ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners sat with departments and offices alike this month to look at proposed budgets that will make up the county’s finances in 2019.
At this time, these are all proposed budgets from the Department Heads and Elected Officials. This means that the county’s coming meetings on Tuesday, October 16, and Wednesday, October 17, will offer discussion as well as an expected Special Called Meeting later in the month to discuss cuts and balancing.
While Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris said he wished to look at increases in the department head’s salaries, no concrete number was set yet. Paris had mentioned $3,000 in one meeting, but later said it would be looking at this topic again when he could see a clearer picture of the budget and needs.
Additionally, concerns were raised through several meetings about capital budget requests and constraints on that side of the budget. As struggles continue with employee pay in many departments, the board is looking at a decrease in healthcare costs for the first time in years. As they have finalized numbers on the savings and their impact on the budget, an unexpected event occurred.
According to the county’s current 2019 budget request spreadsheet, they are currently looking at $686,894.42 difference of revenue over expenditures. This difference was discovered after the end of these meetings as the final numbers were calculated.
According to Gilmer County Finance Officer Sandi Holden, a large portion of this revenue over expenditures is made from the Health Insurance savings. However, she did note that the county could still have items come up in the budget as they have only gone through the budget once during these meetings. The county is preparing to revisit these in coming meetings.
Additionally, the difference here is only on the Maintenance & Operations part of the budget. The capital budget is still to be discussed and analyzed in the coming meetings as well.
Holden told FYN she cannot remember, in the eight budgets she has worked on, ever being in the black after the initial meetings.
Each video is logged for individual departments unless multiple departments are under single purviews like Roads and bridges with solid waste under Public Works or Probate and Elections.
One of the Animal Shelter’s major requests is for a full-time employee at 40 hours/week and a 50 cent rais for two of its current employees. This cost falls under the Maintenance and Operations budget, but in capital requests, the Animal Shelter is looking for a new truck as the shelter’s truck gets excessive use through animal sharing with other states. The large accruement of miles adds extra wear, however, discussion in the budget meeting may have already found a truck to donate in order to cut the capital expense. There is also a request for a storage shed for equipment. This as well may be offset by a request in maintenance for a larger shed, meaning the Animal Shelter may receive their old shed.
Board of Commissioners
The Board of Commissioners began speaking in their own meeting as Post Commissioner Travis Crouch brought up a subject concerning his position after he leaves. Expressing feelings that the Post Commissioners should receive more pay for the work and effort they put into the county, Crouch suggested an increase in salary. Currently, the Post Commissioners receive a salary of 10% of what the Commission Chairman is paid. The suggestion in the meeting was to raise this to 20%. However, Crouch would receive none of this increase as not only will he not be in office in 2019, a Post Commissioner cannot take advantage of the raise until a new post commissioner is elected or the current one is reelected. While this does mean an increase for the coming Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson, it also means that Post Commissioner Dallas Miller will not receive a raise in salary until his post’s next election cycle if re-elected.
Another major item on the Commissioner’s budget is funding for the recently reinvigorated push for dynamic welcome signage at the county line. It was reintroduced into discussion last month as citizens pushed for the county’s help in acquiring state recognition as the Wrestling Capital of Georgia. The commissioner’s decided to go further and incorporate the two state-capital recognitions the county has already received, Apple Capital and Mountain Biking Capital, and consider building a better county sign at the border welcoming travelers to the county and providing quick information about current events.
With updates to the Chamber’s coming Welcome Center on the square in downtown Ellijay, the Gilmer Chamber is looking at funding strains across the organization as discussion arose about changing the split in Hotel/Motel Tax (see Board splits on Hotel/Motel). Discussion included changing the split from 70/30 to 60/40, still in the Chamber’s favor. Chamber President/CEO Paige Green disagreed, calling the change a short-term answer with long-term detriment. While officially, the split has not been renegotiated, discussion continued about the expectations for Chamber Reports and duties in the future. Additionally, Paris also disagreed with changing the split. Miller did not indicate a leaning to either side saying that he would look at it if the budget demanded it.
