EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County had plenty to celebrate this weekend during “Shop with a Hero” as volunteers from all over the county, and some outside the county, joined forces to provide a memorable and excited Saturday morning for local kids.
The First Annual “Shop with a Hero” event punctuated the Christmas season in Gilmer with a special note as not only a sign of continued cooperation between agencies but as a magical answer to families providing a special day to hang out with heroes from public service and to spend some time shopping for Christmas clothes and toys.
In years past, many will recall ‘0Shop with a Cop’ events that operated similarly to this. The major difference is that, now, every agency offers representatives and volunteers to come together and share time with the public apart from their daily capacities.
Gilmer Sheriff Stacy Nicholson said on Saturday that this is what law enforcement is really about. Coming together to help the community and to be with the community. Days like this weekend’s Shop with a Hero are the key points of their service to the public as well as a way to be seen in uniform but outside of the common interactions like traffic stops, fighting fires, medical emergencies, and other duties they perform.
The day proceeded with a morning breakfast with the children and their families as Mr. P’s donated over 200 biscuits to feed everyone. As they ate, the heroes walked around introducing themselves and spoke with many of the families while Santa Claus also visited. With breakfast completed, a full procession paraded through Ellijay and East Ellijay with full lights and sirens as the children rode a bus through town, down Maddox Drive, then onto Highway 515 and on to Walmart where each volunteer was paired with a child to shop with. Some volunteers brought their family members as well to share in the experience.
But the focus of the day was on the children as they spent nearly two hours with their officer, deputy, firefighter, or official they were paired with. Each child received a gift card of $150. They had to spend at least $75 on clothes and $75 on whatever they wanted, be it more clothes, toys, snacks, or whatever else.
As the day progressed, each child and their hero spent their time shopping and talking along with their family before moving to two designated check out lanes only for use with the Shop with a Hero event. And that still wasn’t enough for the event and those involved. That morning, the children were given a “Shop with a Hero” t-shirt to wear throughout the day and keep. As the children finished their day of shopping, most of them just after noon, they turned in their event badges and were given a stocking to take home, already holding some small stocking stuffer toys and candy.
Going even further, certain volunteers including Sheriff Stacy Nicholson himself, manned donation tables for people who just happened to be in Walmart that day. The store pre-made 486 bags of food to be sold for donation. As citizens bought these bags, they were moved from the tables to a donation bin to be donated to the Gilmer High School food pantry. They sold every single bag and still had people donating more on top of that. The excess funds were put into holding accounts to be used for next year’s event.
The event was sponsored by the Ellijay Police Foundation as a 501c3, but the event was the brainchild of Cpt. Ray Grace of the Ellijay Police Department and GBI (Georgie Bureau of Investigation) Agent Renea Green. It sponsored 52 kids to go shopping with local heroes.
The event saw representatives from the Ellijay Police Department, the Gilmer Sheriff’s Office, East Ellijay Police Department, Ellijay Fire, Gilmer Fire & Rescue, Gilmer County Public Safety, the GBI, Georgia State Patrol, and the Department of Natural Resources as they came to spend time with these families.
But more than just these men and women, volunteers from the Gilmer Board of Education and the county’s elementary and middle school administations, along with donations and volunteers from local businesses donating time and money all came together to create the special day.
In just six weeks of preparation, Gilmer County raised $13,000 in locally sourced money that went right back into a local event helping local people.
These sponsors included Southern Customs, Parks Truck Center, United Contracting, Chateau Meichtry Vineyard, Bryant Physical Therapy, Aaron Family Orchards, Ott Farms and Vineyard, CMB Management Company, King Mechanical Services, Engelheim Vineyards, Ellijay Wood Fired Pizza, Artful Ellijay, Walmart, Ellijay Convenient, B.J. Reece Orchards, Nancy Cochran Maddox Attorney at Law, Pilgrim’s, David P. Garner DBA Garner Group Enterprises, United Community Bank, Cartecay Baptist Church, Winslow Real Estate Services, and many other anonymous business and private citizen donations including Sheriff’s Deputies who donated $100 to be allowed to grow beards during December while serving on duty.
