Pool or Pools?

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – With new information coming from an unrelated meeting last week of Gilmer County’s Board of Commissioners, citizens have been seeking clarifications on issues regarding the community pool that has become a central topic in Gilmer County since the official closing of the current pool this month.

Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris took measure this week to clarify a few of these questions. Though two of the county commissioners listened to a presentation from a local pool company and later said that they did like the designs in that presentation, Paris said the county must still go through engineering and design processes as a part of the bid process for the county. Paris also sternly said that the project has a budget and many of the talks about things he or other commissioners may “want” to be included, could be left out because of budget constraints.

While holding a Special Called Meeting regarding the possibility of a new pool, seemingly everyone who showed up raised their hand saying they did want construction of a new pool.

However, preliminary discussions, along with a rough design the county presented earlier this month as a visual of how they would like to go, showed that the new recreation center will not have one, but two pools. Each pool would house its own filtration system. But each pool would be drastically different. The primary pool would be five feet deep, would have rope floats to designate swim lanes when used for that purpose but be removed for use by the general public, would host a slide in a side “recessed” area, and would be an indoor pool. The secondary pool would have a ramp entry to wade into the pool, would only reach three feet deep, and could eventually host accessories like fountains, extra slides, or other accoutrements. Additionally, this secondary pool would not be open year-round as the heaters would only be used on the indoor pool.

Paris was adamant that many of these design thoughts were simply preliminary ideas that have come from citizens, board meetings, and his own thoughts. Paris said that he hopes the county could move forward with engineering and designs to have the basics understood and be able to answer questions and make changes for items that citizens want during one more “town hall” meeting, possibly in July or August.

With continued talk of additions, second pools, basketball courts, paved parking lots, fountains, and coverings, Paris specified the plan for the pool as he said all of these things are additional items. What needs to happen by next year is the “primary” pool, dressing rooms, and bathrooms. This is the core of what citizens could see if the county is able to open the pool next year. Paris repeated previous statements to FYN that while he has set the goal of opening by Memorial Day, 2020, he understands the aggressiveness of that plan and the possibility that it may be later.

Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris

Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris

However, Paris did note his personal preferences on the pool should the budget allow for an added items. He said that while priority one is the primary pool with dressing rooms and bathrooms, he did have mixed feelings about the shallow pool and covering saying, “If I have a choice, initially, by this time next year, if I can have the cover or I can have the shallow pool, and then, the following year, I can come back and get the other one. Then I would take the shallow pool. If we don’t have enough for either of those, we’re going to have to come back and add them later on, then I would give priority for adding the cover before adding the shallow pool.”

Though he offered his opinion on this, Paris did state that this is his own opinion. The BOC still has two other commissioners and the citizens input for designs to consider.

When questioned about the priority of paving the parking lot, he noted that the county did a similar thing with the Clear Creek Ball Fields project as they used a gravel parking lot as the fields were completed, and came back the following year to pave the lot.

Paris also repeated the county’s plans to have engineering done all at once and engineered in such a way that the construction projects could be done later when the county is able to fund them. This has become a stressed point in the county’s movement toward construction of this new pool. While plans and engineering designs are to be done all at once, both the county’s current verbal agreement with East Ellijay and the Commissioners meetings have concluded with understandings that the construction of a full “Recreation Center” would come later and in pieces, one project at a time.

More questions have arisen with the possibility of two options for land for the pool location, 29 acres from the Gilmer County Charter School System and 21 acres from East Ellijay. While Paris said that it is currently the county’s intention to move forward with the River Park location, they do still have the option should “extreme need” force them to reconsider. While it is a “Plan B” option, Paris said that it was still their just in case.

Gilmer County’s previous pool, earlier closed for this summer season and now, after resolutions to build a new pool, closed indefinitely.

Some citizens have also raised concerns about the land being so close to the river just as the last pool was. Paris noted that while flooding and weather were never really a major issue with the pool, much of the problems they have encountered recently could be attributed to the pools age. Additionally, the county is currently employing its surveyor to investigate the land. While the current pool sits in a flood plain, Paris said that it is his understanding that part of the land coming from East Ellijay is only partly in the flood plain. Depending on how much of it is in the flood plain, the county could push the parking lot for the center closer to the river while building the center closer to Progress Road, along Soccer Field Road, allowing the pools and part of the center to be out of the flood plain. Later, Paris did also mention a side note that this lot may be used for additional parking during the Apple Festival as well.

