ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer’s march towards the construction of the new pool at River Park is continuing as they continue facing two major obstacles.
It has been well established that two of the county’s three commissioners see great promise and benefit in the River Park location discussed for the county’s pool project. One hurdle facing that location received an update this month and Commission Chairman Charlie Paris informed the board at their meeting that conversations with the specialist attorney Matt Williams revealed that the proposed contract with Patriot Rail is looking promising.
Williams did say they currently have a standard agreement contract that they are looking at. However, Paris told the board, “He mentioned that in terms of a railroad crossing, the main concern is the question of liabilty.”
The area currently has a private crossing. If it was a public crossing, the county would come into the liability issue as well. Paris said that the county cannot indemnify the railroad with a public crossing. But with standardized government documents, this crossing would fall under standardized signage and warnings that are common across the country.
He went on to say that the county would undergo a diagnostic study to find what government requires for the crossing. As such, Paris said the county “would be covered” in cases of liability as they follow DOT and traffic engineer standards.
As such, Williams has reportedly suggested the county move forward in pursuit of a public crossing at the location and could see better terms in the agreement with that angle. However, this means the county would have to carve out space for a public road instead of the private road, complete with easements and right of way.
Paris recommended the county move forward with this option if the county could get a “more favorable agreement.”
The railroad is not the only obstacle that saw updates this week. The county is facing much of the land at that location in a flood plain. Public Works Director Jim Smith updated the county on progress beginning on the Highway 382 project just getting underway by the State Department of Transportation. As they carve out, flatten, and prepare the area for relocating the highway, the contractors are looking for a place to put the dirt they remove.
Smith told the board that they had offered to move the dirt to a location of the county’s choice. The county could have the dirt moved to the River Park location to use as fill dirt. However, questions arose and the county is set to first investigate and take samples to see if the quality is good enough for such a use.
Post Commissioner Dallas Miller continues to question the location as he raised questions about the soils composition, the locations foundation, and the repetition of the same plan used in the old pool. He further asked why the DOT would be giving away good soil?
Miller said he would support the creation and construction of a pool for the county, but would not support this site for the pool.
Paris agreed with wanting to test all the soil they are looking to use for the location. He also addressed what he called an incorrect statement about the land being free. While the land would be free to them, it will actually be East Ellijay paying for the land, Paris said $270,000, in order to make sure the pool would be built in town instead of at Clear Creek.
He went on to note the most all of the current River Park is inside a flood plain. While he admitted that he said the pool has problems in that flood plain, he noted that the pool was over 40 years old. He said, “If we build a pool there, and 40 years from now we have problems with it leaking, then my suggestion… will be ‘time to build a new pool.'”
Post Commission Karleen Ferguson thanked Miller for his concerns and suggesting the soils testings. However, she said, “I do believe I am kind of here and ready for us to face our rivers and to enjoy our rivers more, more than turn our backs on our rivers. The River Park is already started. It is a beautiful park for our citizens to enjoy and I do think it makes sense to have the pool there if all the other ‘ifs,’ you know we have this railroad issue that has come up and we’ll see how that goes and the soil testing that is being done. Ideally, I do think it’s the best location because it makes sense to continue on for our River Park and even across to our soccer fields.”
Despite the differences, the county is moving forward looking at both the available soil and the railroad agreements as they attempt to overcome these hurdles.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – A couple from the area of Woodland Acres spoke in August’s Commissioners’ meetings about an ongoing problem with dogs running loose in the area.
In the ensuing discussions, on August 8, 2019, Commission Chairman Charlie Paris promised citizens that changes would be coming to the Animal Control Ordinances of Gilmer County in efforts to address this and similar issues in the county.
The most vocal, Sto Goodwin and Debra Christian, live as neighbors in Woodland Acres and began discussing the issue on Wednesday, they tell FYN that several people in the area have had issues with dogs running free in the area. Christian named the breed Cane Corso as one that has specifically harassed her. She went on to say that the issue has not been handled properly as they have reported the issues, Animal Control has picked up the dogs on the loose, but the owner in question just get the dogs back. This owner, who was not named, has allegedly gone to court, promised to move, and made other promises that have not been kept.
Christian alleges that the owner refuses to enclose the dogs and actively trains them in “Predator Control.” She was supported in these allegations by both Goodwin and even Chairman Paris who said, “He has been very clear with us in the past that he expects his dogs to be able to run free, and that we’re welcome to fine him. He’ll pay the fine, but they will run free.”
