Dallas Miller bids farewell to Post Commissioner position

Community
Miller

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Before his final meeting with the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners, former Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller spoke with FYN to elaborate on his letter of resignation and the timing of his departure from the county.

Miller reiterated his feelings he expressed in his letter saying, “Given my circumstances right now, I am not able or willing to devote the kind of time this position needs and what the people elected me to do.”

Miller did add that his plan was to finish the term originally. But with his house getting an offer and plans to move closer to family, he will be moving sooner than expected.

Miller did elaborate that he has been living with kidney failure since 2008. Being pretty advanced in nature, Miller said Doctors have advised him that the issue cannot continue without more attention. Citing factors like stress and high blood pressure, he said that the Commissioner position is not helping the condition.

However, there is much more to this decision than just health issues. Miller went on to add that his son, who has been overseas for 15 years, is finally home. As his son owns a home in Georgia, the former commissioner said he wanted to be closer to his family to allow time to catch up on his private life.

He added, “I literally put my private life on hold for six years while I’ve been a commissioner, and I need to get some of that back.”

Adding that he wanted people to know it wasn’t a sudden decision, the desire was to finish out the term and proceed with plans then. However, due to the acceleration of plans, he will be moving by the end of September.

Looking back on his time as a Commissioner, Miller said, “It’s been a great community to live in. It’s been great citizens to work with and work for. We will miss all of that. We will miss all the friends, all of the people, all of the good things we’ve had here…”

Gilmer County Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller

Gilmer County Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller

Leaving the position behind, he said he hopes Gilmer continues being financially conservative and protects the rural nature. Miller also said he hopes the commissioners continue to be open to disagreements saying, “That is a big, big positive… That ability to balance things and look at alternatives and look at different approaches. It’s valuable. It’s hugely valuable, and I hope that continues.”

There is always going to be a process, according to Miller. This position grows more complex every year and the “business” environment is continuing to become a larger and larger part of it. “Politics always enters in,” Miller said as he spoke about the neverending work that Commissioners undertake. You always strive to improve and adapt, continuing to reach for the balance for the citizens.

Especially at this time of year, when the board enters budget meetings. He said, “They are so important because they set the whole tone of what you can do and what you can’t do, or what you won’t do. You set the priorities for the county that way. It’s really one of the most important things that, particularly, post commissioners do because we don’t deal with day-to-day stuff so much.”

While Miller said he wouldn’t miss the budget meeting process, the way he speaks on the process and the importance he continued to stress on the issue seems as if the sentiment belies a regretfulness that he steps down before the meetings.

He pointed out some concerns about issues the county faces in the future, but then said, 

Having been a part of so many decisions for the county over the years, Miller pointed to involvement in general as one of the biggest parts of the job that he takes with him. He said, “It’s a pleasure and it’s a gratification to know that you have been involved. Just being involved, whether you win, whether you lose, whether you agree or disagree, being involved in your community…It is so gratifying to be able to say I have spent some time working for other people, working for the citizens that elected me and those that didn’t vote for me to try and make life better. That is the reward of being in public service.”

Miller’s resignation letter speaks to citizens

News

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

The complete letter is as follows:

Dallas Miller resigns from BOC

News
Miller

ELLIJAY, Ga. – According to a release from the office of the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners, Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller is resigning from his position with the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners.

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

Miller not only resigns from the BOC, but also his position as an appointed member on the Building Authority Board.

Stay with FYN as we reach out to Miller to comment on his resignation and to see how the county will respond and move forward with this vacancy.

Changes coming to Animal Control

News

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.

County looks to overcome obstacles for pool

News

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.

County certification in ethics recognized

News

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.

BOC Advertises 2019 Millage

News

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.

Playing in the county’s pool?

Opinion

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?”

County addresses leachate issue with “good faith”

News

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.”

Kurt McCord, of Carter & Sloope Engineers, presents options for repair and replace of the wet well.

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.

Pool Debate jumps into the deep end

News

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.

Ethics questioned in county ethics board appointment

News
cleaning

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.

Audit and economic state of the county

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Chris Hollifield, of Rushton and Company, reported 3 issues on Gilmer County’s 2018 Audit Report.

The report, presented on July 2, 2019, offered the companies unmodified opinion for the county after completing the recent months’ work on collecting and codifying the financial information and status of the entity. Hollifield told the county that the work went smoothly and completed on time for reporting on the 2018 Fiscal Year. Hollifield said they were able to provide the unmodified or “clean” opinion.

The reported net position of the county presented a total net position of $46,016,554 for Gilmer with the financials ending the year with $2,098,695 in Revenue over Expenditures.

The audit also pointed out the activity, or changes, in the finances over 2017. While the overall Revenue increased by $1,717,821, or 8.9 percent, the activity highlighted a $728,914 increase in Property Tax revenue, equal to about a 12 percent increase. Gilmer County Post Commissioner Dallas Miller noted two other increases including Sales Tax by 8.5  percent, and Hotel/Motel Tax 13 percent as he praised the economic growth the County has seen.

