BOC says Wrestling Capital “is what you’ve earned”

Bobcat's Corner, News
Gilmer County pursues state recognition as Georgia's Wrestling Capital.

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.

Coaches, Parents, and Students all attended the BOC Meeting in September to show how meaningful that state recognition is to the community.

Coaches, Parents, and Students all attended the BOC Meeting in September to show how meaningful that state recognition is to the community.

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.”

Gilmer Wrestler, Thomas Chastain speaks to the Commissioners about the wrestling program and what it means to him.

Gilmer Wrestler, Thomas Chastain speaks to the Commissioners about the wrestling program and what it means to him.

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.

 

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Gilmer Preps for Florence

News

ELLIJAY, Ga – Not even two months have passed since Gilmer suffered through one of the worst storms it has seen in decades near the end of July, yet Hurricane Florence threatens to be just as bad, if not worse, according to reports from the National Weather Service and State Governments along the East Coast.

Both South and North Carolina have seen mandatory evacuation orders for residents in certain areas. With the residents continuing to travel west away from the storm, Georgia’s State Government has spoken about accepting those fleeing the path of the hurricane. The National Guard and the Coast Guard have already been mobilized for support as well as forces from Maryland and even New York preparing to help.

With a recent change in direction, the National Weather Service now indicates that North Georgia could see much more impact now. Public Safety Director Tony Pritchett said we are on the “dirtier” side of the storm today in a scheduled Commissioner’s meeting where he warned of potential dangers and damage that Gilmer could see from the southern turn of Hurricane Florence.

The expected impact is so large that Georgia Governor Nathan Deal declared a state of emergency for the state.

Based on the latest 11 a.m. forecast for Hurricane Florence and acting on a recommendation from Georgia Emergency Management Agency/Homeland Security officials, today I issued an emergency declaration for all 159 counties in Georgia.

The Gilmer Public Safety Department took to social media today as well to warn citizens of “an enhanced chance of impacts for our area. Potential impacts could include heavy rain and sustained winds. This could very well cause serious flooding impacts and a large amount of downed trees. Roadways washed out and damaged and widespread power outages are all a result of these impacts.”

Officials are asking citizens to prepare for the oncoming storm and for an influx of people attempting to flee the storm, even as we are still recovering from the July storm. Public Works Director Jim Smith told the Commissioners today that his people were also prepared to mobilize in recovery and recuperation efforts.

Public Safety also noted, “Everyone should keep in mind that systems such as this in the past have caused SEVERE damage for our county. Although we hope this is not the case. PLEASE PREPARE NOW! Preparedness includes adequate food and water for a minimum of 72 hours, flashlights and batteries, a full charge on all wireless devices and portable charging options for these devices, generators and fuel if you have them and know the PROPER use and placement.”

Commission Chairman Charlie Paris stated that the county is preparing its resources including Pritchett preparing the Emergency Management Program as the county readies itself to open shelters if needed. He also confirmed that while Gilmer is not currently in talks with the State about housing evacuees, it is prepared for the call with those shelters made ready.

Emergency preparedness goes far deeper than just resources and shelters, however. Threats like this are prepared for months and years in advance. Pritchett made special note of the departments swift water training and equipment in a case of an extreme event saying, “We have very advanced, skilled swift-water-trained individuals that are trained to get to most anybody that is trapped or is in a rescue situation.”

Preparing for the worst-case scenario, Pritchett said the Department already has response plans throughout the county, but cautioned citizens against “sounding the alarm” for something that may not be as bad as they are preparing for. Despite the declaration of a State of Emergency, he noted that at this time, preparedness is the best course of action as they have previously stated.

These are the reasons that he encourages citizens to have cell phones charged and to prepare other means of charging in case of a need. Having these devices available to contact emergency response is also a part of survival.

As you continue watching for news and updates regarding Hurricane Florence, it may be wise to go ahead and program the non-emergency response numbers into your phone in case a need arises.  If you have questions, concerns, or a need contact Headquarters at 706-635-1333 or the non-emergency dispatch number 706-635-8911. Pritchett also encouraged citizens to keep an eye on the Gilmer County Public Safety Facebook Page for updates on the storm, shelters, and impact on Gilmer County.

