BOE enters July without Budget as they await State information

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instructions, budget

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Despite a back and forth with state and Georgia Board of Education officials, Gilmer is still awaiting details to approve its budget for  2020-2021 school year. A now officially-approved spending resolution is allowing them to move forward despite that obstacle alongside other financial approvals for past budget and purchases.

The resolution came with itemized reports for extra expenses for academic supplies and subscriptions as reported in BOE to seek spending resolution tomorrow. utilizing one-twelfth, equivalent to one month, of the final amended budget from the previous year.

In their monthly purchasing policy report, the schools are continuing to expand the chromebook ratio to students as previous discussions show that the board is preparing for possibilities to return or not return to school in the fall. These discussions could see a final decision in July. The purchasing policy showed $49,140 for Chromebooks across Clear Creek Elementary School, Ellijay Elementary School, and Mountainview Elementary this month.

The board also approved their academic supplements for FY 21 including instructors and coaches for several extracurricular “academic” teams. Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs explained that some changes from last year and inclusion of Winterguard and Band in the Academic Teams as it is not recognized as a sport yet by GHSA.

A GHS Furniture purchase also saw approval as Downs explained that the “not to exceed $125,000” recommendation was to ensure any surprises as outfitting a number of rooms and spaces including mostly science classrooms.

Moving forward with their meetings into the year, the board is changing on date in September now that they have found the approved school calendar will coincide their September meetings with Fall break. Therefore, they approved a change moving the meeting dates from September 21 and 24 to its new date of September 14 and 17.

BOE to seek spending resolution tomorrow

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Gilmer BOE 2019, school closed, Graduation, Board, Education, Spending Resolution

ELLIJAY, Ga. – “Because the State has not yet passed a budget for FY 21 it has been recommended across the state that districts pass a spending resolution for July until we receive final numbers,” said Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs at this week’s work session of the Board of Education.

A Spending Resolution, Downs explained, will allow use of one-twelfth, equivalent to one month, of the final amended budget from the previous year. Allowing for debt service and capital expenditures, Downs said that Gilmer has a number of items that are mostly curriculum related subscriptions. The entire Itemized List is included in the Spending Resolution posted by the BOE on their website. This list is set to be voted on tomorrow. These items must be approved above the one-twelfth allowed spending resolution.

The resolution will move the board into its new fiscal year without a fully approved budget as they await those numbers of the state budget and what that will allow for the county in state money.

Additionally, the board will be voting to approve their Financial Summary. Comparing with April of last year as the board begins looking at what financial impact the outbreak of COVID-19 has had, Board Member Tom Ocobock made note that, financially, it wasn’t as bad as some expected. According to the summary, April of 2019 saw revenues at $35,804,009, and April of 2020 saw revenues at $37,638,750. The difference totals a $1,834,741 increase.

Another financial vote to be held will be for Budget amendments. Downs noted that this could  include shortfalls, carry over, and even additions from state funding. This budget amendment for approval is the “Budget Amendment for Grants” and will also be up for vote at tomorrow’s 5:30 p.m. Regular Meeting for the Gilmer Board of Education alongside the Spending Resolution and Financial Summary.

Capital spending halted amid shutdowns including pool project

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Public Works BOC Capital Spending

ELLIJAY, Ga. – During the Board of Commissioners’ work session today, Chairman Charlie Paris spoke in the citizens wishing to speak section addressing concerns and a specific email from the weekend including Capital spending.

During his time speaking, Paris announced that he will be “putting the brakes” on capital spending in the near future. While he did say he wasn’t pointing to anything specific being cut yet, Paris noted that he wanted to look closely at the budget with the understanding that much of the Capital spending is based on estimates from the SPLOST.

Paris said, “I am really concerned with all of this social distancing, all of these shutdowns that are going on, as to what that might translate into in terms of our SPLOST revenue.”

Pointing to the emptiness that Gilmer County has seen recently and people staying home after urgings from health agencies and government.

