Gilmer updates internet and insurance in October

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Internet

ELLIJAY, Ga. – With more cloud based back-ups, traffic, and meetings thanks to the COVID-19 virus, the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners is updating their broadband internet again after a recent upgrade nearly four years ago.

According to Commissioner Chairman Paris, at that time, the major push towards cloud computing saw a major increase in need as internet speeds and traffic slowed majorly with more and more departments upgrading and integrating with cloud based software and storage.

However, this year, another boom has hit the county. Paris stated, “What we’re seeing now is sort of a variation of that. First of all, for the last few years that migration to the cloud has really accelerated. We’re seeing a lot more of that. But, with COVID, what we’re seeing now is just a massive number of video conferences, Zoom conferences. And those things just require ‘mega-bandwidth.’ So, what we’re seeing is we’re back to being slowed down again.”

Currently at 50 Mbps (Megabits per second), the county looked to upgrade to the next step up. Also, the county is currently paying $985 a month. According to Paris, he looked at the next step being 100 Mbps. This had a 36-month term costing $1,395 a month. However, there is also a 60-month term option costing $1,275 a month. Another major point of the plans that Paris said made him lean towards a 60-month term was the option to upgrade or downgrade at anytime as well as cancel at anytime “without any penalty.”

In previous meetings, members of the board have voiced concerns over long term contracts that might bind a future board.

Ultimately approving the bandwidth change for their internet, the board did decide for the longer 60-month term with the cheaper per-month cost.

internetAnother update the county saw in October came with their insurance renewal.

Paris stated that over the past five years, the county has absorbed increasing costs in healthcare insurances, usually opting to attempt to keep employee premiums and costs to a similar area as the county increased their part. With only one of the recent years showing a decrease in health costs as the county’s negotiations were able to find a point of competition between companies, most of these years have increased through rising costs and the Affordable Care Act.

This year followed suit with rising costs, yet the county chose their option to stay with the plan they are currently on rather than opt for changes. Yet, Paris said that both options this year held increases for employees.

Staying with the current plan, the changes include a 14.7 percent increase for the plan. Employees on a base plan will see the rise from $47.10 to $54.10 on their bi-weekly deductions. Employee plans will see similar increases in each plan.

According to the presentation made to the BOC, the vision, dental, and life plans would not see any major change.

Teacher’s arrest causes tension as BOE considers resignation

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Last week’s news of a teacher’s arrest on charges of allegedly carrying out an inappropriate relationship with a student resulted in the following day a letter of resignation submitted to the Gilmer County Board of Education.

This culminated at the Board’s meeting when voting on personnel. Nathan Sutton’s, the teacher in question, resignation was a part of the agenda item.

Board member Ronald Watkins asked to vote on Sutton’s resignation separate from the other personnel changes. While the general personnel passed without issue, Sutton’s resignation was questioned.

Watkins said he wanted the Board to not accept his resignation as it allows him to part from the school board with a letter of resignation rather than being fired for the incident. Watkins referenced another recent resignation, saying it was similarly a situation of allowing a resignation before an investigation could prove any improper behavior.

While the Board was originally split with Board member Tom Ocobock saying he agreed that he wanted it to say on record that he was fired. Ocobock also indicated that he didn’t want Sutton “let off” with a resignation after the alleged incident. This was stressed even further as they both noted Sutton’s alleged confession.

resignation

Gilmer County Board of Education, Board Member Ronald Watkins

However, Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs suggested to the board that the school system would proceed with whatever they voted, she counseled them to accept the resignation on the grounds that the if the Board wished to proceed with firing him instead, they would reject the resignation and continue paying Sutton as a teacher and keeping him as an employee, at least on paper, until the proceeding could go forward with the schools firing policy. With the investigation and the school board’s process to fire him. It could take up to a couple months or even 90 days was suggested as an extreme possibility.

Some of the complicating factors revolved around the victim not being a student anymore, new policy updates for Title 9 with the schools, and proceeding with the termination in face of a resignation letter.

Downs said that she has already filed paperwork with the Georgia Professional Standards Commission (GaPSC) for an ethics complaint on record regarding the incident, and that the police would be moving forward with their investigation. The complaint with the GaPSC also requested to pull Sutton’s certificate for education.

According to the GaPSC website:

Title 20, Education, of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (O.C.G.A.), outlines the legal guidelines, which govern the state education program.

Title 20 creates the Georgia Professional Standards Commission (GaPSC) and assigns it responsibility for providing a regulatory system for “certifying and classifying” professional employees in public schools. Title 20 also requires the professional employees of all Georgia public schools to hold state certification.

Downs added that the resignation allows the board to separate from Sutton immediately without the full process of investigating themselves and firing Sutton on those grounds. She said that as far as him going to another school or getting another job, there was little difference in firing Sutton or accepting the resignation. The difference was in paying him until they could fire him or terminating the contract now.

resignation

Gilmer County Board of Education, Board Member Tom Ocobock

Ocobock said that he still wanted him fired, but with Downs saying she had filed the complaint and as long as he could not go to another school for a job, he was okay with the resignation path of separation.

However, Watkins still pushed for the official process saying that he was really discouraged that he has had two people know that will be allowed to resign instead of being fired. He stated, “I want to know how bad something has got to be to where I can fire someone.”

Indeed, with a motion on the floor to accept the resignation, Watkins made his official motion to proceed with the firing process. The motion did not receive a second and died. However, the Board then proceeded with approving the motion to accept Sutton’s resignation 4-0 with Watkins abstaining.

Watkins did make one comment saying he felt he was appearing like “the bad guy” because he abstained from the resignation, but was reassured by other Board members. Ocobock told him he wasn’t the bad guy saying, “You’ve got to think about what it’s going to cost the school and the disruption in the high school where now we’ve got to find another teacher to replace him.”

