Citizens Speak on Carters Lake

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Citizens Speak on Carters Lake

ELLIJAY, Ga. – With this week’s meetings set to make a final decision on the County’s options for Carter’s Lake, overwhelming support has come in favor of the county intervening to keep four sites of Carter’s Lake open so far.

With nine people initially standing to speak at a Special Called Meeting, every one of them spoke in favor of taking steps to support the Corps of Engineers who are considering closing the sites after, they say, cuts to their funding. Two representatives from the local Corps of Engineers were available at the meeting.

Many pointed to GIlmer’s reputation for outdoor activities, including being named the Mountain Biking Capital of Georgia, saying that without the lake, we could lose these titles and the renown they bring. Dondi Fontenot pointed out that local businesses and tourism dollars thrive off of the lake’s presence and the public’s access to it.  Moreso, businesses like his bike shop and others downtown get much of their business from visitors to the county, through tourism.

Fontenot and others also added that many of their families have many memories and personal investments into the area.

Angela Mays also spoke of the families who use the lake. She spoke about the handicap access and the ease of getting her family out to the locations. She spoke about the people and family that visit and how much they use the area. 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.

Larry Alonso defended the lake and its access as a major resource in teaching and furthering exercise in people both young and old. He noted that 100 million people in the United States, 1 in 3, deal with some kind of diabetes or prediabetes. With exercise as the “silver bullet,” Alonso said the county could not afford to lose the lake with so many groups and so many kids involved. Alonso said, “These are children who are building memories, and building cardio-vascular fitness, and have decided to set down screen time in favor of getting out on the trail. These are children who are building memories that are connected to physical exercise.”

This is not the last opportunity for citizens to speak, however. The BOC will be meeting tomorrow morning, October 15, at 9 a.m. for their work session and Wednesday, October 16, at 6 p.m. for the regular meeting in which they are expected to make a final vote to decide on Carters Lake.

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Commissioners set to decide the fate of Carter’s Lake

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Next week will see the decision of the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners on what to do with for sites on Carter’s Lake.

The board met today with citizen’s over the issue in a Special Called Meeting at 10 a.m. Along with them were representatives of the Corps of Engineers who are looking at closing the four public access sites on Carter’s Lake including Woodring, Ridgeway Church, Harrison Branch, and Doll Mountain.

With budget cuts in their future, the Corps of Engineers is looking at two options for Gilmer County to take more control and responsibility for Carter’s Lake, outright leasing the properties to the county or entering a cooperative management agreement.

The lease option would allow the county full control over the property to do whatever they want with it. This comes with the county receiving all funds raised through access fees and full control of that fee structure as well. The county would also take on full responsibilities for the locations leased, including costs and operations.

Cooperative Management puts more stringent restrictions on the county where they must follow the Corps of Engineers fee structure and find agreements with the Corps on operational and improvement functions. They two would split proceeds from fees as specified in the agreement they would make. While excess funds would be the county’s to use strictly for the locations on Carter’s Lake in the agreement. This would also split responsibilities for these locations as well.

Though much discussion was raised during the meeting, Chairman Charlie Paris suggested the board not take action today with the regular meeting scheduled for next week, October 16 at 6 p.m.

Though the two current commissioners discussed the option of leasing Harris Branch and entering agreements on the other three locations, next week will give rise to a final decision as they continue investigating until then.

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County looks to overcome obstacles for pool

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer’s march towards the construction of the new pool at River Park is continuing as they continue facing two major obstacles.

It has been well established that two of the county’s three commissioners see great promise and benefit in the River Park location discussed for the county’s pool project. One hurdle facing that location received an update this month and Commission Chairman Charlie Paris informed the board at their meeting that conversations with the specialist attorney Matt Williams revealed that the proposed contract with Patriot Rail is looking promising.

Williams did say they currently have a standard agreement contract that they are looking at. However, Paris told the board, “He mentioned that in terms of a railroad crossing, the main concern is the question of liabilty.”

The area currently has a private crossing. If it was a public crossing, the county would come into the liability issue as well. Paris said that the county cannot indemnify the railroad with a public crossing. But with standardized government documents, this crossing would fall under standardized signage and warnings that are common across the country.

