ELLIJAY, Ga – Gilmer County’s approval of the Second Amendment Sanctuary came last Thursday with all three commissioners voting yes for the resolution and sparking further debate over the issue’s future.
That resolution states, “The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners will not authorize or appropriate funds, resources, employees, agencies, contractors, buildings, detention centers or offices for the purpose of enforcing or assisting in the enforcement of any element of any unconstitutional acts, laws, orders, mandates, rules or regulations that infringe on the right by the people to keep and bear arms.”
Following the work session’s crowd of people and numerous people stating their support of the resolution, the debate arose on whether to adopt a resolution or an ordinance.
Jason Williamson spoke at both the Work Session and Regular Meeting of the Gilmer BOC speaking on the petitions gathered and the need to make this statement as a county. He said in the regular meeting that over 700 people had signed the petition asking for the Second Amendment Sanctuary status.
Taking a “proactive” approach, Williamson said he and others want to step out ahead of any problems which they see are inevitable in today’s political climate.
However, Williamson was not the only person speaking on behalf of the resolution as Joene DePlancke was also present in both meetings to support it. DePlancke asked that everyone at the Regular Meeting who supported the resolution to stand and nearly every person present, filling over half of the County’s Jury Assembly room in the courthouse, stood.
DePlancke went on to say, “The reason that we feel so strongly right now is that, over the years, we keep losing more and more of our freedoms by not doing anything.”
More people spoke as well in the meetings saying they supported the resolution with one individual saying he felt it wasn’t just the Second Amendment, but rather all of citizens’ rights in the Amendments are under attack.
The commissioners assured citizens in the work session that this wouldn’t mean the county would stop doing background checks or gun permits, but rather would oppose any state or federal law that would infringe on the Second Amendment. The Resolution states, “All federal acts, laws, orders, rules, regulations that violate the Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States or Article I, Section I, Paragraph VIII of the Constitution of the State of Georgia, violate the true meaning and intent of those constitutions are hereby declared to be invalid and are specifically rejected in Gilmer County, Georgia and shall be considered null and void and of no effect in Gilmer County, Georgia.”
FYN previously reported that the board approved a resolution and did have some talk in their work session about looking further into the possibility of an ordinance. Williamson, as one of the leaders of the movement, stated before the meeting that he wanted an ordinance over a resolution because it would be harder to change and require more opportunities for citizens to fight any changes.
FYN reached out to Williamson after the resolution passed for his response. Williamson stated, “A resolution will suffice, but we will actively pursue the ordinance once we can navigate the state laws and create an ordinance that will reflect current law and assist in maintaining our rights.”
The debate continues to flow on social media as people on both sides of the debate offer opinions.
Gene Levine stated, “Even if it’s symbolic, do it. I think Virginia will be a test bed for the effectiveness of sanctuary counties, I hear something like 90 county sheriff’s are proposing this. I realize that the feds can enforce these laws in any of these counties, but they don’t have the resources to enforce these laws on thousands of gun owners and they don’t even know who has these guns.”
On the opposite side, Andy McClure stated, “It only states that no county official or employee can enforce any federal or state law that infringes upon the rights of Gilmer citizens. It does not mean that the state cannot send the GBI, or the feds could send the FBI or ATF to enforce such laws.”
As citizens continue the debate, it seems this issue is still not completed as the Commissioner’s left room to discuss a possible ordinance and some like Williamson have already said they want to pursue more in terms of the ordinance.
GILMER COUNTY, Ga. – Officially, Gilmer County has declared itself a Second Amendment Sanctuary. With the urging of citizens and submitted petitions to the county, the vote came unanimously in support of a resolution declaring the official adoption of this moniker of Second Amendment Sanctuary.
County Commissioner Charlie Paris stated during the meeting, “This is, essentially, the very same resolution that was presented to us initially. We’ve just had two or three very minor, one-word type changes.”
The minor changes were not unexpected as even Jason Williams, one of the initiators of the agenda item and the one who submitted the collected petition signatures to the county, told FYN last week that he expected the County Attorney, David Clark, to have a few such changes for legal wordings or clarifications.
Applause came from the crowd as the motion and second came and was finalized by a yes vote from all three commissioners for the resolution to support the second amendment in Gilmer County.
