Grants and budget bring upgrades to the fire department

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upgrades to the fire department

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Gilmer wins CDBG grant for water improvements

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CDBG

GILMER COUNTY, Ga. – Speaker David Ralston (R-Blue Ridge) today announced that Gilmer County has been awarded $722,000 to make water system improvements through the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Program. The funds will be used as part of a $1.9 million project to improve water infrastructure along Old Roundtop Road, Roundtop Road, Whispering Winds Lane and within the Lakeside Mobile Home Park.

Extending new water main lines into the area, the Ellijay-Gilmer County Water and Sewerage Authority (EGCWSA) will be extending lines to homes that have never had access to the public water system. They will be extending the mainline to communities that are currently using substandard wells or systems with heavy iron in the water as well as laying the groundwork for future plans. In fact, as this grant funds “Phase 1” of the project, Director of the EGCWSA, Gary McVey said, “After this grant is done, we’re actually going to extend even farther and, hopefully, even maybe get to the county line.”

McVey confirmed that once they reach the county line, they will pursue a connection with Pickens County Water as well. Gilmer already connects to Pickens through the Yukon Road/Talking Rock area.

“Continually maintaining and improving infrastructure is critical to the quality of life our residents enjoy,” said Speaker Ralston. “This is the kind of investment that will pay off for years to come, and I congratulate all those involved in winning this grant award for Gilmer County.”

County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris also commented on the grant saying, “These grants are competitive. You’ve got to present a good case in order to get them. And I think we’ve done that… We’re being more competitive and that’s what I like to see.”

According to Speaker Ralston’s Press Release, the CDBG program is available to eligible local governments through a competitive grant program. Each year, CDBG supports community projects that create jobs and assist citizens with low and moderate incomes. The release also stated,

Over the past decade, Georgia’s CDBG program has invested in health care facilities that have helped more than 35,000 Georgians gain access to improved health services, has provided resources for critical water and sewer improvements serving more than 177,000 residents in rural areas, has supported the construction or enhancement of community facilities to serve more than 16,000 youth and senior citizens, and has helped to create more than 6,100 new jobs through the Employment Incentive Program.

 

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Miller’s resignation letter speaks to citizens

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GILMER, Ga. – Alongside breaking news today of Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller’s resignation, Miller did offer his letter of resignation to both the board and citizens of Gilmer County.

The complete letter is as follows:

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Dallas Miller resigns from BOC

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Miller

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.

The resignation will take effect on September 13, 2019. This means that he will be present for the county’s September meetings on September 11 and 12, 2019, before resigning the following day.

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.

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BOE presents 2019 Milestones results

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Georgia Milestones Assesment System (GMAS) scores were released this month after the state embargo was lifted at the end of July.

Presented to the board, these scores show results from the 2018-19 school year as well as recent years for comparisons. While grades 3-8 separate scores into Math, ELA, Reading, Science, and Social Studies, High School scores are presented as End Of Course test results.

Chief Academic Officer Lottie Mitchell presented these results to the board in August noting the trends the county has seen in the last five years in levels 2-4, whereas Milestones scores are ranked by levels (level 1 – Beginner / Level 2 – Developing / Level 3 – Proficient / Level 4 – Distinguished). Mitchell also told the board that while the schools did retest this year, they are going to participate in retesting in the 2019-20 school year. In 3rd Grade, they can retest in Language Arts. In 5th Grade and 8th Grade, they can retest in Reading and Math.

In Math, Grades 3-8, Mitchell highlighted the 2019 scores which saw seven of the eight groups scoring above the State’s average. While Mountain View’s 4th Grade did decrease, they are still above the average as well. Only Clear Creek Middle School’s 7th Grade group was below average in Math, but they only missed the average by one percent.

“We are very pleased in Math,” said Mitchell as she pointed out the county’s relation to the state.

In ELA (English Language Arts), Mitchell noted that while the county did generally perform close to the state’s average in most of the groups when comparing levels 2-4, the chart on the right shows four groups above average when looking only at the percentage of those who score at Level 3 – Proficient and Level 4 – Distinguished.

Mitchell addressed the charts differences saying, “We are moving more of our developing up to our proficient.”

In Reading and Vocabulary, Mitchell said, “For the past few years, we have not had anyone. When we first applied for the L4GA Grant, we didn’t have anyone who was above the state average… This year Clear Creek 7th Grade was above the average. We are showing improvement. Sometimes we have a little dip, but we are overall showing improvement.”

With six of the eight groups showing high scores than five years ago, Mitchell said they are happy for the improvements. While administration is excited for the math scores, much of their concern and focus have been on improving these scores. She noted several initiatives to achieve that goal such as a new phonics program, increasing student time in tech and balanced literacy, increases in training and guided reading, and reading rewards programs that have already shown success in GMS and CCMS among other initiatives.

