Community development on agenda in commissioners’ March meetings


ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners addressed community development this month with a possible final solution to roadside trash pick-up as well as applying for a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG).

Trash pick-up has been a developing issue over the last two months now as the board originally planned on hiring five seasonal employees for trash pick-up to work through the summer preceding the county’s mowing teams. However, a special called meeting in February saw new ideas as the commissioners began considering a new deputy in the Sheriff’s Department, similar in costs, to put inmates on the roads picking up trash.

During that meeting, Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris stated this crew would consist of four or five non-risk inmates under the supervision of one deputy. He described this option as a better long-term solution and one that is typically more favorably viewed in the public perception.

At their regular March meeting, the idea was restated for the public saying the Sheriff’s Department would not need a new vehicle for the added deputy. The county will receive reports of the progress of the program to monitor and are still expected to have the teams move ahead of mowers in the summer months. This item was officially approved this month, so citizens should be seeing these teams on county roads, not state-owned roads, in the coming months. They will also be skipping over roads already cleaned and maintained by the Keep Gilmer Beautiful organization.

March also saw the commissioners approve a CDBG for the area of Sunlight Road and Roundtop Road. Proposed by the Ellijay-Gilmer Water Sewage Authority, the approval by the board is the first step in the grant application process, meaning this is still early stages of a competitive grant process that the county will be entering into application for.

If accepted, it would allow expansion of the water/sewer system closer to the southwest corner of Gilmer County, closer to the county line, according to Ellijay-Gilmer Water Sewage Authority Director Gary McVey. He estimated 200 residents of the area could be affected by the expansion. With the application due April 1, late fall could see the beginning of construction if approved with an expected one-year construction time.

In addition to these items, the Board of Commissioners approved applications for 2018 River Outfitter’s licenses for Cartecay River Experience and Coosawattee River Resort and an Alcoholic Beverage license for Mohammad Nizar Tharani at Ellijay Mini Mart.


Roadside trash concerns rising in Gilmer


ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners discussed a rising issue of trash in their February meeting after County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris said he had been getting a large increase in calls about the issue in recent time.

While the commissioners discussed possible county solutions, they noted that Keep Gilmer Beautiful works hard on the projects and attempts to help the county. However, Paris stated that the board needed a county response to the problem.

The main solution discussed by the board includes adding four seasonal employees for trash pickup to walk the roads before mowing crews in attempt to clean the trash before it hits the blades of mower. The litter would be picked up and deposited in bags on the side of the road before a vehicle follows after to collect all of the bags.

Going ahead of the mowers, in effect, sets a schedule and path for those employees to follow with a need to stay ahead of mowing crews. Additionally, having the seasonal status aids the county in terms of no benefits package or similar requirements.

Keep Gilmer Beautiful already collects litter on 44 adopted sections of road in the county where they collect litter four times a year. Public Works Director Jim Smith stated these employees would not have to do those roads where Keep Gilmer Beautiful has collected recently. Paris asserted this service was to help the situation above and in addition to what their organization accomplishes.

While the additional employees were discussed, and approved, as a first step, all three commissioners agreed this would not be enough and want to continue looking at opportunities to change the “culture” in the county to make it so that both those who live here as well as visiting tourists avoid throwing trash on the roads.

These four additional employees are set to be a trial basis this year and was roughly estimated during the meeting to cost the county $45,000.

While discussion included possibilities of increased litter fines and additional education, continued research will be required to see what the commissioners are able and allowed to do.

In their regular meeting, Gilmer County Post Commissioner Dallas Miller said, “It’s a behavioral, cultural attitude that our public seems to take these days that they didn’t use to.” Reiterating the need for more than just additional employees was only one part of the issue.

Gilmer County Post Commissioner Travis Crouch held issue with already considering unbudgeted changes in February after going through the long budget process and having to cut departments severely so recently.

His note tied into another issue related to the trash. In the past, a large portion of litter pickup was handled through community service, a trend that has changed, according to Paris, with changes in probation for crimes. While the commissioners are considering the budget change for litter, they are also considering a budget change for the Probation Office, located in Pickens, and Gilmer’s share of funding that.

Responding to the calls of the citizens to deal with the trash on roads, Paris stated he wanted the people to know the board is responsive to their calls for support.

One final comment from Miller came noting, “I want our citizens to know that we need their help.”


