ELLIJAY, Ga. – Final decisions may be coming soon as the county considers densities and more with recent changes in Land Use Ordinances.
Having been on the agenda for several months, this item was revisited during a first reading and gone through several public hearings and adjustments from the Building Association and local builders. This month finally saw the ordinance pass a first reader. The county will revisit it next month for a second reading and final adoption to put an end to the lengthy process.
However, few complaints are being heard on the time taken for this ordinance, instead, confirmations and thanks are forefront as the county did not vote to pass the reader months ago when asked by citizens and builders for more time to study and give input on changes for the ordinance.
Cleaning and maintenance for the Gilmer Courthouse is also still being debated as the Commissioners and Maintenance Director D.J. Spagnola look into options for cleaning the stained bricks on the courthouse. While pressure washing is too rough, causing damage to the stone, painting does not seem good enough to cover over the stains either. The stains come from a moss, not a mold, according to Spagnola.
Looking at proposals for cleaning, Spagnola is looking for lasting options instead of the temporary fixes the county has been using. He spoke of meeting with an architect to look at ways to seal the capstone in order to protect it from the water, moss, and stains that continue to damage the exterior.
The board officially approved Shane Bowman as a member to the Department of Family & Children’s Services Board.
The board also approved Tony Whitaker as a member to the Ellijay-Gilmer County Water & Sewerage Authority.
“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. – With new information coming from an unrelated meeting last week of Gilmer County’s Board of Commissioners, citizens have been seeking clarifications on issues regarding the community pool that has become a central topic in Gilmer County since the official closing of the current pool this month.
Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris took measure this week to clarify a few of these questions. Though two of the county commissioners listened to a presentation from a local pool company and later said that they did like the designs in that presentation, Paris said the county must still go through engineering and design processes as a part of the bid process for the county. Paris also sternly said that the project has a budget and many of the talks about things he or other commissioners may “want” to be included, could be left out because of budget constraints.
However, preliminary discussions, along with a rough design the county presented earlier this month as a visual of how they would like to go, showed that the new recreation center will not have one, but two pools. Each pool would house its own filtration system. But each pool would be drastically different. The primary pool would be five feet deep, would have rope floats to designate swim lanes when used for that purpose but be removed for use by the general public, would host a slide in a side “recessed” area, and would be an indoor pool. The secondary pool would have a ramp entry to wade into the pool, would only reach three feet deep, and could eventually host accessories like fountains, extra slides, or other accoutrements. Additionally, this secondary pool would not be open year-round as the heaters would only be used on the indoor pool.
Paris was adamant that many of these design thoughts were simply preliminary ideas that have come from citizens, board meetings, and his own thoughts. Paris said that he hopes the county could move forward with engineering and designs to have the basics understood and be able to answer questions and make changes for items that citizens want during one more “town hall” meeting, possibly in July or August.
With continued talk of additions, second pools, basketball courts, paved parking lots, fountains, and coverings, Paris specified the plan for the pool as he said all of these things are additional items. What needs to happen by next year is the “primary” pool, dressing rooms, and bathrooms. This is the core of what citizens could see if the county is able to open the pool next year. Paris repeated previous statements to FYN that while he has set the goal of opening by Memorial Day, 2020, he understands the aggressiveness of that plan and the possibility that it may be later.
However, Paris did note his personal preferences on the pool should the budget allow for an added items. He said that while priority one is the primary pool with dressing rooms and bathrooms, he did have mixed feelings about the shallow pool and covering saying, “If I have a choice, initially, by this time next year, if I can have the cover or I can have the shallow pool, and then, the following year, I can come back and get the other one. Then I would take the shallow pool. If we don’t have enough for either of those, we’re going to have to come back and add them later on, then I would give priority for adding the cover before adding the shallow pool.”
Though he offered his opinion on this, Paris did state that this is his own opinion. The BOC still has two other commissioners and the citizens input for designs to consider.
When questioned about the priority of paving the parking lot, he noted that the county did a similar thing with the Clear Creek Ball Fields project as they used a gravel parking lot as the fields were completed, and came back the following year to pave the lot.