The county has approved a resolution at this time, but said they would look an actual ordinance change in time. Williamson previously said that an ordinance change is what specifically he wanted as it is harder to take out or change than a resolution.
Stay with FYN as we delve into the citizens comments and responses to the approval along with the actual resolution wording over the next few days.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Paving roads and the amount of spending came into debate as the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners met with Mayors and members of City Hall from both Ellijay and East Ellijay today to discuss TSPLOST negotiations.
The discussion centered on the split that each entity wanted to see with the upcoming possible TSPLOST tax. Each entity vied for an increase to their portion over and above what they got for the previous SPLOST split. Debate arose around the idea of the cities increasing to a flat 2 percent for East Ellijay and 6 percent for Ellijay. This would be up from the 1.93 percent that East Ellijay has with the SPLOST split and up from 5.72 percent that Ellijay has.
However, as the discussion progressed, Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris said he also wanted the county’s percentage to go up considering the 500 miles of road in the unincorporated parts of the county, roads maintained by the county.
The two mayors countered with arguments of their own. Mayor of Ellijay, Al Hoyle noted that many of the roads they maintain in the city are used more than those in the outer parts as people travel out of town on city-maintained roads to reach the county roads.
East Ellijay Mayor Mack West added to the notion saying that East Ellijay has a constant need for Eller Road as an example. Due to the high traffic and usage, the road is already showing cracks after only three years since paving.
However, the topic ultimately came to rest at proceeding with the same split that each entity sees on the normal SPLOST, Gilmer County receives 92 percent, Ellijay receives 5.72 percent, and East Ellijay receives 1.93 percent.
However, the negotiations of percentage were not the only discussion held in the meeting as citizens debated the TSPLOST in the Citizens Wishing to Speak section.
Bill Craig, of North Georgia Diamond, voiced his opinion that the retail business community may have been left out of the discussion on the topic. Saying that the county hasn’t considered the impact to businesses that more sales tax might have. He offered scenarios to consider that people visiting might go elsewhere or stop early to buy groceries or similar necessities if they visit Ellijay, or that someone might visit another county to buy larger items like his store provides, being jewelry and diamonds.
While Paris did say he met with one retailer privately to discuss the topic, Craig repeated that he felt the county had not done enough to understand the business impact.
Mayor West commented on possible impact saying if he was going to buy something like a diamond, he would shop with North Georgia Diamond over driving to Atlanta for only a $100 difference, coming from the 1 percent sales tax increase.
Craig went on to say that adding TSPLOST would make Gilmer one of the highest sales tax percentages in the state.
In fact, according to the Georgia Sales and Use Tax Rate Chart (pictured to the right) published, for January 2020, by the Georgia Department of Revenue, of the 159 counties in Georgia, just over half of them have an 8 percent sales tax.
Actually, 83 counties have an 8 percent sales tax, while 69 counties (including Gilmer) have a 7 percent sales tax, 4 counties have a 6 percent sales tax, and only one county, Ware County, has a 9 percent sales tax. This does exclude Fulton and DeKalb counties with split sales tax in parts of the county according to this document.
Also, there are 87 counties that currently have some form of a TSPLOST, whether it is the original state TSPLOST or a locally added TSPLOST after that statewide vote.
Looking more specifically to the Highway 515 corridor, as some have called it, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, and Union Counties all, currently, have a sales tax rate of 7 including LOST (Local Option Sales Tax), SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax), and ESPLOST (Educational Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax).
One more comment of major note came from Chairman Paris who said, “I’m fine with it either way,” when discussing if the TSPLOST will pass on the ballots. Paris admitted a large amount of pressure on him from the public. He has stated in previous meetings that he feels the road department and the county’s roads are progressing. He ultimately simplified the discussion and the TSPLOST vote as he summed it up by saying its a decision on if we want our roads fixed over the next 25 years or the next 5 years. The TSPLOST, as he described, is simply a way to achieve the same results faster.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Continuing the conversation about the county’s future with Carters Lake, the Gilmer Board of Commissioners hosted a representative from ACCG (Association of County Commissioners in Georgia) to speak on other counties involved in the process of taking control and responsibility for lakeside recreation areas from the Corps of Engineers.
Mike O’Quinn, the ACCG’s County Consulting Services Associate in the areas of County Law, Negotiations, and Inter and Intra Governmental Relations, offered two other counties going through similar situations.
