Bids approved at November BOC

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – The final months of the year are seeing the Board of Commissioners approving items to begin the new year without seeing delays, from budgets and bids approved to TSPLOST talks, the board is already gearing up for changes and issues to be addressed.

Some of those details came through the county’s November meeting as it approved bids for materials and appointed board members.

Bid requests for the county’s material needs came sparsely as many only received one bid, and one material bid was tabled. Bids were received for stone, propane, emulsion, concrete, and

The BOC voted to approve Vulcan Materials Company for stone, Appalachian Propane for propane fuel, Hudson Materials Company for emulsion, and C.W. Matthews Contracting Co. for Asphalt.

With concrete, however, some confusion came when trying to compare the two bids received, West Block Co Inc. and Wayne Davis Concrete Company. As the board members struggled to compare the two, Attorney David Clark suggested they could hold onto the bids until December’s meeting to utilize the time to better understand the two. In past years, the county had relied on explanations from Public Works Director Jim Smith, who was not available during this month’s meetings.

The second bid item accepted approved Jacob Anderson Company LLC for the demolition of two poultry houses at the Airport.

Also during the meeting, the commissioners voted to appoint Eric Irish to the EMS Region 1 Council and Maria Mullins to the Airport Advisory Board.

 

 

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Commissioners advertise 2020 budget

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County 2020 budget

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County is moving into the final stages of its budget process as official approval for the advertisement of the 2020 budget came in November.

Coming from the original proposals and requests for each department, the county has cut more than a million dollars to achieve the budget’s current form. Now, with approval to advertise, the county will look to adopt the budget in December, just in time for the start of the 2020 calendar year.

With the board now back to its original three-person format, no resurgence in the budget has come from newly elected Post Commissioner Hubert Parker who was present for most of those original budget meetings as a citizen after qualifying for the election.

November itself saw one last hurdle as the board looked for its last few cuts to balance the budget, considering a smaller contingency fund to make up the difference.

The final form is being advertised as thus:

One item not included in the budget as advertised was raised in recent talks over roads and bridges with citizens where the BOC put forth the idea of a TSPLOST for the county to answer citizen concerns over road issues.

The budget is set to advertise through the beginning of December, citizens can comment on the budget during December’s regular meetings at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, December 11, 2019, and 6 p.m. on Thursday, December 12, 2019.

 

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County requesting bids to demolish the old pool site

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Gilmer County BOC

ELLIJAY, Ga. – The county is moving forward with and advertisement for bids to demolish the old pool after approval this month in their work session.

Despite some slight confusion in having the entire board on the same page about using the location as the site for the coming pool, County Attorney David Clark urged the county to move forward with demolition plans for the site due to hazards and liability issues that could arise with the site.

Chairman Paris said his original understanding was that the board was very much in favor of the location.

And although Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson wanted more discussion on officially declaring the site as the definitive location of the new pool, she did agree that they should go ahead with the demolition proceedings and the vote came unanimously in favor of advertising for bids.

In fact, Ferguson even said she did not have a problem with the location as the new pool site “unless there is something crazy that we find under the pool…” Ferguson’s concerns tended toward unexpected costs that could come through issues they had not found yet or may find as they demolish the old pool.

As she said she didn’t have a problem with the site, she later added that she didn’t realize that they had agreed on the location “no matter what.”

Paris did point out that a lot of time has been spent on site locations and inspections and that the county has yet to even advertise for bids on the project. Continuing along the process, the target of a pool constructed in May is fast approaching. In fact, the Memorial Day target has been spoken of less and less in recent meetings.

However, recalling the original meetings and planning session for the project, Paris did note several times that the Memorial Day opening was not a deadline, but rather a target date that he wanted to shoot for.

Still, progress is continuing on the project with this advertisement, and should the county move forward and accept a bid, it will be one step closer on a long journey that has become the pool project.

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Roads and Bridges discussion turns to TSPLOST support

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roads and bridges town hall

Gilmer County’s freshly restored-to-three Board of Commissioners is delving deep into talks with citizens on the topic of roads and bridges. 

Going through town hall meetings, the discussion was originally advertised to hear citizens’ thoughts on roads and bridges. However, at the beginning of their first town hall, Commission Chairman Charlie Paris offered a few words of his own thoughts saying he receives numerous calls daily about the situation.

