BOC approvals for new year include election qualifying fees

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Rolling into 2022, the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners set standard new year approvals and fees for 2022. Standard annual agenda items that have become predictable over recent years still require approval by vote like County Clerk and Attorney.

The BOC once again nominated and approved unanimously to continue with their current attorney as David Clark and clerk as Edwina Daman.

However, another standard approval holds more meaning this year as a potentially major change on the board. This year, 2022, holds the elections for both Board Chairman and Post 2 Commissioner and this month saw the board officially approve the election qualifying fees. With recent announcements, one change is imminent as Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson confirmed with FYN that she is not currently looking to run for re-election. Additionally, current Board Chairman Charlie Paris also announced he would run for re-election, but has already said it will be his last term if elected.

The board approved these fees at $2,550.71 for Commission Chairman and $459.13 for Post 2 Commissioner.

Additionally, the board also set Board of Education qualifying fees at $144 with the same motion.

The Post 2 Commissioner Election has already seen two announcements for campaigns from Tom Whatley and John Marshall. Paris is the only announcement for Chairman so far.

Other approvals from the meeting included the county’s organizational chart and a 2022 River Outfitters License for Cartecay River Experience pending an insurance requirement.

The January meeting also held a lengthy discussion on potential impact fees as one possible aid in current Land Developments for the county. Tensions are still high in the county as developers both local and abroad are increasing developments in the area. Speculations from citizens point to the people selling their city properties and moving into second homes in the county full time as well as the continued exodus of city dwellers looking to escape the high density of cities like Atlanta and the COVID virus.

The Board also has set a Special Called Meeting for Monday, January 24, 2022, at 10:00 a.m. for discussions on road paving, LMIG, increasing the Hotel/Motel Tax, and a possible new update on the county pool.

Discussing developments, impact fees, and financial costs

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer’s Commissioners are still discussing developments in the county as citizens and business continue the debate of Gilmer’s future including a topic of impact fees. With developments increasing, some groups like Keep Gilmer Rural are still pushing hard in the county to increase restrictions for incoming developers looking to build 1000 unit properties and similar issues.

When Chairman Charlie Paris broached the subject, he questioned impact and infrastructure as the common issue the county as a whole faces with some higher-density developments. Paris spoke on needs like new fire stations and increased staff for public safety departments as well as new roads, traffic, and connections to be built and maintained.

The idea for regulations and ordinances requiring developers to provide assistance for these needs was also questioned by Paris.

Specifying impact fees is the obvious first concept for this, but Paris looked further at requiring land to be dedicated for fire stations or road widening or other additions.

Post Commissioner Hubert Parker agreed that the taxpayers should not shoulder the immediate costs of these massive developments. Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson said, “I am for impact fees and have been for a long time.”

Public Works Director Jim Smith also agreed saying that he understood that impact fees are generally frowned upon but he felt that any developer coming into town and making as much money as they do on their developments should participate in the building up of the necessary infrastructure/ Smith stated, “It is nothing but fair that they participate on the front end and the existing taxpayer is not burdened with the requirement to build that infrastructure for them.”

Discussion continued on how to engage such judgments. A case by case basis was proposed, but later spoken against as potentially having a perception of unfairness to one entity or another. Another thought of presetting certain lot number limits to tiers of impact fees could be a possibility. Citizens are questioning those developers who would max out the possible lots numbers before hitting next tiers to avoid those higher fees and then immediately building an additional subdivision nearby as a separate project that they will eventually join together.

Fire Chief Daniel Kauffman commented on the topic saying that fire and rescue infrastructure do benefit from impact fees. He also stated that he had experience with such things in a previous job.

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Fire Chief Daniel Kauffman speaks to Gilmer’s Board of Commissioners during the January Worksession.

Eventually, the board decided to look further into the issue via committee to return with investigations and better information to include local developers as well as citizens and others with possible special insight. No specifics have been set into who would be on the board aside from an agreement among the BOC that local developers would need to have representation.

Smith told the commissioners that impact fees could be imposed in different ways including partial fees or full coverage, split amongst the developer or other parties. Paris said his idea would have the fees imposed on the developers without affecting builders who build in the project.

The board also received questions and comments during their regular meeting after tabling the agenda item. The board members explained that they were looking deeper into the topic and will hold the agenda item as a discussion topic in future meetings so they may continue looking at the topic, discussing, and developing both a committee and the possibility of actually implementing impact fees in some manner in the future.

Some even called for the board to extend the current moratorium to aid in continued discussion. However, Chairman Paris said he said when the board established the moratorium that he wouldn’t ask to extend it and he wanted to stick to his promise.

 

Gilmer Schools sets Virtual Learning Days for coming storm

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GILMER COUNTY, Ga. – Across the county, people are preparing for a potentially dangerous Winter Storm over the weekend and the school system is no different. A new statement today confirmed that the school system is moving two days next week to virtual learning days for students in caution.

boe, virtualTuesday, January 18, and Wednesday, January 19, will be virtual learning days for the school. Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, Gilmer has been no stranger to Virtual Learning through the online academy or home packets when the school went completely to distance learning. However, it has also become a common option for the schools in the last year for inclement weather days. Allowing the virtual learning salvages a snow day for the education system instead of a total loss of the day.