Paris stated that the problem has existed for several years. Due to the increasing allegations and some citizens even saying they have video of the dogs killing cats and other animals as well as chasing after people in the area, responses are now increasing. While Paris said that they cannot just go and take the dogs by law, he did say that the county is already changing one thing right now. Animal Control’s policy for returning animals found off of owner’s property is going to step up plan.
Paris said, “Previously, if an animal was brought in that was found off the owner’s property, it was $150 fee to reclaim it. If it came in again, it was another $150. What we’ve done is we’ve lowered the first offense to $100, and if that person, who comes in, is willing to have us spay or neuter the particular animal, then we will lower it to $75. That’s the first time, and this is per owner, not per animal. The second time an animal from that owner comes in, it’s $300. And if they want to spay or neuter, we’ll back it up one level to $100. The third time it comes in, it’s going to be $600, then $900. And then it’ll be $1000.”
Paris went on to note that citations will also go along with that.
These new changes are just part of the major changes that could be coming to the ordinance. Paris promised those present that he would be looking into the ordinance to have something to present next month. Goodwin asked how many animals might die by the time this situation reaches those higher levels of fees.
Goodwin said that this issue has gone on for six years with nobody seeming to respond or even care as this one owner hides behind a law claiming exemption for dog attacks on other animals under certain circumstances. One of those exemptions involve Predator Control, being the training claimed for these animals. However, he also tells FYN that he has neighbors who have photos and even a video of one of the dogs with a mutilated cat in its mouth.
Additionally, with potential citations, court litigation, and other outcomes from additional issues arising, County Attorney David Clark warned those citizens that continued investigations would require continued support from citizens. He said they cannot back off from standing up for the issue as the county and court systems cannot pursue them through Animal Control without citizen support.
Goodwin stated that he did not want to harm the dogs as he blames the owner for their training and activities, but he warned that if they continued being aggressive and threatening others, someone was going to get hurt.
Paris also said he was worried about citizens attempting to protect themselves and potentially harming or killing the animals.
Moving into the the minimal 3-month process, changes are currently expected to be advertised in September, if approved the first reading will be in October, if approved there the second reading and final adoption will be in November.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County has officially been certified and recognized as an “Organization of Ethics, or “County of Ethics,” by the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA).
The recognition officially came during the recent GMA Convention on June 24, 2019. According to a news release from the Association, “The City of Ethics program began in 1999 and was developed by a panel of business and government leaders to encourage cities to adopt and adhere to a set of key ethical principles and adopt a local ethics ordinance. The ordinance must contain definitions, prohibited conduct and due process for officials accused of violations in areas such as financial disclosures, conflicts of interests and outside employment. The ordinance must also contain penalties for city officials who violate the ordinance.”
The county has been working towards this title for several months now through the appointment of a Board of Ethics to judge and discern complaints brought forth and adding ordinances in the County’s Code to address the issue. Although mostly formalities, designating the board and becoming a county of ethics is something Gilmer County Chairman Charlie Paris wanted mostly for the symbolism as he stated in a recent meeting that he hoped the Board of Ethics is appointed and never meets.
As a entity that would only meet if problems arise and a complaint or dispute is brought forth, the lack of issues would put these positions as a mere title and nothing more. Yet, the meaning behind that would represent an ethically strong government.
The GMA’s full release is as follows:
SAVANNAH – Gilmer County Board of Commissioners was recognized as the most recently certified Organization of Ethics at the Georgia Municipal Association’s (GMA) Annual Convention June 24. The City of Crawfordville also received the City of Ethics certification, while 36 additional cities received recertifications
The cities of Acworth, Barnesville, Brunswick, Buford, Centerville, Clarkston, Dawsonville, Donalsonville, Dublin, Dunwoody, Grantville, Helen, Hinesville, Hiram, Lakeland, Luthersville, Madison, Maysville, Meansville, Midway, Moultrie, Mount Airy, Mount Vernon, Newnan, Nicholson, Powder Springs, Reynolds, Sandersville, Savannah, Sugar Hill, Suwanee, Swainsboro, Sylvester, Tifton, Trion and Vienna.
The City of Ethics program began in 1999 and was developed by a panel of business and government leaders to encourage cities to adopt and adhere to a set of key ethical principles and adopt a local ethics ordinance. The ordinance must contain definitions, prohibited conduct and due process for officials accused of violations in areas such as financial disclosures, conflicts of interests and outside employment. The ordinance must also contain penalties for city officials who violate the ordinance.
