Budget and Airport discussed in year end special meeting

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Two days before Christmas, the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners met to discuss last-minute items of the 2020 Budget and an Airport lease before the end of 2019.

Approving the 2020 Budget, the Board is officially ready for the year after a process starting in September preparing for Budget Hearings with Department Heads and Elected Officials.

With discussions over the Road Department from Public Works Director Jim Smith, the topic of attracting people for positions came up as Smith requested confirmation of budgeting for two unfilled positions.

The county has been looking for people to hire into these positions for months and still has not hired anyone. Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris did say the funding was there, but voiced concerns over the possibility of filling the positions after the long period.

The board is also moving forward with a lease to the Georgia Forestry Commission. Public Works Director Jim Smith is finalizing details alongside County Attorney David Clark as they divide one back room and split between the airport and the commission without granting access to the entire area for the commission.

The county is awaiting a response on changes to the agreement and should be finalizing the lease in the coming months. One detail still in flux is a request for control over a full hangar, another is an issue with credit cards and the county’s card reader for the purchase of fuel. With several possibilities being discussed, the board left Smith to work through the operational details over the office space, hangar space, and buying fuel. The item will return to the January agenda for the board to see the agreement and vote on approval.

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BOC Meeting called two days before Christmas

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners are calling for one last meeting in 2019.

Next week will see a special called meeting for the board, but it will come two days before Christmas Day. The schedule sets the meeting to begin at 8:30 a.m. on the morning of December 23, 2019.

While the meeting agenda is set with only three items, it almost got bigger last week with the Board of Commissioners looking to add a few items tabled from their regular meeting.

With Public Works Director Jim Smith returning to the meetings after taking personal time, the Commissioners had originally tabled the Concrete Bid agenda item from November. Commission Chairman Charlie Paris asked to table the bid again until this meeting on December 23 to give Smith more time to analyze the bids. However, taking time as the meeting progressed Smith worked on the bid submissions to make sure to give the board an answer. The board wound up awarding the bid in the meeting and cancelling its addition to this meeting.

However, the meetings’ second addition did not get canceled as new information is arising from the agenda item to consider possible action to rent Airport space to the Georgia Forestry Commission. The board is taking extra time to investigate issues with the Forestry Commission’s previous rental space in Pickens and agreement details.

The meeting will go forward with three agenda items;
1.Discussion and possible action to rent Airport space to the Georgia Forestry Commission
2. Discussion and possible action on approval of an MOU with SORBA/IMBA
3. Resolution to Adopt the 2020 Budget.

 

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Bids approved at November BOC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Commissioners advertise 2020 budget

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County 2020 budget, Pool Demolition

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

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

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

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

The final form is being advertised as thus:

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

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

 

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Budget talks consider smaller contingency fund

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Proposed Budget in early stages for Gilmer County

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Proposed Budget

ELLIJAY, Ga – Meetings have completed and the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners are preparing for the next steps of cuts and adjustments as they move towards a finalized budget in the coming months. With much still to come, the budget meetings now showcase each department and office’s initial proposed budget.

Each holds a meeting specifically for them to highlight requests and changes to their budgets alongside Financial Officer Sandi Holden and, this year, the two current members of the Board of Commissioners.

While the county is planning in the proposed budget for a potential eight percent increase in group insurance, they are still early in planning and may not see that large of an increase.

 

Sheriff’s Office

While much of the Sheriff’s Office budget remains similar to recent years, another increase is being proposed for a change in retirement benefits. This plan sees officers paying into the program over a minimum of 15 years of service, according to Gilmer County Sheriff Stacy Nicholson. The POAB (Peace Officers Annuity and Benefits Fund) is a retirement for certified law enforcement officers. Any officer in Georgia can join. After the officer retires, a monthly payment created by the number of years your were a member multiplied by 24.

Sheriff Nicholson is asking in his budget to invoke an option for the county. As the Sheriff’s Office has been paying the $20 per month for its officers since 2014, Nicholson is requesting to budget for the option to “buy back” up to 5 years of service in the Gilmer Sheriff’s Office for officers who worked for the office before 2014. Nicholson estimates this could affect between 32 and 34 employees. Not all would be a full five years of service. It could cost an extra $175,000 or more. However, Nicholson also said the purchase could be done in increments, so as not to cost the full price at first.

If the office moves forward with this, Nicholson said that a contract with officers would be created so that should an officer leave the Sheriff’s Office to transfer to another law enforcement agency, they would pay back the money spent to buy back these years of service.

Additionally, there was a budget increase in salaries. However, Nicholson said this change comes from Administrative Salaries and includes zero pay raise. Instead, the change is to cover some oversights due to raises over recent years.