But the weather is not the only reason for these virtual days next week. The statement from Gilmer Schools said, “In response to rapidly increasing numbers of positive Omicron cases among our staff and the potential of a severe Winter weather event early next week, the Gilmer County Schools will transition to virtual learning days for January 18th and 19th, 2022.”

Gilmer Schools has only this week changed its COVID response procedures in accordance with the state of Georgia and Department of Health (DPH) guidelines. This change included some new changes from just last week, but also quarantine days that both government entities had changed in their guidelines on December 30, 2021 including the following guidelines on when to leave isolation after a positive test:

  • Had Symptoms:

    • At least 5 days* have passed since symptoms first appeared and
    • At least 24 hours have passed since last fever without the use of fever-reducing medications and
    • Symptoms (e.g., cough, shortness of breath) have improved
  • No symptoms

    • At least 5 days* have passed since the positive laboratory test and the person remains asymptomatic

    • Note, if you later develop symptoms, you should follow the guidance for symptomatic persons above.

While the school system did not make a direct reference to these guidelines when setting their virtual days, Ridley has recently told FYN that the schools are doing everything they can to follow guidelines set while returning to a focus on students’ educations. Setting Virtual Learning Days for Tuesday and Wednesday will allow five days to pass without students in school due to the weekend and Monday’s school holiday for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Accomplishing the virtual days will come with assignments being sent out to students through packets or Google Classrooms. The statement noted, “Teachers will be available via email communication.”

If parents or students have any question, they are encouraged to contact their student’s school directly for more information.

While the days are virtual learning, the statement did note, “All 12 month employees should report on Wednesday January 19th.”

Gilmer Schools is changing COVID response for students tomorrow

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GILMER COUNTY, Ga. – “We will shift our focus away from contact tracing and quarantine to monitoring children for signs of illness,” says a new statement from Gilmer County Schools as the announcement comes today that COVID response and state guidelines are changing again. Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Brian Ridley said it was a return to focusing on educating kids in school and not being an “arbiter of quarantines.”

responseDr. Ridley sent the letter out with this statement today, notifying the community of the change. He added that he wants to be a partner with parents in their care for their children.

Ridley noted that the change is coming after the governor and the Department of Public Health (DPH) announced changes in their guidelines for COVID response,acknowledging the hardships that families have had due to quarantines on any possible exposure.

Now, instead of instantly quarantining students who have been around others in school who have tested positive, they will be allowed to stay in class while being “strongly encouraged” to wear a mask. His letter this morning stated 10 days, but Dr. Ridley said that continued updates have made that a misprint as the schools will be encouraging mask usage for 5 days.

Additionally, the statement extended this same change to those currently in quarantine due to exposure. While the last update on the school systems website noted 77 students currently in quarantine, Dr. Ridley said this number is not up to date with these changes as well as another set of changes to guidelines that the schools just received last Thursday.

The school system will continue notifying parents when their students have been exposed and will be sending out letters “notifying you that your child was in class, on the bus, participated in a sport, etc. with a positive case just as we do with any other communicable disease.”

Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Brian Ridley

As such, some tracing will still be done with this new response as the school is still asking parents to monitor their children and notify the school if they test positive. Dr. Ridley stated, “We will continue to notify DPH when a notifiable disease is reported and alert DPH of concerns with clusters and outbreaks which may require immediate public health intervention.”

But this isn’t contact tracing as it has been in the last year, these notifications will not continue for those that have been around someone who was around someone who was exposed to a student that tested positive.

The school system is asking parents to continue monitoring your child each morning before sending them to school. They also noted that students showing any signs of the virus or any illness should not be sent to school.

The school system is also taking extra steps for parents in understanding the change or with further needs as Ridley’s statement asked parents to contact their student’s school if they have any concerns of if their child might need extra help for a medical vulnerability.

Superintendent Ridley did confirm that he had discussed the new response individually with members of the Board of Education before implementing them. While he said they mostly agreed with the new format, he did confirm that the board could still add or reinstate any extra steps and precautions should they feel the need arises.

The school system had just posted recent changes on January 4, 2022, with updates from over the December break, but the state is already updating new changes with this today. Dr. Ridley also said in his letter, “While the constant change in guidance has been frustrating at times, we want to thank our Gilmer County families for their support throughout this pandemic. We hope that with the help of our parents, we can even more effectively monitor students for symptoms while also meeting the new DPH standard of keeping healthy students in class.”

 

Chairman Paris Announces run for “Final Term”

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GILMER COUNTY, Ga. – With his current term completing at the end of 2022, Gilmer’s current Board of Commissioners’ Chairman Charlie Paris has announced his candidacy in this year’s election for the chairman position.

However, it is a note in his message that some are focusing in. Along with his announcement for candidacy, it seems that Paris is also announcing far ahead of schedule that, if elected to this term, it will likely be his last. Paris stated, “I ask for your vote and support as I now announce for one final term as your chairman.”