While some things are already underway, Paris said he will complete these projects. Some things that could be pushed back include the lift stations project from public works. Paris said he doesn’t know when or how far he might look at pushing these items, but the major note from his explanation came when he said that the county will complete the project of demolishing the old pool and will stop there.

Paris said, “Most of you know that I’ve been in a big hurry to get this thing bid out and get it going. I just can’t, in good conscience, continue that without knowing what’s coming.”

Paris said that the pool project is funded through a separate account, but he is concerned that revenue may drop so much that those funds would be temporarily needed somewhere else.

While these projects are major notes, Paris is looking at all budgets with an eye towards the future, not to cut directly, but, according to Paris, to hold off for a little while until they know more.

One citizen, Joene DePlancke, has been a large voice on the issue in recent months, especially on the financial status of the county and their disbursements. DePlancke said she had sent the commissioners and email over the weekend and was prepared to speak further in the meeting on fiscal responsibility. Instead, she thanked Paris on his stance and willingness to listen and respond to the economy and to the needs of citizens.

The county is still taking care of debt service, and DePlancke warned commissioners that the market will have effects on Gilmer and has already has.

 

Gilmer Schools updates facilities and personnel

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ELLIJAY, GA. – February saw updates on a few topics for the Gilmer School System as they approved updated facilities plans, personnel, and financials.

The third phase of Gilmer High’s renovation plans are entering the final planning stages as the project is set to be bid out in April. According to the Assistant Superintendent, Administrative Services, Stuart Sheriff, the project is set to start at the end of May when school is out. They will be working on flooring and painting the classrooms as well as working on the drop ceilings.

Additionally, the science labs will also be seeing updates and redoing the tables in the chemistry lab. Sheriff said this summer will end the entire process of renovations for Gilmer High.

Clear Creek Elementary School got an update as the bid advertisements will close by the end of February and the School should see a called meeting to approve the GMP (Guaranteed Maximum Price). With this, Gilmer Schools could see the company breaking ground on the project by the end of March or early April.

Approval came for the facilities plan on Thursday as well as the board’s approval for personnel. With three retirements set for May including Band Director Joe Pflueger, the official personnel approval was given naming his replacement, David Wiebers.

Legislative Positions were appointed with nominations and approval for Jim Parmer as the school system’s 2020 Legislative Delegate for the session in June, and Doug Pritchett as his alternate.

The Board also approved their December 2019 Financial Report, 2015 ESPLOST Report, December 2019 Nutrition Report, School Activity Accounts, and February Purchasing Policy Expenditures.

Audit and economic state of the county

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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.

 

Budget continues perks for citizens and employees

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EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – East Ellijay is continuing more than just property tax waivers for the ‘19-’20 fiscal year as they presented and approved their budget in June’s meeting.

Introducing the new budget, East Ellijay Mayor Mack West noted in his discussion that the ‘18-’19 budget did not need to take money from reserves to balance the budget as projected. The final financial reporting shows approximate revenues at $1,590,000 and actual expenditures at $1,380,000, leaving a $210,000 excess of revenue over expenditures.

Continuing into the next fiscal year, the council approved the waiver of solid waste, semi-weekly, residential curb-side pick-up fees city residents. According to a letter the West provided the council, “business and commercial entities use area contractors for waste disposal” and are not a part of the waiver.

Another item the city is continuing comes as a finish to last year’s budget. The council approved an $800 bonus to city employees, coming in July. Mayor West stated during the meeting that due to the diligence of employees and efforts to keep expenditures low, all employees would receive the bonus.

The bonus has been done for years, so many in fact, that council members could not remember exactly when the tradition began. Continuing the bonus still required the council’s approval,however, as is done every year.

West applauded the city’s staff in the letter saying, “All City Employees, including our many contract employees, are well trained, dedicated individuals with performance levels above and beyond expectations. As long as we have a good team and work together, we can provide the required services to our citizens without any property tax assessements.”