Clerk of Court
The Clerk of Court’s office saw a $9,000 increase in supplies requests over last year’s budget due to increases in mandatory e-filings. However, the board is considering moving this to capital expenses as much of the need is for new computer equipment for the office.
There is also a $20,000 increase over this year’s budget as the office has lost three people in the last year with only two being replaced. Believing they are going to need to replace the third person as well now, they noted this as the major reason for the increase.
Code & Regulations
Like most of the departments, requests for salary and wages increases for the department were forefront. Again, the commissioners noted they are looking to offset this in Health insurance savings, but are waiting to see final numbers on the savings and budgets before final adoption.
The Appalachian Judicial Circuit is looking at a $150,000 budget increase next year as they add another administrative position to the office. Also in wages, the office is looking to add a 5% increase to “spacer” positions in the office. Spacer positions are classified as state employees and get benefits from the state. Their pay, however, ultimately comes from the county as the state pays them and the county reimburses the state.
In capital expenditures, the District Attorney’s office is looking to change audio/visual networks in the county’s courtrooms. District Attorney Alison Sosebee noted this is a need throughout the circuit. The request is to install the network instead of the current system of wheeling a single cart used for tv and audio evidence to the different courtrooms. The new system would individually upgrade all but one of the county’s courtrooms.
The county has indicated its intentions to move the offices of the Extension Agency into another location as they are looking to sell the building and land that the current office sits on. Noting continuing maintenance costs and issues, they spoke about possible locations and needs that the agency could be interested in. They are also looking at increasing education/training expenses and travel as classes are coming in Columbus, Ohio.
With expected continuations in overtime and education/training, rises in related expenses came from the Fire/EMA Department. But the major issue with the department in 2019 lies in the capital budget as vehicles and equipment are in need of replacing.
Pressing the highest priority in ambulances, the department noted that emergency calls have been increasing in 2018 alongside the continuing transport calls from the Piedmont Emergency Department in Ellijay. Capital expenses continue to include a 2,000-gallon pumper truck to carry water to areas of the county. Public Safety Director Tony Pritchett spoke to the board saying that several areas of the unincorporated parts of the county are without fire hydrants. As such, the need for large amounts of water to fight fires is especially important in those situations. Additionally, keeping a maintained and working truck for those areas and ambulance fleet were key factors in ISO safety ratings for the county as well, affecting insurance rates and liability.
Additional needs fell to turnout gear and equipment for the department’s firefighters, a new emergency operations command, and a new mobile command unit for the department.
With so many large expenses, the board has already indicated cuts in the area as they began questioning the department on what it would mean if they only got some of the turnout gear and options on the EOC and training increases as well as partnering with the school system as they have utilized the old Oakland Elementary building for training.
Requests for capital expense could see the Health Department changing its outside areas as concerns were raised over handicap accessibility at the Health Department. They are looking to put in automatic opening doors for handicap access as well as possibly changing the parking lot as to where the handicap parking is in relation to the access ramp.
The Library has increased its requests over the 2018 budget as they have seen increased traffic in the department. With more people utilizing the library for multiple needs and events, the budget has seen shortfalls this year. Salary increase requests could also see changes in the department alongside concerns over health insurance costs. However, changes to the 2019 budget’s health insurance did offset part of the need.
Talks also arose about a second access point to the library as the basement project will likely begin before the new year. While no set plan was decided, officials are looking at both access for patrons later, but also construction and renovation workers that could spill over into the early part of the year.
The board discussed issues with the courthouses capstone discoloration and options for solutions. While the main option included painting the stones, the price quoted at $11,950. Addition issues involved the iron railings in certain areas are beginning to wear down and also need painting, which would increase that cost. An additional $15,000 was requested for replacing the carpet in certain high traffic areas of the courthouse.
The department is also looking for two new additional maintenance workers included in the budget requests.
The major project of upgrading the courtrooms also fell into the capital budget for $195,000 for three courtrooms in the audio/visual systems. Discussions continued about options of maybe upgrading one courtroom at a time. The problem with that option comes with needing to maintain both systems during the years of transition.
