Postponed budget talks for pool to happen Monday

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – After a recent announcement to keep Gilmer’s Community Pool closed this year, the Board of Commissioners are entering talks to revisit the Capital Budget for 2019 in attempts to expedite construction of a new pool.

Gilmer County Board of Commissioners Chairman Charlie Paris likened the current situation with the pool to “Russian Roulette” saying, “Spin the cylinder and pull the trigger, odds are you’re going to be fine. The problem is when that one time comes up that you’re not fine, the results are so devastating that you just don’t do it to begin with.” Paris said he would not take the risk or endanger citizens and children who might use the pool.

Paris has told FYN in a previous conversation that he would almost be willing to have the county put up with the costs of the water loss in order to keep a pool for citizens if not for the danger of a hole.

During their May meetings, the commissioners began looking a budget amendments in capital projects for the county to expedite the plan that was put in place two years ago.

This plan was collecting money on an annual basis to fix the community’s pool issues by building a new facility. However, the current escalation of issues with the current pool will not wait for that plan to come to fruition in 2020. Instead, Paris wants to speed up the process with these amendments to add an extra $300,000 to the pool project this year. This adds onto the already saved $600,000 total from this year and last year. The board will use this $900,000 to begin engineering work, plans, and preparations for the pool while next year’s budget plans to also have $300,000 will finish the project by Memorial Day, opening day for the pool season, of 2020.

The board did not come to an agreement on amendments this month, however, as Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller requested more time to study and look into the plans and the budget.

Now, the board is set to host an additional Special Called Meeting on May 20 at 6:00 p.m. On the agenda for the meeting is one item:

1. Discussion and possible action on Budget Amendments for Pool Funding

It seems at this time that the board is planning to move forward with the proposal to expedite the construction as the discussions are expected to focus on budget amendments. However, Miller has already noted in their Work Session that he did not see the pool as “an acceptable priority.”

Not only has Paris put forth the proposal for funding of a new pool, but he along with Parks and Recreation Department Head Kevan White, have put forth a basic plan for a facility to be added on later. This plan will eventually enclose the pool for an indoor facility. Add on an outdoor zero-entry water play pool, four basketball courts, and have potential for more additions later. However, Paris said he would have it engineered and planned to have the pool built now, with plans to continue saving and building on the extra additions later.

The budget discussion are simply the first step before the county would discuss and finalize what they want the final facility to include. Then they would go forward with stages of construction projects. It all begins Monday with a board decision on what to amend in the budget for the pool or if they even do want to move forward with the proposal.

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Comprehensive Plan development continues with community survey

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – The process that began last year with former Post 2 Commissioner Travis Crouch, now continues as the Gilmer BOC (Board of Commissioners) is asking for citizens to comment and help direct them on this plan with a survey.

They survey is being disseminated through several outlets and interested parties in the development of this plan. In August of 2018, the Board began seeking to do more with the annually updated document as both Crouch and Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller began questioning what more they could accomplish and utilize the document for.

At that time, Miller had noted in the Regular Session that he was disappointed that there was no resolution needed on the plan. He clarified that as a strategic planning document, it did not address the counties highest priorities, its infrastructure, or anything about revenue or funding for those projects.

The next step and current pursuit is to have as many citizens of the county complete the survey as possible. The survey is short requiring only 10 minutes to complete, and poses questions for opinions on things from housing to growth and recreation for citizens.

Current Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson said, “This helps us to plan for future growth and the direction we want to go in as a community.”

As the board moves forward, there will be meetings and times made available for continued input as they meet with both cities, the Chamber, and other “stakeholders” within the community. 

Completing the survey and offer your opinions on the future of the county.

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Pool will stay closed this year

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Confirmed reports indicate that due to a high volume of water loss, Gilmer County Board of Commissioners (BOC) Chairman Charlie Paris has decided to keep the county’s public pool closed this year.

Paris told FYN that the decision was made after county authorities tested the pool and began preparations for the summer season. It was discovered that the pool’s leak, which the county has dealt with for years now, has worsened. He said that the pool is leaking about 5,000 gallons of water a day with nothing running. However, when they turned on the water pumps and systems, that amount increased to roughly 22,000 gallons of water a day. Paris said they expect to lose over 1.5 million gallons of water over the three month season if they were to remain open.

This translates to the water level of the pool dropping by six and a half inches every single day that they are open to the public and a possibly needing refilling several times a day with public use.

A 2015 inspection of the pool for leaks and voids by Ground Penetrating Radar Systems representative Jeff DeHart.

A 2015 inspection of the pool for leaks and voids by Ground Penetrating Radar Systems representative Jeff DeHart.

Paris noted that even more important to him than the costs and maintenance, he is concerned about where the water is going. He noted an inspection the county had done with Ground Penetrating Radar in 2015 which found two leak areas, but no major issues of voids or spaces where all the water could be going. Paris said this week that the only place not checked by the radar or other investigations is under the pool. His biggest concern now is that pushing 22,000 gallons of water a day into the ground could lead to failure in the pool bottom and collapse into a large void below.