The letter also gave a statement on the city’s current financial status at the end of May 2019. With eight General Fund CD’s, the city holds $2,127,879.51. They also hold two SPLOST CD’s totaling $330,548.54.

Read the Mayor’s letter to the council with Page 1, Page 2, and Page 3.

East Ellijay continues Property Tax Waiver

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EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – The city council of East Ellijay voted this week to formally adopt their 2019 tax year millage rate.

Mayor of East Ellijay, Mack West recommended the council reduce their millage from 3.5 to 3 mils. However, he also recommended a continuation of waiving all personal and business property taxes.

According to West’s letter to the council, “Property Taxes have not been collected in East Ellijay since 1976.”

Approval came in two motions as the city first unanimously approved the millage rate reduction. Then, the second motion approved the waiving of the property tax.

 

Commissioners pushing for “Fast Answer” in pay raises

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Second Amendment Sanctuary

What’s the rush in Gilmer County for Post Commissioner pay raises? As the issue is moving forward in the Board of Commissioners revolves around three post commissioners, new information has drastically changed how the Board as a whole is attempting to achieve the goal of a raise.

Looking back into recent years, the Administrative Wages stood at $20,685 in 2017. It was then raised in 2018 to $21,083, not an uncommon increase as post commissioner positions gain “Cost of Living” adjustments, certification supplements, or longevity increases.

The current Post Commissioners’ base salary is $7,125.38. If the Post Commissioner has completed the Carl Vinson Institute of Government classes, they gain $1,200 in supplement pay. There is also Cost of Living Increases that have been added in recent years as well as a “Longevity Payment” if the Post Commissioner is re-elected. Additionally, health insurance is included.

However, this raise will only increase the Base Pay, everything else is added on after. So it will take what is considered a part-time position as Post Commissioner from $7,125.38 to $14,250.76.

It has been well documented that Post 2 Commissioner Travis Crouch is the one who initiated the conversation about a raise for Post Commissioners. He has said that as he looks at the position on his way out, he did not run for re-election, it is something that he feels should be changed. The final agreed amount seemed to fall at doubling the base pay of the position, from 10% of the chairman’s salary to 20%.

When it was originally brought up, the idea was to handle the change by “home rule.” This means that the Board would change its own charter, and it would hold meetings where citizens could speak and comment on their thoughts about the change. Then the board would approve or not approve the change. If approved, the change would take effect at the next election cycle.

The catch came when County Attorney David Clark informed the Board at a later meeting that such a change would have had to be done before qualifying. This was a time when Crouch said he was unsure if he would run again or not.

This is because if the positions pay changes, it will affect qualifying fees for running in the election for that position. A post commissioner candidate pays 3% of the position’s annual salary as a qualifying fee.

However, since this revelation, the county has not decided to move forward with the change to take effect for the next election cycle. They have instead pushed straight for a local legislation answer to the issue by sending it to Atlanta to be approved by the state in their earl 2019 legislative session.

However, if this happens, it will not only push away the opportunity for a public hearing and opinions by locals on the issue as the county’s charter demands, it will also take immediate effect as soon as the Governor signs the bill. It will also take effect for BOTH post commissioner positions instead of just one.

This means the current Board of Commissioners is attempting to rush ahead with an idea that was only raised a little over a month ago through the fastest option possible instead of following their own charter and their own rules to let the home rule change take effect on the next cycle. Why?

The argument was also made that these people aren’t paying attention to what they make annually, instead running for the benefit of the county. Yet, in their public meetings, Attorney David Clark openly said the pay increase would entice more people and more qualified people to the position as he likened it to that of management of a $20 million company.

Additionally, this raise further seems to be only fueled by the idea that it makes the position more attractive and “worth it” as their is no apparent changes in the responsibilities or duties of the Post Commissioner.

