ELLIJAY, Ga. – As they have continued awaiting budget information from the state who is still recovering from delays due to he Coronavirus spread, the Gilmer Board of Education is moving forward with their tentative budget now as they are receiving those numbers.
According to Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs, state decreases are further hindering the budget with shortfalls on support funds. However, utilizing the CARES Act grant, the school is looking to fill in some of the gaps in technology, supplies, and other needs that are still seeing gaps. The school system reduced all of its budgets by 10% and then looked for staff positions that saw people leaving and decided not to refill those positions.
Despite the cuts, the board is still looking at a budget with expenditures over revenues, a not uncommon sight in the school system’s planning in recent years. According to the advertised budget, that gap will reach an estimated $2,573, 032 between the revenues under the expenditures. Covered by the boards fund balance, the issue has seen progress between the beginning of the year “budgets” vs end of year “actuals” previously. The board just approved their financial summary for July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2020. In that fiscal year, the board budgeted a $3 million gap, but the end of year “actuals” presented said the board actually met their expenditures which were held far lower than budgeted. They ended with a revenue over expenditures of $207,873.
However, looking at last year, the school saw $26,339,574 funded from state sources, which fell short of the expected, budgeted, $28,566,082 funding. This year’s tentative budget is already seeing a decrease to $25,784,011 expected.
The schools total expenditures for FY 2021 is $41,575,332. The total revenue for FY 2021 is $39,002,300.
If nothing changes except costs continuing to increase, Finance Director Trina Penland noted in a 5 year forecast for the board that the school’s fund balance could dip down to $2.3 million. However, Penland pointed out that the notation is a rough estimate assuming nothing changes and the school system does not make attempts to mitigate this like they did in last year’s budget.
Instead, she urged the board that these forecasts are meant to give an idea of the future so that the board does not only focus on the current year at the expense of the future.
The board is expecting to meet in a special called meeting to hear public input on the budget in August before they meet on August 20 to discuss final adoption of the budget.
Alongside the budget, this day will also see final approval of the Board of Education’s Millage Rate.
EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County’s Board of Education presented advertising for their 5 year Tax history and a Tentative Millage Rate to seek final approval in August.
Looking back over recent years and comparing to 2020, the digest saw an overall 4.6 percent increase countywide. According to Director of Finance Trina Penland, the county’s exemptions increase by 3 percent as well. Part of the increase came from a senior’s exemption increase of roughly 10 percent.
According to Penland, Gilmer is the only county that has unlimited senior exemptions in the tax digest. But because that exemption is a local exemption, the school still pays taxes to the state on the funds not collected due to the exemption.
The current millage rate sits at 14.248 mills for the Board of Education. As they look at the calculated rollback rate to prevent them from collecting any more that last year, Penland presented the Rollback Rate to the board at 13.963 mills.
If the board does not accept the Rollback Rate, Penland stated they would be collecting an additional $351,000.
Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs presented her recommendation that the board accept the Rollback Rate, and with a motion and second, the board unanimously approved the rate.
Additionally, Board Member Jim Parmer, stated that he appreciated the work that the finance staff and Dr. Downs put in. He went on to say, “Honestly, If we were going to do furlough days, I would say let’s keep our rate. But ya’ll have said you’re not doing that…”
Through additional discussions, Penland stated that the Rollback should collect just over $17 million. But adding in a look at the history, Penland stated, “If you look back at the history. When you look back in 2009, that was before the first recession, the school collected $24.7 million in property tax revenue. We have cut back. We have cut programs, benefits. We have cut everything to be as close as we can on the budget.”
She also noted several rollbacks including one that rolled back more than the recommended rate.
The Rollback Rate will go through the advertisement process and see final approval in August before sending the rate to the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners for their approval alongside their millage rate and implementation into the new tax year.
GILMER COUNTY, Ga. – Bringing and official end to the Seamless Feeding Program with Memorial Day, Gilmer Schools have officially transferred this week into their Seamless Summer Program.
But this is more than just a name change on what the schools have already done, the Seamless Summer has many differences as the school system transitions into the normal summer cycle. The first and biggest difference will be delivery. Adapting to the needs of the county, the school system has run bus routes normally through the county during school to deliver work packets, food, and a second meal each day during the school year. Now, according to Gilmer Schools, the big purple bus (seen above) will be visiting site the way previous summer programs have held.
