Changes coming to Animal Control

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – A couple from the area of Woodland Acres spoke in August’s Commissioners’ meetings about an ongoing problem with dogs running loose in the area.

In the ensuing discussions, on August 8, 2019, Commission Chairman Charlie Paris promised citizens that changes would be coming to the Animal Control Ordinances of Gilmer County in efforts to address this and similar issues in the county.

The most vocal, Sto Goodwin and Debra Christian, live as neighbors in Woodland Acres and began discussing the issue on Wednesday, they tell FYN that several people in the area have had issues with dogs running free in the area. Christian named the breed Cane Corso as one that has specifically harassed her. She went on to say that the issue has not been handled properly as they have reported the issues, Animal Control has picked up the dogs on the loose, but the owner in question just get the dogs back. This owner, who was not named, has allegedly gone to court, promised to move, and made other promises that have not been kept.

Christian alleges that the owner refuses to enclose the dogs and actively trains them in “Predator Control.” She was supported in these allegations by both Goodwin and even Chairman Paris who said, “He has been very clear with us in the past that he expects his dogs to be able to run free, and that we’re welcome to fine him. He’ll pay the fine, but they will run free.”

Paris stated that the problem has existed for several years. Due to the increasing allegations and some citizens even saying they have video of the dogs killing cats and other animals as well as chasing after people in the area, responses are now increasing. While Paris said that they cannot just go and take the dogs by law, he did say that the county is already changing one thing right now. Animal Control’s policy for returning animals found off of owner’s property is going to step up plan.

Paris said, “Previously, if an animal was brought in that was found off the owner’s property, it was $150 fee to reclaim it. If it came in again, it was another $150. What we’ve done is we’ve lowered the first offense to $100, and if that person, who comes in, is willing to have us spay or neuter the particular animal, then we will lower it to $75. That’s the first time, and this is per owner, not per animal. The second time an animal from that owner comes in, it’s $300. And if they want to spay or neuter, we’ll back it up one level to $100. The third time it comes in, it’s going to be $600, then $900. And then it’ll be $1000.”

Paris went on to note that citations will also go along with that.

These new changes are just part of the major changes that could be coming to the ordinance. Paris promised those present that he would be looking into the ordinance to have something to present next month. Goodwin asked how many animals might die by the time this situation reaches those higher levels of fees.

Goodwin said that this issue has gone on for six years with nobody seeming to respond or even care as this one owner hides behind a law claiming exemption for dog attacks on other animals under certain circumstances. One of those exemptions involve Predator Control, being the training claimed for these animals. However, he also tells FYN that he has neighbors who have photos and even a video of one of the dogs with a mutilated cat in its mouth.

Additionally, with potential citations, court litigation, and other outcomes from additional issues arising, County Attorney David Clark warned those citizens that continued investigations would require continued support from citizens. He said they cannot back off from standing up for the issue as the county and court systems cannot pursue them through Animal Control without citizen support.

Goodwin stated that he did not want to harm the dogs as he blames the owner for their training and activities, but he warned that if they continued being aggressive and threatening others, someone was going to get hurt.

Paris also said he was worried about citizens attempting to protect themselves and potentially harming or killing the animals.

Moving into the the minimal 3-month process, changes are currently expected to be advertised in September, if approved the first reading will be in October, if approved there the second reading and final adoption will be in November.

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County certification in ethics recognized

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County has officially been certified and recognized as an “Organization of Ethics, or “County of Ethics,” by the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA).

The recognition officially came during the recent GMA Convention on June 24, 2019. According to a news release from the Association, “The City of Ethics program began in 1999 and was developed by a panel of business and government leaders to encourage cities to adopt and adhere to a set of key ethical principles and adopt a local ethics ordinance. The ordinance must contain definitions, prohibited conduct and due process for officials accused of violations in areas such as financial disclosures, conflicts of interests and outside employment. The ordinance must also contain penalties for city officials who violate the ordinance.”

The county has been working towards this title for several months now through the appointment of a Board of Ethics to judge and discern complaints brought forth and adding ordinances in the County’s Code to address the issue. Although mostly formalities, designating the board and becoming a county of ethics is something Gilmer County Chairman Charlie Paris wanted mostly for the symbolism as he stated in a recent meeting that he hoped the Board of Ethics is appointed and never meets.

As a entity that would only meet if problems arise and a complaint or dispute is brought forth, the lack of issues would put these positions as a mere title and nothing more. Yet, the meaning behind that would represent an ethically strong government.

The GMA’s full release is as follows:

SAVANNAH – Gilmer County Board of Commissioners was recognized as the most recently certified Organization of Ethics at the Georgia Municipal Association’s (GMA) Annual Convention June 24. The City of Crawfordville also received the City of Ethics certification, while 36 additional cities received recertifications

The cities of Acworth, Barnesville, Brunswick, Buford, Centerville, Clarkston, Dawsonville, Donalsonville, Dublin, Dunwoody, Grantville, Helen, Hinesville, Hiram, Lakeland, Luthersville, Madison, Maysville, Meansville, Midway, Moultrie, Mount Airy, Mount Vernon, Newnan, Nicholson, Powder Springs, Reynolds, Sandersville, Savannah, Sugar Hill, Suwanee, Swainsboro, Sylvester, Tifton, Trion and Vienna.