Is that a good reason to raise the position’s pay? That is for citizens to decide instead of state legislators.

If this is sent to the state legislation instead of handled at the county level, it also introduces a fault in the law of the county. As it is stated that a candidate should pay 3% of the Post Commissioner annual salary as a qualifying fee. Changing through state legislation puts these people outside of the county’s law as they did not pay the expected 3%.

Yes the Post 1 Commissioner (Dallas Miller) has spent close to two years in the position being paid what he qualified for with the 3%, but the Post 2 Commissioner Elect (Karleen Ferguson) will likely only spend 6 months in office before her salary doubles. The “6 months” comes from estimations from county officials that the Governor may not even sign the bill, if approved, until June or July. Regardless, that is a Post 2 Commissioner spending the vast majority of her term at double the salary that she “qualified” for.

Put aside the people, put aside the question of if the raise should happen or not. The real question is why the Board is so bent on pushing this change through as fast as possible.

Breaking down the options is easy.

Home Rule requires a time frame before qualifying, requires all advertisements and public hearings necessary for changing the county’s charter, and doesn’t take effect until the position is up for election again.

Local Legislation is done in the next three months, is only required to spread the information of the change through state level requirements, and takes effects for all parties immediately.

The moral question at hand is not whether the Post Commissioners deserve a raise, many past Post Commissioners have openly stated that the job is not worth the pay. The question is simple, “WHY THE RUSH?”

Why does the Board not move forward with a suggested change to its charter or ordinances as it should, and as it has with many of its other changes including the River Regulations, Land Ordinance changes, and even its annual budgets.

Why the rush?

Commissioners getting a raise?

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – A “hindrance” is how Post 2 Commissioner Travis Crouch described the toll a Post Commissioner takes during their service.

Having served almost four years and stepping down at the end of December, Crouch has led the board’s discussion on Commissioner salaries as he described in October’s meetings how it has affected both his business and life.

Crouch went further to say the increase would help to attract people who would do a good job for the county, noting that his business has been affected by the time he has spent on Post Commissioner duties and has cost him money in the long run.

However, much has changed since he began the conversations earlier this month in budget sessions. The Commissioners are still considering raising the salaries from 10% to 20% of the Chairman’s, effectively doubling the pay. Yet, the county’s attorney, David Clark, informed them during the special session that changing the salary should have been done before qualifying was held for the position.

Discussion continued on the topic despite the setback as the county is moving toward a legislative session answer to the obstacle. Though the board can change the salary prior to qualifying, now, they will seek to have their District Representative and Speaker of the House David Ralston or State Senator Steve Gooch introduce a change the county’s Post Commissioner salaries in the 2019 general assembly.

Clark also noted the last time the Commissioner’s Salary was changed was in 2001. Though all three Commissioners agreed about changing the salaries, moving forward now will also change the discussion since the budget session as if it is done at the legislative level, it will immediately affect Post 1 Commissioner, Dallas Miller.

Clark called the change in salary overdue, not only for the Post Commissioners, but for the entire board. If the board was to change the post Commissioners to 20% and then raise the Chairman’s salary, it would effectively further raise the Post Commissioners as well. Even though it wasn’t further discussed during their meeting, Paris confirmed that it was mentioned in discussions.

However, Paris also said, “I’ve indicated that I’m fine where I am,” adding that he was focused on the Post Commissioners at this time, the Chairman not being the priority of the discussions.

Clark also agreed with the change to 20% as he said it was probably a truth that “for every five days the chairman works, a post probably works one day of that week” through their time spent fielding phone calls and their other responsibilities.

He likened the county to $20 million company saying that in order to seek out those willing to put in the time and effort into managing that, you need to invest in them.

If completed in this manner, it was estimated that this could become active in May.

The board is continuing the discussion on the topic this month and into the November Meeting of the board. Alongside the new information that it would affect Miller as well, it also pushes back the raise for newcomer Karleen Ferguson to May as well, a change from the expected entrance at the new pay scale.

