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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County drafts support of IMBA Ride Center

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners officially took action in support of mountain biking in the county.

With two separate actions, the county is beginning to explore the mountain biking potential of our county. Led by Post Commissioner Travis Crouch, now well into the second half of his final year as Post Commissioner, the board officially motioned to draft a Letter of Support for a designation as a bronze level IMBA (International Mountain Bicycling Association) Ride Center.

The letter of support is the board’s part in a county application to become a “Ride Center” in efforts to support the mountain biking community and help in increasing the draw of them to our area. Crouch said it offers a level of prestige to our county with the official ride center setting us as more of a ‘destination’ for the activity.

The second item held no real motion, but the Commissioners did agree to a late September visit to Cherokee County where they will be discussing the importance of the county’s trail system and its impact and effect on the citizens. With all three commissioners agreed to attend, this will be an official meeting in another county as they meet with Cherokee Representatives. With some details still under works, the commissioners did indicate they may also visit the counties aquatic center while there.

As this process continues, Crouch told FYN he wanted the other commissioners to see and hear details about this sport, not just from those who participate, but from their fellow commissioners and peers in government. In the meantime, the application will continue on as a separate issue on its own. IMBA will be visiting Gilmer County as a part of the process to assess our trail system, community, amenities, lodging, and more.

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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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Lower Cartecay Bridge gains priority in state replacement program

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners Chairman Charlie Paris officially announced at the May BOC meeting that he received word that the State DOT (Department of Transportation) program replacing bridges across the state will move the Lower Cartecay Road bridge further up the list.

Originally, the commissioners were seeking to swap places of the Vanilla Lane Bridge, which was third on the list, and the Lower Cartecay Road bridge, which has only been added since last year. However, Paris commented on Thursday, May 10, that the bridge is set to move up the list. Though he didn’t know for sure exactly how it would work, he did say, “Right now, what it looks like is that the Lower Cartecay will be moved to the top of the list, but Vanilla Lane will continue at number four.”

Paris told those at the meeting that he had contacted Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston about interceding on the county’s behalf to get the bridge added to the list. He stated the Speaker’s help in the county’s sudden need was integral to the process that has now seen the bridge added to the list and moved to a priority position.

Having received a Memorandum of Understanding from the DOT for Vanilla Lane, the commissioners discovered that while they were originally estimating their half of the costs of obtaining the right of way to be somewhere around $15,000 to $20,000, the official estimation of the total costs according to the memorandum would be $207,000 bringing Gilmer’s half to $103,500.

Now the county will be looking at another memorandum in the coming weeks for the Lower Cartecay Road bridge since it has been moved up. Aside from the movement of Lower Cartecay, Paris recommended the Board move forward with sending the $103,500 to the DOT for Vanilla Lane to keep it from being dropped from the list.

As the county moves forward with both bridges it will be awaiting news on both sides as they find out if Vanilla Lane does maintain its position on the list and the progress of site visits and preliminary work on Lower Cartecay Road.

Officially approved by unanimous decision, Paris stated the excess expense will be funded out of the capital contingency fund as the expense was larger than expected.

Previously, during budget sessions last year, the members of the board discussed dedicating their entire capital contingency to be saved for replacing Lower Cartecay Road bridge if it was unable to be added to the programs list. It was stipulated as a “back-up plan” to ensure the funding would at least begin the process of saving for the replacement while the commissioners were hoping to add the bridge to the DOT program.

Now, with the bridge not only added but moved up the list, the contingency fund appears as if it will be used to fuel both bridges at a substantially lower cost. Paris stated in the meeting that with the original estimate the board received on the Lower Cartecay bridge replacement rising past $1,250,000, any “reasonable figure” the DOT provides for the costs of right-of-way would be a vast improvement worth supporting.

Additionally, if the county had not gotten onto the list with Lower Cartecay, they would have been saving their entire contingency funds for at least 2018 and 2019 pushing back the project to begin, at the earliest, in 2020. Now, this program places the Lower Cartecay bridge at the number one slot. Even with the late start, the project will begin its process with engineering and architecture this year. Citizens could potentially see construction beginning as early as next year.

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River Park opens new playground

Community, News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Officials from both the county and state met today in Gilmer’s River Park to join with the Gilmer Chamber in officially cutting the ribbon on the new playground at River Park.

Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris and Post 2 Commissioner Travis Crouch met with Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston for the event celebrating the work of all parties. “The grant from the state really made it all possible,” said Crouch who added that seeing the county with successes like the new playground gives him a sense of accomplishment after the hard work the Board of Commissioners has put into directing the county over the last four years.