Responses show possible changes to Boardtown Road Power Line Project

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Over the weekend and the past few days, information has circulated among residents on Boardtown Road and the citizens asking for relocations of the project to protect the community and natural beauty of the area.

BoardtownThis group has consistently been writing, calling, and sharing information with Georgia House Speaker and local District Representative David Ralston and State Senator Steve Gooch about the project.

According to an email from Scotty Abercrombie, Ralston responded to citizens about the issue saying that he had heard their concerns and was working on the issue at the capitol. Abercrombie also said that he had responded favorably stating that he appreciated the calls and emails.

Abercrombie said that he was happy with the response and that Ralston had heard the issue on Boardtown Road loud and clear. Abercrombie stated, “I appreciated him reaching out to me to discuss.”

Abercrombie said that Speaker Ralston asked for patience and time to work towards the goal.

However, it was not much time before another update reported that some progress was being made and an extension, as well as a review meeting, had been set.

Meanwhile, another report circulating among citizens stated that a member of the Amicalola Electric Board told a citizen that the longer route could also have negative effects on citizens. This email reported the information on Boardtown from the board member stating that they were told, “Amicalola Electric will have to pay for the line with borrowed money and if the line went the long route, it would result in an increase in our power bill.”

Over last weekend, Georgia Transmission Corporation Public Affairs Director Terry Cole sent an email shared among the residents stating:

In consultation with Speaker David Ralston and Senator Steve Gooch, Georgia Transmission Corporation releases the following statement on the Whitepath Electric Reliability Project:

As we shared with the property owners and others at our public meetings, community voices are an essential part of our process as we develop solutions to electric reliability challenges.  Since those meetings, we have carefully reviewed what the community expressed.  We’ve weighed how best to move forward to achieve the goal everyone can agree on which is to ensure reliable power for the homes, farms, and businesses in the Boardtown Road area.

In direct response, we are undertaking an extensive review and analysis of the two routes the community expressed interest in us examining, GA Hwy 515 and the CSX railroad corridor.  We anticipate this taking several months to properly conduct the examination of existing land use, environmental conditions, engineering constraints, and cost of construction, operation and maintenance.   Impacts to other property owners in the Gilmer County community will also be a factor for consideration.

As a not-for-profit member cooperative, Georgia Transmission is committed to working with the local community to fully explore all options available to reach a solution.  We appreciate your continued willingness to engage in dialogue and open conversation about this challenging situation.  We believe that by working together all of us can arrive at a solution that delivers the needed electric power to your community.

“I appreciate the willingness of Georgia Transmission Corporation to study this project in exhaustive detail before any final decisions are made,” said Speaker David Ralston.  “We all understand and appreciate the need to consider both our infrastructure requirements and preservation of the scenic beauty of our mountain region.  My thanks to all involved for taking the time necessary to reach the best possible solution for our community.”

With the new updates, official letter from Gilmer County have responded to both Speaker Ralston and Senator Gooch for their efforts in the issue along with emails from citizens and residents.

That letter was originally a part of a resolution from the Board of Commissioners to support citizens in their concerns, but has become a letter of thanks in response to the news. Approved by the Board and signed by Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris, the letters stated to each representative:

 

Dear Speaker Ralston,

I want to thank you for your response to the people of Boardtown Road, and for your efforts in asking Georgia Transmission to consider alternate routes. You have always been very responsive to the needs of the people of Gilmer County, and it is greatly appreciated.

I do understand the need for increased capacity and reliability of our electrical system, and also appreciate the effort by our EMCs and Georgia Transmission to address this need. Our Commissioners support the project but also feel that a path can be selected that would have less of an impact on quality of life and property values in the county. We do believe that an alternate path would be preferable and are grateful for GTC’s decision to take another look at these options.

Thank you for all that you do for the people of Gilmer County. 

Dear Senator Gooch,

I want to express my gratitude for the support you offered to the people of Boardtown Road in Gilmer County, and for your efforts in asking Georgia Transmission to consider alternate routes. You have always been very responsive to the needs of the people of Gilmer County, and it is greatly appreciated.

I do understand the need for increased capacity and reliability of our electrical system, and also appreciate the effort by our EMCs and Georgia Transmission to address this need. Our Commissioners support the project but also feel that a path can be selected that would have less impact on quality of life and property values in the county. We do believe that an alternate path would be preferable and are grateful for GTC’s decision to take another look at these options.

Thank you for all that you do for the people of Gilmer County

At this time, the meetings will move forward and the representatives are looking into the issues of this project and ways “to preserve the natural beauty of areas in the mountain communities.”

Though it has been stated that the review and re-evaluation of the alternate paths will cause some delays, no specifics have been given at this time to how long those delays will be. Citizens are continuing to talk about the issue with the favorable news to their concerns, and are looking to continue pushing for awareness as the project moves forward and they await the outcome of the review.

BOC supports citizens in opposition to new transmission lines location

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Transmission

ELLIJAY, Ga. – “It’s going to look like a runway,” said Leon Watkins in the Commissioners August Regular Session. He was speaking about Boardtown Road in Gilmer County and the project for massive poles and a transmission line along the road.

A letter went out last week gathering support and other citizens to speak with locals asking to relocate a project that they say would destroy Boardtown Road. A

Answering that call, numerous citizens appeared before the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners at the August meeting to speak about the Georgia Transmission Corporation (GTC) and the major project they are undertaking. All of those that spoke at the meeting did so in opposition of the project’s current location.

