ELLIJAY, Ga. – With two months left in 2021, talks are underway for Gilmer’s Board of Commissioners to set the coming year’s budget. The annual process begins with meetings with each of the departments, courts, and offices to discuss the budget needs and wants before the county calculates its full revenue side of the budget.
These meetings allow the departments, courts, and offices to discuss their budget as they have presented it. During the meetings, the Board of Commissioners ask questions and clarify sections of the budgets. After these meetings and revenue calculations, the county will return in November with the proposed budget. At the county’s monthly meetings, the 2022 budget is set to be approved before January of 2022.
Looking ahead with expectations for the completion of the upgrade to the Anima3l Shelter after donations have plans have been accepted, the Animal Shelter is looking to add at least two new employees in 2022 to support extra dog space, cat space, and help with answering phones and some office work.
Laukka said in the meeting that the calculations include these positions starting in October to allow for the project to complete in the last quarter of the year. With eyes set to October, the Animal Shelters donation funded upgrades will require additional help.
Clerk of Court
An increase in contract services comes from increasing economic costs for services and real estate specifically due to deeds coming into the office. The Clerk of Court is also looking for raises for its employees. This increase in salaries avoids hiring extra help, but instead compensates current employees who are often working double duty according to Johnson.
Code and Regulatory
No major changes over last year.
Gilmer has increased in case load with the District Attorney’s Office. In 2021, Sosebee said the current case load allocation is 36 percent in Pickens, 35 percent in Gilmer, and 28 percent in Fannin. Breaking down employees and pay, the office has seen one employee move from state paid, county reimbursed to directly county paid.
Increases in Office expense line and a request for capital outlay for vehicles to the DA’s office are some of their other increases. Those vehicles include $15,000 from Gilmer County. The office has purchased two vehicles from the Dunwoody Police Department but has others that need to be decommissioned to to rising costs in repairs. Sosebee said that some of the vehicles need repairs that would cost more than replacing the vehicles.
Looking to replace the course’s golf carts and vendor, Brumby presents the Golf Course budget with increases for new equipment like a top-dresser and greens mower. This equipment is requested to aid in maintaining the quality of the greens and course. The Golf Course could hit another major milestone this year if the course actually reaches the financial black for the first time.
Taking steps towards financial neutrality, this goal is something that both the current and previous iterations of Gilmer’s Board of Commissioners have wanted and have encouraged course director Mike Brumby to achieve for years.
Increases are being requested for regional fees based on percentages calculated by each county’s population. This is based on the region-wide budget for the Sequoyah system. The library is also requesting a cost of living increase for employees, which is included in the county’s portion of contributions.
Changes have come to the Magistrate Court since the COVID outbreak. Utilizing zoom conferences for court hearings, possible exposures and contact points are limited. Judge Johnson has put a request into contract services for an increase to expand contactless options into warrants as well. Rather than having deputies visit the judges personal home after hours, Johnson said that Gilmer can utilize a secure online resource to view and sign warrants when needed.
The online service will also “save time” according to Johnson who noted that that extra time is spent traveling to and from the judge’s home. Additional increases are coming from utilizing from a need for new copiers and scanning equipment.
Maintenance and Housekeeping
Several changes have hit Maintenance in both increases and decreases. Moving mowing to a contractor actually comes cheaper than paying staff but increasing in contract services with a reinspection of elevators.
Parks and Recreation
With capital requests, Parks and Recreation will be looking to adjust a few buildings at River Park in 2022. Projects like moving the restroom at the far end of the park at the walking trail loop are looking to better protect facilities while also improving the visual look of the area.
Probate and Elections
Probate Judge Scott Chastain and Chief Registrar Tammy Watkins requested combining the elections budgets with Voter Registrar’s Office as Watkins has been doing most of the Elections work, supplies ordering, and budgeting items. The BOC felt better with keeping the budgets as is for public and record keeping. This would have moved another step on the process as Judge Chastain has voiced desires to move elections out of the Probate Office.
Other increases are expected with a major election year, but also in software for elections as Dominion will begin charging for services that they provided for free last year, according to Watkins. Some of the services the Dominion Technician provides includes testing, set up, and a required presence for election day. This will cover which could include 4 elections that includes a possibility of a November Runoff. Elections is also seeing a 41 percent increase to increase staffing at election precincts.