Additionally, she credited the success that CCMS has seen to a new program, WIN, that alligns students in groups according to their MAP scores to allow those of similar skill levels to improve together.

In Science and Social Studies, Mitchell noted that in recent years, only 5th and 8th Grades take these tests. Both grades beat the state average in Science and 8th Grade beat it in Social Studies. While 5th Grade did not score above average in Social Studies, they did scores just below, by one percent, similar to Clear Creek’s 7th Math group. This did, however, show a dip in scores compared to last year.

 

In High School End of Course Tests, only two groups beat the state average. However, Mitchell instead pointed to the growth the county has seen in the last five years. From 2015 to 2019, 9th Grade Lit percentages have gone up 33.1 percent, from 52.99 to 85.88 percent.  U.S. History percentages have gone up 36.58 percent, from 36.96 to 73.54percent. Economics percentages have gone up 35.49 percent, from 48.99 to 84.48 percent. In the past year alone, Physical Science scores went up 13.97 percent, from 70.72 to 84.69 percent.

Addressing the dip in Math scores, Mitchell pointed back to the higher math scores in lower grades saying, “We are sending students up to the high school with a stronger foundation and proficiency to do the rigorous math such as Algebra I and Geometry.”

Additonally, Principal Carla Foley is also arranging schedules to provide additional support in the fall for 9th grade lit and Algebra I to give the a year to master the content rather than one semester.

Mitchell said the Milestones scores not only showcase the successes of Gilmer County, but they are allowing answers and responses like these to address the issue areas in order to spread the success to all areas of the schools.

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BOC and BOE approve rollback millage rates

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – After the August meeting of both the Board of Commissioners and the Board of Education, the commissioners reconvened for final approval for the collection of both millage rates in Gilmer County.

The Gilmer County Board of Education approved its Rollback Rate of 14.248 mills generating $16.8 million according to estimations by Gilmer County Financial Officer Sandi Holden. This rate was approved unanimously by the Board of Commissioners for collection.

The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners approved its Rollback Rate of 6.898 mills generating about $9.7 million according to Holden. This rate was approved 2-1 by the board with Dallas Miller being the dissenting vote.

The Commissioners then approved the 1.5 mills bond rate for the county generating about $2 million according to Post Commissioner Dallas Miller.

The bond millage was called into question by local citizen Joene DePlancke who noted the county’s growth and bond refinancings that the county has done.

DePlancke said she wasn’t speaking in opposition to the 1 mill bond rate, but rather the extra half mill added later. She went on to say, “I think it is unfair to the citizens of this county to keep telling them you have to have [1.5 mill] for the bond payments when we collect more than enough from SPLOST to cover the refinanced bonds.”

Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris told DePlancke that the 2017 bond payment was significantly less due to the refinancing at the time. With that refinancing, that year’s payment was reduced, allowing the county to use the extra funds, but also having that payment show far less.

Paris went on to point out that the bond payments are continuing to increase as well. Both 2019 and 2020 will see increases. Holden said the 2020 payment is expected to total just over $4 million. The payments over the last few years could not be looked at, according to Paris, as a measure of what they will be going forward.

Paris also noted that the Commissioners had a discussion in their August meeting about reducing the half mill on the bond millage, but decided to keep it as the payments are increasing as well as facing major issues such as the leachate leakage at the county landfill. Paris said the commissioners ultimately decided to wait and revisit the idea of removing the half mill next year. Additionally, while the county could continue forward without the half mill and maintain the needs for bond payment and this landfill issue, they would have to abandon every plan and improvement planned for other areas like the road department.

DePlancke reiterated her concerns on the bond millage saying, “You’ll always have a reason to spend it… There are so many things that need to be done, but you put it on there for bond payment. I feel like that is not honest to the citizens. You’re using it for other things.”

Paris said he didn’t agree that they would never give the half mill back, but asked what DePlancke she would have the county do, if they dropped the half mill, for the capital needs for the road department?

DePlancke responded, “You’ve got all the numbers there. I can’t answer that off the top of my head, but I’d love to have a crack at it.”

As discussion continued, Miller spoke as well, defending the bond millage. He said, “Our facilities, our infrastructure in this county. We’ve made progress, we’ve done improvements, but they are getting very old relative to their life. The buildings, the roads, everything needs capital improvements to keep them in good operating and maintenance level. We are facing, in the future, a large amount of renovation, and maybe even replacement, of our facilities that will only come from the capital budget that we have. And that money that goes to the capital budget will only come from the SPLOST collections, in my mind.”

Miller went on to say that he estimated $10 million in needs for the county in the coming 10 years just to keep the buildings and facilities at their current level. He said he didn’t want to wind up in the situation again where the county needed to borrow money or sell bonds. He said the commissioners didn’t have a choice but to maintain the path of maintaining and improving the infrastructure.

The board approved keeping the 1.5 mills, without raising or lowering, through a unanimous vote.

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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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