“It’s important to me… I think it’s a service to the community.” Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson speaks on the priority of the pool in her own opinion.
Ferguson spoke about the balance the county has to maintain as they face the needs of the county versus the availability of funds in the budget. Ferguson also noted how important physical activity is to her. Owning Stay Active Ellijay, Ferguson has spent years in the business of keeping people active and healthy. She points to her history here as she says how important a pool, and later a full recreation center, is to her.
While acknowledging that she is one-third of the board, Ferguson said her own priorities for the coming project is to focus on both pools as a single thought as she wants to have the children’s play area and ramp entry to be easier for those who need it. The “zero-entry” concepts plays a special role as Ferguson wants the growing senior population to have just as much access as any others.
But it’s not just the pool, according to Ferguson, who says, “One of my things with the whole River Park, is to build community. The pool is a place where we can build community, where we can come together, all ages, all economic backgrounds, and be a community there. To me, it fits so many of our needs, in my mind, of what’s important for the county, for the community.”
With such a large project originally being planned for Clear Creek, but now looking more and more like it will be located at River Park, Ferguson was excited to look at a partnership with East Ellijay for a closer location as well as the chance to save money on the project with both locations not costing the county money for the land.
While she said she is more responsible for the unincorporated parts of the county, Ferguson looks at the citizens inside and outside of the city limits as the same body of Gilmer County.
Despite the positivity and optimism, Ferguson said she is “crossing her fingers” on the River Park location as the county continues investigations into its viability. Even though it “fits very well there,” says Ferguson, “It’s all about the flood plain.” Ferguson acknowledged the planning phase is still in motion and she emphasized that the county is still answering questions to make sure it will not raise the expense of the project to make the land viable. She said the county still has a budget to follow and must stay within that budgeted amount.
Ferguson also said she wants to stay positive and is “hopefull” when looking at the Memorial Day opening goal. However, she also said she would not be willing to rush it just to get it open by then. While having a goal is great for projects, she wants to take her time and do it right.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County is continuing discussions on the community pool with plans forthcoming and progress towards an initial design. FYN sat down with Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller to speak on the subject and his views as one-third of the board.
Jumping straight to the point, Miller said that he feels like most people are looking at the question, “What happens now?” While some still question the closing of the previous pool so close to the summer season, Miller also said he, personally, felt the county lacked any hard facts on closing the pool.
Miller did note that he felt the pool should have been closed in previous years, he is more concerned now with the speed of action by the county and how quickly it has gone from closing the old pool to expediting a plan for a new one to budget amendments to design plans.
Miller noted a saying he has throughout his life as he said, “Anything you have got to do in a hurry is probably going to be done over.” He said he doesn’t want this to happen. He called it an issue with an early warning to citizens so that they do not have adequate time to respond to address the issue as well as having a vote on the subject at a Public Comments Hearing. Another point of debate as he noted it was advertised correctly as a meeting, but he felt it wasn’t said that a vote would happen in that meeting and the county isn’t used to voting on things during public comment meetings.
When questioned about the properties available at both Clear Creek and River Park, he admitted that he would likely still be looking for another location. Several Commissioners meetings and public comments have well established that many citizens were not thrilled with the Clear Creek property being so far from the city, though he did say that the size of clear creek and correlation to the baseball fields there would be a good point of growth for that site.
The River Park location has its own concerns despite being primely located in town and adjacent to the already under renovation River Park. That location has seen changes over the last year, with playgrounds and an extended walking path, and plans for future changes, like the planned tennis/pickleball courts, and features still being discussed and pursued by the county.
Many of Miller’s concerns on the River Park location revolve around preparation for the project. He said, “We haven’t done, in my opinion, a full good job of due diligence on either Clear Creek’s proposed site or the East Ellijay proposed site. There has not been a rigorous research and rigorous vetting or looking into those properties.”
He furthered concerns about the floodplain, public access, utilities, and railroad crossing when accessing the East Ellijay property, River Park location, from Progress Road.
Miller says he wants time and opportunities to address these issues. For example, there is not an official public road past the railroad tracks. Miller said that while a road is there. The official right-of-way extends, to his knowledge, to the railroad tracks and no further. Additionally, crossing the railroad and building on that land must respect a 100-foot right of way on the railroad tracks, and an 80-foot right of way on the road.