“The big purple bus will depart Mountain View Elementary to begin delivering meals… at approximately 11:00 A.M. Monday-Thursday each week this summer,” said the system’s social media post. The locations include:
-Gilmer County Health Department
-Boys and Girls Club
-Mulberry Street Apartments
-Ellijay 1st United Methodist Church
Additionally, One change from Seamless Summer’s normal operation has lifted restrictions for on site consumption, meals do not have to be consumed onsite. This is also allowing Thursdays will be different as Lunch and Breakfast for the next day will be served. This means children will receive double meals to save for Friday. As per their usual program, any child 18 and under may receive meals.
This week saw Memorial Day as a holiday, but through Tuesday and Wednesday, Nutrition Director Linda Waters said the department has delivered 270 breakfasts and lunches to their sites and are now preparing for next week to bring on the Boys and Girls Club listed in their locations. Today, they are looking at double to cover Friday, meaning a delivery of 540 meals for lunch time.
The Nutrition Department goes through their numbers daily as they look to respond and adjust on a weekly basis to the county’s needs. For example, adjusting to incorporate the Boys and Girls Club next week, or adding in athletics summer programs beginning in early June when the add another 20 breakfasts for athletes and then 60 lunches as small groups practice with coaches throughout the day.
Waters said, “We will make it work.” She said she has had a great staff and has proven that as they adjusted to the needs during the COVID-19 outbreak and quarantines and they will adjust and adapt again to the developing needs.
In fact, the only thing holding the program back at this moment, said Waters, is a rising need for volunteers. Some sites are still very undermanned. But more than that, Waters said that right now, restrictions and regulations are setting boundaries for now, but what the program can grow into is all dependent upon the community. Normally, the Seamless Summer Program has daily events, reading with the children, playing, and other activities. Whether the program can return to that by summer’s end depends a little on state guidelines, but more on community volunteers who step up to lead and help with those activities. To reach that goal later, they still need those to answer the call now to receive and handout food at the current locations.
While the Nutrition Department is already preparing and planning for school in the fall and waiting to hear from State and County Boards of Education on how to proceed, they are continuing to juggle in the Seamless Summer Program and working towards making it a success in the eyes of the community.
GILMER COUNTY, Ga. – Gilmer’s new Public Safety Coalition has offered information for citizens to be informed and not worry even if they do show signs of infection that have been noted for the Coronavirus.
Offering a statement yesterday, the Coalition said that any who develop emergency warning signs for COVID-19 infection should get medical attention immediately. Those Emergency warning signs include:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- New confusion or inability to arouse from sleep
- Bluish lips or face
However, as FYN followed up on how to seek medical attention without further spreading, the Coaliton offered a Center for Disease Control (CDC) document explaining more in-depth about actions to be taken if you are or think you have the infection.
That document, pictured to the right, draws specific attention that Gilmer’s Coalition also wanted to point out.
Keith Kucera, Director of Gilmer County Public Safety, said, “One particular thing the document speaks to is calling ahead to your Primary Care Manager (Doctor). During this call, most offices will ask a series of screening questions specific to your sickness. At that point they will make further recommendations for treatment and/or possible testing.”
Much of the community has already heard about or seen others wearing face masks, even if they aren’t infected. The CDC recommends such for those who believe they are infected along with a high focus on isolation and extreme sanitization of self, surfaces, and items.
Check out more information on the CDC’s COVID-19 Page.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer Schools saw a special Friday as they celebrated the I Heart Ga Milk Day at Ellijay Elementary School with guests from the Georgia Department of Agriculture.
The event was hosted in Gilmer County as part of the state’s Georgia Grown “Feed My School” program from the Georgia Department of Agriculture. Gilmer Schools’ Nutrition Director Linda Waters helped make the program possible along with staff and faculty of Ellijay Elementary and also hosted Misty Friedman, Farm to School/Nutrition Coordination for the Georgia Department of Agriculture.
Friedman commented on the event saying, “My job is to bring more Georgia foods to our Georgia students. And events like this just puts us on the front lines of all the great work that’s being done to support our Georgia Farmers and to really teach our kids where their food comes from.”