“For better or worse, the Corps seems to be getting out of the recreation business,” said O’Quinn as he was speaking on the topic of Gilmer taking over these areas. He offered a point of reassurance saying that ig Gilmer does move forward with taking over the areas, they would not be alone in these operations.
McDuffy county took over Raysville Campground from the Corps of Engineers nearly three years ago. It had been closed previously, whereas Gilmer County is looking to intervene before permanent closure. O’Quinn said that now McDuffy is looking at taking over a second campground. A county smaller than Gilmer in population, says O’Quinn.
Bartow County also took over a previously closed campground Clark Creek on Lake Allatoona. A larger county in population than Gilmer, they, too, are looking at taking over a second campground.
O’Quinn told Gilmer’s Commissioner that both of these operations have been successful in their operations of the areas as they have used county employees for operations and maintenance instead of contracted services.
O’Quinn went on to say that he has camped and visited these sites as well as Doll Mountain in Gilmer and other Corps owned sites. He added that he hasn’t noticed any differences in operations controlled by the county and those controlled by the Corps.
However, both of these counties noted have gone with full lease options for their sites. Chairman Paris and Post Commissioner Ferguson have tentatively agreed in previous meetings that they will be looking to pursue cooperative management options with Carters Lake instead of a lease. However, no official resolution has been made as they both continue to investigate the issues.
The topic has picked up in public response and attention as numerous citizens on both sides of the debate weigh in. Many have already spoken in favor of the take-over including Angela Mays who spoke about the handicap access and the ease of getting her family out to the locations. She noted how she has run into boy scouts and groups using the trails as well as low-income families who use the recreation areas, trails, beach, and other facilities as a major recreation source for their families at lower costs.
Additionally, Larry Alonso defended Carters Lake and its access as a major resource in teaching and furthering exercise in people both young and old.
On the other side, many citizens have taken to social media to voice opposing opinions including Kathy Collins who said “The Army Corps is loosing money trying to maintain them. That’s why they’re trying to pawn them off on us.”
Additionally, Sukochi Ward Lee voiced concerns of increasing costs if fees do not cover the costs that could result in increased taxes down the road.
Many others have compared the campgrounds to the County Golf Course saying that it will become another financial drain on the county to maintain. While some counter that the golf course is very nearly revenue neutral, others point to it taking nearly two decades to even get close to the point it is now.
As the county awaits the state verification of election results and the arrival of its newly elected third member, Hubert Parker according to unofficial results, the discussion is continuing towards a resolution. The county could make a decision as early as next week during its November Meetings (Work Session: November 13. 2019, at 9 a.m.. Regular Meeting: November 14, 2019, at 6 p.m.) In fact, the advertised agenda has the item listed for discussion and possible action. But this item has been listed for several months and tabled as discussion continues.
“I feel I bring maturity and experience to the board.” In his own words, Post 1 Commissioner Candidate Jerry Tuso explains why he qualified and is running for the position.
An Air Force Veteran operating in Air Traffic Control, Jerry Tuso has also served for 21 years as an FAA Air Traffic Controller with another 20 years as a government contractor for FAA Controllers, FAA Weather Observer, and Naval Weather.
The experience he brings also comes from when he was Chairman of Planning and Zoning in Hurst, Texas for three years, a town of 50,000 population, Labor Relations Manager for Crown Cork and Seal for three years, and Senior Agent for the State of Georgia DFCS (Division of Family and Children Services) for three years.
Tuso said he wants to bring this experience forward to the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners and its recent growth over the years. He explained that while growth is inevitable, it should inevitably be done correctly. Through continued oversight in the county, the citizens’ money should be protected and guarded. Tuso said, “We have to be very responsible with our debt, with the additional possible liabilities that we take over.”
Tuso said he wanted to continue to focus on roads in the county. As the more pending situation alongside the debt, these responsibilities have to be addressed before taking on extras. With proper assistance, Tuso said the county has responsible builders and the growth we see could be a win-win situation.
Addressing the specific issue of Carters Lake, Tuso said he doesn’t see additional benefit with the county paying the cost without improving recreation for the county. He said, “I think we have to be very cautious every time the federal government wants to bequeath something to you.” Tuso wants more details to find the “strings attached.”
