Ethics questioned in county ethics board appointment

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Having been accepted and approved as a county of ethics, Gilmer’s Board of Commissioners moved forward with appointing members to an ethics board.

County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris spoke at the work session saying that he had hopes that the board appointees would accept the position and never meet. The Board of Ethics would only meet if someone had a complaint against the county on an ethics violation. The county would appoint two board members, then those two would appoint a third.

As the item came to vote in the Regular Meeting, three names were put forth for consideration. Those names included John Marshall, Dr.Glenn Cummings, and Barry Pritchett.

Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson voiced concerns of denominational influence for a clergy member to be on this committee. While she asserted that she had no specific issue with Cummings himself, it was more of a general concern for clergy members.

Paris stated he did not share Ferguson’s concerns on clergy, and also felt that her suggestion of Pritchett would be a great choice as well.

Paris made his motion for John Marshall and Dr. Glenn Cummings to be approved to the Board of Ethics. With individual motions for each, John Marshall was approved unanimously and Dr. Glenn Cummings was approved with a 2-1 vote, Ferguson being the dissenting vote.

Additionally, the county approved unanimously to approve four other board appointments.

John Williamson was reappointed to the Tax Assessors Board.

Carl Hill Jr. was approved to fulfill the remainder of term left by Alan Davenport on the Board of Planning and Zoning.

Joene DePlancke was reappointed to the Building Authority.

Mary Ann Cook was reappointed to the Keep Gilmer Beautiful Board.

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County survey results released

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – With 2,091 people responding, the recent Gilmer County survey, put out by the Board of Commissioners for the comprehensive plan, is seeing the tallied results available for the public.

Though the results have already been mentioned in commissioner meetings in June and July, the official results were released by Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson, who is spearheading the revamped work on the plan after the board decided in late 2018 and early 2019 to change the way they look at, utilize, and prepare the overall Comprehensive Plan.

The survey presented citizens, part-time residents, and Gilmer workers with questions concerning the county’s future including topics on growth, recreation, and agriculture.

While the majority, 64 percent, of responses came from the adults age 31 – 65, another large chunk, 24 percent, came from ages 65 and older, leaving only 12 percent for age groups under 30.

As the county continues to move on the growth, many of those who responded are hoping to see more commercial retail and dining options within the county while the vast majority, 72.2 percent, want that growth to extend into additional workforce housing.

Recreation was a little less clear cut with every outdoor option scoring over 40 percent support. Additionally, internet access for business and recreation is still seeing 43 percent either without access or with inadequate access.

Most of our community is in agreement on the topic of Agriculture as 83.4 percent want to protect agricultural land as the community grows. A subpoint of one of the questions also saw a far greater number of citizens wanting the agritourism such as wineries and similar farms available across the county in both commercial and agricultural areas as opposed to the much smaller group wanting it restricted to commercial areas.

Be sure to see the full results offered by the county as well.

 

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Citizens and Commissioners ask for changes to pool design

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County is submerging into discussion on the county’s pool design and what they each want from the design, including changes to the presented design.

One major change came during the Commissioners meeting when local swimming coach Larry Lykins asked about the lane widths. The plan held the inner six lanes at 6.5 feet wide and the two outer lanes at 8 feet wide. However, Lykins said he thought the design would be better served with minimum 7 feet wide lanes. He suggested all lanes be 7 feet and it would only add 1 foot to the total pool width.

The competition pool will be 5 feet deep with one end rising to a 4 feet deep section in favor of possible aerobics or similar activities. The kids pool will be “Zero Entry” but reach a depth of 3 feet on the opposite end.

Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris assured citizens who questioned priorities, saying that the county will build the competition pool, then cover it, and then build the kids pool. He did make a stipulation that if they didn’t have the money to build the cover but did have enough to build the kid pool then they would consider that option.

While the pool construction will include a heater pad for the pool off to one side and construction of the bathrooms and concessions stands, but not the entire recreation center. While some points were included, but not shown in the video, Lykins also noted that during construction, they should go ahead and put in the anchors in the concrete for backstroke flags, lane dividers, and dive posts. This means the county needs to go ahead and decide which types and/or brands of this equipment they want to use so they can know which equipment and anchors may be needed.