If there is no maintained road with right of way across the tracks, questions still linger on what would have to be done to bring that crossing to proper code. Miller said it could be as simple as a sign or could require more. He did say that railroad crossings have certain standards, and that crossing would require updating of some sort.
As far as the concerns of the location being in a floodplain, Miller noted that there are different levels of flood plains depending on the land’s slope and elevation. Building inside of floodplains requires its own standards. As part of the land is in different levels, he said he wants soil samples on the site showing the quality of the ground, foundation, leveling, and needs that the land itself would require.
Miller said he wants to bring up these issues simply because he doesn’t know the answers fully. With time and studies, more answers could be gathered before dedicating to this location. He also asserted that the county has not fully committed to either property. With final agreements requiring the full board vote, the county is still looking into the land. Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris had already noted this early when he pointed out that no IGA (Inter-Governmental Agreement) has been signed. As details are being finalized with both entities of the County and East Ellijay, the IGA would be the document sealing the agreement of using the land, and what would be expected.
Being responsible for the budget and going through amendments are a part of processes of government. Miller says the issue arises when you look at the influence that a Commissioner has over the county’s offices. Being responsible for those revenues and expenses of the county as a whole is hard when we start changing these budgets regularly and often. “I contend that that is what contingencies are for, to avoid those kinds of situations where you have to rearrange somebody else’s budget just to handle an emergency.”
Miller said that the county has created contingency funds in the last couple of years to handle these situations and has improved their budget process over those years, pulling out capital projects, trimming requests, forecasting revenues. They also continue to improve the process as steps are underway to improve the 5-year plan, looking at budget meeting dates and time frame this year.
In fact, the first contingencies were set with the understanding that the money was set into contingency and understood that whatever wasn’t used for a specified emergency, would be kept to build a pool in 2021.
While Miller said there were ways the county could adjust and fit the pool budget if situations arise like the Cherry Log Fire Station where the county used Road Department workers to clear land, the county has to do these things publicly and transparently. Situations like this aren’t free labor. They cost the county money and time as they redirect those labor resources. Similarly, adjusting budgets redirects funding promised to one department into a different department. Miller said he wanted to keep the process as public as possible, but also to take time to analyze, study, and prepare for the pool properly.
As such, he felt strongly that the idea of completing the project before Memorial Day 2020 is not feasible. “There is no slack in this thought of open by Memorial Day,” said Miller. Without time contingencies, without similar county pools built in similar time frames, without comparables to guide and show what to expect with it, there is no real way to see the project being done that quickly.
Looking to the future plans for the pool, Miller speaks on the county’s integrity saying he wants to do everything he can to keep the county’s promises. While the pool is a priority in the county, he does not want this to become a “do it at all costs” kind of project.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – After last month’s arguments of legislative versus home rule as the way to go forward with Post Commissioner salaries, this month saw the continuation of that debate.
The next step, a question brought forward from the budget sessions into last months meeting and now into the new year, is the percentage of the raise. Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris originally had offered a number of 20%. Though not arbitrarily thrown out, Paris has since said he was offering the number as a consideration.
Since that time, articles and discussion have focused on 20% as the proposed amount for the Post Commissioner salary increase. Even FYN offered analysis based upon that 20% suggestion.
This percentage is a percentage of the Commission Chairman’s salary. Post Commissioners are currently paid 10% of the chairman’s salary.
This month saw the discussion shift after some pushback from the community over “doubling” the salary.
Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson wasted no time in researching the issue and offering the board her own analysis, one of surrounding counties and their boards’ salaries.
Reaching through 2016, 2017, and 2018, these documents from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs showcased salaries of both the Chairperson and the Post Commissioners, organized into population size groups. Ferguson highlighted the Gilmer and its immediate neighbors like Lumpkin, Fannin, and Pickens.
A new percentage offered in the BOC’s January meetings sits fell to 18% with Ferguson saying, “We talked about 18%, I think going any lower than 18%… I’m in favor of at least 18%.”
Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller stated in the meeting that though he thought the raise was deserved, he would be satisfied with not changing the salary at this time saying, “I, personally, think it’s not a good time to be doing this.” Miller did ultimately vote against the motion to advertise the salary increase in a 2-1 vote.
