BOC approvals for new year include election qualifying fees

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BOC, fees

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Rolling into 2022, the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners set standard new year approvals and fees for 2022. Standard annual agenda items that have become predictable over recent years still require approval by vote like County Clerk and Attorney.

The BOC once again nominated and approved unanimously to continue with their current attorney as David Clark and clerk as Edwina Daman.

However, another standard approval holds more meaning this year as a potentially major change on the board. This year, 2022, holds the elections for both Board Chairman and Post 2 Commissioner and this month saw the board officially approve the election qualifying fees. With recent announcements, one change is imminent as Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson confirmed with FYN that she is not currently looking to run for re-election. Additionally, current Board Chairman Charlie Paris also announced he would run for re-election, but has already said it will be his last term if elected.

The board approved these fees at $2,550.71 for Commission Chairman and $459.13 for Post 2 Commissioner.

Additionally, the board also set Board of Education qualifying fees at $144 with the same motion.

The Post 2 Commissioner Election has already seen two announcements for campaigns from Tom Whatley and John Marshall. Paris is the only announcement for Chairman so far.

Other approvals from the meeting included the county’s organizational chart and a 2022 River Outfitters License for Cartecay River Experience pending an insurance requirement.

The January meeting also held a lengthy discussion on potential impact fees as one possible aid in current Land Developments for the county. Tensions are still high in the county as developers both local and abroad are increasing developments in the area. Speculations from citizens point to the people selling their city properties and moving into second homes in the county full time as well as the continued exodus of city dwellers looking to escape the high density of cities like Atlanta and the COVID virus.

The Board also has set a Special Called Meeting for Monday, January 24, 2022, at 10:00 a.m. for discussions on road paving, LMIG, increasing the Hotel/Motel Tax, and a possible new update on the county pool.

Discussing developments, impact fees, and financial costs

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer’s Commissioners are still discussing developments in the county as citizens and business continue the debate of Gilmer’s future including a topic of impact fees. With developments increasing, some groups like Keep Gilmer Rural are still pushing hard in the county to increase restrictions for incoming developers looking to build 1000 unit properties and similar issues.

When Chairman Charlie Paris broached the subject, he questioned impact and infrastructure as the common issue the county as a whole faces with some higher-density developments. Paris spoke on needs like new fire stations and increased staff for public safety departments as well as new roads, traffic, and connections to be built and maintained.

The idea for regulations and ordinances requiring developers to provide assistance for these needs was also questioned by Paris.

Specifying impact fees is the obvious first concept for this, but Paris looked further at requiring land to be dedicated for fire stations or road widening or other additions.

Post Commissioner Hubert Parker agreed that the taxpayers should not shoulder the immediate costs of these massive developments. Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson said, “I am for impact fees and have been for a long time.”

Public Works Director Jim Smith also agreed saying that he understood that impact fees are generally frowned upon but he felt that any developer coming into town and making as much money as they do on their developments should participate in the building up of the necessary infrastructure/ Smith stated, “It is nothing but fair that they participate on the front end and the existing taxpayer is not burdened with the requirement to build that infrastructure for them.”

Discussion continued on how to engage such judgments. A case by case basis was proposed, but later spoken against as potentially having a perception of unfairness to one entity or another. Another thought of presetting certain lot number limits to tiers of impact fees could be a possibility. Citizens are questioning those developers who would max out the possible lots numbers before hitting next tiers to avoid those higher fees and then immediately building an additional subdivision nearby as a separate project that they will eventually join together.

Fire Chief Daniel Kauffman commented on the topic saying that fire and rescue infrastructure do benefit from impact fees. He also stated that he had experience with such things in a previous job.

fees

Fire Chief Daniel Kauffman speaks to Gilmer’s Board of Commissioners during the January Worksession.

Eventually, the board decided to look further into the issue via committee to return with investigations and better information to include local developers as well as citizens and others with possible special insight. No specifics have been set into who would be on the board aside from an agreement among the BOC that local developers would need to have representation.

Smith told the commissioners that impact fees could be imposed in different ways including partial fees or full coverage, split amongst the developer or other parties. Paris said his idea would have the fees imposed on the developers without affecting builders who build in the project.

The board also received questions and comments during their regular meeting after tabling the agenda item. The board members explained that they were looking deeper into the topic and will hold the agenda item as a discussion topic in future meetings so they may continue looking at the topic, discussing, and developing both a committee and the possibility of actually implementing impact fees in some manner in the future.

Some even called for the board to extend the current moratorium to aid in continued discussion. However, Chairman Paris said he said when the board established the moratorium that he wouldn’t ask to extend it and he wanted to stick to his promise.

 

Gilmer prepares for winter storm

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Storm

GILMER COUNTY, Ga. – Citizens and authorities are preparing for a potential winter storm beginning tonight. The most recent statement from the National Weather Service (NWS) is expecting the storm later tonight around 10 p.m.

StormAs the threat has lingered all week, several changes have come including a move to virtual learning for Gilmer Schools next week. But other preparations have roads being monitored and official statements strongly discouraging travel. The National Weather Service stated, ” If you must travel, keep an extra flashlight, food, and water in your vehicle in case of an emergency. Slow down and drive with caution.”

Both Gilmer Sheriff’s Office and Gilmer Public Safety have put warnings and updates for the storm on social media as well. Public Safety confirmed that the civic center warming center will be open Sunday night and Monday night for those in need. Both days will have the center open at 5:30 p.m. and close at 7:00 a.m. Visitors are asked to bring a bedroll if possible.

