Tabor House questions linger in joint meeting

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – With new issues arising, the Gilmer County Building Authority and Board of Commissioners came together this week to discuss those issues and possible paths forward.

The Tabor House is facing needs for repairs for the roof, materials to install a new handicap access ramp, a renewal of the termite treatment, repairs for the electrical panel, and dehumidifiers for the museum artifacts and displays.

The roof alone has estimates of close to $12,000 for repairs. While estimates for the humidifiers were noted in the meeting at $900, discussion also noted that the Historical Society could also look at cheaper alternatives buying and installing the devices themselves. However, adding humidifiers wouldn’t matter as Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris pointed out that any humidifiers would still need a full replacement of the buildings electrical panel.

While insurance would cover most of the repairs for the roof, Maintenance Department Head D.J. Spagnola said he was unsure how much would be needed. He noted that the joists that the metal roof sits on are not two-by-fours, but instead boards made from slices of trees, unprocessed and untreated. His worry is that these may need replacing and the insurance would likely not cover their replacement.

Ultimately, Dallas Miller, both a Post Commissioner and member of the Building Authority, suggested that the Board of Commissioners fund the repairs for structural needs, the roof and electrical panel, but not fund the humidifiers as they are only needed to protect the items inside the building owned by the Historical Society.

Joene DePlancke also asked if the county ultimately wanted to keep the Tabor House as much of the upgrades and replacements could be let go if the county is not going to keep it. However, the discussion was quickly stopped before an answer could be given as Miller said, “Joene, I think that’s a discussion for executive session.”

By meetings end, the agreement came to deal with the roof, either a ramp or stairs outside, and the electrical panel for now. While the board is still looking into the possibility of the other repairs pending a final decision to keep the Tabor House or not.

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BOC approves raises for Post Commissioners

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Six months of discussion and debate come to a close this month as the Gilmer Board of Commissioners came to a 2-1 vote on the raises for Post Commissioners.

The raises were approved to move from their past salaries of 10 percent to the new salaries of 18 percent of the Chairman’s salary, having dropped from the original proposal of 20 percent. This approval is the second reading and, therefore, final approval.

Discussions have continued since last October, however, the last two months haven’t changed the discussion over the two votes with both Gilmer Commission Chairman Charlie Paris and Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson in favor, and Post Commissioner Dallas Miller dissenting. Miller noted both times that he only contested as he felt it wasn’t the “right time” for the new resolution.

These changes are approved at this time. However, they are not in effect. The official change to each Post Commissioner position salary will take effect at the next election of the position. Current Post Commissioners Karleen Ferguson and Dallas Miller will not receive these raises unless they are re-elected to the position.

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BOC names full time Public Safety Director and Fire Chief

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – “Solidarity” was the word used by one fireman who spoke at Thursday’s, March 14, Commissioners Meeting.

Keith Kucera, Public Safety Director of Gilmer County

Keith Kucera, Public Safety Director of Gilmer County

That show of solidarity included 15 members of public safety’s fire and ems divisions as the stood together to tell the BOC that they are happy with the direction and way the Public Safety Department is moving.

To take that one step further, Gilmer County Board of Commissioners Chairman Charlie Paris skipped ahead on his agenda to return the favor by officially announcing  Keith Kucera as the full-time Public Safety Director. Kucera has served as interim since February 12, 2019, and now begins his service as the full time Director, leaving the interim title behind.

Kucera also released information to FYN that an official announcement has also been made about the full-time Fire Chief. Kucera was proud to announce Daniel Kauffman will be taking the position as Kucera tells FYN he comes from Ocala, Florida.

Kucera said that Kauffman brings 30 years of fire service experience from Marion County in Florida as a District Chief and a Battalion Chief. He also has a Master’s Degree in Human Resources and a Bachelor’s Degree in Fire Science.

Despite recent issues in the Fire Department, Paris stated to those present that they had no idea how much their public display meant to the Board.

Further, those fire and ems staff present offered standing applause to the announcement of Kucera to the Director position during the meeting.

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Post Commissioner Raises pass First Reader

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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.

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Venue size concerns revisit BOC

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer is once again in issue with rezonings when considering items this month.

Considerations of wineries, tasting rooms, wedding venues, and lot sizes came to discussion in February’s Commissioner meeting.

The major contentions came when considering a conditional use permit for a “large” wedding venue. The item for A-1 Agricultural with Conditional use for 582 Cinnamon Lane created debate between Public Works Director Jim Smith, Planning and Zoning Director Karen Smith, and County Attorney David Clark as the board sought guidance and information about the issue.

The venue actually came as two items, the board unanimously approve the winery and tasting room in one vote, then discussed the conditional use for the large wedding venue at the same location.

Jim Smith warned the board to consider the county roads when allowing the possibility of more vehicles and traffic of a large venue.

Ultimately, it was Attorney David Clark who noted that the current item was a wedding and events venue as opposed to Large Recreational Venues which expected larger crowds.

Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris noted concerns and calls he had gotten on the issue. He later said in the meeting that he wouldn’t support the larger numbers of over 200 people at the event. However, he indicated he didn’t want to restrict them to less than 100 either.

Smith later raised concerns about the public accessing the venue through Cinnamon Lane, preferring they instead use Old Flat Branch road.

Final approval for the wedding and events venue came with conditions including no more than 200 people, ingress and egress be through Old Flat Branch road, and that expenditures related to it, such a deceleration lanes, be the responsibility of the facility owners at the location.

All three board members voted to approve the conditional use permit.

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Post Commissioners raises to advertise at 18 percent

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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.

2016 Survey P2

2016 Survey P2

2016 Survey P1

2016 Survey P1

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.

2017 Survey P2

2017 Survey P2

2017 Survey P1

2017 Survey P1

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.

2018 Survey P2

2018 Survey P2

2018 Survey P1

2018 Survey P1

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.

2018 Survey P3

2018 Survey P3

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.

 

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Auto-Renewal will go forward with Chamber Contract

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – A not-unexpected turn of events saw the Board of Commissioners (BOC) strike the two items from their agenda on Thursday that involved an Audit and a Contract Termination for the Gilmer Chamber.

Despite this, it doesn’t mean the end of this issue between the two entities. With both sides having agreed that the Hotel/Motel Tax usage by the Chamber is required to have an audit, and moving forward imposing that requirement, a major issue is being resolved. However, it doesn’t mean that citizens won’t be hearing about the issue again in coming sessions.

As Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson stated in their work session, she is wanting to look deeper at the Chamber, the date of the automatic contract renewal, and the Hotel/Motel Tax split. Though most of the discussion at the work session centered on clarifying “if” and “why” a termination would be required to renegotiate the contract and look at some of the expectations from both parties, the lasting issue is still persisting.

Chamber President Paige Green provided a prepared statement on behalf of the Chamber which asked them to reconsider the termination. But much of its points also addressed the issue of changing the split. One sentence stated, “Defunded or reduced funding towards those efforts or even extended negotiation period without resolution will have immediate and long term effects on the great work that has been done to bring us to this point in time.”

Her statement also reaffirms the Chambers commitment to “an open dialogue this year and to answer any questions you have in regards to our efforts.”

The commissioners did not vote down the termination, however. As previously reported in “Chamber Contract in question at BOC,” Ferguson stated several times during the work session that she thought termination was the only way to renegotiate the contract with its pending automatic renewal. Instead of voting down the termination, all three commissioners unanimously approved an agenda change to remove the items from the agenda with the clarification that it was agreed that the audit was required and would start being provided.

This leaves the state of the Gilmer Chamber in a flux of moving forward with an automatic renewal schedule to take effect next week, but knowing that 2019 will be a year in review as the Commissioners look closer at the Hotel/Motel Tax and the Chamber in general.

Ferguson noted during the work session that the Gilmer Chamber holds one of the highest Hotel/Motel tax split-percentages in the state. It was also noted by several chamber members and chamber board members that the Gilmer Chamber was also noted by people across the state as one of the best and most effective chambers.

As both entities move forward in the year, the discussion of the underlying issue will arise. For now, the preamble comes to a close avoiding what Commission Chairman Charlie Paris said would have been “a very, very serious mistake for Gilmer County.”

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BOC changes time for 2019 meetings

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – An official release from the Board of Commissioners will see a small change in next year’s meetings.

Although the days will stay the same with work sessions on Wednesdays before the Regular Meetings, which are scheduled for the second Thursday of each month, the time of those work sessions will move from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m.

Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris told FYN the one-hour pushback is not to accommodate something new, but rather the ending of an accommodation. The Board has held there work sessions at 8 a.m., according to Paris, as an attempt to help complete their business and get Post 2 Commissioner Travis Crouch back to his business.

Since Crouch is now rotating off the Board of Commissioners, the time is resetting one hour later.

Work Sessions – 9 a.m. Regular Meeting – 6 p.m.
Wednesday, January 9, 2019 Thursday, January 10, 2019
Wednesday, February 13, 2019 Thursday, February 14, 2019
Wednesday, March 13, 2019 Thursday, March 14, 2019
Wednesday, April 10, 2019 Thursday, April 11, 2019
Wednesday, May 8, 2019 Thursday, May 9, 2019
Wednesday, June 12, 2019 Thursday, June 13, 2019
Wednesday, July 10, 2019 Thursday, July 11, 2019
Wednesday, August 7, 2019 Thursday, August 8, 2019
Wednesday, September 11, 2019 Thursday, September 12, 2019
Wednesday, October 9, 2019 Thursday, October 10, 2019
Wednesday, November 13, 2019 Thursday, November 14, 2019
Wednesday, December 11, 2019 Thursday, December 12, 2019

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