In 2018, Lumpkin County was at $12,005 annually according to this report. Pickens was at $11,205.
Currently, Gilmer County Post Commissioners are paid $7,125.38 as reported in “Commissioners pushing for ‘Fast Answer’ in pay raises.” With an 18% instead of a 20% increase, effectively not quite doubling the salary, the new base pay of a Post Commissioner would become $12,825.68.
Ferguson also noted in the board’s work session that this change would not take effect for two years, when the next elected Post Commissioner will take office.
Approved, 2-1, for advertising, it is now up to the citizens to speak with the Board of Commissioners and attend February’s meetings to voice the county’s opinion on the matter whether in support or opposition of the change.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – With the vote still set to be made, current indications are saying that the Gilmer Chamber may dodge a termination of their contract with the Board of Commissioners (BOC).
The vote is set for tomorrow’s, January 10, Regular Meeting agenda. The subject matter, however, is a layover from the recent months when former Post 2 Commissioner Travis Crouch began questioning the Hotel/Motel Tax Split during the 2019 budget process. Now, new Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson has taken up the banner to continue the discussion and added an item to the agenda for termination of the contract.
“I’m just asking for time,” said Ferguson as she explained that she fully respects the Chamber and what they have accomplished but feels that something is wrong. Stating that she wants the time to look into the Chamber further before an automatic renewal date comes next week, Ferguson did later clarify that it was her understanding from legal counsel that termination was the only way to renegotiate the contract.
With nothing short of an uproar of concern from present Chamber Members and Board Members of the Chamber, a heated debate began regarding the impact and possible outcomes of a termination of the contract, even if later renegotiated. Several citizens commented on the subject including Chamber Board Chairman Trent Sanford who noted that negotiations could come without termination. He also noted an occurrence when this happened three years ago when the contract was renegotiated without a termination.
Board of Commissioners Chairman Charlie Paris noted that he was adamantly opposed to terminating the contract.
Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller was more in favor of changes to the contract, but did note he wanted to find a way to do it without terminating the contract.
Ultimately, it’s not even clear if Ferguson will push the issue of termination as she repeatedly stated she thought that was the only way to renegotiate the contract with its pending automatic renewal.
Citizens may not need to wait long into the meeting to find out, though, as Paris said he felt the issue was resolved and would be seeking to remove the item of contract termination from tomorrow’s agenda while leaving the item regarding Chamber audits and discussions of contract renegotiation open.
Both entities, the BOC and Chamber Board, agreed that the contract did stipulate that Hotel/Motel Tax Audits be done. The Chamber stated they have already begun the process to adhere to the imposing of that contract requirement.
Follow FYN as we go deeper into the subject’s details after tomorrow’s vote at the 6 p.m. public meeting open to all citizens.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners sat with departments and offices alike this month to look at proposed budgets that will make up the county’s finances in 2019.
At this time, these are all proposed budgets from the Department Heads and Elected Officials. This means that the county’s coming meetings on Tuesday, October 16, and Wednesday, October 17, will offer discussion as well as an expected Special Called Meeting later in the month to discuss cuts and balancing.
While Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris said he wished to look at increases in the department head’s salaries, no concrete number was set yet. Paris had mentioned $3,000 in one meeting, but later said it would be looking at this topic again when he could see a clearer picture of the budget and needs.
Additionally, concerns were raised through several meetings about capital budget requests and constraints on that side of the budget. As struggles continue with employee pay in many departments, the board is looking at a decrease in healthcare costs for the first time in years. As they have finalized numbers on the savings and their impact on the budget, an unexpected event occurred.
According to the county’s current 2019 budget request spreadsheet, they are currently looking at $686,894.42 difference of revenue over expenditures. This difference was discovered after the end of these meetings as the final numbers were calculated.
According to Gilmer County Finance Officer Sandi Holden, a large portion of this revenue over expenditures is made from the Health Insurance savings. However, she did note that the county could still have items come up in the budget as they have only gone through the budget once during these meetings. The county is preparing to revisit these in coming meetings.
