Chamber opens Downtown Welcome Center

Community, News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County is celebrating a five-year-long project completion today with the opening of the Downtown Welcome Center in Ellijay, Georgia.

From left to right, Chamber President Paige Green and Commission Chairman Charlie Paris listen as Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston speaks words of congratulations for Gilmer.

From left to right, Chamber President Paige Green and Commission Chairman Charlie Paris listen as Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston speaks words of congratulations for Gilmer.

A new branch for the Chamber and a “needed presence” downtown according to community leaders like Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris and Gilmer Chamber President Paige Green, this new building will work across town from the Chamber home office and welcome center on Craig Street, just off of Highway 515 between the Waffle House and Advance Auto Parts.

Today’s celebration marks the completion of the preparations and renovations, according to Green, who said the day also serves as the beginning of the Chamber’s return to downtown. A “homecoming” of sorts as the Chamber has been in the Watkins House before, located on the downtown square next to the courthouse.

Green said it wasn’t only the Chamber’s efforts, but a collective involving the Chamber, the Board of Commissioners, and State Legislative involvement from Georgia Speaker of the House of Representatives David Ralston. This alliance’s dedication has pushed the project across the year’s to come to today’s fruition.

While that dedication has stretched five years since conversations first began about the Chamber re-opening the Watkins House as a Welcome Center, Green noted that the Board of Directors’ recent Chairman Trent Sanford and current Chairman John Marshall have made the major push through these last two years to begin and finish the actual renovations on the building.

Back left to right, John Marshall, David Ralston, and Trent Sanford. Front left to right, Dallas Miller, Karla Roper, Charlie Paris, Karleen Ferguson, and Paige Green.

Back left to right, John Marshall, David Ralston, and Trent Sanford. Front left to right, Dallas Miller, Karla Roper, Charlie Paris, Karleen Ferguson, and Paige Green.

As a part of the Chamber’s return to downtown, Green said publicly that the Chamber is planning more downtown events through their new center and extended hours. She stated, “We do intend to be open Wednesday through Saturday. We want to be a leader in hoping that our merchants will join with us in opening until six or seven o’clock to greet our guests on the weekends as well.”

Green went on to say that the Downtown Center will also be opened for meeting space needs, or for those visitors who simply need a place to sit and rest. She wants the Downtown Welcome Center to be open in this sense for both tourists and locals.

The celebration also saw visits from each of the Gilmer County Commissioners, Chairman Charlie Paris and Post Commissioners Dallas Miller and Karleen Ferguson, as well as Speaker Ralston. Paris offered his thanks to Ralston as well saying that without his help, the community might still be waiting for a downtown center.

Paris spoke about the many “dominoes” that needed to fall in order to accomplish what they have. From relocating the Planning and Zoning Office on the other side of the square to needing help from the Department of Transportation and Ralston for logistics. Paris praised the Chamber and community volunteers and merchants who were integral in making the Welcome Center look as amazing as it does now.

Ralston also offered a few words as he congratulated the county on the facility. He spoke about the history of the Watkins House and its journey through generations and his personal memories of hanging out at the courthouse and walking past the Watkins House everyday after school. Ralston went on to note the significance of the statement the Chamber is making to the citizens of Ellijay and the investment they are making in the community.

Brenda Davis, former Director of the Gilmer Chamber of Commerce, poses with her picture from the early 90's in front of the Welcome Center.

Brenda Davis, former Director of the Gilmer Chamber of Commerce, poses with her picture from the early 90’s in front of the Welcome Center.

However, the day held more meaning than most understood, as they sipped wine from local vineyards and snacked of food from local restaurants, one family shared a moment around a special picture as former Chamber Director Brenda Davis, the lady in the picture, returned to her former offices and joined the celebrations of the changes and growth the building has seen since her last days in it.

The photo, taken in the early 90’s according to Davis. She said it feels good to be back in the building as she pointed out the meetings she held in the large front room and secretary’s office in the room with her photo. She recalled how here entire family got recruited to “volunteer” for events and needs when she held the office and the Welcome Center was there. She chuckled as she pointed out she had an intern, at the time, named Sandy Ott. Now working for University of North Georgia and its expansion campus, Davis recalls her working for the Gilmer Chamber stuffing fliers and mailers for the Chamber.

Davis also recalled a special memory at the Watkins House as they prepared for the Olympics in Atlanta. Davis said it was two years prior and Gilmer was hosting visitors from all over the world. They had received one foreign visitor whose interpreter was not available. He sat on the square as C Lloyd Smith began speaking with him and trying to make him happy with his visit despite the lack of a translator. Davis recalls Smith trying so hard to make this visitor feel welcome despite the major hurdle of language.

