ELLIJAY, Ga. – Continued response from citizens are still pushing towards having a community pool open in Gilmer County. However, these citizens are now splitting on response to the county not opening the current pool this year.
As the commissioners listened for public comments during a special called meeting on May 20, 2019, to discuss budget amendments to accommodate changes to the county’s project of building a new pool including massively expediting the process. Many citizens showed support for the project to build a new pool even if some still held reservations about closing the current one. At one point, Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris asked for a show of hands on who at the meeting supported the idea of building a new pool. Not only was he met with what appeared to be every hand in the audience, but a few citizens loudly added, “Year Round!” An exclamation that was immediately followed by murmurs of agreement and repetitions of the phrase.
However, moving past the questions of if people wanted the pool, the meetings agenda item focused on how to fund it. Paris returned to his proposal from May’s regular meetings to redistribute capital funds in the amount of $300,000. One large item that would be lost to the redistribution is a new ambulance for the public safety department. Public Safety Director Keith Kucera was reported to have said that he could make it by without the ambulance, according to Paris.
While part of the ambulance funds will actually be redirected into gear such as oxygen tanks and breakout gear for the Fire Department, the bulk amount of $180,000 would be put back for the pool.
Paris noted that the county has put also built up contingency funds for building repairs and improvements. With $250,000 from 2018 and $100,000 from 2019’s budget, Paris said the county has improvements it needs to do this year such as carpeting and Tabor House Repairs. He proposed that funding these repairs and adding $120,000 to the pool fund could still leave just over $100,000 in building repair contingency fund for the remainder of the year.
As he made this proposal in the form of a motion, Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller asked Paris to detail what the county would get with the $900,000 total this year, plus the estimated $300,000 in next year’s budget.
Building upon plans delivered in the commissioners’ May meetings, Paris said he hopes the county can get the pool built by Memorial Day of 2019. What Paris wants to accomplish is to have the pool built and covered “right away.” However, he did note that if the county could not afford this, the pool would be designed and built so that the county could return the following year to cover it for an indoor pool.
Miller did point out that the county is not budgeting anything for land costs. While it has been noted in previous meetings that the county has land available in the Clear Creek area near the ball fields, Paris did note earlier in the meeting that there was not an exact location set for the pool yet. The county has heard from citizens and organizations alike that they would like the pool closer to town. Some have even suggested involving the cities as they would have a vested interest in keeping the pool within the city limits. The questions remains as to the availability of land or even if Ellijay or East Ellijay could donate land.
The county has had projects in the past, Miller noted Clear Creek Ball Fields and the Cherry Log Fire Station as he said projects that were over-budget, past schedule, or even less the the quality expected. He went so far as to ask citizens if they want an extra mil on their taxes to support the new pool. Miller said, “I don’t really believe that pool is ready to collapse” addressing the closing of the current pool, but did say it was a good idea to have the pool closed.
Calling Paris’ proposal and construction schedule “a dream,” he further said he is unwilling to change the budget for projects that were discussed and promised to the citizens saying, “I don’t know if we’ll be able to get a new one next year. I don’t know what the budget is going to be next year. We haven’t had any discussions on the budget next year. You may not get that ambulance next year. I don’t know.”
Miller also took issue with using funds out of the building maintenance contingency fund as he pointed out that the Building Authority requested funds for the courthouse and Tabor House and that the money be restricted to use for improvements and renovations for those two buildings. Miller said, “It’s not to be used for other buildings in the county right now. It is restricted.”
Building on all of this, Miller asked that the county build in an additional 20 percent contingency to every major project it undertakes “so that we don’t get ourselves into the situation that we’ve been in in other construction projects I’ve mentioned before.” He also added later that he did not want to discuss anything about a future budgets at this meeting as he didn’t know what would happen in the future.
Paris replied saying that while he agreed that you can’t predict the future, “You have to have a plan. Planning is, in my mind, the most essential thing that we need to be doing up here.” While he did say he felt the schedule of opening by Memorial Day of 2020 was possible, he admitted it is “very ambitious.” While he wants to plan for that schedule, Paris admitted that if something happens or another priority arises, he may have to push it back t0 2021.
Miller motioned to amend the Chairman’s original motion with changes to move the 2020 operational expenses of the current pool into contingency, to have a completely separate account for the pool project, to only move $150,000 to that account at this time for preparation and engineering of the project, and to not use any of the funds of any other capital project. However, the amendment never received a second, and so failed.
The original motion for amendments passed with a 2-1 vote with Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller being the dissenting vote. Paris noted that the county will begin looking into what size and type of pool they will want. As the county moves forward, the county is looking for input as to what citizens want included in the pool. Citizens already began offering requests and Larry Lykins of the Three Rivers Athletic Club said the donated heaters for the current pool, can and will be both able to be moved to the new pool and be functional if the pool is not indoor to begin with.