ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer’s Commissioners are still discussing developments in the county as citizens and business continue the debate of Gilmer’s future including a topic of impact fees. With developments increasing, some groups like Keep Gilmer Rural are still pushing hard in the county to increase restrictions for incoming developers looking to build 1000 unit properties and similar issues.
When Chairman Charlie Paris broached the subject, he questioned impact and infrastructure as the common issue the county as a whole faces with some higher-density developments. Paris spoke on needs like new fire stations and increased staff for public safety departments as well as new roads, traffic, and connections to be built and maintained.
The idea for regulations and ordinances requiring developers to provide assistance for these needs was also questioned by Paris.
Specifying impact fees is the obvious first concept for this, but Paris looked further at requiring land to be dedicated for fire stations or road widening or other additions.
Post Commissioner Hubert Parker agreed that the taxpayers should not shoulder the immediate costs of these massive developments. Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson said, “I am for impact fees and have been for a long time.”
Public Works Director Jim Smith also agreed saying that he understood that impact fees are generally frowned upon but he felt that any developer coming into town and making as much money as they do on their developments should participate in the building up of the necessary infrastructure/ Smith stated, “It is nothing but fair that they participate on the front end and the existing taxpayer is not burdened with the requirement to build that infrastructure for them.”
Discussion continued on how to engage such judgments. A case by case basis was proposed, but later spoken against as potentially having a perception of unfairness to one entity or another. Another thought of presetting certain lot number limits to tiers of impact fees could be a possibility. Citizens are questioning those developers who would max out the possible lots numbers before hitting next tiers to avoid those higher fees and then immediately building an additional subdivision nearby as a separate project that they will eventually join together.
Fire Chief Daniel Kauffman commented on the topic saying that fire and rescue infrastructure do benefit from impact fees. He also stated that he had experience with such things in a previous job.
Eventually, the board decided to look further into the issue via committee to return with investigations and better information to include local developers as well as citizens and others with possible special insight. No specifics have been set into who would be on the board aside from an agreement among the BOC that local developers would need to have representation.
Smith told the commissioners that impact fees could be imposed in different ways including partial fees or full coverage, split amongst the developer or other parties. Paris said his idea would have the fees imposed on the developers without affecting builders who build in the project.
The board also received questions and comments during their regular meeting after tabling the agenda item. The board members explained that they were looking deeper into the topic and will hold the agenda item as a discussion topic in future meetings so they may continue looking at the topic, discussing, and developing both a committee and the possibility of actually implementing impact fees in some manner in the future.
Some even called for the board to extend the current moratorium to aid in continued discussion. However, Chairman Paris said he said when the board established the moratorium that he wouldn’t ask to extend it and he wanted to stick to his promise.
GILMER COUNTY, Ga. – With his current term completing at the end of 2022, Gilmer’s current Board of Commissioners’ Chairman Charlie Paris has announced his candidacy in this year’s election for the chairman position.
However, it is a note in his message that some are focusing in. Along with his announcement for candidacy, it seems that Paris is also announcing far ahead of schedule that, if elected to this term, it will likely be his last. Paris stated, “I ask for your vote and support as I now announce for one final term as your chairman.”
When asked why he was already announcing it as the final term, Paris said that he wanted time left for himself after his service. Planning ahead to make this a final term will allow time for family and personal goals. While those plans include time with grandkids and family in Auburn, Alabama, Paris also noted, “Going fishing on a Wednesday instead of a Saturday.” A small goal it may seem, but Paris said its a major difference between the number of people on the lake.
With those plans to look forward to, Paris also said that one final term allows him to finish several projects before leaving office. Paris said, “I have spent seven years trying to bring Gilmer County to the point that we can start doing the things that we should have been doing all along.” Paris said the best example of this for him is the Road Department. With the equipment so old and rusted as it was when he took office, Paris said a lot of effort has gone into getting the road department the equipment they need to be to the point where they can accomplish the needs of the county.