The celebration lasted through breakfast, serving hot chocolate milk with marshmallows early that morning and saw the staff wearing their I Heart Ga Milk t-shirts while Georgie the Georgia Grown mascot and the Chick-fil-A Cow mascot hung out with the kids. Staff handed out pencils and educational materials about “the benefits of milk.”
Friedman went on to say, “I love coming out and visiting with the schools and seeing the kids enjoy, literally, the fruits of the labor of our Georgia Farmers.”
See more photos at FYN’s Facebook Page.
Public Release by Becky Denney and Sonny Proctor
JASPER, Ga. – On Thursday December 5th the Economic Development Director Hiring Committee had a called meeting to see a presentation from one of the candidates who is being considered for this exciting new position. The purpose of this position will be to add industrial recruitment and development to our community, and to support existing business in their growth needs. Georgia leads our nation in economic development, and 70-80% of economic development in our state is in growing existing businesses. The meeting, held at the Atlantic Coast Conservancy, included special guests Board of Commissioners Chairman Rob Jones and Jasper Mayor Elect Steve Lawrence. The committee, which is made up of three county and three city members, has been working with The Chason Group of Georgia to find a new executive level economic development director. Once the selection is made, they will begin an economic development strategic plan, also facilitated by The Chason Group. The group hopes to have a decision and an announcement made soon. This position will be a true partnership between the county, the Pickens County Development Authority, the City of Jasper and the Chamber of Commerce and will bring experience and expertise to this critical role. As a demonstration of this partnership, Jasper City Manager Brandon Douglas was recently elected to the Development Authority. The cost of the program will be a combination of city and county funds, resolved by an intergovernmental agreement, as well as private sector funds, including in kind contributions from the chamber of commerce. Pictured (L-R): Amicalola Electric CEO Todd Payne, consultant Mark Lytle of The Chason Group, Jasper City Councilman and Committee Co-Chair Sonny Proctor, County Commissioner and committee Co-Chair Becky Denney, Board of Commissioners Chairman Rob Jones, Chairman of the Development Authority Don Boggus, Chamber of Commerce President and C.E.O. Amberle Godfrey, Jasper City Councilman Kirk Raffield, Mayor Elect Steve Lawrence and Jasper City Manager Brandon Douglas.
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. – Citizens are questioning the Gilmer County Board of Education this week after reports have surfaced of the involvement of and connections between the school systems Superintendent, Dr. Shanna Downs, and her husband’s, Jeff Downs, career in a company that the school is now engaging to install a security system in the schools.
While allegations pointed that Shanna Downs financially benefited from this contract between the school and the company known as Centegix, where sources say Jeff Downs serves and Senior Vice President of Sales.
FYN looked deeper into the contract and Request for Proposals (RFP) process that was headed up by Gilmer Schools Director of Technology John Call. According to hid RFP listed, the criteria of the RFP included:
1. Bidder’s total proposed price
2. Product quality/appropriateness/compatibility/performance
3. Bidder’s qualifications/experience
4. Bidder’s ability to provide support/service
5. Bidder’s warranty/maintenance
6. Proposed product meeting the district’s present needs as well as future needs through
enhancements and upgrades.
Call headed the reviews and RFP process, according to Downs, who said, “When I realized that my husband would likely accept a position with Centegix in November, I notified the board and I placed our technology director, John Call, in charge of the competitive bidding process for the security system. I asked that I be left completely out of the process.”
Downs further stated that Call and Stuart Sheriff, Assistant Superintendent, contacted Harbin, Hartley and Hawkins Attorneys at Law on November 12 for legal advice. As they saw no problem after Downs recusal, Downs says she informed the Board of her husband’s potential future employment with Centegix. She says, “Mr. Call assembled a committee of building level administrators to review and score the responses to the Request for Proposals (RFPs). Details of that process can be found in our board minutes from December 13, 2018. Until that process was complete, I stayed unaware of the selection of the product.”
Downs made one further note on her husband’s involvement saying, “My husband began work with Centegix on December 3rd and will not make any commission off of the purchase.”
ELLIJAY, Ga. – A surprise even to him, he says, the Board of Commissioners officially announced Keith Kucera as the Public Safety Director of Gilmer County.
FYN caught up with Kucera to ask him how he felt about moving from his months as Interim into the full-term position.
