ELLIJAY, Ga – Meetings have completed and the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners are preparing for the next steps of cuts and adjustments as they move towards a finalized budget in the coming months. With much still to come, the budget meetings now showcase each department and office’s initial proposed budget.
Each holds a meeting specifically for them to highlight requests and changes to their budgets alongside Financial Officer Sandi Holden and, this year, the two current members of the Board of Commissioners.
While the county is planning in the proposed budget for a potential eight percent increase in group insurance, they are still early in planning and may not see that large of an increase.
While much of the Sheriff’s Office budget remains similar to recent years, another increase is being proposed for a change in retirement benefits. This plan sees officers paying into the program over a minimum of 15 years of service, according to Gilmer County Sheriff Stacy Nicholson. The POAB (Peace Officers Annuity and Benefits Fund) is a retirement for certified law enforcement officers. Any officer in Georgia can join. After the officer retires, a monthly payment created by the number of years your were a member multiplied by 24.
Sheriff Nicholson is asking in his budget to invoke an option for the county. As the Sheriff’s Office has been paying the $20 per month for its officers since 2014, Nicholson is requesting to budget for the option to “buy back” up to 5 years of service in the Gilmer Sheriff’s Office for officers who worked for the office before 2014. Nicholson estimates this could affect between 32 and 34 employees. Not all would be a full five years of service. It could cost an extra $175,000 or more. However, Nicholson also said the purchase could be done in increments, so as not to cost the full price at first.
If the office moves forward with this, Nicholson said that a contract with officers would be created so that should an officer leave the Sheriff’s Office to transfer to another law enforcement agency, they would pay back the money spent to buy back these years of service.
Additionally, there was a budget increase in salaries. However, Nicholson said this change comes from Administrative Salaries and includes zero pay raise. Instead, the change is to cover some oversights due to raises over recent years.
There are also capital expenditures requests including 10 vehicles and 11 portable radios including extra programming, this programming includes repeating frequencies and adaptations for multiple agency on scene situations.
Gilmer’s Fire Department is reporting that they will see some increase expected in their revenue lines. With Minor increase to line items such as contract services, vehicle repairs and maintenance, and supplies and materials, the majority of the changes in the capital budget.
Just like last year, a massive $467,809 was requested on the Capital Budget. Only Roads and Bridges compares in capital expenses at $365,000. Paris also repeated his same question from last year’s budget as he asked Fire Chief Daniel Kauffman to prioritize the items requested.
That priority came to
1. 2020 Dodge Ambulance – $236,000
2. Used Fire Engine to replace a 1976 American LaFrance – $75,000
3. Stryker Stretcher with Warranty and Maintenance – $10,844
4. Hurst Hydraulics Extrication Equipment – $32,000
5. 2 Lucas Devices for CPR compression assistance and training – $53,965
6. 2020 Ford F150 – $25,000
7. Target Solutions
8. 2020 Ford F250 – $35,000
Roads & Bridges
The county is looking at raising wages for employees who are still working at $9 per hour wages. Roads and Bridges saw a proposed increase in wages from $773,563 to $898,106. This has actually reached across multiple years and departments as the county is attempting to have increased all employees in the next few years. County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris has said before that the county sees part of its turnover rate due to low pay.
Another big increase came through striping. The Road Dept is catching up through all the current paving from 2019 alongside other projects. With the budget set to go back and stripe in 2020, the Road Department budget jump[ed on this line item. In the 2019 budget, striping was budgeted at $30,000, but in 2020, the current proposal is set at $120,000. Paris noted later in the meeting that striping costs are estimated per mile at $2,500 for double-yellow lines and two edge lines. Paris stated that Eller Road and Howard Simmons Road would cost more as they use center turn lanes and intersections. Their estimate is $5,000 per mile.
On the Capital Budget, the Road Department reached $365,000. However, the majority of this request comes from two items. A Motorgrader for $240,000 and a Dump Truck for $125,000.
Just like the Road Department, proposed budgets are showing increases in salary lines to bring up those making $9 per hour to a higher wage. The increase goes from 2019’s budgeted $268,576 to 2020’s proposed $335,525.
