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.
Gilmer County is currently undertaking a large re-striping project both on their own and with the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) in addition to this summers LMIG.
Originally, Gilmer applied every year for its Local Maintenance and Imporvements Grant (LMIG) for paving. The $629,234.66 grant, along with the counnty’s $270,025 match, will pave Burnt Mountain Road (6.5 miles), Mountaintown Road (4.65 miles), and Sunlight Road (3.1 miles). This grant will also cover fresh new striping and new signs on all three roads.
In addition to that original project, Gilmer also applied for an “Off-System Safety Program Grant” of $250,000 to add nine more roads as a separate project for striping and small additions such as guard rails and signage according to Commission Chairman Charlie Paris. Those roads include Boardtown Road, Big Creek Road, Double Head Gap Road, Turniptown Road, Knight Road, Tails Creek Church Road, and Progress Road with Clear Creek Road and Yukon Road to also be done after the Atlanta Gas Light construction on those two roads is completed.
This project will be fully managed by GDOT through it’s own contracts. However, citizens may not see the work being done on these roads as the striping work is being conducted at night. According to Paris, the night work for this striping is set to help avoid any traffic congestion for citizens as they go about their regular days for work and around town.
Finally, a third application for up to $100,000 has been made by Gilmer that was not included in either project. The project was put forth to Gilmer’s Road Department by Chairman Paris.
According to Public Works Director Jim Smith, this “Supplemental LMIG” currently includes Homer Wright Road and Whitepath Road and is being undertaken by the County itself. Now, while Smith assured citizens in a recent meeting that these two roads will see completion by April 26th, he also told FYN that further projects could be added to the grant later. This project, like the original LMIG, requires a 30% match from the County that Paris stated would be covered in the Road Department’s budget.
With one project almost complete and more underway, citizens should be noticing improvements to our roads lines in the coming months.
Several items are setting the path for the Commissioners to move through the end of the year and even to already begin looking into next year in the county.
Even what some call minor items like the Commissioner’s Memorandum of Understanding to allow the Gilmer County Boys and Girls Club to start processes for attaining the County’s Lease Agreement to expand their facilities at the Civic Center show that the Board is looking forward to the process. While Chairman Paris mentioned at the meeting that this is not a full resolution for the agreement, it is a type of agreement to say they will offer the lease in an effort for the Club to begin fund-raising for the project and processes before the County sits down to formally enter an agreement with the Club. This process also allows the early processes for the Club to begin such as designs. Basically, a “pre-agreement” allows these situations to develop with the understanding that the lease will be offered at the correct time. The Commissioners also set the Memorandum of Understanding to include that the Boys and Girls Club will follow Building Code Regulations and regulations on the Flood Zone as they look to construct a new building next to the Civic Center. This agreement has been discussed over the last severl Commissioner Workshops and will continue as the process develops into rest of this year and on into 2017.
Another item many citizens were paying attention to may have surprised many. A failure to motion may actually be considered by citizens as a type of Approval. Indeed, the Board allowed an item to fail at the meeting with a specific reason. As consideration was held for an ordinance to allow registration and use of UTVs (Utility Task Vehicles, otherwise known as “Side-by-Sides”) on the County Roads, Commission Chairman Charlie Paris stated, “We don’t find anything prohibiting this and we see no need for a county ordinance specifically allowing it.” The Commissioners then moved to take no action on the item, however, the statement seems to allow the usage of these vehicles as there is no restriction against it currently.
New action came for the EMS and Ambulance Transport Fees Ordinance as a Public Hearing and First Reading for the Ordinance were held Thursday, October 13. No citizens came to speak at the Hearing, and the Commissioners approved the First Reader. However, there is still time to contact Chairman Paris at the Board of Commissioners office or to attend November’s Commissioner Meeting to voice any questions citizens may have. If the second reading is approved, Gilmer County could see these Fees implemented as early as December 1st, pending the actual language in the Approval. As they are collected, these fees will be put into the General Fund of the County, credited as revenue generated from Emergency Medical Services for Budget purposes.
Financially, the Commissioners also made moves to support future services in the County by awarding a bid to Pictometry as part of a proposal for Ortho and Oblique Imagery Deliverables. This is a part of the Counties recent moves toward updating the aerial photography for the County. Another item discussed over several months, this item began with an initial proposal from Pictometry, but was later put to Bid as required by County Ordinance. The project comes on the heels of a previous Consent Order to the County, but also as the County looks forward to using this in Planning and Zoning to verify information as well as other possible County departments including a potential Law Enforcement usage once discussed in specific situations requiring an area view including buildings. While Pictometry was not the lowest bid offered, Chairman Paris offered a description stating the two received bids were not actually an “Apples-to-Apples” comparison. Meaning the other bid did not include all wanted options in its base bid. After adding in all desired options put in the Bid Requests, Pictometry became the lowest bid.
The Road Department is also receiving budget amendments as they seek to move forward on projects. One such project was approved up to $25,000 to cover repairs to the Parks Road Bridge. The Bridge was primarily damaged in the early December floods of last year, but has continued slowly degrading in the proceeding months as continued use and heavy trucks wore on the damage.
The second approval covered up to $40,000 for the cost of a Paving Roller to continue maintenance of Gilmer’s Roads. The County’s previous Roller’s bearings were damaged. Due to the age and difficulty to find parts, Chairman Paris has said it is a question of reliability and cost-effectiveness of continuing to repair the current Roller, and instead the Board has decided to began looking for a newer used Roller for usage.
For more information about these stories or to follow the Commissioners process through both its Work Session and Regular Meeting, check out FYN’s videos of the Meetings below.