GMA requires members with the designation to recertify for the program, ensuring that ordinances maintain the standards of the program and officials are regularly reminded of their ethical obligations as individuals and as a governing body. Each city/organization is required to apply for recertification every four years.
A panel of attorneys reviewed the ordinances to determine if they comply with the criteria set by GMA. The new members received a plaque and are now authorized by GMA to use a “Certified City and Organization of Ethics” logo on stationery, road signs, vehicles and for other uses.
Based in Atlanta, GMA is a voluntary, non-profit organization that provides legislative advocacy, educational, employee benefit and consulting services to its 538 member cities.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – With August fast approaching, the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners (BOC) has officially approved the advertisement of their Millage Rate for the year.
Accepting the Rollback Rate at 6.898 mills, a 0.085 mill drop from the current 6. 983, the Commissioners will still realize a decrease of $119,582 between the two rates, according to Financial Officer Sandi Holden.
The Rollback Rate was not the first motion, however. Post Commissioner Dallas Miller first made a motion to maintain the current millage rate despite the state forcing them to call it an increase saying, “For the last five years… we have held that same millage rate constant. I like that and I believe that is some good history because we have fought the battle through the depression and recession and things… We have done what I consider the best job we knew how to do managing what money we get from our citizens.”
Miller went on to say there was only one reason to not keep the current rate. The same debate they have gone through every year at the time to set millage rate. The state forces the county to call it a tax increase even though they do not increase the rate.
Miller also noted that the Board of Commissioners and the Tax Assessors are separated on taxes. Miller made certain to note that even if the Commissioners accept the Rollback Rate, it doesn’t mean that no citizen will see a tax increase from their assessments.
Commission Chairman Charlie Paris countered with a similarly repeated thought over the past years when he said that if he did vote to accept what would be called a tax increase, he wanted it to be worth more than what this rollback represents.
As the first motion failed due to the lack of a second, Paris made a motion to accept the Rollback Rate. It was seconded and approved 2-1 with Miller being the dissenting vote.
While discussion did move to the possibility of lowering the Bond Millage with the improving economic health in the county, the official motion came to maintain the rate as it currently sits.
With over two months since Gilmer County first announced they would keep the pool closed this year, a lot has been said, debated, changed, and changed again.
Much of the angst in the situation can be narrowed down to three topics though; time, finances, and responsibility. These three subjects have been the foundation for numerous meetings and countless hours of discussion. And while the topic hasn’t quite reached its conclusion, there is a sense of finality as the county moves towards bidding out the engineering process in the next two months.
Yet, the county is doing this with some citizens still in rather vocal opposition. A certain phrase comes to mind about pleasing all the people all the time. Naivete has its own blissful selfishness, but to think the entire county would 100 percent agree on something as major as this could be considered beyond naive and just straight ignorant.
One of the most vocalized oppositions to the county’s plan that you will hear in the monthly meetings isn’t about whether the county should do the pool, but rather if it can be done by the goal of Memorial Day 2020. It is a fair question, but Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris has noted numerous times that it is simply a goal he specifically wanted. Admittedly, this leaves the opening that the county may not finish it by then and doesn’t have a hard deadline. On the other hand, with constant changes, debates, and additions to the plans even into this month, it may not be entirely the county’s fault if the deadline is missed.
So, should people stop giving ideas and addressing what they, as taxpayers, want from the pool that they, as taxpayers, are buying? No, of course not. Ultimately, I think Memorial Day of next year is more of an attempt to let people know the county is avidly working towards quickly answering a very vocal portion of the community pushing for this project.
That said, Post Commissioner Dallas Miller also raised a very good point that shooting for that quick answer and deadline could cause issues as rushing tends to mean mistakes. Like fire tempering steel, this opposition is good for the county as a balancing act of speed and caution may be reached… “may.”
The topic vocalized evenly in and out of these county meetings, finances are always on the minds of citizens, especially those living in the far reaches of the county’s borders or those on dirt or otherwise unpaved roads. “Why is the county spending money on a pool when my road needs paving?” or maybe “… when we have so much debt?”
The answer to this is obvious. There isn’t one. The county can show how much improvement the road department has made in recent years. They can also show the bond refinancing and the work towards paying that off while also addressing capital needs. This is all very good. It is progress towards what many want, a debt-free county. Still, there is no specific answer, no singular reason. There is a county of reasons. There isn’t one, there are several.
A very vocal portion of the county is asking, quite loudly, for this to be done. And why shouldn’t they? It is what they want. They have kids that use that pool. They have families that want to cool off. So, why should the county listen to them and not to those asking for the money elsewhere? According to the Board of Commissioners, they are. Progress is a beautiful thing, but it is not a quick one. It is slow, it is tiring, and it is arduous.
