Maintenance and Land Use nearing decisions in BOC

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Final decisions may be coming soon as the county considers densities and more with recent changes in Land Use Ordinances.

Having been on the agenda for several months, this item was revisited during a first reading and gone through several public hearings and adjustments from the Building Association and local builders. This month finally saw the ordinance pass a first reader. The county will revisit it next month for a second reading and final adoption to put an end to the lengthy process.

However, few complaints are being heard on the time taken for this ordinance, instead, confirmations and thanks are forefront as the county did not vote to pass the reader months ago when asked by citizens and builders for more time to study and give input on changes for the ordinance.

Cleaning and maintenance for the Gilmer Courthouse is also still being debated as the Commissioners and Maintenance Director D.J. Spagnola look into options for cleaning the stained bricks on the courthouse. While pressure washing is too rough, causing damage to the stone, painting does not seem good enough to cover over the stains either. The stains come from a moss, not a mold, according to Spagnola.

Looking at proposals for cleaning, Spagnola is looking for lasting options instead of the temporary fixes the county has been using. He spoke of meeting with an architect to look at ways to seal the capstone in order to protect it from the water, moss, and stains that continue to damage the exterior.

The board officially approved Shane Bowman as a member to the Department of Family & Children’s Services Board.

The board also approved Tony Whitaker as a member to the Ellijay-Gilmer County Water & Sewerage Authority.

 

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‘Pool’ing the county’s time and resources

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County is continuing discussions on the community pool with plans forthcoming and progress towards an initial design. FYN sat down with Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller to speak on the subject and his views as one-third of the board.

Jumping straight to the point, Miller said that he feels like most people are looking at the question, “What happens now?” While some still question the closing of the previous pool so close to the summer season, Miller also said he, personally, felt the county lacked any hard facts on closing the pool.

Gilmer County Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller

Miller did note that he felt the pool should have been closed in previous years, he is more concerned now with the speed of action by the county and how quickly it has gone from closing the old pool to expediting a plan for a new one to budget amendments to design plans.

Miller noted a saying he has throughout his life as he said, “Anything you have got to do in a hurry is probably going to be done over.” He said he doesn’t want this to happen. He called it an issue with an early warning to citizens so that they do not have adequate time to respond to address the issue as well as having a vote on the subject at a Public Comments Hearing. Another point of debate as he noted it was advertised correctly as a meeting, but he felt it wasn’t said that a vote would happen in that meeting and the county isn’t used to voting on things during public comment meetings.

When questioned about the properties available at both Clear Creek and River Park, he admitted that he would likely still be looking for another location. Several Commissioners meetings and public comments have well established that many citizens were not thrilled with the Clear Creek property being so far from the city, though he did say that the size of clear creek and correlation to the baseball fields there would be a good point of growth for that site.

The River Park location has its own concerns despite being primely located in town and adjacent to the already under renovation River Park. That location has seen changes over the last year, with playgrounds and an extended walking path, and plans for future changes, like the planned tennis/pickleball courts, and features still being discussed and pursued by the county.

Many of Miller’s concerns on the River Park location revolve around preparation for the project. He said, “We haven’t done, in my opinion, a full good job of due diligence on either Clear Creek’s proposed site or the East Ellijay proposed site. There has not been a rigorous research and rigorous vetting or looking into those properties.”

He furthered concerns about the floodplain, public access, utilities, and railroad crossing when accessing the East Ellijay property, River Park location, from Progress Road.

Miller says he wants time and opportunities to address these issues. For example, there is not an official public road past the railroad tracks. Miller said that while a road is there. The official right-of-way extends,  to his knowledge, to the railroad tracks and no further. Additionally, crossing the railroad and building on that land must respect a 100-foot right of way on the railroad tracks, and an 80-foot right of way on the road.

If there is no maintained road with right of way across the tracks, questions still linger on what would have to be done to bring that crossing to proper code. Miller said it could be as simple as a sign or could require more. He did say that railroad crossings have certain standards, and that crossing would require updating of some sort.

As far as the concerns of the location being in a floodplain, Miller noted that there are different levels of flood plains depending on the land’s slope and elevation. Building inside of floodplains requires its own standards. As part of the land is in different levels, he said he wants soil samples on the site showing the quality of the ground, foundation, leveling, and needs that the land itself would require.

