Times and Sample Ballot for Early Voting in Gilmer

Election 2020, News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Early Voting is well underway in Gilmer County with lines stretching around the block some days. Citizens are adamant in exercising their right to vote in this major election.

As people prepare and plan on their trips to the ballot box through either early voting or on election day, November 3, 2020, the Registrar’s Office of Gilmer County is providing all the information available.

Staying open later in the day until 6:00 p.m. and even opening this Saturday, the office is following requirements by law and attempting to maintain social distancing while providing this service. According to Chief Registrar and Gilmer County Elections Manager, Tammy Watkins, the full operation times for early voting are:

Monday October 19th thru Friday October 23rd 8:30am – 6:00pm

Saturday October 24th 9:00am until 4:00pm

Monday October 26th thru Friday October 30th 8:30am – 6:00pm

VotingAs people are continuing to gather in large droves at the  Gilmer County Registrar Office (1 Broad St Suite 107 Ellijay, GA 30540) the office is also providing sample ballots in multiple locations including inside the office, through local media, through the county website, and below this article.

Another new addition comes in the form of the Absentee Ballot Box drop-off located at the Gilmer County Courthouse. Located around the corner from the office, the drop-off box is next to the main entrance of the courthouse (pictured right).

Citizens who wish to find out more or wish to ask questions can contact the Registrars Office at 706-635-4617.

Additionally, for those preparing for voting on Election Day, the Voter Registration page of the County Website provides locations for each of the voting precincts in the county near the bottom of the page.

Voting Voting

Gilmer updates internet and insurance in October

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Internet

ELLIJAY, Ga. – With more cloud based back-ups, traffic, and meetings thanks to the COVID-19 virus, the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners is updating their broadband internet again after a recent upgrade nearly four years ago.

According to Commissioner Chairman Paris, at that time, the major push towards cloud computing saw a major increase in need as internet speeds and traffic slowed majorly with more and more departments upgrading and integrating with cloud based software and storage.

However, this year, another boom has hit the county. Paris stated, “What we’re seeing now is sort of a variation of that. First of all, for the last few years that migration to the cloud has really accelerated. We’re seeing a lot more of that. But, with COVID, what we’re seeing now is just a massive number of video conferences, Zoom conferences. And those things just require ‘mega-bandwidth.’ So, what we’re seeing is we’re back to being slowed down again.”

Currently at 50 Mbps (Megabits per second), the county looked to upgrade to the next step up. Also, the county is currently paying $985 a month. According to Paris, he looked at the next step being 100 Mbps. This had a 36-month term costing $1,395 a month. However, there is also a 60-month term option costing $1,275 a month. Another major point of the plans that Paris said made him lean towards a 60-month term was the option to upgrade or downgrade at anytime as well as cancel at anytime “without any penalty.”

In previous meetings, members of the board have voiced concerns over long term contracts that might bind a future board.

Ultimately approving the bandwidth change for their internet, the board did decide for the longer 60-month term with the cheaper per-month cost.

internetAnother update the county saw in October came with their insurance renewal.

Paris stated that over the past five years, the county has absorbed increasing costs in healthcare insurances, usually opting to attempt to keep employee premiums and costs to a similar area as the county increased their part. With only one of the recent years showing a decrease in health costs as the county’s negotiations were able to find a point of competition between companies, most of these years have increased through rising costs and the Affordable Care Act.

This year followed suit with rising costs, yet the county chose their option to stay with the plan they are currently on rather than opt for changes. Yet, Paris said that both options this year held increases for employees.

Staying with the current plan, the changes include a 14.7 percent increase for the plan. Employees on a base plan will see the rise from $47.10 to $54.10 on their bi-weekly deductions. Employee plans will see similar increases in each plan.

According to the presentation made to the BOC, the vision, dental, and life plans would not see any major change.

Early Voting gets massive first day in Gilmer

Election 2020, News
voting

ELLIJAY, Ga. – With the presidential election less than a month away, yesterday saw Gilmer County’s first day of early voting with lines stretching far out the door and down the sidewalk in front of the courthouse.

voting

Voters line the street on Tuesday, October 13, 2020, as Gilmer holds its first day of early voting for the Presidential Election.

According to Chief Registrar Tammy Watkins, the county saw a total of 470 people vote early on the first day.

This is no shock, however, as the Registrars Office also reported record breaking turnouts this year in the June elections. At the time, Registrar Sherri Jones said that Friday, June 5, 2020, the final day of early voting, was their busiest day of the entire cycle.

However, that busiest day ended with 161 voters casting their ballots. This Presidential Election is already shattering any expectations from citizens and authorities. The line stretched long well past noon yesterday, and was wrapping around the square today as citizens lined up in the opposite direction.

Early voting has also taken up extra space. The Board of Commissioners, amid budget meetings this week, held their meetings in the Jury Assembly Room. While most of their meetings are being held there currently, due to needs for Social Distancing amid the Coronavirus, they also said their conference room is being used by elections and office staff as the early voting machines are spreading out through the Registrar’s Office to supply enough machines for early voting while also maintaining the same Social Distancing guidelines.

voting

Gilmer’s new absentee ballot drop off waits for the cement to dry for its new location in the courthouse parking lot.

Citizens don’t seem to mind as some, who have never voted, are showing up for the first time ever. One person, who declined to give his name, said he searched and registered this year just to vote against those he saw as attacking the president and the current office.

Gilmer is also adding a new drop-off box this week for absentee ballots. Set in the parking lot of the courthouse, the new box is to be bolted into the ground allowing those dropping off ballots to not have to wait in line.

Watkins said in a meeting with the commissioners last week before early voting that absentee ballots could also be seeing minor issues with some as they originally request an absentee ballot or are on a rollover absentee list, but want to cancel their absentee ballot and vote in person.

Watkins explained that this happened in the last election as a large number of ballots request forms were sent out.

Additionally, if a request is marked with certain health or physical disabilities, these people can be put on a rollover list for absentee ballots as well.

voting

Gilmer’s early voting line stretched down the sidewalk and around the corner of the Courthouse’s parking lot to enter the Registrar’s Office to vote.