Chairman Charlie Paris thanks Cherry Log residents for their patience in building the Fire Station.

Chairman Charlie Paris at the location of the Cherry Log Fire Station.

When asked why he was already announcing it as the final term, Paris said that he wanted time left for himself after his service. Planning ahead to make this a final term will allow time for family and personal goals. While those plans include time with grandkids and family in Auburn, Alabama, Paris also noted, “Going fishing on a Wednesday instead of a Saturday.” A small goal it may seem, but Paris said its a major difference between the number of people on the lake.

With those plans to look forward to, Paris also said that one final term allows him to finish several projects before leaving office. Paris said, “I have spent seven years trying to bring Gilmer County to the point that we can start doing the things that we should have been doing all along.” Paris said the best example of this for him is the Road Department. With the equipment so old and rusted as it was when he took office, Paris said a lot of effort has gone into getting the road department the equipment they need to be to the point where they can accomplish the needs of the county.

Paris noted that with so much effort put into getting them to that point and being so close to that point, he now wants to switch from fixing issues and equipment needs to utilizing the department in actually accomplishing those needs. He noted that there is still more work to be done in the Road Department as well as others, and he wants to continue that, but he also wants t o see the fruits of that effort.

Left to right, Kevan White, David Ralston, Charlie Paris, and Travis Crouch take a moment to pose in front of the county's new playground.

Left to right, Kevan White, David Ralston, Charlie Paris, and Travis Crouch take a photo in front of a new playground at River Park.

Additionally, plans in 2022 have already started on improving the county’s fire department to, as he said, a “mountain fire department.” Equipping the county with some advanced equipment will accomplish needs for citizens in situations such as high grade driveways for homes. Driveways that a full tanker fire truck may not be able to climb. Utilizing things like mini-pumpers that can get up these driveways, the department will be able to leave the truck at the bottom of a dangerous incline on a driveway and the mini pumper reaches the fire and allows the firemen to accomplish their jobs.

On top of finishing the pool project and fully completing the county’s lift station at the landfill, there are still projects to complete in the final term before a new chairman takes over. Paris said, “What I’d like to do with whoever succeeds me is… I’d like to be able to just hand them the key to the office and say, ‘Everything’s great. Now improve on what’s there.'”

Gilmer Board of Commissioners Chairman Charlie Paris

Explaining further, he noted he didn’t want to leave anything half done or have a mindset of leaving a problem for the next person. Paris noted how far River Park has come in seven years. Cleaning the park, new playgrounds, putting up new bathrooms, and repaving and extending the walking paths are completed projects that he is very happy with. Looking ahead, there is more that can be done and is being done for the next journey. But he said the difference between the park now and seven years ago is huge.

Not quite done, but looking to the future, Chairman Charlie Paris announced his candidacy as a final term. He said, “I love what I do. I’ve enjoyed the first seven years of it. I hope I can have one more term.”

Yet, when asked about potential service after he finishes as Chairman, Paris admitted that he might still volunteer for something if he was asked to. He didn’t offer any specific areas of the county, but when asked about the Animal Shelter, he replied, “Animal Shelter, obviously, is one of my highest interests, but it could be anywhere I’m needed.”

Regardless of volunteer service or not, Paris made one thing clear when asked about his time after serving as Chairman, “I’m not leaving Gilmer. This is my home. I love it here.”

Gilmer approves 2022 budget in January

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Today saw the official approval of Gilmer County‘s 2022 budget with a special called meeting that is the first meeting of 2022 for the board.

According to a document presented for the meeting, the board has set the 2022 budget total at $31,799,762. Separate from that is the $10,916,338 for SPLOST and Capital Expenditures and the $2,056,876 in GO Bond Debt repayment.

An increase over last years budget, in December of 2020, the board held a nearly $26 million budget not including bond debt or capital expenditures. The approval came with a motion from Chairman Paris, a second from Post Commissioner Hubert Parker, and a unanimous vote for approval.

budget budgetThere were a few last minute changes made in recent weeks, each department’s overall break down within the total budget is pictured to the right. The process continues as each department could fluctuate minor expenditure swaps and changes as long as no change to the overall budget is made.

After the individual meetings with department heads and budget trimming to fit revenue across November and December, the final document is now in place one week ahead of the county’s first meeting of 2022. January 12 will see the county’s work session at 9:00 a.m. and January 13 will see the county’s regular meeting at 6:00 p.m.

As the county moves into the new year, the budget also includes increases for elections as the county will see several offices open for qualification in March including two BOC seats, Chairman and Post 2 Commissioners. Current Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson has announced she will not run, but others have announced they will. Despite announcements no official campaign begins until candidates have completed qualification.

This is especially important as the county revisits the Comprehensive Plan this year in hopes of answering needs for housing and concerns for overdevelopment of the county, two major issues within the community right now. the current board will be setting the plan with, as of now, at least one new member coming next year.

BOE approves PlainView LED board for Pettit Field

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EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – A split vote this week saw the Gilmer County Board of Education officially approving PlainView LED as the bid to install a new scoreboard at Pettit Field.

