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.

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Gilmer County talks SPLOST with Ellijay and East Ellijay

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – A unique meeting saw the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners sitting with Ellijay Mayor Al Hoyle and East Ellijay Mayor Mack West to speak about the possibility of a new SPLOST cycle for the county as a whole.

While the Board of Commissioners could move forward with the SPLOST without the cities, joining together provides many benefits to each municipality including a more expansive list of projects without a state-regulated list of prioritization and a one-year-extension on the SPLOST cycle to make it a six-year program instead of just five years.

One of the major items needed in the meeting was an agreed amount that could be expected from the tax. According to regulations on the program, if a government puts forth a SPLOST and sets its expected return above what it actually receives, there is no penalty. However, if that SPLOST achieves the expected return early, no more collections could be made, causing a gap in collections and revenue from the sales tax.

With that in mind, the meeting came to a conclusion to estimate $31 million in revenue from the tax.

Both Mayors in the meeting looked to increase their city’s portions of the SPLOST in favor of rising costs of major projects, Hoyle spoke on Ellijay’s behalf saying that increase paving costs and projects that the city is in need of accomplishing could greatly benefit from an increase in their percentage.

Likewise, West echoed these concerns siting a specific project as they have repaved the area of Eller Road and the intersection at Highland Crossing before reaching Highway 515.

On the other hand, the county discussed the county’s continued financial pains attempting to pay back their bond debt, looking at the vast majority of their SPLOST collection dedicated to paying back that debt at close to $4 million a year.

Ultimately, the decisions came down very similar to how the SPLOST has been divided currently. With the County currently taking 92.35% of the SPLOST, they backed off the extra part of a percent making the division at an easy round number of the percentage.

The County will receive 92%.

Ellijay will receive 6%.

East Ellijay will receive 2%.

Still, this negotiation is preliminary. Each Mayor will now take the proposal back to their cities for approval before the county can approve the final agreement and move forward with offering the SPLOST option to a vote for citizens. If all goes according to plan and no major obstacles are met, It could mean citizens could see the vote for this on the ballot this November.

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Chamber hosts Candidate Forum in Ellijay

Election 2018

ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Chamber of Commerce hosted a forum to meet the candidates in Gilmer’s two major elections this year.

First, the Post 2 County Commissioner race saw candidates Karleen Ferguson, Woody Janssen, and Jerry Tuso speak about Gilmer specifically and their own lives and qualifications while 7th District State Representative candidates Rick Day, David Ralston, and Margaret Williamson spoke more generally on Gilmer’s place in the state as a whole and their role as a representative.

Hosted by Gilmer Chamber President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Paige Green and Board of Directors Chairman Trent Sanford, the event gave five minutes to each candidate to offer their words to citizens before allowing for time for citizens to mingle and speak face-to-face with them and ask their own questions.

The event kicked off with the candidates for Gilmer County Post 2 Commissioner.

Jerry Tuso, candidate for Gilmer County Post 2 Commissioner.

Jerry Tuso, candidate for Gilmer County Post 2 Commissioner.

First to speak was Jerry Tuso who offered a few words about his past as a retired air traffic controller and negotiating contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars over his 19 years in the position. As a past chairman of the Gilmer County GOP and eight years of involvement in the party, Tuso stated he has received great support throughout his time from people like Rita Otum and Stephen Aaron among many others. Tuso said he is running for Post 2 because he was raised and told that hard work and studying could make you something. Tuso continued saying, “It wasn’t enough. My father told me, ‘Son, that’s not enough. You’ve got to be a servant as well.’ So, during my entire working career, I have found ways that I can serve. And that’s why I am running, to serve Gilmer County.”

 

Karleen Ferguson, candidate for Gilmer County Post 2 Commissioner.

Karleen Ferguson, candidate for Gilmer County Post 2 Commissioner.