Paris noted that with so much effort put into getting them to that point and being so close to that point, he now wants to switch from fixing issues and equipment needs to utilizing the department in actually accomplishing those needs. He noted that there is still more work to be done in the Road Department as well as others, and he wants to continue that, but he also wants t o see the fruits of that effort.
Additionally, plans in 2022 have already started on improving the county’s fire department to, as he said, a “mountain fire department.” Equipping the county with some advanced equipment will accomplish needs for citizens in situations such as high grade driveways for homes. Driveways that a full tanker fire truck may not be able to climb. Utilizing things like mini-pumpers that can get up these driveways, the department will be able to leave the truck at the bottom of a dangerous incline on a driveway and the mini pumper reaches the fire and allows the firemen to accomplish their jobs.
On top of finishing the pool project and fully completing the county’s lift station at the landfill, there are still projects to complete in the final term before a new chairman takes over. Paris said, “What I’d like to do with whoever succeeds me is… I’d like to be able to just hand them the key to the office and say, ‘Everything’s great. Now improve on what’s there.'”
Explaining further, he noted he didn’t want to leave anything half done or have a mindset of leaving a problem for the next person. Paris noted how far River Park has come in seven years. Cleaning the park, new playgrounds, putting up new bathrooms, and repaving and extending the walking paths are completed projects that he is very happy with. Looking ahead, there is more that can be done and is being done for the next journey. But he said the difference between the park now and seven years ago is huge.
Not quite done, but looking to the future, Chairman Charlie Paris announced his candidacy as a final term. He said, “I love what I do. I’ve enjoyed the first seven years of it. I hope I can have one more term.”
Yet, when asked about potential service after he finishes as Chairman, Paris admitted that he might still volunteer for something if he was asked to. He didn’t offer any specific areas of the county, but when asked about the Animal Shelter, he replied, “Animal Shelter, obviously, is one of my highest interests, but it could be anywhere I’m needed.”
Regardless of volunteer service or not, Paris made one thing clear when asked about his time after serving as Chairman, “I’m not leaving Gilmer. This is my home. I love it here.”
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Expecting no effect on the timeline of the previous moratorium, Gilmer is continuing its process along the debate of Gilmer’s population and density. A widespread topic encompassing large developments, apartment buildings, affordable housing, lot sizes, lot numbers, the comprehensive plan and the moratorium on certain developments, the debate has gone on for some time as both citizens and leaders are looking for possible answers.
Today’s step in the process approved an early revisit to the county’s comprehensive plan. Commission Chairman Charlie Paris noted that the county isn’t scheduled to revisit the plan for another three years. However, the suggestion of an early revisit came as the county is looking at studies and impacts of population and density within the county.
The studies were a major part of the reasoning for the moratorium originally, and as the county continues those, it hopes to revisit and adjust the document accordingly to provide a better guide towards zoning request they see likely to arise. Paris also noted a need for three new zones in the county.
Affordable housing has proven a touchy subject for many in the county as has been seen in the commissioners meetings even when major rezonings or land use topics weren’t on the agenda. Groups like Keep Gilmer Rural have also helped continue discussions on the topic over the months. In many of those meetings and discussions, citizens reference the comprehensive plan and the direction the county is headed.
Now, the hope for the current revisit is touching specific subjects, the board indicated that it didn’t believe a complete redo of the plan was necessary but would rather confirm, change, clarify, or readjust those specific topics.
The discussion among the board indicated that while they may not get the exact same people that were on committees last time, they are hoping to have the same representation. With community response high last time, the board is just as eager to get a balanced sample of the community providing insight and input from all corners and ideals.
They have already begun discussion over the topic with Post Commissioner Hubert Parker questioning if certain groups such as farmers were included. While Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson, who was very involved in the last revisit, assured Parker that specifically farmers were included, she agreed that there could be some new people in the county with particular interest in the plan and the county’s direction.