With the major success that this event saw, talks are already working towards next year. Though nothing is set for next year yet, the event coordinators have said that many of the donations have already promised the same or more to the event. They did say they have had such an overwhelming response they could already have enough to at least duplicate the event next year.
See more photos from the event at FYN’s Facebook Photo Album.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Owners of North Georgia Diamond in Gilmer County have confirmed a break-in and theft occurred in their showroom last night, December 4, 2019.
According to a statement by North Georgia Diamond, the business is already beginning to recover and are looking to return to business this weekend.
So far, East Ellijay Police, Gilmer’s Sheriff’s Office, and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) have all been reported to be involved in the investigation. FYN has reached out to these agencies for comment and is awaiting a response.
Additionally, North Georgia Diamond has confirmed that with the break-in happening overnight, no injuries came from the incident. However, there was damage to the building and equipment.
With the investigation ongoing, North Georgia Diamond released a statement saying, “Nobody got hurt and we will get through this. Thanks to all of the law enforcement personnel that have been on the seen this morning. East Ellijay PD, Gilmer County Sheriffs Office, GBI, and anyone else I am leaving out. They are the best. Stay tuned for more info as to when we can get back up and running. We have a wonderful community and we will have a Merry Christmas.”
With talks of Roads and Bridges at the forefront of citizens’ minds in Gilmer County, another major issue saw updates this week as the county moves towards replacing Lower Cartecay Road Bridge.
The bridge has been closed since April 17, 2017. Since then it has gone through a lengthy process of budgeting from the county for replacement to awaiting the state processing for replacement.
This process began with budget talks and considerations as the county was nearing the end of 2017. In the December meeting, $250,000 was set into a line for the bridge repair. It was also later increased during their regular meeting to $350,000, pulling the extra $100,000 from added revenue in the capital budget from taxes.
This was simply stop-gap budgeting though, as Commissioners attempted to secure state grants for the project. However, in March of 2018, Cartecay Bridge was accepted into a state replacement program. This placed the bridge on a lengthy list of other bridges set to be almost fully funded by the state to be replaced. Again, new progress came in May of 2018 when the bridge went from the bottom of the list to a higher priority.
This week, Commissioner Paris told citizens that the county has since learned that the original plan for the bridge replacement was not viable due to a rare fish in the area called the Goldline Darter. Protected in state regulations as a “threatened” species of fish, Paris said, “The DOT had a whole different idea of a bridge than we did… They are going to have to build a spanning bridge, they can’t put any columns going down into the river because we have the Goldline Darter.”
The conditions of the program when the bridge was added stated that Gilmer County was responsible for half of the costs of gaining the rights of way they would have to get. They estimated $100,000 and invoiced the county for $50,000. The county has paid this invoice and is following up with questions and inquiries into the area. Paris said the county is going through the process as the state is following procedures from rights of way to inquiries of artifacts and similar issues.
Paris said that it is taking longer as they will be replacing the Lower Cartecay bridge with a spanning bridge, but the process is ongoing. The county is currently being told by the state that construction could begin in, as Paris stated, “their fiscal 2021, which begins in June of 2020.”
He went on to say that a lot of people are upset that the bridge is taking so long, but asked for consideration of the change to spanning bridge and the fact that it will have cost the county a total of $50,000 instead of the state’s current projection of over $2.5 million.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Confirmed by a representative inside the Gilmer County Charter School System, the campuses of Gilmer High School, Mountain View Elementary, and the Larry Walker Education Center, as well as the campus of North Georgia Christian Academy went into a soft lock down today, October 21, 2019.
FYN learned that the lock down was caused by an investigation in the area. Schools were advised to go on lock down for protection as it was said it was not directly involving the schools. This was later confirmed by the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office who stated in a public release, “The investigation that caused schools to be put on “lock out” has been completed by Ellijay Police Department. The investigation was unfounded and everything is to go back to normal operations soon.”
Schools are currently returning to normal operation as the Police Department is wrapping up its operations. There is no available information about the investigation itself at this time, but authorities are contacting schools to resolve the issue. North Georgia Christian Academy said it had contacted parents about the incident but declined to comment publicly about the lock down.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – An arrest has been made in Ellijay this week on five counts of felony charges. Confirmed to have worked for the Fire Department, Michael Paul Chester was taken into custody by the Ellijay Police Department.