Making a personal budget to take care of one’s bills and debts is not fun. And most who make those budgets wouldn’t make the entire budget and leave literally nothing for entertainment of some kind, some sort of fun. Similarly, With so many voices asking for this, there has not been comparable numbers of those asking not to do it. Granted, there have been a few singular voices loud enough to count for many, but when looking at a few loud voices versus many combined, one simply cannot be loud enough. What do you want? Where does your support lie? And who knows about it?
Financially, the commissioners have found enough money to “make it happen.” The county is about to see in the next few months if that $1.2 million is going to be enough. Then the voices heard will be the deciding factor on what gets built, what gets added, and what gets left on the table for later.
Ultimately, the county has made the motions, found the money, and they definitely are moving forward on this project. This is one of the few issues that has somewhat been decided, but that hasn’t stopped the community and people in it from asking why the county is building a pool. Some have asked why the school system isn’t building the pool for the swimmers. Others are saying it should be solely private entities who are responsible for building a pool. Where does the responsibility lie for this project?
First off, let’s start by saying that the county already had a pool. Citizens have gotten use to seeing and using that pool. The “responsibility” was already there. However, it is fair to question things in a time of change and transition. Some even pointed to the recent Board of Education ESPLOST survey to say that citizens had an opportunity to get a new pool there. One consideration there is that a school facility is specifically for that… school. The high school has a gym, basketball courts, and baseball fields. These are not county used facilities.
True, that doesn’t mean the county has not used or cannot use these facilities. Park and Recreation have partnered with the school system, held tournaments, and done other things. But when it comes down to a conflict of the Parks and Recreation teams and the school team, where does and should the priority go to. It’s not wrong to give priority of school facilities to school usage.
More than that, if citizens are wanting this to be a year-round facility, then year-round control should go to the people with the year-round responsibility. Would county citizens want to work with a private-organization to schedule or use the facility, or would they want government elected officials to control it, government officials that they as citizens can go talk to, complain to, and fire by election. At least, that’s what my education taught me.
As the county continues on in this project, these questions are going to continue. There won’t be an end even when the project is done. There are still going to be those who question things and question the pool. Should we have the pool? Should we do it now? Should we wait? Should we pay for it through the amendments that were approved? Should we really try and finish by Memorial Day? Should this guy be in charge? Should it be at this location or that one?
Ultimately, another phrase comes to mind, “The squeaky wheel gets the oil.” Considering that, the only question that really matters in this debate is, “Why aren’t you squeaking?”
ELLIJAY, Ga. – A wet well at the county’s landfill is in danger of leaking leachate into the nearby stream risking contamination of the surface water and possible fines from Georgia’s EPD (Environmental Protection Department).
A presentation at the county’s work session from Carter & Sloope Engineers’ representative Kurt McCord explained plans to address the issue with major renovations and replacements.
McCord said the county is facing three issues at the site. An emergency repair was made to the force main pipe being used, but the repair is not a lasting answer. The pipe burst earlier last month leaking the leachate into the soil. Leachate, by definition, is water that has percolated through a solid and leached out some of the constituents. In this situation, that water has soaked through trash at the landfill before it gets collected and pumped out to a holding tank for treatment later. McCord explained that the piping on the site uses two pipes, an inner 6-inch pipe, and an outer 10-inch pipe.
The second issue McCord pointed out is that the pump is older and not ideal for the operation where it is being used now. He explained that it is not operating at optimal efficiency, about 35 or 40 percent. The resolution he offered would run optimally at 75 percent efficiency, drastically reducing power consumption as well as systemic failures.
The third issue is the wet well’s location. Being so close to the stream means that there is very little response time before a leak or pump failure would affect the ecosystem through the nearby stream. Gilmer County Public Works Director Jim Smith told the board that the “repairs that were done, they were very expensive, and they are just band-aids.”
The project of replacing parts and moving the well would total about $650,000 with $350,000 for construction and $300,000 for the pump overhaul according to McCord. There are other options however as McCord explained the county could try to replace the force main equally with similar material and location, replace it with PVC Pipe, or reusing the outer 10-inch pipe for chances to save some costs.
The county has already budgeted $240,000 in this year’s budget. Additionally, there is a chance for the county to seek funding from GEFA (Georgia Environmental Finance Authority) through principal forgiveness on a loan that the county would immediately pay off to avoid debt. The cost is also relieved slightly by Carter & Sloope not charging the county for the inspection and information provided at the county meeting. This is the same company the completed the ‘Jail Sewer Project’ last year and another project before that for the county.