NWS has reported a possibility of 4 inches of accumulation. Up to 8 inches could be possible at higher elevations. In addition to the storm, NWS has also issued a wind advisory over the same time period with east winds up to 20 to 30 mph and gusts up to 50 mph expected. If the wind near your residence reaches the higher levels of this, the NWS is suggesting that citizens take shelter in the lower levels of your home and windows.

They also noted that power outages and tree damage are likely due to the strong winds, heavy snow and ice. Travel could be very difficult to impossible. Ice buildup is another projected issue that could reach up to half an inch in some areas. Authorities are strongly encouraging citizens to avoid prolonged time outdoors throughout the next two days due to both the freezing temperatures and the possibility of falling trees and other objects due to the snow and ice buildup in the high winds.

No roads have been closed at this time, but the Gilmer Sheriff’s Office has put out notices of reports of some black ice patches on back roads around the county in recent mornings with more possible due to the storm. With wind chill, temperatures in the county could reach single digits in the coming days.

Both the county’s schools and the county courthouse were already to be closed on Monday with the holiday.

Mountain View Elementary burglary suspect being sought by Sheriff

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Burglary

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Photos have been released of a suspect being sought by the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office in relation to a burglary that occurred on Saturday, January 8, 2022.

BurglaryOn school grounds at Mountain View Elementary School, an individual gained entry to the school building and took several objects including a pressure washer (green in color), a backpack sprayer, and miscellaneous tools/kit.

Taking place from 1:20 am until 5:00 am Saturday morning, the suspect was on campus for several hours. The individual was wearing a camouflage coat, blue jeans, boggan, and a face covering over the mouth. They appear, in the photos, to have have used a trash cart of some kind in hauling the items away from the school.

According to Assistant Superintendent Dana Berry of Gilmer Schools, the burglary is covered by insurance. So, the schools won’t need to replace the items out of funds. Additionally, Berry noted that there was no impact to the school itself as the area accessed was an outer storage closet.

While it is attached to the school itself, the closet has no access to the main facility or any areas where students or teachers have class. Additionally, having occurred on Saturday, most of the immediate investigation had no impact on classes on Monday either.

BurglaryAs it is a separate space, Berry noted that the closet is not alarmed like access points to the facility as a whole. He was unsure about the entry and giving details as the Sheriff’s Office investigation is still ongoing.

As a part of that investigation, the Sheriff’s Office is asking that anyone with any information about this Burglary or the person in the photo to “please contact the Criminal Investigations Division at 706-635-4646 (M-F 9-5) or Gilmer Dispatch after hours at 706-635-8911 to speak with a Detective.”

Weather has delays and the warming center open for Friday morning

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weather

GILMER COUNTY, Ga. – A new statement from the National Weather Service has authorities in Gilmer County returning to caution and delaying schedules tomorrow in addition to early closures today.

Statements from the Gilmer County Courthouse and Gilmer County Schools have reported early closures for today. Both ended the day two hours early, roughly 3 p.m. for the county and 1 p.m. for schools. However, in addition to early closures both have issued statements for tomorrow, Friday, January 7, 2022. This is the second time this week that winter weather has caused a delay for the county.

The statement from the courthouse said, “The Gilmer County Courthouse will be closing at 3:00PM today and will delay opening tomorrow until 10:00AM due to incoming winter weather events that we anticipate will make driving difficult and perhaps dangerous.”

The statement from Gilmer Schools said, “Tonight’s weather forecast is predicting some severe Winter weather in the Northern end of Georgia, including parts of Gilmer. Therefore, the Gilmer County Schools will operate on a 2-hour delay on Friday January 7th, 2022.”

The National Weather service stated, “A strong cold front will bring cold and windy conditions to much of north Georgia tonight into Friday morning. Northwest winds of 10 to 15 mph with gusts up to 25 mph this evening will gradually decrease overnight. However, with the very cold, sub-freezing temperatures, wind chill values will fall into the teens across north Georgia with readings in the single digits in the mountains.”

Closures and delays are not the only response coming through as Gilmer Public Safety is also responding to the extremely low temperatures by opening the Civic Center Warming Center. They said, “The Warming Shelter at the Civic Center – 1561 S. Main St. – will be open today (Thursday) and tomorrow (Friday) from 5:00 PM to 7:00 AM for all those in need of protection from freezing temperatures. Visitors are asked to bring a bedroll if available. Pets are welcome.”

With slight rain today in areas of the county, some estimation totals have reached between a quarter and half of an inch possible. Lows are estimated between 17 and 20 degrees just before dawn. Some forecasts have even set the wind chill down to single digits in the area.

Gilmer is along the southernmost reach of the Winter Weather Advisories reach across the entire northern tip of Georgia coming from the front of “arctic air.”

Gilmer approves 2022 budget in January

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budget

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Today saw the official approval of Gilmer County‘s 2022 budget with a special called meeting that is the first meeting of 2022 for the board.

According to a document presented for the meeting, the board has set the 2022 budget total at $31,799,762. Separate from that is the $10,916,338 for SPLOST and Capital Expenditures and the $2,056,876 in GO Bond Debt repayment.

An increase over last years budget, in December of 2020, the board held a nearly $26 million budget not including bond debt or capital expenditures. The approval came with a motion from Chairman Paris, a second from Post Commissioner Hubert Parker, and a unanimous vote for approval.

budget budgetThere were a few last minute changes made in recent weeks, each department’s overall break down within the total budget is pictured to the right. The process continues as each department could fluctuate minor expenditure swaps and changes as long as no change to the overall budget is made.