Memories like this are built into the bricks of the Watkins House. It seems anyone who lived or worked in Ellijay at the time has some memory tied to the building. As the Chamber returns to its former home, employees, citizens, and even those who no longer live in the county, will return with them to revisit old times, old memories, and tie them together with a new gateway in our community and new visitors creating new memories.

Chairman of the Gilmer Chamber’s Board of Directors, John Marshall offered his thanks for the legacy and the generosity that the Watkins’ family showed years ago when they had donated the building for the public good. Marshall stated, “It is altogether fitting and appropriate that the formerly private residence of this pioneer and progressive family has been transformed into a place to welcome the public.”

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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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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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Cherry Log Fire Station: a promise fulfilled?

Community, News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Holding their groundbreaking ceremony over the weekend, Gilmer County has already spent months clearing land and preparing the lot on Pink Pig Lane for a new fire station.

With a contractor moving forward, officials gathered together to formally break ground on the building’s construction. Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston visited with Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris, Gilmer County Post Commissioner Dallas Miller, and Gilmer Public Safety Director Tony Pritchett as they joined with local citizens to celebrate the project.

Officials turn the first shovel of dirt in the groundbreaking ceremony for Cherry Log's Fire Station.

Officials turn the first shovel of dirt in the groundbreaking ceremony for Cherry Log’s Fire Station.

With the original fire station in the area closed several years ago, citizens have continually expressed the importance of replacing it. A fire station in the area was promised but proved to be slow going. According to local resident Ernest Watkins, many of those in the area lost faith and didn’t believe the station would ever be built. Watkins told FetchYourNews (FYN) the station means everything to him as he had two sons who became volunteer firefighters and having the new location represents the culmination of his community coming together and being heard in what they are wanting.

Opening the ceremony, Pritchett spoke on the importance of the project saying, “Community fire and emergency response capabilities for our citizens are the most vital and important services a local government can provide.” He went on to thank the current Board of Commissioners for making the project a priority and following through with the community through consistent hurdles and obstacles they encountered.

Chairman Charlie Paris thanks Cherry Log residents for their patience in building the Fire Station.

Chairman Charlie Paris thanks Cherry Log residents for their patience in building the fire station.

Chairman Paris echoed the sentiments on the community thanking the Sisson Family who donated the land for the fire station as well as the people of Cherry Log saying, “You’ve been promised for years and years now that there is going to be a fire station here. It has been my objective to make that happen … This groundbreaking today is actually a confirmation of our promise to you that this is going to get built. We are going forward on it.”

Paris thanked citizens for their patience in the project as he and the current board have worked through the trials and tougher points of completing it.

The contract sets the station to be completed within six months from now. This sets the station to be open before next winter and available for any needs such as warming centers or shelters like any other station. Paris confirmed the new building will be a volunteer station and that the county already has volunteer firefighters planned at the location. The new location, dubbed Fire Station No. 3, will be an unmanned station that utilizes the volunteers to man the position.

With the ceremony completed and construction underway, Paris said the next step will be preparing equipment and readying the transfer of that equipment to the facility.

Public Safety Director Tony Pritchett looks on as Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston offers a few words for the fire station groundbreaking.

Public Safety Director Tony Pritchett, right, looks on as Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston offers a few words for the fire station groundbreaking.

Ralston praised the community’s efforts throughout the project saying he wanted to show his support for them. The “community spirit and pride” were what Ralston said laid the foundation. The fire station represents a “capstone” on their efforts locally. He went on to say he was very proud of the community and all they had accomplished.

His sentiment was later echoed by Paris who told FYN in a one-on-one interview that it was the community who stayed with the project. Considering some citizens becoming demoralized after the years they had waited for the project, Paris said, “The fact that we have done this, this is hard to ignore … They just wanted it to happen, and now that it is, I think the folks here are pretty happy with it.”

Paris also praised his Post Commissioners Dallas Miller and Travis Crouch for their support in the project saying, “There has never been a question about whether Cherry Log needed to have a fire station.”

Moving forward, citizens will continue to watch the project progress through construction and paving, marching ever closer to finally completing a promise years in the making.

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Gilmer County Commissioners Clarify County Policy

Featured Stories, News

After an executive session last Thursday, the Gilmer County Board of Commissions clarified its county policy relating to insurance coverage of county officials. (more…)

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