Next to speak was Karleen Ferguson. Ferguson has owned property with her husband in Gilmer County for 20 years, and in 2011, she became the Gilmer County Tourism and Events Coordinator. She noted it as the “funnest job in the world because I got to tell everyone that I knew how wonderful Gilmer County was and encourage them to come visit.” However, Ferguson said she learned in that position the impact of tourism on Gilmer’s community. She noted the Apple Festival’s economic effect on hundreds of families in the county, including the apple growers, but also the families who volunteer and work to earn extra income for their own needs. She connected this with the growing agri-tourism area alongside maximizing the natural resources the county has to offer for both citizens and businesses. Ferguson went on to note the effect that commissioners can have on the economy noting the previous board of Charlie Paris, Dallas Miller, and Travis Crouch and their efforts to replace old systems and catching up their departments to maintain the county. She stated, “We are headed in the right direction, and my intention as your county commissioner is to continue the direction that these gentlemen have been leading us in. I am naturally a problem solver … I am a great team player. I have a passion to protect the history and culture of this community as we grow in a qualitative way.”

Woody Janssen, candidate for Gilmer County Post 2 Commissioner.

Woody Janssen, candidate for Gilmer County Post 2 Commissioner.

The final candidate to speak was Woody Janssen. Living in the county for 12 years, he got out of his major corporate past in national accounts management to settle down locally in Ellijay, where he started a river tubing business. In business since 2009, Janssen said he has been affected by and benefited from what the Board of Commissioners and the Gilmer Chamber have accomplished. Growing out of the recession, he spoke about the growth of the county and his business’ successes in bringing people to the county. It was something he said he wanted to continue in the county. Being so involved in the small business market, Janssen said he hoped to deregulate the county’s small businesses to further expand their growth. Janssen said, “That’s something I’d like to see happen, and I think I can help everybody out. Everybody has done a phenomenal job here locally. I’d like to see less regulation and let’s utilize what we already have.”

 

With that, the night’s events turned towards the District 7 State Representative election.

Rick Day, candidate for Georgia District 7 Representative.

Rick Day, candidate for Georgia District 7 Representative.

First to speak was Rick Day. Running as a Democrat, Day said he hoped citizens were interested in finding out who he was as he came out of nowhere. Day told a story about a job he took on an oil field in central Texas. He said he showed up for work and ran into immediate troubles as the vast majority of his coworkers were Hispanic and did not speak English. Day continued his story saying he was working in his combat boots from his time in the military. The boots began melting in the chemicals. Day said he did not know what to do, feeling alone with boots melting and no way to reach out to family or friends. It was then that his coworkers bought him a new pair of boots simply saying, “Pay it forward.”

It was a touching moment, said Day, who added he rides his motorcycle through our district and sees pockets of poverty, noting 51 percent of this district is employed, meaning that 49 percent are unemployed. With one half of the district “carrying the weight” for the other half, he could only ask how it could happen. Day said, “We are supposed to have leadership in Atlanta. For 10 years, the leadership has gone unchallenged. For 27 years, one person has had the power and authority to make this the number one district in the state … As beautiful as we are, behind the beauty, behind the cake of make-up, there is poverty. There is addiction. There is a quiet desperation.”

It is the quiet desperation that Day said he wants to address. He wants to represent them and increase the economy and growth for all those in the county to answer the “quiet desperation.” Day said the way he intends to pay for that growth and that answer is by adopting the Colorado approach by legalizing cannabis. Day likened the agricultural growth in our region with vineyards to a bridge, saying the next step with cannabis is a massive economic impact and job growth waiting to happen in our region.

Margaret Williamson, candidate for Georgia District 7 Representative.

Margaret Williamson, candidate for Georgia District 7 Representative.

Second to speak was Margaret Williamson. Williamson’s background comes from engineering, marketing, and business administration. However, it was her time at home with her children and supporting her husband that Williamson said allowed her the time to become more active in volunteering in the community. This time in our community is what she said gives her the “pulse of the things that are going on in District 7.” She told a story about visiting Abby’s, a local business, for ice cream and frozen yogurt with her grandchildren. As she sat watching them pile as many sprinkles on their ice cream as they could, Williamson said she realized that was the biggest issue for them. She asked herself what their future in our district was?