After the individual meetings with department heads and budget trimming to fit revenue across November and December, the final document is now in place one week ahead of the county’s first meeting of 2022. January 12 will see the county’s work session at 9:00 a.m. and January 13 will see the county’s regular meeting at 6:00 p.m.

As the county moves into the new year, the budget also includes increases for elections as the county will see several offices open for qualification in March including two BOC seats, Chairman and Post 2 Commissioners. Current Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson has announced she will not run, but others have announced they will. Despite announcements no official campaign begins until candidates have completed qualification.

This is especially important as the county revisits the Comprehensive Plan this year in hopes of answering needs for housing and concerns for overdevelopment of the county, two major issues within the community right now. the current board will be setting the plan with, as of now, at least one new member coming next year.

Gilmer schools pass ‘December 17’ TikTok trend without incident

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delay, Cagle, trend, virtual

GILMER COUNTY, Ga. – Since trends like the “Devious Lick” and “Slap your Teacher” spread, many new threats are seeing responses heightened against the possibility of school violence and destruction. Gilmer is not immune to this either as the “Devious Lick” saw full response from school administrators and law enforcement. Today also saw responses to a new trend from the social media platform.

While administrators like Superintendent Dr. Brian Ridley reported “minimal issues” with the “Devious Lick” trend, responses still came to the threat during today’s December 17 trend. Labeled by other news reports as  “Shoot Up Your School Day,” the concept allegedly began as an encouragement to ditch class. However, threats grew and morphed into violence.

Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Brian Ridley

Dr. Ridley said the schools have worked closely with law enforcement over the years and on cases like this. He reported that the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) provided the school with information on the subject.

Working with local law enforcement, officers were briefed on the situation. In a letter to parents earlier today, he said, “All GCSS schools have been notified and staff are on alert for suspicious or concerning activity. Our SROs are being briefed and prepared for any related issue.”

Late in the day, the school did receive a screenshot of a threat involving the school initials of several schools including one stating “GHS.” However, the initials of schools listed in the threat all centered in a location in Florida and no credible threat was raised in our county.

Ridley said their never was any information suggesting Gilmer County could be targeted, but the schools did respond seriously regardless. Ridley visited each campus today examining security and safety protocols and measures as well as walking the school grounds.

School were already scheduled for a two-hour early release on the district calendar for today.

Dr. Ridley answered questions about his service as superintendent and the rise in TikTok trends like this. He noted that technologies have been used in the past and threats have always been monitored. He said that TikTok has provide certain challenges. However, he praised law enforcement for staying educated and on top of both these technologies and their challenges as well as their communication and inclusion with the school system.

He went on to note that he has been encouraged by the students of Gilmer. He said, “At the end of the day, we got good kids. We got great kids.” He noted that the students are smart enough not to engage with trends and threats that are very serious and carry serious consequences that affect their entire lives.

Ridley went on to add, “That’s why we try to talk to parents, too. Because that is what it really comes down to. When parents are getting facetime with their children and able to talk to them about these sorts of issues, that often heads it off.”

With the school day completed and no reports of malicious behavior or violence, many in the community are sighing with relief. Still, others are just learning of the trend and potential threats. The school system is officially at holiday break as of today and will not return until January 5, 2022.

Dr. Ridley reiterated his thankfulness for the community during times like this saying, “We are very lucky to have the kids we have. We are very fortunate, and we are very fortunate to have the parents we have that are willing to talk to their kids. I encourage all parents to have these conversations with their children about what’s going on on social media. Even if it’s just around the dinner table, ask them, ‘What do you see out there?'”

Gilmer sets school calendar and board meetings in December

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EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – Preparing for the coming year, Gilmer’s Board of Education has approved a calendar for the school system and the board in December’s meetings. That calendar now reaches two years into the future.

The new year comes with expected changes as the previous calendar approved by the board saw them approve an option different than the most popular voted calendar. Additionally, in February the board had already begun some discussions to prepare for calendars spanning multiple years.

This month, with the end of the first semester of the 2021-22 school year, the board has already approved the calendar for its next two years. The approved calendar sees the same start date of August 8 for both years.  The first day of the second semester starts on the first Friday of January.

calendar calendarUnanimously approved by the board, the calendars are officially adopted for use and the community now has two years head start on the schools calendars. Superintendent Dr. Brian Ridley said that he had discussed the calendars with not only stakeholders and his own team but with “local business leaders and the Chamber of Commerce.”

Dr. Ridley also noted that the calendar will align with the boards reclassification schedule so that every two years, as the board reclassifies itself, it will also create a new two year calendar. For the community this means that next year will not see two years ahead again, but rather will likely finish half of the 2022-23 calendar before the next two year calendar is approved.

Along with the school years, another calendar saw approval this month. As the end of the year approaches, the board has set and now approved unanimously the meeting dates for the Board of Education for 2022. Reaching through 2022 and including January of 2023, the board meeting dates are published for the community. Though the board can alter a few meetings as needed, GHSA does limit how many times this can occur. Additionally, the board can call special meeting or emergency meetings as they have done in the past.

Typically, these meetings follow the path of meeting on the third Thursday of the month for the Regular Meeting and holding the Work session on the Monday of the same week before the Regular Session. With a few variations set in for holidays and events, the board  followed this meeting schedule for years.