With 501 miles of roads in the county, Paris said just under 200 miles of that is unpaved gravel road. Paris noted the major problem with the gravel roads is that as soon as the county fixes a road, a heavy rain will destroy the repairs and work they have accomplished.

Even though they planned to move road to road with two teams across the county, these teams cannot follow schedules as Paris says he constantly tells them to respond to one complaint or another, whether it’s ditches or other worse gravel roads.

When trying to find an answer to these issues, Paris said he wants to pave more roads. While he points to the major improvements in the road department over the recent years, he admits the budget is not enough to accommodate everything he wants to do with and in the Road Department.

Paving roads in the county costs between $40,000 – $50,000 per mile for “tar and chip” according to Paris, asphalt paving is more costly at about $90,000 per mile. These costs do not include striping as the county does not stripe its own roads. However, Paris said another “wish” would be to begin looking for equipment and having the road department begin striping as it has been difficult to find companies recently to do the striping.

After paving and striping, maintenance also includes mowing of all 501 miles of road.

As he spoke about the costs of each need the county has for paving and the wants he verbalized for the department and the county, Paris said, “When I first took office, I could be heard to say many times, ‘We’re broke. We can’t do that, we’re broke.’ We’re not broke anymore, and I’m really proud of that. We’re in a good financial position…” Paris went on to note that some people have said to use reserves money to pave or to take the money from the larger budgets like Fire, EMA, or Sheriff. Paris noted that these budgets are all severely cut already during the budget process. He said taking enough from these other sources would cripple the departments just to make a little progress on the roads.

One of the biggest strains on the budget each year is, of course, the debt service for the county paying off its bond debt. Citizens have been contending with this situation for years. And More recently, they have dealt with the 1.5 mill bond millage. However, Paris did say that during the budget process this year, they had considered lowering this rate, and in fact are looking to take the bond millage in the 2020 budget down to 1.25 instead of 1.5 saying, “It was never intended to be a permanent extra half mill. We have projected in our 2020 budget that that will go down to a mill-and-a-quarter rather than a mill-and-a-half. With the idea that in the 2021 budget, it will go back down to a mill and the half mill will be gone.”

Returning to the subject at hand of roads and bridges, ultimately, Paris said he saw only three options for the county.

With 13 years left to pay on the bond debt service, the county can continue as it is, spending about a million dollars on paving a year and raise it after the debt is paid.

The second option would be to raise the millage rate, which Paris adamantly stated was not an option he would consider. 

The third option Paris offered, was to enact a “local TSPLOST.” Paris said that several years ago, the county voted on a regional TSPLOST. Paris said he opposed that TSPLOST as it was a regional tax, usable in many of the other counties.

Many will recall what citizens at the time called a “punishment” for voting no, the matching funds for LMIG grants was raised from 10% to 30%. Paris said that even today, he would still adamantly oppose a regional TSPLOST.

What he proposed as a local TSPLOST, the stipulation would be that the money must be used for nothing outside of transportation. Usable for equipment purchases, paving, maintenance, and even road crew salary, Paris said he wouldn’t want to use it for salaries “because that TSPLOST will go away at some point and those salaries will still be there.”

A TSPLOST would be a 5-year program. As he noted this, Paris stated, “You have the option of renewing it after 5 years, my pledge is that I will never ask for a renewal if we do it one time.”

Paris said he has tried for other alternatives to get the roads in shape and maintain them but has yet to find a sufficient answer.

After his nearly 30 minute speech over the state of the county’s roads and road department, many of the citizens present offered their support for a TSPLOST. Towards the end of the meeting, Paris asked how many people would be willing to support it. Nearly every person attending raised their hand. In fact, only one person at the meeting opposed the TSPLOST.

Paris also asked another question during the meeting. Far fewer people, less than half of those present, supported the idea when Paris asked who would want to sell bonds on the TSPLOST to see a faster effect on the county’s roads. This second topic was actually originally raised by one citizen, John Schmidt, who asked how soon the citizens would see the option to vote on it and would begin seeing the changes as he said, “People, a lot of the time, we expect things to happen overnight.”

Paris said, “I have had it recommended to me that if this passes, that we go ahead and get a bond and do it all once and then pay for it with the TSPLOST. But, I’m not real big on doing that. I would kind of rather just let things sit for four or five months and let some money build up and then do it as it comes in.”