Additionally, the difference here is only on the Maintenance & Operations part of the budget. The capital budget is still to be discussed and analyzed in the coming meetings as well.
Holden told FYN she cannot remember, in the eight budgets she has worked on, ever being in the black after the initial meetings.
Each video is logged for individual departments unless multiple departments are under single purviews like Roads and bridges with solid waste under Public Works or Probate and Elections.
One of the Animal Shelter’s major requests is for a full-time employee at 40 hours/week and a 50 cent rais for two of its current employees. This cost falls under the Maintenance and Operations budget, but in capital requests, the Animal Shelter is looking for a new truck as the shelter’s truck gets excessive use through animal sharing with other states. The large accruement of miles adds extra wear, however, discussion in the budget meeting may have already found a truck to donate in order to cut the capital expense. There is also a request for a storage shed for equipment. This as well may be offset by a request in maintenance for a larger shed, meaning the Animal Shelter may receive their old shed.
Board of Commissioners
The Board of Commissioners began speaking in their own meeting as Post Commissioner Travis Crouch brought up a subject concerning his position after he leaves. Expressing feelings that the Post Commissioners should receive more pay for the work and effort they put into the county, Crouch suggested an increase in salary. Currently, the Post Commissioners receive a salary of 10% of what the Commission Chairman is paid. The suggestion in the meeting was to raise this to 20%. However, Crouch would receive none of this increase as not only will he not be in office in 2019, a Post Commissioner cannot take advantage of the raise until a new post commissioner is elected or the current one is reelected. While this does mean an increase for the coming Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson, it also means that Post Commissioner Dallas Miller will not receive a raise in salary until his post’s next election cycle if re-elected.
Another major item on the Commissioner’s budget is funding for the recently reinvigorated push for dynamic welcome signage at the county line. It was reintroduced into discussion last month as citizens pushed for the county’s help in acquiring state recognition as the Wrestling Capital of Georgia. The commissioner’s decided to go further and incorporate the two state-capital recognitions the county has already received, Apple Capital and Mountain Biking Capital, and consider building a better county sign at the border welcoming travelers to the county and providing quick information about current events.
With updates to the Chamber’s coming Welcome Center on the square in downtown Ellijay, the Gilmer Chamber is looking at funding strains across the organization as discussion arose about changing the split in Hotel/Motel Tax (see Board splits on Hotel/Motel). Discussion included changing the split from 70/30 to 60/40, still in the Chamber’s favor. Chamber President/CEO Paige Green disagreed, calling the change a short-term answer with long-term detriment. While officially, the split has not been renegotiated, discussion continued about the expectations for Chamber Reports and duties in the future. Additionally, Paris also disagreed with changing the split. Miller did not indicate a leaning to either side saying that he would look at it if the budget demanded it.
Clerk of Court
The Clerk of Court’s office saw a $9,000 increase in supplies requests over last year’s budget due to increases in mandatory e-filings. However, the board is considering moving this to capital expenses as much of the need is for new computer equipment for the office.
There is also a $20,000 increase over this year’s budget as the office has lost three people in the last year with only two being replaced. Believing they are going to need to replace the third person as well now, they noted this as the major reason for the increase.
Code & Regulations
Like most of the departments, requests for salary and wages increases for the department were forefront. Again, the commissioners noted they are looking to offset this in Health insurance savings, but are waiting to see final numbers on the savings and budgets before final adoption.
The Appalachian Judicial Circuit is looking at a $150,000 budget increase next year as they add another administrative position to the office. Also in wages, the office is looking to add a 5% increase to “spacer” positions in the office. Spacer positions are classified as state employees and get benefits from the state. Their pay, however, ultimately comes from the county as the state pays them and the county reimburses the state.
In capital expenditures, the District Attorney’s office is looking to change audio/visual networks in the county’s courtrooms. District Attorney Alison Sosebee noted this is a need throughout the circuit. The request is to install the network instead of the current system of wheeling a single cart used for tv and audio evidence to the different courtrooms. The new system would individually upgrade all but one of the county’s courtrooms.
The county has indicated its intentions to move the offices of the Extension Agency into another location as they are looking to sell the building and land that the current office sits on. Noting continuing maintenance costs and issues, they spoke about possible locations and needs that the agency could be interested in. They are also looking at increasing education/training expenses and travel as classes are coming in Columbus, Ohio.