Additionally, Tuso spoke on the pool as he said its necessary to have different types of athletics situations for the youth. The pool is such an instance, but also serves for the older population who could use it for exercise and aerobics class possibilities. He did state that he wants to look further into funding sources saying, “I would have to be convinced first that we have exhausted all the grants at the same time.” He went on to say that he is comfortable with the county continuing to set aside money each year as long as they continue exhausting the grant opportunities.
Speaking on the more day-to-day operations, he was more focused on a support role saying, “There should be more emphasis in assisting the Chairman, supporting the Chairman, than attempting to lead.” Tuso wants to focus on the most widely productive and widely used options in the county’s future. He said you can’t exclude any portion of the county, but we have to focus on projects and operations with the greatest and most widespread benefits.
Stepping into the position if elected, Jerry Tuso pointed to the community and its attitude as his biggest excitement for the job, saying, “That’s indicative that we are doing things right, and I want to continue to do things correctly and right. I think I have a good eye for the proper growth in the county. That’s where I would like to concentrate.”
Tuso celebrated the recent expansion of the water system to more parts of the county. He wants to continue these types of expansions even further to more residential areas as well. Achieving goals like this is not something any entity can do alone. We need each other and should continue to increase our cooperation. He said he wants to consider joint meetings. With relationships growing through the Joint Comprehensive Plan, Tuso said they should open the door to ideas like this. Continuing to improve those relationships even further in new ways that have never been done before. Connecting in these ways can only further support other needs like jobs and housing.
Growth requires insight, balance, and a tempering to the type of county you want to be. As a candidate, Jerry Tuso said he believes he has that insight. He has the experience and maturity to temper that growth and to provide the support and guidance into Gilmer County’s future. Tuso said, “People have asked me why I am running again. I am running again because I think there is more to be done.”
Stability and unification, these are tenets that Al Cash said he wants to see moving forward in Gilmer County. Though he did not plan to run in the Post 1 Commissioner Race, Cash says he was approached by others who urged him to run due to his “life experiences and the integrity I have based my entire life on.”
Like many of the candidates, Cash said one of the concerns he sees and hears from citizens is the unstoppable growth the county has seen over recent years. Cash said that the growth is there, it is the job of the Board of Commissioners to control that growth and mold the county into what the citizens want for their future.
President of the Firefighters Auxiliary and volunteer for the EMA staff, Cash is also the webmaster for the Fire Department. Under the Auxiliary, he seeks additionally funding outside of the county budget for the department, manages many of the events like Kids Christmas. They seek fundraising opportunities for additional training and equipment as well.
Cash has also worked 30 years for State Farm where he worked as an adjuster and in third party litigation for 15 years and IT work for 15 years. He has lived in Gilmer County with his wife since 2012. He has one son and four daughters.
Originally having bought a house here in 2006, his family planned to retire here. He says it was definitely the people that drew him here, saying “I hear this all the time, and it’s absolutely true. It’s the people. The people are so incredibly nice… It was strange. It’s a whole different culture, and we fell in love with it.”
Standing up to run for the position of Post 1 Commissioner, Cash said it is the intangibles that set him apart for the position. From his life experiences to knowledge and organization, these are part of the skill set that he brings to a county with the unique setting and trials that Gilmer County faces.
“I see a lot of flux,” says Cash as he explained that he sees some citizens wanting to revert to the small town that has been here in the past and some wanting to embrace and grow into a larger town or city. Calling himself a traditionalist, Cash has seen both large cities and tiny towns. Balancing the growth and tradition is key in Gilmer as it moves forward. But Cash says the balance cannot be a general blanket answer. It’s a department level issue as he says each area requires its own answers and its own type of that balance.
“That’s just a lot of math and analysis, trying to figure out what is the best way to spend the money that are available. How to balance that between other departments and what’s happening in the community, it always has to be what’s best for the community as a whole,” says Cash.
With two major issues in the recent months of the county, many citizens are looking for views on the pool and Carter’s Lake.
Cash asserted that he understood that a new pool is necessary and desired by a large portion of the county. But he wants to learn more about the other questions as he asked what is the real cost? He said he wants to learn more about the details, including operations, maintenance, costs, and the viability for the community. He said, “I’m a research king. I need all the facts.”