With both calendars officially approved, the county is moving along and, barring a special session, will not meet again until January 24.

County hears option to raise Hotel/Motel Tax

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Hotel/Motel Tax

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Having prepared presentations for the two cities upon request, Gilmer Chamber President and CEO Jennifer Grimmer spoke to the Board of Commissioners in December on Hotel/Motel Tax after being questioned on the subject by Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson.

Grimmer had prepared a presentation for the City of Ellijay, she said that she examined both cities and the county along with the study she did. Grimmer also prepared the comparisons to provide the information to the Board of Commissioners according to Ferguson. The county has made no motions or even had an agenda item to discuss changing the Hotel/Motel Tax as this topic came after a report to the board during its monthly meeting.

Grimmer had reported on the Chamber’s year and on the budget looking into next year as they continue marketing plans for the county. Set as an update and discussion item, Ferguson asked Grimmer to explain the comparisons and what it would mean if Gilmer County raised its Hotel/Motel Tax.

Ferguson called the numbers “pretty dramatic” and said they could help the county’s general fund in accomplishing some projects that the county has been unable to do yet.

Grimmer told the board that the topic came up as the City of Ellijay asked for her expertise on the topic. While the Chamber did not initiate the conversation, they do have several tools and resources monitoring rentals, rooms, and similar lodging and their effects on the community. As part of her original report, before the question of the tax arose, Grimmer had just discussed with the county averages such as how much an average cabin owner can make and tracking for how much of the county’s lodging capacity is being used or estimated to be on certain weekends.

hotel/motel Tax

Gilmer Chamber President and CEO Jennifer Grimmer

But moving to the topic on the tax itself, Grimmer said that going above five percent in the tax opens up tourism product development (TPD) options. Grimmer explained that this fund could be used to build or improve things like river access, signage, parking lots, public bathrooms, and other projects. Gilmer is currently 100 percent marketing and does not use any of the funds for tangible or “brick-and-mortar” improvements.

The county could go up to eight percent tax in Georgia. Grimmer explained that at six percent tax, the funds are split between the DMO (Destination Marketing Organization, i.e. the Chamber), the county, and TPD. Grimmer explained that the state sets the Chambers portion doesn’t change from 5 percent to 8 percent so they are virtually unaffected, but increasing the total tax increases the portion of TPD up to 15 percent.

Grimmer reported that Blue Ridge is at 8 percent tax with Fannin at 6 percent. Currently Ellijay and Gilmer are at 5 percent. East Ellijay is at 3 percent.

As for whether the county is actually moving forward on the subject, Post 1 Commissioner Hubert Parker said he wanted to know more about what the county might run into if they move ahead with adjusting the tax. With plans to revisit the topic on future agendas, the county is set to look deeper into the topic before making its official decision.

BOE to vote on new stadium scoreboard tomorrow

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EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – With there December meeting moved up a day, tomorrow will see Superintendent Dr. Brian Ridley’s recommendation for the Board to approve a low bid with PlainView LED for a scoreboard to replace the current scoreboard at Pettit Field.

Though this month saw information on both the stadium and a board for the gym, bids are only set to be approved for the stadium as information is still being gathered on the gym such as the engineering specifications and safety checks about the weight that could be supported and if the board can hang from the ceiling or if it needs to remain on the walls.

With eight companies having responded and six of them submitting bids, PlainView LED was both the low bidder and a company that the board has worked with previously. According to the board’s report in the meeting, they also looked at accessibility, customer service, serviceability, and the software involved. Looking ahead at having students operate the video screen on the board that can run instant replays, advertisements, and designs, students will be achieving CTAE skills and helping the school with operation of the board under supervision and reportedly with training from PlainView LED. As such, both the software and the scoreboard are similar to those used in professional stadiums across the country.

The base of the technology is the “the exact same technology that’s in Mercedes-Benz Stadium”

And the board is already looking for more than use on Friday nights. During their presentation several items were mentioned including movie nights, graduation, sports, and gaming competitions as possibilities.

As for graduation specifically, approval tomorrow could see the installation complete by this school year’s graduation in May. Plans have already been discussed to potentially have students working on the software and technology long before the installation completes in order to make full use of the board as soon as it is operational.

The board will incorporate new signage around the main screen while also including an older style miniature board below it to be used as a secondary scoreboard and also for use with operations, sports, and events in need of a board but not the larger screen as the smaller board can also be operated with a modular controller separate from the main screen. The board comes with ongoing updates through the company and can do test runs and scanners over a ten-year period.

With a cost just over $440,000, reports indicated very similar experiences in service, but PlainView LED had a nearly $50,000 price break compared to other close bids.

Though not approved yet, Dr. Ridley did say in Monday night’s meeting that his intent was to recommend approving PlainView LED’s bid and plan for the project at the Board of Education’s Wednesday night Regular Session at 6:00 p.m., December 15, 2021.

Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson says no plans to run again

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Ferguson

GILMER COUNTY, Ga. – With questions and considerations coming for next year’s elections in Gilmer, the question falls to those on the Board deciding if they will run for re-election or not. Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson has spoken out on the subject saying, “At this time I do not plan on running for Post 2 Commissioner.”

Gilmer has seen changes since Ferguson first came to office including the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus, changes to the Land Use Ordinance, implementing the county’s River Ordinance, and increases in developments and residential discussions of zonings.