While not an issue to handle and fix, the massive turnout already seen will inflate problems in this election as staff are keeping up with the number of people while also dealing with the usual corrections and details that come normally with early voting.

With no clear number on the amount of absentees that could be since we are so early in the cycle, the first day of early voting nearly tripled the busiest day from the last election. As the campaigns continue and more people find time to go to the Gilmer County Courthouse, 1 Broad St., in Ellijay, the numbers are looking like they will only go up from here to shatter previous records in early voting for the county.

Authorities say runway damage needs only minor repairs

News
Airport, Plane, Repairs

ELLIJAY, Ga. – According to the Directors of both Public Safety and Public Works, Gilmer County may see minimal to no immediate costs for repairs to the Gilmer Airport runway after this week’s incident.

After a single-engine Super Decathlon crashed on the runway on Monday, authorities have been dealing with the incident, the pilot, and an FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) investigation.

Today, in a Board of Commissioners meeting, Public Works Director Jim Smith said that it appears that the incident is not due to a fault in the airport. Although he said it could have been caused by something like pilot error, he told FYN that he had no specific details or answers as the FAA is in charge of the investigation.

plane, repairs

With the occupants healthy and able to walk away and the FAA Investigators gone from the grounds, damage assessments have come back positive with only minor repairs detailed.

When asked about the runway damages, Smith said that the Public Works Department has engineers looking at the area as minor surface damage including small grooves that had been sustained by the runway. Smith said that the damages would be covered by the insurance of the pilot.

Additionally, FYN reported that a runway light had been damaged during the issue. According to Public Safety Director Keith Kucera, a light was struck, but it only damaged the lens and did not completely destroy the light. As such, the airport keeps spare lenses for minor replacements as needed, so the light repair was handled by the airport crew.

Kucera also said that the cause of the incident was not in the information available to him as the FAA performed all the interviews and investigation and he was not a part of that process.

Smith said that Public Works could fill in the scratches and grooves with a rubberized caulk material similar to what citizens might see on highway cracks. He indicated that the runway was fine for use either way as the FAA reported yesterday that the facility and runway were cleared for use. However, he did note that the FAA inspector pointed out that repairs may be needed for these areas. He reiterated that they are awaiting the engineers to inspect the site and report back.

With damage assessments able to be handled in-house, the county has not seen any immediate damages costs from the incidents. This along with the fact that both occupants of the plane were able to walk away from the crash with only minor injuries, the largest part of the accident seems to be the plane itself that, according to current understanding, lost part of its landing gear and had its prop hit the runway before

Airport reopened today after plane crash injures two

News
plane

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Following yesterday’s plane crash at Gilmer County’s Airport, investigations were held earlier this morning by representatives of the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration).

Just after 3:00 p.m. yesterday, the plane, a single-engine Super Decathlon, holding two people, a pilot and one passenger, crashed during a landing process. Fire and Rescue responded immediately to the overturned plane still stuck on the runway’s edge.

According to a statement released by Gilmer County’s Public Safety, they released both people on the scene after treatment from paramedics. Authorities are not releasing their names at this time but did confirm that both of the plane’s occupants sustained minor injuries.

The statement said the plane “approached the runway from the south, bounced on a hard landing and veered sharply. The plane flipped upside down on the runway, causing minor injuries to the pilot and passenger.”

During the incident, the plane suffered minor damage, it has been cleared. The runway also saw damage as the incident resulted in the destruction of one runway light along with superficial scratches along the paved surface. However, since the incident, Public Safety’s Public Information Officer Al Cash said the area has been swept and cleaned of debris.

At this time the FAA has cleared the facility for further use and the Gilmer County Airport has re-opened to the public. However, the FAA is still at the airport today. According to authorities, they are conducting interviews with those involved or witnesses to the event.

This includes at least one witness, the pilot and passenger, and possibly members of the airport staff. However, no specific details have been released on these as the FAA continues its efforts.

Governor Brian Kemp visits CORE Facility in Ellijay

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Kemp

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Partnerships and people coming together, these are the ideas stressed by Georgia Governor Brian Kemp as he visited the CORE (Collaboration on River’s Edge) Facility this week along with Great Gilmer JDA Executive Director Kent Sanford.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, left, speaking with Greater Gilmer JDA Executive Director Kent Sanford, right, before entering the CORE Facility in Ellijay on September 29, 2020.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, left, speaking with Greater Gilmer JDA Executive Director Kent Sanford, right, before entering the CORE Facility in Ellijay on September 29, 2020.

Speaking to local officials, citizens, and media about business and thriving past the COVID-19 virus, Kemp began his remarks by commenting on Georgia’s status as the top state in the nation for doing business for the seventh consecutive year. A point that Kemp said isn’t something the state has done, but he said, “We only win that title because of so many people that are working on that every day at the local level.”

He made note of the Chambers, the economic development, university system, the technical college system, k-12 education, and small business owners as just a few of those people coming together to make Georgia such a powerhouse.

Kemp said he has been in the small business/entrepreneur position and he understands that people are looking for answers with concerns about their jobs and their businesses. He lauded these businesses and the connection that the CORE Facility holds in their future. Speaking on success and the outbreak, Kemp said the most successful projects that his office has been a part of have had good local support and community partners. “It makes us much more competitive.”

Ga Governor Brian Kemp visits CORE Ellijay

Posted by Fetch Your News on Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Rural Georgia was another focus during his remarks, bringing opportunity and innovation can bring better opportunities with people working hard towards providing the tools needed. Kemp pointed out projects like rural broadband as part of the push to provide the opportunities necessary to fuel that innovation.

Kemp called the CORE Facility an asset to the county as it has provided a great service in its collaborations with a small footprint. He said it is “pretty remarkable and very efficient.”

With four new projects yet unannounced, Kemp’s push for an economic pipeline in Georgia is seeing progress. He noted Papa John’s moving their headquarters to the state alongside a 30 percent increase in projects outside the metro area.

This is the evidence, Kemp says, that the efforts of the Georgia Legislature is paying off. He also included all Georgians in the level of growth as the state has set records in July and August amid the pandemic.