The decision came 3-2 with Joe Pflueger and Michael Parks being the dissenting votes. The 21 feet by 36 feet board will cost $440,103 and is set to finish installation before graduation in May.

With the gym scoreboard over the basketball court awaiting engineering and bids, this approval only came for the scoreboard on Pettit Field. Discussion from Monday’s meeting saw the presentation of information about the video scoreboard and the bids offered.

The scoreboard does come with a 10-year warranty and training by PlainView LED for students. The board itself is a 10 millimeter board, meaning that the LED lights used in the board 10 millimeters apart. This has become standard in similar boards across the country according to Dana Berry, Gilmer School’s Director of Operations.

When asked individually about there no votes, both Parks and Pflueger gave similar answers pointing to the timeline of the vote and voicing no concerns or issues with the board itself.

Joe Pflueger stated, “Number one, I don’t think the process was followed like it was presented. Number two, I’d like to have more than two days to look at real numbers, especially when we’re dealing with almost a half million dollar purchase.”

Michael Parks stated, “I just felt like we needed a little more time. I thought its a good plan, but I just felt like we might be rushing into it a little bit.”

When asked to clarify about the time issue, Parks explained that it was a public issue, that some of the public weren’t aware of the item and the board could have used more time presenting more information with more time available for the public before the vote.

Moving forward with the board installation, the idea presented is for replacing the current board in its location. Doing this, according to their report, will not require new permits from the county or city.

Installation of the board will also include sound adjustments to aid in some of the echo and lightning protection according to the presentation on Monday.

Gilmer schools pass ‘December 17’ TikTok trend without incident

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GILMER COUNTY, Ga. – Since trends like the “Devious Lick” and “Slap your Teacher” spread, many new threats are seeing responses heightened against the possibility of school violence and destruction. Gilmer is not immune to this either as the “Devious Lick” saw full response from school administrators and law enforcement. Today also saw responses to a new trend from the social media platform.

While administrators like Superintendent Dr. Brian Ridley reported “minimal issues” with the “Devious Lick” trend, responses still came to the threat during today’s December 17 trend. Labeled by other news reports as  “Shoot Up Your School Day,” the concept allegedly began as an encouragement to ditch class. However, threats grew and morphed into violence.

Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Brian Ridley

Dr. Ridley said the schools have worked closely with law enforcement over the years and on cases like this. He reported that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) provided the school with information on the subject.

Working with local law enforcement, officers were briefed on the situation. In a letter to parents earlier today, he said, “All GCSS schools have been notified and staff are on alert for suspicious or concerning activity. Our SROs are being briefed and prepared for any related issue.”

Late in the day, the school did receive a screenshot of a threat involving the school initials of several schools including one stating “GHS.” However, the initials of schools listed in the threat all centered in a location in Florida and no credible threat was raised in our county.

Ridley said their never was any information suggesting Gilmer County could be targeted, but the schools did respond seriously regardless. Ridley visited each campus today examining security and safety protocols and measures as well as walking the school grounds.

School were already scheduled for a two-hour early release on the district calendar for today.

Dr. Ridley answered questions about his service as superintendent and the rise in TikTok trends like this. He noted that technologies have been used in the past and threats have always been monitored. He said that TikTok has provide certain challenges. However, he praised law enforcement for staying educated and on top of both these technologies and their challenges as well as their communication and inclusion with the school system.

He went on to note that he has been encouraged by the students of Gilmer. He said, “At the end of the day, we got good kids. We got great kids.” He noted that the students are smart enough not to engage with trends and threats that are very serious and carry serious consequences that affect their entire lives.

Ridley went on to add, “That’s why we try to talk to parents, too. Because that is what it really comes down to. When parents are getting facetime with their children and able to talk to them about these sorts of issues, that often heads it off.”

With the school day completed and no reports of malicious behavior or violence, many in the community are sighing with relief. Still, others are just learning of the trend and potential threats. The school system is officially at holiday break as of today and will not return until January 5, 2022.

Dr. Ridley reiterated his thankfulness for the community during times like this saying, “We are very lucky to have the kids we have. We are very fortunate, and we are very fortunate to have the parents we have that are willing to talk to their kids. I encourage all parents to have these conversations with their children about what’s going on on social media. Even if it’s just around the dinner table, ask them, ‘What do you see out there?'”

Gilmer sets school calendar and board meetings in December

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EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – Preparing for the coming year, Gilmer’s Board of Education has approved a calendar for the school system and the board in December’s meetings. That calendar now reaches two years into the future.

The new year comes with expected changes as the previous calendar approved by the board saw them approve an option different than the most popular voted calendar. Additionally, in February the board had already begun some discussions to prepare for calendars spanning multiple years.

This month, with the end of the first semester of the 2021-22 school year, the board has already approved the calendar for its next two years. The approved calendar sees the same start date of August 8 for both years.  The first day of the second semester starts on the first Friday of January.

calendar calendarUnanimously approved by the board, the calendars are officially adopted for use and the community now has two years head start on the schools calendars. Superintendent Dr. Brian Ridley said that he had discussed the calendars with not only stakeholders and his own team but with “local business leaders and the Chamber of Commerce.”