With the opportunity to run and continue her service, Ferguson commented on her current position to stay out of the race saying, “When I first came into office I had much more flexibility in my career. At the time I was a rep for a nutrition company for 20 years that allowed me very flexible hours allowing me to start Stay Active Ellijay and still have time for my Commissioner responsibilities.”

Ferguson

Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson

As that company restructured and the outbreak brought changes including the closing of Stay Active Ellijay, Ferguson has seen many changes in her personal life as well.

Ferguson indicated these life changes have also changed her ability to serve and find time. She still has a child in college and has also had her family increase with new grandchildren. As such, she stated an increasing desire to also find more time with them, her farm, and her marriage. She stated, “It has been challenging for Robert, my husband, and for my children to endure me serving. Anywhere I go around town residents come up to me with concerns and many voice their opinions on social media and of course the negative ones are very hurtful to those that love me. I signed up to serve in this way, but they didn’t.”

Transitioning out of the county position will still take all of 2022 as her final year, but she has already looked to the future taking a position with Talona Ridge RV Resort team. She stated, “After meeting the Talona Ridge RV Resort team and understanding their vision and desire to be part of our community I knew I would be a good fit and they offered me the job as their Events & Activities Coordinator. They completely understood my responsibilities to serve as Post 2 Commissioner was my first priority after my family and they have been incredibly flexible with all the “special called meetings” etc. that are part of being a Commissioner in this county. Even though they have been incredibly flexible it’s a lot to have a full time job and serve as a Commissioner in this county.”

Ferguson also serves on the Board of Directors for the Fannin/Gilmer Habitat for Humanity. She said, “I look forward to bringing awareness to Gilmer County of this incredible organization.”

Additionally, she said she wants to continue support for Georgia Mountain Trail Partnership, “which is a local non-profit that supports and advocates for all of our trail systems including hiking, biking, equestrian, water etc. God has given us these beautiful mountains and rivers and I’ll always be passionate about protecting them.”

Yet, all of 2022 stands between now and the county’s next potential Post 2 Commissioner. In her final year, Ferguson still has projects she wants to see completed before she steps down. From the pool and continued improvements for River Park to affordable housing, she said she still has ideas for the county. She noted concepts like a stage at the park saying, “I can see concerts down there for families and a place for the baseball players to gather after their parade… I’m very excited that our community businesses want to help in this endeavor.”

A part of the housing team that applied for grants, Ferguson said that housing and the GICH Grant are also tasks she hopes to tackle moving forward.

While her statement only offered her feelings at this time, Gilmer’s Post 2 Commissioner is already set to continue on in Gilmer County in 2022 and onward, even if not in a county commissioner’s seat.

Christmas celebrations come home to the Tabor House

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – “Why not go back into the time of the 1870’s when the Tabor family lived in the History and Civil War Museum that is now the oldest house in Ellijay.” This was the statement posted to the Tabor House’s social media about their very special celebration from the weekend.

Gathering in the house, the volunteers offered music on vairous instruments including piano, dulcimer, and guitar.

Christmas celebrations are in full swing across Gilmer County, but few are hosting civil war soldiers and homesteaders in full garb and traditions.

Employees and volunteers decided to not just tell visitors to the Tabor House on December 4, 2021, but show them exactly what Christmas was like in the time. With special guests arriving home from the war just in time for the holidays, the Tabor House played host to Civil War soldiers represented by local historical reenactors Mike Davis, Jonathan Davis, and Bobby Bradford from the Sons of the Confederacy Camp 89 as well as Jason Richards, a middle school teacher who does Civil War reenactments.

As employees gave tours in actual period garb and visitors in soldier uniforms spoke with those taking the tours, the house rang in the Christmas season. Even the outfits were not enough as they also served hot cider and snickerdoodle cookies, hung stockings, decorated a Christmas tree in the house, and played music. All of this in addition to the standard tours given at the Tabor House.

Karen Vitelli of the Tabor House said the museum has been actually preparing for the event for a couple of weeks with planning reaching back further. Coming up with the idea to include actors for members of the house was an idea she thought would help people connect, learn, and enjoy the historical side of Christmas and their time at the event.

Karen Vitelli, left, poses for a photo with Civil War Reenactor Jason Richards, right.

As volunteers give tours, the living history motif would not only allow visitors to connect with the information, but actually get to simulate the experience and appearance of the Tabor House’s history. As a teacher, Vitelli said that this is something she has used in her teaching as well as her time now with the museum and with other similar historical houses.

Vitelli said that people like Richards, who is also a teacher, connect with the history and have that skill to teach and share that knowledge. With dedicated volunteers like Mike and Jonathan Davis from Camp 89, their passions and energy aid in giving life to the Tabor House’s actual history with the Civil War. Volunteers, whether they help with tours in full garb or just set up or clean up, are a foundation that the museum is built on.

Richards, specifically, is well known through numerous parades in downtown Ellijay as he has lead reenactors through the parade in marching formation, periodically stopping to fire off blank shots from the soldiers rifles into the air. A small taste, this is an enjoyable moment that is barely a glimpse into the massive undertakings that reenactors give to recreating battles and life during the Civil War.

Continuing to speak about the community side of the Tabor House, Vitelli said that future plans are also continuing. She hopes to have the Civil War Soldiers return in the spring for a similar event before many of the reenactments begin in May. But achieving that comes after the Tabor House Museum’s final days of 2021 this week. Yes this Thursday and Friday are the final open tour days for the museum before it shuts down and reopens in spring of 2022.