A new change that was discussed among the Board of Commissioners came as Chairman Paris requested that the board as a whole step back from the plan and be less involved than they previously were. He stated concerns over perception of any commissioner being involved in the plan’s development saying that he didn’t want it to appear that the board was attempting any sort of “spin” on the plan.
Paris stated, “We’re going to be listening to a lot of very contentious rezoning requests over the next year.”
He noted that many people adamantly hold their own opinions on both sides and if the board members can abstain from the committees themselves, it could assuage any perceptions that the board as a whole had any opportunity to “stack the deck.”
Reasserting his desire to avoid any possible contentions, accusations, or ideas of any bias or manipulation due to anything perceived, Paris went on to say, “Perception is everything.”
While no hard schedule was set into the approval, some discussion on the impact this revisit could have on the six month moratorium indicated that the board is hoping to have the revisit completed somewhere close to the next three to four months. This would mean the board is hoping for a quick set up and turnaround for its committees. Paris also noted he wants the plan to become a current, up-to-date, plan for the commissioners to use as a citizen created guidepost into the future.
A unanimous decision supported the revisit and the county is moving forward with the process in December.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Approved for a wedding and events venue in the past, Old Northcutt Road is still seeing more construction in the area and a need for widening to support the traffic on the road.
In a special called meeting, the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners addressed the issue as Planning and Zoning Director Karen Henson said the county approached representatives of Carlota, LLC. to discuss widening the road “because of the project that they are putting in.”
Estimates from Jim Smith, Director of Public Works, indicate that the road widening could cost about $18,000. This only includes a little over 500 feet of road, but the county is looking to have this done by the time colder weather prevents completion of the project.
This “sum certain,” as County Attorney David Clark called it, is the agreed payment and now the approved amount for Chairman Charlie Paris to sign. However, if estimates come back higher than this, the county will have to revisit the project in a later meeting.
Some discussion came as to whether the county would be performing the work or if a contractor would be called in to widen the road. Currently, the county is in the middle of paving, and Smith said that the county could supervise the work of a contractor. Both Post Commissioners Hubert Parker and Karleen Ferguson agreed saying that the county road department is on a schedule and did not want to give priority to this road over others on the list that have waited.
However, neighbors and citizens have been requesting help with Old Northcutt Road for a while and are hoping to receive relief for the issue. Negotiating with the LLC, the county is now looking to have them pay for the project, with the county as a “middle-man” to supervise since it is a public road.
With the contract assuming that both prep work and paving would be handled by the contractor that the LLC chooses, the county will not have to pull any department resources or equipment to the location. Carlota, LLC. is putting in the wedding and events venue on the opposite side of Highway 515 as White Path Distillery, another wedding and events venue established on Old Northcutt Road that extends across 515.
The county is looking closer and zoning requests in the future as Smith expressed his desire to have Public Works voice opinions to both the Planning and Zoning Director and Board about the road conditions and infrastructure on conditional use permits.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – While mostly focused on Hazard Pay for county employees, Gilmer County discussed possible areas of need and opportunity for the funding from the American Rescue Plan to go towards. The county discussed a number of options including HVAC Repairs, workforce housing, an ambulance, possibly passing on some funding to non-profits in the county, and even using funding to reimburse some salaries.
While keeping in mind that directly spending funds on certain areas of the county not approved in the funding resolution is prohibited, the funding does allow for reimbursements of salaries which could free up some standard M&O Budget for some other needs.
The first project discussed in the Commissioners Special Called Meeting, outside of the prioritized Hazard Pay funding for employees, was a major need for HVAC repairs and possible replacements across the county. An important issue for both COVID health and employee general health standards, Paris noted that many of the systems used by the county are “very old and inefficient.”
Replacing them with new systems would allow for better efficiency, but the new systems would also utilize, according to Paris, a UV sterilization system for air that is cycled. Paris noted that rough estimates totaled $300,000 for the every county building. However, Paris did note that $300,000 seemed low to him. This was later echoed by others with estimates close to $75,000 to $80,000 per unit.