Miller said he wants to bring up these issues simply because he doesn’t know the answers fully. With time and studies, more answers could be gathered before dedicating to this location. He also asserted that the county has not fully committed to either property. With final agreements requiring the full board vote, the county is still looking into the land. Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris had already noted this early when he pointed out that no IGA (Inter-Governmental Agreement) has been signed. As details are being finalized with both entities of the County and East Ellijay, the IGA would be the document sealing the agreement of using the land, and what would be expected.

Being responsible for the budget and going through amendments are a part of processes of government. Miller says the issue arises when you look at the influence that a Commissioner has over the county’s offices. Being responsible for those revenues and expenses of the county as a whole is hard when we start changing these budgets regularly and often. “I contend that that is what contingencies are for, to avoid those kinds of situations where you have to rearrange somebody else’s budget just to handle an emergency.”

Miller said that the county has created contingency funds in the last couple of years to handle these situations and has improved their budget process over those years, pulling out capital projects, trimming requests, forecasting revenues. They also continue to improve the process as steps are underway to improve the 5-year plan, looking at budget meeting dates and time frame this year.

In fact, the first contingencies were set with the understanding that the money was set into contingency and understood that whatever wasn’t used for a specified emergency, would be kept to build a pool in 2021.

While Miller said there were ways the county could adjust and fit the pool budget if situations arise like the Cherry Log Fire Station where the county used Road Department workers to clear land, the county has to do these things publicly and transparently. Situations like this aren’t free labor. They cost the county money and time as they redirect those labor resources. Similarly, adjusting budgets redirects funding promised to one department into a different department. Miller said he wanted to keep the process as public as possible, but also to take time to analyze, study, and prepare for the pool properly.

As such, he felt strongly that the idea of completing the project before Memorial Day 2020 is not feasible. “There is no slack in this thought of open by Memorial Day,” said Miller. Without time contingencies, without similar county pools built in similar time frames, without comparables to guide and show what to expect with it, there is no real way to see the project being done that quickly.

Looking to the future plans for the pool, Miller speaks on the county’s integrity saying he wants to do everything he can to keep the county’s promises. While the pool is a priority in the county, he does not want this to become a “do it at all costs” kind of project.

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New land available for community pool

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – New information has been confirmed by Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris who said that East Ellijay has offered land for the pool to be constructed.

According to a brief statement by Paris during a BOC Special Called Meeting, they can now confirm that the Mayor and Council of East Ellijay have agreed to partner with the county to provide 21 acres of land across the river from River Park, “directly across from the current soccer field.” The location as Paris explained, would be next to the Veteran’s Memorial Bridge, but on the opposite side of the river of the current softball field.

Though not an agenda item, the topic was raised during citizens wishing to speak when the Board, and specifically Paris, was questioned on the budget amendments for the pool and the relation to property taxes.

After a resolution from the BOE last week, the county now has two properties available for the pool. The River Park location and land offered by the Gilmer BOE next to the county’s ball fields at Clear Creek, between five and six miles out Yukon Road.

The project is set to begin quickly, but Paris did promise in a Special Called meeting earlier in May that the BOC would be having planning sessions and looking for citizen input into the design of the pool. The county has already seen one presentation from a local pool company and Paris noted that he and Parks and Recreation Director Kevan White did have a design in mind that they liked. However, the board was quick to note that the actual project, including design and engineering, would have to be bid out and awarded by the board as a whole.

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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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Comprehensive Plan development continues with community survey

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – The process that began last year with former Post 2 Commissioner Travis Crouch, now continues as the Gilmer BOC (Board of Commissioners) is asking for citizens to comment and help direct them on this plan with a survey.

They survey is being disseminated through several outlets and interested parties in the development of this plan. In August of 2018, the Board began seeking to do more with the annually updated document as both Crouch and Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller began questioning what more they could accomplish and utilize the document for.

At that time, Miller had noted in the Regular Session that he was disappointed that there was no resolution needed on the plan. He clarified that as a strategic planning document, it did not address the counties highest priorities, its infrastructure, or anything about revenue or funding for those projects.

