ELLIJAY, Ga. – While mostly focused on Hazard Pay for county employees, Gilmer County discussed possible areas of need and opportunity for the funding from the American Rescue Plan to go towards. The county discussed a number of options including HVAC Repairs, workforce housing, an ambulance, possibly passing on some funding to non-profits in the county, and even using funding to reimburse some salaries.
While keeping in mind that directly spending funds on certain areas of the county not approved in the funding resolution is prohibited, the funding does allow for reimbursements of salaries which could free up some standard M&O Budget for some other needs.
The first project discussed in the Commissioners Special Called Meeting, outside of the prioritized Hazard Pay funding for employees, was a major need for HVAC repairs and possible replacements across the county. An important issue for both COVID health and employee general health standards, Paris noted that many of the systems used by the county are “very old and inefficient.”
Replacing them with new systems would allow for better efficiency, but the new systems would also utilize, according to Paris, a UV sterilization system for air that is cycled. Paris noted that rough estimates totaled $300,000 for the every county building. However, Paris did note that $300,000 seemed low to him. This was later echoed by others with estimates close to $75,000 to $80,000 per unit.
An option arose to simply attempt the replacements one at a time to see how far the money could go and allow the county better understandings of prices and the process before they get too deep into the project. Paris agreed but suggested prioritizing the courthouse and then the jail as the most interactions occur in those two county buildings. However, the board along with other elected officials like Sheriff Nicholson all stated that these systems need replacing, whether utilizing American Rescue Plan funds or placing them as line items in the budget, the county needs to replace the systems.
Acknowledging that the replacements will have to be bid out, Paris requested Facilities Maintenance Director Eric Playford to acquire estimates for the project to give the board a better understanding before committing to bids and the project.
Another item discussed for expenditure addressed workforce housing in the county. An item that has been debated and deliberated on in county meetings for months now, workforce housing has always asked on where such a project could go in the county. As citizens have brought up the issue in county meetings, the BOC can only consider options outside of the city limits. Discussing locations and possibly purchasing property, the idea in the meeting came to purchase property to prepare for higher density zoning toward triplexes or quadplexes. The idea would have builders construct the buildings for sale. Upon sale the county would be reimbursed.
Specifically developing for triplexes and quadplexes could answer one issue in the past as developers have not tended to develop these kinds of higher density housing.
However, in discussing with Public Safety Director Keith Kucera, the current understanding of the county along with the current ruling on the resolution, would not allow the county to use the funds to purchase new property. However, it is believed that if the county already owns property, then developing the housing project could be funded through the funds.
Paris noted two properties the county could utilize in that manner. One being out Yukon and one near Highway 515. However, Paris said he couldn’t see the county adding to traffic on Yukon Road. The property just off of Highway 515, near Whitepath, does not have water or sewer ran to it.
Post 1 Commissioner Hubert Parker suggested utilizing some funds to expand the water system into new areas of the county.
Discussion continued as Paris noted and the board approved an ambulance for Public Safety. With a cost of $230,000, Director Kucera returned to a formerly approved vehicle for community outreach saying he now believes he could find it for less than the originally approved cost. Adding the Ambulance to the list, the board approved the funding through the American Rescue Plan funds.
With no specific amount set, the board is also looking to reimburse salaries and wages for public safety personnel. The county is still looking at its other projects and are looking to return to the discussion in general during its October meeting next week, with the Work Session on October 13, 2021, at 9:00 a.m. and the Regular Meeting on October 14, 2021, at 6:00 p.m.
The board approved reimbursement and is looking to pursue this “as much as possible” while looking at their other projects as well in order to maximize the accomplishments covered with the American Rescue Plan funding.