alongside concerns over health insurance costs. However, changes to the 2019 budget’s health insurance did offset part of the need.
Talks also arose about a second access point to the library as the basement project will likely begin before the new year. While no set plan was decided, officials are looking at both access for patrons later, but also construction and renovation workers that could spill over into the early part of the year.
The board discussed issues with the courthouses capstone discoloration and options for solutions. While the main option included painting the stones, the price quoted at $11,950. Addition issues involved the iron railings in certain areas are beginning to wear down and also need painting, which would increase that cost. An additional $15,000 was requested for replacing the carpet in certain high traffic areas of the courthouse.
The department is also looking for two new additional maintenance workers included in the budget requests.
The major project of upgrading the courtrooms also fell into the capital budget for $195,000 for three courtrooms in the audio/visual systems. Discussions continued about options of maybe upgrading one courtroom at a time. The problem with that option comes with needing to maintain both systems during the years of transition.
Parks & Recreation
Concerns over the Parks & Recreations budget also centered on wages with a high point in “mowing season.” While Parks & Recreations Director Kevan White said staffing was adequate, he noted several times employees have hit overtime in high traffic times.
The commissioners are still looking at pool costs and balancing against staying open year round. Separating costs and upgrades for heating the pool and costs for staying open, these will be reimbursed from the community and the clubs supporting the change. This is a new change as the Commissioners looked closer at how to budget for the off-season operations.
Continuing to seek grant funds for upgrades and repairs to areas of the park, the department is continuing its work from this year to change and update the park area.
Probate & Elections
Like most departments, Probate Judge Scott Chastain said one of the office’s largest problems is fighting against the loss of staff. As he requests a 50 cent raise for most clerks, he is also looking for a larger raise for an appointed Chief Clerk who would fill in for the Judge in days where he may be out of the office for training courses or other responsibilities that may take him from the office. Chastain told the board that this position would cover only for administrative duties and signatures, he or she would not be able to do anything in the courtroom or handle those types of responsibilities.
Another increase in the requested budget fell into travel expenses as he would want his chief clerk to attend certain training sessions in the next year to experience some of the training he sees for the possibility of her filling in for those administrative duties. Clerks in the office are also gaining state certifications, this could include an award ceremony for those who gain the certification, a ceremony Chastain wants to send those clerks to as a reward for their work.
Additionally, the office could be looking for a conversation about separating the elections from the Probate Office. Chastain asserted that this was just a conversation at this point as he wanted to explore the option with the commissioners, an option that he says the majority of counties in the state have already done.
Increases are set to come to the Public Works office as the board is attempting to respond to continuing citizen concerns by adding 8 positions back to the Road Department. Paris has noted over recent years that these positions are being added “back” to the department as it is still understaffed compared to what it was before the recession. As the board increases efforts in the department to better handle the large mileage of roads in the county, they are still raising concerns about the increasing costs of materials each year. Stone and asphalt are two major needs in the road department, both have seen major increases over recent years.
Public Works Director Jim Smith also noted that even with the increase in staff, he still expects to have to shift workers around and pull from certain crews for major projects like the annual LMIG paving. He also noted an increasing need to continue replacing equipment across his departments like the aging asphalt spreader.
Some increases are being mirrored into the revenue side as well as slight increases are being planned in the solid waste department based on trends in past years. Planning for these increases helps offset some costs, but major projects are also coming with issues that Smith is reporting for the solid waste department’s scales and lift stations. Discussions have already begun about prioritizing these capital expense needs over and above the Maintenance and Operations Budget.
Another increase in salary and wages, the Registrar’s office is tracing increases in workload back to state-mandated changes that are registering massive numbers of people to vote as they apply for driver’s licenses. This program is also registering numerous people who are not allowed to vote or already registered to vote. The added work hits the Registrar’s Office as they are having to find these duplicate registrations and combine them as well as finding registrations that must be deleted felons not allowed to vote.
Especially during major elections, the department is reporting that they cannot operate further without a full-time employee set to operate every day alongside the part-timers.
Whitepath Golf Course
Capital projects like a new water well and a pavilion sit on the golf course’s budget for the coming year. Increasing the appeal and accessibility to drinkable water on the course aren’t even the largest items. Efforts are continuing to update the course as it draws closer than ever to becoming self-sufficient. This has been a major desire of the commissioners in the last four years.