An option arose to simply attempt the replacements one at a time to see how far the money could go and allow the county better understandings of prices and the process before they get too deep into the project. Paris agreed but suggested prioritizing the courthouse and then the jail as the most interactions occur in those two county buildings. However, the board along with other elected officials like Sheriff Nicholson all stated that these systems need replacing, whether utilizing American Rescue Plan funds or placing them as line items in the budget, the county needs to replace the systems.
Acknowledging that the replacements will have to be bid out, Paris requested Facilities Maintenance Director Eric Playford to acquire estimates for the project to give the board a better understanding before committing to bids and the project.
Another item discussed for expenditure addressed workforce housing in the county. An item that has been debated and deliberated on in county meetings for months now, workforce housing has always asked on where such a project could go in the county. As citizens have brought up the issue in county meetings, the BOC can only consider options outside of the city limits. Discussing locations and possibly purchasing property, the idea in the meeting came to purchase property to prepare for higher density zoning toward triplexes or quadplexes. The idea would have builders construct the buildings for sale. Upon sale the county would be reimbursed.
Specifically developing for triplexes and quadplexes could answer one issue in the past as developers have not tended to develop these kinds of higher density housing.
However, in discussing with Public Safety Director Keith Kucera, the current understanding of the county along with the current ruling on the resolution, would not allow the county to use the funds to purchase new property. However, it is believed that if the county already owns property, then developing the housing project could be funded through the funds.
Paris noted two properties the county could utilize in that manner. One being out Yukon and one near Highway 515. However, Paris said he couldn’t see the county adding to traffic on Yukon Road. The property just off of Highway 515, near Whitepath, does not have water or sewer ran to it.
Post 1 Commissioner Hubert Parker suggested utilizing some funds to expand the water system into new areas of the county.
Discussion continued as Paris noted and the board approved an ambulance for Public Safety. With a cost of $230,000, Director Kucera returned to a formerly approved vehicle for community outreach saying he now believes he could find it for less than the originally approved cost. Adding the Ambulance to the list, the board approved the funding through the American Rescue Plan funds.
With no specific amount set, the board is also looking to reimburse salaries and wages for public safety personnel. The county is still looking at its other projects and are looking to return to the discussion in general during its October meeting next week, with the Work Session on October 13, 2021, at 9:00 a.m. and the Regular Meeting on October 14, 2021, at 6:00 p.m.
The board approved reimbursement and is looking to pursue this “as much as possible” while looking at their other projects as well in order to maximize the accomplishments covered with the American Rescue Plan funding.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – “The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” A sign say in front of the Gilmer County Courthouse’s Jury Assembly Room, brought by one of the supporters of the county’s Animal Shelter and an expansion plan alongside two major donations for the facility.
The plan actually includes both expansion and retrofitting of the facility. With encouragement from groups like FOGAS (Friends of Gilmer Animal Shelter), Volunteers Helping the Gilmer County Animal Shelter, Paws Be Good, Homeward Bound, Furry Paws, and many others according to Jack Peyton of FOGAS, who spoke first in the Commissioners meeting on September 9, 2021.
The expansion and donations have been discussed before with questions arising over how the county will support the annual increase in budget for maintaining a larger facility.
Many of those who spoke at the meeting, including Animal Shelter Director Daniel Laukka, stated that the need for a larger facility is already here and more growth is coming. Laukka and others spoke about how animals have become so increased in number that they are being housed in areas like offices simply because their is not enough room elsewhere. With cages in his own office for cats, Laukka spoke of the benefits that the expansion and retrofit will provide in caring for the animals, and how some money could be saved in the annual costs.
Minor items like having to take animals to the vets office for spay/neuter appointments will be neutralized as the expansion has a small area for vets to come and perform the procedures in the animal shelter with equipment in the shelter.
Laukka said he already has 2 vets committed to coming to the shelter to do this. With volunteers continuing to help when possible, speakers in the meeting repeated the need that they have seen as they have helped and visited the shelter. He also noted that a local commercial laundry service has offered to service new laundry equipment designated in the retrofit for free. Also helping with some additional maintenance costs.