Paris took note at the ceremony to thank Kevan White, Gilmer County Recreation and Parks Department Director, for his vision and direction in the project. Despite the project taking a little longer than originally expected due to weather and unexpected costs, Paris said the park looked “more spectacular than I thought it was going to be.” Paris told FYN the entire playground was White’s vision as he took the main brunt of design and layout for something he could not have imagined.

The completed playground equipment at River Park is officially opened after today's Ribbon Cutting Ceremony.

The completed playground equipment at River Park is officially opened after today’s Ribbon Cutting Ceremony.

During the ceremony, Speaker Ralston took a moment to say he was proud to have played a small part in the project of the new playground but thanked Chairman Paris and the County for their hard work in making the project a reality, specifically noting White’s leadership role.

Crouch also mentioned a special thanks to the community for their patience in both this project and the county’s progress as a whole. He commented saying, “We had a lot of challenges. I think we’ve turned a corner and are heading in a positive direction on a lot of different

Left to right, Kevan White, David Ralston, Charlie Paris, and Travis Crouch take a moment to pose in front of the county's new playground.

Left to right, Kevan White, David Ralston, Charlie Paris, and Travis Crouch take a moment to pose in front of the county’s new playground.

fronts, especially in a financial front. We had to start somewhere, and people have been pretty patient. They’ve understood the situation we’ve had. I feel like progress has been made.”

Paris echoed his sentiments thanking the public for their support and patience in the time up to now as well as in the coming months when the county moves forward on the other projects planned for River Park.

 

See more details on what’s coming next for the park with FYN’s recent article, “County’s River Park moving closer to upgrades” or check out more photos of the playground as well as a few members of the county enjoying the new equipment on FYN’s Facebook Page.

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Earth Day in Gilmer showcases citizens and clean-ups

Community

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Last weekend saw citizens and volunteers in the community celebrating Earth Day with a Saturday of work and reward across the county.

The county reports 169 volunteers spread out across our area to collect trash and roadside debris in an effort to reduce the community blight, but also to improve and maintain the beauty that we have become known for. In recent news stories, the county has seen a large push in the last three months on the issue of roadside trash and in government response to the issue by reinstating inmate work detail picking up the litter.

Taking a moment from their day's work informing people on compost, representatives from the University of Georgia's exhibit pose for an Earth Day photo in their booth.

Taking a moment from their day’s work informing people on compost, representatives from the University of Georgia’s exhibit pose for an Earth Day photo in their booth.

However, this week citizens stood behind their desires for a cleaner community by stepping out themselves to clean up. Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris told FYN the county had collected between 3 and 5 tons of garbage on Saturday through the efforts of those involved.

That is not the only garbage collected, though. The week leading up to Earth Day saw the county hosting Amnesty Tire Week. They accepted, free of charge, old tires to be discarded at the county dump. Paris reports the county, through that program, collected 2,702 tires during the weeklong event to go along with the collected trash on Saturday.

Additionally, volunteers were treated to a celebration in the county’s parking lot behind Dalton State College, next to the county courthouse. Hosted by Keep Gilmer Beautiful, the day’s clean up and celebration event saw live music, exhibits, and free pizza for those in attendance.

Local exhibitors showcased information and projects for maintaining a clean county, composting, and recycling as well as the Keep Gilmer Beautiful’s Adopt-A-Road Program, the Pleasent Hills Montessori School, Kids Ferst in Gilmer County, and the Girl Scouts.

Part of the exhibits, the Beekeepers of Gilmer County show a finished "Bee Waterer."

Part of the exhibits, the Beekeepers of Gilmer County show a finished “Bee Waterer.”

The Beekeepers of Gilmer County showed citizens how to build a waterer plate for bees to sit on while they drink water, effectively helping to, as they say, “hydrate the pollinators.”

Ellijay Rocks held a rock painting station for citizens to sit under a tent and cool off in the shade as they painted rocks to hide around the community.

The Mountain Light Unitarian Universalist Chuch hosted a station to teach citizens how to turn old paper into a seed disc they can toss out into the yard to plant seeds. The disc, made from paper, water, and seeds folded together into a slurry, is flattened with a roller or a can to be thrown out into your yard. Without even a need to bury it, rain is held close by the paper slurry helping the seed to get started.

Chairman Paris took a moment with FYN to say how proud he was of the turnout the county saw at the event. He went on to comment on the citizens’ involvement with clean-up saying, “People care and that’s good… It makes all the difference in the world.”

Be sure to head over to FYN’s Facebook Page for more photos from Earth Day 2018.

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