Christmas decorations adorned the Tabor House for their Christmas season and the Christmas Open House Event in December 4, 2021.

However, Vitelli said that the house itself doesn’t shutdown completely. Instead, they utilize this time to clear brush, repair certain things, reset displays, and accomplish all of the details that are need behind the scenes to continue to support the venture in the coming year. Vitelli said, “You can’t just do it by yourself. You have to have the support of the whole town.”

A support is continuing for the Tabor House from several places. Earlier this year, the Board of Commissioners voted to support the Tabor House, one of the few remaining historical sites in Ellijay, with financial support for utilities.

Vitelli also spoke about how many volunteers donate time when they can, but the house is still filling gaps in needs for the coming year. Each day brings needs, and it is through the passionate work of volunteers that make it possible, whether they are cleaning, landscaping, acting, touring, or just adapting to whatever the next job is.

They have been providing tours on Thursdays and Fridays along with the first Saturday of every month, but Vitelli has set goals to open on more Saturdays in 2022 if she can get the volunteers to support it.

BOC Chairman speaks on social media posts and joint comprehensive plan

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Paris

GILMER COUNTY, Ga. – After last weeks special called meeting, Gilmer’s Board of Commissioners have been preparing to revisit the Joint Comprehensive Plan to aid in steering the county into the future. A part of that revisit, and a supporting vote in its approval, was Chairman Charlie Paris.

Over the weekend, BOC Chairman Charlie Paris took to social media in a post defending himself from attacks that he states have bashed him for supporting a revisit to the plan. In the post, Paris speaks about a consistent statement from both sides of the housing and density debate in the county. The statement being to follow the Joint Comprehensive Plan.

When asked about the revisit and the reasons for him speaking out with a post delving into the plan, his thoughts, and his defense of his support, Paris said that the plan is not properly up to date considering the changes the county has seen over the last few years and specifically the last year. He agreed that part of the changes could be attributed to COVID and people wanting to leave the city but said that his main focus is that the county has done well with local developers in the past as they built for people and have served the county’s desires without aggressively pushing out massive developments in random locations.

Gilmer Board of Commissioners Chairman Charlie Paris

Gilmer Board of Commissioners Chairman Charlie Paris

Paris said in an interview that he feels local developers “have skin in the game.” These developers work here in the area, but they also live here. As opposed to some of the major developers from Atlanta or other major cities who have “discovered Gilmer County.” In his phrase saying they have discovered us, Paris noted that these major companies will come in and buy massive swaths of land and develop them to make their fortune and then leave with no concern over the impact or the state of the community.

Specifically noting in his post, Paris said, “I am not anti-growth, but I do, very much, want Gilmer to maintain the rural and agricultural nature that is our lifestyle and our quality of life.”

Additionally, he noted that the Board of Commissioners cannot even stop all forms of development. If a company buys an R1 plot of land and builds on it according to zone regulations, the Board will never see it on the agenda. The only way they see it is if a zoning change is required.

Now the plan has some guidelines in a general sense and some percentages apply, whether it is that 50 percent of the county should be R1 or maybe that zonings above R2 should be restricted to at 15 percent or 20 percent limit. Increasing Residential zoning generally mean higher density. These hypotheticals are some of the specificity that could be added with the revisit.

In their time with the current moratorium, the indications the board gave was to use the time to work with DCA (Department of Community Affairs, a branch of the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission) to study and address certain issues. Even they have spoken to the Joint Comprehensive Plan and advised the county to use it. Arriving at several issues, the county has been advised by citizens, authorities, and builders to follow the plan.

Paris went on to tell FYN that he understands growth is coming and it cannot be stopped. But instead of opening the gates, he feels their is strategy and protections that the county can employ. He went on to note that this is why he pushed to have no commissioners involved in the planning process. He stated, “What I want is for the people of Gilmer County to be the ones to decide our future more so than the three-person commission. That’s what the comprehensive plan is all about. We’ll have very little to do with the actual creation of another plan.”

Paris said that yes, the commissioners do have to be involved in the end result as they approve and deliver the plan. Yet, he reiterated that he wants the people telling the commissioners how they want the county run, he doesn’t want himself or the board to tell the people what they want.

Gilmer’s Board of Commissioners discuss the Joint Comprehensive Plan in a Special Called Meeting in late November 2021.

He went on to say, “The commissioners are there to implement the will of the people. The Joint Comprehensive Plan is going to be the will of the people. It does not need to be the will of the commissioners.”

In his post, he noted that the best he hopes for is to control or manage the growth that is coming.

In past meetings over the last several months, one area has consistently been on the chairman’s lips as a no-go for continued developments. Yukon Road and Clear Creek are in a critical situation that the chairman has described as “full up.” Yet, even these areas have developments being built. The chairman opposed that idea that its too late for Yukon Road, instead saying that it is a prime example of a part of the county that is in need of protection.

But protection from what?

Paris told FYN that growth isn’t an issue that is just limited to people’s comfort, their rurality, or their view. He affirmed that these are major parts of the issue but that people have not been speaking on how expensive this growth will be. Paris referred to the county’s roads that he asserts have been improving but still need care and attention.

Yukon Road has to be widened into a three or four lane road if the developments continue unabated.

However, Paris reached further saying that areas like Yukon could be overdeveloped to the point that they may need their own or an additional fire station, the Sheriff will need to increase his staff to support the higher population, the school system will need more teachers to support more kids from more families, the cities will also have to deal with more traffic and the impact on congested intersections, and all of this in a time when most of these county departments are not even at full staff now and are not funded to the point that the commissioners would like.