Gooch: Senate Gets Down to Business

State & National

Senate Gets Down to Business

By: Sen. Steve Gooch (R – Dahlonega)

Although the Senate was in session for only two days this week, my colleagues and I were very busy under the Gold Dome addressing budget proposals and a key piece of legislation on the Senate Floor.

The week started with Joint Senate and House Appropriations hearings on the Amended FY18 and General FY19 budgets. Governor Deal kicked off the hearings which included several different agencies presenting their budget proposals. I am happy to say that the state’s budget continues to be in good shape, with the General FY19 budget topping $26 billion for the first time. The General FY19 budget proposals were drafted with an estimated 2.9 percent state fund growth and around 3.8 percent tax revenue growth over the Amended FY18 revenue estimates. Included in the General FY19 budget are increases in funding for education and transportation.

The General FY19 budget addresses the needs for the state to meet determined employer contributions within the Teachers Retirement System with a proposed increase of around $364 million. Additionally, around $120 million would be appropriated for enrollment growth and training. Along with these positive changes in the General FY19 budget, an important proposal in the Amended FY18 budget is adding $15 million to purchase 194 school buses statewide. This will positively impact our students by ensuring that buses are not overcrowded.

The state’s growing need to address transportation infrastructure is also addressed in the General FY19 budget. An additional $31.6 million in projected revenues resulting from House Bill 170 – passed during the 2015 Legislation Session – will be added to the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) budget. I am very happy to see that a piece of legislation we passed a couple of years ago is still making positive impacts for GDOT.

Along with attending the budget hearings and carefully reviewing the proposals for the Amended FY18 and General FY19 budgets, my colleagues and I took up a very important piece of legislation in Senate Chamber. On Thursday, the Senate passed the Supporting and Strengthening Families Act, also known as the Adoption Bill, or HB 159. This bill passed with bipartisan support and is now headed over to the House of Representatives for their review. Final passage of this legislation and a signature into law by the Governor would allow our state to update our adoption system which has been the same for nearly 30 years.

The Senate’s version of HB 159 clarifies many of the laws regarding who can adopt, who can act as a legal guardian and the rights held by the biological parents before and after giving their child up for adoption. Additionally, the version the Senate passed on Thursday states that if an agency is not involved in a private adoptive process, living expenses cannot be paid. The only expenses that can be paid in a private adoption are medical and counseling. These are just some of the highlights of the Senate version of HB 159. As this legislation moves through the legislative process, my colleagues and I will work with the Governor and House of Representatives to ensure there is cooperation to address concerns anyone may have. It is imperative that we pass this legislation so that we can assist the large number of children who are in foster care and need a loving and stable home.

The pace of the session is going to pick up quickly with standing committees beginning to hold meetings next week to vet legislation pending from last year along with new bills introduced this year. As we move forward in the session, please do not hesitate to reach out with questions, concerns and feedback. It is always great to hear from my constituents and our door is always open.

Commissioners grant final approval to 2018 budget


ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners met Thursday, Dec. 21, for final approval of their 2018 budget before the new year.

Before the official vote, the commissioners presented a couple of final clerical notes to the budget where they changed language on one item to reflect the money allocation. The board changed a Public Works line item to phrase its project as lift station and/or scale as Public Works Director Jim Smith brought to light a recent issue with one of the solid waste department’s scales. In need of repair or replacement, this could preclude the lift station project from next year’s budget. Additionally, Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris added an item in the capital budget for an upgrade to the county’s digital storage and the 146 gigabyte share of the county server they have. The server does not have sufficient space. Therefore, an upgrade to storage was already included in the allocated money, but Paris stated he had not listed it as an item.

None of these items actually changed any money allocation or lines of the budget.

Citizens speaking at the meeting brought up discussion on items for the budget in the county. Gilmer resident Joene DePlancke asked about the county’s golf course funding and revenue. Paris offered that this year represents the first year that the course is standing alone, meaning revenue will be equal to expenditures. However, it was also noted the “break even” did not include capital expenditures for the facility. Still, the commissioners noted confidence that the facility is continuing its progress towards a revenue generation for the county.