Some of those details include the deep end addition with diving boards. Cash said he has concerns for the insurance and liability side of it as well as the additional costs.
Again with the Carter’s Lake issue as Cash said he feels many of the citizens are still unaware of the details more than just the three options available.
Details on these subjects, however, are not just for himself as Cash says the county needs stability and unification moving forward. He points out that it doesn’t mean everyone agreeing on everything, but about bringing the government and citizens closer together with more information and communication. Cash said he has even considered things like starting a blog if he becomes Post 1 Commissioner. The core of the idea is increasing connection and interaction.
On top of improving the relationship with citizens, Cash also wants to see the relations continue improving within the county. Noting the comprehensive plan as the first step in this. Cash said these entities in the county, as a whole, benefit from each other in a “scratch each other’s back” situation. Cash noted that though the cities are their own entities, the Board of Education is its own entity, and the Board of Commissioners is its own entity, it is still all inside of Gilmer County. He said, “I would like to establish as much of a working relationship with them as we can… I’d like to be part of that getting better.”
Cash also noted new ventures such as CORE joining these entities throughout the county through projects like their mentor program. The Joint Development Authority is another branch of this connection.
Continuing along the campaign trail, Cash urges citizens to get out and vote in the election. As he looks to the Post 1 Commissioner position, Cash said he is excited to be a part of the county’s forward momentum. “I would love to get in there and be a part of where we are now and moving forward. I’ve always been that way. I’ve loved getting in on the ground floor… I love building it, and making it happen. Making positive things happen.”
Committing to the position is all about “Service above Self” according to candidate Al Cash. Committing to the county in this position is, as he says, all about the Facts, Finances, and Future.
ELLIJAY, Ga – Meetings have completed and the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners are preparing for the next steps of cuts and adjustments as they move towards a finalized budget in the coming months. With much still to come, the budget meetings now showcase each department and office’s initial proposed budget.
Each holds a meeting specifically for them to highlight requests and changes to their budgets alongside Financial Officer Sandi Holden and, this year, the two current members of the Board of Commissioners.
While the county is planning in the proposed budget for a potential eight percent increase in group insurance, they are still early in planning and may not see that large of an increase.
While much of the Sheriff’s Office budget remains similar to recent years, another increase is being proposed for a change in retirement benefits. This plan sees officers paying into the program over a minimum of 15 years of service, according to Gilmer County Sheriff Stacy Nicholson. The POAB (Peace Officers Annuity and Benefits Fund) is a retirement for certified law enforcement officers. Any officer in Georgia can join. After the officer retires, a monthly payment created by the number of years your were a member multiplied by 24.
Sheriff Nicholson is asking in his budget to invoke an option for the county. As the Sheriff’s Office has been paying the $20 per month for its officers since 2014, Nicholson is requesting to budget for the option to “buy back” up to 5 years of service in the Gilmer Sheriff’s Office for officers who worked for the office before 2014. Nicholson estimates this could affect between 32 and 34 employees. Not all would be a full five years of service. It could cost an extra $175,000 or more. However, Nicholson also said the purchase could be done in increments, so as not to cost the full price at first.
If the office moves forward with this, Nicholson said that a contract with officers would be created so that should an officer leave the Sheriff’s Office to transfer to another law enforcement agency, they would pay back the money spent to buy back these years of service.
Additionally, there was a budget increase in salaries. However, Nicholson said this change comes from Administrative Salaries and includes zero pay raise. Instead, the change is to cover some oversights due to raises over recent years.
There are also capital expenditures requests including 10 vehicles and 11 portable radios including extra programming, this programming includes repeating frequencies and adaptations for multiple agency on scene situations.
Gilmer’s Fire Department is reporting that they will see some increase expected in their revenue lines. With Minor increase to line items such as contract services, vehicle repairs and maintenance, and supplies and materials, the majority of the changes in the capital budget.
Just like last year, a massive $467,809 was requested on the Capital Budget. Only Roads and Bridges compares in capital expenses at $365,000. Paris also repeated his same question from last year’s budget as he asked Fire Chief Daniel Kauffman to prioritize the items requested.