Still he cautioned the county on the expenditure side when he pointed out the major expenses saying, “If I take Public Safety and Judicial, we are spending 55 percent of our budget on those two areas. I just don’t see, and I’ve said this before, but I don’t see how we can sustain the growth and the percentage of those areas over time. It’s just not a sustainable number if you put more than half of our expenses in those areas.” Expenditures have increased $912,157, an 8.9 percent increase.

The three issues reported in the Audit included two significant deficiencies and one noncompliance. The first deficiency involved the Auditor’s opinion that the county should increase the size of its financial staff. The second deficiency involved the Auditor saying that Planning and Zoning should be making more frequent deposits and not hold money for any length of time. According to Hollifield, these comments were also on last year’s audit, but each focused on the Auditor’s suggestions to avoid chances for issues to arise and not on any found discrepancies or mishandling.

The third issue, a noncompliance, was also a timing issue as the auditors found near year’s end when the SPLOST deposit was received. The electronic deposit is put into the general fund and is immediately moved to SPLOST fund by finance staff. Addressing the issue, the suggestion was to alter the electronic deposits to enter the SPLOST fund directly without staff having to move the funds.

 

Designer Selected for Pool Construction

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – An official motion, and a somewhat unusual unanimous decision, has led Gilmer County into a contract with Premier Pools & Spas.

The company, located in Ellijay, Georgia, already presented a concept to the commissioners during their June meeting, but will now alter, detail, and finalize a design for the board to use as they move forward with a town hall meeting for citizens to look at the design and provide input, then return to design before giving the plans over to an engineer for building plans.

Premier Pools & Spas preliminary design was meant to show the companies capabilities and expertise. Approved at $3,500, the company will now spend the next few weeks designing both pools expected in the new recreation center. However, the design would end with planning the enclosure for the main pool. The County will still look for another designer for the remainder of the recreation center as they have previously stated they want the entire facility designed before construction begins.

The main pool will likely be four feet deep to accommodate swimming laps as well as water aerobics classes. Included in the building enclosing the pool would be concession stands and bathrooms. These will also be designed to prevent moisture transfer to the rec center to help protect other possibilities like basketball courts.

One change the commissioners have already asked for from the initial concept is to incorporate eight swim lanes at 8-feet-wide each for competitions. Additionally, for practices, Swim Coach Larry Lykins said this width could also allow for two swimmers in the lanes.

Gilmer County Commission Chairman also said he wanted to accommodate those wanting to swim laps at the same time. Lykins said that eight lanes could also allow extra space to have half the pool set for laps and the other half for classes, therapy, or aerobics at the same time.

When finished, the pool design will provide the county with a completed design to guide with layout and construction documents and engineering plans, as well as estimations of building costs. Post Commissioner Dallas Miller confirmed that these would be good enough for bid specs, but they will not be the actual Architectural Plans.

Gilmer County sees pool proposal

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County finally has an actual image of what their future pool might look like when built.

The proposal was approved last month for Premier Pools & Spas (PPAS) to be the designer. Now, nearly a month later, the team has returned with a video presentation of a walk-through of both pools and a priority list set for what citizens should expect in the coming months. The design showcased the basic layout, but still a few issues were mere placeholders as Scott Walk, PPAS Representative, said there will be both an adult and a kid slide, but the computer program only shows the adult slide.

Walk also said that the building representing the Recreation center is just a placeholder in the video and does not represent an actual design. One addition since last months meeting is the design added a “splash pad” near the kids pool. This pad is a fountain like zone with no depth for kids to play in who may not be ready for the actual pools.

Additionally, if you watch the video, the showcase will be of the uncovered pool. However, if you look at the 5:30 mark of the video, you can see what the covering for the pool is designed to look like in the background off to the far end of the “Recreation Center.” Complete with “garage-style” doors to open when needed and allowing a makeshift “breeze-way,” the cover is part of the priority lists that the commissioners have mentioned in meetings before.

County survey results released

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – With 2,091 people responding, the recent Gilmer County survey, put out by the Board of Commissioners for the comprehensive plan, is seeing the tallied results available for the public.

Though the results have already been mentioned in commissioner meetings in June and July, the official results were released by Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson, who is spearheading the revamped work on the plan after the board decided in late 2018 and early 2019 to change the way they look at, utilize, and prepare the overall Comprehensive Plan.

The survey presented citizens, part-time residents, and Gilmer workers with questions concerning the county’s future including topics on growth, recreation, and agriculture.

While the majority, 64 percent, of responses came from the adults age 31 – 65, another large chunk, 24 percent, came from ages 65 and older, leaving only 12 percent for age groups under 30.

As the county continues to move on the growth, many of those who responded are hoping to see more commercial retail and dining options within the county while the vast majority, 72.2 percent, want that growth to extend into additional workforce housing.

Recreation was a little less clear cut with every outdoor option scoring over 40 percent support. Additionally, internet access for business and recreation is still seeing 43 percent either without access or with inadequate access.

Most of our community is in agreement on the topic of Agriculture as 83.4 percent want to protect agricultural land as the community grows. A subpoint of one of the questions also saw a far greater number of citizens wanting the agritourism such as wineries and similar farms available across the county in both commercial and agricultural areas as opposed to the much smaller group wanting it restricted to commercial areas.