Dr. Ridley also noted that the calendar will align with the boards reclassification schedule so that every two years, as the board reclassifies itself, it will also create a new two year calendar. For the community this means that next year will not see two years ahead again, but rather will likely finish half of the 2022-23 calendar before the next two year calendar is approved.

Along with the school years, another calendar saw approval this month. As the end of the year approaches, the board has set and now approved unanimously the meeting dates for the Board of Education for 2022. Reaching through 2022 and including January of 2023, the board meeting dates are published for the community. Though the board can alter a few meetings as needed, GHSA does limit how many times this can occur. Additionally, the board can call special meeting or emergency meetings as they have done in the past.

Typically, these meetings follow the path of meeting on the third Thursday of the month for the Regular Meeting and holding the Work session on the Monday of the same week before the Regular Session. With a few variations set in for holidays and events, the board  followed this meeting schedule for years.

With both calendars officially approved, the county is moving along and, barring a special session, will not meet again until January 24.

County hears option to raise Hotel/Motel Tax

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Hotel/Motel Tax

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Having prepared presentations for the two cities upon request, Gilmer Chamber President and CEO Jennifer Grimmer spoke to the Board of Commissioners in December on Hotel/Motel Tax after being questioned on the subject by Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson.

Grimmer had prepared a presentation for the City of Ellijay, she said that she examined both cities and the county along with the study she did. Grimmer also prepared the comparisons to provide the information to the Board of Commissioners according to Ferguson. The county has made no motions or even had an agenda item to discuss changing the Hotel/Motel Tax as this topic came after a report to the board during its monthly meeting.

Grimmer had reported on the Chamber’s year and on the budget looking into next year as they continue marketing plans for the county. Set as an update and discussion item, Ferguson asked Grimmer to explain the comparisons and what it would mean if Gilmer County raised its Hotel/Motel Tax.

Ferguson called the numbers “pretty dramatic” and said they could help the county’s general fund in accomplishing some projects that the county has been unable to do yet.

Grimmer told the board that the topic came up as the City of Ellijay asked for her expertise on the topic. While the Chamber did not initiate the conversation, they do have several tools and resources monitoring rentals, rooms, and similar lodging and their effects on the community. As part of her original report, before the question of the tax arose, Grimmer had just discussed with the county averages such as how much an average cabin owner can make and tracking for how much of the county’s lodging capacity is being used or estimated to be on certain weekends.

hotel/motel Tax

Gilmer Chamber President and CEO Jennifer Grimmer

But moving to the topic on the tax itself, Grimmer said that going above five percent in the tax opens up tourism product development (TPD) options. Grimmer explained that this fund could be used to build or improve things like river access, signage, parking lots, public bathrooms, and other projects. Gilmer is currently 100 percent marketing and does not use any of the funds for tangible or “brick-and-mortar” improvements.

The county could go up to eight percent tax in Georgia. Grimmer explained that at six percent tax, the funds are split between the DMO (Destination Marketing Organization, i.e. the Chamber), the county, and TPD. Grimmer explained that the state sets the Chambers portion doesn’t change from 5 percent to 8 percent so they are virtually unaffected, but increasing the total tax increases the portion of TPD up to 15 percent.

Grimmer reported that Blue Ridge is at 8 percent tax with Fannin at 6 percent. Currently Ellijay and Gilmer are at 5 percent. East Ellijay is at 3 percent.

As for whether the county is actually moving forward on the subject, Post 1 Commissioner Hubert Parker said he wanted to know more about what the county might run into if they move ahead with adjusting the tax. With plans to revisit the topic on future agendas, the county is set to look deeper into the topic before making its official decision.

BOE to vote on new stadium scoreboard tomorrow

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EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – With there December meeting moved up a day, tomorrow will see Superintendent Dr. Brian Ridley’s recommendation for the Board to approve a low bid with PlainView LED for a scoreboard to replace the current scoreboard at Pettit Field.

Though this month saw information on both the stadium and a board for the gym, bids are only set to be approved for the stadium as information is still being gathered on the gym such as the engineering specifications and safety checks about the weight that could be supported and if the board can hang from the ceiling or if it needs to remain on the walls.

With eight companies having responded and six of them submitting bids, PlainView LED was both the low bidder and a company that the board has worked with previously. According to the board’s report in the meeting, they also looked at accessibility, customer service, serviceability, and the software involved. Looking ahead at having students operate the video screen on the board that can run instant replays, advertisements, and designs, students will be achieving CTAE skills and helping the school with operation of the board under supervision and reportedly with training from PlainView LED. As such, both the software and the scoreboard are similar to those used in professional stadiums across the country.

The base of the technology is the “the exact same technology that’s in Mercedes-Benz Stadium”

And the board is already looking for more than use on Friday nights. During their presentation several items were mentioned including movie nights, graduation, sports, and gaming competitions as possibilities.

As for graduation specifically, approval tomorrow could see the installation complete by this school year’s graduation in May. Plans have already been discussed to potentially have students working on the software and technology long before the installation completes in order to make full use of the board as soon as it is operational.

