‘Pool’ing the county’s time and resources

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County is continuing discussions on the community pool with plans forthcoming and progress towards an initial design. FYN sat down with Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller to speak on the subject and his views as one-third of the board.

Jumping straight to the point, Miller said that he feels like most people are looking at the question, “What happens now?” While some still question the closing of the previous pool so close to the summer season, Miller also said he, personally, felt the county lacked any hard facts on closing the pool.

Gilmer County Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller

Miller did note that he felt the pool should have been closed in previous years, he is more concerned now with the speed of action by the county and how quickly it has gone from closing the old pool to expediting a plan for a new one to budget amendments to design plans.

Miller noted a saying he has throughout his life as he said, “Anything you have got to do in a hurry is probably going to be done over.” He said he doesn’t want this to happen. He called it an issue with an early warning to citizens so that they do not have adequate time to respond to address the issue as well as having a vote on the subject at a Public Comments Hearing. Another point of debate as he noted it was advertised correctly as a meeting, but he felt it wasn’t said that a vote would happen in that meeting and the county isn’t used to voting on things during public comment meetings.

When questioned about the properties available at both Clear Creek and River Park, he admitted that he would likely still be looking for another location. Several Commissioners meetings and public comments have well established that many citizens were not thrilled with the Clear Creek property being so far from the city, though he did say that the size of clear creek and correlation to the baseball fields there would be a good point of growth for that site.

The River Park location has its own concerns despite being primely located in town and adjacent to the already under renovation River Park. That location has seen changes over the last year, with playgrounds and an extended walking path, and plans for future changes, like the planned tennis/pickleball courts, and features still being discussed and pursued by the county.

Many of Miller’s concerns on the River Park location revolve around preparation for the project. He said, “We haven’t done, in my opinion, a full good job of due diligence on either Clear Creek’s proposed site or the East Ellijay proposed site. There has not been a rigorous research and rigorous vetting or looking into those properties.”

He furthered concerns about the floodplain, public access, utilities, and railroad crossing when accessing the East Ellijay property, River Park location, from Progress Road.

Miller says he wants time and opportunities to address these issues. For example, there is not an official public road past the railroad tracks. Miller said that while a road is there. The official right-of-way extends,  to his knowledge, to the railroad tracks and no further. Additionally, crossing the railroad and building on that land must respect a 100-foot right of way on the railroad tracks, and an 80-foot right of way on the road.

If there is no maintained road with right of way across the tracks, questions still linger on what would have to be done to bring that crossing to proper code. Miller said it could be as simple as a sign or could require more. He did say that railroad crossings have certain standards, and that crossing would require updating of some sort.

As far as the concerns of the location being in a floodplain, Miller noted that there are different levels of flood plains depending on the land’s slope and elevation. Building inside of floodplains requires its own standards. As part of the land is in different levels, he said he wants soil samples on the site showing the quality of the ground, foundation, leveling, and needs that the land itself would require.

Miller said he wants to bring up these issues simply because he doesn’t know the answers fully. With time and studies, more answers could be gathered before dedicating to this location. He also asserted that the county has not fully committed to either property. With final agreements requiring the full board vote, the county is still looking into the land. Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris had already noted this early when he pointed out that no IGA (Inter-Governmental Agreement) has been signed. As details are being finalized with both entities of the County and East Ellijay, the IGA would be the document sealing the agreement of using the land, and what would be expected.

Being responsible for the budget and going through amendments are a part of processes of government. Miller says the issue arises when you look at the influence that a Commissioner has over the county’s offices. Being responsible for those revenues and expenses of the county as a whole is hard when we start changing these budgets regularly and often. “I contend that that is what contingencies are for, to avoid those kinds of situations where you have to rearrange somebody else’s budget just to handle an emergency.”

Miller said that the county has created contingency funds in the last couple of years to handle these situations and has improved their budget process over those years, pulling out capital projects, trimming requests, forecasting revenues. They also continue to improve the process as steps are underway to improve the 5-year plan, looking at budget meeting dates and time frame this year.

In fact, the first contingencies were set with the understanding that the money was set into contingency and understood that whatever wasn’t used for a specified emergency, would be kept to build a pool in 2021.

While Miller said there were ways the county could adjust and fit the pool budget if situations arise like the Cherry Log Fire Station where the county used Road Department workers to clear land, the county has to do these things publicly and transparently. Situations like this aren’t free labor. They cost the county money and time as they redirect those labor resources. Similarly, adjusting budgets redirects funding promised to one department into a different department. Miller said he wanted to keep the process as public as possible, but also to take time to analyze, study, and prepare for the pool properly.

As such, he felt strongly that the idea of completing the project before Memorial Day 2020 is not feasible. “There is no slack in this thought of open by Memorial Day,” said Miller. Without time contingencies, without similar county pools built in similar time frames, without comparables to guide and show what to expect with it, there is no real way to see the project being done that quickly.

Looking to the future plans for the pool, Miller speaks on the county’s integrity saying he wants to do everything he can to keep the county’s promises. While the pool is a priority in the county, he does not want this to become a “do it at all costs” kind of project.

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