Chester is facing charges of False Imprisonment, Criminal Trespass, Harassing Phone Calls, Terroristic Threats and Acts – Felony, and Criminal Damage to Property – 2nd Degree. Bond was set at $4,500 according to the Booking Report. As of late Thursday night, Chester was still in custody.
As the investigation continues with the Ellijay Police Department, some sources say this is not the first time he has been in trouble and has even received warnings for behavior before, however, authorities have not confirmed these reports or released additional information on the investigation. FYN is currently reaching out to authorities for further details.
ELLIJAY, Ga – Meetings have completed and the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners are preparing for the next steps of cuts and adjustments as they move towards a finalized budget in the coming months. With much still to come, the budget meetings now showcase each department and office’s initial proposed budget.
Each holds a meeting specifically for them to highlight requests and changes to their budgets alongside Financial Officer Sandi Holden and, this year, the two current members of the Board of Commissioners.
While the county is planning in the proposed budget for a potential eight percent increase in group insurance, they are still early in planning and may not see that large of an increase.
While much of the Sheriff’s Office budget remains similar to recent years, another increase is being proposed for a change in retirement benefits. This plan sees officers paying into the program over a minimum of 15 years of service, according to Gilmer County Sheriff Stacy Nicholson. The POAB (Peace Officers Annuity and Benefits Fund) is a retirement for certified law enforcement officers. Any officer in Georgia can join. After the officer retires, a monthly payment created by the number of years your were a member multiplied by 24.
Sheriff Nicholson is asking in his budget to invoke an option for the county. As the Sheriff’s Office has been paying the $20 per month for its officers since 2014, Nicholson is requesting to budget for the option to “buy back” up to 5 years of service in the Gilmer Sheriff’s Office for officers who worked for the office before 2014. Nicholson estimates this could affect between 32 and 34 employees. Not all would be a full five years of service. It could cost an extra $175,000 or more. However, Nicholson also said the purchase could be done in increments, so as not to cost the full price at first.
If the office moves forward with this, Nicholson said that a contract with officers would be created so that should an officer leave the Sheriff’s Office to transfer to another law enforcement agency, they would pay back the money spent to buy back these years of service.
Additionally, there was a budget increase in salaries. However, Nicholson said this change comes from Administrative Salaries and includes zero pay raise. Instead, the change is to cover some oversights due to raises over recent years.
There are also capital expenditures requests including 10 vehicles and 11 portable radios including extra programming, this programming includes repeating frequencies and adaptations for multiple agency on scene situations.
Gilmer’s Fire Department is reporting that they will see some increase expected in their revenue lines. With Minor increase to line items such as contract services, vehicle repairs and maintenance, and supplies and materials, the majority of the changes in the capital budget.
Just like last year, a massive $467,809 was requested on the Capital Budget. Only Roads and Bridges compares in capital expenses at $365,000. Paris also repeated his same question from last year’s budget as he asked Fire Chief Daniel Kauffman to prioritize the items requested.
That priority came to
1. 2020 Dodge Ambulance – $236,000
2. Used Fire Engine to replace a 1976 American LaFrance – $75,000
3. Stryker Stretcher with Warranty and Maintenance – $10,844
4. Hurst Hydraulics Extrication Equipment – $32,000
5. 2 Lucas Devices for CPR compression assistance and training – $53,965
6. 2020 Ford F150 – $25,000
7. Target Solutions
8. 2020 Ford F250 – $35,000
Roads & Bridges
The county is looking at raising wages for employees who are still working at $9 per hour wages. Roads and Bridges saw a proposed increase in wages from $773,563 to $898,106. This has actually reached across multiple years and departments as the county is attempting to have increased all employees in the next few years. County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris has said before that the county sees part of its turnover rate due to low pay.