Breaking down the numbers, this change would affect the base salary calculations. According to Paris, his base salary that affects all of this as Chairman is $71,253.78.

Taking that number, the current Post Commissioner Base Salary, before any supplements or bonuses, would be $7,125.38. However, adding the increase would shift this to $14,250.76 annual salary before supplements or bonuses. On top of these, the Post Commissioners are added for costs of living and other certifications.

Chairman Paris officially told FYN that they are would wait until the 2019 session to put this bill forward. They would not be interested in adding it into the November Special Session.

Even with this set in the early 2019 legislative session, it could be only a half-year change as it would not take effect until the Governor signs it. Paris noted this could mean a June or July change.

Additionally, Paris also noted that this is not the first time the county has used this option, having previously changed the coroner’s salary in the same fashion years ago.

BOC Sets Millage

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners held their Special Called Meeting in which discussion of the county’s Millage Rate and decisions were made.

Considered their calculations of accepting the Rollback Rate at 6.370, the generalized budget for the county would wind up relatively the same, with only a possible $10,000 difference over what they collected this year.

With the continued growth in Gilmer County, Post Commissioner Dallas Miller noted it was one of the bigger rollbacks he has seen. He also noted the Rollback Rate represented over $800,000 dollars in budget difference to the county.

The county has not increased or decreased its Millage Rate in several years, maintaining 6.983 in since 2015.

Miller suggested to the board that he believed they should continue maintaining the current millage rate. Repeating their same argument against the state directive of Rollback Rate and what is called a tax increase, the board as a whole agreed upon the unfairness of calling it a tax increase when they maintain the same rate.

Gilmer County Post Commissioner Travis Crouch commented on the rate saying they could “split the difference” and lower the rate slightly without going all the way to the Rollback. He went on to note that last year, the commissioners had to cut $2.5 million from the county’s initial proposed budget.

Crouch took a moment to ask Commission Chairman Charlie Paris how he felt this year’s budget would compare.

Paris responded by saying, “That we will probably have to cut a bit more. That’s been the trend.”

Agreeing with Paris, Crouch noted he held similar expectations. The board heard similar arguments from department heads including Public Works Director Jim Smith who noted the increasing costs in gravel and stone. Paris agreed, noting increases to diesel, gas, and salaries as well.

The opposing discussion came from Paris as he said he believes the biggest issue he gets calls on in the county is roads. However, looking at the choice between the services and taxes, he said he felt the citizens would be more dissatisfied with what is called a “tax increase.” He admitted that he was mixed emotions on the topic, but confessed he would come down on accepting the rollback.

Ultimately, as discussion began circling to repetition, a motion came from Dallas Miller to maintain the 6.983 millage rate. Crouch seconded the motion leading to a 2-1 vote with Charlie Paris as the dissenting vote.

The bond millage vote also approved maintaining the current rate with a unanimous 3-0 vote.

Moving forward on this decision, the board will begin advertising the rate before the formal public hearings on the millage rate, and then on to the final adoption.

BOE could final adopt FY 19 Budget Thursday

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Education has met its two meeting requirement and could be set to approve final adoption of their $43 million budget.

If adopted, the item will change from the tentative budget to the official FY 19 budget for the BOE. Any wishing to speak on the topic should contact the BOE before Thursday to sign up.

The budget is estimated to see a $2,996,931 shortcoming of Revenues under Expenditures draining the fund balance down to $17,403,069 but June 30, 2019.

Recent years have seen similar budgets set with millions over revenue, they have also seen the budget change drastically throughout the year. The FY 18 budget could see the Revenue under Expenditures reduced to $160,392 by the end of June according to a new amendment presented in the Boards June Work Session.

East Ellijay Council continues millage and SPLOST

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EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – Finances became a main focus in a late June meeting of the East Ellijay City Council as they addressed the city’s tax exemption and the new intergovernmental SPLOST referendum.