Additional discussion moved from what is needed to what has already been accomplished. Dr. William Mitchell, a veterinarian, walked to the podium and said, “I am here to speak in support of Daniel.”
Though the topic at hand was about plans to expand the animal shelter, many of the speakers spoke specifically to what Director Daniel Laukka has accomplished and the leadership he has provided. Dr. Mitchell went on to say he has worked with Animal Control facilities for several decades, “I have never seen a more dedicated and hard working individual than Daniel.”
Laukka himself said he could never do what he does without his staff and supporting groups. It is a collective of efforts from the community that support the shelter.
Programs from supporting groups have allowed for help in the community like low cost spays and neuters for those who need it and the capturing of feral cats in order to spay/neuter and then re-release.
All of these culminate in a department that citizens said has every county in North Georgia looking at Gilmer and how they handle this. One speaker went so far as to call it a “mecca” of the animal shelters in the area.
Laukka himself noted that in 2013, the shelter averaged around 1800 to 2000 animals a year. Laukka noted that close to 1100 of those animals were euthanized every year. WIth expansion first looked at four years ago, according to Laukka, the county instead went with a van that is used in partnership with other programs in other states in the north.
With this hard work towards becoming a “no kill” status, Laukka said in the meeting, “Ninety-nine percent of the animals that come into the shelter now, leave the shelter alive, adoptable, healthy. I get all the credit for it but I couldn’t do it without all the volunteers and the employees. The employees do way more than anybody could ever know.”
Almost 45 minutes of discussion saw every single person that did stand to speak on the topic discussing their support for accepting the donations and the expansion plans. After that, the commissioners moved to the agenda item on the plans.
A very emotional night saw several speakers fighting back tears, and so followed Chairman Paris as he said, “I understand. I can’t say a lot, but I’m going to make a motion to accept the money and build a shelter.”
Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson later seconded the motion after clarifying and Paris’ amending his motion that the county fund an expansion with costs not to exceed the fund for the building from the donations. He explained the fund contains a little over $1.5 million. As such, the fund is specifically designated for the shelter. Paris said there is nothing else it can be used for.
According to a statement by FOGAS, “The input, planning, architectural work, and engineering have been completed for this expansion project.” Now, the county will take on the plans with the intent to bid and begin construction. The engineer was present at the meeting and relayed that with the work that’s been done, the county could be bidding the project by the end of the year with construction to begin in 2022.
Speaking on the expansion, Director Laukka said, “I could probably stand up here and talk for hours about what we’ve accomplished over the last few years but I want to accomplish more over the next few years as well. It’s definitely something we have to do together.”
EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – Traffic devices and data collection are taking the next step toward a Fall implementation as they were approved for advertisement in the County Commission.
However, approval only came for advertisement as the Board of Commissioners raised discussion on privacy in the traffic cameras usage. Chairman Charlie Paris was the first to make the note as he said he was wanting to set it so that the collection of photos or information for anyone not being pursued for speeding would be deleted.
“I believe that it would be essential that that data be eliminated within a specific period of time. If it is one that is not being flagged for speeding, there would be no reason for anybody to maintain that particular data,” said Paris.
Acknowledging the importance that many people place on privacy and date like this, Paris said he wanted this stipulation for approval.
As discussion continued, the question arose about who is collecting the data. As noted during the Board of Education meeting, County Attorney David Clark confirmed that the Sheriff’s Office is contracting with a company for collection. Sheriff Nicholson also stated in the previous BOE meeting that he would have those flagged for speeding sent through a Sheriff’s Deputy, likely a Student Resource Officer, to be approved before the company would mail out a citation.
These speed cameras will be established in three areas; Mountainview Elementary School on Highway 282, Clear Creek Middle School on Clear Creek Road, and Clear Creek Elementary School on Yukon Road. The county’s approval is needed for Clear Creek and Yukon roads.