Parks & Recreation
Concerns over the Parks & Recreations budget also centered on wages with a high point in “mowing season.” While Parks & Recreations Director Kevan White said staffing was adequate, he noted several times employees have hit overtime in high traffic times.
The commissioners are still looking at pool costs and balancing against staying open year round. Separating costs and upgrades for heating the pool and costs for staying open, these will be reimbursed from the community and the clubs supporting the change. This is a new change as the Commissioners looked closer at how to budget for the off-season operations.
Continuing to seek grant funds for upgrades and repairs to areas of the park, the department is continuing its work from this year to change and update the park area.
Probate & Elections
Like most departments, Probate Judge Scott Chastain said one of the office’s largest problems is fighting against the loss of staff. As he requests a 50 cent raise for most clerks, he is also looking for a larger raise for an appointed Chief Clerk who would fill in for the Judge in days where he may be out of the office for training courses or other responsibilities that may take him from the office. Chastain told the board that this position would cover only for administrative duties and signatures, he or she would not be able to do anything in the courtroom or handle those types of responsibilities.
Another increase in the requested budget fell into travel expenses as he would want his chief clerk to attend certain training sessions in the next year to experience some of the training he sees for the possibility of her filling in for those administrative duties. Clerks in the office are also gaining state certifications, this could include an award ceremony for those who gain the certification, a ceremony Chastain wants to send those clerks to as a reward for their work.
Additionally, the office could be looking for a conversation about separating the elections from the Probate Office. Chastain asserted that this was just a conversation at this point as he wanted to explore the option with the commissioners, an option that he says the majority of counties in the state have already done.
Increases are set to come to the Public Works office as the board is attempting to respond to continuing citizen concerns by adding 8 positions back to the Road Department. Paris has noted over recent years that these positions are being added “back” to the department as it is still understaffed compared to what it was before the recession. As the board increases efforts in the department to better handle the large mileage of roads in the county, they are still raising concerns about the increasing costs of materials each year. Stone and asphalt are two major needs in the road department, both have seen major increases over recent years.
Public Works Director Jim Smith also noted that even with the increase in staff, he still expects to have to shift workers around and pull from certain crews for major projects like the annual LMIG paving. He also noted an increasing need to continue replacing equipment across his departments like the aging asphalt spreader.
Some increases are being mirrored into the revenue side as well as slight increases are being planned in the solid waste department based on trends in past years. Planning for these increases helps offset some costs, but major projects are also coming with issues that Smith is reporting for the solid waste department’s scales and lift stations. Discussions have already begun about prioritizing these capital expense needs over and above the Maintenance and Operations Budget.
Another increase in salary and wages, the Registrar’s office is tracing increases in workload back to state-mandated changes that are registering massive numbers of people to vote as they apply for driver’s licenses. This program is also registering numerous people who are not allowed to vote or already registered to vote. The added work hits the Registrar’s Office as they are having to find these duplicate registrations and combine them as well as finding registrations that must be deleted felons not allowed to vote.
Especially during major elections, the department is reporting that they cannot operate further without a full-time employee set to operate every day alongside the part-timers.
Whitepath Golf Course
Capital projects like a new water well and a pavilion sit on the golf course’s budget for the coming year. Increasing the appeal and accessibility to drinkable water on the course aren’t even the largest items. Efforts are continuing to update the course as it draws closer than ever to becoming self-sufficient. This has been a major desire of the commissioners in the last four years.
In 2019, the budget requests are so close, around a $22,000 difference, the commissioners are looking at minor budget changes to connect the small gap. With confidence that the goal could be reached, they pushed forward in discussions and capital needs. However, Paris cautioned the board saying that if they pushed too hard to balance this budget, they could get unrealistic numbers.
The course is also requesting capital funds for newer Golf Carts, a range picker for the driving range, and a security gate at the maintenance area for those golf carts. An option was put forth to split the costs of the security gate over two budgets, but nothing has been set yet.