Some asserted later in the meeting that they didn’t want to publicly oppose the project of improving electrical reliability in Gilmer. However, the common theme that every single speaker of the night on this subject shared was the concept that putting these large poles in the middle of people’s yards and farms would be a detriment to the area. It is the path down Boardtown that is being opposed.

They said that the project would not only individually detriment their own properties in both property value and natural beauty, but spill over into the entire road and surrounding area.

The Citizen’s wishing to speak section started with a question, “Why can’t the county deny permission for the line and right of way?”

The question spilled over into other speakers saying the preferred route should go down Highway 515 as a major road.

As Commission Chairman Charlie Paris explained that he has already looked into the issue trying to see how the county could help, County Attorney David Clark explained that his understanding was that the GTC could use imminent domain on the area to force the project through, leaving both the county and local citizens with no voice in the matter.

The GTC did hold three public meetings encouraging social distancing and an extended format for people to come and go during the hours of those three meetings. Citizens speaking in the Commissioners meeting told the board that the GTC already had their plans and surveys set before the meetings ever started. The meetings, they said, were there providing information to citizens on what is going to happen and not solicit input on a project before planning.

Clark told citizens they should also be speaking with local EMC board members to see if they could also be helping people with the issue in addition to the work they had already done.

Transmission

Robert Armour speaks to the BOC asking for support at their August Regular Meeting

Yet, Melanie Johnson said that she has already spoken with representatives of both Amicalola EMC and GTC. She alleged that many of the Georgia Transmission representatives gave different, misleading, or wrong information as they have pushed into the project. She said that in the beginning they collected signatures for surveys saying alluding that they would simply be replacing and upgrading current poles.

As conversation continued with citizens offering similar complaints against destroying the native beauty or having massive steel and concrete poles put into their properties.

Johnson asked for a public show of support from Commissioners as she hoped to push the issue to state representatives such as Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston and State Senator Steve Gooch. A letter of support was one of three actions citizens asked for during the meeting.

Echoed by several citizens including Robert Armour and Develle Frady, the show of support through a letter that citizens could use to have the extra authority was a great step that citizens said they appreciated. Yet, Armour asked the commissioners to take it step further. The second action that he asked for was to not just write a letter, but to have the commissioners physically call them for support.

He later returned to the podium and expanded his request asking the commissioners to initiate a meeting for residents in the area to speak directly with these state representatives to implore them for their support and to assert the importance they hold for the issue.

Frady said he has already seen the issues that road has suffered from the gas line put in. His main concern is the heavy weight traffic this would put on the road with bridges already in poor state and some with maximum 5 ton weight limits. “The bridges and culverts will not hold the 60 ton frames they will need to erect those poles,” he said.

Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson voices support for residents opposed to the large transmission lines to be built on Boardtown Road.

Paris himself said that the Georgia Transmission Corporation is a state level agency. He added, “I have felt frustrated because I am not aware of anything the county can actually do.” Yet, he said that he would have no problem at all supporting citizens in this way that they have requested for the letter. He also told citizens he would work towards a meeting if poss

The third option and request citizens asked for came in several citizens asking for the commissioners to pass an ordinance for some sort of protection against the transmission line in the area. One said they should enforce right of ways against the poles. Frady mentioned county documents claiming 80 feet of right of way, but the GTC told him they had 100 foot right of ways from the road.

Kevin Kell spoke in the meeting saying that he owned 20 acres on the road and is second guessing plans for building a home. He said that people come to Ellijay for the “beautiful, unspoiled views.” He said his experience as a banker leads him to believe that this is not the only option for GTC, but is the cheapest option. Kell also echoed the issue of the effect on property values.

It was suggested by Gilmer Historian that the road be declared a scenic route as she spoke about the Trail of Tears in Ellijay and the historic and archaeological importance of several finds that the county has had on Boardtown Road. She later noted that the road in Fannin County is already declared a scenic route.

Transmission

Boardtown area resident and member of the Board of Education, Ronald Watkins speaks alongside citizens who are asking for help in relocating a project for high voltage transmission lines and poles on Boardtown Road.

Stressing the importance of the issue, Ronald Watkins, current member of the Board of Education and resident in the area, said he wouldn’t be getting a pole on his property, but would be getting one right across the street from him. He repeated the major issue of the utter destruction of the natural scenery and scenic views along the road as one of the major points of living and being in the area. He said he was told it was an issue of money and being more expensive to go elsewhere.

The commissioner discussed several options for the issue and passed a resolution to draft the requested letter, showing their support for those in opposition. Paris began discussing attempting to set up a meeting for citizens, but the board settled to draft the letter first and move into other options one at a time. In fact, both Paris and Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson voiced support for the citizens after just a couple of citizens spoke. While the public continued voicing concerns and requesting certain solutions, the board as a whole was already discussing at several points throughout the comments on what steps they could take and what they could do in support.

In addition to this, another person stepped up to speak during the comments section. Travis Crouch, a resident of an area past Boardtown Road. He said he doesn’t live on Boardtown and would, in fact, be one of the people that would benefit greatly from the project. He noted that his home has had 28 outages already in this year alone.

Crouch stated, “I do not want to see those power lines.”

Crouch referenced both the scenic beauty and the bridge conditions on the road saying that the area is a beautiful drove and needs this protection

He said that his power is an issue that needs to be addressed, but added that if the only solution required doing what the project is calling for on Boardtown Road, then “I would rather deal with the power outages, seriously.”

Gilmer Schools returns to free meals with USDA funding

News

EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County Charter Schools has stated today that they will begin offering free meals of both lunches and breakfasts to all students attending classes in person on Gilmer campuses.

According to their statement, “Effective Tuesday, September 8,2020 all Gilmer County Schools will begin serving free breakfast and lunch meals to all students attending in person classes.” This does not rely on applications or normal free and reduced lunches with the school’s normal program.