He called it an honor to serve the citizens of the county in this position and looks forward to the coming months as he builds relations between the county and state and other local agencies. Kucera moves into the full term position alongside Daniel Kauffman as the Fire Chief of Gilmer.
Kucera retired from military after 25 years of active duty, where he served in the U.S. Coast Guard, and moved to Ellijay where he says he never expected or looked to become a Director, yet when the opening came, he put forth his name and served in the interim. He lives here with his wife, Pamela.
It is a move that many firefighters seem happy with. As reported in “BOC names full time Public Safety Director and Fire Chief,” many members of emergency services showed up at the commissioners meeting to show support for the direction the BOC was taking in their departments, though they didn’t know Kucera was being named as Director, FYN has come to understand that it had been internally announced before the meeting that Daniel Kauffman was taking the position of Fire Chief.
Kucera said the show of support “means the world” to him. Having the support of the men and women of the departments, and his family’s support as well, is “second to none. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime, and I look forward to many years to come.”
According to Kucera, their support and the support of the Fire Chief is what will allow him to open up more to the duties of a Public Safety Director and allow the fire department to focus on what they do with a chief who can focus on that as well.
This is something Gilmer Commission Chairman Charlie Paris has said before as he wanted to separate, at least, the fire chief position so as to not have one person pulled into too many directions and possibly detracting from the service offered to the department.
Kucera said, “The Public Safety Division is going to be able to branch out to the other agencies within the county and build more of a coalition-type group within the county to serve the public better as a whole.” Kucera went on to note that some other benefits could include a better chance at obtaining and retaining grants from the federal and state governments as well as combining into a consolidated public safety group in times of need.
Besides the day to day work, Kucera said one of his major projects to tackle as the Public Safety Director is building community relations. He stated, “I continue to pledge my service to the community, to the citizens, and I look forward to meeting every single person I possibly can.”
Throughout the entire time speaking with him, Kucera never mentioned how he wanted to lead the department or the type of leadership he wanted to show. Instead, numerous times, he repeated that he was anxious to continue “serving with” the firefighters and emergency response workers of the county.
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.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Walk into a restaurant and check the health scores, chances are, you won’t see a lot of 100’s. Sure, you will, hopefully, see a lot of high 90’s scores, but not that elusive 100.
This week, however, the Gilmer County School’s Nutrition Services not only managed to score a 100 in the latest health inspection, but they found that score in every school within the system.
As the premier provider of educational resources, materials, and programs to help attract and develop a strong industry workforce, ServSafe has been the restaurant industry’s leading association since 1919 and, together with the National Restaurant Association Education Foundation, our goal is to lead America’s restaurant industry into a new era of prosperity, prominence, & participation, enhancing the quality of life for all we serve.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County is still amid disorder this week as Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris confirmed with FYN that the current Gilmer County Interim Fire Chief, Brian Scudder, has left the office.
“We just weren’t on the same page about some things,” said Paris on Thursday as he reiterated the changes he is hoping to see come in the Fire Department of Gilmer County. Scudder is still in the Fire Department but is no longer serving as Interim Chief.
These changes began when former Public Safety Director Tony Pritchett resigned from office in early February. Though originally resigning effective on March 15, Paris said he later had decided that Pritchett’s presence was not coordinating with his plans for the future and made an agreement with Pritchett to pay his original agreement out to March 15, but to remove Pritchett from the county immediately.
Chairman Paris originally wanted to separate the position into three positions including Fire Chief, EMA Director, and Public Safety Director. In Paris’ eyes, the Public Safety Director would have been the Department’s head with managerial responsibilities with EMA Director and Fire Chief serving under him in their areas of expertise with the requirements, technicalities, and skills required in those positions.
However, he settled for two positions instead of three and named Brian Scudder to Interim Fire Chief and Keith Kucera to the Interim Public Safety/EMA Director.
However, in the progressing weeks, conflict and turmoil have arisen in the Fire Department resulting in two internal investigations and several changes in the systems make-up.
Paris states he has had enough with the way things have been in the Fire Department. “There is s a significant amount of turmoil in the Fire Department right now,” says Paris.
Soon after naming the two to the position, an incident at Fire Station 1 occurred with one firefighter finding his bed saturated in water. An investigation ensued immediately into the occurrence. Paris openly admitted that while they did not discover exactly who was behind the act, he felt he did send a message to the department about the changes he wants.
