ELLIJAY, Ga. – Reaching all the way back to October of 2018, the proposal of wage increases for Post Commissioners finally reached the stage of First Reader this month.
This topic has been hotly debated, and even now, the public hearing saw more debate over the issue that has spanned five months and the changing of the Post 2 Commissioner. After a community push, successfully, to keep the issue in county instead of sending the topic to Atlanta for a vote, the discussion now moves to the actual topic of accepting or denying the proposed Post Commissioner salary raise from 10% to 18% of the Chairman’s Salary.
With only a couple people standing in the Public Hearing to speak, discussion centered on justifying the raise. Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson was asked about this, and replied with some statistics about her hours saying she has put in 134 hours since taking office at the new year. She calculated the pay versus hours and reported that she has received close to $7.74 /hr ($1,036.82 total pay over 134 hours).
Additionally, Dallas Miller was asked about his hours comparatively, if he has more or less than Ferguson, being a new commissioner and attending training. Miller admitted that the hours don’t go down as he said more people know who you are and will stop you to talk, email you, or call you.
Miller stated again, as he has in previous meetings, that he did feel it would have been better at a different time, and he ultimately voted no on the First Reader citing the same issues he noted in the public meeting about timing.
It wasn’t until another citizen, Brian Pritchard, spoke about his issues with the change. Among his own questions for justification, he eventually asked the Board to push the vote back to year end for citizens and commissioners to look at the raise.
Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris noted that pushing this back that far could create a perception of conflict with the Post 1 Commissioner position so close to qualifying and re-election in 2020. Paris said he did not believe that it was necessary, and the board could avoid the conflict altogether by not pushing the issue off to year-end.
Taking the issue now would be far separated from any decisions on running again according to Paris.
The first reader was officially approved with Karleen Ferguson giving the motion, Charlie Paris giving the second, and the final vote passing on 2-1.
EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Council approved a new patrol car for the city police as they trade in two older cars. The 2019 Dodge has a base price of $28,900, but East Ellijay City Police Chief Larry Callihan said they are continuing to negotiate the trade in value of their two cars and is unsure yet how the exact amount of the trade in.
The council has already budgeted for the new car in the amount of $30,000 for the vehicle and $8,000 for equipment, a total of $38,000. With the trade-ins negotiations, Callihan is hopeful to make the final price closer to $32,000.
The council also approved a resolution to amend their payments for their citizen representatives on the Gilmer County Library Board, lowering the pay by $200 because they “misconstrued” the number of meetings the Library Board had in a year according to Mayor Mack West. The reduction goes from $600 to $400.
The Council also approved the expenditures for their yearly Christmas dinner program. Delivering a total of 34 hams and 5 turkeys, the expense for the city reached $648.60 at program end.
Also, two major additions could be coming to Highland Crossing near Walmart in East Ellijay. The Buffalo Luke’s in Jasper is looking to expand in Ellijay. City Manager Mack Wood also noted he had received site plans for a Moe’s Southwest Grill looking to build in the area between Longhorn and Mountain Cinemas.
The City Council is also seeking suggestions of roads in need of restriping. West said he will keep the item on the agenda in coming meetings and is asking for people to add to the list of needs.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – After last month’s arguments of legislative versus home rule as the way to go forward with Post Commissioner salaries, this month saw the continuation of that debate.
The next step, a question brought forward from the budget sessions into last months meeting and now into the new year, is the percentage of the raise. Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris originally had offered a number of 20%. Though not arbitrarily thrown out, Paris has since said he was offering the number as a consideration.
Since that time, articles and discussion have focused on 20% as the proposed amount for the Post Commissioner salary increase. Even FYN offered analysis based upon that 20% suggestion.
This percentage is a percentage of the Commission Chairman’s salary. Post Commissioners are currently paid 10% of the chairman’s salary.
This month saw the discussion shift after some pushback from the community over “doubling” the salary.
Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson wasted no time in researching the issue and offering the board her own analysis, one of surrounding counties and their boards’ salaries.
Reaching through 2016, 2017, and 2018, these documents from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs showcased salaries of both the Chairperson and the Post Commissioners, organized into population size groups. Ferguson highlighted the Gilmer and its immediate neighbors like Lumpkin, Fannin, and Pickens.
A new percentage offered in the BOC’s January meetings sits fell to 18% with Ferguson saying, “We talked about 18%, I think going any lower than 18%… I’m in favor of at least 18%.”
Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller stated in the meeting that though he thought the raise was deserved, he would be satisfied with not changing the salary at this time saying, “I, personally, think it’s not a good time to be doing this.” Miller did ultimately vote against the motion to advertise the salary increase in a 2-1 vote.
In 2018, Lumpkin County was at $12,005 annually according to this report. Pickens was at $11,205.
Currently, Gilmer County Post Commissioners are paid $7,125.38 as reported in “Commissioners pushing for ‘Fast Answer’ in pay raises.” With an 18% instead of a 20% increase, effectively not quite doubling the salary, the new base pay of a Post Commissioner would become $12,825.68.