Another big increase came through striping. The Road Dept is catching up through all the current paving from 2019 alongside other projects. With the budget set to go back and stripe in 2020, the Road Department budget jump[ed on this line item. In the 2019 budget, striping was budgeted at $30,000, but in 2020, the current proposal is set at $120,000. Paris noted later in the meeting that striping costs are estimated per mile at $2,500 for double-yellow lines and two edge lines. Paris stated that Eller Road and Howard Simmons Road would cost more as they use center turn lanes and intersections. Their estimate is $5,000 per mile.
On the Capital Budget, the Road Department reached $365,000. However, the majority of this request comes from two items. A Motorgrader for $240,000 and a Dump Truck for $125,000.
Just like the Road Department, proposed budgets are showing increases in salary lines to bring up those making $9 per hour to a higher wage. The increase goes from 2019’s budgeted $268,576 to 2020’s proposed $335,525.
While they don’t have a specific number yet, the department is also reporting an expected increase from Advanced Disposal for the county’s solid waste disposal. They are also still looking at the leachate issue from the landfill’s lift stations. Additional funds could be required if the situation changes.
With the Board of Assessors requesting pay increases across the department for Tax Assessors, the budget requests could meet push back as the Tax Assessors have seen increases in recent years.
Another increase comes with Contract Services. The increase for a second flight for QPublic and Change Finder program to scan for changes to properties. This program can allow the Assessors to see properties that may be blocked off or gated to where assessors may not normally be able to see the whole property. This program also automatically scans properties within the county to find details and changes that would increase property values and, therefore, revenue in the department.
With major elections coming up, the Probate Court is almost tripling their elections budget, increasing from 2019’s budgeted $65,314 to a proposed $192,304 in 2020. As expected during an election year like this, the increases are reaching to areas like advertising. Supplies and materials is over six times its 2019 budget, from $7,400 to $47,000. Additionally, their proposed budget proposes $111,092 for election workers.
Probate Judge Scott Chastain is still looking for details on operating the elections side of the office, addressing issues like poll workers payments and ballot advertising alongside Chief Registrar Tammy Watkins. As the budget moves into later stages details will become more fine tuned in the elections.
One of the major issues that is still unclear as to how it could affect the budget is the new election machines. Training and security for election ballots for the new machines are not yet fully completed as they continue to await the machines.
This includes new equipment such as required printers for the voting machines including their ink and maintenance.
Also requesting salary increases, the Animal Shelter is looking at a proposed $124,500, opposed to 2019’s budgeted $108,040.
Director Daniel Laukka is also looking to begin accruing a type of contingency on the capital budget fund as he looks to needs for repairs and eventual replacement of the shelter’s transport van. Paris noted that he believes the shelter is going to eventually need to look at possibly hiring another animal control officer, but said that 2020 probably wouldn’t be that time.
Code and Regulatory Department
A major increase in group insurance saw this department go from 2019’s budgeted $613 to the 2020 proposal of $12,500. Another increase in advertising came from “blue cards” advertising.
Recreation and Parks Department
While much of the Recreation and Parks Department budget remains the same, a decrease in Civic Center utilities shows the drop in costs as the pool pumps will no longer run. However, certain items are still in place, such as gate revenue and concessions costs still indicate plans to move forward with the pool construction. However, now, even Chairman Paris said he is starting to doubt whether the county will meet the goal of Memorial Day.
The coroner’s office is requesting an increase in budget for an additional deputy coroner.
The Magistrate Court’s budget shows little change with only slight increases to line items like Insurance and Bonds and Group Insurance. Judge Kincaid is requesting a small increase for clerk training and education as well.
Clerk of Court
A decrease in administration salary was noted as the county switches Clerks of Court after the retirement of Glenda Sue Johnson. However, the nearly $16,000 decrease was offset by a $22,000 increase in group insurance.
Last year’s approval for a pre-trial and probation program shows under Superior Courts budget as $27,509. Though not originally budget for the 2019 budget, discussion is underway whether to keep this line item under Superior Court or move it to Probation department. Additionally, Superior Court Judge Brenda Weaver is asking for $3,000 increase in Mental Health Court Program. With increasing numbers of help needed for those with mental issues, Judge Weaver said the money they are receiving is not enough to meet match numbers for state grants.