Gilmer Schools has operated for years in programs like “Seamless Summer,” pictured here, where they provide meals to students during the summer. Other programs like “Seamless Lunches” have branched off of the same idea due to needs arising, especially since the COVID-19 outbreak this year.

System administration said today that the USDA is the source of funding for lunches for the remainder of this semester only. Gilmer Schools has already moved to free breakfasts in the past in efforts to increase participation. They also provided lunches through bus routes in March, earlier this year, for students as a part of a “Seamless Lunches” program feeding kids during the school year. The school year was cut off due to COVID-19 outbreak. That program fed students as they adapted to classes at home and “distance learning” under quarantines as the outbreak first spread.

Today, the new program is set to continue free meals until December 31, 2020. The school system said, “This will allow the school nutrition program to serve nutritious meals to all students who attend in person classes, at no cost to families. Students who purchased a school lunch September 1-4, 2020 will be issued a credit on their meal accounts.”

The program ends over the break between semesters and usual meal prices will resume in January, 2021.

Administration said they “strongly encourage families to complete an application for free and reduced meals” before then.

Lunch price for elementary and middle school students is $2.15 and $2.30 for high school students. Reduced price lunches are $.40 for all grade levels.

Along with the information they gave, GCCS said, “We understand that these are trying times for everyone and are hoping this will relieve some of the financial hardship that is being felt by many in our community. If you have any questions, please contact the School Nutrition Office at (706) 276-5000.”

New Boardtown Power line to be discussed at BOC meeting

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Georgia Transmission Corporation, the transmission service provider Georgia’s Electric Membership Corporations, including Amicalola EMC, is deep into plans for construction of large power poles and lines for the “Whitepath 46kV sub transmission line” along with the “46 kV/25 kV 20 MVA Whitepath substation.”

line

A part of the documentation delivered to citizens at the public meetings, this diagram shows what the new power poles could look like in relation to the road.

Documents provided to citizens during public information meetings say the new line and substation will improve service in the area as another station will provide a second ‘source’ near Whitepath and connecting to the existing #2 Ellijay substation.

Some citizens opposed to the lines are planning to bring the item before the Board of Commissioners next week according to an email sent out. Looking for a large group to join in for discussion, these citizens are hoping to bring concerns to the commissioners. However, it is not clear yet if they will be asking the Commissioners for help in opposing the lines.

According to representatives at the public meetings, the Georgia Transmission Corporation does not need to bring the construction project before the local county commissioners for approval before beginning construction. In fact, their provided documentation states they already have a planned schedule and are currently moving forward with acquisitions for the project. The schedule says that they will start clearing land for the line in 3rd quarter 2021 and construction will begin in 1st quarter 2022. The Corporation hopes to have service on the new lines beginning in the 3rd quarter of 2022.

Additionally, this is not an item on the commissioners’ agenda, but rather a plan by citizens to bring up discussions during the “Citizens Wishing to Speak” item of the meeting.

line

The map was provided by the Georgia Transmission Corporation for the planned path of the Boardtown Road Power Line project.

The project calls for 10 miles of line with “steel and/or concrete poles” that will reach an average of 95 feet high (poles will be between 60 to 112 feet tall. They also require between 25 and 125 feet wide easements.

The $18 million project will begin at Ellijay #2 substation just south of Tabor Street and proceed North and then West before intersecting North Main Street. According to documentation, it will cross the Ellijay River at least two times along its path, following Boardtown Road most of the way.

Some of the concerns already voiced in opposition speak on clear cutting trees and extreme proximity to people’s homes.

Representatives at the meetings said that the Corporation has spoken with railway owners about following the rails, looked at traveling along Highway 515 as alternative path, and even considered burying the cable underground, but were not given permission to use the railway and found Boardtown Road to be the best current option.

According to their statement, “This approach was chosen because it meets the engineering, construction, operational, environmental, schedule, cost, electrical, and reliability requirements of the project.”

Paris discussed bridges and next year’s priority in Special Meeting

News

ELLIJAY, Ga – “Misplaced priorities” is what Travis Crouch, a local citizen, a former business owner in the county, and former Post Commissioner, called a preview into next year for the county.

That comment came for one specific project as Crouch’s first spoke in the Citizens Wishing to Speak section on two bridges over Rock Creek in Cherry Log that are constantly being used by county vehicles over the bridge weight limit. Crouch said he noticed last fall that the weight limits had been reduced.

bridges

Travis Crouch speaks to the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners about Roads and Bridges and bridge weight limits during a Special Called Meeting in August of 2020.

He said that he understood the previous plan had been to use TSPLOST to repair these. However, as the TSPLOST had been rejected by citizens, his question was how the county planned to address the issue of the bridges.

He compared the 11-ton weight limit on the higher of the two bridges to several standard vehicles that need to cross the bridge. A dump truck delivering gravel weighs around 56,000 pounds on the low side (about 26 tons). A propane tank truck is 30,000 pounds (15 tons). A county fire truck, or tanker truck, is over 60,000 pounds (30 tons). He said that if they were condemned like Lower Cartecay Road, he would be completely isolated and cut off from vehicle traffic.

County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris responded by giving a preview into his personal look into the 2021 budget process saying that he has tried to get salaries up over recent years, but wants to focus on roads and bridges in 2021. Paris said that he is wanting to find a way to allocate more resources to the area of roads and bridges in the budget process, but that is going to entail some sacrifices in other areas. Some of those areas are already seeing relief as Paris noted the CARES Act Grant is being used to support needs in the Public Safety Department. Other areas will see needs prioritized and possibly delayed. Paris gave the example that the Sheriff’s Office may not be able to get a new vehicle in 2021.