She commended the Chamber of Commerce in their efforts as well as the agricultural community as the mainstays of our economy. Growing now into vineyards and tourism exemplifies the growth the community has seen. She also noted the commissioners’ efforts in controlling and growing the economy under an annual $4.4 million debt from past irresponsibilities, a debt obligation stretching to 2032. Williamson said, “Our leadership claims that we are the number one state to do business in. So, let’s capitalize on that here in our district. We have more than other parts of Georgia to offer.”

Utilizing our resources, Williamson said we have enough to attract more of smaller, low impact businesses that offer better-paying jobs with advancement. She went on to note that she is running for the position to offer real representation from someone who cares, will work for the people, and will be honest about legislation and how it will affect the people. Williamson said she wants to change the office to be more present in the district besides just for “photo ops” as well as adding a weekly event in the district during session so that citizens can speak to her about legislation and concerns in the state.

David Ralston, candidate for Georgia District 7 Representative.

David Ralston, candidate for Georgia District 7 Representative.

The final candidate to speak was Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston. Ralston was born and raised in Gilmer County where he graduated high school. Ralston said it was the community’s help that achieved his successes like $550,000 for the “long overdue completion” of the Clear Creek Ball Fields, $150,000 for the Gilmer County Playhouse, $310,000 for equipping the Gilmer Canning Plant, $250,000 for repairs and renovations to the Gilmer County Library, $283,000 in state funds for improvements to the River Park, and $1,2 million for expansion of the Gilmer County Water System.

Ralston went on to say, “Yes, that is your money, but it was your money that was not coming back to Gilmer County until the last few years. It was going to Atlanta, and it was going to south Georgia. And it was going all over the state, except here.” He also noted that the state has reacted to the change and growth of new industries like wine as well as responses like the hiring of a “viticulturist” so that local wineries don’t have to wait for a professional to come to Georgia from other states to “monitor the effects of weather and disease on grapes.”

Ralston also noted the recent legislative session as the most successful in recent memory. The first cut to the state income tax in history, the ending of austerity cuts to local education in Georgia, and the first reform to Georgia’s adoption law in 30 years were the major points that he utilized to exemplify that success. Ralston noted that despite the successes, there is more work to be done.

 

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Amending the county’s budget amendments

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Budget adjustments are some things the county has grown accustomed to over the years as the Board of Commissioners continue running the county through unexpected expenses throughout the year.

A disputation arose in the board’s April meetings when the subject of amending the county’s 2017 budget for final amendments was discussed. While the county has moved to less amendments over the last few years in an effort to make the budget audits look better, Post Commissioner Dallas Miller began the debate saying he felt the amendments degraded the integrity of the budget and made much of the work that the commissioners and their staff completed meaningless.

Every month, the commissioners’ Financial Officer Sandi Holden delivers an update on the budget. When adjustments come before the commissioners, if they approve the amendment, they have typically agreed on amending the budget, but put off the official resolution so they are not continually amending the budget over and over throughout the year.

Miller called the budget a “promise” to the county about their plans for the coming year. He went on to say the budget was meaningless as they “zero” the budget at year’s end, effectively rewarding those over budget.

The budget has been a point of contention over the last two years in the board as countless hours are spent near year’s end on preparing for the next year. This month’s discussion on the budget grew into two topics as Post Commissioner Travis Crouch branched the discussion into another point when he mentioned that the commissioners approve unexpected expenditures and he felt they should reflect that so as not to “punish” those who may be over their original budget, but due to a commissioner-approved expense. Crouch said that approving the amendments in April expose some of these departments and offices to appear over budget in reports for numerous months before they are finally changed.

Crouch noted the county’s recent un-budgeted expenditures, including those for the deputy to supervise inmate trash pickup as well as a change in probation funding for the three-county organization. Crouch said, “It’s not a perfect science,” but pushed for more amendments throughout the year to reflect those changes.

Delving deeper into the issues, the concerns of departments heads echoed Crouch’s concerns saying they hoped the county would respect those who stay under budget by amending their budgets with those approved by the board during the year.

Finalizing their approval at their regular session, the commissioners approved the amendments on which they had agreed throughout 2017, movement of funds to contingency, and agreed to move forward with quarterly amendments instead of one or two per year to more compromise between keeping the number of amendments through the year lower and keeping the monthly report as real and up-to-date as possible.