Be sure to see the full results offered by the county as well.

 

County debates future plans for pool

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Continued response from citizens are still pushing towards having a community pool open in Gilmer County. However, these citizens are now splitting on response to the county not opening the current pool this year.

As the commissioners listened for public comments during a special called meeting on May 20, 2019, to discuss budget amendments to accommodate changes to the county’s project of building a new pool including massively expediting the process. Many citizens showed support for the project to build a new pool even if some still held reservations about closing the current one. At one point, Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris asked for a show of hands on who at the meeting supported the idea of building a new pool. Not only was he met with what appeared to be every hand in the audience, but a few citizens loudly added, “Year Round!” An exclamation that was immediately followed by murmurs of agreement and repetitions of the phrase.

However, moving past the questions of if people wanted the pool, the meetings agenda item focused on how to fund it. Paris returned to his proposal from May’s regular meetings to redistribute capital funds in the amount of $300,000. One large item that would be lost to the redistribution is a new ambulance for the public safety department. Public Safety Director Keith Kucera was reported to have said that he could make it by without the ambulance, according to Paris.

While part of the ambulance funds will actually be redirected into gear such as oxygen tanks and breakout gear for the Fire Department, the bulk amount of $180,000 would be put back for the pool.

Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris

Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris

Paris noted that the county has put also built up contingency funds for building repairs and improvements. With $250,000 from 2018 and $100,000 from 2019’s budget, Paris said the county has improvements it needs to do this year such as carpeting and Tabor House Repairs. He proposed that funding these repairs and adding $120,000 to the pool fund could still leave just over $100,000 in building repair contingency fund for the remainder of the year.

As he made this proposal in the form of a motion, Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller asked Paris to detail what the county would get with the $900,000 total this year, plus the estimated $300,000 in next year’s budget.

Building upon plans delivered in the commissioners’ May meetings, Paris said he hopes the county can get the pool built by Memorial Day of 2019. What Paris wants to accomplish is to have the pool built and covered “right away.” However, he did note that if the county could not afford this, the pool would be designed and built so that the county could return the following year to cover it for an indoor pool.

Miller did point out that the county is not budgeting anything for land costs. While it has been noted in previous meetings that the county has land available in the Clear Creek area near the ball fields, Paris did note earlier in the meeting that there was not an exact location set for the pool yet. The county has heard from citizens and organizations alike that they would like the pool closer to town. Some have even suggested involving the cities as they would have a vested interest in keeping the pool within the city limits. The questions remains as to the availability of land or even if Ellijay or East Ellijay could donate land.

The county has had projects in the past, Miller noted Clear Creek Ball Fields and the Cherry Log Fire Station as he said projects that were over-budget, past schedule, or even less the the quality expected. He went so far as to ask citizens if they want an extra mil on their taxes to support the new pool. Miller said, “I don’t really believe that pool is ready to collapse” addressing the closing of the current pool, but did say it was a good idea to have the pool closed.

Calling Paris’ proposal and construction schedule “a dream,” he further said he is unwilling to change the budget for projects that were discussed and promised to the citizens saying, “I don’t know if we’ll be able to get a new one next year. I don’t know what the budget is going to be next year. We haven’t had any discussions on the budget next year. You may not get that ambulance next year. I don’t know.”

Gilmer County Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller

Gilmer County Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller

Miller also took issue with using funds out of the building maintenance contingency fund as he pointed out that the Building Authority requested funds for the courthouse and Tabor House and that the money be restricted to use for improvements and renovations for those two buildings. Miller said, “It’s not to be used for other buildings in the county right now. It is restricted.”

Building on all of this, Miller asked that the county build in an additional 20 percent contingency to every major project it undertakes “so that we don’t get ourselves into the situation that we’ve been in in other construction projects I’ve mentioned before.” He also added later that he did not want to discuss anything about a future budgets at this meeting as he didn’t know what would happen in the future.

Paris replied saying that while he agreed that you can’t predict the future, “You have to have a plan. Planning is, in my mind, the most essential thing that we need to be doing up here.” While he did say he felt the schedule of opening by Memorial Day of 2020 was possible, he admitted it is “very ambitious.” While he wants to plan for that schedule, Paris admitted that if something happens or another priority arises, he may have to push it back t0 2021.

Miller motioned to amend the Chairman’s original motion with changes to move the 2020 operational expenses of the current pool into contingency, to have a completely separate account for the pool project, to only move $150,000 to that account at this time for preparation and engineering of the project, and to not use any of the funds of any other capital project. However, the amendment never received a second, and so failed.

The original motion for amendments passed with a 2-1 vote with Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller being the dissenting vote. Paris noted that the county will begin looking into what size and type of pool they will want. As the county moves forward, the county is looking for input as to what citizens want included in the pool. Citizens already began offering requests and Larry Lykins of the Three Rivers Athletic Club said the donated heaters for the current pool, can and will be both able to be moved to the new pool and be functional if the pool is not indoor to begin with.

 

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