December meetings continue commissioners’ budget conversation

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – While considerations continue for Gilmer County’s 2018 budget, new changes and suggestions have been considered through the commissioners’ December meetings.

Some changes came with an expected increase in property tax revenue that was mirrored with a increase to contingency fund in relation to each other. While the expected increase is based on the current standing for property taxes in 2017, the commissioners decided placing the increase in contingency would allow for some extra room on the exact number fluctuation.

The contingency also further supports the back-up funds for buildings and maintenance that Gilmer County Post Commissioner Dallas Miller has been requesting as Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris tells FYN that contingency could be used for any unexpected expenses for repairs or other items.

Funding has begun being set aside for the Lower Cartecay Road Bridge as well. In the county’s capital budget, $250,000 was set into a line for the bridge repair. It was also later increased during their regular meeting to $350,000, pulling the extra $100,000 from added revenue in the capital budget from taxes.

The commissioners are still assuring the public they are actively pursuing a federal grant to repair the bridge. However, as the funding is not guaranteed, Gilmer County Post Commissioner Travis Crouch further urged these funds allocation.

As Miller brought the additional $100,000 in the Capital Budget to light in their regular session, his original recommendation was to use the funds to support capital purchases for the public works department. Crouch responded saying, “Since we have a bridge that’s been out for nine months or so, it should go there until we nail down alternative financing.”

Crouch went on to confirm that as soon as they could confirm the grant funds or other means of financing the $1.2 million project, he was in agreement with Miller’s suggestion.

Pursuing an increase to financing for the public works department, Miller had previously made suggestions as to accomplishing that during their work session saying the county is behind in providing roads and bridges for public works as public safety in whole gets three times the funding as public works.

While initially stating he wanted to increase the percentage of the budget that public works receives, Miller specifically stated he wanted to take a flat number out of the public safety budget and move it into the public works. Miller later mentioned $200,000 as a number.

Paris took a moment to say that he had repeatedly cut all the departments under the public safety budget and could not feasibly see any possibility of further cuts.

Gilmer County Sheriff Stacy Nicholson adamantly opposed the suggestion saying the department didn’t have it. Nicholson told the commissioners that he is already going to lose staff because he cannot give raises to everyone. He further commented saying they would be the lowest paid Sheriff’s office in the Appalachian Judicial Circuit starting Jan. 1.

Nicholson vehemently defended his current budget after major cuts adding that issues continually arise in the county that affect his budget. Referencing a couple of medical issues that have arisen, he noted major expenses that came through errors at other areas.

Nicholson also noted, “I have not increased my deputies staffing, my patrol staffing, probably, in ten years.”

Furthering the discussion, Gilmer County Public Safety Director Tony Pritchet added, “If we cut anything out of ours, it’s going to have to come out of salary and wages. And you can take two to four hundred thousand dollars out of the revenue this next year because we won’t be able to handle the transports we have from the hospital.”

Pritchett also noted that the revenue each year for the emergency services offsets about half of their budget. He noted strain on their salary and wages already and any more cuts would make the work load unsustainable.

As Miller responded, he noted the great work public safety, as a whole, has accomplished, alongside the major needs of the county’s infrastructure. While Paris spoke about the strides the county has made in public works in the last couple years, Miller noted the strides they still need.

Gilmer County Public Works Director Jim Smith also spoke against the suggestion saying although he appreciated the acknowledgement of the needs public works has, he didn’t feel it would accomplish anything to improve public works at the detriment of public safety.

Smith stated, “I don’t feel like that you take from the gains that you have made in other deficient areas to give to another.”

Smith went on to comment on the progress his department has made saying that in his 16 years with the county, public works has been treated better in recent years than it has ever been.

While this specific suggestion never came to approval, Miller alluded at the regular meeting that the $100,000 in the capital budget, which he agreed to be put into the Lower Cartecay Road bridge project, would be returned towards public works investments as funding for the bridge was obtained.

Commenting on the budget, Chairman Paris called it a “bare bones” budget for its departments.

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