The scenario will play out as someone speeds through the area, the captured infractions are sent to a local appointed officer, which Nicholson said will likely be a SRO (School Resource Officer). That officer reviews the infractions and makes sure there are no mistakes, then the company will send out tickets to those the officer approves.
Within the county’s BOC meeting, the board considered that it would be the company that they would need to put the restriction on. Due to this, Clark suggested that the approval go for beginning the process and pursuing advertising. He noted that the county will have to approve a contract with the company and could debate the restriction at that time.
With unanimous approval, the project is proceeding, but it was understood that the county would be looking at restrictions on the data during the contracting as they work alongside Sheriff Nicholson for the process.
During the discussion, Post Commissioner Hubert Parker also suggested that they look at other government entities and how they handle the data through speed and traffic cameras such as those at traffic lights.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Honoring the entire Ralston family for contributions to the county and the park specifically, including that of Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to rename the riverside park along Old Highway 5 to “Ralston River Park.”
Originating in this month’s meeting as an agenda item to rename the walking path for the Ralston family, discussion turned to the 28 years of service the county has received through numerous efforts from the family as a whole. Parks and Recreations Director Kevan White spoke during the Commissioners Work Session on the topic saying that some of those efforts include employment with the Parks and Rec Department, officiating basketball games over the years, memberships to the Parks and Rec Advisory Board, coaching various sports, GRPA awards and recognitions, state level service with public service since 1992, state legislation since 2002, volunteer services in disasters like Hurricane Isaac, state-level support in the recent upgrades, county level public service in the commissioners office, and more.
The original proposal the White spoke of was to name the path the “Ralston Riverwalk.” However, Post Commissioner Hubert Parker offered a step-up alternative in naming the whole park instead of the just the walking path. While White said he had thought about it, but didn’t propose it at first, he noted that several parts of the park, like the tennis courts, bear names of people who have dedicated great services to the county and the Parks and Recreation Department as well. White also noted that he has further plans for other dedications in the Clear Creek area as well.
Ultimately, no objection came, and a unanimous agreement to increase the dedication from the walking path to the park in general was made. The BOC May Regular meeting saw the formal motion to add the honorific.
The official name change completed, Chairman Charlie Paris did tell FYN that the county would be placing some sort of plaque or signage bearing the name in the future. But does not currently have a sign ready for it.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – An announcement today from Gilmer Chairman Charlie Paris informed the public of an additional large donation to the Gilmer County Animal Shelter.
The announcement came amid a special called meeting, but it is the first mention of the donation in public as Commission Chairman Charlie Paris said it happened yesterday, February 23, 2021. Paris said that the county is receiving $1 million in a donation to expand and improve the county’s Animal Shelter.
The county has received other donations recently. Two separate donations of $200,000 each set the county to expect to add in $100,000 in county funds to improve the Animal Shelter. Paris noted then and reiterated today that the county is looking at an increased need in the department.
These previous donations, when made, pushed the county to look at the shelter and the use for that money in improving and addressing the needs that were coming.
Paris suggested that the coming need to increase staff at the location is likely inevitable as he said that Gilmer’s Shelter is gaining a statewide reputation for its operations. The Director of the Animal Shelter is Daniel Laukka. Laukka has been praised numerous times through the community and through the county’s government during specific meetings addressing the department such as budget meetings.
The shelter has made allies both in and outside the county, working with other shelters to find homes for pets. Some of their efforts outside of the county include transporting animals north for support outside of the state of Georgia. These animals that have not found homes here in Gilmer are given more opportunities elsewhere. Just this week, the Animal Shelter posted information about transporting pets to Illinois.
However, these programs are made possible by community support and aid. One of the most well known partnerships comes from working with the public through the community driven support program, “Friends of Gilmer Animal Shelter” (FOGAS).
According to their page, FOGAS is a Georgia, non-profit, tax exempt, 501(C)3, all volunteer organization that raises funds to save homeless pets at Gilmer County Animal Shelter.