This is not the first time the Commissioners have spoken of the topic of a TSPLOST, but it is the first time it has been discussed with citizens as an actual option for the county to pursue. It could come as soon as the May ballot in 2020. Collections would begin on the first day of the next quarter.

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County updates Cartecay Bridge progress

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Cartecay Bridge

With talks of Roads and Bridges at the forefront of citizens’ minds in Gilmer County, another major issue saw updates this week as the county moves towards replacing Lower Cartecay Road Bridge.

The bridge has been closed since April 17, 2017. Since then it has gone through a lengthy process of budgeting from the county for replacement to awaiting the state processing for replacement.

This process began with budget talks and considerations as the county was nearing the end of 2017. In the December meeting, $250,000 was set into a line for the bridge repair. It was also later increased during their regular meeting to $350,000, pulling the extra $100,000 from added revenue in the capital budget from taxes.

This was simply stop-gap budgeting though, as Commissioners attempted to secure state grants for the project. However, in March of 2018, Cartecay Bridge was accepted into a state replacement program. This placed the bridge on a lengthy list of other bridges set to be almost fully funded by the state to be replaced. Again, new progress came in May of 2018 when the bridge went from the bottom of the list to a higher priority.

This week, Commissioner Paris told citizens that the county has since learned that the original plan for the bridge replacement was not viable due to a rare fish in the area called the Goldline Darter. Protected in state regulations as a “threatened” species of fish, Paris said, “The DOT had a whole different idea of a bridge than we did… They are going to have to build a spanning bridge, they can’t put any columns going down into the river because we have the Goldline Darter.”

The conditions of the program when the bridge was added stated that Gilmer County was responsible for half of the costs of gaining the rights of way they would have to get. They estimated $100,000 and invoiced the county for $50,000. The county has paid this invoice and is following up with questions and inquiries into the area. Paris said the county is going through the process as the state is following procedures from rights of way to inquiries of artifacts and similar issues.

Paris said that it is taking longer as they will be replacing the Lower Cartecay bridge with a spanning bridge, but the process is ongoing. The county is currently being told by the state that construction could begin in, as Paris stated, “their fiscal 2021, which begins in June of 2020.”

He went on to say that a lot of people are upset that the bridge is taking so long, but asked for consideration of the change to spanning bridge and the fact that it will have cost the county a total of $50,000 instead of the state’s current projection of over $2.5 million.

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Commissioner Parker sworn-in

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Parker Sworn-in Nov 14 2019

ELLIJAY, Ga. – After last week’s Post 1 Commissioner election results, a quick turn around after the state’s verification of the results saw election winner Hubert Parker sworn-in today as Gilmer County’s newest Post 1 Commissioner.

With the resignation of former commissioner Dallas Miller, the special election was drawn in quickly for the November ballots.

Now, Parker has officially taken his oath of office before Gilmer County Probate Judge Scott Chastain, completing the final steps before officially stepping into the position just in time for November’s Board of Commissioner Meetings.

However, Parker has already been attending meetings in recent months, and though his oath wasn’t until today, Parker did sit with the Commissioners during their Work Session yesterday morning, November 13, 2019. As a work session, the meeting held no votes, action, or even an executive session, but Parker did speak very little during discussions in anticipation of the Regular Meeting tonight, November 14, 2019,

Parker will be sitting in the meeting tonight as a verified voting member of the Board of Commissioners.

With Parker sworn-in now, many of the major issues the county has been dealing with lately and to which he offered opinions during the campaign, will continue as the BOC returns to its normal three-person board instead of the two members it has made due with for 62 days including major events like the 2020 budget meetings and the October Meetings.

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ACCG weighs in on Carters Lake and Corps of Engineers

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Carters Lake ACCG Mike

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Continuing the conversation about the county’s future with Carters Lake, the Gilmer Board of Commissioners hosted a representative from ACCG (Association of County Commissioners in Georgia) to speak on other counties involved in the process of taking control and responsibility for lakeside recreation areas from the Corps of Engineers.

Mike O’Quinn, the ACCG’s County Consulting Services Associate in the areas of County Law, Negotiations,  and Inter and Intra Governmental Relations, offered two other counties going through similar situations.

“For better or worse, the Corps seems to be getting out of the recreation business,” said O’Quinn as he was speaking on the topic of Gilmer taking over these areas. He offered a point of reassurance saying that ig Gilmer does move forward with taking over the areas, they would not be alone in these operations.