There are also capital expenditures requests including 10 vehicles and 11 portable radios including extra programming, this programming includes repeating frequencies and adaptations for multiple agency on scene situations.

 

Fire/EMA

Gilmer’s Fire Department is reporting that they will see some increase expected in their revenue lines. With Minor increase to line items such as contract services, vehicle repairs and maintenance, and supplies and materials, the majority of the changes in the capital budget.

Just like last year, a massive $467,809 was requested on the Capital Budget. Only Roads and Bridges compares in capital expenses at $365,000. Paris also repeated his same question from last year’s budget as he asked Fire Chief Daniel Kauffman to prioritize the items requested.

 

 

That priority came to
1.  2020 Dodge Ambulance – $236,000
2. Used Fire Engine to replace a 1976 American LaFrance – $75,000
3. Stryker Stretcher with Warranty and Maintenance – $10,844
4. Hurst Hydraulics Extrication Equipment – $32,000
5. 2 Lucas Devices for CPR compression assistance and training – $53,965
6. 2020 Ford F150 – $25,000
7. Target Solutions
8. 2020 Ford F250 – $35,000

 

Roads & Bridges

The county is looking at raising wages for employees who are still working at $9 per hour wages. Roads and Bridges saw a proposed increase in wages from $773,563 to $898,106. This has actually reached across multiple years and departments as the county is attempting to have increased all employees in the next few years. County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris has said before that the county sees part of its turnover rate due to low pay.

Another big increase came through striping. The Road Dept is catching up through all the current paving from 2019 alongside other projects. With the budget set to go back and stripe in 2020, the Road Department budget jump[ed on this line item. In the 2019 budget, striping was budgeted at $30,000, but in 2020, the current proposal is set at $120,000. Paris noted later in the meeting that striping costs are estimated per mile at $2,500 for double-yellow lines and two edge lines. Paris stated that Eller Road and Howard Simmons Road would cost more as they use center turn lanes and intersections. Their estimate is $5,000 per mile.

On the Capital Budget, the Road Department reached $365,000. However, the majority of this request comes from two items. A Motorgrader for $240,000 and a Dump Truck for $125,000.

 

Solid Waste

Just like the Road Department, proposed budgets are showing increases in salary lines to bring up those making $9 per hour to a higher wage. The increase goes from 2019’s budgeted $268,576 to 2020’s proposed $335,525. 

While they don’t have a specific number yet, the department is also reporting an expected increase from Advanced Disposal for the county’s solid waste disposal. They are also still looking at the leachate issue from the landfill’s lift stations. Additional funds could be required if the situation changes.

 

 

 

Tax Assessors

With the Board of Assessors requesting pay increases across the department for Tax Assessors, the budget requests could meet push back as the Tax Assessors have seen increases in recent years.

Another increase comes with Contract Services. The increase for a second flight for QPublic and Change Finder program to scan for changes to properties. This program can allow the Assessors to see properties that may be blocked off or gated to where assessors may not normally be able to see the whole property. This program also automatically scans properties within the county to find details and changes that would increase property values and, therefore, revenue in the department.

 

 

 

Elections

With major elections coming up, the Probate Court is almost tripling their elections budget, increasing from 2019’s budgeted $65,314 to a proposed $192,304 in 2020. As expected during an election year like this, the increases are reaching to areas like advertising. Supplies and materials is over six times its 2019 budget, from $7,400 to $47,000. Additionally, their proposed budget proposes $111,092 for election workers.

Probate Judge Scott Chastain is still looking for details on operating the elections side of the office, addressing issues like poll workers payments and ballot advertising alongside Chief Registrar Tammy Watkins. As the budget moves into later stages details will become more fine tuned in the elections.

One of the major issues that is still unclear as to how it could affect the budget is the new election machines. Training and security for election ballots for the new machines are not yet fully completed as they continue to await the machines.

This includes new equipment such as required printers for the voting machines including their ink and maintenance.

 

Animal Shelter

Also requesting salary increases, the Animal Shelter is looking at a proposed $124,500, opposed to 2019’s budgeted $108,040.

Director Daniel Laukka is also looking to begin accruing a type of contingency on the capital budget fund as he looks to needs for repairs and eventual replacement of the shelter’s transport van. Paris noted that he believes the shelter is going to eventually need to look at possibly hiring another animal control officer, but said that 2020 probably wouldn’t be that time.

 

 

 

Code and Regulatory Department

A major increase in group insurance saw this department go from 2019’s budgeted $613 to the 2020 proposal of $12,500. Another increase in advertising came from “blue cards” advertising.