While simply continuing what has been in effect for East Ellijay for years, the city still needed an official motion for continuing the 3.5 mills on the rate as well as the longtime waiving of personal property tax of citizens as well as the commercial tax for all entities and individuals owning or operating businesses in the city limits.

Approved by the council, the city continues this practice throughout its coming fiscal year.

The Council also approved the new SPLOST split presented by the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners. Moving East Ellijay’s percentage from 1.93% to 2.0%. Noted in the meeting for the council members. East Ellijay Mack West spoke with the council about the meetings he attended and the slight change in percentage.

The Council summarily motioned and approved the agreement. As reported when the referendum was made ready for city approvals, citizens could be looking to see this vote in this year’s election cycles.

December meetings continue commissioners’ budget conversation

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – While considerations continue for Gilmer County’s 2018 budget, new changes and suggestions have been considered through the commissioners’ December meetings.

Some changes came with an expected increase in property tax revenue that was mirrored with a increase to contingency fund in relation to each other. While the expected increase is based on the current standing for property taxes in 2017, the commissioners decided placing the increase in contingency would allow for some extra room on the exact number fluctuation.

The contingency also further supports the back-up funds for buildings and maintenance that Gilmer County Post Commissioner Dallas Miller has been requesting as Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris tells FYN that contingency could be used for any unexpected expenses for repairs or other items.

Funding has begun being set aside for the Lower Cartecay Road Bridge as well. In the county’s capital budget, $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.

The commissioners are still assuring the public they are actively pursuing a federal grant to repair the bridge. However, as the funding is not guaranteed, Gilmer County Post Commissioner Travis Crouch further urged these funds allocation.

As Miller brought the additional $100,000 in the Capital Budget to light in their regular session, his original recommendation was to use the funds to support capital purchases for the public works department. Crouch responded saying, “Since we have a bridge that’s been out for nine months or so, it should go there until we nail down alternative financing.”

Crouch went on to confirm that as soon as they could confirm the grant funds or other means of financing the $1.2 million project, he was in agreement with Miller’s suggestion.

Pursuing an increase to financing for the public works department, Miller had previously made suggestions as to accomplishing that during their work session saying the county is behind in providing roads and bridges for public works as public safety in whole gets three times the funding as public works.

While initially stating he wanted to increase the percentage of the budget that public works receives, Miller specifically stated he wanted to take a flat number out of the public safety budget and move it into the public works. Miller later mentioned $200,000 as a number.

Paris took a moment to say that he had repeatedly cut all the departments under the public safety budget and could not feasibly see any possibility of further cuts.

Gilmer County Sheriff Stacy Nicholson adamantly opposed the suggestion saying the department didn’t have it. Nicholson told the commissioners that he is already going to lose staff because he cannot give raises to everyone. He further commented saying they would be the lowest paid Sheriff’s office in the Appalachian Judicial Circuit starting Jan. 1.

Nicholson vehemently defended his current budget after major cuts adding that issues continually arise in the county that affect his budget. Referencing a couple of medical issues that have arisen, he noted major expenses that came through errors at other areas.

Nicholson also noted, “I have not increased my deputies staffing, my patrol staffing, probably, in ten years.”

Furthering the discussion, Gilmer County Public Safety Director Tony Pritchet added, “If we cut anything out of ours, it’s going to have to come out of salary and wages. And you can take two to four hundred thousand dollars out of the revenue this next year because we won’t be able to handle the transports we have from the hospital.”

Pritchett also noted that the revenue each year for the emergency services offsets about half of their budget. He noted strain on their salary and wages already and any more cuts would make the work load unsustainable.

As Miller responded, he noted the great work public safety, as a whole, has accomplished, alongside the major needs of the county’s infrastructure. While Paris spoke about the strides the county has made in public works in the last couple years, Miller noted the strides they still need.

