Things Heated Up at the BOC Meeting

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The Board of Commissioners meeting started in typical fashion, with a humble prayer and Pledge of Allegiance, and the room was filled with citizens and various County candidates. Commission Chairman J.C. Sanford was in attendance, along with Post One Commissioner Dallas Miller, Post Two Commissioner Danny Hall, and County Attorney David Clark. Post Two Commissioner candidates Joe Waldrop and Travis Crouch were also there, along with Commission Chair candidates Charlie Paris and Mark Simmons. Minor business was approved, such as the final approval of a sign ordinance, along with the renaming of the bridge at Bucktown to the George Washington Mooney Sr. Memorial Bridge. Another minor item that was green-lit included the approval of a hobby livestock condition for a resident who wanted to house horses on her property, but other major topics were brought up that will raise some interest within Gilmer County.

Clear Creek Ball Fields

The first item that came up under old business was the completion status of the Clear Creek ball fields. The growing frustration was evident among Hall and citizens regarding the slow progress in getting the field completed, and since this is a hot topic within Gilmer County, you’re seeing more of an effort to get the field finished as quickly as possible, especially during election season. There are numerous projects that still need to be done, including storm drain, gravel and ditch work, along with fencing, lighting and concession stand projects.

Hall was one to believe that the Board of Education needed to be a part of the process and pay dues on the field, but others like Clark believed that the Education Department could counter with fees of their own, since the County takes advantage of their basketball courts and football fields, fearing a fee battle would ensue. But Paris chimed in, believing that two government agencies could not successfully work in unison, and he cited the difficulty in coming to an agreement within one agency alone. Waldrop believed that the County should focus on maintaining the old fields first before worrying about the new ones. One citizen pointed out that people were tired of seeing finger-pointing and gridlock within the County.

Comprehensive Development Plan

Another hot item that came up for debate was the issuance of the North West Georgia Regional Commission (NWGRC) report. These regional commissions are issued by the state, and normally comprise 10-12 counties, with Gilmer being one them. NWGRC Director of Regional Planning David Howerin was at the meeting to discuss how the Commission came to its conclusions within the report. The issue of state government trampling on the rights of local government has been a topic for debate within Gilmer, and this is was all the more apparent when Gilmer County Building Authority appointee Joene DePlancke made her objections known after seeing the report.

DePlancke contended that the numbers just don’t add up, and one issue she had with the report was its 4.3 percent growth for every year for the next twenty years. According to the report, the population projection for 2015 was 45,119, growing to 68,000 by 2015, but DePlancke countered that the real numbers were significantly lower. The comprehensive plan had the population growing by 9,200 people within that period, missing the mark by

“61,000 percent,”

according to DePlancke. Her main contention was that the County incurred large amounts of debt from infrastructure projects like the courthouse and library, based on data points from these reports, and she criticized the NWGRC for not adjusting the plan in 2009, a time of immense economic decline.

Sanford weighed in, saying that the courthouse and library was built on the needs of Gilmer and not the report, dubbing the projects as

“catching up.”

But Howerin said that the plan served a guide for the County to prepare, in the event of any economic opportunity. DePlankce responded by saying that the plan did not take into effect such factors as diminished growth or job losses within the County, and Howerin conceded that the holes in the report is

“something we need to improve in our work.”

But Sanford emphasized that the comprehensive plan is not mandatory, but is a “tool” that is meant to serve as a guide, and he iterated that all decisions are still left within the hands of the County. Sanford agreed with some measures in the plan, but severely disagreed with other parts, and he proposed working with the state and NWGRC for amendments. But DePlancke pressed on with her argument, saying the departments around the County cited the numbers from the plan, which is how Gilmer received 16 fire stations, along with other infrastructure projects.

The frustration extended to citizens watching on the sidelines as well, with one person contesting that the people of Gilmer County do not need a committee governing the affairs of property owners and county business. Another person also stated that it was an issue of small government versus large government, and he brought up real concerns of people losing their lands, because the County did not abide by certain NWGRC guidelines. Even though it was reiterated time after time that the plan was non-enforceable, not adopting a comprehensive plan could render the County ineligible for grants, loans and permits. If Gilmer does not adopt a comprehensive plan, Gilmer would not be a

“qualified local government,”

according to Howerin’s words, regarding any state favors. Technically, the plans are not enforceable, but since the state approved these plans, not adopting the proposals in the report could cost Gilmer economically.

Runway Safety Maintenance

The issue of the comprehensive plan took up a bulk of the meeting, but Sanford finally transitioned to the issue of runway safety maintenance. This particular project primarily comprises filling dirt and levelling off runway banks for safer landings and take-offs. Sanford believes the project will save lives, while saving the County money in the process. When Miller asked where the money would come from, Sanford responded by saying the funds would originate from Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) grants coming from fuel taxes by the airport. In Sanford’s words, the people using the airport would be

“footing the bill.”

The FAA grant makes up over $841,000, comprising $801,921 from the FAA, and $39,479 from the Department of Transportation (DOT).

The project will be in three-phase increments, with the beginning of phase two possibly taking place at the end of December, contingent upon the progress of phase one, and future approval. The County has to supply all labor, but there will be a reimbursement of labor and equipment costs by the grants. The local matching costs are $44,284 in labor, which would go to such things as hiring personnel, but anything over that number would be covered by the grant. However, the County would need to spend that money first before being reimbursed.

But the dirt that would fill the holes in the airport has been a subject of debate in the meeting, with Miller, Hall and Simmons all wanting to know where the dirt would come from. The primary issue that Miller had was hauling truckloads of dirt (which would be roughly 10,000 loads) through the downtown circle, because he did not want to see a disruption in tourism, and he cited safety issues as another problem. Simmons was one to press Sanford on the cost-efficiency in moving the dirt as well, but the Chairman countered that the math and costs were sound.

Miller would like to see the dirt being taken from somewhere close, instead of the northeast or northwest parts of the County, but Sanford believed the dirt had to be moved, which also led to the discussion of the dump trucks. Paris pressed the commission on this issue, fearing the purchase of the dump trucks would not be an approved item within the grant. Sanford confirmed that the dump truck money would not come from the grants, but through County cash-flow, since there are three trucks that should have been placed out of commission. Sanford continued that the money for purchasing the dump trucks would not affect the budget, and he still maintained that the project would return money to the County, but there is a lingering question over where the funds would come from to purchase the trucks.

With that being said, the airplane project was approved. Overall, the BOC commission was a contested session, and spectators were treated to quite a spectacle, as Commission Chairs and Post Two candidates never hesitated to score a few political points.

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