The next step and current pursuit is to have as many citizens of the county complete the survey as possible. The survey is short requiring only 10 minutes to complete, and poses questions for opinions on things from housing to growth and recreation for citizens.

Current Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson said, “This helps us to plan for future growth and the direction we want to go in as a community.”

As the board moves forward, there will be meetings and times made available for continued input as they meet with both cities, the Chamber, and other “stakeholders” within the community. 

Completing the survey and offer your opinions on the future of the county.

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Tabor House questions linger in joint meeting

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – With new issues arising, the Gilmer County Building Authority and Board of Commissioners came together this week to discuss those issues and possible paths forward.

The Tabor House is facing needs for repairs for the roof, materials to install a new handicap access ramp, a renewal of the termite treatment, repairs for the electrical panel, and dehumidifiers for the museum artifacts and displays.

The roof alone has estimates of close to $12,000 for repairs. While estimates for the humidifiers were noted in the meeting at $900, discussion also noted that the Historical Society could also look at cheaper alternatives buying and installing the devices themselves. However, adding humidifiers wouldn’t matter as Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris pointed out that any humidifiers would still need a full replacement of the buildings electrical panel.

While insurance would cover most of the repairs for the roof, Maintenance Department Head D.J. Spagnola said he was unsure how much would be needed. He noted that the joists that the metal roof sits on are not two-by-fours, but instead boards made from slices of trees, unprocessed and untreated. His worry is that these may need replacing and the insurance would likely not cover their replacement.

Ultimately, Dallas Miller, both a Post Commissioner and member of the Building Authority, suggested that the Board of Commissioners fund the repairs for structural needs, the roof and electrical panel, but not fund the humidifiers as they are only needed to protect the items inside the building owned by the Historical Society.

Joene DePlancke also asked if the county ultimately wanted to keep the Tabor House as much of the upgrades and replacements could be let go if the county is not going to keep it. However, the discussion was quickly stopped before an answer could be given as Miller said, “Joene, I think that’s a discussion for executive session.”

By meetings end, the agreement came to deal with the roof, either a ramp or stairs outside, and the electrical panel for now. While the board is still looking into the possibility of the other repairs pending a final decision to keep the Tabor House or not.

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BOC approves raises for Post Commissioners

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Six months of discussion and debate come to a close this month as the Gilmer Board of Commissioners came to a 2-1 vote on the raises for Post Commissioners.

The raises were approved to move from their past salaries of 10 percent to the new salaries of 18 percent of the Chairman’s salary, having dropped from the original proposal of 20 percent. This approval is the second reading and, therefore, final approval.

Discussions have continued since last October, however, the last two months haven’t changed the discussion over the two votes with both Gilmer Commission Chairman Charlie Paris and Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson in favor, and Post Commissioner Dallas Miller dissenting. Miller noted both times that he only contested as he felt it wasn’t the “right time” for the new resolution.

These changes are approved at this time. However, they are not in effect. The official change to each Post Commissioner position salary will take effect at the next election of the position. Current Post Commissioners Karleen Ferguson and Dallas Miller will not receive these raises unless they are re-elected to the position.

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Chamber opens Downtown Welcome Center

Community, News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County is celebrating a five-year-long project completion today with the opening of the Downtown Welcome Center in Ellijay, Georgia.

From left to right, Chamber President Paige Green and Commission Chairman Charlie Paris listen as Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston speaks words of congratulations for Gilmer.

From left to right, Chamber President Paige Green and Commission Chairman Charlie Paris listen as Georgia Speaker of the House David Ralston speaks words of congratulations for Gilmer.

A new branch for the Chamber and a “needed presence” downtown according to community leaders like Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris and Gilmer Chamber President Paige Green, this new building will work across town from the Chamber home office and welcome center on Craig Street, just off of Highway 515 between the Waffle House and Advance Auto Parts.

Today’s celebration marks the completion of the preparations and renovations, according to Green, who said the day also serves as the beginning of the Chamber’s return to downtown. A “homecoming” of sorts as the Chamber has been in the Watkins House before, located on the downtown square next to the courthouse.

Green said it wasn’t only the Chamber’s efforts, but a collective involving the Chamber, the Board of Commissioners, and State Legislative involvement from Georgia Speaker of the House of Representatives David Ralston. This alliance’s dedication has pushed the project across the year’s to come to today’s fruition.