However, the Fire Department’s other investigation went much further as Paris states that on a Friday morning he offered Scudder the position of Fire Chief, Kucera was out of town, so Paris waited until Monday morning to offer the Public Safety Director Position. Paris states that at 1:30 p.m. on Monday, he held a meeting with Tony Pritchett to share his appointments with him.
Then, Tuesday morning, Paris received a complaint about Kucera trying to get people to protest the appointment of Scudder to Fire Chief. After meeting with Kucera and interrogating him on the allegations, Paris called in several firefighters that were set to protest the Fire Chief position. Questioning each individually about how and when they found out about Brian Scudder’s appointment which had not been announced yet. The overwhelming response indicated that all but one had learned about the appointments early Monday morning from Tony Pritchett, having found out about the appointments prior to his meeting with Charlie.
Paris tells FYN that the investigation cleared Kucera of any allegations of protest or antagonism in Department. He continued saying that most of the response he has had is positive about Kucera’s appointment.
Moving past the investigations, Paris says he is confident moving forward with his appointment of Keith Kucera to interim Public Safety Director and his new appointment he is announcing of Mike Dempsey to Interim Fire Chief.
At this point, there is still no indication as to who or what is causing instigations in the Fire and EMS, but Paris seemed to indicate that he doesn’t care. He says he is focused on moving forward and buckling down on the departments’ disciplinary actions.
Naming Mike Dempsey as the new interim Fire Chief, Paris says that he has gone about the appointment slightly different as this time, he has taken recommendations from Kucera and references to consider. Part of the consideration Paris had for Dempsey in the interim position is that Dempsey has no consideration or desire for the permanent position.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – According to news reports, Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris has named two Directors as interim in the Public Safety Departments.
Readers will recall when FYN broke the story that Public Safety Director Tony Pritchett had resigned. Current information indicates, however, that instead of directly replacing Pritchett, Paris intends to separate the position of Fire Chief from the Public Safety position.
According to these reports, Brian Scudder will serve as the interim fire chief, and Keith Kucera as the interim public safety director/EMA director.
Stay with FYN as more information becomes available and we follow up on this development.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer is once again in issue with rezonings when considering items this month.
Considerations of wineries, tasting rooms, wedding venues, and lot sizes came to discussion in February’s Commissioner meeting.
The major contentions came when considering a conditional use permit for a “large” wedding venue. The item for A-1 Agricultural with Conditional use for 582 Cinnamon Lane created debate between Public Works Director Jim Smith, Planning and Zoning Director Karen Smith, and County Attorney David Clark as the board sought guidance and information about the issue.
The venue actually came as two items, the board unanimously approve the winery and tasting room in one vote, then discussed the conditional use for the large wedding venue at the same location.
Jim Smith warned the board to consider the county roads when allowing the possibility of more vehicles and traffic of a large venue.
Ultimately, it was Attorney David Clark who noted that the current item was a wedding and events venue as opposed to Large Recreational Venues which expected larger crowds.
Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris noted concerns and calls he had gotten on the issue. He later said in the meeting that he wouldn’t support the larger numbers of over 200 people at the event. However, he indicated he didn’t want to restrict them to less than 100 either.
Smith later raised concerns about the public accessing the venue through Cinnamon Lane, preferring they instead use Old Flat Branch road.
Final approval for the wedding and events venue came with conditions including no more than 200 people, ingress and egress be through Old Flat Branch road, and that expenditures related to it, such a deceleration lanes, be the responsibility of the facility owners at the location.
All three board members voted to approve the conditional use permit.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County Public Safety Director Tony Pritchett has tendered a resignation from his position as Public Safety Director.
Though his letter of resignation is tendered, it is notice of his resignation at March 15, 2019, meaning he will remain in the position until then to prepare and possibly train his replacement. He has served 16 years in Gilmer County, with 12 of those as Chief and Director. He was Fire Chief until 2015 when the position of Public Safety Director was created and he has served in since.
According to his resignation letter, Pritchett cited that he is pursuing other opportunities. Board of Commissioners Chairman Charlie Paris said that the County will begin advertising for the position in the next 10 days and will look both internally and externally for candidates.
Paris confirmed that he tendered his letter today, February 6, 2019. He also told FYN that he has appreciated Pritchett’s service over the years and has wished him well in his pursuits.