These are all examples that the Chairman gave of his own expectation and plan. All three Commissioners will be sitting through these budget meetings as they historically do every year in October. On top of that, Paris also stated that the process would not be solved in 2021. Fixing bridges and roads and getting them to the condition that is desired, he said, “It’s going to take a number of years.”

Because of that, even the roads and bridges will need to be prioritized for attention. Paris said bridges like the ones that Crouch spoke of would definitely have to be a higher priority.

Considering the process and issues the county has had in the past, Crouch asked the board to begin processes and looking into the bridges now. He considered things like permits, easements, engineering, repair needs, and other things that could be taken care of early to attempt to make the process as quick as possible.

One example of the length these projects could take is highlighted at a higher extreme as the county has gone through a lengthy process and is still looking towards state completion of replacing the Lower Cartecay Bridge, a project that has gone on for years since its closure in 2017. However, Public Works Director Jim Smith did confirm that the county has other bridges in similar status, built decades ago and sitting on “stacked rock” as they said in the Special Called Meeting.

Before leaving, Crouch asked one final question about roads and bridges in comparison to another county project. The project that he later in the meeting called, “misplaced priorities.”

Crouch asked if the county should really be building a new pool with such needs for roads and bridges.

A project that has been contentious since its inception, many citizens of the county agree with Crouch’s statement and have made similar statements in previous county meetings. Yet, also a project that has been hotly supported by many citizens in other meetings as they debated needs, designs, and locations.

Paris noted this back and forth as he said running the county is a balancing act between people and their wants. He said that he agreed that the amount the county will spend on the pool won’t do much for roads and bridges as they are so expensive.

Paris stated, “I believe that the swimming pool is essential to the youth of the county and that it needs to be built. If we decided not to, we probably wouldn’t see any difference at all in roads… because roads are so wickedly expensive.”

Crouch responded saying, “There is nothing more basic than public safety for responsibility for the Board of Commissioners… Years ago the commissioners were called Road Commissioners.”

Crouch said that roads and public safety are the primary tasks and responsibilities for the commissioners. He made a comparison between the two items calling the pool a “luxury.”

While discussion ended on the topic there for today, it is sure to re-emerge as the county draws closer to October and its marathon of meetings during the budgeting process.

Board lowers Bond Millage with final approval of rates

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Millage Rate Meeting

ELLIJAY, Ga. – A unanimous vote on Monday, August 24, 2020, saw the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners follow up on statements from last year where they discussed lowering the Bond Millage Rate in the county.

While they did not approve lowering the rate in 2019, many citizens have continued discussing and pushing for the reduction this year. A few have very vocally called for the reduction of the “extra half mill” that was put on the Bond Millage rate raising it from 1 to 1.5 mills. Additionally, the viral outbreak and subsequent shutdowns of counties and states cast a dark shadow on local economies and doubt for the financial future of Gilmer.

The Commissioners halted capital spending and major projects as they watched and waited to see just what kind of impact it would have, even delaying their pool project that has been underway for over a year now. The pool was closed at the beginning of May in 2019.

However, the last two months have shown quite the difference. Despite the cancellation of major events in the county and increasing numbers from the virus, recent reports show an increase in collections from tourism and SPLOST.

Whether this played a role in their decision, the commissioners did not say, but they did approve a drop in the bond millage rate by .25 mills, taking it from 1.5 to 1.25 mills.

The School-Board-approved millage rate of 13.963 was approved to be implemented by the Board of Commissioners. This is the Rollback Rate calculated for Gilmer County Schools as they have advertised over the past month since the July meeting. The Board of Education approved this rate last week during their regular August meeting.

They also moved forward with approval of the county’s M&O (Maintenance and Operations) Millage Rate of 6.783 mills. This is also a Rollback Rate calculated for the Board of Commissioners and advertised for the past month since their July Meeting.

County returns to rivers in discussions over trash

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – After an impromptu speech from Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson at this month’s work session, citizens turned out in number to speak and support or defend their views on Gilmer County’s Rivers and the usage of them.

Most of the discussion focused in one area of the county, and people from both businesses Cartecay River Experience and Ellijay River Outfitters were present as well.

Ferguson’s original speech explained how she was making a video promoting the county’s rivers. She traveled to Blackberry Mountain where the county owns a piece of land that is being used as a take-out from the river. She said she came upon a sight that she could only call “chaos,” referencing the amount of trash, alcohol, and people ignoring ordinances.

Ferguson apologized to the community saying she felt she had not been the best steward of the county property and the resources of the county.

The county, on a previous commission, has discussed this topic in depth over the last two to three years as they originally moved to put regulations on the river banning alcohol, but also to regulate the usage of county property by private businesses using the take-out on Mulkey Road, at Blackberry Mountain. Since then, the county is still struggling to find an effective way to control alcohol and enforce some of the regulations preventing patrons from trespassing on people’s property along the river, drinking alcohol, and littering in the area.

Discussion returned this week in a Special Called meeting as citizens responded to Ferguson’s Speech and topics arose around how to move forward.

Some quickly noted the great lengths that volunteers, organizations like Keep Gilmer Beautiful and the local outfitters put into cleaning the river and going out to pick up trash.

Rivers

Max Frady speaks to Commissioners about the county’s rivers at a Special Called Meeting on August 24, 2020.

Max Frady, a local businessman, said he volunteers at one of the outfitters. He said he felt the DNR should be the governing body, and that over-regulating and writing ordinances and pressuring regulations takes money out of local businesses and discourages people from coming to our rivers. Part of his volunteer work is cleaning the rivers. He said they have continued offering olive branches to local property owners and to the county as they have tried to be “ambassadors” for the rivers and the county because they send all their patrons locally for food and needs.