While that dedication has stretched five years since conversations first began about the Chamber re-opening the Watkins House as a Welcome Center, Green noted that the Board of Directors’ recent Chairman Trent Sanford and current Chairman John Marshall have made the major push through these last two years to begin and finish the actual renovations on the building.

Back left to right, John Marshall, David Ralston, and Trent Sanford. Front left to right, Dallas Miller, Karla Roper, Charlie Paris, Karleen Ferguson, and Paige Green.

Back left to right, John Marshall, David Ralston, and Trent Sanford. Front left to right, Dallas Miller, Karla Roper, Charlie Paris, Karleen Ferguson, and Paige Green.

As a part of the Chamber’s return to downtown, Green said publicly that the Chamber is planning more downtown events through their new center and extended hours. She stated, “We do intend to be open Wednesday through Saturday. We want to be a leader in hoping that our merchants will join with us in opening until six or seven o’clock to greet our guests on the weekends as well.”

Green went on to say that the Downtown Center will also be opened for meeting space needs, or for those visitors who simply need a place to sit and rest. She wants the Downtown Welcome Center to be open in this sense for both tourists and locals.

The celebration also saw visits from each of the Gilmer County Commissioners, Chairman Charlie Paris and Post Commissioners Dallas Miller and Karleen Ferguson, as well as Speaker Ralston. Paris offered his thanks to Ralston as well saying that without his help, the community might still be waiting for a downtown center.

Paris spoke about the many “dominoes” that needed to fall in order to accomplish what they have. From relocating the Planning and Zoning Office on the other side of the square to needing help from the Department of Transportation and Ralston for logistics. Paris praised the Chamber and community volunteers and merchants who were integral in making the Welcome Center look as amazing as it does now.

Ralston also offered a few words as he congratulated the county on the facility. He spoke about the history of the Watkins House and its journey through generations and his personal memories of hanging out at the courthouse and walking past the Watkins House everyday after school. Ralston went on to note the significance of the statement the Chamber is making to the citizens of Ellijay and the investment they are making in the community.

Brenda Davis, former Director of the Gilmer Chamber of Commerce, poses with her picture from the early 90's in front of the Welcome Center.

Brenda Davis, former Director of the Gilmer Chamber of Commerce, poses with her picture from the early 90’s in front of the Welcome Center.

However, the day held more meaning than most understood, as they sipped wine from local vineyards and snacked of food from local restaurants, one family shared a moment around a special picture as former Chamber Director Brenda Davis, the lady in the picture, returned to her former offices and joined the celebrations of the changes and growth the building has seen since her last days in it.

The photo, taken in the early 90’s according to Davis. She said it feels good to be back in the building as she pointed out the meetings she held in the large front room and secretary’s office in the room with her photo. She recalled how here entire family got recruited to “volunteer” for events and needs when she held the office and the Welcome Center was there. She chuckled as she pointed out she had an intern, at the time, named Sandy Ott. Now working for University of North Georgia and its expansion campus, Davis recalls her working for the Gilmer Chamber stuffing fliers and mailers for the Chamber.

Davis also recalled a special memory at the Watkins House as they prepared for the Olympics in Atlanta. Davis said it was two years prior and Gilmer was hosting visitors from all over the world. They had received one foreign visitor whose interpreter was not available. He sat on the square as C Lloyd Smith began speaking with him and trying to make him happy with his visit despite the lack of a translator. Davis recalls Smith trying so hard to make this visitor feel welcome despite the major hurdle of language.

Memories like this are built into the bricks of the Watkins House. It seems anyone who lived or worked in Ellijay at the time has some memory tied to the building. As the Chamber returns to its former home, employees, citizens, and even those who no longer live in the county, will return with them to revisit old times, old memories, and tie them together with a new gateway in our community and new visitors creating new memories.

Chairman of the Gilmer Chamber’s Board of Directors, John Marshall offered his thanks for the legacy and the generosity that the Watkins’ family showed years ago when they had donated the building for the public good. Marshall stated, “It is altogether fitting and appropriate that the formerly private residence of this pioneer and progressive family has been transformed into a place to welcome the public.”

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