Kemp said, “I think it says a lot about who we are as a state and who we are as a people. We are resilient. We knew that we couldn’t continue to shelter in place forever. We had to figure out how to fight the virus and work on saving lives. But we also had to fight the virus and work on saving livelihoods.”

State Senator Steve Gooch, right, also attended the event alongside local officials like Gilmer Sheriff Stacy Nicholson, left, and Chamber President/CEO Paige Hutto, middle, as Governor Brian Kemp visited Ellijay, Georgia, to tour the CORE Facility.

State Senator Steve Gooch, right, also attended the event alongside local officials like Gilmer Sheriff Stacy Nicholson, left, and Chamber President/CEO Paige Hutto, middle, as Governor Brian Kemp visited Ellijay, Georgia, to tour the CORE Facility.

Just as devastating as the virus, Kemp said losing those is why he is looking at suicide rates, child abuse, mental illness, and so much other outlying effects.

Kemp said the state still has a long way to go in the future, but we cannot “take our foot off the gas.” He said the state is going to keep moving forward through the virus and through growing business.

Part of that business is tourism. He pointed that the best way to support that is to keep the virus numbers going down, but he was also glad to hear successes in rural areas of Georgia like the CORE Facility.

Kemp is pushing for continued reopening as he later said that we all need to continue following guidance in order to “methodically reopen the economy.” With lower numbers, he said we need to keep going on with what we are doing. It will take time for some businesses to recover.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, left, speaking with Greater Gilmer JDA Executive Director Kent Sanford, right, before entering the CORE Facility in Ellijay on September 29, 2020.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, left, speaking with Greater Gilmer JDA Executive Director Kent Sanford, right, before entering the CORE Facility in Ellijay on September 29, 2020.

Keeping those numbers down will include rapid-tests as Kemp said they are looking for places to deliver hundreds of thousands of those tests a week. He noted long-term care facilities, hospitals, and schools. He noted the citizens support and efforts to avoid a spike on Labor Day. Though not “declaring victory” yet, he is optimistic as Georgia moves forward through the virus.

Pleased with what he has been seeing in Gilmer County despite closing larger events like the Apple Festival, Kemp said certain industries are doing better than others, but he said its public confidence that can change and needs to be able to change to support industries like tourism.

Responses show possible changes to Boardtown Road Power Line Project

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Over the weekend and the past few days, information has circulated among residents on Boardtown Road and the citizens asking for relocations of the project to protect the community and natural beauty of the area.

BoardtownThis group has consistently been writing, calling, and sharing information with Georgia House Speaker and local District Representative David Ralston and State Senator Steve Gooch about the project.

According to an email from Scotty Abercrombie, Ralston responded to citizens about the issue saying that he had heard their concerns and was working on the issue at the capitol. Abercrombie also said that he had responded favorably stating that he appreciated the calls and emails.

Abercrombie said that he was happy with the response and that Ralston had heard the issue on Boardtown Road loud and clear. Abercrombie stated, “I appreciated him reaching out to me to discuss.”

Abercrombie said that Speaker Ralston asked for patience and time to work towards the goal.

However, it was not much time before another update reported that some progress was being made and an extension, as well as a review meeting, had been set.

Meanwhile, another report circulating among citizens stated that a member of the Amicalola Electric Board told a citizen that the longer route could also have negative effects on citizens. This email reported the information on Boardtown from the board member stating that they were told, “Amicalola Electric will have to pay for the line with borrowed money and if the line went the long route, it would result in an increase in our power bill.”

Over last weekend, Georgia Transmission Corporation Public Affairs Director Terry Cole sent an email shared among the residents stating:

In consultation with Speaker David Ralston and Senator Steve Gooch, Georgia Transmission Corporation releases the following statement on the Whitepath Electric Reliability Project:

As we shared with the property owners and others at our public meetings, community voices are an essential part of our process as we develop solutions to electric reliability challenges.  Since those meetings, we have carefully reviewed what the community expressed.  We’ve weighed how best to move forward to achieve the goal everyone can agree on which is to ensure reliable power for the homes, farms, and businesses in the Boardtown Road area.

In direct response, we are undertaking an extensive review and analysis of the two routes the community expressed interest in us examining, GA Hwy 515 and the CSX railroad corridor.  We anticipate this taking several months to properly conduct the examination of existing land use, environmental conditions, engineering constraints, and cost of construction, operation and maintenance.   Impacts to other property owners in the Gilmer County community will also be a factor for consideration.

As a not-for-profit member cooperative, Georgia Transmission is committed to working with the local community to fully explore all options available to reach a solution.  We appreciate your continued willingness to engage in dialogue and open conversation about this challenging situation.  We believe that by working together all of us can arrive at a solution that delivers the needed electric power to your community.

“I appreciate the willingness of Georgia Transmission Corporation to study this project in exhaustive detail before any final decisions are made,” said Speaker David Ralston.  “We all understand and appreciate the need to consider both our infrastructure requirements and preservation of the scenic beauty of our mountain region.  My thanks to all involved for taking the time necessary to reach the best possible solution for our community.”

With the new updates, official letter from Gilmer County have responded to both Speaker Ralston and Senator Gooch for their efforts in the issue along with emails from citizens and residents.

That letter was originally a part of a resolution from the Board of Commissioners to support citizens in their concerns, but has become a letter of thanks in response to the news. Approved by the Board and signed by Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris, the letters stated to each representative:

 

Dear Speaker Ralston,

I want to thank you for your response to the people of Boardtown Road, and for your efforts in asking Georgia Transmission to consider alternate routes. You have always been very responsive to the needs of the people of Gilmer County, and it is greatly appreciated.

I do understand the need for increased capacity and reliability of our electrical system, and also appreciate the effort by our EMCs and Georgia Transmission to address this need. Our Commissioners support the project but also feel that a path can be selected that would have less of an impact on quality of life and property values in the county. We do believe that an alternate path would be preferable and are grateful for GTC’s decision to take another look at these options.

Thank you for all that you do for the people of Gilmer County. 

Dear Senator Gooch,

I want to express my gratitude for the support you offered to the people of Boardtown Road in Gilmer County, and for your efforts in asking Georgia Transmission to consider alternate routes. You have always been very responsive to the needs of the people of Gilmer County, and it is greatly appreciated.