Paris said he has discussed the issue with Parks and Recreation Director Kevan White who said that a collapse like that is not unheard of and, in fact, a very real possibility.

Paris went on to say that while he felt it necessary to keep the pool closed, he does understand how much value and importance the county’s citizens place on having a public pool. As such, Paris pointed out that the last two year’s budgets have set aside $300,000 each for the county to save towards the pool. This has been done with the expectation that the current pool would eventually become unsustainable.

Paris said that his plan now is to expedite the process as the issue has “come to a head.” The original plan was to begin construction on the new pool in 2021. However, now, Paris wants to have the construction project completed by the beginning of the pool’s season in 2020, one year from now. He did note that if it could not be completed by opening day, then he would open it as soon as the project completed.

From left to right, Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller, Chairman Charlie Paris, and Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson.

From left to right, Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller, Chairman Charlie Paris, and Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson.

The catch is that this plan will require the Board of Commissioners to return again to their 2019 budget and look at amendments and a reallocation  of funds for the project. Changing the budget is a Board decision. Paris asserted that his plans and hopes were his own, and he will have to bring the subject before the board as a whole to decide on funding and budget changes. The subject is sure to arise in tomorrow’s, May 8, work session for the Gilmer County BOC.

Citizens have already noted their desire for a new pool numerous times. In 2015, citizens spoke in the BOC May meeting with many asking for a new facility and local Amy Woodring even offered a petition of over 80 families asking for such. In 2016, citizens again returned with members of the Three Rivers Athletics Club looking to upgrade the current pool with a “bubble top” that could then be moved to a new pool.

Despite the years of public support, as the subject comes to this month’s meeting, discussion will adjust away from the established desire of a new pool, and on to the financial resources available to fund the project. Citizens have already split on the issue with some wanting the county to push forward while others are hesitant to look at more financial adjustments before the county has even reached the year’s midpoint. During the 2015 meetings, some citizens even suggested the county look at possible funding from the school system as it would support a swim team and athletics there.

No clear picture on the path forward will be available until the commissioners discuss the issue during their two meetings this week, the Work Session on May 8 at 9 a.m. and the Regular Session on May 9 at 6 p.m., at the courthouse, 1 Broad Street in Ellijay. As always, these meetings are open to the public and time is available for citizen’s input at each meeting.

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Fire Department Budget Amendments changes priorities

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Fire Department is continuing with changes to budget recommendations since last October.

While discussions at that time had former Public Safety Director Tony Pritchett prioritizing a pumper truck higher on the list, the new Public Safety Director Keith Kucera, along with Fire Chief Daniel Kaufman, have urged the Commissioners to reconsider this budget priority.

Instead of the truck, Kucera and Kaufman are asking the Board of Commissioners (BOC) to prioritize the upgrading and replacement of older turnout gear for firefighters. The new gear will be funded from the same money that was set for the truck. However, Board of Commissioner Chairman Charlie Paris states that there is expected to be a difference in the financial allocations. Therefore, an amendment will be needed.

With 30 complete sets of gear, three vendors have been looked at. The cheapest vendor offers Lion Brand gear at $61,705.50.

The department is also looking to replace 28 air packs for the firefighters to transition from 2216 PSI to 4500 PSI. Kaufman said this allows longer work times on scene as well as better compatibility with Ellijay’s Fire Department.

The estimates for the 28 air packs with spare masks and cylinders, along with extras like voice amplifiers and larger batteries, totaled $215,740, according to Kaufman who spoke during the BOC April Meeting.

Kaufman went on to say that the Fire Department wants to get to a point where they may rotate this gear among volunteer stations or other places of need. With this, the department would potentially only be looking to buy ten sets every 3 years instead of making large purchases like they are looking at now.

Additionally, the county Fire Department’s ladder truck failed an inspection with an issue in the turntable at the base of the ladder that allows it to rotate. Kucera stated the truck is from 1986 and it has just “failed over time.”

Due to the age of the truck, Kucera said there is a sole source bid situation for repairs. That bid came in at $39,150. Paris questioned what the cost of replacing the truck completely could total. Kucera and Kaufman both said it would be around $500,000.

While the Commissioners agreed on the severity of the need, allowing Paris and Chief Financial Officer Sandi Holden to look deeper into the budget and find the difference between the originally budgeted pumper truck and the need for the gear, air packs, and ladder truck repair.

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Kucera speaks on Public Safety Director position

News, Police & Government

ELLIJAY, Ga. – A surprise even to him, he says, the Board of Commissioners officially announced Keith Kucera as the Public Safety Director of Gilmer County.

FYN caught up with Kucera to ask him how he felt about moving from his months as Interim into the full-term position.

He called it an honor to serve the citizens of the county in this position and looks forward to the coming months as he builds relations between the county and state and other local agencies. Kucera moves into the full term position alongside Daniel Kauffman as the Fire Chief of Gilmer.

Gilmer County Public Safety Director, Keith Kucera

Gilmer County Public Safety Director, Keith Kucera

Kucera retired from military after 25 years of active duty, where he served in the U.S.  Coast Guard, and moved to Ellijay where he says he never expected or looked to become a Director, yet when the opening came, he put forth his name and served in the interim. He lives here with his wife, Pamela.