Frady also noted that other places put people on the rivers besides the outfitters saying, “Every airbnb you got up and down through there, they have tubes and kayaks at their airbnb. It’s part of the rental.” Yet, the volunteers and outfitters are those on the river every day, cleaning the rivers.

Pam Johnson spoke on the day saying that teaching ourselves to take better care of these resources and be more responsible with what we have. She asked the board to think long and hard on the subject about the best way to go forward and to increase that education for people. She acknowledged that there are both kinds of people who come into the county and are very conscious of what they do and how they use the river and those that come in and take advantage of the area.

Doug Colburn, a local police officer, said he and his wife live on the river and do see a lot of trash. Colburn said that the outfitters do a great job of bringing tourism here but he does see three areas of need for the county. Traffic, groups, and trash have come to the forefront of this year in particular. With the viral threats, he voiced concerns about large groups congregating together. He went to say that he does see trash in the area as the river carries it down from wherever it is dropped and it builds in areas.

Offering an option for solutions, Detective Colburn suggested creating a committee to work with representatives from all parties including the outfitters and the property owners. He said that taking the time to discuss and implement a workable plan by the opening of next season.

The option was echoed and supported by others who spoke including Jay Zipperman of Keep Gilmer Beautiful and Gilmer Sheriff Stacy Nicholson who said the Sheriff’s Office would also want to be a part of the committee.

One of the biggest concerns revolved around the alcohol on the river, from the bottles and cans littered to how to enforce the alcohol ban. Some suggested checking coolers at outfitters and the legality of checking coolers.

Rivers

Jenny Janssen, of Cartecay River Experience, speaks with both the BOC and citizens over river issues in the county.

The topic was addressed by Jenny Janssen of the Cartecay River Experience, also questioning the legality of checking coolers and people’s rights. The topic spread to a later discussion in the meeting as people discussed demanding people wear masks and social distance and groups being separated for bus rides.

Janssen said that they don’t want to eliminate coolers altogether as the river ride takes a longer time. She spoke about the discussion and talks they have for people telling them about the river’s regulations.

Forcing masks was also addressed by the Ellijay River Outfitters as both outfitters said they would not force people to wear masks, but did have extra masks available for any who wanted one or needed one but may not have brought their own.

One of the larger disconnects is between the county and outfitters and enforcement of regulations. Part of the meeting came to addressing issue found in non-compliance in the area. Ferguson even made a motion for a 10-day suspension as she was at the county’s take-out and found nobody wearing the regulation wristbands required by the county. Ferguson said that as she was at the river speaking with people, most of them didn’t even know wristbands were required this year.

The motion died without a second, but the discussion continued on as Ellijay River Outfitters apologized saying they thought the wristbands were not required after the county waived certain fees for the outfitters this year in attempt to help them with what they expected, at the time, might be a slower season with people concerned over the Coronavirus.

The Cartecay River Experience also said they gave people wristbands and told customers that they wouldn’t physically put the wristbands on them with COVID-19.

Rivers

Citizens, business owners, law enforcement, and organization leaders all spoke on the county’s rivers during a Special Called Meeting of the Board of Commissioners on August 24, 2020.

Another topic discussed saw property owners and outfitters agreeing that they want a Deputy patrolling and watching the area. This item saw action from the commission as they, later in the meeting, approved the hiring of an off duty deputy to guard the area. The guard is to be paid from the fees collected from the outfitters through the wristbands.

Echoing the traffic issue, Nancy Foster spoke to the board saying she lives close to the take out. A big issue for her, she said, was people parking in front of her house, blocking her driveway and causing issues. She also reported that when she asks them to move, she has been cursed at and yelled at by people.

While these issues will continue to be discussed and debated in the Board of Commissioners for the River, some citizens like Susan Moreno are urging them to realize that litter and natural resources go beyond the rivers. Hiking trails and the lake are also county natural resources that suffer from similar issues.

Many other speakers joined during the meeting repeating issues and coming to the defense of those involved. No official action will force any major changes in these final coming weeks of the season, one common idea, many agreed that something akin to a committee could work. Seemingly, nobody is finished with this discussion yet. A common call for responsibility in the community has been given, and the coming months could dictate what that responsibility may look like.

BOE approves Millage Rate and Budget

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Rate

EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – The second month of posting and readings for the Millage Rate from Gilmer’s Board of Education saw no public comments before Thursday night’s meeting.

With no comment, the board continued forward with a recommendation from Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs to adopt the Rollback Rate dropping the Millage Rate from 14.248 to 13.963. Advertised since last month’s meeting, the board spoke on finances with the Millage Rate, this month, alongside the budget meetings after delays from the state due to COVID-19.

This week also saw the board‘s last public comments meeting for the 2020-2021 budget, also with no comments from the public. No longer needing monthly spending resolutions, the board will finally be moving forward with the remaining 10 months of the fiscal year with an established budget as the item received unanimous approval during Thursday’s meeting.

Discussions have gone on over the last few months over this budget and Millage Rate, the board has discussed needs and funding in the budget with cuts, changes, and shortfalls coming from the state funding. Some in the public expected increases in the Millage Rate to make up for the difference in the state funding.

rateThis week saw the rollback rate agenda item return with very little discussion from the board and short review of the tax history. The board moved to adopt the rollback to keep in line with collections.

The budget also slightly decreased through its estimate compared to June’s Financial Summary that saw the final month of the FY 2019-2020 budget with expenditures at $44,732,231. The tentative budget that has now been approved as the 2021 Budget indicates and estimation of $41,575,332 total expenditures.