Paris also repeated the county’s plans to have engineering done all at once and engineered in such a way that the construction projects could be done later when the county is able to fund them. This has become a stressed point in the county’s movement toward construction of this new pool. While plans and engineering designs are to be done all at once, both the county’s current verbal agreement with East Ellijay and the Commissioners meetings have concluded with understandings that the construction of a full “Recreation Center” would come later and in pieces, one project at a time.
More questions have arisen with the possibility of two options for land for the pool location, 29 acres from the Gilmer County Charter School System and 21 acres from East Ellijay. While Paris said that it is currently the county’s intention to move forward with the River Park location, they do still have the option should “extreme need” force them to reconsider. While it is a “Plan B” option, Paris said that it was still their just in case.
Some citizens have also raised concerns about the land being so close to the river just as the last pool was. Paris noted that while flooding and weather were never really a major issue with the pool, much of the problems they have encountered recently could be attributed to the pools age. Additionally, the county is currently employing its surveyor to investigate the land. While the current pool sits in a flood plain, Paris said that it is his understanding that part of the land coming from East Ellijay is only partly in the flood plain. Depending on how much of it is in the flood plain, the county could push the parking lot for the center closer to the river while building the center closer to Progress Road, along Soccer Field Road, allowing the pools and part of the center to be out of the flood plain. Later, Paris did also mention a side note that this lot may be used for additional parking during the Apple Festival as well.
He went on to say that this is another part of the process that they will need to deal with during planning and designing. As the county awaits the surveyors reports, Paris said that he would engage the surveyor to provide the report and mark the flood plain with stakes so the county could inspect the size and plan mitigation accordingly.
The county is also working through basic needs for the pool as it talks with the Ellijay Gilmer County Water and Sewerage Authority and insurance liabilities as well. On that note, Paris did say that he does not believe they will pursue options for a diving well and diving board in the new pool due to liability reasons.
FYN also questioned if Paris would use the Road Department again, similar to the Cherry Log Fire Station, to make preparations or clear the land. Paris said it would be something he’d do if needed, but “it’s not something that I would prefer.” He made note that the county used the Road Department during the Cherry Log Fire Station project after they put the project out to bid, but got prohibitively high bids on the project.
Paris did confirm that the county has been offered this land before, but the current agreement from East Ellijay would offer the land free of monetary costs. He also confirmed that the agreement would have the county agreeing to build a full recreation center instead of just a pool. However, he did note that, as previously stated, it is understood that the Recreation Center would come later through stages of construction.
Make sure to stay with FYN as we continue to reach out to Gilmer’s other commissioners for their opinions and for updated information on the pool project as it becomes available.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – New information has been confirmed by Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris who said that East Ellijay has offered land for the pool to be constructed.
According to a brief statement by Paris during a BOC Special Called Meeting, they can now confirm that the Mayor and Council of East Ellijay have agreed to partner with the county to provide 21 acres of land across the river from River Park, “directly across from the current soccer field.” The location as Paris explained, would be next to the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge, but on the opposite side of the river of the current softball field.
Though not an agenda item, the topic was raised during citizens wishing to speak when the Board, and specifically Paris, was questioned on the budget amendments for the pool and the relation to property taxes.
After a resolution from the BOE last week, the county now has two properties available for the pool. The River Park location and land offered by the Gilmer BOE next to the county’s ball fields at Clear Creek, between five and six miles out Yukon Road.
The project is set to begin quickly, but Paris did promise in a Special Called meeting earlier in May that the BOC would be having planning sessions and looking for citizen input into the design of the pool. The county has already seen one presentation from a local pool company and Paris noted that he and Parks and Recreation Director Kevan White did have a design in mind that they liked. However, the board was quick to note that the actual project, including design and engineering, would have to be bid out and awarded by the board as a whole.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County, together with the Daughters of the American Revolutions, Sons of the American Revolution, Sons of the Confederacy, Boy Scouts of America, Speaker David Ralston, and the Board of Commissioners, joined to honor Memorial Day with special services and salutes today, May 27, 2019.