Gilmer County Public Works Director Jim Smith also spoke against the suggestion saying although he appreciated the acknowledgement of the needs public works has, he didn’t feel it would accomplish anything to improve public works at the detriment of public safety.

Smith stated, “I don’t feel like that you take from the gains that you have made in other deficient areas to give to another.”

Smith went on to comment on the progress his department has made saying that in his 16 years with the county, public works has been treated better in recent years than it has ever been.

While this specific suggestion never came to approval, Miller alluded at the regular meeting that the $100,000 in the capital budget, which he agreed to be put into the Lower Cartecay Road bridge project, would be returned towards public works investments as funding for the bridge was obtained.

Commenting on the budget, Chairman Paris called it a “bare bones” budget for its departments.

Commissioners grant final approval to 2018 budget

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners met Thursday, Dec. 21, for final approval of their 2018 budget before the new year.

Before the official vote, the commissioners presented a couple of final clerical notes to the budget where they changed language on one item to reflect the money allocation. The board changed a Public Works line item to phrase its project as lift station and/or scale as Public Works Director Jim Smith brought to light a recent issue with one of the solid waste department’s scales. In need of repair or replacement, this could preclude the lift station project from next year’s budget. Additionally, Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris added an item in the capital budget for an upgrade to the county’s digital storage and the 146 gigabyte share of the county server they have. The server does not have sufficient space. Therefore, an upgrade to storage was already included in the allocated money, but Paris stated he had not listed it as an item.

None of these items actually changed any money allocation or lines of the budget.

Citizens speaking at the meeting brought up discussion on items for the budget in the county. Gilmer resident Joene DePlancke asked about the county’s golf course funding and revenue. Paris offered that this year represents the first year that the course is standing alone, meaning revenue will be equal to expenditures. However, it was also noted the “break even” did not include capital expenditures for the facility. Still, the commissioners noted confidence that the facility is continuing its progress towards a revenue generation for the county.

Citizen Dan Meadows commented on the county’s work session and Gilmer County Post Commissioner Dallas Miller’s comments about the budget and funding for Public Works versus Public Safety. Seeking alternative paths to funding, Meadows questioned possibilities to utilize SPLOST or grants for employee funding. Much of the citizens’ input revolved around the conversations of funding raises and employee retention while avoiding inter-department tensions or funding re-allocations as mentioned in the county’s December work session. Additionally, DePlancke suggested utilizing volunteers throughout the county when possible.

Citizen Donald Patrick echoed the same sentiments stating the county needs to keep good people in these departments. He noted the issues with training and paying an employee but losing a potential employee to neighboring counties who may offer $1000 to $2000 more in pay.

Commissioners confirmed to those present that no additional changes had been made to Public Safety after the suggestions, and Paris reaffirmed previous comments about the progress the road department had made through capital funding in recent years. Find out more on the topic and discussion with “December meetings continue commissioners’ budget conversation.”

Final approval came for the 2018 budget with a motion from Gilmer County Post Commissioner Travis Crouch and a second from Miller.

Looking deeper into Gilmer’s 2018 budget

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – With discussions upcoming on the 2018 proposed budget, citizens are taking a closer look at the finances.

FYN has also delved deeper into a more detailed look at the 2018 Proposed Budget.

First, a comparison with the current standing of the 2017 budget will show the most general changes as the 2018 proposed Maintenance and Operations (M&O) budget at $28,729,313.00, up from the current 2017 M&O budget at $27,037,174.00. While this represents an increase of $1,692,139.00, citizens will need to remember that the 2017 is still to go through final amendments at the beginning of next year when the final records and tallies are taken into account.

The 2018 budget is proposed at this point, allowing still for changes before final adoption, which is scheduled next week on Dec. 21.

The largest increases fall where expected in the largest departments. The Sheriff’s Office will increase $127,755 (2018 total: $3,406,009). Roads/Bridges will increase $214,023 (2018 total: $1,522,758). 911 Dispatch will increase $111,017 (2018 total: $918,140). Fire and Rescue sees the largest increase without comparison at $221,517.