The board will incorporate new signage around the main screen while also including an older style miniature board below it to be used as a secondary scoreboard and also for use with operations, sports, and events in need of a board but not the larger screen as the smaller board can also be operated with a modular controller separate from the main screen. The board comes with ongoing updates through the company and can do test runs and scanners over a ten-year period.

With a cost just over $440,000, reports indicated very similar experiences in service, but PlainView LED had a nearly $50,000 price break compared to other close bids.

Though not approved yet, Dr. Ridley did say in Monday night’s meeting that his intent was to recommend approving PlainView LED’s bid and plan for the project at the Board of Education’s Wednesday night Regular Session at 6:00 p.m., December 15, 2021.

Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson says no plans to run again

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Ferguson

GILMER COUNTY, Ga. – With questions and considerations coming for next year’s elections in Gilmer, the question falls to those on the Board deciding if they will run for re-election or not. Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson has spoken out on the subject saying, “At this time I do not plan on running for Post 2 Commissioner.”

Gilmer has seen changes since Ferguson first came to office including the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, changes to the Land Use Ordinance, implementing the county’s River Ordinance, and increases in developments and residential discussions of zonings.

With the opportunity to run and continue her service, Ferguson commented on her current position to stay out of the race saying, “When I first came into office I had much more flexibility in my career. At the time I was a rep for a nutrition company for 20 years that allowed me very flexible hours allowing me to start Stay Active Ellijay and still have time for my Commissioner responsibilities.”

Ferguson

Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson

As that company restructured and the outbreak brought changes including the closing of Stay Active Ellijay, Ferguson has seen many changes in her personal life as well.

Ferguson indicated these life changes have also changed her ability to serve and find time. She still has a child in college and has also had her family increase with new grandchildren. As such, she stated an increasing desire to also find more time with them, her farm, and her marriage. She stated, “It has been challenging for Robert, my husband, and for my children to endure me serving. Anywhere I go around town residents come up to me with concerns and many voice their opinions on social media and of course the negative ones are very hurtful to those that love me. I signed up to serve in this way, but they didn’t.”

Transitioning out of the county position will still take all of 2022 as her final year, but she has already looked to the future taking a position with Talona Ridge RV Resort team. She stated, “After meeting the Talona Ridge RV Resort team and understanding their vision and desire to be part of our community I knew I would be a good fit and they offered me the job as their Events & Activities Coordinator. They completely understood my responsibilities to serve as Post 2 Commissioner was my first priority after my family and they have been incredibly flexible with all the “special called meetings” etc. that are part of being a Commissioner in this county. Even though they have been incredibly flexible it’s a lot to have a full time job and serve as a Commissioner in this county.”

Ferguson also serves on the Board of Directors for the Fannin/Gilmer Habitat for Humanity. She said, “I look forward to bringing awareness to Gilmer County of this incredible organization.”

Additionally, she said she wants to continue support for Georgia Mountain Trail Partnership, “which is a local non-profit that supports and advocates for all of our trail systems including hiking, biking, equestrian, water etc. God has given us these beautiful mountains and rivers and I’ll always be passionate about protecting them.”

Yet, all of 2022 stands between now and the county’s next potential Post 2 Commissioner. In her final year, Ferguson still has projects she wants to see completed before she steps down. From the pool and continued improvements for River Park to affordable housing, she said she still has ideas for the county. She noted concepts like a stage at the park saying, “I can see concerts down there for families and a place for the baseball players to gather after their parade… I’m very excited that our community businesses want to help in this endeavor.”

A part of the housing team that applied for grants, Ferguson said that housing and the GICH Grant are also tasks she hopes to tackle moving forward.

While her statement only offered her feelings at this time, Gilmer’s Post 2 Commissioner is already set to continue on in Gilmer County in 2022 and onward, even if not in a county commissioner’s seat.

BOC Chairman speaks on social media posts and joint comprehensive plan

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Paris

GILMER COUNTY, Ga. – After last weeks special called meeting, Gilmer’s Board of Commissioners have been preparing to revisit the Joint Comprehensive Plan to aid in steering the county into the future. A part of that revisit, and a supporting vote in its approval, was Chairman Charlie Paris.

Over the weekend, BOC Chairman Charlie Paris took to social media in a post defending himself from attacks that he states have bashed him for supporting a revisit to the plan. In the post, Paris speaks about a consistent statement from both sides of the housing and density debate in the county. The statement being to follow the Joint Comprehensive Plan.

When asked about the revisit and the reasons for him speaking out with a post delving into the plan, his thoughts, and his defense of his support, Paris said that the plan is not properly up to date considering the changes the county has seen over the last few years and specifically the last year. He agreed that part of the changes could be attributed to COVID and people wanting to leave the city but said that his main focus is that the county has done well with local developers in the past as they built for people and have served the county’s desires without aggressively pushing out massive developments in random locations.

Gilmer Board of Commissioners Chairman Charlie Paris

Gilmer Board of Commissioners Chairman Charlie Paris

Paris said in an interview that he feels local developers “have skin in the game.” These developers work here in the area, but they also live here. As opposed to some of the major developers from Atlanta or other major cities who have “discovered Gilmer County.” In his phrase saying they have discovered us, Paris noted that these major companies will come in and buy massive swaths of land and develop them to make their fortune and then leave with no concern over the impact or the state of the community.