Ferguson also noted in the board’s work session that this change would not take effect for two years, when the next elected Post Commissioner will take office.
Approved, 2-1, for advertising, it is now up to the citizens to speak with the Board of Commissioners and attend February’s meetings to voice the county’s opinion on the matter whether in support or opposition of the change.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – With the vote still set to be made, current indications are saying that the Gilmer Chamber may dodge a termination of their contract with the Board of Commissioners (BOC).
The vote is set for tomorrow’s, January 10, Regular Meeting agenda. The subject matter, however, is a layover from the recent months when former Post 2 Commissioner Travis Crouch began questioning the Hotel/Motel Tax Split during the 2019 budget process. Now, new Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson has taken up the banner to continue the discussion and added an item to the agenda for termination of the contract.
“I’m just asking for time,” said Ferguson as she explained that she fully respects the Chamber and what they have accomplished but feels that something is wrong. Stating that she wants the time to look into the Chamber further before an automatic renewal date comes next week, Ferguson did later clarify that it was her understanding from legal counsel that termination was the only way to renegotiate the contract.
With nothing short of an uproar of concern from present Chamber Members and Board Members of the Chamber, a heated debate began regarding the impact and possible outcomes of a termination of the contract, even if later renegotiated. Several citizens commented on the subject including Chamber Board Chairman Trent Sanford who noted that negotiations could come without termination. He also noted an occurrence when this happened three years ago when the contract was renegotiated without a termination.
Board of Commissioners Chairman Charlie Paris noted that he was adamantly opposed to terminating the contract.
Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller was more in favor of changes to the contract, but did note he wanted to find a way to do it without terminating the contract.
Ultimately, it’s not even clear if Ferguson will push the issue of termination as she repeatedly stated she thought that was the only way to renegotiate the contract with its pending automatic renewal.
Citizens may not need to wait long into the meeting to find out, though, as Paris said he felt the issue was resolved and would be seeking to remove the item of contract termination from tomorrow’s agenda while leaving the item regarding Chamber audits and discussions of contract renegotiation open.
Both entities, the BOC and Chamber Board, agreed that the contract did stipulate that Hotel/Motel Tax Audits be done. The Chamber stated they have already begun the process to adhere to the imposing of that contract requirement.
Follow FYN as we go deeper into the subject’s details after tomorrow’s vote at the 6 p.m. public meeting open to all citizens.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller called the budget “workable” as he promised citizens to continue working on the budget in 2019.
Calling it the biggest financial decision of the year, Miller said he wished that more people had dedicated more time to the budget process and discussions. As opposed to an expected split decision after their work session, the Commissioners put forth a 3-0 vote for approval.
The vote came shortly after Miller’s comments, but also after a lengthy work session on Tuesday with much discussion dedicated to the topic. An understanding seemed to be reached during the work session as Post 2 Commissioner Travis Crouch spoke about a need for a change in the process as a whole and Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris agreed he would be willing to look at the process, even putting it on the agenda for January.
This budget comes in a transition time as Crouch prepares to step down from his position as Post 2 Commissioner-Elect Karleen Ferguson will step into the office. This means that Crouch is not only resting on promises from Miller and Paris to continuing working on the budget, but he rests on the experience, training, and dedication of the Ferguson as well.
Along with the budget, Ferguson will also step into another major decision as the Board tabled the decision on the Post Commissioner’s Salary. As reported in “BOC backs off legislative option for Post Commissioner Raises,” the Commissioners have stated they will be looking at home rule for the discussion. But as that backs it off from a push to get it in Atlanta in early 2019, it also allows the change in the Post 2 Commissioner position. These financial decisions are likely to be the first major decisions she will vote on.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Home Rule won out on December 4, 2018, as the Board of Commissioners met for a Public Comments session regarding the 2019 budget.
“I think the citizens have spoken,” said Post Commissioner Dallas Miller after an understood agreement was reached by the members of the Board to forego the idea they’ve held for almost two months. Originally, the Board was going to send the resolution for a raise for the Post Commissioners to Atlanta do be voted on by State Legislation in order to have the issue taken care of by mid 2019.
Due to an overwhelming response by citizens questioning why they were sending this resolution to Atlanta and other details about the raise, the Public Comments meeting lasted more than an hour as Board of Commissioners Chairman Charlie Paris and Post Commissioners Travis Crouch and Dallas Miller listened.
Citizens like Joene DePlancke and Brian Pritchard adamantly told the Board they wanted the decision for raises kept in county. Miller has already noted sentiments on the issue in previous meetings, stating that it didn’t feel right that sending the choice to Atlanta would end up with him also receiving the raise. He revisited the concept at this meeting, calling it an ethics issue that he would be voting to give himself a raise.
FYN also weighed in on the issue with a recent article, “Commissioner’s pushing for “Fast Answer” in pay raises,” where the question was raised about a Post Commissioner’s election qualifying fees being paid based on the position’s salary, a salary that would then change after they took office.