 

 

 

 

 

Recreation and Parks Department

While much of the Recreation and Parks Department budget remains the same, a decrease in Civic Center utilities shows the drop in costs as the pool pumps will no longer run. However, certain items are still in place, such as gate revenue and concessions costs still indicate plans to move forward with the pool construction. However, now, even Chairman Paris said he is starting to doubt whether the county will meet the goal of Memorial Day.

 

 

 

 

Coroner

The coroner’s office is requesting an increase in budget for an additional deputy coroner.

 

 

 

 

 

Magistrate Court

The Magistrate Court’s budget shows little change with only slight increases to line items like Insurance and Bonds and Group Insurance. Judge Kincaid is requesting a small increase for clerk training and education as well.

 

 

 

 

 

Clerk of Court

A decrease in administration salary was noted as the county switches Clerks of Court after the retirement of Glenda Sue Johnson. However, the nearly $16,000 decrease was offset by a $22,000 increase in group insurance.

 

 

 

 

 

Superior Court

Last year’s approval for a pre-trial and probation program shows under Superior Courts budget as $27,509. Though not originally budget for the 2019 budget, discussion is underway whether to keep this line item under Superior Court or move it to Probation department. Additionally, Superior Court Judge Brenda Weaver is asking for $3,000 increase in Mental Health Court Program. With increasing numbers of help needed for those with mental issues, Judge Weaver said the money they are receiving is not enough to meet match numbers for state grants.

 

 

 

 

Planning and Zoning

Planning and Zoning is looking at a few increases in areas such as advertising and insurance, their overall budget is actually decreasing in proposal by just over $2,000.

 

 

 

 

 

Tax Commissioner

Minor increases in communications and professional services, with a larger increase to supplies and materials.

 

 

 

 

 

Voter Registrar

Increases to Salary and Wages include and additional run-off election next year that the office is planning for. However, plans could change with coming changes to voting machines. Involving early voting and election night voting, an additional person may be needed to monitor the new machines printed ballots and to direct those who may need guidance on the process of submitting the paper ballots.

 

 

 

 

Maintenance Department

Maintenance Department is also looking to increase pay wages in the proposed budget.

 

 

 

 

 

Chamber

The proposed budget for the Chamber highlighted requested features from the BOC including planned audits and reports. The Chamber is also planning to see a slight increase to collections based on years of growth. In the next year, President and CEO of the Chamber, Paige Green indicated they could be looking to improve some cycling capabilities to revisit the idea of becoming an IMBA Ride Center.

In other changes, they are looking for directional signage, maps, other downtown improvements.

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Grants and budget bring upgrades to the fire department

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upgrades to the fire department

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County’s Fire Department is finally seeing the fruition of over a year of planning, adjustments, and applications as they catalog the many upgrades to the fire department.

It’s not just the fire protection that has seen these improvements, however, as Public Safety Director Keith Kucera and Gilmer Fire Chief Daniel Kauffman showcased the new purchases.

Carrying nearly 80 pounds in extra weight, Gilmer Firefighters rely on the gear for safety and protection in their daily service.

“It’s been a busy year,” said Kauffman, “Purchasing equipment and updating to safer and more reliable equipment.”

While the uniforms and the turnout gear came from the county budget after a request came to repurpose capital funds from a pumper tanker truck for the department. Instead of that truck, the county has outfitted the safety turnout gear for fire and rescue as well as new uniforms for members of the department.

In a concerted effort, Kucera, Kauffman, and County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris all said they wanted the new uniforms to be a sign of Gilmer’s professionalism. The county purchased 114 Flying Cross brand uniforms that bear the county name and one patch on the shoulder. Confirming that some employees had used uniforms from other places, Kauffman noted the new uniforms are to show off effort and hard work they do. Having upgrades to the fire department is one thing, but outfitting the employees’ uniforms is a matter of pride.

The new air packs host a special standardized feature to allow other firefighters to hook up to them to share their air in cases of pack failure.

The upgrades include everything in the outfit. Everything from head to toe on these firefighters is new. New jackets, pants, and boots are only the foundation. The department received new air tanks to double capacity from 2216 PSI to 4500 PSI. The tanks are the same size, not increasing the weight, but the extra capacity and pressure allow these men and women to operate longer in firefights.

These new tanks are also a part of a new statewide standard that has the capability for firefighters to go to a fellow firefighter, who may have fallen, blacked out, or is just having issue with his tank, and connect their line to his tank as well. This provides air to someone in a dire situation with tank failure. This system is already in use by the Ellijay Fire Department, improving the cooperation between the two agencies.

The new handheld thermal imaging cameras, left, are much smaller in size, but come with a shorter range than the larger, older versions, right.