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Gilmer Chamber holding ‘Meet the Candidates’

Election 2018

EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer Chamber has officially announced an opportunity for county citizens to meet with the candidates from the two major elections in our county May 2.

As the only two races with competition, citizens will walk and talk with candidates from the local Post 2 Commissioner election as well as the District 7 candidates for the Georgia State House of Representatives.

Candidates for Post 2 Commissioner include Karleen Ferguson, Jerry Tuso, and Woody Janssen. There is no incumbent in this race.

Candidates for House of Representatives District 7 include David Ralston, Rick Day, and Margaret Williamson. Speaker of the House David Ralston is the incumbent in this race.

Scheduled for Wednesday, May 2, at 6:30 pm, the event will last two hours. Find more information with the Chamber’s flier for the event below.

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Inmate trash pickup returns

News

(Photo by Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office)

ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners (BOC) has been considering litter in the county for over three months now.

As FetchYourNews originally reported in February, “Roadside trash concerns rising in Gilmer” and further discussed in a Special Called Meeting, the BOC was set to hire seasonal employees to cover trash pickup ahead of the county’s mowing team. With a cost close to $45,000, the board was all approved and ready to move forward with the hiring when Chairman Paris returned with another option that was approved in the March Regular Meeting. For a similar cost, the county could hire one extra sheriff’s deputy to supervise prison inmates to travel the roads instead.

This option would serve the county year-round instead of a specified summer season. Additionally, the program enlists inmates of the prison system to provide service to the county during incarceration.

According to the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office, “Despite a very cool and wet last two weeks, Sheriff’s Office inmate work detail has performed litter pick up on Big Creek Road and as of April 9, 2018, has moved on to Roy Road. The inmate workers have picked up 117 bags of litter and have delivered 2,300 pounds of garbage to the Gilmer Landfill.”

The project was approved in the March meeting of the BOC with set expectations to analyze and monitor the progress so that the commissioners could keep track of the project.

The Sheriff’s Office has utilized an inmate workforce to pick up litter on the county’s roadways in the past. However, according to the Sheriff’s Office, “Budget cuts beginning in 2009 caused the program to come to an end.”

With the new funding allocation covering salary and benefits of a deputy sheriff, the office is utilizing equipment it already possessed to operate the transportation and needs of the job.

Originally, the BOC stated that with the mowing season upon us, these crews would travel ahead of the mowing teams. Gilmer County Sheriff Stacy Nicholson confirmed the immediate goal for the inmate work detail will be to go ahead of the county’s Road Department mowing crews, so the litter can be picked up before the mowers shred and scatter it.

He went on to add that on inclement weather days, the inmates will be utilized to accomplish “inside” jobs. As the work detail gets caught up ahead of the mowing schedule, it will be bounced around to address problem areas when possible.

With an ongoing concern by citizens and businesses about the issue of litter in the county, Chairman Paris has stated that this is not the end answer, but a step towards a solution.

Sheriff Nicholson would like to remind everyone that there are pretty costly fines for anyone convicted of littering and that “intent” is not a requirement of the offense, meaning trash blowing out of the bed of a pickup truck is just as much “littering” as someone purposely throwing it out the window of his or her car. Fines for someone caught littering can reach $1,000.

 

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Danny Hall resigns from Post 2 Commissioner race

Election 2018

ELLIJAY, Ga. – FetchYourNews (FYN) has confirmed with the Gilmer County Probate Court that Danny Hall has removed his name from the Post 2 Commissioner ballot.

Tammy Watkins from the Gilmer County Probate Court confirmed with FYN that the official paperwork has been filed to remove him from the race. However, the name will still appear on the ballots in the election. According to Watkins, there will be notes in the election booths about his retirement from the race.

It is the current understanding that the official reason for Hall backing out of the race is due to work scheduling conflicts that he said would detriment his service to the county. Hall stated that the conflicts would not allow him to make a full commitment to the position.

With only the official statement available, stay with FYN as we seek more details from Hall in the coming days. Hall’s withdrawal from the election leaves three other candidates in the race: Karleen Ferguson, Jerry Tuso, and Woody Janssen.