That priority came to
1. 2020 Dodge Ambulance – $236,000
2. Used Fire Engine to replace a 1976 American LaFrance – $75,000
3. Stryker Stretcher with Warranty and Maintenance – $10,844
4. Hurst Hydraulics Extrication Equipment – $32,000
5. 2 Lucas Devices for CPR compression assistance and training – $53,965
6. 2020 Ford F150 – $25,000
7. Target Solutions
8. 2020 Ford F250 – $35,000
Roads & Bridges
The county is looking at raising wages for employees who are still working at $9 per hour wages. Roads and Bridges saw a proposed increase in wages from $773,563 to $898,106. This has actually reached across multiple years and departments as the county is attempting to have increased all employees in the next few years. County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris has said before that the county sees part of its turnover rate due to low pay.
Another big increase came through striping. The Road Dept is catching up through all the current paving from 2019 alongside other projects. With the budget set to go back and stripe in 2020, the Road Department budget jump[ed on this line item. In the 2019 budget, striping was budgeted at $30,000, but in 2020, the current proposal is set at $120,000. Paris noted later in the meeting that striping costs are estimated per mile at $2,500 for double-yellow lines and two edge lines. Paris stated that Eller Road and Howard Simmons Road would cost more as they use center turn lanes and intersections. Their estimate is $5,000 per mile.
On the Capital Budget, the Road Department reached $365,000. However, the majority of this request comes from two items. A Motorgrader for $240,000 and a Dump Truck for $125,000.
Just like the Road Department, proposed budgets are showing increases in salary lines to bring up those making $9 per hour to a higher wage. The increase goes from 2019’s budgeted $268,576 to 2020’s proposed $335,525.
While they don’t have a specific number yet, the department is also reporting an expected increase from Advanced Disposal for the county’s solid waste disposal. They are also still looking at the leachate issue from the landfill’s lift stations. Additional funds could be required if the situation changes.
With the Board of Assessors requesting pay increases across the department for Tax Assessors, the budget requests could meet push back as the Tax Assessors have seen increases in recent years.
Another increase comes with Contract Services. The increase for a second flight for QPublic and Change Finder program to scan for changes to properties. This program can allow the Assessors to see properties that may be blocked off or gated to where assessors may not normally be able to see the whole property. This program also automatically scans properties within the county to find details and changes that would increase property values and, therefore, revenue in the department.
With major elections coming up, the Probate Court is almost tripling their elections budget, increasing from 2019’s budgeted $65,314 to a proposed $192,304 in 2020. As expected during an election year like this, the increases are reaching to areas like advertising. Supplies and materials is over six times its 2019 budget, from $7,400 to $47,000. Additionally, their proposed budget proposes $111,092 for election workers.
Probate Judge Scott Chastain is still looking for details on operating the elections side of the office, addressing issues like poll workers payments and ballot advertising alongside Chief Registrar Tammy Watkins. As the budget moves into later stages details will become more fine tuned in the elections.
One of the major issues that is still unclear as to how it could affect the budget is the new election machines. Training and security for election ballots for the new machines are not yet fully completed as they continue to await the machines.
This includes new equipment such as required printers for the voting machines including their ink and maintenance.
Also requesting salary increases, the Animal Shelter is looking at a proposed $124,500, opposed to 2019’s budgeted $108,040.
Director Daniel Laukka is also looking to begin accruing a type of contingency on the capital budget fund as he looks to needs for repairs and eventual replacement of the shelter’s transport van. Paris noted that he believes the shelter is going to eventually need to look at possibly hiring another animal control officer, but said that 2020 probably wouldn’t be that time.
Code and Regulatory Department
A major increase in group insurance saw this department go from 2019’s budgeted $613 to the 2020 proposal of $12,500. Another increase in advertising came from “blue cards” advertising.
Recreation and Parks Department
While much of the Recreation and Parks Department budget remains the same, a decrease in Civic Center utilities shows the drop in costs as the pool pumps will no longer run. However, certain items are still in place, such as gate revenue and concessions costs still indicate plans to move forward with the pool construction. However, now, even Chairman Paris said he is starting to doubt whether the county will meet the goal of Memorial Day.
The coroner’s office is requesting an increase in budget for an additional deputy coroner.
The Magistrate Court’s budget shows little change with only slight increases to line items like Insurance and Bonds and Group Insurance. Judge Kincaid is requesting a small increase for clerk training and education as well.