Additionally, a firefighter is equipped with a pass device. If one stands still in their equipment for 15 seconds, alarms go off notifying those nearby alerting others through audio and visual alarms. They also come with newer voice amplifiers that are now constantly on and better quality sounds to facilitate communication. New Nomex hoods go under the jacket covering the head as well.

Through the Emergency Management Performance Grant, the department has purchased eight handheld thermal imaging cameras. Much smaller than the average camera used. With a 300 foot range, these cameras clip to the gear to be easily carried and used amid structure fires to both search for hot spots in order to protect firefighters and search for people through smoke or low visibility situations. Additionally, these cameras could also be used outside of structure fires in specific need situations like hiker falling off a bank. Though the technology has been around for years, the compact devices are more affordable now, as such the grants have made purchasing possible.

Much lighter, these Forestry Nomex Coveralls are used in cases of wildfires and similar, holding no air pack and much lighter, wildlands firefighter gear.

New upgrades to the fire department does not mean disposing of the old, however. Kauffman said, “Guys want to train in their gear. It allows them to train in gear that’s not designed for firefighting. And they don’t have to use their gear where they may damage it, rip it, or get it sweaty or smelly. We’ll actually mark the gear as training so it doesn’t get mixed up for fire fighting purposes.”

Kucera also said the department uses older gear like this for the Rangers Program and public events like last year’s appearance and gear tryouts at the Apple Festival.

This isn’t the only gear that’s new to the department, either. Through other grants, other sets of specialty gear of been purchased including forestry and chainsaw safety gear.

With the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia Grant, the Gilmer County Fire Department, 14 Forestry Nomex Coveralls were purchased for safety in the woods as these firefighters aid in controlled burns or find themselves fighting a wildfire as Gilmer has seen in recent years. A different process than structure fires, this gear provides different functionality. Wildfires are about control and containment instead of structure fires where they would enter for search and rescue and focus on extinguishing fires. This gear is also far more lightweight.

Arborist gear, purchased from recent grants in 2019, is used when utilizing chainsaws on downed trees and similar situations in Gilmer County.

Just as Gilmer aided in the wildfires in the past year, they are also on standby with the damage from hurricane Dorian coming through. With the department’s boats, usually used in rescue operations in nearby lakes and rivers, being on standby has specific travel supplies and equipment made ready and in staging positions if a need is called for.

The last set of gear, also from the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia Grant, eight sets of arborist gear will be used for storms, wind damage, and other needed situations as fallen trees are very common in Gilmer County.

A firefighter packs on an average of 60 – 80 pounds according to Kucera, but this new gear, including the expanded capacity air packs, handheld thermal imaging cameras, and standardized hosing and connectors, its 80 pounds of safety and protection. adding extra capabalities without massively increasing weight is just a part of these upgrades for the fire department as these men and women serve the community in what they do.

Their service is not just Gilmer County, but any in need through grants and agreements for mutual aid as well as disaster situations like so many communities are facing against Hurricane Dorian.

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Budget continues perks for citizens and employees

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EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – East Ellijay is continuing more than just property tax waivers for the ‘19-’20 fiscal year as they presented and approved their budget in June’s meeting.

Introducing the new budget, East Ellijay Mayor Mack West noted in his discussion that the ‘18-’19 budget did not need to take money from reserves to balance the budget as projected. The final financial reporting shows approximate revenues at $1,590,000 and actual expenditures at $1,380,000, leaving a $210,000 excess of revenue over expenditures.

Continuing into the next fiscal year, the council approved the waiver of solid waste, semi-weekly, residential curb-side pick-up fees city residents. According to a letter the West provided the council, “business and commercial entities use area contractors for waste disposal” and are not a part of the waiver.

Another item the city is continuing comes as a finish to last year’s budget. The council approved an $800 bonus to city employees, coming in July. Mayor West stated during the meeting that due to the diligence of employees and efforts to keep expenditures low, all employees would receive the bonus.

The bonus has been done for years, so many in fact, that council members could not remember exactly when the tradition began. Continuing the bonus still required the council’s approval,however, as is done every year.

West applauded the city’s staff in the letter saying, “All City Employees, including our many contract employees, are well trained, dedicated individuals with performance levels above and beyond expectations. As long as we have a good team and work together, we can provide the required services to our citizens without any property tax assessements.”

The letter also gave a statement on the city’s current financial status at the end of May 2019. With eight General Fund CD’s, the city holds $2,127,879.51. They also hold two SPLOST CD’s totaling $330,548.54.

Read the Mayor’s letter to the council with Page 1, Page 2, and Page 3.

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