While they don’t have a specific number yet, the department is also reporting an expected increase from Advanced Disposal for the county’s solid waste disposal. They are also still looking at the leachate issue from the landfill’s lift stations. Additional funds could be required if the situation changes.
With the Board of Assessors requesting pay increases across the department for Tax Assessors, the budget requests could meet push back as the Tax Assessors have seen increases in recent years.
Another increase comes with Contract Services. The increase for a second flight for QPublic and Change Finder program to scan for changes to properties. This program can allow the Assessors to see properties that may be blocked off or gated to where assessors may not normally be able to see the whole property. This program also automatically scans properties within the county to find details and changes that would increase property values and, therefore, revenue in the department.
With major elections coming up, the Probate Court is almost tripling their elections budget, increasing from 2019’s budgeted $65,314 to a proposed $192,304 in 2020. As expected during an election year like this, the increases are reaching to areas like advertising. Supplies and materials is over six times its 2019 budget, from $7,400 to $47,000. Additionally, their proposed budget proposes $111,092 for election workers.
Probate Judge Scott Chastain is still looking for details on operating the elections side of the office, addressing issues like poll workers payments and ballot advertising alongside Chief Registrar Tammy Watkins. As the budget moves into later stages details will become more fine tuned in the elections.
One of the major issues that is still unclear as to how it could affect the budget is the new election machines. Training and security for election ballots for the new machines are not yet fully completed as they continue to await the machines.
This includes new equipment such as required printers for the voting machines including their ink and maintenance.
Also requesting salary increases, the Animal Shelter is looking at a proposed $124,500, opposed to 2019’s budgeted $108,040.
Director Daniel Laukka is also looking to begin accruing a type of contingency on the capital budget fund as he looks to needs for repairs and eventual replacement of the shelter’s transport van. Paris noted that he believes the shelter is going to eventually need to look at possibly hiring another animal control officer, but said that 2020 probably wouldn’t be that time.
Code and Regulatory Department
A major increase in group insurance saw this department go from 2019’s budgeted $613 to the 2020 proposal of $12,500. Another increase in advertising came from “blue cards” advertising.
Recreation and Parks Department
While much of the Recreation and Parks Department budget remains the same, a decrease in Civic Center utilities shows the drop in costs as the pool pumps will no longer run. However, certain items are still in place, such as gate revenue and concessions costs still indicate plans to move forward with the pool construction. However, now, even Chairman Paris said he is starting to doubt whether the county will meet the goal of Memorial Day.
The coroner’s office is requesting an increase in budget for an additional deputy coroner.
The Magistrate Court’s budget shows little change with only slight increases to line items like Insurance and Bonds and Group Insurance. Judge Kincaid is requesting a small increase for clerk training and education as well.
Clerk of Court
A decrease in administration salary was noted as the county switches Clerks of Court after the retirement of Glenda Sue Johnson. However, the nearly $16,000 decrease was offset by a $22,000 increase in group insurance.
Last year’s approval for a pre-trial and probation program shows under Superior Courts budget as $27,509. Though not originally budget for the 2019 budget, discussion is underway whether to keep this line item under Superior Court or move it to Probation department. Additionally, Superior Court Judge Brenda Weaver is asking for $3,000 increase in Mental Health Court Program. With increasing numbers of help needed for those with mental issues, Judge Weaver said the money they are receiving is not enough to meet match numbers for state grants.
Planning and Zoning
Planning and Zoning is looking at a few increases in areas such as advertising and insurance, their overall budget is actually decreasing in proposal by just over $2,000.
Minor increases in communications and professional services, with a larger increase to supplies and materials.
Increases to Salary and Wages include and additional run-off election next year that the office is planning for. However, plans could change with coming changes to voting machines. Involving early voting and election night voting, an additional person may be needed to monitor the new machines printed ballots and to direct those who may need guidance on the process of submitting the paper ballots.
Maintenance Department is also looking to increase pay wages in the proposed budget.