With expected continuations in overtime and education/training, rises in related expenses came from the Fire/EMA Department. But the major issue with the department in 2019 lies in the capital budget as vehicles and equipment are in need of replacing.
Pressing the highest priority in ambulances, the department noted that emergency calls have been increasing in 2018 alongside the continuing transport calls from the Piedmont Emergency Department in Ellijay. Capital expenses continue to include a 2,000-gallon pumper truck to carry water to areas of the county. Public Safety Director Tony Pritchett spoke to the board saying that several areas of the unincorporated parts of the county are without fire hydrants. As such, the need for large amounts of water to fight fires is especially important in those situations. Additionally, keeping a maintained and working truck for those areas and ambulance fleet were key factors in ISO safety ratings for the county as well, affecting insurance rates and liability.
Additional needs fell to turnout gear and equipment for the department’s firefighters, a new emergency operations command, and a new mobile command unit for the department.
With so many large expenses, the board has already indicated cuts in the area as they began questioning the department on what it would mean if they only got some of the turnout gear and options on the EOC and training increases as well as partnering with the school system as they have utilized the old Oakland Elementary building for training.
Requests for capital expense could see the Health Department changing its outside areas as concerns were raised over handicap accessibility at the Health Department. They are looking to put in automatic opening doors for handicap access as well as possibly changing the parking lot as to where the handicap parking is in relation to the access ramp.
The Library has increased its requests over the 2018 budget as they have seen increased traffic in the department. With more people utilizing the library for multiple needs and events, the budget has seen shortfalls this year. Salary increase requests could also see changes in the department alongside concerns over health insurance costs. However, changes to the 2019 budget’s health insurance did offset part of the need.
Talks also arose about a second access point to the library as the basement project will likely begin before the new year. While no set plan was decided, officials are looking at both access for patrons later, but also construction and renovation workers that could spill over into the early part of the year.
The board discussed issues with the courthouses capstone discoloration and options for solutions. While the main option included painting the stones, the price quoted at $11,950. Addition issues involved the iron railings in certain areas are beginning to wear down and also need painting, which would increase that cost. An additional $15,000 was requested for replacing the carpet in certain high traffic areas of the courthouse.
The department is also looking for two new additional maintenance workers included in the budget requests.
The major project of upgrading the courtrooms also fell into the capital budget for $195,000 for three courtrooms in the audio/visual systems. Discussions continued about options of maybe upgrading one courtroom at a time. The problem with that option comes with needing to maintain both systems during the years of transition.
Parks & Recreation
Concerns over the Parks & Recreations budget also centered on wages with a high point in “mowing season.” While Parks & Recreations Director Kevan White said staffing was adequate, he noted several times employees have hit overtime in high traffic times.
The commissioners are still looking at pool costs and balancing against staying open year round. Separating costs and upgrades for heating the pool and costs for staying open, these will be reimbursed from the community and the clubs supporting the change. This is a new change as the Commissioners looked closer at how to budget for the off-season operations.
Continuing to seek grant funds for upgrades and repairs to areas of the park, the department is continuing its work from this year to change and update the park area.
Probate & Elections
Like most departments, Probate Judge Scott Chastain said one of the office’s largest problems is fighting against the loss of staff. As he requests a 50 cent raise for most clerks, he is also looking for a larger raise for an appointed Chief Clerk who would fill in for the Judge in days where he may be out of the office for training courses or other responsibilities that may take him from the office. Chastain told the board that this position would cover only for administrative duties and signatures, he or she would not be able to do anything in the courtroom or handle those types of responsibilities.
Another increase in the requested budget fell into travel expenses as he would want his chief clerk to attend certain training sessions in the next year to experience some of the training he sees for the possibility of her filling in for those administrative duties. Clerks in the office are also gaining state certifications, this could include an award ceremony for those who gain the certification, a ceremony Chastain wants to send those clerks to as a reward for their work.
Additionally, the office could be looking for a conversation about separating the elections from the Probate Office. Chastain asserted that this was just a conversation at this point as he wanted to explore the option with the commissioners, an option that he says the majority of counties in the state have already done.