Citizen Dan Meadows commented on the county’s work session and Gilmer County Post Commissioner Dallas Miller’s comments about the budget and funding for Public Works versus Public Safety. Seeking alternative paths to funding, Meadows questioned possibilities to utilize SPLOST or grants for employee funding. Much of the citizens’ input revolved around the conversations of funding raises and employee retention while avoiding inter-department tensions or funding re-allocations as mentioned in the county’s December work session. Additionally, DePlancke suggested utilizing volunteers throughout the county when possible.

Citizen Donald Patrick echoed the same sentiments stating the county needs to keep good people in these departments. He noted the issues with training and paying an employee but losing a potential employee to neighboring counties who may offer $1000 to $2000 more in pay.

Commissioners confirmed to those present that no additional changes had been made to Public Safety after the suggestions, and Paris reaffirmed previous comments about the progress the road department had made through capital funding in recent years. Find out more on the topic and discussion with “December meetings continue commissioners’ budget conversation.”

Final approval came for the 2018 budget with a motion from Gilmer County Post Commissioner Travis Crouch and a second from Miller.


December meetings continue commissioners’ budget conversation


ELLIJAY, Ga. – While considerations continue for Gilmer County’s 2018 budget, new changes and suggestions have been considered through the commissioners’ December meetings.

Some changes came with an expected increase in property tax revenue that was mirrored with a increase to contingency fund in relation to each other. While the expected increase is based on the current standing for property taxes in 2017, the commissioners decided placing the increase in contingency would allow for some extra room on the exact number fluctuation.

The contingency also further supports the back-up funds for buildings and maintenance that Gilmer County Post Commissioner Dallas Miller has been requesting as Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris tells FYN that contingency could be used for any unexpected expenses for repairs or other items.

Funding has begun being set aside for the Lower Cartecay Road Bridge as well. In the county’s capital budget, $250,000 was set into a line for the bridge repair. It was also later increased during their regular meeting to $350,000, pulling the extra $100,000 from added revenue in the capital budget from taxes.

The commissioners are still assuring the public they are actively pursuing a federal grant to repair the bridge. However, as the funding is not guaranteed, Gilmer County Post Commissioner Travis Crouch further urged these funds allocation.

As Miller brought the additional $100,000 in the Capital Budget to light in their regular session, his original recommendation was to use the funds to support capital purchases for the public works department. Crouch responded saying, “Since we have a bridge that’s been out for nine months or so, it should go there until we nail down alternative financing.”

Crouch went on to confirm that as soon as they could confirm the grant funds or other means of financing the $1.2 million project, he was in agreement with Miller’s suggestion.

Pursuing an increase to financing for the public works department, Miller had previously made suggestions as to accomplishing that during their work session saying the county is behind in providing roads and bridges for public works as public safety in whole gets three times the funding as public works.

While initially stating he wanted to increase the percentage of the budget that public works receives, Miller specifically stated he wanted to take a flat number out of the public safety budget and move it into the public works. Miller later mentioned $200,000 as a number.

Paris took a moment to say that he had repeatedly cut all the departments under the public safety budget and could not feasibly see any possibility of further cuts.

Gilmer County Sheriff Stacy Nicholson adamantly opposed the suggestion saying the department didn’t have it. Nicholson told the commissioners that he is already going to lose staff because he cannot give raises to everyone. He further commented saying they would be the lowest paid Sheriff’s office in the Appalachian Judicial Circuit starting Jan. 1.

Nicholson vehemently defended his current budget after major cuts adding that issues continually arise in the county that affect his budget. Referencing a couple of medical issues that have arisen, he noted major expenses that came through errors at other areas.

Nicholson also noted, “I have not increased my deputies staffing, my patrol staffing, probably, in ten years.”

Furthering the discussion, Gilmer County Public Safety Director Tony Pritchet added, “If we cut anything out of ours, it’s going to have to come out of salary and wages. And you can take two to four hundred thousand dollars out of the revenue this next year because we won’t be able to handle the transports we have from the hospital.”

Pritchett also noted that the revenue each year for the emergency services offsets about half of their budget. He noted strain on their salary and wages already and any more cuts would make the work load unsustainable.

As Miller responded, he noted the great work public safety, as a whole, has accomplished, alongside the major needs of the county’s infrastructure. While Paris spoke about the strides the county has made in public works in the last couple years, Miller noted the strides they still need.