These entities are also a part of the impact of this growth, and the cities who feel that impact are a part of the comprehensive plan as well and are consulted. While the county is initiating a revisit and has stepped the commissioners back to focus on citizens, the plan involves the cities and their  municipalities as well.

When asked about one plan to locate the higher density developments like subdivisions and apartment buildings inside the city limits, Paris said that he felt that was a major effect on the cities and he would not speak for them. He said he liked the idea, but also noted that many people come to our county to avoid living in a city or super dense area. But noting the needs for affordable housing and workforce housing, said he wouldn’t oppose the idea.

Considering the comprehensive plan as a “guidepost” as Paris called it in the county’s special called meeting, he agreed with the statement that six to eight years ago, this document was a checkbox that the county filed away for state requirements and didn’t really use. He said this was because the county was a very different place at that time and the commissioners understood the county’s desires as the growth was coming slowly.

However, “We are a desirable place to be,” said Paris as he noted the documents growth in importance to its current standing as the guidepost of the county. Paris spoke of how the county has changed over its years as he said he also saw how Cobb used to be decades ago. Watching the density grow and city life increase, he said he didn’t want that.

Paris said in his post that he sees the general opinion that all growth is bad and anyone who supports growth as an enemy to be gotten rid of. While he hopes to limit that growth, whether the limitations come in the form of numbers or in the form of restricted locations, Paris said, “I can’t stop it. But with the help of at least one additional post commissioner, I can manage it.”

Paris said, “I don’t want to see what happened to Cobb and Cherokee and Paulding happen to Gilmer. I live here, too… I want to wake up and hear the birds. I don’t want to hear buses or any of that kind of thing. I want a rural lifestyle.”

 

 

 

 

 

Hear more with the Commissioner’s Special Called Meeting from November 30, 2021.

Festival of Trees kicks off with Christmas open house at Gilmer Library

Community, News
Trees

ELLIJAY, Ga. – An annual event, the Festival of Trees that Gilmer’s Library hosts during December showcases tress from local businesses, organizations, and entities. Each year hosts the celebration to kick off the season and has become an essential part of Gilmer’s Christmas Traditions.

Sitting on the couch, kids and parents listen as Santa Claus reads “The Night Before Christmas” in a special video for the Festival of Trees.

A well anticipated event, the commissioners discussed the Christmas celebration briefly with representatives of the library as early as October during the budget meetings. With December finally here, the library has 23 trees standing in the building from across the county.

The Festival lasts through December and citizens can visit the Calvin Jackson Drive location just off of Highway 282 during normal operation hours of the library, but December 1, 2021, saw the open house event hosting games, ornament crafting, and other Christmas events during the night.

Children present were treated to videos from Santa Claus throughout the night as he read The Night Before Christmas and special messages.

Hosting families from Gilmer County, the Library’s ornament crafting stations involved the whole family gathering at a number of tables during the Open House.

The library hosted VR experience stations playing Beat Saber. Several games including ornament ring toss, a cakewalk, bean bag “snowball toss,” and others. An entire section of the library’s basement hosted tables full of supplies and equipment for crafting homemade ornaments.

Additionally, a special guest showed up for the night. Calder, Gilmer Public Safety’s Crisis Response Therapy Dog, spent the night saying hello and receiving some petting from kids and adults alike. Not just a part of Public Safety, Calder is a charter member of the ACES Crisis Response Therapy  Dog Team. He is currently in training for search, rescue, and recovery with Emergency K-9  Operation, Inc. Search and Rescue. Even he wasn’t a super dog for being able to search for and then both physically rescue and emotionally calm people, he is extending his reach even further participating in educational and reading programs.

Taking a moment to post with his handler and a visiting vamily, Caldera, a emotional therapy dog with Gilmer Public Safety, visited the Open House of the Gilmer Library’s 2021 Festival of Trees.

All this combines to make Calder specially capable of working with anyone facing emotional, mental, or physical challenges.

Some of the reading programs, as his handler explained, involve him simply sitting and listening to children read to him, others are more advanced, and his emotional training helps him with people in dangerous situations or just having trouble with reading aloud.

Calder traveled both upstairs and downstairs during the open house to visit all sections of the celebrations as the Festival of Trees is solely on the main floor. Each tree hosts its own theme and group. From the toolbox ornaments adorning the Lowe’s tree to the songbirds all resting on the branches of the Garden Club of Ellijay’s tree to the messages and photos in ornaments of the CLC’s (Christian Learning Center) tree, each and every tree has little things to notice and find and enjoy.

The Gilmer Animal Shelter tree, an entire “Nightmare Before Christmas” theme sees Jack Skellington’s own dog Zero atop the tree, but look closer and follow a certain orange and black ornamental wrap and you’ll notice a familiar snake from the movie munching on presents.

Made by the Gilmer Animal Shelter, this “Nightmare Before Christmas” themed tree was entirely made from collectibles and handmade ornaments from Shelter employees.

Animal Shelter Director Daniel Laukka, who attended the event to support the efforts of library he said, told FYN that his tree specifically had another hidden detail that many couldn’t know or notice. Laukka said every single ornament on the tree either came from the private collection of one of the shelter’s workers or was hand crafted by shelter employees.