I do understand the need for increased capacity and reliability of our electrical system, and also appreciate the effort by our EMCs and Georgia Transmission to address this need. Our Commissioners support the project but also feel that a path can be selected that would have less impact on quality of life and property values in the county. We do believe that an alternate path would be preferable and are grateful for GTC’s decision to take another look at these options.

Thank you for all that you do for the people of Gilmer County

At this time, the meetings will move forward and the representatives are looking into the issues of this project and ways “to preserve the natural beauty of areas in the mountain communities.”

Though it has been stated that the review and re-evaluation of the alternate paths will cause some delays, no specifics have been given at this time to how long those delays will be. Citizens are continuing to talk about the issue with the favorable news to their concerns, and are looking to continue pushing for awareness as the project moves forward and they await the outcome of the review.

Commissioners adopt Moratorium on Greenspace subdivision roads

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moratorium

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Originally considered for Class D and Class E roads, Gilmer’s Board of Commissioners is placing a moratorium on green space subdivisions as they work on details before planning to release the moratorium with a modified ordinance in early 2021.

According to Planning and Zoning Director Karen Henson, Gilmer has a couple subdivision projects currently approved in R2 that are abiding by lot sizes. However, the concern is if these lots are sold and then divided and resold. Class E Roads are only allowed to have 10 lots on them. The county will be looking at options to prevent such a process that would ultimately result in an larger number or lots on roads that cannot support them.

Discussion of the agenda item saw more focus on the moniker of “inferior roads” and right of ways than specific Class E roads. However, Henson indicated in the meeting that all Class E designated roads would be considered a part of the moratorium and later clarified as such.

As approved in the meeting, Henson herself clarified in an email that the Moratorium will be for:

  1. The suspension of Class E roads.

  2. The suspension of subdivisions of land along inferior County roads, which are roads with less than 40 foot right of way and 20 foot surface width with 3 foot shoulders (except for the 2 annual splits).

  3. The suspension of greenspace developments.

During the meeting, with advice from Henson and County Attorney David Clark, the Board is setting the moratorium to take effect later, and will begin the process of the ordinance change that will take several months to complete through advertising, First Reading, a Public Hearing, and a Second Reading with Final Adoption.

As contractors move into the moratorium, it will not shut down developments in areas as it was stated that they can continue developments with upgraded road systems. It will not affect Class D roads in general unless they fall into the county termed “inferior roads.”

 

BOC supports citizens in opposition to new transmission lines location

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Transmission

ELLIJAY, Ga. – “It’s going to look like a runway,” said Leon Watkins in the Commissioners August Regular Session. He was speaking about Boardtown Road in Gilmer County and the project for massive poles and a transmission line along the road.

A letter went out last week gathering support and other citizens to speak with locals asking to relocate a project that they say would destroy Boardtown Road. A

Answering that call, numerous citizens appeared before the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners at the August meeting to speak about the Georgia Transmission Corporation (GTC) and the major project they are undertaking. All of those that spoke at the meeting did so in opposition of the project’s current location.

Some asserted later in the meeting that they didn’t want to publicly oppose the project of improving electrical reliability in Gilmer. However, the common theme that every single speaker of the night on this subject shared was the concept that putting these large poles in the middle of people’s yards and farms would be a detriment to the area. It is the path down Boardtown that is being opposed.

They said that the project would not only individually detriment their own properties in both property value and natural beauty, but spill over into the entire road and surrounding area.

The Citizen’s wishing to speak section started with a question, “Why can’t the county deny permission for the line and right of way?”

The question spilled over into other speakers saying the preferred route should go down Highway 515 as a major road.

As Commission Chairman Charlie Paris explained that he has already looked into the issue trying to see how the county could help, County Attorney David Clark explained that his understanding was that the GTC could use imminent domain on the area to force the project through, leaving both the county and local citizens with no voice in the matter.

The GTC did hold three public meetings encouraging social distancing and an extended format for people to come and go during the hours of those three meetings. Citizens speaking in the Commissioners meeting told the board that the GTC already had their plans and surveys set before the meetings ever started. The meetings, they said, were there providing information to citizens on what is going to happen and not solicit input on a project before planning.

Clark told citizens they should also be speaking with local EMC board members to see if they could also be helping people with the issue in addition to the work they had already done.

Transmission

Robert Armour speaks to the BOC asking for support at their August Regular Meeting

Yet, Melanie Johnson said that she has already spoken with representatives of both Amicalola EMC and GTC. She alleged that many of the Georgia Transmission representatives gave different, misleading, or wrong information as they have pushed into the project. She said that in the beginning they collected signatures for surveys saying alluding that they would simply be replacing and upgrading current poles.

As conversation continued with citizens offering similar complaints against destroying the native beauty or having massive steel and concrete poles put into their properties.

Johnson asked for a public show of support from Commissioners as she hoped to push the issue to state representatives such as Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston and State Senator Steve Gooch. A letter of support was one of three actions citizens asked for during the meeting.

Echoed by several citizens including Robert Armour and Develle Frady, the show of support through a letter that citizens could use to have the extra authority was a great step that citizens said they appreciated. Yet, Armour asked the commissioners to take it step further. The second action that he asked for was to not just write a letter, but to have the commissioners physically call them for support.

He later returned to the podium and expanded his request asking the commissioners to initiate a meeting for residents in the area to speak directly with these state representatives to implore them for their support and to assert the importance they hold for the issue.

Frady said he has already seen the issues that road has suffered from the gas line put in. His main concern is the heavy weight traffic this would put on the road with bridges already in poor state and some with maximum 5 ton weight limits. “The bridges and culverts will not hold the 60 ton frames they will need to erect those poles,” he said.

Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson voices support for residents opposed to the large transmission lines to be built on Boardtown Road.

Paris himself said that the Georgia Transmission Corporation is a state level agency. He added, “I have felt frustrated because I am not aware of anything the county can actually do.” Yet, he said that he would have no problem at all supporting citizens in this way that they have requested for the letter. He also told citizens he would work towards a meeting if poss

The third option and request citizens asked for came in several citizens asking for the commissioners to pass an ordinance for some sort of protection against the transmission line in the area. One said they should enforce right of ways against the poles. Frady mentioned county documents claiming 80 feet of right of way, but the GTC told him they had 100 foot right of ways from the road.