By reaching an agreement to consider the raises by home rule, the issue will be pushed into the coming months of BOC meetings as they consider the issue locally. It also negates the budget line that was placed in anticipation of a possible Atlanta approval for the Post Commissioner salary raise.
This does not mean the Commissioner’s will not be getting the raise. Instead, it places the decision for it back into Gilmer County and its citizen’s hands. If the Board approves the issue, it will begin taking effect with re-election cycles, the next position up for re-election, the Post 1 seat currently held by Dallas Miller, is in 2020.
But the home rule was not the only part questioned by citizens at the public comments meeting. Other questions saw clarification and no change. DePlancke also questioned the board on their 1.5 mill in bond debt service, calling it smoke and mirrors. She stated her concern was that the Board was, in a sense, making sure it had SPLOST money left to use in capital without having to tell the citizens.
Paris explained that his intent with setting a separate millage for bond service was to keep it separate from the general fund saying, “If we were to take that one and half mill and move it over to general account, it could be used in general fund. That’s a situation I don’t want to see happen. The whole point of all this is to improve the capital infrastructure in Gilmer County and I don’t want this money where it could be used in the general fund.”
Pritchard questioned the Board’s allocation of the budget saying he could find a half million dollars to reallocate into the Road Department, an area that Paris called the biggest area of citizens concern in his opinion. He stated that the majority of calls he answers has to do with roads.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Splitting the board in two, the final vote after months of work came down 2-1 for approving the advertisement of the Gilmer County Budget.
The $21,711,407 budget is in the advertisement phase right now and available for public comment and perusal. Officially, there will be a Public Hearing the first week in December alongside the Commissioner’s regular meetings.
The county has already waded through several rising issues including a questioned raise for Post Commissioners, questions about elections in the Probate Judge’s Office, and issues with the Hotel/Motel split. They spent another hours-long meeting this month going over one of the two biggest issues, it seems, for this year. Requests in the Capital Budget are being strained and cut. Though these issues have occurred every budget session in recent years, an easier balanced Maintenance & Operations Budget (M&O) has drawn the extra attention to these needs.
Some of the more extreme cuts focused on the larger budget departments and offices like the Sheriff, Road Department, and Fire/EMA.
The road department saw cuts removing the chance for an Asphalt Spreader, a reduction in funding for a new lift station, and two trucks put on lease instead of outright purchases.
Most of the county’s vehicle purchases across departments in the capital budget were either put on lease or straight cut from the budget.
Fire/EMA lost funding for a replacement Rescue truck, EMA Headquarters, and mobile command centers as well as funding for turnout gear for employees. Amid discussions. Post Commissioner Travis Crouch said he had a hard time eliminating funding completely for the gear and was searching for a way to partially fund it over something else.
Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris noted to the other board members that it was done on the basis of a verbal priority list that Public Safety Director Tony Pritchett gave to the board during individual sessions.
The M&O portion of the budget saw an increase in ammunition for the Sheriff’s Office, decreases in detention center salary raises (still receiving a slight increase overall), an increase to Road Striping for the Road Department, and an increase in Park & Recreation staffing among other things.
The other of the two major issues the county saw in this budget session was a split in the board on a potential change to Gilmer Chamber funding from the Hotel/Motel Tax. As the county has seen increases to this revenue over the years, a rift began forming as Crouch began questioning the return-on-investment the county is seeing from the ‘Chamber-favorable split.’
In opposition, Paris said he felt the split is justified as it is. Several notes were made by Chamber President Paige Green as well as to the increases of the funding and increases in tourism the county has seen. Though she admitted fault in not living up to agreements made to details and information reported in her quarterly attendance to the commissioner meetings, she felt strongly that decreasing the Chamber’s funding from the Hotel/Motel tax would not only adversely affect the Chamber, but the county as a whole.
Crouch stated in a previous meeting as reported in FYN’s Board Splits on Hotel/Motel article;
Ultimately, Crouch noted that he has enjoyed and appreciated the Chamber’s work. Instead, he noted that as a business owner he agrees, but as a Commissioner, he sees the constant people talking about road conditions and similar needs. He went on to say that the change wasn’t by any means a reflection of a poor job by the Chamber, but rather he felt at a certain point, he was seeing diminishing returns alongside greater needs elsewhere.
As the third member of the board, Post Commissioner Dallas Miller seemed conflicted on the issue at first, agreeing with Crouch’s statements as to the struggling needs in other areas. Miller did state earlier in the meeting, separate from this issue, that he was pleased with what he saw as increased attention to the Road Department in the budget, a cause he has championed in recent years.
Ultimately, considering the Hotel/Motel split and the numerous other portions of the county’s budget. Miller sided with Paris in a 2-1 vote to approve the budget for advertising. However, we do not know for sure if it was the Hotel/Motel split that pushed Crouch to the “no” vote as he declined to comment at this time.
As the budget moves forward, it is now the citizens’ turn to question and comment on the budget in the coming month before the new year. Be sure to check out the full budget before these meetings.