Specifically noting in his post, Paris said, “I am not anti-growth, but I do, very much, want Gilmer to maintain the rural and agricultural nature that is our lifestyle and our quality of life.”

Additionally, he noted that the Board of Commissioners cannot even stop all forms of development. If a company buys an R1 plot of land and builds on it according to zone regulations, the Board will never see it on the agenda. The only way they see it is if a zoning change is required.

Now the plan has some guidelines in a general sense and some percentages apply, whether it is that 50 percent of the county should be R1 or maybe that zonings above R2 should be restricted to at 15 percent or 20 percent limit. Increasing Residential zoning generally mean higher density. These hypotheticals are some of the specificity that could be added with the revisit.

In their time with the current moratorium, the indications the board gave was to use the time to work with DCA (Department of Community Affairs, a branch of the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission) to study and address certain issues. Even they have spoken to the Joint Comprehensive Plan and advised the county to use it. Arriving at several issues, the county has been advised by citizens, authorities, and builders to follow the plan.

Paris went on to tell FYN that he understands growth is coming and it cannot be stopped. But instead of opening the gates, he feels their is strategy and protections that the county can employ. He went on to note that this is why he pushed to have no commissioners involved in the planning process. He stated, “What I want is for the people of Gilmer County to be the ones to decide our future more so than the three-person commission. That’s what the comprehensive plan is all about. We’ll have very little to do with the actual creation of another plan.”

Paris said that yes, the commissioners do have to be involved in the end result as they approve and deliver the plan. Yet, he reiterated that he wants the people telling the commissioners how they want the county run, he doesn’t want himself or the board to tell the people what they want.

Gilmer’s Board of Commissioners discuss the Joint Comprehensive Plan in a Special Called Meeting in late November 2021.

He went on to say, “The commissioners are there to implement the will of the people. The Joint Comprehensive Plan is going to be the will of the people. It does not need to be the will of the commissioners.”

In his post, he noted that the best he hopes for is to control or manage the growth that is coming.

In past meetings over the last several months, one area has consistently been on the chairman’s lips as a no-go for continued developments. Yukon Road and Clear Creek are in a critical situation that the chairman has described as “full up.” Yet, even these areas have developments being built. The chairman opposed that idea that its too late for Yukon Road, instead saying that it is a prime example of a part of the county that is in need of protection.

But protection from what?

Paris told FYN that growth isn’t an issue that is just limited to people’s comfort, their rurality, or their view. He affirmed that these are major parts of the issue but that people have not been speaking on how expensive this growth will be. Paris referred to the county’s roads that he asserts have been improving but still need care and attention.

Yukon Road has to be widened into a three or four lane road if the developments continue unabated.

However, Paris reached further saying that areas like Yukon could be overdeveloped to the point that they may need their own or an additional fire station, the Sheriff will need to increase his staff to support the higher population, the school system will need more teachers to support more kids from more families, the cities will also have to deal with more traffic and the impact on congested intersections, and all of this in a time when most of these county departments are not even at full staff now and are not funded to the point that the commissioners would like.

These entities are also a part of the impact of this growth, and the cities who feel that impact are a part of the comprehensive plan as well and are consulted. While the county is initiating a revisit and has stepped the commissioners back to focus on citizens, the plan involves the cities and their  municipalities as well.

When asked about one plan to locate the higher density developments like subdivisions and apartment buildings inside the city limits, Paris said that he felt that was a major effect on the cities and he would not speak for them. He said he liked the idea, but also noted that many people come to our county to avoid living in a city or super dense area. But noting the needs for affordable housing and workforce housing, said he wouldn’t oppose the idea.

Considering the comprehensive plan as a “guidepost” as Paris called it in the county’s special called meeting, he agreed with the statement that six to eight years ago, this document was a checkbox that the county filed away for state requirements and didn’t really use. He said this was because the county was a very different place at that time and the commissioners understood the county’s desires as the growth was coming slowly.

However, “We are a desirable place to be,” said Paris as he noted the documents growth in importance to its current standing as the guidepost of the county. Paris spoke of how the county has changed over its years as he said he also saw how Cobb used to be decades ago. Watching the density grow and city life increase, he said he didn’t want that.

Paris said in his post that he sees the general opinion that all growth is bad and anyone who supports growth as an enemy to be gotten rid of. While he hopes to limit that growth, whether the limitations come in the form of numbers or in the form of restricted locations, Paris said, “I can’t stop it. But with the help of at least one additional post commissioner, I can manage it.”

Paris said, “I don’t want to see what happened to Cobb and Cherokee and Paulding happen to Gilmer. I live here, too… I want to wake up and hear the birds. I don’t want to hear buses or any of that kind of thing. I want a rural lifestyle.”

 

 

 

 

 

Hear more with the Commissioner’s Special Called Meeting from November 30, 2021.