In 2019, the budget requests are so close, around a $22,000 difference, the commissioners are looking at minor budget changes to connect the small gap. With confidence that the goal could be reached, they pushed forward in discussions and capital needs. However, Paris cautioned the board saying that if they pushed too hard to balance this budget, they could get unrealistic numbers.
The course is also requesting capital funds for newer Golf Carts, a range picker for the driving range, and a security gate at the maintenance area for those golf carts. An option was put forth to split the costs of the security gate over two budgets, but nothing has been set yet.
With the Commissioners set to discuss and balance the budget in the coming weeks, the have the finalized budget requests as a starting point moving into these discussions. Make sure to check out both the 2019 Requested Budget and the current 2018 Budget in preparation for this week’s meetings.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners split their opinions on an idea to alter the Chamber and County sharing of the Hotel/Motel tax during budget sessions this year.
Brought up during the Chamber’s meeting with the board by Post 2 Commissioner Travis Crouch, the two entities delved into what it would mean to possibly shift the current 70/30 split to increase funding for the county as well as a boost in their own ambitions for increasing tourism and county draw.
Crouch mentioned only shifting it by 10% to a 60/40 split in the Chamber’s favor. Among several ideas, the county’s recent agreement and push for better signage at the county line arose. The idea resurfaced after a recent push from citizens to claim Gilmer as the Wrestling Capital of Georgia. The county is actively seeking funding sources for the project. However, the idea of funding it through the capital budget seems less likely as the budget meetings revealed at least two departments whose request could consume the entire budget on their own.
As members of the chamber were present at the meeting, the consistent report was overwhelming support and praise for what the Chamber has accomplished saying, “I love the Chamber, they are so engaged with my needs.”
Ultimately, Crouch noted that he has enjoyed and appreciated the Chamber’s work. Instead, he noted that as a business owner he agrees, but as a Commissioner, he sees the constant people talking about road conditions and similar needs. He went on to say that the change wasn’t by any means a reflection of a poor job by the Chamber, but rather he felt at a certain point, he was seeing diminishing returns alongside greater needs elsewhere.
Commission Chairman Charlie Paris disagreed with the idea saying, “My concern would be that we are talking about putting ourselves in a difficult situation in the future to have a better situation in the immediate. I think we have got to look at it long term.”
He went on to add later that he knows the county isn’t where it needs to be on roads. He related a story when he was tasked to go out to the road department and take pictures of junk equipment to be sold off or moved for disposal. Paris said, “When I got back into our meeting and I was showing the pictures, Jim Smith just about had a stroke because ‘No we use that. We use that. We use that.’ That’s what they had to work with.”
Paris noted that the last four years have seen increases from a 16 person crew to 22 people. He noted the equipment replacements including dump trucks, bulldozer, paving roller, road sweeper, and an equipment shed to prolong the life of that equipment. He made a point to note the progress the road department has made saying that the Road Department is continuing along the path of improvement. He said they will continue needing to reverse the department’s neglect for years to come, it can’t be solved in a single year.
Chamber President and CEO Paige Green noted that she expects a plateau at some point. While she agreed with the ideas like gateway signage and organic growth from the county’s location. She added that she understood the “tough decisions” that the board makes, but the hotel/motel money reinvested in an appropriate way would be the long-term solution as opposed to the short-term solution of decreasing funding.
Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller also commented saying he would look at the number if the budget absolutely demanded it.
However, as of now, no changes have been made in the proposed budgets split. The Commissioners still have their October 16 work session and October 17 regular session as well as expected special called meetings before the budget is balanced.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Probate Judge Scott Chastain met with the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners in October to speak about the county budget in the Probate Office.
Chastain spoke to Commissioners about budget increases to appoint a Clerk as Chief Clerk and providing her with a raise and additional traveling to training classes with Judge Chastain in order to be able to fill in certain duties when the Judge is away for training or something requiring him to be out of the office. While she would only fill in for administrative issues, not court or similar duties. Also on his proposed budget, he spoke with the Commissioners about pay increases for the clerks as well.
Among other details including travel expenses and certifications for the clerks in the office, Chastain began a conversation with the Board saying he does not want to have Elections in his office anymore. Despite saying he just wanted to have a conversation about the issue and understanding that it would cost the County more to have an Elections Board than to keep elections under the Probate Office, Chastain pushed on the issue saying that many of the other surrounding counties have already separated the two.