He went on to say that this is another part of the process that they will need to deal with during planning and designing. As the county awaits the surveyors reports, Paris said that he would engage the surveyor to provide the report and mark the flood plain with stakes so the county could inspect the size and plan mitigation accordingly.

The county is also working through basic needs for the pool as it talks with the Ellijay Gilmer County Water and Sewerage Authority and insurance liabilities as well. On that note, Paris did say that he does not believe they will pursue options for a diving well and diving board in the new pool due to liability reasons.

FYN also questioned if Paris would use the Road Department again, similar to the Cherry Log Fire Station, to make preparations or clear the land. Paris said it would be something he’d do if needed, but “it’s not something that I would prefer.” He made note that the county used the Road Department during the Cherry Log Fire Station project after they put the project out to bid, but got prohibitively high bids on the project.

Paris did confirm that the county has been offered this land before, but the current agreement from East Ellijay would offer the land free of monetary costs. He also confirmed that the agreement would have the county agreeing to build a full recreation center instead of just a pool. However, he did note that, as previously stated, it is understood that the Recreation Center would come later through stages of construction.

 

 

Make sure to stay with FYN as we continue to reach out to Gilmer’s other commissioners for their opinions and for updated information on the pool project as it becomes available.

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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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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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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.

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Post Commissioners raises to advertise at 18 percent

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – After last month’s arguments of legislative versus home rule as the way to go forward with Post Commissioner salaries, this month saw the continuation of that debate.

The next step, a question brought forward from the budget sessions into last months meeting and now into the new year, is the percentage of the raise. Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris originally had offered a number of 20%. Though not arbitrarily thrown out, Paris has since said he was offering the number as a consideration.

Since that time, articles and discussion have focused on 20% as the proposed amount for the Post Commissioner salary increase. Even FYN offered analysis based upon that 20% suggestion.

This percentage is a percentage of the Commission Chairman’s salary. Post Commissioners are currently paid 10% of the chairman’s salary.

This month saw the discussion shift after some pushback from the community over “doubling” the salary.

2016 Survey P2

2016 Survey P2

2016 Survey P1

2016 Survey P1

Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson wasted no time in researching the issue and offering the board her own analysis, one of surrounding counties and their boards’ salaries.

Reaching through 2016, 2017, and 2018, these documents from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs showcased salaries of both the Chairperson and the Post Commissioners, organized into population size groups. Ferguson highlighted the Gilmer and its immediate neighbors like Lumpkin, Fannin, and Pickens.

2017 Survey P2

2017 Survey P2

2017 Survey P1

2017 Survey P1

A new percentage offered in the BOC’s January meetings sits fell to 18% with Ferguson saying, “We talked about 18%, I think going any lower than 18%… I’m in favor of at least 18%.”

Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller stated in the meeting that though he thought the raise was deserved, he would be satisfied with not changing the salary at this time saying, “I, personally, think it’s not a good time to be doing this.” Miller did ultimately vote against the motion to advertise the salary increase in a 2-1 vote.

2018 Survey P2

2018 Survey P2

2018 Survey P1

2018 Survey P1

In 2018, Lumpkin County was at $12,005 annually according to this report. Pickens was at $11,205.

Currently, Gilmer County Post Commissioners are paid $7,125.38 as reported in “Commissioners pushing for ‘Fast Answer’ in pay raises.” With an 18% instead of a 20% increase, effectively not quite doubling the salary, the new base pay of a Post Commissioner would become $12,825.68.

2018 Survey P3

2018 Survey P3

Ferguson also noted in the board’s work session that this change would not take effect for two years, when the next elected Post Commissioner will take office.

Approved, 2-1, for advertising, it is now up to the citizens to speak with the Board of Commissioners and attend February’s meetings to voice the county’s opinion on the matter whether in support or opposition of the change.

 

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Budget discussions not done with approval

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller called the budget “workable” as he promised citizens to continue working on the budget in 2019.

Calling it the biggest financial decision of the year, Miller said he wished that more people had dedicated more time to the budget process and discussions. As opposed to an expected split decision after their work session, the Commissioners put forth a 3-0 vote for approval.

The vote came shortly after Miller’s comments, but also after a lengthy work session on Tuesday with much discussion dedicated to the topic. An understanding seemed to be reached during the work session as Post 2 Commissioner Travis Crouch spoke about a need for a change in the process as a whole and Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris agreed he would be willing to look at the process, even putting it on the agenda for January.