The City of Ethics program began in 1999 and was developed by a panel of business and government leaders to encourage cities to adopt and adhere to a set of key ethical principles and adopt a local ethics ordinance. The ordinance must contain definitions, prohibited conduct and due process for officials accused of violations in areas such as financial disclosures, conflicts of interests and outside employment. The ordinance must also contain penalties for city officials who violate the ordinance.

GMA requires members with the designation to recertify for the program, ensuring that ordinances maintain the standards of the program and officials are regularly reminded of their ethical obligations as individuals and as a governing body. Each city/organization is required to apply for recertification every four years.

A panel of attorneys reviewed the ordinances to determine if they comply with the criteria set by GMA. The new members received a plaque and are now authorized by GMA to use a “Certified City and Organization of Ethics” logo on stationery, road signs, vehicles and for other uses.

Based in Atlanta, GMA is a voluntary, non-profit organization that provides legislative advocacy, educational, employee benefit and consulting services to its 538 member cities.

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NWGRC leads meeting to work on County Plan

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Citizens and leaders gather around tables with plans and layouts of the county to discuss their opinions on what to plan for in the future.

EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Northwest Georgia Regional Commission (NWGRC) is continuing its work alongside the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners as the official meeting for stakeholders was held this week to consider and add to the Comprehensive Plan.

The continuing effort from last year’s discussions over the plan are now reaching out to the farmers, business owners, developers, and all citizens as ‘stakeholders’ in the plan’s development.

The meeting had posters and layouts of the county printed and mounted to tables and walls including the results from the county’s recent survey. Attendees were encouraged with pens and markers to raise and address issues and questions on these posters for the authorities to consider in the continuing process to construct more than “just a document to be approved and put in the drawer,” as it has been called by Gilmer Post Commissioner Dallas Miller.

NWGRC Assistant Planning Director Ethan Calhoun.

The NWGRC’s representative and Assistant Planning Director, Ethan Calhoun was on hand as well to speak with citizens and inform them on the area through the available statistics and documents.

Moving forward, the NWGRC and Gilmer BOC will consolidate this and other meetings as the move towards the final adoption of the 5-year Comprehensive Plan later this year. The document is to be used as a guide for county as to the needs and wants of the public for projects in the county.

Additionally, Calhoun told FYN that the plan is more than just a county guide, but a necessary step for acquiring grants and other state funding for those projects.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Pool Debate jumps into the deep end

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – The story is continuing with Gilmer County’s pool as the debate received another change in the July Board of Commissioners meetings.

Questions arose to revisit the idea of a deeper area in the pool with a diving board for citizens and children use to jump into the pool. This idea was originally not at all a part of the plans for the pool as liability and insurance issues made each member of the board question the addition.

As such, until now, plans have never included the area, instead having an offset area with two slides set up for play. The offset area was, and still is, connected to the “competition pool,” the first pool to be put in during the construction project that is now almost certain to span years to ultimately achieve a full recreation center.

Concern was also raised about continued debates on designs and inclusions for the project. Commission Chairman Charlie Paris noted how late in the year we are without the county having even put out requests for bids. Paris is continuing to try to hold to his plans to meet a Memorial Day 2020 deadline or sometime soon after to open the basic pool for the public. Tempering the plans with cost concerns, Post Commissioner Dallas Miller continued the debate questioning exactly how much extra the addition would cost the county in building a diving well in addition to the slide area and the pool.

Plans have only inflated since the pools’ original design was released early last week. Citizens are continuing to debate, question, change, and increase plans for the pool despite many of them being against beginning construction of the pool this year.

Paris commented on the changes that citizens are requesting as he said in an earlier meeting he didn’t want to wind up spending millions of dollars on a pool “that doesn’t meet our needs.” Miller also said he would rather spend $4 million on the pool that people want even if it adds years to the completion time.

County Attorney David Clark offered an answer to the debate as the county is still early in the design phase. Clark suggested the county request bids for both options including and excluding the diving well.

The county is also holding fast to the $1.2 million budget for the pool for now as they march towards Memorial Day. Debate is starting to grow if the county will stay within the $1.2 million. Constantly being asked over and over again, Paris has simply repeated his statement saying that he wants to get everything he can for the pool for $1.2 million. He has taken several opportunities at several meetings and interviews to list the county’s priority of getting the main pool in with all the extra they can, but coming back in subsequent years for the other additions like a cover, a kids pool, a splash pad, and other items.

With designs set and citizens already speaking out on their plans, the county is already hearing and changing ideas. It seems the presentation of the design proposal has already doubled as the town hall meeting promised to citizens to consider design changes. Despite that, the county’s monthly meetings are also seeing comments and changes right up to the last minute before bids are received.

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Ethics questioned in county ethics board appointment

News

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

News

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

News

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

News

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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