Midway through the meeting, the Gilmer County Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller began speaking about the condition of some of the counties precincts. Chastain noted that the county has four precincts within a mile of each other and he was looking at holding town hall meetings next year to consider consolidating precincts together to save some money. He assured the board that he didn’t want to change any of the outlying precincts, but instead wanted to look at those “in town.”
As the conversation progressed, Chastain said, “After the nightmare, in my opinion, or the may have been hiccup in some people’s eyes, the Danny Hall situation from last year… I went through and listed the counties that currently have the Probate Judge as the Election Superintendent. At the time I did this, we have 38 counties in the state of Georgia that was still doing elections through the Probate Office.” (34:24 in video)
Chastain went on to note that the yearly supplement he gets as Probate Judge for also being the Election Superintendent is $3,800. He said, “When nothing’s going on, that’s probably not a bad gig, but when it’s full-blown election season and all that was going on, that was a drop in the bucket.”
Chastain admitted that moving the elections to a board of its own would cost the county more money and said his understanding is that other counties have had to add a couple of full-time employees to their payroll for the department.
He noted, “I don’t want to be the Probate Judge that comes in and gets rid of elections because we’ve always had it in the Probate Court, but, for the life of me, I cannot understand how it’s still there.”
Though he did say that he was, at this time, just wanting it “out there” for discussion, he did make special note that 2020 is a big election, suggesting that he wanted to have a final decision by then. He added that if the commissioners decided it is best for him to keep it, he would not “pitch a fit,” but if it is better to separate it, “then I definitely want to look at that option.”
ELLIJAY, Ga – The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners are moving forward with plans to seek state recognition of the school system’s major success in the wrestling world with a proclamation of Gilmer as the State Wrestling Capital.
Parents and Coaches filled the Commissioner’s conference room on Wednesday, September 12, to ask the board for a sign at the county line claiming Gilmer as the wrestling capital of the state in honor of the 17 state titles the county has brought home in the sport.
Coach Mark Waddell spoke first for citizens in the work session saying that what Gilmer has accomplished is “pretty unprecedented.” Noting the 17 team state titles, he said that these were only the team’s titles, not individuals.
As each student practices and becomes part of the team, several parents noted in the work session that their kids have become entirely different people. From the discipline to the camaraderie and the inclusion of faith into the program, many of those present threw support behind the idea, lauding the coaches who have done so much and pushed these athletes to accomplish even more.
One parent even said, “They carry themselves differently.” The changes the students go through during the program was constantly repeated emphasizing its importance to them.
Waddell asked for the support of the Commissioners in placing a sign to highlight the 17 combined titles. He noted that part of the success is that it is a singular program. It doesn’t individualize the middle school, the youth, and the high school. With the whole program on track to a singular vision, the success follows with the students accomplishing everything they can.
Coach Sam Snider also spoke about the program’s state recognition sharing stories about the numerous times that Speaker David Ralston brought Gilmer Wrestling to the capital to highlight their championships. Students from Gilmer are spreading across the country, Snider pointed to those who wrestle on scholarships in college and others who use what the program teaches to further their careers in other areas.
Honoring their success, these and other coaches want to highlight the students with a sign acknowledging them. As Snider said, “A sign that says Gilmer County has accomplished this rewards success.”
Coaches weren’t the only ones pushing for recognition of these students as several parents were present at the Work Session. Some spoke of the program’s influence, but Jim Fox emotionally recalled one of the parades they held for winning the state championship, “The memory I have is right across the square during the parade. People were coming out on the sidewalks from the different stores. And out of the city barbershop comes a man with shaving cream on half of his face and a bib trailing behind him… We were escorting all the trucks down the road and I got a view of the sunrise, the flags, and people cheering and wondering what was going on. They were coming out of the store saying, ‘Why is traffic stopped?'”
Fox continued saying that they were explaining that they were celebrating the young people involved in the state wrestling title when he was asked, “Gilmer County won a state wrestling title?”
Fox says he replied, “No, they won two.”
No less emotion came to the Commissioners Regular Meeting when coaches returned with part of the wrestling team. This time, though, it wasn’t parents or coaches to share what the program meant. It was a wrestler, Thomas Chastain, who stood before the Commissioners saying, “It helps everybody grow as a team. Most people don’t think wrestling is a team sport, but it is because you all have to work together to get a team score to get first. Not just one person can get first in duals.”