Increases are set to come to the Public Works office as the board is attempting to respond to continuing citizen concerns by adding 8 positions back to the Road Department. Paris has noted over recent years that these positions are being added “back” to the department as it is still understaffed compared to what it was before the recession. As the board increases efforts in the department to better handle the large mileage of roads in the county, they are still raising concerns about the increasing costs of materials each year. Stone and asphalt are two major needs in the road department, both have seen major increases over recent years.
Public Works Director Jim Smith also noted that even with the increase in staff, he still expects to have to shift workers around and pull from certain crews for major projects like the annual LMIG paving. He also noted an increasing need to continue replacing equipment across his departments like the aging asphalt spreader.
Some increases are being mirrored into the revenue side as well as slight increases are being planned in the solid waste department based on trends in past years. Planning for these increases helps offset some costs, but major projects are also coming with issues that Smith is reporting for the solid waste department’s scales and lift stations. Discussions have already begun about prioritizing these capital expense needs over and above the Maintenance and Operations Budget.
Another increase in salary and wages, the Registrar’s office is tracing increases in workload back to state-mandated changes that are registering massive numbers of people to vote as they apply for driver’s licenses. This program is also registering numerous people who are not allowed to vote or already registered to vote. The added work hits the Registrar’s Office as they are having to find these duplicate registrations and combine them as well as finding registrations that must be deleted felons not allowed to vote.
Especially during major elections, the department is reporting that they cannot operate further without a full-time employee set to operate every day alongside the part-timers.
Whitepath Golf Course
Capital projects like a new water well and a pavilion sit on the golf course’s budget for the coming year. Increasing the appeal and accessibility to drinkable water on the course aren’t even the largest items. Efforts are continuing to update the course as it draws closer than ever to becoming self-sufficient. This has been a major desire of the commissioners in the last four years.
In 2019, the budget requests are so close, around a $22,000 difference, the commissioners are looking at minor budget changes to connect the small gap. With confidence that the goal could be reached, they pushed forward in discussions and capital needs. However, Paris cautioned the board saying that if they pushed too hard to balance this budget, they could get unrealistic numbers.
The course is also requesting capital funds for newer Golf Carts, a range picker for the driving range, and a security gate at the maintenance area for those golf carts. An option was put forth to split the costs of the security gate over two budgets, but nothing has been set yet.
With the Commissioners set to discuss and balance the budget in the coming weeks, the have the finalized budget requests as a starting point moving into these discussions. Make sure to check out both the 2019 Requested Budget and the current 2018 Budget in preparation for this week’s meetings.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – In a Special Called Meeting on June 15, a final Resolution was put for consideration of the cities of Ellijay and East Ellijay for an upcoming SPLOST Referendum.
Having received input from each city’s mayor and gone through previous negotiations on percentages, the resolution has now reached the time to be put forth in these city’s council meetings for consideration and approval before the county can officially put it on the ballot as a joint SPLOST between the municipalities.
While the meeting was a formality to provide the final form of the resolution, it did provide the actual document to be put forth to the cities and, if approved, ultimately put to a public vote for the next SPLOST cycle.
The SPLOST referendum is set to continue the current 1% sales tax that is currently in place. Even though the municipalities are preparing early, it will not overlap the current SPLOST cycle.
Below are the six pages of the referendum as it currently exists:
ELLIJAY, Ga. – A unique meeting saw the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners sitting with Ellijay Mayor Al Hoyle and East Ellijay Mayor Mack West to speak about the possibility of a new SPLOST cycle for the county as a whole.
While the Board of Commissioners could move forward with the SPLOST without the cities, joining together provides many benefits to each municipality including a more expansive list of projects without a state-regulated list of prioritization and a one-year-extension on the SPLOST cycle to make it a six-year program instead of just five years.
One of the major items needed in the meeting was an agreed amount that could be expected from the tax. According to regulations on the program, if a government puts forth a SPLOST and sets its expected return above what it actually receives, there is no penalty. However, if that SPLOST achieves the expected return early, no more collections could be made, causing a gap in collections and revenue from the sales tax.
With that in mind, the meeting came to a conclusion to estimate $31 million in revenue from the tax.