The proposed budget for the Chamber highlighted requested features from the BOC including planned audits and reports. The Chamber is also planning to see a slight increase to collections based on years of growth. In the next year, President and CEO of the Chamber, Paige Green indicated they could be looking to improve some cycling capabilities to revisit the idea of becoming an IMBA Ride Center.
In other changes, they are looking for directional signage, maps, other downtown improvements.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – With the final day past, the Gilmer County Probate Office has announced the five candidates who have officially qualified for the November election for Post 1 Commissioner.
Qualifying ran from Monday through noon Wednesday this week and even came with surprises for those who had previously announced their campaign but didn’t qualify by signing up with elections.
At this time, the elections office, a part of Gilmer County’s Probate Court, has confirmed these candidates: Jason Biggs, Al Cash, Hubert Parker, Ed Stover, and Jerry Tuso.
Stay with FYN as we reach out to the candidates for interviews to introduce them within their campaigns.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – According to a release from the office of the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners, Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller is resigning from his position with the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners.
Miller not only resigns from the BOC, but also his position as an appointed member on the Building Authority Board.
Stay with FYN as we reach out to Miller to comment on his resignation and to see how the county will respond and move forward with this vacancy.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – After the August meeting of both the Board of Commissioners and the Board of Education, the commissioners reconvened for final approval for the collection of both millage rates in Gilmer County.
The Gilmer County Board of Education approved its Rollback Rate of 14.248 mills generating $16.8 million according to estimations by Gilmer County Financial Officer Sandi Holden. This rate was approved unanimously by the Board of Commissioners for collection.
The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners approved its Rollback Rate of 6.898 mills generating about $9.7 million according to Holden. This rate was approved 2-1 by the board with Dallas Miller being the dissenting vote.
The Commissioners then approved the 1.5 mills bond rate for the county generating about $2 million according to Post Commissioner Dallas Miller.
The bond millage was called into question by local citizen Joene DePlancke who noted the county’s growth and bond refinancings that the county has done.
DePlancke said she wasn’t speaking in opposition to the 1 mill bond rate, but rather the extra half mill added later. She went on to say, “I think it is unfair to the citizens of this county to keep telling them you have to have [1.5 mill] for the bond payments when we collect more than enough from SPLOST to cover the refinanced bonds.”
Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris told DePlancke that the 2017 bond payment was significantly less due to the refinancing at the time. With that refinancing, that year’s payment was reduced, allowing the county to use the extra funds, but also having that payment show far less.
Paris went on to point out that the bond payments are continuing to increase as well. Both 2019 and 2020 will see increases. Holden said the 2020 payment is expected to total just over $4 million. The payments over the last few years could not be looked at, according to Paris, as a measure of what they will be going forward.
Paris also noted that the Commissioners had a discussion in their August meeting about reducing the half mill on the bond millage, but decided to keep it as the payments are increasing as well as facing major issues such as the leachate leakage at the county landfill. Paris said the commissioners ultimately decided to wait and revisit the idea of removing the half mill next year. Additionally, while the county could continue forward without the half mill and maintain the needs for bond payment and this landfill issue, they would have to abandon every plan and improvement planned for other areas like the road department.
DePlancke reiterated her concerns on the bond millage saying, “You’ll always have a reason to spend it… There are so many things that need to be done, but you put it on there for bond payment. I feel like that is not honest to the citizens. You’re using it for other things.”
Paris said he didn’t agree that they would never give the half mill back, but asked what DePlancke she would have the county do, if they dropped the half mill, for the capital needs for the road department?
DePlancke responded, “You’ve got all the numbers there. I can’t answer that off the top of my head, but I’d love to have a crack at it.”
As discussion continued, Miller spoke as well, defending the bond millage. He said, “Our facilities, our infrastructure in this county. We’ve made progress, we’ve done improvements, but they are getting very old relative to their life. The buildings, the roads, everything needs capital improvements to keep them in good operating and maintenance level. We are facing, in the future, a large amount of renovation, and maybe even replacement, of our facilities that will only come from the capital budget that we have. And that money that goes to the capital budget will only come from the SPLOST collections, in my mind.”