Clerk of Court
A decrease in administration salary was noted as the county switches Clerks of Court after the retirement of Glenda Sue Johnson. However, the nearly $16,000 decrease was offset by a $22,000 increase in group insurance.
Last year’s approval for a pre-trial and probation program shows under Superior Courts budget as $27,509. Though not originally budget for the 2019 budget, discussion is underway whether to keep this line item under Superior Court or move it to Probation department. Additionally, Superior Court Judge Brenda Weaver is asking for $3,000 increase in Mental Health Court Program. With increasing numbers of help needed for those with mental issues, Judge Weaver said the money they are receiving is not enough to meet match numbers for state grants.
Planning and Zoning
Planning and Zoning is looking at a few increases in areas such as advertising and insurance, their overall budget is actually decreasing in proposal by just over $2,000.
Minor increases in communications and professional services, with a larger increase to supplies and materials.
Increases to Salary and Wages include and additional run-off election next year that the office is planning for. However, plans could change with coming changes to voting machines. Involving early voting and election night voting, an additional person may be needed to monitor the new machines printed ballots and to direct those who may need guidance on the process of submitting the paper ballots.
Maintenance Department is also looking to increase pay wages in the proposed budget.
The proposed budget for the Chamber highlighted requested features from the BOC including planned audits and reports. The Chamber is also planning to see a slight increase to collections based on years of growth. In the next year, President and CEO of the Chamber, Paige Green indicated they could be looking to improve some cycling capabilities to revisit the idea of becoming an IMBA Ride Center.
In other changes, they are looking for directional signage, maps, other downtown improvements.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – With the final day past, the Gilmer County Probate Office has announced the five candidates who have officially qualified for the November election for Post 1 Commissioner.
Qualifying ran from Monday through noon Wednesday this week and even came with surprises for those who had previously announced their campaign but didn’t qualify by signing up with elections.
At this time, the elections office, a part of Gilmer County’s Probate Court, has confirmed these candidates: Jason Biggs, Al Cash, Hubert Parker, Ed Stover, and Jerry Tuso.
Stay with FYN as we reach out to the candidates for interviews to introduce them within their campaigns.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Before his final meeting with the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners, former Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller spoke with FYN to elaborate on his letter of resignation and the timing of his departure from the county.
Miller reiterated his feelings he expressed in his letter saying, “Given my circumstances right now, I am not able or willing to devote the kind of time this position needs and what the people elected me to do.”
Miller did add that his plan was to finish the term originally. But with his house getting an offer and plans to move closer to family, he will be moving sooner than expected.
Miller did elaborate that he has been living with kidney failure since 2008. Being pretty advanced in nature, Miller said Doctors have advised him that the issue cannot continue without more attention. Citing factors like stress and high blood pressure, he said that the Commissioner position is not helping the condition.
However, there is much more to this decision than just health issues. Miller went on to add that his son, who has been overseas for 15 years, is finally home. As his son owns a home in Georgia, the former commissioner said he wanted to be closer to his family to allow time to catch up on his private life.
He added, “I literally put my private life on hold for six years while I’ve been a commissioner, and I need to get some of that back.”
Adding that he wanted people to know it wasn’t a sudden decision, the desire was to finish out the term and proceed with plans then. However, due to the acceleration of plans, he will be moving by the end of September.
Looking back on his time as a Commissioner, Miller said, “It’s been a great community to live in. It’s been great citizens to work with and work for. We will miss all of that. We will miss all the friends, all of the people, all of the good things we’ve had here…”
Leaving the position behind, he said he hopes Gilmer continues being financially conservative and protects the rural nature. Miller also said he hopes the commissioners continue to be open to disagreements saying, “That is a big, big positive… That ability to balance things and look at alternatives and look at different approaches. It’s valuable. It’s hugely valuable, and I hope that continues.”
There is always going to be a process, according to Miller. This position grows more complex every year and the “business” environment is continuing to become a larger and larger part of it. “Politics always enters in,” Miller said as he spoke about the neverending work that Commissioners undertake. You always strive to improve and adapt, continuing to reach for the balance for the citizens.
Especially at this time of year, when the board enters budget meetings. He said, “They are so important because they set the whole tone of what you can do and what you can’t do, or what you won’t do. You set the priorities for the county that way. It’s really one of the most important things that, particularly, post commissioners do because we don’t deal with day-to-day stuff so much.”