The budget is set for the school system, but the Millage Rate will now move on to a special called meeting of the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners who are currently expected to approve the Millage Rate as approved by the school along with their own Rollback Rate Monday, August 24, 2020. Being held at 10:00 a.m., the Board of Commissioners are also considering a rollback to their Debt-Service-paying “Bond Millage Rate” by 0.25 mills.

While the Bond Millage is expected to provide a reduction in many citizens property taxes, Tax Assessments are individual to the property. Rollback Rates also look to collect the same taxes as the entity, be it the county or the school system, did last year despite increases in property values.

County Passes Farm Winery and Mass Notifications change

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change

Gilmer, Ga. – Citizens can already see the change today after final approval for a change in the Farm Winery ordinance is allowing local Farm Wineries to sell Georgia brewed beers in their tasting rooms.

Having been underway for a while, the final approval this month is the last stage of the process and took effect over this last weekend. As owners of wineries in previous meetings stated, they sought to cater to couples or friends who may travel to the winery together, but have a member uninterested in wine. This change now allows them to serve beer to those people through a limited selection via the ordinance restrictions, that being Georgia crafted beers.

Another change that came this month was through Public Safety as they looked at mass notification systems. Handling EAS (Emergency Alert System) and IPAWS (Integrated Public Alert and Warning System), the county is currently using the CodeRed Vendor.

Integrating systems can disperse notifications to both widespread and isolated areas through several agencies in the county. According to Public Safety Director Keith Kucera, the department has found a much more discounted rate for utilizing these systems. Saving about $6,750 a year compared to their current system, the new vendor is called Hyper-Reach.

Kucera also noted lesser restrictions with the newer vendor such as no restriction on a number of messages to send outThe previous vendor that Public Safety used has a preset limit of messages they can send. And then charges per message over that limit.

The approval came to select the new vendors in the August Regular Meeting from both present commissioners.

Additionally, during the meeting, the Board also approved Jay Zipperman and Jim Harris to the Keep Gilmer Beautiful Advisory Board. The two were already members and are being reappointed.

BOE accepts resignation of Stuart Sheriff

Board of Education, News
2020-201 Calendar, graduation, Renovations, Financial Distinction, return, testing, resignation, Virtual

EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. –  A special called meeting tonight saw a split decision from the board to accept the resignation of Stuart Sheriff.

The Assistant Superintendent of Administrative Services, Sheriff was a key part in many day-to-day operations.

The vote to accept the resignation of Sheriff came 4-1 with Ronald Watkins being the dissenting vote in the group. Watkins made comments to his dissent saying he wanted to dismiss him instead.

Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs said the process to replace Sheriff will likely take place internally as she said they would be shifting positions around to cover the gap and fill the position.

She declined to comment further on the situation instead saying that the resignation would take effect November 30, 2020.

The resignation comes at a surprising time with school just returning to session for the 2020-2021 school year. FYN is submitting request for more information. Stay with us as we update new articles as information becomes available.

FYN submitted a request for the resignation letter of Sheriff. In it, he notes personal reasons for resignation and his separation from the school system.

He said, “I appreciate the opportunities afforded me and the professional growth I attained during my tenure and wish you and the Gilmer County School System the best moving forward.”

BOC applying for CARES Act Grant funding

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – A Special Called meeting saw approval for an application for a grant funding by Gilmer’s Board of Commissioners that could mean extra help for local departments’ needs for supplies and equipment outside of their normal budget.

Some information on the CARES Act funding was delivered to the Commissioners during their meeting by Fire Rescue who have already submitted requests to utilize the additional funds if approved.

Commission Chairman Charlie Paris said in the meeting that the approval was to sign a contract for a registration number to allow the county to apply for the grant.

According to a release from the Georgia Municipal Association, the funds are to be used for “necessary expenditures” related to COVID-19.

Additionally, the Governor’s Office stats that once the application and certification process is concluded, a 30 percent advance could be available immediately. Also, a funding breakdown document from the Governor’s Office indicates that 30 percent advance could total $456,775 with a total possible $1,522,585. But, again, funding terms dictate that this must be used for COVID-19 costs or response, which means Gilmer could not use this in normal budget needs.

However, Paris did note that he assumed other departments besides public safety could have certain eligibility after Public Works Director Jim Smith commented on the subject. He noted that much of the road department was working understaffed for close to six weeks. Paris said the county will be applying for reimbursement on other departments and certain payroll issues due to the COVID-19 virus.

The county is looking for a quick turnaround, and brought to special meeting, as it was noted that there is a deadline at the end of August which is also noted in the Governors letter. The county will be moving quickly to make this deadline in order to receive the extra funding.

 

The Governor’s Letter included in information given to the BOC by Public Safety during their meeting:

Governor’s Letter Page 1

Governor’s Letter Page 2

BOE presents Tentative Budget with August Spending Resolution

Board of Education, News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – As they have continued awaiting budget information from the state who is still recovering from delays due to he Coronavirus spread, the Gilmer Board of Education is moving forward with their tentative budget now as they are receiving those numbers.

According to Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs, state decreases are further hindering the budget with shortfalls on support funds. However, utilizing the CARES Act grant, the school is looking to fill in some of the gaps in technology, supplies, and other needs that are still seeing gaps. The school system reduced all of its budgets by 10% and then looked for staff positions that saw people leaving and decided not to refill those positions.

Despite the cuts, the board is still looking at a budget with expenditures over revenues, a not uncommon sight in the school system’s planning in recent years. According to the advertised budget, that gap will reach an estimated $2,573, 032 between the revenues under the expenditures. Covered by the boards fund balance, the issue has seen progress between the beginning of the year “budgets” vs end of year “actuals” previously. The board just approved their financial summary for July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2020. In that fiscal year, the board budgeted a $3 million gap, but the end of year “actuals” presented said the board actually met their expenditures which were held far lower than budgeted. They ended with a revenue over expenditures of $207,873.

budget

Gilmer BOE’s Tentative 2021 Budget

However, looking at last year, the school saw $26,339,574 funded from state sources, which fell short of the expected, budgeted, $28,566,082 funding. This year’s tentative budget is already seeing a decrease to $25,784,011 expected.