The trees included the Apple County Quilt Guild, Girl Scouts of Gilmer County, Samaritan’s Purse, Lowe’s, Gilmer County Master Gardeners, Garden Club of Ellijay, the Gilmer Chamber, Gilmer County Genealogical Society, Friends of the Gilmer Animal Shelter, the Tabor House, the Gilmer Animal Shelter, the Gilmer Library’s Lego Lab, Gilmer Christian Learning Center, the UGA Extension Office, Coosawattee Shrine Club, Harry Norman Realty, Kids Ferst Readers of Gilmer County, Boys and Girls Club, OAKS Senior Living, Safe Choice Pregnancy Care Center, Faith Hope and Charity, Friends of the Gilmer Library, and Walnut Mountain Garden Club.

Make sure to see all of the trees in FYN’s Gilmer Festival of Trees photos on Facebook.

 

 

 

 

 

 

New vendor proposal approved for county’s solid waste

News
proposal

ELLIJAY, Ga. – With increasing prices and costs for Gilmer’s Solid Waste Department, negotiations and requests for proposal have come back with Gilmer officially approving Waste Pro out of Ball Ground for the service.

Putting in their own compactors and servicing Gilmer with the hauling away of trash, Waste Pro will begin service in the new year as the county exercised its notification on the current contract to exit.  Waste Pro’s proposal for the county included both 4 yard compactors with break away units and 35 yard self contained compactors.

Headquartered in Longwood, Florida, Waste Pro hosts an office in Ball Ground, Georgia.

Just as the county currently uses, the compactors with break away units are filled and replaced as the containers are hauled off. The proposal price from Waste Pro for the 4 yard compactors is $775 per month with 11 units proposed. However, continuing negotiations with Gilmer could see a drop in this proposed price as the proposal is noted that if the county opts for older used units, this price will be reduced.

That note also applies with the 12 proposed 35 yard self-contained compactors in the proposal.

The county is readying for the new year along with its recent approvals for bids for materials as well.

Appalachian Propane was approved for their Propane bid of $1.98 per gallon.

Vulcan Materials was approved for their bid of Crushed Stone at $15.25 per ton among alongside others.

Hudson Materials Company was approved for their bid of Emulsion at $2.05 per gallon of CRS-2H and $2.49 per gallon of CRS-2p with increases based on if delivered and partial or full load.

West Block was approved for their bid on Concrete between $114 and $140 per cubic yard based on mixes at different PSI.

CW Matthews was approved for their bid on Asphalt materials ranging between $60 and $75 per unit based on specifications of the asphalt.

Gilmer revisiting Comprehensive Plan amid studies

News
Second Amendment, Officials, threat, road, wineries, plan

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Expecting no effect on the timeline of the previous moratorium, Gilmer is continuing its process along the debate of Gilmer’s population and density. A widespread topic encompassing large developments, apartment buildings, affordable housing, lot sizes, lot numbers, the comprehensive plan and the moratorium on certain developments, the debate has gone on for some time as both citizens and leaders are looking for possible answers.

Today’s step in the process approved an early revisit to the county’s comprehensive plan. Commission Chairman Charlie Paris noted that the county isn’t scheduled to revisit the plan for another three years. However, the suggestion of an early revisit came as the county is looking at studies and impacts of population and density within the county.

The studies were a major part of the reasoning for the moratorium originally, and as the county continues those, it hopes to revisit and adjust the document accordingly to provide a better guide towards zoning request they see likely to arise. Paris also noted a need for three new zones in the county.

Affordable housing has proven a touchy subject for many in the county as has been seen in the commissioners meetings even when major rezonings or land use topics weren’t on the agenda. Groups like Keep Gilmer Rural have also helped continue discussions on the topic over the months. In many of those meetings and discussions, citizens reference the comprehensive plan and the direction the county is headed.

Now, the hope for the current revisit is touching specific subjects, the board indicated that it didn’t believe a complete redo of the plan was necessary but would rather confirm, change, clarify, or readjust those specific topics.

The discussion among the board indicated that while they may not get the exact same people that were on committees last time, they are hoping to have the same representation. With community response high last time, the board is just as eager to get a balanced sample of the community providing insight and input from all corners and ideals.

They have already begun discussion over the topic with Post Commissioner Hubert Parker questioning if certain groups such as farmers were included. While Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson, who was very involved in the last revisit, assured Parker that specifically farmers were included, she agreed that there could be some new people in the county with particular interest in the plan and the county’s direction.

A new change that was discussed among the Board of Commissioners came as Chairman Paris requested that the board as a whole step back from the plan and be less involved than they previously were. He stated concerns over perception of any commissioner being involved in the plan’s development saying that he didn’t want it to appear that the board was attempting any sort of “spin” on the plan.

Paris stated, “We’re going to be listening to a lot of very contentious rezoning requests over the next year.”

He noted that many people adamantly hold their own opinions on both sides and if the board members can abstain from the committees themselves, it could assuage any perceptions that the board as a whole had any opportunity to “stack the deck.”

Reasserting his desire to avoid any possible contentions, accusations, or ideas of any bias or manipulation due to anything perceived, Paris went on to say, “Perception is everything.”

While no hard schedule was set into the approval, some discussion on the impact this revisit could have on the six month moratorium indicated that the board is hoping to have the revisit completed somewhere close to the next three to four months. This would mean the board is hoping for a quick set up and turnaround for its committees. Paris also noted he wants the plan to become a current, up-to-date, plan for the commissioners to use as a citizen created guidepost into the future.

A unanimous decision supported the revisit and the county is moving forward with the process in December.

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