Both Mayors in the meeting looked to increase their city’s portions of the SPLOST in favor of rising costs of major projects, Hoyle spoke on Ellijay’s behalf saying that increase paving costs and projects that the city is in need of accomplishing could greatly benefit from an increase in their percentage.
Likewise, West echoed these concerns siting a specific project as they have repaved the area of Eller Road and the intersection at Highland Crossing before reaching Highway 515.
On the other hand, the county discussed the county’s continued financial pains attempting to pay back their bond debt, looking at the vast majority of their SPLOST collection dedicated to paying back that debt at close to $4 million a year.
Ultimately, the decisions came down very similar to how the SPLOST has been divided currently. With the County currently taking 92.35% of the SPLOST, they backed off the extra part of a percent making the division at an easy round number of the percentage.
The County will receive 92%.
Ellijay will receive 6%.
East Ellijay will receive 2%.
Still, this negotiation is preliminary. Each Mayor will now take the proposal back to their cities for approval before the county can approve the final agreement and move forward with offering the SPLOST option to a vote for citizens. If all goes according to plan and no major obstacles are met, It could mean citizens could see the vote for this on the ballot this November.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Chamber of Commerce hosted a forum to meet the candidates in Gilmer’s two major elections this year.
First, the Post 2 County Commissioner race saw candidates Karleen Ferguson, Woody Janssen, and Jerry Tuso speak about Gilmer specifically and their own lives and qualifications while 7th District State Representative candidates Rick Day, David Ralston, and Margaret Williamson spoke more generally on Gilmer’s place in the state as a whole and their role as a representative.
Hosted by Gilmer Chamber President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Paige Green and Board of Directors Chairman Trent Sanford, the event gave five minutes to each candidate to offer their words to citizens before allowing for time for citizens to mingle and speak face-to-face with them and ask their own questions.
The event kicked off with the candidates for Gilmer County Post 2 Commissioner.
First to speak was Jerry Tuso who offered a few words about his past as a retired air traffic controller and negotiating contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars over his 19 years in the position. As a past chairman of the Gilmer County GOP and eight years of involvement in the party, Tuso stated he has received great support throughout his time from people like Rita Otum and Stephen Aaron among many others. Tuso said he is running for Post 2 because he was raised and told that hard work and studying could make you something. Tuso continued saying, “It wasn’t enough. My father told me, ‘Son, that’s not enough. You’ve got to be a servant as well.’ So, during my entire working career, I have found ways that I can serve. And that’s why I am running, to serve Gilmer County.”
Next to speak was Karleen Ferguson. Ferguson has owned property with her husband in Gilmer County for 20 years, and in 2011, she became the Gilmer County Tourism and Events Coordinator. She noted it as the “funnest job in the world because I got to tell everyone that I knew how wonderful Gilmer County was and encourage them to come visit.” However, Ferguson said she learned in that position the impact of tourism on Gilmer’s community. She noted the Apple Festival’s economic effect on hundreds of families in the county, including the apple growers, but also the families who volunteer and work to earn extra income for their own needs. She connected this with the growing agri-tourism area alongside maximizing the natural resources the county has to offer for both citizens and businesses. Ferguson went on to note the effect that commissioners can have on the economy noting the previous board of Charlie Paris, Dallas Miller, and Travis Crouch and their efforts to replace old systems and catching up their departments to maintain the county. She stated, “We are headed in the right direction, and my intention as your county commissioner is to continue the direction that these gentlemen have been leading us in. I am naturally a problem solver … I am a great team player. I have a passion to protect the history and culture of this community as we grow in a qualitative way.”
The final candidate to speak was Woody Janssen. Living in the county for 12 years, he got out of his major corporate past in national accounts management to settle down locally in Ellijay, where he started a river tubing business. In business since 2009, Janssen said he has been affected by and benefited from what the Board of Commissioners and the Gilmer Chamber have accomplished. Growing out of the recession, he spoke about the growth of the county and his business’ successes in bringing people to the county. It was something he said he wanted to continue in the county. Being so involved in the small business market, Janssen said he hoped to deregulate the county’s small businesses to further expand their growth. Janssen said, “That’s something I’d like to see happen, and I think I can help everybody out. Everybody has done a phenomenal job here locally. I’d like to see less regulation and let’s utilize what we already have.”