The schools total expenditures for FY 2021 is $41,575,332. The total revenue for FY 2021 is $39,002,300.

If nothing changes except costs continuing to increase, Finance Director Trina Penland noted in a 5 year forecast for the board that the school’s fund balance could dip down to $2.3 million. However, Penland pointed out that the notation is a rough estimate assuming nothing changes and the school system does not make attempts to mitigate this like they did in last year’s budget.

Budget

Gilmer BOE’s 5 year tax history

Instead, she urged the board that these forecasts are meant to give an idea of the future so that the board does not only focus on the current year at the expense of the future.

The board is expecting to meet in a special called meeting to hear public input on the budget in August before they meet on August 20 to discuss final adoption of the budget.

Alongside the budget, this day will also see final approval of the Board of Education’s Millage Rate.

 

 

BOC to sell old Planning and Zoning Building

News

Downsizing its facilities due to moving offices around, the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners is now looking to sell their building on the square that has been used recently as the Planning and Zoning office.

Sell,

Gilmer’s former Planning and Zoning building is located in the square immediately south of the courthouse.

The property disposal came before the commissioners in a Special Called meeting under an agenda item that encompassed both the “disposal of the property” as well as engaging a real estate agent.

Gilmer Commissioner Chairman Charlie Paris stated that engaging a real estate broker will begin with a bid process to the board to find an agent to use in the process. However, engaging the bid should follow broad language on usage. County Attorney David Clark encouraged this option of specificty to allow the Commissioners options down the road. He stated, “That gives you the option to consider it, but you don’t have to use the agent with the additional piece of property.”

This means that the county could use the agent to sell the Planning and Zoning building, but wouldn’t have to go through the agent for every piece of property that may come up.

Paris also clarified further saying that if they get another piece of property they need to sell, but wish to just auction it off, they could do this. However, if they do wish to go through the real estate agent again, they would not need to complete the bid process again at that time.

Having the bid process set one agent into this position, the county is also looking to only extend the contract by a specific time period. After that time they would need to rebid the services of real estate agent. With that in mind, Clark also suggested the contract would terminate after a year unless the agent was amid a selling process at the time.

The final decision came through two motions, the first came to take bids for a real estate agent to handle disposing of county property while reserving rights to dispose of property in other ways. The second came to dispose of the building previously referred to as the Planning and Zoning building. Both were approved by the two present commissioners, with Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson absent.

Along with the disposal in this meeting, another issue arose that could become a major issue. While the office of the Board of Commissioners is attempting to satisfy requirements for a DOT audit with regards to Gilmer’s Airport Professional Services Agreement. According to Paris, Georgia’s Department of Transportation is going through an audit process.

As such, Gilmer has used grants they have used at the airport from the FAA. Part of those grants cover engineering requirements. The state’s audit saw a request for the master contract with the engineering firm from Gilmer County. Paris said that the county didn’t have a contract in 2015, but the county specified it was to be done under the contract of 2012. However, in 2012, the engineering firm, Croy Engineering, signed the contract and sent it to the county. The county at the time tabled the item to investigate. However, the county never revisited the contract.

With no contract, Gilmer County could be held responsible for reimbursement of all the engineering costs since 2012. Clark explained that the county has tried other options to resolve the issue, but have been rejected. Now, the county will authorize the chairman to sign the contract with a retroactive effective date to satisfy the needs.

The county has been operating under the contract over the years, but has simply not signed the contract.

Board of Education advertises Millage Rate

Board of Education, News
rate

EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County’s Board of Education presented advertising for their 5 year Tax history and a Tentative Millage Rate to seek final approval in August.

Looking back over recent years and comparing to 2020, the digest saw an overall 4.6 percent increase countywide. According to Director of Finance Trina Penland, the county’s exemptions increase by 3 percent as well. Part of the increase came from a senior’s exemption increase of roughly 10 percent.

According to Penland, Gilmer is the only county that has unlimited senior exemptions in the tax digest. But because that exemption is a local exemption, the school still pays taxes to the state on the funds not collected due to the exemption.

The current millage rate sits at 14.248 mills for the Board of Education. As they look at the calculated rollback rate to prevent them from collecting any more that last year, Penland presented the Rollback Rate to the board at 13.963 mills.

If the board does not accept the Rollback Rate, Penland stated they would be collecting an additional $351,000.

Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs presented her recommendation that the board accept the Rollback Rate, and with a motion and second, the board unanimously approved the rate.

Millage Rate

Gilmer County Board of Education’s Director of Finance Trina Penland

Additionally, Board Member Jim Parmer, stated that he appreciated the work that the finance staff and Dr. Downs put in. He went on to say, “Honestly, If we were going to do furlough days, I would say let’s keep our rate. But ya’ll have said you’re not doing that…”

Through additional discussions, Penland stated that the Rollback should collect just over $17 million. But adding in a look at the history, Penland stated, “If you look back at the history. When you look back in 2009, that was before the first recession, the school collected $24.7 million in property tax revenue. We have cut back. We have cut programs, benefits. We have cut everything to be as close as we can on the budget.”

She also noted several rollbacks including one that rolled back more than the recommended rate.

The Rollback Rate will go through the advertisement process and see final approval in August before sending the rate to the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners for their approval alongside their millage rate and implementation into the new tax year.

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