Kevin Kell spoke in the meeting saying that he owned 20 acres on the road and is second guessing plans for building a home. He said that people come to Ellijay for the “beautiful, unspoiled views.” He said his experience as a banker leads him to believe that this is not the only option for GTC, but is the cheapest option. Kell also echoed the issue of the effect on property values.

It was suggested by Gilmer Historian that the road be declared a scenic route as she spoke about the Trail of Tears in Ellijay and the historic and archaeological importance of several finds that the county has had on Boardtown Road. She later noted that the road in Fannin County is already declared a scenic route.

Transmission

Boardtown area resident and member of the Board of Education, Ronald Watkins speaks alongside citizens who are asking for help in relocating a project for high voltage transmission lines and poles on Boardtown Road.

Stressing the importance of the issue, Ronald Watkins, current member of the Board of Education and resident in the area, said he wouldn’t be getting a pole on his property, but would be getting one right across the street from him. He repeated the major issue of the utter destruction of the natural scenery and scenic views along the road as one of the major points of living and being in the area. He said he was told it was an issue of money and being more expensive to go elsewhere.

The commissioner discussed several options for the issue and passed a resolution to draft the requested letter, showing their support for those in opposition. Paris began discussing attempting to set up a meeting for citizens, but the board settled to draft the letter first and move into other options one at a time. In fact, both Paris and Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson voiced support for the citizens after just a couple of citizens spoke. While the public continued voicing concerns and requesting certain solutions, the board as a whole was already discussing at several points throughout the comments on what steps they could take and what they could do in support.

In addition to this, another person stepped up to speak during the comments section. Travis Crouch, a resident of an area past Boardtown Road. He said he doesn’t live on Boardtown and would, in fact, be one of the people that would benefit greatly from the project. He noted that his home has had 28 outages already in this year alone.

Crouch stated, “I do not want to see those power lines.”

Crouch referenced both the scenic beauty and the bridge conditions on the road saying that the area is a beautiful drove and needs this protection

He said that his power is an issue that needs to be addressed, but added that if the only solution required doing what the project is calling for on Boardtown Road, then “I would rather deal with the power outages, seriously.”

New Boardtown Power line to be discussed at BOC meeting

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Georgia Transmission Corporation, the transmission service provider Georgia’s Electric Membership Corporations, including Amicalola EMC, is deep into plans for construction of large power poles and lines for the “Whitepath 46kV sub transmission line” along with the “46 kV/25 kV 20 MVA Whitepath substation.”

line

A part of the documentation delivered to citizens at the public meetings, this diagram shows what the new power poles could look like in relation to the road.

Documents provided to citizens during public information meetings say the new line and substation will improve service in the area as another station will provide a second ‘source’ near Whitepath and connecting to the existing #2 Ellijay substation.

Some citizens opposed to the lines are planning to bring the item before the Board of Commissioners next week according to an email sent out. Looking for a large group to join in for discussion, these citizens are hoping to bring concerns to the commissioners. However, it is not clear yet if they will be asking the Commissioners for help in opposing the lines.

According to representatives at the public meetings, the Georgia Transmission Corporation does not need to bring the construction project before the local county commissioners for approval before beginning construction. In fact, their provided documentation states they already have a planned schedule and are currently moving forward with acquisitions for the project. The schedule says that they will start clearing land for the line in 3rd quarter 2021 and construction will begin in 1st quarter 2022. The Corporation hopes to have service on the new lines beginning in the 3rd quarter of 2022.

Additionally, this is not an item on the commissioners’ agenda, but rather a plan by citizens to bring up discussions during the “Citizens Wishing to Speak” item of the meeting.

line

The map was provided by the Georgia Transmission Corporation for the planned path of the Boardtown Road Power Line project.

The project calls for 10 miles of line with “steel and/or concrete poles” that will reach an average of 95 feet high (poles will be between 60 to 112 feet tall. They also require between 25 and 125 feet wide easements.

The $18 million project will begin at Ellijay #2 substation just south of Tabor Street and proceed North and then West before intersecting North Main Street. According to documentation, it will cross the Ellijay River at least two times along its path, following Boardtown Road most of the way.

Some of the concerns already voiced in opposition speak on clear cutting trees and extreme proximity to people’s homes.

Representatives at the meetings said that the Corporation has spoken with railway owners about following the rails, looked at traveling along Highway 515 as alternative path, and even considered burying the cable underground, but were not given permission to use the railway and found Boardtown Road to be the best current option.

According to their statement, “This approach was chosen because it meets the engineering, construction, operational, environmental, schedule, cost, electrical, and reliability requirements of the project.”

Paris discussed bridges and next year’s priority in Special Meeting

News

ELLIJAY, Ga – “Misplaced priorities” is what Travis Crouch, a local citizen, a former business owner in the county, and former Post Commissioner, called a preview into next year for the county.

That comment came for one specific project as Crouch’s first spoke in the Citizens Wishing to Speak section on two bridges over Rock Creek in Cherry Log that are constantly being used by county vehicles over the bridge weight limit. Crouch said he noticed last fall that the weight limits had been reduced.

bridges

Travis Crouch speaks to the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners about Roads and Bridges and bridge weight limits during a Special Called Meeting in August of 2020.

He said that he understood the previous plan had been to use TSPLOST to repair these. However, as the TSPLOST had been rejected by citizens, his question was how the county planned to address the issue of the bridges.

He compared the 11-ton weight limit on the higher of the two bridges to several standard vehicles that need to cross the bridge. A dump truck delivering gravel weighs around 56,000 pounds on the low side (about 26 tons). A propane tank truck is 30,000 pounds (15 tons). A county fire truck, or tanker truck, is over 60,000 pounds (30 tons). He said that if they were condemned like Lower Cartecay Road, he would be completely isolated and cut off from vehicle traffic.