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Planning to make a plan in the BOC

News

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.

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Timber Cuts into Commissioner’s meeting

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners August meeting saw an unexpected addition to its agenda as citizens from the Rainbow Lake area met to ask the board to stop the clear cutting of over 500 acres of Timber in the area.

“Devastation,” the word kept arising as citizen after citizen walked to the podium asking the Commissioners to stop the process, or somehow change it to selective cutting.

It is the word that Diane Davenport used when she said she lived downstream of the area. She told the board, “It’s going to devastate us for as long as I live, and as long as my family who inherit my land live.”

Joe Paprocki offered a structured argument against the clear-cut saying there are four main areas majorly affected in the county by this process.

The first area is the water, “We think the soil erosion and silt run-off will critically impact not only Rainbow Lake itself, but James Creek, Mountaintown Creek, and even Carter’s Lake. It will also impact our groundwater and well water.”

The second area is the wildlife, “We believe a clear-cut of this magnitude will be, pretty much, a 100% obliteration of habitat which will vastly diminish animal populations… for many years to come.”

The third area is the countywide quality of life, “We believe people come to Gilmer County to enjoy its forests, lake, creeks, fresh air, and natural beauty. We believe deforestation on this scale will force people like us to reconsider where we are living, if we want to be surrounded and hemmed in by this devastation.”

The fourth area is the property values, “I think we will almost immediately see property values plummet… That means tax revenues are going to go down with it, and county services will go down. Jobs will probably be lost.”

Paprocki said that he has heard people say its private property and there is nothing they can do, but that “800 acres” of devastation, an area large enough to land a 747 commercial airplane, affects the public and is, therefore, a public issue.

One citizen called the area a “war-zone” affecting the lives of the animals she keeps on a farm in the area, another referred to the endangered species in the area as well as the threat of invasive species cropping up after the clear-cut.

As if punctuating the emotion of the community, Alvin Sisson stepped to the podium. Speaking slowly and holding back tears, he choked out his words in short parts. “I was born and raised in Gilmer County, in this area. I have worked the whole project when they built Rainbow Lake. I worked Rainbow Lake from cutting the brush to building the dam itself.”

Noting the three major creeks that feed into Rainbow Lake, Sisson said the creeks would go red with mud before they feed that into the lake as a whole. He noted 500-foot buffers would not stop the devastation, they would not hold back the destruction of the area.

Everyone who spoke either opposed the clear-cut or asked to change to selective cut except one.

Richie Mullins of the Georgia Forestry Commission offered what basically became a crash course in the Commission’s water and forest quality assurance. Walking those present through the logging process and his part, as a Water Quality Specialist, in continuing to maintain the creeks’ and lake’s clarity in the process of and the aftermath of the project.

Calling himself the “Erosion Police,” Mullins assured citizens that he was the area’s biggest advocate for maintaining the lake and the water. Even he never fully said the clear-cut was a good thing, instead trying to assure citizens that he would monitor the project and address their concerns.

Even he himself told a resident that he would prefer a selective cut.

The situation was summed up in one short sentence by Commission Chairman Charlie Paris as he said, “I’d stop it if I could, but I can’t.”

He went on to explain that while he wholeheartedly agreed with citizens about avoiding the clear-cut at all costs, he could not find any legal ways to force the issue. Pausing a moment, he said that if anyone had a legal argument he wanted it so that he could use it. As he stated, in the end, it is their land and they can do it as long as they follow the rules.

“I hate that,” said Paris, “and I know not as much as ya’ll do, but I do hate that.”

Despite the disappointing response, one citizen stood to say, “We just appreciate being heard so that other people  know about what is going on because, frankly, it blindsided me.”

As it stands with citizens continuing to look for answers to the project, it seems that they will be keeping a close eye on the logging operation alongside the Forestry Commission to maintain the area after the project completes.

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BOC Sets Millage

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners held their Special Called Meeting in which discussion of the county’s Millage Rate and decisions were made.

Considered their calculations of accepting the Rollback Rate at 6.370, the generalized budget for the county would wind up relatively the same, with only a possible $10,000 difference over what they collected this year.