Looking at a project over double what the county has budgeted, Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris asked about the possibility of completing the repair project as two projects. Paris suggested they would move the lift station and renew or replace it first, then come back to repair the force main pipe.
However, Gilmer County Attorney David Clark pointed out that the item was not advertised for action in this months meeting. McCord said he hasn’t billed the county for preliminary work and is happy to move along and “get the ball rolling” in “good faith.” Post Commissioner Dallas Miller said he would feel better with the item on a regular meeting due to the amount of money involved. The county ultimately agreed to put the item on August’s Agenda and to move forward now under this “good faith” gesture.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – The story is continuing with Gilmer County’s pool as the debate received another change in the July Board of Commissioners meetings.
Questions arose to revisit the idea of a deeper area in the pool with a diving board for citizens and children use to jump into the pool. This idea was originally not at all a part of the plans for the pool as liability and insurance issues made each member of the board question the addition.
As such, until now, plans have never included the area, instead having an offset area with two slides set up for play. The offset area was, and still is, connected to the “competition pool,” the first pool to be put in during the construction project that is now almost certain to span years to ultimately achieve a full recreation center.
Concern was also raised about continued debates on designs and inclusions for the project. Commission Chairman Charlie Paris noted how late in the year we are without the county having even put out requests for bids. Paris is continuing to try to hold to his plans to meet a Memorial Day 2020 deadline or sometime soon after to open the basic pool for the public. Tempering the plans with cost concerns, Post Commissioner Dallas Miller continued the debate questioning exactly how much extra the addition would cost the county in building a diving well in addition to the slide area and the pool.
Plans have only inflated since the pools’ original design was released early last week. Citizens are continuing to debate, question, change, and increase plans for the pool despite many of them being against beginning construction of the pool this year.
Paris commented on the changes that citizens are requesting as he said in an earlier meeting he didn’t want to wind up spending millions of dollars on a pool “that doesn’t meet our needs.” Miller also said he would rather spend $4 million on the pool that people want even if it adds years to the completion time.
County Attorney David Clark offered an answer to the debate as the county is still early in the design phase. Clark suggested the county request bids for both options including and excluding the diving well.
The county is also holding fast to the $1.2 million budget for the pool for now as they march towards Memorial Day. Debate is starting to grow if the county will stay within the $1.2 million. Constantly being asked over and over again, Paris has simply repeated his statement saying that he wants to get everything he can for the pool for $1.2 million. He has taken several opportunities at several meetings and interviews to list the county’s priority of getting the main pool in with all the extra they can, but coming back in subsequent years for the other additions like a cover, a kids pool, a splash pad, and other items.
With designs set and citizens already speaking out on their plans, the county is already hearing and changing ideas. It seems the presentation of the design proposal has already doubled as the town hall meeting promised to citizens to consider design changes. Despite that, the county’s monthly meetings are also seeing comments and changes right up to the last minute before bids are received.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Having been accepted and approved as a county of ethics, Gilmer’s Board of Commissioners moved forward with appointing members to an ethics board.
County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris spoke at the work session saying that he had hopes that the board appointees would accept the position and never meet. The Board of Ethics would only meet if someone had a complaint against the county on an ethics violation. The county would appoint two board members, then those two would appoint a third.
As the item came to vote in the Regular Meeting, three names were put forth for consideration. Those names included John Marshall, Dr.Glenn Cummings, and Barry Pritchett.
Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson voiced concerns of denominational influence for a clergy member to be on this committee. While she asserted that she had no specific issue with Cummings himself, it was more of a general concern for clergy members.
Paris stated he did not share Ferguson’s concerns on clergy, and also felt that her suggestion of Pritchett would be a great choice as well.
Paris made his motion for John Marshall and Dr. Glenn Cummings to be approved to the Board of Ethics. With individual motions for each, John Marshall was approved unanimously and Dr. Glenn Cummings was approved with a 2-1 vote, Ferguson being the dissenting vote.
Additionally, the county approved unanimously to approve four other board appointments.
John Williamson was reappointed to the Tax Assessors Board.
Carl Hill Jr. was approved to fulfill the remainder of term left by Alan Davenport on the Board of Planning and Zoning.
Joene DePlancke was reappointed to the Building Authority.
Mary Ann Cook was reappointed to the Keep Gilmer Beautiful Board.