Gilmer County Public Works Director Jim Smith also spoke against the suggestion saying although he appreciated the acknowledgement of the needs public works has, he didn’t feel it would accomplish anything to improve public works at the detriment of public safety.

Smith stated, “I don’t feel like that you take from the gains that you have made in other deficient areas to give to another.”

Smith went on to comment on the progress his department has made saying that in his 16 years with the county, public works has been treated better in recent years than it has ever been.

While this specific suggestion never came to approval, Miller alluded at the regular meeting that the $100,000 in the capital budget, which he agreed to be put into the Lower Cartecay Road bridge project, would be returned towards public works investments as funding for the bridge was obtained.

Commenting on the budget, Chairman Paris called it a “bare bones” budget for its departments.


Joint Development Authority preps for 2018


EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Greater Gilmer Joint Development Authority (JDA) held a special meeting Dec. 12 to finalize items before the new year.

The Authority is filling a gap made last year as the seventh, at-large, member was needed to be appointed. While Penelope Marshall has served in the position, it turns out that no official resolution was ever made. While the JDA reappointed Marshall to the position, it must now go before the other entities of the two cities and the county to be approved by them as well before finalization.

The approval to the position officially lists Marshall as finishing the rest of the term for the next three years.

The JDA also approved their 2018 budget with the major changes of having the executive director employed by the JDA itself now. The smaller budget of the Authority reportedly will allow $15,109  for marketing and $7,500 for travel and entertainment, according to Greater Gilmer JDA Executive Director Kent Sanford. These main two items are what the JDA uses to grow and expand business.

Sanford mentioned at the meeting that the Authority’s immediate plan with the budget compared to “ground game” in football. He spoke about the restriction from finances meant taking every step one at a time and working on smaller gains in the near future to build into more growth.

The JDA also approved their regular meeting dates for 2018. Those approved meetings will be held on Feb. 5, May 7, Aug. 6, and Nov. 5. Each meeting is to be held at 8 a.m. at the Gilmer Chamber Office, 696 1st Ave in East Ellijay.


Looking deeper into Gilmer’s 2018 budget


ELLIJAY, Ga. – With discussions upcoming on the 2018 proposed budget, citizens are taking a closer look at the finances.

FYN has also delved deeper into a more detailed look at the 2018 Proposed Budget.

First, a comparison with the current standing of the 2017 budget will show the most general changes as the 2018 proposed Maintenance and Operations (M&O) budget at $28,729,313.00, up from the current 2017 M&O budget at $27,037,174.00. While this represents an increase of $1,692,139.00, citizens will need to remember that the 2017 is still to go through final amendments at the beginning of next year when the final records and tallies are taken into account.

The 2018 budget is proposed at this point, allowing still for changes before final adoption, which is scheduled next week on Dec. 21.

The largest increases fall where expected in the largest departments. The Sheriff’s Office will increase $127,755 (2018 total: $3,406,009). Roads/Bridges will increase $214,023 (2018 total: $1,522,758). 911 Dispatch will increase $111,017 (2018 total: $918,140). Fire and Rescue sees the largest increase without comparison at $221,517.

However, as citizens look at smaller departments, increase seem be just as large relative to current budgets. Tax Assessors will see a $77,523 increase. While this may seem a smaller number, comparing it to their previous 2017 budget of $780,086 represents almost a 10 percent increase. The Tax Assessors Department was among those asking for raises this year as they have seen a higher than average turnover rate for employees in the past who, similar to other departments, find better financial opportunities elsewhere. While, usually, assessors have different levels based on knowledge, experience and training, Commissioner Chairman Charlie Paris has previously stated the raises this year are being spread in an attempt to bring up the lowest paid employees in the county, not just individual departments.

Additionally, Probate Court will see a $60,880 increase (2018 total: $373,222), and Solid Waste will see a $68,013 increase (2018 total: $787,992).

Another major change comes in from Elections. Considering the coming federal, state and county elections in May, possible run-off in July, November and another possible run-off in December, the $97,030 increase is not unexpected over the 2017 budgeted $33,442. The 2017 year had no county positions up for election.

One department saw a major decrease in budget. The Parks and Recreation Department will see a $57,449 decrease (2018 total: $606,172). Having recently lost an employee, the department decided not to replace the person. While not all of the decrease is attributed to this loss, the majority is accounted through payroll as well as benefits and healthcare.