Addressing the request for a sign calling Gilmer the capital, Post Commissioner Travis Crouch said the state would only give the county one state-level recognized “capital” sign. Though that didn’t stop the board from planning to seek state-level recognition without the sign.
Additionally, Crouch brought up an older discussion that the county seek a county-owned sign at the line recognizing the Wrestling Capital among other things.
Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris noted that an electronic sign of substantially larger size than requested was something the county could feasibly look at next year as they move forward seeking the state’s recognition as well. Engaging in talks with Speaker Ralston, they hope to have the item in the legislative session early next year.
In the last few moments of discussion during their regular meeting, one of the coaches offered his deepest thanks to the commissioners for listening and for what they do.
Paris responded by saying, “This is not so much something that we are doing as it is something that ya’ll have earned.”
And with that, an unanimous decision was made to move forward with both options.
ELLIJAY, Ga – Gilmer County Charter Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs has confirmed that Board Member Nicholas Weaver has tendered his resignation from the Board today, September 11, 2018.
According to the Board’s Official Statement, the resignation comes as he has moved out of the Post 3 area of Gilmer County, he can no longer hold his Post 3 position on the Board.
His resignation becomes effective immediately leaving the board down one member for the work session in two weeks on September 17. It is possible that they will move through this month without a fifth member, but plans are already in motion as an election will be needed to replace Weaver. However, the deadline has already passed to place anything new on November’s ballot.
Until the Board can officially hold an election for the seat next year, they will be looking to appoint someone to fill the space until then. Citizens will recall that current Board Member Ronald Watkins filled his position from a vacancy in 2016 before later running in the election.
As more details become available and the Board selects a replacement, stay with FYN as we continue to update you on this story.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Education formally accepted their 2018 Millage Rate this week with unanimous approval from the present board members.
The final vote came 4-0, Nick Weaver was absent, on Thursday, August 23, setting the rate at 14.458 mills for the year.
After discussing the rate on Monday’s Work Session and over the last month since their July Meeting, where Gilmer County Charter School Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs informed the board that their calculated rollback rate was 14.458 mills, decreasing from 2017’s 16.12 mill., the final decision lowered the rate by 1.662 over last year.
Downs mentioned in the board’s regular session that no citizens have commented on the Rollback Rate this year or the boards advertisement of it over the last month.
Continuing along the financial discussions, a bid for two extra buses was approved. Coming from extra funding the state found and spread among school systems, this unexpected item set the board with an opportunity to try a different engine. Originally, Director of Operations Bob Sosebee’s Bid Analysis offered the board the bids for both a diesel engine bus and a gasoline bus.
Sosebee said in the meeting that he wanted to offer the board the option of trying gasoline buses instead of diesel with this extra funding as a trend is beginning to see other school systems do similar. Mentioning emissions and testing stresses on the increase, causing a major increase in time spent on repairs, as one point pushing to change, he presented three company’s bids including both engines. the bids include warranty’s on both engines.
The system currently runs its entire bus fleet on diesel engines. When asked for his recommendation, Sosebee suggested the board try the gas buses to be able to compare the two types. Ultimately, approval came from the board as they said they would be willing to use these, as the extra funding came in from the state, as a test pair.
While continuing to replace and grow the bus fleet, Downs noted the Board is still struggling to find bus drivers. Upon a request, Downs is moving forward of increasing the sign on bonus for new drivers from $500 to $1000. As the board discussed the rise and answers to problem, one suggestion arose that the board may look at possibly considering changing the salary as well. Though no real action came except to notify the board of increasing the sign on bonus, indications lean that we could learn more at next month’s meeting.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners officially took action in support of mountain biking in the county.
With two separate actions, the county is beginning to explore the mountain biking potential of our county. Led by Post Commissioner Travis Crouch, now well into the second half of his final year as Post Commissioner, the board officially motioned to draft a Letter of Support for a designation as a bronze level IMBA (International Mountain Bicycling Association) Ride Center.
The letter of support is the board’s part in a county application to become a “Ride Center” in efforts to support the mountain biking community and help in increasing the draw of them to our area. Crouch said it offers a level of prestige to our county with the official ride center setting us as more of a ‘destination’ for the activity.