With the Commissioners set to discuss and balance the budget in the coming weeks, the have the finalized budget requests as a starting point moving into these discussions. Make sure to check out both the 2019 Requested Budget and the current 2018 Budget in preparation for this week’s meetings.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners split their opinions on an idea to alter the Chamber and County sharing of the Hotel/Motel tax during budget sessions this year.
Brought up during the Chamber’s meeting with the board by Post 2 Commissioner Travis Crouch, the two entities delved into what it would mean to possibly shift the current 70/30 split to increase funding for the county as well as a boost in their own ambitions for increasing tourism and county draw.
Crouch mentioned only shifting it by 10% to a 60/40 split in the Chamber’s favor. Among several ideas, the county’s recent agreement and push for better signage at the county line arose. The idea resurfaced after a recent push from citizens to claim Gilmer as the Wrestling Capital of Georgia. The county is actively seeking funding sources for the project. However, the idea of funding it through the capital budget seems less likely as the budget meetings revealed at least two departments whose request could consume the entire budget on their own.
As members of the chamber were present at the meeting, the consistent report was overwhelming support and praise for what the Chamber has accomplished saying, “I love the Chamber, they are so engaged with my needs.”
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.
Commission Chairman Charlie Paris disagreed with the idea saying, “My concern would be that we are talking about putting ourselves in a difficult situation in the future to have a better situation in the immediate. I think we have got to look at it long term.”
He went on to add later that he knows the county isn’t where it needs to be on roads. He related a story when he was tasked to go out to the road department and take pictures of junk equipment to be sold off or moved for disposal. Paris said, “When I got back into our meeting and I was showing the pictures, Jim Smith just about had a stroke because ‘No we use that. We use that. We use that.’ That’s what they had to work with.”
Paris noted that the last four years have seen increases from a 16 person crew to 22 people. He noted the equipment replacements including dump trucks, bulldozer, paving roller, road sweeper, and an equipment shed to prolong the life of that equipment. He made a point to note the progress the road department has made saying that the Road Department is continuing along the path of improvement. He said they will continue needing to reverse the department’s neglect for years to come, it can’t be solved in a single year.
Chamber President and CEO Paige Green noted that she expects a plateau at some point. While she agreed with the ideas like gateway signage and organic growth from the county’s location. She added that she understood the “tough decisions” that the board makes, but the hotel/motel money reinvested in an appropriate way would be the long-term solution as opposed to the short-term solution of decreasing funding.
Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller also commented saying he would look at the number if the budget absolutely demanded it.
However, as of now, no changes have been made in the proposed budgets split. The Commissioners still have their October 16 work session and October 17 regular session as well as expected special called meetings before the budget is balanced.
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.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – With almost 2,000 people responding to their ESPLOST Survey, the Gilmer County Board of Education released the results at their June Meeting.
The choices include a Performing/Fine Arts Center (on GHS Campus), a Multi-use Sports Facility (Gym, Weight Rooms, wrestling center, batting cages, track), or an Indoor Swimming Pool.
Multi-use Sports Facility collected 684 votes and the Indoor Swimming Pool collected 282 votes.
Though seen as a somewhat surprising result according to Gilmer County Charter School Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs, she encouraged the Board to bear the survey’s results in mind as the moved forward with preparations for the ESPLOST referendum. While it is likely this vote will be seen as early as this November on the ballot, the ESPLOST cycle would not take effect until 2020. With the five-year cycles, the Board is attempting to plan several years ahead as they or only now at the midpoint of the current cycle.
While this may seem far off, officials say it is imperative to begin preparations now so that the voting, investigations, and preparations are in place when the 2020 cycle begins to move forward with the work as quickly as possible.
This does mean, however, that as the Board contemplates their survey, if they move forward with the Performing Arts center included as it seems they will, there are currently no plans setting when they will begin the project within the five-year cycle.
The project would stand next to others like the construction of a new Elementary School at the Board’s Clear Creek Property to replace the aging Ellijay Primary School currently in town on McCutchen Street.
Check out the Survey Results for the full tally and comments.
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.
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:
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.
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.