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Post 2 Commissioner candidate Karleen Ferguson

Election 2018

ELLIJAY, Ga. –  Creator of Ellijay’s outdoor social club, Stay Active Ellijay, Karleen Ferguson qualified in March to run for the position of Post 2 Commissioner in Gilmer County.

Originally attending the University of Georgia for a degree in early childhood education and graduating from Kean University in New Jersey with the degree, Ferguson actually spent much of her time with her family’s Catering and Events business in Atlanta. While she admits it was not her dream, she said she learned a lot from planning the events alongside her family.

First moving to Ellijay in 2000, she admitted that her and Robert Ferguson, her husband, used to be one of those people who would come to their home in Ellijay but avoid the crowds. Karleen Ferguson returned to Atlanta in 2005 to take care of her family while maintaining a second home in Ellijay. Growing more in the community and becoming more socially active, she said she began to notice more of the “depressed conditions” she found in areas of the community.

In 2010, Ferguson said, she and her husband Robert sold their main home to live in Ellijay full-time. After helping create the concert series Ellijay Under the Stars, she met Paige Green at one of the events. Building on her achievements and events planning, she began working for the Gilmer Chamber as the Tourism and Special Events coordinator.

Along with her husband, Robert, Karleen Ferguson has raised four children, three boys and one girl, while performing duties as a health coach for over 18 years spanning before and after her time with the Chamber. Even after leaving the Chamber to continue her health coach work, she volunteered in the Chamber’s Ambassador program where she served five years. During that time, she grew out of health coaching to create Stay Active Ellijay (SAE) in order to fill what she calls a gap between encouraging people to experience the region and actual programs to facilitate the experience.

Described as an “award-winning outdoor social club” by Ferguson, SAE currently serves over 200 members through activities like hiking, kayaking, cycling, horseback riding, and more.

Ferguson said she draws from all of this in her efforts toward the commissioner’s seat. She drew experience in growth and tourism from her time at the Chamber and financial and logistical experience from planning events with her family. She drew experience in the county’s departments when she helped alongside the Parks and Recreation with Gold Kist and merchant supporters to grow a soccer program in Gilmer. She noted even running Stay Active Ellijay provides her a basis for the community saying, “I feel like I am the best voice and I understand the heartbeat of the community the best.”

If she is elected to the position, Ferguson said, she is a quick learner because “I love to get in and get my hands dirty … I love to fix things.”

Ferguson tells FYN she had not even considered running, but having rolled off of her services in the Chamber volunteer and Ambassador work, she began to look for her next project and service. It was not until she had heard from current Post 2 Commissioner Travis Crouch that he would not be running again that she thought of running herself.

Furthering the conversation, Ferguson said she sat down with Couch to discuss the position and the possibility of running. Then she went on to sit down individually with both Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris and Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller. After meeting with all three and feeling confident that she could hold the position, she prayed over the move and, feeling it was God’s direction for her, qualified for election.

Maintaining volunteer work and her business with SAE, Ferguson told FYN she will have no problem juggling her responsibilities as she is used to having a lot on her plate in her life. She went on to say, “I don’t commit to anything unless I can give fully of myself.”

Her main goals in the Post 2 Commissioner revolve around protecting the green-space and continuing along the work that she has seen in the last four years. With building, construction, and real estate on the rise, Ferguson said she wants to be a part of the growth, but maintain a view of the thought that Kent Sanford brought up in an earlier meeting saying, “We need to grow in a qualitative way rather than quantitative.”

Mentioning a few ideas to better utilize the county’s resources, Ferguson said she was excited to have the repairs for the walking path and tennis courts while she wants to see better utilization of natural resources like the rivers.

Summing up her feelings on the position in a final thought, she stated, “Trust me to make what I feel is the best decisions for the entire community … I really want to just be a voice for my entire Gilmer County family.”

 

Karleen Ferguson is one of four candidates running for the Post 2 Commissioner position in Gilmer County. Check out FYN’s other candidate interviews as they become available for Woody Janssen, Jerry Tuso, and Danny Hall.

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