The services began with posting the colors. Three members of the BoyScouts raised the American Flag to the top of the flag pole. Those gathered offered their Pledge of Allegiance before the Daughters of the American Revolution led the crowd in the American’s Creed. As they completed the creed, the scouts lowered the flag to “half-mast” in honor of the fallen.
From Gilmer High School, Sophomore Sophie Burnette, 14, daughter of Jason and Kerry Burnette, sang the nation’s anthem “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Honoring those who serve and fell, the guest speaker for the services, a veteran himself, Gilmer County Board of Education Member Jim Parmer spoke on his service shortly before offering several poems he wrote during his service and time as a reservist. Recalling the thoughts and feelings of those in service, from doubts to regrets and the things he missed at home, Parmer shared the sacrifices soldiers make in service. Those who sacrificed their lives didn’t just die for our country, but sacrificed their way of life until their death. They lived in death until they finally followed with it.
As the ceremonies concluded with a gun salute from the Sons of the Confederacy, Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston offered closing prayers and joined as the crowd sang “God Bless America.”
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Continued response from citizens are still pushing towards having a community pool open in Gilmer County. However, these citizens are now splitting on response to the county not opening the current pool this year.
As the commissioners listened for public comments during a special called meeting on May 20, 2019, to discuss budget amendments to accommodate changes to the county’s project of building a new pool including massively expediting the process. Many citizens showed support for the project to build a new pool even if some still held reservations about closing the current one. At one point, Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris asked for a show of hands on who at the meeting supported the idea of building a new pool. Not only was he met with what appeared to be every hand in the audience, but a few citizens loudly added, “Year Round!” An exclamation that was immediately followed by murmurs of agreement and repetitions of the phrase.
However, moving past the questions of if people wanted the pool, the meetings agenda item focused on how to fund it. Paris returned to his proposal from May’s regular meetings to redistribute capital funds in the amount of $300,000. One large item that would be lost to the redistribution is a new ambulance for the public safety department. Public Safety Director Keith Kucera was reported to have said that he could make it by without the ambulance, according to Paris.
While part of the ambulance funds will actually be redirected into gear such as oxygen tanks and breakout gear for the Fire Department, the bulk amount of $180,000 would be put back for the pool.
Paris noted that the county has put also built up contingency funds for building repairs and improvements. With $250,000 from 2018 and $100,000 from 2019’s budget, Paris said the county has improvements it needs to do this year such as carpeting and Tabor House Repairs. He proposed that funding these repairs and adding $120,000 to the pool fund could still leave just over $100,000 in building repair contingency fund for the remainder of the year.
As he made this proposal in the form of a motion, Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller asked Paris to detail what the county would get with the $900,000 total this year, plus the estimated $300,000 in next year’s budget.
Building upon plans delivered in the commissioners’ May meetings, Paris said he hopes the county can get the pool built by Memorial Day of 2019. What Paris wants to accomplish is to have the pool built and covered “right away.” However, he did note that if the county could not afford this, the pool would be designed and built so that the county could return the following year to cover it for an indoor pool.
Miller did point out that the county is not budgeting anything for land costs. While it has been noted in previous meetings that the county has land available in the Clear Creek area near the ball fields, Paris did note earlier in the meeting that there was not an exact location set for the pool yet. The county has heard from citizens and organizations alike that they would like the pool closer to town. Some have even suggested involving the cities as they would have a vested interest in keeping the pool within the city limits. The questions remains as to the availability of land or even if Ellijay or East Ellijay could donate land.
The county has had projects in the past, Miller noted Clear Creek Ball Fields and the Cherry Log Fire Station as he said projects that were over-budget, past schedule, or even less the the quality expected. He went so far as to ask citizens if they want an extra mil on their taxes to support the new pool. Miller said, “I don’t really believe that pool is ready to collapse” addressing the closing of the current pool, but did say it was a good idea to have the pool closed.
Calling Paris’ proposal and construction schedule “a dream,” he further said he is unwilling to change the budget for projects that were discussed and promised to the citizens saying, “I don’t know if we’ll be able to get a new one next year. I don’t know what the budget is going to be next year. We haven’t had any discussions on the budget next year. You may not get that ambulance next year. I don’t know.”