With the continued growth in Gilmer County, Post Commissioner Dallas Miller noted it was one of the bigger rollbacks he has seen. He also noted the Rollback Rate represented over $800,000 dollars in budget difference to the county.

The county has not increased or decreased its Millage Rate in several years, maintaining 6.983 in since 2015.

Miller suggested to the board that he believed they should continue maintaining the current millage rate. Repeating their same argument against the state directive of Rollback Rate and what is called a tax increase, the board as a whole agreed upon the unfairness of calling it a tax increase when they maintain the same rate.

Gilmer County Post Commissioner Travis Crouch commented on the rate saying they could “split the difference” and lower the rate slightly without going all the way to the Rollback. He went on to note that last year, the commissioners had to cut $2.5 million from the county’s initial proposed budget.

Crouch took a moment to ask Commission Chairman Charlie Paris how he felt this year’s budget would compare.

Paris responded by saying, “That we will probably have to cut a bit more. That’s been the trend.”

Agreeing with Paris, Crouch noted he held similar expectations. The board heard similar arguments from department heads including Public Works Director Jim Smith who noted the increasing costs in gravel and stone. Paris agreed, noting increases to diesel, gas, and salaries as well.

The opposing discussion came from Paris as he said he believes the biggest issue he gets calls on in the county is roads. However, looking at the choice between the services and taxes, he said he felt the citizens would be more dissatisfied with what is called a “tax increase.” He admitted that he was mixed emotions on the topic, but confessed he would come down on accepting the rollback.

Ultimately, as discussion began circling to repetition, a motion came from Dallas Miller to maintain the 6.983 millage rate. Crouch seconded the motion leading to a 2-1 vote with Charlie Paris as the dissenting vote.

The bond millage vote also approved maintaining the current rate with a unanimous 3-0 vote.

Moving forward on this decision, the board will begin advertising the rate before the formal public hearings on the millage rate, and then on to the final adoption.

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Gilmer “survives” the storm

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – As Gilmer continues to clean up and recover from Saturday mornings storm, officials are beginning to assess damage and costs for the county.

According to Public Safety Director Tony Pritchett, around 4 a.m. on Saturday morning emergency services began receiving calls for aid around the county.

As one of the hardest hit counties in North Georgia, the damage with downed trees and powerlines alone could have weeklong effects according to reports as power outages continue and line-men continue working around the clock to repair both downed line and downed poles. There have also been reports of mudslides causing damage to areas, but no roads have been blocked or destroyed.

Pritchett reports that the emergency services only had one reported injury as a tree fell on a local woman’s camper in the Coosawattee area. As paramedics reached the woman, she was taken to an area hospital. However, no reports of any fatalities have come in as authorities are still, days later, responding to calls for aid.

As the intensity of the storm increase through the early hours, an estimated 8,000 – 10,000 homes lost power in the county between Amicalola Electric Company and Georgia Power. Public Safety has counted 20 homes with trees on top of them as they continue the survey process. These were just a few of the different situations that Pritchett says they have continued responding to in the days since the storm.

County services are in full swing with the Gilmer County Road Department and Public Safety department both attempting to clear trees from the roads as they find them.

Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris told FYN that the county is still collecting estimates for exact amounts of costs of the damage. However, their biggest disaster came in the Buckhorn area and the county golf course which lost part of its most recent paving of the cart path, has numerous trees down on the greens, and is still looking at water damage to the course. Early predictions say the course will not re-open to the public until Wednesday or Thursday at the earliest.

Despite the highest damage to county facilities and equipment being there, the hardest hit part of Gilmer County is actually inside Coosawattee, according to Pritchett. While the county continues the clean up in the outer areas of the county and the cities deal with the damage inside their limits, Coosawattee’s Public Works department is dealing with the mass of downed trees and road damage inside the resorts gated community.

Gilmer has also experienced flooding in low-level areas. However, River Park, which has become notorious for flooding and flood damage in recent years, made it through the storm, according to Paris, with minimal damage and little to no flooding through the buildings.