McDuffy county took over Raysville Campground from the Corps of Engineers nearly three years ago. It had been closed previously, whereas Gilmer County is looking to intervene before permanent closure. O’Quinn said that now McDuffy is looking at taking over a second campground. A county smaller than Gilmer in population, says O’Quinn.

Bartow County also took over a previously closed campground Clark Creek on Lake Allatoona. A larger county in population than Gilmer, they, too, are looking at taking over a second campground.

O’Quinn told Gilmer’s Commissioner that both of these operations have been successful in their operations of the areas as they have used county employees for operations and maintenance instead of contracted services.

O’Quinn went on to say that he has camped and visited these sites as well as Doll Mountain in Gilmer and other Corps owned sites. He added that he hasn’t noticed any differences in operations controlled by the county and those controlled by the Corps.

However, both of these counties noted have gone with full lease options for their sites. Chairman Paris and Post Commissioner Ferguson have tentatively agreed in previous meetings that they will be looking to pursue cooperative management options with Carters Lake instead of a lease. However, no official resolution has been made as they both continue to investigate the issues.

The topic has picked up in public response and attention as numerous citizens on both sides of the debate weigh in. Many have already spoken in favor of the take-over including Angela Mays who spoke about the handicap access and the ease of getting her family out to the locations. She noted how she has run into boy scouts and groups using the trails as well as low-income families who use the recreation areas, trails, beach, and other facilities as a major recreation source for their families at lower costs.

Additionally, Larry Alonso defended Carters Lake and its access as a major resource in teaching and furthering exercise in people both young and old.

On the other side, many citizens have taken to social media to voice opposing opinions including Kathy Collins who said “The Army Corps is loosing money trying to maintain them. That’s why they’re trying to pawn them off on us.”

Additionally, Sukochi Ward Lee voiced concerns of increasing costs if fees do not cover the costs that could result in increased taxes down the road.

Many others have compared the campgrounds to the County Golf Course saying that it will become another financial drain on the county to maintain. While some counter that the golf course is very nearly revenue neutral, others point to it taking nearly two decades to even get close to the point it is now.

As the county awaits the state verification of election results and the arrival of its newly elected third member, Hubert Parker according to unofficial results, the discussion is continuing towards a resolution. The county could make a decision as early as next week during its November Meetings (Work Session: November 13. 2019, at 9 a.m.. Regular Meeting: November 14, 2019, at 6 p.m.) In fact, the advertised agenda has the item listed for discussion and possible action. But this item has been listed for several months and tabled as discussion continues.

 

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Budget talks consider smaller contingency fund

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Moving closer to the November meetings of the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners, a special called meeting this week revealed that budget cuts are not yet completed.

Commission Chairman Charlie Paris said in the meeting that he has gone over the budget numerous times and cut everywhere he thinks he can. As with recent years, the budget process has reached similar points before when previous commissions had to cut a percentage across the entire budget. Looking to cut a total of a million dollars from the proposed budget, the chairman has come to needing another $330,000 cut to balance.

One option that Paris and Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson are considering is reducing the contingency line item. Paris stated, “If we don’t find another dollar to cut somewhere, we’d be looking at a contingency of $170,000 rather than $500,000.”

Paris said he wants to mitigate this as much as possible. At the very least, he’s looking to keep the contingency line at $200,000 and looking for the extra $30,000 elsewhere. Ferguson said they may need to go over the whole budget again with “a fine-toothed comb” to find the needed cuts. She also said she would continue looking into the budget as well before next weeks regular meetings.

A different option would be to look at rolling back on the raises the Board is trying to give this year on positions at the lower end of the pay scale. Paris said the county has already been advertising three job openings in the road department for months and not received new employees.

Ferguson agreed saying the raises were important to the county and needed to keep its focus on improving the area.

As the county continues looking at these option, it is likely that a final decision will come next week to allow time for advertisement and adoption in December’s meetings before the first of the new year.

Also as the discussion continues on the budget overall, similar issues will come into play with the board listening to special town hall meetings next week on the Road Department and listening to citizens input on options. Ferguson had brought up the subject of TSPLOST option for the county. While Paris said he didn’t want to rely on a TSPLOST that runs a 5-year cycle for things like salaries, the board did not further discuss the idea overall. Instead the citizenry will continue discussions next week at the special meetings on Wednesday, November 13, at 6 p.m. and Saturday, November 16, at 10 a.m.

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