While Miller said he wouldn’t miss the budget meeting process, the way he speaks on the process and the importance he continued to stress on the issue seems as if the sentiment belies a regretfulness that he steps down before the meetings.
He pointed out some concerns about issues the county faces in the future, but then said,
Having been a part of so many decisions for the county over the years, Miller pointed to involvement in general as one of the biggest parts of the job that he takes with him. He said, “It’s a pleasure and it’s a gratification to know that you have been involved. Just being involved, whether you win, whether you lose, whether you agree or disagree, being involved in your community…It is so gratifying to be able to say I have spent some time working for other people, working for the citizens that elected me and those that didn’t vote for me to try and make life better. That is the reward of being in public service.”
ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Probate Office of Gilmer County is adding one more item to November’s ballot in the form of a Post 1 Commissioner Election. This Special Election comes after the recent resignation of Dallas Miller.
The new election process will be abbreviated from the normal process as qualifying will go for three days next week, Monday, September 23, 2019, until noon on Wednesday, September 25, 2019. After that, the election will be held on November 5, 2019. Despite the quick turn around, this means that the two remaining commissioners will be going the the county’s budget process without a third.
The full release from Probate Judge and Election Superintendent Scott Chastain follows:
CALL FOR SPECIAL ELECTIONTo be published in a newspaper of appropriate circulation- O.C.G.A. §21-2-2(3)Notice is hereby given that, in accordance with O.C.G.A. § 21-2-540, a special election shall be held in Gilmer County to fill the vacancy in the office of County Commissioner Post 1, caused by resignation of the Honorable Dallas Miller. The special election will be held on November 5, 2019.Qualifying for the special election shall be held at the office of the Probate Judge of Gilmer County, beginning at 9:00 a.m. on Monday, September 23, 2019 and ending at 12:00 p.m. on Wednesday, September 25, 2019. The qualifying fee shall be $213.76.All persons who are not registered to vote and who desire to register to vote in the special election may register to vote through the close of business on Tuesday, October 7, 2019 Early voting will begin on Tuesday October 15, 2019 and end on November 1, 2019. Polls will be open from 7:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m. on Election Day.Should a runoff election be required, such runoff will be held onTuesday, December 3, 2019This 13th Day of September, 2019. Scott C. ChastainElection Superintendent
ELLIJAY, Ga. – According to a release from the office of the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners, Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller is resigning from his position with the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners.
Miller not only resigns from the BOC, but also his position as an appointed member on the Building Authority Board.
Stay with FYN as we reach out to Miller to comment on his resignation and to see how the county will respond and move forward with this vacancy.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – An official motion, and a somewhat unusual unanimous decision, has led Gilmer County into a contract with Premier Pools & Spas.
The company, located in Ellijay, Georgia, already presented a concept to the commissioners during their June meeting, but will now alter, detail, and finalize a design for the board to use as they move forward with a town hall meeting for citizens to look at the design and provide input, then return to design before giving the plans over to an engineer for building plans.
Premier Pools & Spas preliminary design was meant to show the companies capabilities and expertise. Approved at $3,500, the company will now spend the next few weeks designing both pools expected in the new recreation center. However, the design would end with planning the enclosure for the main pool. The County will still look for another designer for the remainder of the recreation center as they have previously stated they want the entire facility designed before construction begins.
The main pool will likely be four feet deep to accommodate swimming laps as well as water aerobics classes. Included in the building enclosing the pool would be concession stands and bathrooms. These will also be designed to prevent moisture transfer to the rec center to help protect other possibilities like basketball courts.
One change the commissioners have already asked for from the initial concept is to incorporate eight swim lanes at 8-feet-wide each for competitions. Additionally, for practices, Swim Coach Larry Lykins said this width could also allow for two swimmers in the lanes.
Gilmer County Commission Chairman also said he wanted to accommodate those wanting to swim laps at the same time. Lykins said that eight lanes could also allow extra space to have half the pool set for laps and the other half for classes, therapy, or aerobics at the same time.
When finished, the pool design will provide the county with a completed design to guide with layout and construction documents and engineering plans, as well as estimations of building costs. Post Commissioner Dallas Miller confirmed that these would be good enough for bid specs, but they will not be the actual Architectural Plans.
“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.