The major damage from the rainfall came with 5 damaged culvert pipes. Director of Public Works, Jim Smith told FYN that four of those pipes had part of their base wash away as water overtook the pipe and began flowing over the road. The fifth pipe, however, was located on Tyler Road, just off of Highway 282, and was completely washed out and carried away. This pipe had to be replaced and reset. However, the Road Department has all five locations repaired and passable for vehicles at this time.

Alongside the continuing official response of the county, citizens are also still out in droves continuing to help neighbors chainsaw trees in driveways and across roads that authorities haven’t reached yet. Citizens across the county are calling it a major storm, the likes of which they have not seen before.

Citizens are also reporting damage tolls in the hundreds of thousands between damage to homes and vehicles being damaged or crushed by falling branches, trees, hail, power poles, and other debris. Reports of damage continue through local farms including at least one chicken house struck by lightning and burnt down.

Continuing reports of high wind, continuous lightning, and heavy rain have locals calling it a “tornado-like storm without the tornado.”

Officials agree as the Public Safety Department is currently sharing all their information collected with the National Weather Service in attempts to classify the storm. Pritchett confirmed that they are collecting damage reports and assessing weather data to assess the possibility of microbursts, straight-line winds, or actual tornadic activity.

Gilmer is not alone in its time of recovery, though. As is common practice with power companies, Gilmer is receiving aid from counties all over Georgia. Crews are in town this week from Volt Power, Amicalola Electic, Pike Electric, Sumter Electric, and Georgia Power among others. Two visiting workers confirmed they were from Columbus, Ga. and Atlanta, Ga. With others coming in from across the state, work is continuing for those parts of Gilmer and North Georgia that are still without power.

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BOC discusses new school zoning for BOE

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – During their June meeting, the Gilmer Board of Commissioners saw an item requesting a rezoning to PI-1 for the Gilmer County Board of Education.

This item is a part of planning and preparations for a new school to be built on the school’s Clear Creek property next to Clear Creek Middle School (CCMS). The school is set to replace the current Ellijay Primary School (EPS) as part of a plan to reorganize the school system.

This item is far ahead of any concrete plans on construction as the BOE is awaiting approval of a new ESPLOST referendum before they could move forward with this construction project.

During their work session, the Board of Commissioners discussed the item. With all three in favor of the school, the only discussion came from understanding what impact the project would have on the counties surrounding infrastructure. Post Commissioner Dallas Miller asked what changes would need to be done to the roads like Clear Creek Road and Yukon Road. Miller inquired if they would need deceleration lanes or traffic lights. While no solid answer is available at this time due to the project not even being out of idea stages without ESPLOST money to support it, there did become an understanding between the two entities for continued communication.

With CCMS already at the location, there may not be much, if any, change in school vehicle traffic like buses on the road, however, effectively “moving” EPS to the new location would obviously increase traffic on Yukon Road and Clear Creek Road from staff and parents.

While the BOC did approve the rezoning request, Miller’s comments at the work session made it apparent that they will be looking for constant communication on the project so that they may prepare the streets accordingly. Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs and two members of the Board of Education, Chairman Michael Bramlett and Vice Chair Ronald Watkins, were on hand during the BOC Regular Meeting to speak with the Commissioners before the meeting.

FYN’s current understanding of the project is that discussion is still going on how to maintain the communication. There is no information yet on if this would take the form of a report during commissioner’s meetings, a liaison between the two boards, or something else.

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SPLOST ready for city approvals

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – In a Special Called Meeting on June 15, a final Resolution was put for consideration of the cities of Ellijay and East Ellijay for an upcoming SPLOST Referendum.

Having received input from each city’s mayor and gone through previous negotiations on percentages, the resolution has now reached the time to be put forth in these city’s council meetings for consideration and approval before the county can officially put it on the ballot as a joint SPLOST between the municipalities.

While the meeting was a formality to provide the final form of the resolution, it did provide the actual document to be put forth to the cities and, if approved, ultimately put to a public vote for the next SPLOST cycle.

The SPLOST referendum is set to continue the current 1% sales tax that is currently in place. Even though the municipalities are preparing early, it will not overlap the current SPLOST cycle.

Below are the six pages of the referendum as it currently exists:

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