While these changes are not fully approved yet, the meetings set for Wednesday at 8 a.m., Thursday at 5:30 p.m. and Thursday at 6 p.m. will have time set for citizens to speak about the budget to the Board of Commissioners. See more when you read “Commissioners comment on budget, cuts, and process.”


Commissioners comment on budget, cuts, and process


ELLIJAY, Ga. – Since October, the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners have been through hearings and meetings, discussing and reworking the county’s 2018 budget.

With last week’s publication, a balanced budget is now available for debate. But does that mean the budget is set and beyond change? No. While publishing the budget generally signals the final stages of the process, it does not mean you, as citizens, cannot speak, petition and urge further changes for the county’s budget.

In fact, Gilmer County Post Commissioner Dallas Miller specifically urged citizens to attend one of this week’s coming commissioners meetings. There are several chances to respond as Wednesday hosts their 8 a.m. work session and Thursday hosts both a public comments meeting at 5:30 p.m. and regular session at 6 p.m., . Even then, the final budget approval is not scheduled until next week, Dec. 21.

If no further changes or delays come, the commissioners are set to have their budget before the start of 2018. This means no need for a spending resolution for January. A resolution that the Board has used before, it stands as another sign of the progress Gilmer has made in recent years.

Gilmer County Post Commissioner Travis Crouch noted the M&O Budget (Maintenance and Operations) was and is the challenge in the budgeting process saying, “We’re going to be in a challenged financial situation.” Noting the challenges ahead, Crouch did say he believes the county has majorly improved financially in the last few years.

The county’s budget process stretches limited resources across the county and leads to tough decisions for the commissioners. Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris commented on one of the major changes to this year’s budget stating, “Our objective this year is to get those people on the very lowest levels of pay … and we’re trying to concentrate on those folks this year.” Paris was speaking on numerous departments asking for raises for personnel, attempting to keep our county competitive to others. Pay was mentioned several times in the process for attracting quality candidates for positions and keeping those here from leaving for financial reasons.

When questioned about sustaining the financial needs of these raises, Paris noted the county’s successes and increases in tourism and popularity to increase LOST (Local Option Sales Tax) rather than millage rates on property taxes.

Part of the county’s successes are exemplified in achievements like updating the county’s vehicle fleet, from road works machines to emergency vehicles in recent years. Also, maintaining a contingency fund for operating finances for the county is another concern. Growing the contingency funds could address issues like Miller’s concerns for building maintenance in coming years, but issues like that as well as the lower Cartecay Road bridge have yet to be given specific financial sources to address them.

While not specifically noted in the budget, the county is also utilizing its Tax Anticipaton Note (TAN) later into the year. Paris noted that he expects, with the county’s current progress, he could see Gilmer reaching a point in a few years for bidding a TAN but not using it. Though the first year in that situation may still bid the TAN as a back up, not using it would be the exemplification of the achievement.

Despite the positives achieved, the process of budgeting for Gilmer took in all requests for the county budget and saw a need for massive cuts. Much of the county’s offices and departments requesting raises will not see the full request fulfilled. The Sheriff’s Office and Emergency Management  personnel already saw raises in the last couple of years. While the number of requests drove home the importance, the county’s finances could not support every increase. Paris tells FYN this is what leads to tough decisions for the county such as focusing on the lowest paid employees this year for raises.

A major concern from Post Commissioner Miller was noted as he stated, “What I am concerned most about this budget … We spend three times as much on public safety as we do on public works. Public safety is almost 50 percent of our budget.” Miller noted public safety as inclusive of departments like the jail, the Sheriff’s Office, Fire and Rescue, 911, animal shelter and others.

Miller’s aforementioned building concerns were also noted saying, “We have aging infrastructure in our county that is unsafe, that is falling down, that is deteriorating and needs to be updated. We don’t spend but about two and a half million dollars a year on the public works … It’s out of sync.”

Noting the infrastructure was among his major concerns, Miller stated he would be pushing harder to address this in the future.

Crouch and Miller both echoed notions that they expect further conversation and discussion on the budget. However, with the already advertised special called meeting next week on Dec. 21, the budget approval looks to be a major item at this month’s regular meetings.

The proposed budget is showing 25 departments increasing and five decreasing in total budget. However, Paris notes that most of the changes are less than five percent in either direction.

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