County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris responded by giving a preview into his personal look into the 2021 budget process saying that he has tried to get salaries up over recent years, but wants to focus on roads and bridges in 2021. Paris said that he is wanting to find a way to allocate more resources to the area of roads and bridges in the budget process, but that is going to entail some sacrifices in other areas. Some of those areas are already seeing relief as Paris noted the CARES Act Grant is being used to support needs in the Public Safety Department. Other areas will see needs prioritized and possibly delayed. Paris gave the example that the Sheriff’s Office may not be able to get a new vehicle in 2021.

These are all examples that the Chairman gave of his own expectation and plan. All three Commissioners will be sitting through these budget meetings as they historically do every year in October. On top of that, Paris also stated that the process would not be solved in 2021. Fixing bridges and roads and getting them to the condition that is desired, he said, “It’s going to take a number of years.”

Because of that, even the roads and bridges will need to be prioritized for attention. Paris said bridges like the ones that Crouch spoke of would definitely have to be a higher priority.

Considering the process and issues the county has had in the past, Crouch asked the board to begin processes and looking into the bridges now. He considered things like permits, easements, engineering, repair needs, and other things that could be taken care of early to attempt to make the process as quick as possible.

One example of the length these projects could take is highlighted at a higher extreme as the county has gone through a lengthy process and is still looking towards state completion of replacing the Lower Cartecay Bridge, a project that has gone on for years since its closure in 2017. However, Public Works Director Jim Smith did confirm that the county has other bridges in similar status, built decades ago and sitting on “stacked rock” as they said in the Special Called Meeting.

Before leaving, Crouch asked one final question about roads and bridges in comparison to another county project. The project that he later in the meeting called, “misplaced priorities.”

Crouch asked if the county should really be building a new pool with such needs for roads and bridges.

A project that has been contentious since its inception, many citizens of the county agree with Crouch’s statement and have made similar statements in previous county meetings. Yet, also a project that has been hotly supported by many citizens in other meetings as they debated needs, designs, and locations.

Paris noted this back and forth as he said running the county is a balancing act between people and their wants. He said that he agreed that the amount the county will spend on the pool won’t do much for roads and bridges as they are so expensive.

Paris stated, “I believe that the swimming pool is essential to the youth of the county and that it needs to be built. If we decided not to, we probably wouldn’t see any difference at all in roads… because roads are so wickedly expensive.”

Crouch responded saying, “There is nothing more basic than public safety for responsibility for the Board of Commissioners… Years ago the commissioners were called Road Commissioners.”

Crouch said that roads and public safety are the primary tasks and responsibilities for the commissioners. He made a comparison between the two items calling the pool a “luxury.”

While discussion ended on the topic there for today, it is sure to re-emerge as the county draws closer to October and its marathon of meetings during the budgeting process.

Board lowers Bond Millage with final approval of rates

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Millage Rate Meeting

ELLIJAY, Ga. – A unanimous vote on Monday, August 24, 2020, saw the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners follow up on statements from last year where they discussed lowering the Bond Millage Rate in the county.

While they did not approve lowering the rate in 2019, many citizens have continued discussing and pushing for the reduction this year. A few have very vocally called for the reduction of the “extra half mill” that was put on the Bond Millage rate raising it from 1 to 1.5 mills. Additionally, the viral outbreak and subsequent shutdowns of counties and states cast a dark shadow on local economies and doubt for the financial future of Gilmer.

The Commissioners halted capital spending and major projects as they watched and waited to see just what kind of impact it would have, even delaying their pool project that has been underway for over a year now. The pool was closed at the beginning of May in 2019.

However, the last two months have shown quite the difference. Despite the cancellation of major events in the county and increasing numbers from the virus, recent reports show an increase in collections from tourism and SPLOST.

Whether this played a role in their decision, the commissioners did not say, but they did approve a drop in the bond millage rate by .25 mills, taking it from 1.5 to 1.25 mills.

The School-Board-approved millage rate of 13.963 was approved to be implemented by the Board of Commissioners. This is the Rollback Rate calculated for Gilmer County Schools as they have advertised over the past month since the July meeting. The Board of Education approved this rate last week during their regular August meeting.

They also moved forward with approval of the county’s M&O (Maintenance and Operations) Millage Rate of 6.783 mills. This is also a Rollback Rate calculated for the Board of Commissioners and advertised for the past month since their July Meeting.

County returns to rivers in discussions over trash

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – After an impromptu speech from Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson at this month’s work session, citizens turned out in number to speak and support or defend their views on Gilmer County’s Rivers and the usage of them.

Most of the discussion focused in one area of the county, and people from both businesses Cartecay River Experience and Ellijay River Outfitters were present as well.

Ferguson’s original speech explained how she was making a video promoting the county’s rivers. She traveled to Blackberry Mountain where the county owns a piece of land that is being used as a take-out from the river. She said she came upon a sight that she could only call “chaos,” referencing the amount of trash, alcohol, and people ignoring ordinances.

Ferguson apologized to the community saying she felt she had not been the best steward of the county property and the resources of the county.

The county, on a previous commission, has discussed this topic in depth over the last two to three years as they originally moved to put regulations on the river banning alcohol, but also to regulate the usage of county property by private businesses using the take-out on Mulkey Road, at Blackberry Mountain. Since then, the county is still struggling to find an effective way to control alcohol and enforce some of the regulations preventing patrons from trespassing on people’s property along the river, drinking alcohol, and littering in the area.

Discussion returned this week in a Special Called meeting as citizens responded to Ferguson’s Speech and topics arose around how to move forward.

Some quickly noted the great lengths that volunteers, organizations like Keep Gilmer Beautiful and the local outfitters put into cleaning the river and going out to pick up trash.

Rivers

Max Frady speaks to Commissioners about the county’s rivers at a Special Called Meeting on August 24, 2020.

Max Frady, a local businessman, said he volunteers at one of the outfitters. He said he felt the DNR should be the governing body, and that over-regulating and writing ordinances and pressuring regulations takes money out of local businesses and discourages people from coming to our rivers. Part of his volunteer work is cleaning the rivers. He said they have continued offering olive branches to local property owners and to the county as they have tried to be “ambassadors” for the rivers and the county because they send all their patrons locally for food and needs.