With that, the night’s events turned towards the District 7 State Representative election.
First to speak was Rick Day. Running as a Democrat, Day said he hoped citizens were interested in finding out who he was as he came out of nowhere. Day told a story about a job he took on an oil field in central Texas. He said he showed up for work and ran into immediate troubles as the vast majority of his coworkers were Hispanic and did not speak English. Day continued his story saying he was working in his combat boots from his time in the military. The boots began melting in the chemicals. Day said he did not know what to do, feeling alone with boots melting and no way to reach out to family or friends. It was then that his coworkers bought him a new pair of boots simply saying, “Pay it forward.”
It was a touching moment, said Day, who added he rides his motorcycle through our district and sees pockets of poverty, noting 51 percent of this district is employed, meaning that 49 percent are unemployed. With one half of the district “carrying the weight” for the other half, he could only ask how it could happen. Day said, “We are supposed to have leadership in Atlanta. For 10 years, the leadership has gone unchallenged. For 27 years, one person has had the power and authority to make this the number one district in the state … As beautiful as we are, behind the beauty, behind the cake of make-up, there is poverty. There is addiction. There is a quiet desperation.”
It is the quiet desperation that Day said he wants to address. He wants to represent them and increase the economy and growth for all those in the county to answer the “quiet desperation.” Day said the way he intends to pay for that growth and that answer is by adopting the Colorado approach by legalizing cannabis. Day likened the agricultural growth in our region with vineyards to a bridge, saying the next step with cannabis is a massive economic impact and job growth waiting to happen in our region.
Second to speak was Margaret Williamson. Williamson’s background comes from engineering, marketing, and business administration. However, it was her time at home with her children and supporting her husband that Williamson said allowed her the time to become more active in volunteering in the community. This time in our community is what she said gives her the “pulse of the things that are going on in District 7.” She told a story about visiting Abby’s, a local business, for ice cream and frozen yogurt with her grandchildren. As she sat watching them pile as many sprinkles on their ice cream as they could, Williamson said she realized that was the biggest issue for them. She asked herself what their future in our district was?
She commended the Chamber of Commerce in their efforts as well as the agricultural community as the mainstays of our economy. Growing now into vineyards and tourism exemplifies the growth the community has seen. She also noted the commissioners’ efforts in controlling and growing the economy under an annual $4.4 million debt from past irresponsibilities, a debt obligation stretching to 2032. Williamson said, “Our leadership claims that we are the number one state to do business in. So, let’s capitalize on that here in our district. We have more than other parts of Georgia to offer.”
Utilizing our resources, Williamson said we have enough to attract more of smaller, low impact businesses that offer better-paying jobs with advancement. She went on to note that she is running for the position to offer real representation from someone who cares, will work for the people, and will be honest about legislation and how it will affect the people. Williamson said she wants to change the office to be more present in the district besides just for “photo ops” as well as adding a weekly event in the district during session so that citizens can speak to her about legislation and concerns in the state.
The final candidate to speak was Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston. Ralston was born and raised in Gilmer County where he graduated high school. Ralston said it was the community’s help that achieved his successes like $550,000 for the “long overdue completion” of the Clear Creek Ball Fields, $150,000 for the Gilmer County Playhouse, $310,000 for equipping the Gilmer Canning Plant, $250,000 for repairs and renovations to the Gilmer County Library, $283,000 in state funds for improvements to the River Park, and $1,2 million for expansion of the Gilmer County Water System.
Ralston went on to say, “Yes, that is your money, but it was your money that was not coming back to Gilmer County until the last few years. It was going to Atlanta, and it was going to south Georgia. And it was going all over the state, except here.” He also noted that the state has reacted to the change and growth of new industries like wine as well as responses like the hiring of a “viticulturist” so that local wineries don’t have to wait for a professional to come to Georgia from other states to “monitor the effects of weather and disease on grapes.”
Ralston also noted the recent legislative session as the most successful in recent memory. The first cut to the state income tax in history, the ending of austerity cuts to local education in Georgia, and the first reform to Georgia’s adoption law in 30 years were the major points that he utilized to exemplify that success. Ralston noted that despite the successes, there is more work to be done.