Planning and Zoning
Planning and Zoning is looking at a few increases in areas such as advertising and insurance, their overall budget is actually decreasing in proposal by just over $2,000.
Minor increases in communications and professional services, with a larger increase to supplies and materials.
Increases to Salary and Wages include and additional run-off election next year that the office is planning for. However, plans could change with coming changes to voting machines. Involving early voting and election night voting, an additional person may be needed to monitor the new machines printed ballots and to direct those who may need guidance on the process of submitting the paper ballots.
Maintenance Department is also looking to increase pay wages in the proposed budget.
The proposed budget for the Chamber highlighted requested features from the BOC including planned audits and reports. The Chamber is also planning to see a slight increase to collections based on years of growth. In the next year, President and CEO of the Chamber, Paige Green indicated they could be looking to improve some cycling capabilities to revisit the idea of becoming an IMBA Ride Center.
In other changes, they are looking for directional signage, maps, other downtown improvements.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Fire Department is continuing with changes to budget recommendations since last October.
While discussions at that time had former Public Safety Director Tony Pritchett prioritizing a pumper truck higher on the list, the new Public Safety Director Keith Kucera, along with Fire Chief Daniel Kaufman, have urged the Commissioners to reconsider this budget priority.
Instead of the truck, Kucera and Kaufman are asking the Board of Commissioners (BOC) to prioritize the upgrading and replacement of older turnout gear for firefighters. The new gear will be funded from the same money that was set for the truck. However, Board of Commissioner Chairman Charlie Paris states that there is expected to be a difference in the financial allocations. Therefore, an amendment will be needed.
With 30 complete sets of gear, three vendors have been looked at. The cheapest vendor offers Lion Brand gear at $61,705.50.
The department is also looking to replace 28 air packs for the firefighters to transition from 2216 PSI to 4500 PSI. Kaufman said this allows longer work times on scene as well as better compatibility with Ellijay’s Fire Department.
The estimates for the 28 air packs with spare masks and cylinders, along with extras like voice amplifiers and larger batteries, totaled $215,740, according to Kaufman who spoke during the BOC April Meeting.
Kaufman went on to say that the Fire Department wants to get to a point where they may rotate this gear among volunteer stations or other places of need. With this, the department would potentially only be looking to buy ten sets every 3 years instead of making large purchases like they are looking at now.
Additionally, the county Fire Department’s ladder truck failed an inspection with an issue in the turntable at the base of the ladder that allows it to rotate. Kucera stated the truck is from 1986 and it has just “failed over time.”
Due to the age of the truck, Kucera said there is a sole source bid situation for repairs. That bid came in at $39,150. Paris questioned what the cost of replacing the truck completely could total. Kucera and Kaufman both said it would be around $500,000.
While the Commissioners agreed on the severity of the need, allowing Paris and Chief Financial Officer Sandi Holden to look deeper into the budget and find the difference between the originally budgeted pumper truck and the need for the gear, air packs, and ladder truck repair.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – “Solidarity” was the word used by one fireman who spoke at Thursday’s, March 14, Commissioners Meeting.
That show of solidarity included 15 members of public safety’s fire and ems divisions as the stood together to tell the BOC that they are happy with the direction and way the Public Safety Department is moving.
To take that one step further, Gilmer County Board of Commissioners Chairman Charlie Paris skipped ahead on his agenda to return the favor by officially announcing Keith Kucera as the full-time Public Safety Director. Kucera has served as interim since February 12, 2019, and now begins his service as the full time Director, leaving the interim title behind.
Kucera also released information to FYN that an official announcement has also been made about the full-time Fire Chief. Kucera was proud to announce Daniel Kauffman will be taking the position as Kucera tells FYN he comes from Ocala, Florida.
Kucera said that Kauffman brings 30 years of fire service experience from Marion County in Florida as a District Chief and a Battalion Chief. He also has a Master’s Degree in Human Resources and a Bachelor’s Degree in Fire Science.
Despite recent issues in the Fire Department, Paris stated to those present that they had no idea how much their public display meant to the Board.
Further, those fire and ems staff present offered standing applause to the announcement of Kucera to the Director position during the meeting.