Additionally, the design currently expects to utilize ozonation for water sanitation. This method, according to Scott Walk of Premier Pools & Spas, is slightly more expensive to install but saves money over the life span of the system as it removes the cost for chemicals like chlorine. It was also stated that if the cost makes the option prohibitive, they could use salt solutions instead. He also said the ozonation is better for the finish on the pool.

Citizens have already begun commenting on articles and social media posts asking for shaded areas and fans for those who may be there with family but not getting into the water.

During the meeting, Paris told citizens that the only major issue they could be facing with the East Ellijay land near River Park would be getting permission from the railroad to cross the tracks at that location. While he did say that they have had verbal discussions that seem promising, Paris said they don’t have anything in writing yet.

The board will move forward with the pool design this week as they hold their monthly work session on Wednesday, July 10, at 9:00 a.m., and the regular meeting on Thursday, July 11, at 6:00 p.m.

Any and all citizens wishing to speak on the matter can attend these meetings to discuss their opinions of the issue as well.

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Audit and economic state of the county

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Chris Hollifield, of Rushton and Company, reported 3 issues on Gilmer County’s 2018 Audit Report.

The report, presented on July 2, 2019, offered the companies unmodified opinion for the county after completing the recent months’ work on collecting and codifying the financial information and status of the entity. Hollifield told the county that the work went smoothly and completed on time for reporting on the 2018 Fiscal Year. Hollifield said they were able to provide the unmodified or “clean” opinion.

The reported net position of the county presented a total net position of $46,016,554 for Gilmer with the financials ending the year with $2,098,695 in Revenue over Expenditures.

The audit also pointed out the activity, or changes, in the finances over 2017. While the overall Revenue increased by $1,717,821, or 8.9 percent, the activity highlighted a $728,914 increase in Property Tax revenue, equal to about a 12 percent increase. Gilmer County Post Commissioner Dallas Miller noted two other increases including Sales Tax by 8.5  percent, and Hotel/Motel Tax 13 percent as he praised the economic growth the County has seen.

Still he cautioned the county on the expenditure side when he pointed out the major expenses saying, “If I take Public Safety and Judicial, we are spending 55 percent of our budget on those two areas. I just don’t see, and I’ve said this before, but I don’t see how we can sustain the growth and the percentage of those areas over time. It’s just not a sustainable number if you put more than half of our expenses in those areas.” Expenditures have increased $912,157, an 8.9 percent increase.

The three issues reported in the Audit included two significant deficiencies and one noncompliance. The first deficiency involved the Auditor’s opinion that the county should increase the size of its financial staff. The second deficiency involved the Auditor saying that Planning and Zoning should be making more frequent deposits and not hold money for any length of time. According to Hollifield, these comments were also on last year’s audit, but each focused on the Auditor’s suggestions to avoid chances for issues to arise and not on any found discrepancies or mishandling.

The third issue, a noncompliance, was also a timing issue as the auditors found near year’s end when the SPLOST deposit was received. The electronic deposit is put into the general fund and is immediately moved to SPLOST fund by finance staff. Addressing the issue, the suggestion was to alter the electronic deposits to enter the SPLOST fund directly without staff having to move the funds.

 

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BOE to demolish old central office

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Demoliton plans are underway with the Board of Education (BOE) as they will be taking down the old Central Office Building and annex.

The building, located on Gilmer High School’s Campus, will be demolished by bid winner Anderson Atlanta, Inc. But the process getting there has been questioned by Board members due to a slightly unusual bid range. The six companies, whose bids were presented in the June BOE meeting, ranged from $28,500 to $92,050.

The large range caused concerns as Board Member Ronald Watkins questioned what guarantees the Board had for completion at that price. Facilities and Maintenance Director of Operations, Bob Sosebee told the board that it wouldn’t cost the Board anything to let them try. He later explained with FYN that Anderson Atlanta will be responsible for every part of the demolition including the actual tear down, disconnection of utilities like water/sewer and electrical, permits, and disposal of the detritus.

Demolition is set to begin on July 8. While Anderson Atlanta has 90 days to complete the contract, Sosebee has said he has had several talks with the company, who has sent representatives to inspect the site, in which they have estimated they could complete the contract in a matter of weeks. As such, confidence is high that the demolition will be completed before school starts again in August.