Frady also noted that other places put people on the rivers besides the outfitters saying, “Every airbnb you got up and down through there, they have tubes and kayaks at their airbnb. It’s part of the rental.” Yet, the volunteers and outfitters are those on the river every day, cleaning the rivers.

Pam Johnson spoke on the day saying that teaching ourselves to take better care of these resources and be more responsible with what we have. She asked the board to think long and hard on the subject about the best way to go forward and to increase that education for people. She acknowledged that there are both kinds of people who come into the county and are very conscious of what they do and how they use the river and those that come in and take advantage of the area.

Doug Colburn, a local police officer, said he and his wife live on the river and do see a lot of trash. Colburn said that the outfitters do a great job of bringing tourism here but he does see three areas of need for the county. Traffic, groups, and trash have come to the forefront of this year in particular. With the viral threats, he voiced concerns about large groups congregating together. He went to say that he does see trash in the area as the river carries it down from wherever it is dropped and it builds in areas.

Offering an option for solutions, Detective Colburn suggested creating a committee to work with representatives from all parties including the outfitters and the property owners. He said that taking the time to discuss and implement a workable plan by the opening of next season.

The option was echoed and supported by others who spoke including Jay Zipperman of Keep Gilmer Beautiful and Gilmer Sheriff Stacy Nicholson who said the Sheriff’s Office would also want to be a part of the committee.

One of the biggest concerns revolved around the alcohol on the river, from the bottles and cans littered to how to enforce the alcohol ban. Some suggested checking coolers at outfitters and the legality of checking coolers.

Rivers

Jenny Janssen, of Cartecay River Experience, speaks with both the BOC and citizens over river issues in the county.

The topic was addressed by Jenny Janssen of the Cartecay River Experience, also questioning the legality of checking coolers and people’s rights. The topic spread to a later discussion in the meeting as people discussed demanding people wear masks and social distance and groups being separated for bus rides.

Janssen said that they don’t want to eliminate coolers altogether as the river ride takes a longer time. She spoke about the discussion and talks they have for people telling them about the river’s regulations.

Forcing masks was also addressed by the Ellijay River Outfitters as both outfitters said they would not force people to wear masks, but did have extra masks available for any who wanted one or needed one but may not have brought their own.

One of the larger disconnects is between the county and outfitters and enforcement of regulations. Part of the meeting came to addressing issue found in non-compliance in the area. Ferguson even made a motion for a 10-day suspension as she was at the county’s take-out and found nobody wearing the regulation wristbands required by the county. Ferguson said that as she was at the river speaking with people, most of them didn’t even know wristbands were required this year.

The motion died without a second, but the discussion continued on as Ellijay River Outfitters apologized saying they thought the wristbands were not required after the county waived certain fees for the outfitters this year in attempt to help them with what they expected, at the time, might be a slower season with people concerned over the Coronavirus.

The Cartecay River Experience also said they gave people wristbands and told customers that they wouldn’t physically put the wristbands on them with COVID-19.

Rivers

Citizens, business owners, law enforcement, and organization leaders all spoke on the county’s rivers during a Special Called Meeting of the Board of Commissioners on August 24, 2020.

Another topic discussed saw property owners and outfitters agreeing that they want a Deputy patrolling and watching the area. This item saw action from the commission as they, later in the meeting, approved the hiring of an off duty deputy to guard the area. The guard is to be paid from the fees collected from the outfitters through the wristbands.

Echoing the traffic issue, Nancy Foster spoke to the board saying she lives close to the take out. A big issue for her, she said, was people parking in front of her house, blocking her driveway and causing issues. She also reported that when she asks them to move, she has been cursed at and yelled at by people.

While these issues will continue to be discussed and debated in the Board of Commissioners for the River, some citizens like Susan Moreno are urging them to realize that litter and natural resources go beyond the rivers. Hiking trails and the lake are also county natural resources that suffer from similar issues.

Many other speakers joined during the meeting repeating issues and coming to the defense of those involved. No official action will force any major changes in these final coming weeks of the season, one common idea, many agreed that something akin to a committee could work. Seemingly, nobody is finished with this discussion yet. A common call for responsibility in the community has been given, and the coming months could dictate what that responsibility may look like.

County Passes Farm Winery and Mass Notifications change

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change

Gilmer, Ga. – Citizens can already see the change today after final approval for a change in the Farm Winery ordinance is allowing local Farm Wineries to sell Georgia brewed beers in their tasting rooms.

Having been underway for a while, the final approval this month is the last stage of the process and took effect over this last weekend. As owners of wineries in previous meetings stated, they sought to cater to couples or friends who may travel to the winery together, but have a member uninterested in wine. This change now allows them to serve beer to those people through a limited selection via the ordinance restrictions, that being Georgia crafted beers.

Another change that came this month was through Public Safety as they looked at mass notification systems. Handling EAS (Emergency Alert System) and IPAWS (Integrated Public Alert and Warning System), the county is currently using the CodeRed Vendor.

Integrating systems can disperse notifications to both widespread and isolated areas through several agencies in the county. According to Public Safety Director Keith Kucera, the department has found a much more discounted rate for utilizing these systems. Saving about $6,750 a year compared to their current system, the new vendor is called Hyper-Reach.

Kucera also noted lesser restrictions with the newer vendor such as no restriction on a number of messages to send outThe previous vendor that Public Safety used has a preset limit of messages they can send. And then charges per message over that limit.

The approval came to select the new vendors in the August Regular Meeting from both present commissioners.

Additionally, during the meeting, the Board also approved Jay Zipperman and Jim Harris to the Keep Gilmer Beautiful Advisory Board. The two were already members and are being reappointed.

County finalizing CARES Act Grant for ambulance among other projects

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners is finalizing items this week and filing paperwork for the CARES Act Grant Funding.

With the August 31 deadline, the county is trying to push through the paperwork and finalizations for the approved projects to the state and have the purchases made before that time.

The major discussion came during a special called meeting as board members discussed purchasing an extra ambulance due to increases in calls and increase times on and between calls for Public Safety as they attempt to deal with calls involving the coronavirus and sanitize and clean the vehicles between calls.