New vendor proposal approved for county’s solid waste

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proposal

ELLIJAY, Ga. – With increasing prices and costs for Gilmer’s Solid Waste Department, negotiations and requests for proposal have come back with Gilmer officially approving Waste Pro out of Ball Ground for the service.

Putting in their own compactors and servicing Gilmer with the hauling away of trash, Waste Pro will begin service in the new year as the county exercised its notification on the current contract to exit.  Waste Pro’s proposal for the county included both 4 yard compactors with break away units and 35 yard self contained compactors.

Headquartered in Longwood, Florida, Waste Pro hosts an office in Ball Ground, Georgia.

Just as the county currently uses, the compactors with break away units are filled and replaced as the containers are hauled off. The proposal price from Waste Pro for the 4 yard compactors is $775 per month with 11 units proposed. However, continuing negotiations with Gilmer could see a drop in this proposed price as the proposal is noted that if the county opts for older used units, this price will be reduced.

That note also applies with the 12 proposed 35 yard self-contained compactors in the proposal.

The county is readying for the new year along with its recent approvals for bids for materials as well.

Appalachian Propane was approved for their Propane bid of $1.98 per gallon.

Vulcan Materials was approved for their bid of Crushed Stone at $15.25 per ton among alongside others.

Hudson Materials Company was approved for their bid of Emulsion at $2.05 per gallon of CRS-2H and $2.49 per gallon of CRS-2p with increases based on if delivered and partial or full load.

West Block was approved for their bid on Concrete between $114 and $140 per cubic yard based on mixes at different PSI.

CW Matthews was approved for their bid on Asphalt materials ranging between $60 and $75 per unit based on specifications of the asphalt.

Gilmer revisiting Comprehensive Plan amid studies

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Second Amendment, Officials, threat, road, wineries, plan

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Expecting no effect on the timeline of the previous moratorium, Gilmer is continuing its process along the debate of Gilmer’s population and density. A widespread topic encompassing large developments, apartment buildings, affordable housing, lot sizes, lot numbers, the comprehensive plan and the moratorium on certain developments, the debate has gone on for some time as both citizens and leaders are looking for possible answers.

Today’s step in the process approved an early revisit to the county’s comprehensive plan. Commission Chairman Charlie Paris noted that the county isn’t scheduled to revisit the plan for another three years. However, the suggestion of an early revisit came as the county is looking at studies and impacts of population and density within the county.

The studies were a major part of the reasoning for the moratorium originally, and as the county continues those, it hopes to revisit and adjust the document accordingly to provide a better guide towards zoning request they see likely to arise. Paris also noted a need for three new zones in the county.

Affordable housing has proven a touchy subject for many in the county as has been seen in the commissioners meetings even when major rezonings or land use topics weren’t on the agenda. Groups like Keep Gilmer Rural have also helped continue discussions on the topic over the months. In many of those meetings and discussions, citizens reference the comprehensive plan and the direction the county is headed.

Now, the hope for the current revisit is touching specific subjects, the board indicated that it didn’t believe a complete redo of the plan was necessary but would rather confirm, change, clarify, or readjust those specific topics.

The discussion among the board indicated that while they may not get the exact same people that were on committees last time, they are hoping to have the same representation. With community response high last time, the board is just as eager to get a balanced sample of the community providing insight and input from all corners and ideals.

They have already begun discussion over the topic with Post Commissioner Hubert Parker questioning if certain groups such as farmers were included. While Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson, who was very involved in the last revisit, assured Parker that specifically farmers were included, she agreed that there could be some new people in the county with particular interest in the plan and the county’s direction.

A new change that was discussed among the Board of Commissioners came as Chairman Paris requested that the board as a whole step back from the plan and be less involved than they previously were. He stated concerns over perception of any commissioner being involved in the plan’s development saying that he didn’t want it to appear that the board was attempting any sort of “spin” on the plan.

Paris stated, “We’re going to be listening to a lot of very contentious rezoning requests over the next year.”

He noted that many people adamantly hold their own opinions on both sides and if the board members can abstain from the committees themselves, it could assuage any perceptions that the board as a whole had any opportunity to “stack the deck.”

Reasserting his desire to avoid any possible contentions, accusations, or ideas of any bias or manipulation due to anything perceived, Paris went on to say, “Perception is everything.”

While no hard schedule was set into the approval, some discussion on the impact this revisit could have on the six month moratorium indicated that the board is hoping to have the revisit completed somewhere close to the next three to four months. This would mean the board is hoping for a quick set up and turnaround for its committees. Paris also noted he wants the plan to become a current, up-to-date, plan for the commissioners to use as a citizen created guidepost into the future.

A unanimous decision supported the revisit and the county is moving forward with the process in December.

Budget Meetings held for Commissioners to discuss 2022 Budget

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project, compaction, commissioners

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.

 

Animal Shelter

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.

 

 

 

 

 

District Attorney

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.

 

 

Golf Course

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.

 

 

 

Library

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.

 

 

 

 

Magistrate Court

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.

 

Public Safety

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.

 

Public Works

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.

 

Sheriff

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Tax Assessors

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Tax Commissioner

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Voter Registrar

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.

 

 

 

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