The board has not expressed specific plans for the area after demolition, but Sosebee said they do intend to continue using the area for parking until the board decides on something different.

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BOE budget rises in 2019

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Gilmer BOE 2019

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Final approval for the 2020 Tentative Budget came this week with the vote by the Gilmer County Board of Education (BOE).

The board approved its $44 million budget unanimously after the last two months of work. This budget will be a $1,674,852 increase over the FY19 budget (as presented in June 2018). This is also a $4,852780 increase over the FY18 budget (as presented in June 2017).

Looking back over the past budgets since 2016, tuition costs alone have increased by between $500,000 to $600,000 each year except this one, showing a $1,456,345 increase since last year.

The budget also estimates  $3,060,919 of expenditures over the Board’s revenue, further draining the board’s fund balance, estimated to sit at $14,839,081 in June of 2020. However, in some previous years, such the 2017-18, these expenses turned out to fall closer to even than predicted as the tentative budget expected to fall to $19.4 million, but actually only lost around $100,000 by fiscal year’s end.

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Designer Selected for Pool Construction

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – An official motion, and a somewhat unusual unanimous decision, has led Gilmer County into a contract with Premier Pools & Spas.

The company, located in Ellijay, Georgia, already presented a concept to the commissioners during their June meeting, but will now alter, detail, and finalize a design for the board to use as they move forward with a town hall meeting for citizens to look at the design and provide input, then return to design before giving the plans over to an engineer for building plans.

Premier Pools & Spas preliminary design was meant to show the companies capabilities and expertise. Approved at $3,500, the company will now spend the next few weeks designing both pools expected in the new recreation center. However, the design would end with planning the enclosure for the main pool. The County will still look for another designer for the remainder of the recreation center as they have previously stated they want the entire facility designed before construction begins.

The main pool will likely be four feet deep to accommodate swimming laps as well as water aerobics classes. Included in the building enclosing the pool would be concession stands and bathrooms. These will also be designed to prevent moisture transfer to the rec center to help protect other possibilities like basketball courts.

One change the commissioners have already asked for from the initial concept is to incorporate eight swim lanes at 8-feet-wide each for competitions. Additionally, for practices, Swim Coach Larry Lykins said this width could also allow for two swimmers in the lanes.

Gilmer County Commission Chairman also said he wanted to accommodate those wanting to swim laps at the same time. Lykins said that eight lanes could also allow extra space to have half the pool set for laps and the other half for classes, therapy, or aerobics at the same time.

When finished, the pool design will provide the county with a completed design to guide with layout and construction documents and engineering plans, as well as estimations of building costs. Post Commissioner Dallas Miller confirmed that these would be good enough for bid specs, but they will not be the actual Architectural Plans.

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Maintenance and Land Use nearing decisions in BOC

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Final decisions may be coming soon as the county considers densities and more with recent changes in Land Use Ordinances.

Having been on the agenda for several months, this item was revisited during a first reading and gone through several public hearings and adjustments from the Building Association and local builders. This month finally saw the ordinance pass a first reader. The county will revisit it next month for a second reading and final adoption to put an end to the lengthy process.

However, few complaints are being heard on the time taken for this ordinance, instead, confirmations and thanks are forefront as the county did not vote to pass the reader months ago when asked by citizens and builders for more time to study and give input on changes for the ordinance.

Cleaning and maintenance for the Gilmer Courthouse is also still being debated as the Commissioners and Maintenance Director D.J. Spagnola look into options for cleaning the stained bricks on the courthouse. While pressure washing is too rough, causing damage to the stone, painting does not seem good enough to cover over the stains either. The stains come from a moss, not a mold, according to Spagnola.

Looking at proposals for cleaning, Spagnola is looking for lasting options instead of the temporary fixes the county has been using. He spoke of meeting with an architect to look at ways to seal the capstone in order to protect it from the water, moss, and stains that continue to damage the exterior.

The board officially approved Shane Bowman as a member to the Department of Family & Children’s Services Board.

The board also approved Tony Whitaker as a member to the Ellijay-Gilmer County Water & Sewerage Authority.

 

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