Miller went on to say that he estimated $10 million in needs for the county in the coming 10 years just to keep the buildings and facilities at their current level. He said he didn’t want to wind up in the situation again where the county needed to borrow money or sell bonds. He said the commissioners didn’t have a choice but to maintain the path of maintaining and improving the infrastructure.
The board approved keeping the 1.5 mills, without raising or lowering, through a unanimous vote.
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.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – After a recent announcement to keep Gilmer’s Community Pool closed this year, the Board of Commissioners are entering talks to revisit the Capital Budget for 2019 in attempts to expedite construction of a new pool.
Gilmer County Board of Commissioners Chairman Charlie Paris likened the current situation with the pool to “Russian Roulette” saying, “Spin the cylinder and pull the trigger, odds are you’re going to be fine. The problem is when that one time comes up that you’re not fine, the results are so devastating that you just don’t do it to begin with.” Paris said he would not take the risk or endanger citizens and children who might use the pool.
Paris has told FYN in a previous conversation that he would almost be willing to have the county put up with the costs of the water loss in order to keep a pool for citizens if not for the danger of a hole.
During their May meetings, the commissioners began looking a budget amendments in capital projects for the county to expedite the plan that was put in place two years ago.
This plan was collecting money on an annual basis to fix the community’s pool issues by building a new facility. However, the current escalation of issues with the current pool will not wait for that plan to come to fruition in 2020. Instead, Paris wants to speed up the process with these amendments to add an extra $300,000 to the pool project this year. This adds onto the already saved $600,000 total from this year and last year. The board will use this $900,000 to begin engineering work, plans, and preparations for the pool while next year’s budget plans to also have $300,000 will finish the project by Memorial Day, opening day for the pool season, of 2020.
The board did not come to an agreement on amendments this month, however, as Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller requested more time to study and look into the plans and the budget.
Now, the board is set to host an additional Special Called Meeting on May 20 at 6:00 p.m. On the agenda for the meeting is one item:
1. Discussion and possible action on Budget Amendments for Pool Funding
It seems at this time that the board is planning to move forward with the proposal to expedite the construction as the discussions are expected to focus on budget amendments. However, Miller has already noted in their Work Session that he did not see the pool as “an acceptable priority.”
Not only has Paris put forth the proposal for funding of a new pool, but he along with Parks and Recreation Department Head Kevan White, have put forth a basic plan for a facility to be added on later. This plan will eventually enclose the pool for an indoor facility. Add on an outdoor zero-entry water play pool, four basketball courts, and have potential for more additions later. However, Paris said he would have it engineered and planned to have the pool built now, with plans to continue saving and building on the extra additions later.
The budget discussion are simply the first step before the county would discuss and finalize what they want the final facility to include. Then they would go forward with stages of construction projects. It all begins Monday with a board decision on what to amend in the budget for the pool or if they even do want to move forward with the proposal.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – The process that began last year with former Post 2 Commissioner Travis Crouch, now continues as the Gilmer BOC (Board of Commissioners) is asking for citizens to comment and help direct them on this plan with a survey.
They survey is being disseminated through several outlets and interested parties in the development of this plan. In August of 2018, the Board began seeking to do more with the annually updated document as both Crouch and Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller began questioning what more they could accomplish and utilize the document for.
At that time, Miller had noted in the Regular Session that he was disappointed that there was no resolution needed on the plan. He clarified that as a strategic planning document, it did not address the counties highest priorities, its infrastructure, or anything about revenue or funding for those projects.
The next step and current pursuit is to have as many citizens of the county complete the survey as possible. The survey is short requiring only 10 minutes to complete, and poses questions for opinions on things from housing to growth and recreation for citizens.
Current Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson said, “This helps us to plan for future growth and the direction we want to go in as a community.”
As the board moves forward, there will be meetings and times made available for continued input as they meet with both cities, the Chamber, and other “stakeholders” within the community.
Completing the survey and offer your opinions on the future of the county.