The second item held no real motion, but the Commissioners did agree to a late September visit to Cherokee County where they will be discussing the importance of the county’s trail system and its impact and effect on the citizens. With all three commissioners agreed to attend, this will be an official meeting in another county as they meet with Cherokee Representatives. With some details still under works, the commissioners did indicate they may also visit the counties aquatic center while there.
As this process continues, Crouch told FYN he wanted the other commissioners to see and hear details about this sport, not just from those who participate, but from their fellow commissioners and peers in government. In the meantime, the application will continue on as a separate issue on its own. IMBA will be visiting Gilmer County as a part of the process to assess our trail system, community, amenities, lodging, and more.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners is taking steps to make changes to how it deals with something that has been called “useless” and “a document you approve then throw in a desk.”
While the Commissioner meeting spent a large amount of time on citizen’s concerns over Rainbow Lake, the Commissioner also spent a large portion of time discussing their future with the county’s Joint Comprehensive Plan.
The annual update to the Community Work Program and Capital Improvements Element within the Joint Comprehensive Plan Document was how the agenda item was worded, yet it grew into much more with input from both Post Commissioners Travis Crouch and Dallas Miller.
With a joint meeting to be set for input from the community involving the cities of Ellijay and East Ellijay, Crouch suggested there are far more entities that need to be involved in the process as a whole and in that meeting.
Miller noted in the Regular Session that he was disappointed that there is no resolution needed on the plan. Attempting to make a point, he clarified that as a strategic planning document, it doesn’t address the counties highest priorities, its infrastructure, or anything about revenue or funding for these projects.
Miller went on to say that there are many things about the document that needs to be changed to become more useful to the county instead of something the board does to maintain its qualified status for grants and government funding sources. He also noted that the document does not commit the county to anything listed on it.
Counterpointing Miller’s discussion, County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris stated that he thought the fact that the document held no legal commitment was a good thing as it isolated the regional commission from the county in that aspect. However, he did note that the county does commit itself to projects on its own and nothing would stop the county from doing those things.
Crouch also commented further saying the document was so frustrating to him as it is wasted potential as the county is, in fact, is addressing the issue last minute. Instead of just saying “here it is,” he wants more involvement and more usage of the document.
While the Joint Comprehensive Plan is not useless, as it is required for certified status and helps in grant pursuit, the feeling from both Post Commissioners indicated they wanted more. A feeling that has been voiced numerous times over past years.
Though the county still needs to move forward on this item now, Paris suggested an alternative to waiting until next year to address concerns saying, “We have to do this document and we’ll do it and we’ll get it out of the way. But there is not a thing in the world that stops us from creating our own document that does everything that you said, Travis. We can have our own plan, and it will undoubtedly include an awful lot of whats on [the Joint Comprehensive Plan] and some things that, perhaps, are not. That can be our plan and we can commit to it, and we can do whatever we want to with it.”
Attempting to include all the stakeholders while addressing the concerns of usefulness and commitment from the board, the document could be used to create the necessary document for the Joint Comprehensive Plan.
With both Post Commissioners indicating an interest in the concept, Paris suggested they take the next few months to begin the process to create the county’s own “plan.” While no direct action was taken, all three commissioners seemed agreed to pursue the plan.
Also taking time from the Commissioners’ meeting was a rezoning request asking to change a property on Laurel Hill Lane from R-1 Residential to A-1 Agricultural. The applicant, Jason Rice, and his lawyer, Jeb Chatham, indicated at the meeting his intention to construct an outbuilding and hosting of animals on the property. Paris questioned if he was aware of last year’s changes to hobby livestock in Residential areas of the county.
Rice said it was more about the freedom and flexibility of an Agricultural Zoning. He wanted to have more freedom to do what he wanted without worrying about the rules and restrictions of R-1. He stated he didn’t fully have it figured out, but what he wanted was the flexibility to do more.
Ultimately, the zoning failed to gain a motion from the board and was then was denied 3-0 with Paris reasserting his statements from previous meetings to protect landowners who researched and did their due diligence to find a residential area and expect it not to change. It was noted in their work session that while the Planning and Zoning board recommended approval, there was opposition and a letter sent to the Chairman in opposition to the zoning changes.
Their meeting continued on as the commissioners appointed Ron Cheslocke to the Keep Gilmer Beautiful Committee.