He went on to say that the county would undergo a diagnostic study to find what government requires for the crossing. As such, Paris said the county “would be covered” in cases of liability as they follow DOT and traffic engineer standards.

As such, Williams has reportedly suggested the county move forward in pursuit of a public crossing at the location and could see better terms in the agreement with that angle. However, this means the county would have to carve out space for a public road instead of the private road, complete with easements and right of way.

Paris recommended the county move forward with this option if the county could get a “more favorable agreement.”

The railroad is not the only obstacle that saw updates this week. The county is facing much of the land at that location in a flood plain. Public Works Director Jim Smith updated the county on progress beginning on the Highway 382 project just getting underway by the State Department of Transportation. As they carve out, flatten, and prepare the area for relocating the highway, the contractors are looking for a place to put the dirt they remove.

Smith told the board that they had offered to move the dirt to a location of the county’s choice. The county could have the dirt moved to the River Park location to use as fill dirt. However, questions arose and the county is set to first investigate and take samples to see if the quality is good enough for such a use.

Post Commissioner Dallas Miller continues to question the location as he raised questions about the soils composition, the locations foundation, and the repetition of the same plan used in the old pool. He further asked why the DOT would be giving away good soil?

Miller said he would support the creation and construction of a pool for the county, but would not support this site for the pool.

Paris agreed with wanting to test all the soil they are looking to use for the location. He also addressed what he called an incorrect statement about the land being free. While the land would be free to them, it will actually be East Ellijay paying for the land, Paris said $270,000, in order to make sure the pool would be built in town instead of at Clear Creek.

He went on to note the most all of the current River Park is inside a flood plain. While he admitted that he said the pool has problems in that flood plain, he noted that the pool was over 40 years old. He said, “If we build a pool there, and 40 years from now we have problems with it leaking, then my suggestion… will be ‘time to build a new pool.'”

Post Commission Karleen Ferguson thanked Miller for his concerns and suggesting the soils testings. However, she said, “I do believe I am kind of here and ready for us to face our rivers and to enjoy our rivers more, more than turn our backs on our rivers. The River Park is already started. It is a beautiful park for our citizens to enjoy and I do think it makes sense to have the pool there if all the other ‘ifs,’ you know we have this railroad issue that has come up and we’ll see how that goes and the soil testing that is being done. Ideally, I do think it’s the best location because it makes sense to continue on for our River Park and even across to our soccer fields.”

Despite the differences, the county is moving forward looking at both the available soil and the railroad agreements as they attempt to overcome these hurdles.

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Changes coming to Animal Control

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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County certification in ethics recognized

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

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

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

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

The GMA’s full release is as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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NWGRC leads meeting to work on County Plan

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

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

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

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

NWGRC Assistant Planning Director Ethan Calhoun.

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Pool Debate jumps into the deep end

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Ethics questioned in county ethics board appointment

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Having been accepted and approved as a county of ethics, Gilmer’s Board of Commissioners moved forward with appointing members to an ethics board.

County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris spoke at the work session saying that he had hopes that the board appointees would accept the position and never meet. The Board of Ethics would only meet if someone had a complaint against the county on an ethics violation. The county would appoint two board members, then those two would appoint a third.

As the item came to vote in the Regular Meeting, three names were put forth for consideration. Those names included John Marshall, Dr.Glenn Cummings, and Barry Pritchett.

Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson voiced concerns of denominational influence for a clergy member to be on this committee. While she asserted that she had no specific issue with Cummings himself, it was more of a general concern for clergy members.

Paris stated he did not share Ferguson’s concerns on clergy, and also felt that her suggestion of Pritchett would be a great choice as well.

Paris made his motion for John Marshall and Dr. Glenn Cummings to be approved to the Board of Ethics. With individual motions for each, John Marshall was approved unanimously and Dr. Glenn Cummings was approved with a 2-1 vote, Ferguson being the dissenting vote.

Additionally, the county approved unanimously to approve four other board appointments.

John Williamson was reappointed to the Tax Assessors Board.

Carl Hill Jr. was approved to fulfill the remainder of term left by Alan Davenport on the Board of Planning and Zoning.

Joene DePlancke was reappointed to the Building Authority.

Mary Ann Cook was reappointed to the Keep Gilmer Beautiful Board.

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