This budget comes in a transition time as Crouch prepares to step down from his position as Post 2 Commissioner-Elect Karleen Ferguson will step into the office. This means that Crouch is not only resting on promises from Miller and Paris to continuing working on the budget, but he rests on the experience, training, and dedication of the Ferguson as well.

Along with the budget, Ferguson will also step into another major decision as the Board tabled the decision on the Post Commissioner’s Salary. As reported in “BOC backs off legislative option for Post Commissioner Raises,” the Commissioners have stated they will be looking at home rule for the discussion. But as that backs it off from a push to get it in Atlanta in early 2019, it also allows the change in the Post 2 Commissioner position. These financial decisions are likely to be the first major decisions she will vote on.

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Forecasting the Budget Vote

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Questions are continuing about the Gilmer County 2019 budget. With a 2-1 vote to advertise behind us, it seems like another split decision will send the Board of Commissioners into 2019.

Citing concerns over the budgeting process, Travis Crouch answered a question in citizens wishing to speak at today’s, December 12, Commissioners Work Session that he believed he would be voting “no” on tomorrows Regular Session agenda item to approve the budget. He said that, though he felt the Chairman had done a lot of work on the budget, he did not feel the post commissioners had enough time with it and enough discussions with it before they voted to advertise.

Chairman Paris said he disagreed and noted that Crouch had even asked for one meeting. They set the date and held that requested meeting.

Despite his disagreement, Paris said he was open to further changing the budgeting process later, and even instructed the County Clerk to place the item on January’s agenda to set dates and hold more discussion on the budget process for next year.

 

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BOC backs off legislative option for Post Commissioner Raises

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Home Rule won out on December 4, 2018, as the Board of Commissioners met for a Public Comments session regarding the 2019 budget.

“I think the citizens have spoken,” said Post Commissioner Dallas Miller after an understood agreement was reached by the members of the Board to forego the idea they’ve held for almost two months. Originally, the Board was going to send the resolution for a raise for the Post Commissioners to Atlanta do be voted on by State Legislation in order to have the issue taken care of by mid 2019.

Due to an overwhelming response by citizens questioning why they were sending this resolution to Atlanta and other details about the raise, the Public Comments meeting lasted more than an hour as Board of Commissioners Chairman Charlie Paris and Post Commissioners Travis Crouch and Dallas Miller listened.

Citizens like Joene DePlancke and Brian Pritchard adamantly told the Board they wanted the decision for raises kept in county. Miller has already noted sentiments on the issue in previous meetings, stating that it didn’t feel right that sending the choice to Atlanta would end up with him also receiving the raise. He revisited the concept at this meeting, calling it an ethics issue that he would be voting to give himself a raise.

FYN also weighed in on the issue with a recent article, “Commissioner’s pushing for “Fast Answer” in pay raises,” where the question was raised about a Post Commissioner’s election qualifying fees being paid based on the position’s salary, a salary that would then change after they took office.

By reaching an agreement to consider the raises by home rule, the issue will be pushed into the coming months of BOC meetings as they consider the issue locally.  It also negates the budget line that was placed in anticipation of a possible Atlanta approval for the Post Commissioner salary raise.

This does not mean the Commissioner’s will not be getting the raise. Instead, it places the decision for it back into Gilmer County and its citizen’s hands. If the Board approves the issue, it will begin taking effect with re-election cycles, the next position up for re-election, the Post 1 seat currently held by Dallas Miller, is in 2020.

But the home rule was not the only part questioned by citizens at the public comments meeting. Other questions saw clarification and no change. DePlancke also questioned the board on their 1.5 mill in bond debt service, calling it smoke and mirrors. She stated her concern was that the Board was, in a sense, making sure it had SPLOST money left to use in capital without having to tell the citizens.

Paris explained that his intent with setting a separate millage for bond service was to keep it separate from the general fund saying, “If we were to take that one and half mill and move it over to general account, it could be used in general fund. That’s a situation I don’t want to see happen. The whole point of all this is to improve the capital infrastructure in Gilmer County and I don’t want this money where it could be used in the general fund.”

Pritchard questioned the Board’s allocation of the budget saying he could find a half million dollars to reallocate into the Road Department, an area that Paris called the biggest area of citizens concern in his opinion. He stated that the majority of calls he answers has to do with roads.

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