The now $1.5 million project to expand the shelter is facing two separate issues that the county is discussing. The first being that such an expansion will undoubtedly increase expenses for the Animal Shelter, a department that is one of the county’s smaller budgets according to the board. Post Commissioner Hubert Parker urged the board as a whole to consider the increase that this project will bring, not only though increasing required staff for operations but also for the increase in utilities and supplies. Paris said at one point that he expects a need for one or two additional personal even before looking at plans to expand the facility.
The second issue comes not from the shelter itself, but rather from today’s economy. With the effects of the COVID-19 virus still being felt, Paris noted that building supplies and costs are still increasing. Though the county had an architect look at plans and consider the project last year, Paris said in today’s meeting, “What I was anticipating that we could get for that half million dollars, turns out, in today’s environment, to be just about what we can for that million-and-a-half dollars.”
Paris said that a lot of the increase seems to be coming from the COVID virus through materials and shortages.
The Board of Commissioners is taking extra time on the project. Considering the new donation, changes are coming to increase the plans and to address the new donation. One idea to address came in today’s discussion as Parker asked if the board might consider asking the donor if part of the funds might be set aside for operations. Parker explained that the concept might include setting aside $200,000 or $300,000 and to use the earnings off of that to help support the animal shelter operations. However, he offered the thoughts as an example that the county could discuss with those who gave the donation.
Paris did note that any project or plan for the facility still has a lot of unanswered questions. Having just received the donation, the county is looking at possibilities and their impacts on the county and the Shelter going forward.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Once again returning to conversations of an election board in Gilmer County, the Board of Commissioners is putting the agenda item to create a board on hold.
According to Commission Chairman Charlie Paris, the BOC will not host the agenda item on every meeting as previously planned. The decision came among the board’s agreement after Paris reported that he thought it best to seek an alternative path due to his investigations and considerations of the board’s make-up.
Paris said, “When I got to looking around some at Elections Boards, what I found is that yeah almost all counties have them, but a lot of counties are having a lot of problems with them.”
Paris noted Fulton County specifically whose election board is denying legal requests for documents. He also noted reported problems in Fannin County where board members won’t speak to each other.
Paris said, “I don’t believe the two parties can hold civil conversation between themselves nowadays.” Though he noted that he previously believed Gilmer might be one of the few places it could occur, he no longer felt that way.
Acknowledging that elections have grown, Paris said he understood that elections are so minutely watched and that the work is substantially larger than it used to be.
The discussion continued with Post Commissioner Hubert Parker saying he agreed with not moving forward on an election board until the alternative has been studied.
That alternative that the Board of Commissioners agreed to pursue and the Probate Judge Scott Chastain is currently looking into, involves reconfiguring the Probate Office to possibly include some extra staff to “offload” some of that work.
What the Probate Office would use this staff for in off years without elections is yet to be discussed. However, the concept is in very early stages as both entities continue to look for a path forward.
Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson said, “I think that’s fantastic because that group has done a fantastic job with our elections.”
Paris echoed the sentiment saying Gilmer is among the few counties, in his opinion, that had a flawless election.
With a solid path forward for the commissioners, Paris made a final note that he told Judge Chastain that if there was a push in state legislation to force a Board of Elections, Gilmer would “fight it tooth and nail.”
However, Paris was also quick to note that while he shared this with Judge Chastain, it was not as a threat. Rather he wanted him to know the county’s stance. Paris said the conversation was “not contentious.” He went on to add that Chastain has been very civil in all conversations considering the county’s path forward for elections.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – After last week’s meeting and discussions addressing Gilmer’s growth and density concerns. The Chairman of the Board of Commissioners as responded to clarify the county’s current actions on the Land Use Ordinance.
Gilmer County Board of Commissioners Chairman Charlie Paris said to FYN, “I think many, many people have taken your article the wrong way. They believe that we are trying to increase the density for the sake of growth. In fact, we are trying to hold the density down by making changes to the land use ordinance that will provide less density, rather than more.”