It is a move that many firefighters seem happy with. As reported in “BOC names full time Public Safety Director and Fire Chief,” many members of emergency services showed up at the commissioners meeting to show support for the direction the BOC was taking in their departments, though they didn’t know Kucera was being named as Director, FYN has come to understand that  it had been internally announced before the meeting that Daniel Kauffman was taking the position of Fire Chief.

Kucera said the show of support “means the world” to him. Having the support of the men and women of the departments, and his family’s support as well, is “second to none. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime, and I look forward to many years to come.”

According to Kucera, their support and the support of the Fire Chief is what will allow him to open up more to the duties of a Public Safety Director and allow the fire department to focus on what they do with a chief who can focus on that as well.

This is something Gilmer Commission Chairman Charlie Paris has said before as he wanted to separate, at least, the fire chief position so as to not have one person pulled into too many directions and possibly detracting from the service offered to the department.

Kucera said, “The Public Safety Division is going to be able to branch out to the other agencies within the county and build more of a coalition-type group within the county to serve the public better as a whole.” Kucera went on to note that some other benefits could include a better chance at obtaining and retaining grants from the federal and state governments as well as combining into a consolidated public safety group in times of need.

Besides the day to day work, Kucera said one of his major projects to tackle as the Public Safety Director is building community relations. He stated, “I continue to pledge my service to the community, to the citizens, and I look forward to meeting every single person I possibly can.”

Throughout the entire time speaking with him, Kucera never mentioned how he wanted to lead the department or the type of leadership he wanted to show. Instead, numerous times, he repeated that he was anxious to continue “serving with” the firefighters and emergency response workers of the county.

Author

BOC approves raises for Post Commissioners

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Six months of discussion and debate come to a close this month as the Gilmer Board of Commissioners came to a 2-1 vote on the raises for Post Commissioners.

The raises were approved to move from their past salaries of 10 percent to the new salaries of 18 percent of the Chairman’s salary, having dropped from the original proposal of 20 percent. This approval is the second reading and, therefore, final approval.

Discussions have continued since last October, however, the last two months haven’t changed the discussion over the two votes with both Gilmer Commission Chairman Charlie Paris and Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson in favor, and Post Commissioner Dallas Miller dissenting. Miller noted both times that he only contested as he felt it wasn’t the “right time” for the new resolution.

These changes are approved at this time. However, they are not in effect. The official change to each Post Commissioner position salary will take effect at the next election of the position. Current Post Commissioners Karleen Ferguson and Dallas Miller will not receive these raises unless they are re-elected to the position.

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BOC names full time Public Safety Director and Fire Chief

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – “Solidarity” was the word used by one fireman who spoke at Thursday’s, March 14, Commissioners Meeting.

Keith Kucera, Public Safety Director of Gilmer County

Keith Kucera, Public Safety Director of Gilmer County

That show of solidarity included 15 members of public safety’s fire and ems divisions as the stood together to tell the BOC that they are happy with the direction and way the Public Safety Department is moving.

To take that one step further, Gilmer County Board of Commissioners Chairman Charlie Paris skipped ahead on his agenda to return the favor by officially announcing  Keith Kucera as the full-time Public Safety Director. Kucera has served as interim since February 12, 2019, and now begins his service as the full time Director, leaving the interim title behind.

Kucera also released information to FYN that an official announcement has also been made about the full-time Fire Chief. Kucera was proud to announce Daniel Kauffman will be taking the position as Kucera tells FYN he comes from Ocala, Florida.

Kucera said that Kauffman brings 30 years of fire service experience from Marion County in Florida as a District Chief and a Battalion Chief. He also has a Master’s Degree in Human Resources and a Bachelor’s Degree in Fire Science.

Despite recent issues in the Fire Department, Paris stated to those present that they had no idea how much their public display meant to the Board.

Further, those fire and ems staff present offered standing applause to the announcement of Kucera to the Director position during the meeting.

Author

Bond refunding options will save $15,000 a year

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners opted for a refunding savings option from the Series 2014 Bond this month.

Taking ‘Option A’ that was presented by Andrew Tritt, Managing Director at Stifel Financial Corp, will allow approximately $168,000 split between the remaining years. The savings would come to about $15,000 a year until the bonds are paid off.

While Option B ultimately realizes only $128,000, according to Tritt’s presentation, it would defer 2019’s payment in an opportunity to see nearly an extra million dollars in 2019.

However, County Chairman Charlie Paris pointed out that Option B would only defer that payment, meaning it takes that money from next year’s SPLOST. That million dollars is not extra and would put 2020’s SPLOST down a million dollars. Paris noted in the regular meeting that he didn’t think that moving the payment back was worth it. He said that even though the extra million would be great for 2019, it would hurt too much to lose those funds from 2020.

Ultimately, the other Board members agreed with Paris as the vote came unanimously for ‘Option A’ to advertise the movement forward.

Author

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