Miller also took issue with using funds out of the building maintenance contingency fund as he pointed out that the Building Authority requested funds for the courthouse and Tabor House and that the money be restricted to use for improvements and renovations for those two buildings. Miller said, “It’s not to be used for other buildings in the county right now. It is restricted.”
Building on all of this, Miller asked that the county build in an additional 20 percent contingency to every major project it undertakes “so that we don’t get ourselves into the situation that we’ve been in in other construction projects I’ve mentioned before.” He also added later that he did not want to discuss anything about a future budgets at this meeting as he didn’t know what would happen in the future.
Paris replied saying that while he agreed that you can’t predict the future, “You have to have a plan. Planning is, in my mind, the most essential thing that we need to be doing up here.” While he did say he felt the schedule of opening by Memorial Day of 2020 was possible, he admitted it is “very ambitious.” While he wants to plan for that schedule, Paris admitted that if something happens or another priority arises, he may have to push it back t0 2021.
Miller motioned to amend the Chairman’s original motion with changes to move the 2020 operational expenses of the current pool into contingency, to have a completely separate account for the pool project, to only move $150,000 to that account at this time for preparation and engineering of the project, and to not use any of the funds of any other capital project. However, the amendment never received a second, and so failed.
The original motion for amendments passed with a 2-1 vote with Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller being the dissenting vote. Paris noted that the county will begin looking into what size and type of pool they will want. As the county moves forward, the county is looking for input as to what citizens want included in the pool. Citizens already began offering requests and Larry Lykins of the Three Rivers Athletic Club said the donated heaters for the current pool, can and will be both able to be moved to the new pool and be functional if the pool is not indoor to begin with.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – After a recent announcement to keep Gilmer’s Community Pool closed this year, the Board of Commissioners are entering talks to revisit the Capital Budget for 2019 in attempts to expedite construction of a new pool.
Gilmer County Board of Commissioners Chairman Charlie Paris likened the current situation with the pool to “Russian Roulette” saying, “Spin the cylinder and pull the trigger, odds are you’re going to be fine. The problem is when that one time comes up that you’re not fine, the results are so devastating that you just don’t do it to begin with.” Paris said he would not take the risk or endanger citizens and children who might use the pool.
Paris has told FYN in a previous conversation that he would almost be willing to have the county put up with the costs of the water loss in order to keep a pool for citizens if not for the danger of a hole.
During their May meetings, the commissioners began looking a budget amendments in capital projects for the county to expedite the plan that was put in place two years ago.
This plan was collecting money on an annual basis to fix the community’s pool issues by building a new facility. However, the current escalation of issues with the current pool will not wait for that plan to come to fruition in 2020. Instead, Paris wants to speed up the process with these amendments to add an extra $300,000 to the pool project this year. This adds onto the already saved $600,000 total from this year and last year. The board will use this $900,000 to begin engineering work, plans, and preparations for the pool while next year’s budget plans to also have $300,000 will finish the project by Memorial Day, opening day for the pool season, of 2020.
The board did not come to an agreement on amendments this month, however, as Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller requested more time to study and look into the plans and the budget.
Now, the board is set to host an additional Special Called Meeting on May 20 at 6:00 p.m. On the agenda for the meeting is one item:
1. Discussion and possible action on Budget Amendments for Pool Funding
It seems at this time that the board is planning to move forward with the proposal to expedite the construction as the discussions are expected to focus on budget amendments. However, Miller has already noted in their Work Session that he did not see the pool as “an acceptable priority.”
Not only has Paris put forth the proposal for funding of a new pool, but he along with Parks and Recreation Department Head Kevan White, have put forth a basic plan for a facility to be added on later. This plan will eventually enclose the pool for an indoor facility. Add on an outdoor zero-entry water play pool, four basketball courts, and have potential for more additions later. However, Paris said he would have it engineered and planned to have the pool built now, with plans to continue saving and building on the extra additions later.
The budget discussion are simply the first step before the county would discuss and finalize what they want the final facility to include. Then they would go forward with stages of construction projects. It all begins Monday with a board decision on what to amend in the budget for the pool or if they even do want to move forward with the proposal.