In truth, three major comments were voiced in the Commissioners’ January Work Session offering concerns over the Land Ordinance as it stands now. The county is looking at its future becoming far more densely populated through if major projects are allowed to continue to grow. However, Paris assured citizens in his response that part of what they are looking at is ways to decrease the county’s density growth. One note of discussion from January’s meeting came over lot sizes. In his response, Chairman Paris stated, “We are trying to ensure that Gilmer County stays a rural, agricultural community and not the opposite. We do this primarily by increasing the minimum lot sizes for building. I know that this will make it more expensive for people to build – although they will have the advantage of more land – but it is the only workable way to reduce density as Gilmer grows.”
Indeed, growth has continued coming to the county, even despite the national pandemic of COVID-19. Just looking at SPLOST Numbers from June and July of 2020, as reported in an August 2020 Article on FYN, saw major economic increases despite widespread closures and shelter-in-place orders at that time. Yet, economic growth also includes the County’s Tourism, which is a major impact. However, the county also noted nine multi-lot developments in July of 2020. A number that showed major changes to parts of Gilmer County’s mostly rural make-up.
With the major increases and continuing uptick in developments like this, concerns have been raised like those noted from County Attorney David Clark. Paris states, “David was warning about what would happen if we did not make the changes – he wasn’t warning us about what will happen if we do make the changes.”
As previously reported, County Attorney David Clark stated in the meeting, “Gilmer is known and is an agricultural community. The density that is allowed, the size of the lots that are allowed at this current time, is going to change that.”
It is a statement echoed by Paris in his response today as he stated, “Right now, the land use ordinance in Gilmer will allow for a very high density future. The proposed changes will actually reduce the prospects for such a high density future and protect our rural, agricultural status as Gilmer grows.”
The board as whole and the commissioners individually are continuing to look at the density growth and at citizen comments urging them to stop the increasing density in the county as they are currently considering changes to the Land Use Ordinance. According to Paris, these changes are now and have been looking to plug up loopholes and protect certain rural aspects of the county that both the citizens and he want to keep.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer’s Board of Commissioners discussed their Millage Rate in a Special Meeting this July without one of its members.
Having contracted COVID-19, the board’s third commissioner, Karleen Ferguson, was absent from the meeting for health and safety. The two remaining commissioners discussed accepting the rollback rate versus not accepting it.
Very early, Gilmer Commission Chairman Charlie Paris voiced his opinion to accept the rollback rate saying, “My personal position would be that we should take the rollback rate. It’s not going to hurt us terribly and I don’t think this is the year to be trying…”
Post 1 Commissioner Hubert Parker agreed saying that he was good with the Rollback as well.
However, additional discussions turned to the Bond Millage Rate for the county. With discussions last year on reducing the rate, the Commissioners ultimately decided against it, keeping the 1.5 mills, but promising to revisit the idea in 2020. Now, Parker and Paris began discussions by immediately moving to a debate on whether to reduce it by .25 or .15 mills. Paris noted that work still needs to continue in capital projects and expenditures coming in the Road Department as well. Having the Bond Millage pay off part of the bond debt service allows more SPLOST funds for those expenditures.
Parker offered his opinion on the Bond Millage saying, “I would be fine going with .25.” However, he did mention a desire to look at it again later. Looking at the decreases, Paris said he didn’t have a problem with reducing it by .25 mills to a Bond Millage Rate of 1.25 mills.
The rates were approved by two separate motions as Paris made a motion to approve advertising, it came to accept the Rollback Rate of 6.783 mills. The rate was approved by the two present commissioners.
Then came another motion from Paris to have “the Bond Millage Rate be reduced from 1.5 mills to 1.25 mills.” The rate was approved by the two present commissioners.
Moving forward, the Commissioners are looking for another Special Called meeting towards the end of August to formally adopt the Millage Rate. They have to wait for the Board of Education to adopt their rate in August before the County can formally adopt both rates.