The questions involved requirements needing a showing of increase in calls due to the Coronavirus, because while the specific number of calls has decreased this month according to reports. Public Safety said that this time of year usually sees a dip in calls before ramping up again closer to October. Despite the reported increase in call times and safety measures, the discussion boiled down to concerns that the purchase has a slight chance to not be approved due to the recent dip.

The other side of the debate considers putting the entire Grant towards reimbursement for salaries and pay of Public Safety workers, not administrators, as they are explicitly named as approved expenditures. The board said they could then use the money originally budgeted for these salaries to provide some of the needed equipment and similar expenses due to the outbreak.

Grant

Purchasing a new ambulance to help with the increase in time on calls and between calls could see the new vehicle in service at stations by September 1, 2020.

The time-crunch only applies to the advanced sum of $456,775 the county has received. Having applied earlier this month, the application will also see another sum just over a million dollars coming through purchases approved one-at-a-time in the coming months for a total, both sums together, of $1,522,585.

However, the board was hesitant to wait on the ambulance as they found one with all the specifications that the needs for their ambulances and at a somewhat lower price. If they wait, they run the risk of the ambulance being bought by another entity before they return for it.

Approvals came in two motions to approve pursuing the ambulance and submitting the remainder of the grant for reimbursement of salaries to the limit of what is available.

The county is moving forward with the purchase and putting that ambulance in the rotation for use before September 1, 2020.

However, moving past the immediate purchases for the advanced grant. Other options for consideration that the county will be looking at in the coming months include a new stretcher, some newer equipment, and possible one-time payment of Hazard Pay for public safety employees. These additional options will continue through discussion in the coming months.

Will Gilmer feel an economic impact from cancelling the Apple Festival?

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Festival

ELLIJAY, Ga. – With the recent announcement of the cancellation of the 2020 Apple Festival, many are still wondering about the impact, the decisions, and the virus’ toll on the festival season.

Earlier this year, Chamber officials were planning on make-up days for the Apple Blossom Festival left over from May. At one point, discussions were set to host the Apple Blossom Festival in August and then the Apple Festival in October as normal. Now, neither of these festivals will see make-up days as the boards over each have fully cancelled the events.

Most of the citizens concerns voice through comments and social media revolve more around the virus than any economic impact. Some are applauding the choice, like Dylan Slade who called it a good decision stating, “Public Health Foremost.”

Still others are discounting the choice. Courtney Graham didn’t state whether she thought the cancellation was good or bad, but did state, “The apple houses are open, the rental cabins are open, they will still come.”

A Report of the Hotel/Motel Tax Collections for Gilmer County.

This statement does hold some merit as FYN gathered reports from the county and cities. According to Gilmer County’s Financial Officer, Sandi Holden, the collections of Hotel/Motel Tax in June alone reached $113,870. According to county records, their Hotel/Motel Tax has never been over $100,000 in the last three years. Comparing June to the same month in previous years, 2019 totaled $78,044. In 2018, June totaled $75, 108. In 2017, June totaled only $52,838.

Additionally, there has been only one month that reached $90,000. That was October 2019.

Ellijay is not that different, either. Their year-to-date report shows them already reaching $8,196 by July. Just under half of last year’s total collection of $16,882 and just over two-thirds of 2018’s $11,399 total.

However, October is consistently among the highest months for the county, showing that the Festival season does have a major impact on local economy. October was the highest month of the year for Hotel/Motel Tax in both 2018 and 2019. In 2017, it was third highest behind November and July, the highest month.

Digging deeper than just Hotel/Motel Tax, SPLOST collections on sales tax in the County paint a very similar story with one notable difference.

SPLOST Collections for the last six years show certain trends, but nothing is set to predict the coming three months.

Just like the Hotel/Motel, SPLOST shows the months of June and July of 2020 setting records for collections in the county. According to Holden, June 2020 saw a SPLOST revenue of $440,176. July 2020 saw a SPLOST Revenue of $453,981.

SPLOST Revenue has only gone above $400,000 three times in the last six years. December 2019 reached $406,020. November 2018 reached $400,655. In those years, October has never gone above $400,000. The final also came in 2020, January reached $401,243.

Therein lies the difference. Whereas the Hotel/Motel Tax saw major increases in October, SPLOST collections saw less so, with October usually falling behind November and December in collections.

Comparatively, April of 2020, which worried local county and city governments and saw halts to projects and capital spending as they awaited the numbers to see how bad the economy would get, saw a collection of $374,630. Higher than any previous year’s October except 2019.

Locals are split with some saying they are happy with the decision and others questioning different signals from different entities. Some online have commented saying that one entity is cancelling the festival while another entity is pushing forward with opening schools, a hot topic in August with news stories from all over Georgia highlighting the issue.

However, one downtown business owner is optimistic despite the cancelled festival.

Festival

Craftsmen, Food Vendors, artists, musicians, and many others are a part of the annual festival that stretches far beyond just the fairgrounds and ecmpossaes Apple Arts, a parade, musical shows, a beauty pageant, car shows, and more across two weekends.

Steve Cortes, owner of WhimZ Boutique and Heart and Vine and a former head of the merchant’s association, said, “It’s certainly going to have an impact.”

Cortes explained, however, that his hope is that a lot of people will still come. Even in recent years, he notes that his business has had many vacationers, leaf-lookers, and others who either didn’t know of the Festival or weren’t planning to attend.

Cortes admitted there would be an impact, but added on saying, “I don’t think it’s going to have as big of an impact as everybody fears.”

He said that he believes many of the counties visitors have already made plans and probably won’t cancel them. And so he is preparing for an increase as he notes he has continued following guidelines with masks and other ways to combat the virus in his store.

One major note he added, is that August is looking better than his recent months in the business. Comparing sales and business with previous years, August has been optimistically close.

Comparisons of finances are suggesting just as many people could be heading our way in October. It seems an impact is coming, but no clear picture is available yet on what kind of increase or decrease could be seen. Cancelling the festival could mean that business is more spread out across the county, or it could mean overcrowded Apple Houses and Vineyards. It could either mean a more spread out October instead of focused into two weekends, or it could mean a dip from the record setting two months that the county has seen in June and July.

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