Some precincts have only hosted four to five people in the past. Watkins now wants to see 7 people at every precinct. This is still in request form for the commissioners, and no official changes have been detailed for precincts until a final budget can be approved. The Probate Office is also seeing salary increases as Judge Chastain is requesting funding for an additional person in the front windows of the Probate Court office.
With extra overtime expected in 2021, estimated close to $350,000, Public Safety and Fire Rescue are increasing overtime pay for employees in their coming budget while also working to save overtime hours over the current year. Fire and EMA are also looking to increase salary and wages supporting a step-up style raise program based on levels of education for employees. Inclusion of the new pay raise system would have set levels.
As employees continue working for the county in the department, they will have a set career advancement to look at and plan for. According to Fire Chief Daniel Kauffman, no nearby counties are doing anything similar, which would allow this program to serve as both a hiring tool and retention tool allowing employees to continue improving themselves in the county while also improving their position and pay rate.
As opposed to former years when Public Safety reported far lower pay scales compared to competing counties, Kauffman told the commissioners that Gilmer is far more competitive currently. Other counties have also increased over Gilmer again, but Gilmer still maintains at a comparable level.
In Emergency Management, another increase in salaries comes from a COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment). Few other things saw changes in the department.
The airport is also looking for pay raises for some employees. A major cost comes as the airport is looking to replace its windsock.
Another Department looking to increase wages of employees and entry levels, Public Works has not been at full staff for a while. While the county has felt the crunch of the staffing shortage just as any of the county’s businesses, Chairman Charlie Paris has previously said that he has been looking for ways to attract workers. According to revenue trends in solid waste, Public Works Director Jim Smith said that if they continue as they are, the department could see a 10 percent increase in revenue. However, costs are going up in the industry as Waste Management increased scale fees this year. Smith indicated that he is increasing a line item in the solid waste budget reflecting this 50 percent increase. This could also reflect further expected increases in materials such as stone and emulsion.
Smith estimated an increase there over 5 percent, but won’t know for sure until the county receives the bids to approve. Propane is another cost trending upwards alongside all petroleum based bids. A 60 percent increase in piping supplies is also putting pressure on the Public Works budget looking to stay productive in the current economy.
The Sheriff’s Office is one of the hardest hit areas of the county in terms of staffing. While partially for the staffing shortage the county has seen, Sheriff Stacy Nicholson attributes a few causes to the issue. Nicholson list positions to the commissioners saying, “I’m one detective short. I’m four deputies short out of twenty. I’m two school resource officers short out of seven. I’m two court services deputies short of nine. I’m six detention officers short out of twenty. I’m three dispatchers short out of twelve.”
Nicholson also told the commissioner that so far in 2021, the county has 580 new addresses just from new construction, indicating the population growth in the county.
Although public support for law enforcement within the local area is good, according to Nicholson, it is still difficult to get applicants. Another issue Gilmer deals with is similar to what the Public Safety has gone through in the past. Nicholson showed the commissioners a social media post from Dawson County advertising positions starting between three and five dollars an hour more than Gilmer pays.
Nicholson told the Commissioners, “I need to be in here today asking for more people than what we’re budgeted for. But that’s a ludicrous operation if I can’t fill the positions I have.”
The largest part of the budget goes into the wages, and Nicholson urged the county to consider that the county is increasing in size and population while the budgets are not. He later thanked the commissioners saying that the county has always supported law enforcement, but he needs it again for public safety in general, suggesting both law enforcement and emergency services.
Superior and Juvenile Courts
With unknowns and numerous backed up cases, a larger than normal cost in Jurors is requested for the courts. Gilmer’s commissioners will consider the make-up terms but suggested that Weaver set a best guess to cover it as they will expect a budget amendment if the need arises.
Requesting a two dollar per person increase, the Tax Assessors Office is looking for more retention. Theresa Gooch noted that many of the assessors carry more plots than is recommended. The department is also looking at an increase in Legal Fees under professional services.
Not looking for any new positions, Marshall is looking to increase pay as they are under the Tax Assessors’ office. Marshall noted that the Tax Commissioner’s Office deals with every property in the county and also handles motor vehicles.
A 50 percent increase in salaries and wages over 2020 for voter registrars is requested to move Chief Registrar Tammy Watkins to a comparable level to surrounding counties. The increase also raises up Watkins’ Deputy Registrar and part timers who she said saved her in the last election.
Increasing wages also will see more employees set in for 2022’s early voting as Watkins is looking to increase speed of the process. Increases come normal with election years, but Voter Registrars is seeing higher than normal because of the changes they are looking to implement for citizens.