However, as citizens look at smaller departments, increase seem be just as large relative to current budgets. Tax Assessors will see a $77,523 increase. While this may seem a smaller number, comparing it to their previous 2017 budget of $780,086 represents almost a 10 percent increase. The Tax Assessors Department was among those asking for raises this year as they have seen a higher than average turnover rate for employees in the past who, similar to other departments, find better financial opportunities elsewhere. While, usually, assessors have different levels based on knowledge, experience and training, Commissioner Chairman Charlie Paris has previously stated the raises this year are being spread in an attempt to bring up the lowest paid employees in the county, not just individual departments.

Additionally, Probate Court will see a $60,880 increase (2018 total: $373,222), and Solid Waste will see a $68,013 increase (2018 total: $787,992).

Another major change comes in from Elections. Considering the coming federal, state and county elections in May, possible run-off in July, November and another possible run-off in December, the $97,030 increase is not unexpected over the 2017 budgeted $33,442. The 2017 year had no county positions up for election.

One department saw a major decrease in budget. The Parks and Recreation Department will see a $57,449 decrease (2018 total: $606,172). Having recently lost an employee, the department decided not to replace the person. While not all of the decrease is attributed to this loss, the majority is accounted through payroll as well as benefits and healthcare.

While these changes are not fully approved yet, the meetings set for Wednesday at 8 a.m., Thursday at 5:30 p.m. and Thursday at 6 p.m. will have time set for citizens to speak about the budget to the Board of Commissioners. See more when you read “Commissioners comment on budget, cuts, and process.”

Commissioners comment on budget, cuts, and process

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Since October, the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners have been through hearings and meetings, discussing and reworking the county’s 2018 budget.

With last week’s publication, a balanced budget is now available for debate. But does that mean the budget is set and beyond change? No. While publishing the budget generally signals the final stages of the process, it does not mean you, as citizens, cannot speak, petition and urge further changes for the county’s budget.

In fact, Gilmer County Post Commissioner Dallas Miller specifically urged citizens to attend one of this week’s coming commissioners meetings. There are several chances to respond as Wednesday hosts their 8 a.m. work session and Thursday hosts both a public comments meeting at 5:30 p.m. and regular session at 6 p.m., . Even then, the final budget approval is not scheduled until next week, Dec. 21.

If no further changes or delays come, the commissioners are set to have their budget before the start of 2018. This means no need for a spending resolution for January. A resolution that the Board has used before, it stands as another sign of the progress Gilmer has made in recent years.

Gilmer County Post Commissioner Travis Crouch noted the M&O Budget (Maintenance and Operations) was and is the challenge in the budgeting process saying, “We’re going to be in a challenged financial situation.” Noting the challenges ahead, Crouch did say he believes the county has majorly improved financially in the last few years.

The county’s budget process stretches limited resources across the county and leads to tough decisions for the commissioners. Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris commented on one of the major changes to this year’s budget stating, “Our objective this year is to get those people on the very lowest levels of pay … and we’re trying to concentrate on those folks this year.” Paris was speaking on numerous departments asking for raises for personnel, attempting to keep our county competitive to others. Pay was mentioned several times in the process for attracting quality candidates for positions and keeping those here from leaving for financial reasons.

When questioned about sustaining the financial needs of these raises, Paris noted the county’s successes and increases in tourism and popularity to increase LOST (Local Option Sales Tax) rather than millage rates on property taxes.

Part of the county’s successes are exemplified in achievements like updating the county’s vehicle fleet, from road works machines to emergency vehicles in recent years. Also, maintaining a contingency fund for operating finances for the county is another concern. Growing the contingency funds could address issues like Miller’s concerns for building maintenance in coming years, but issues like that as well as the lower Cartecay Road bridge have yet to be given specific financial sources to address them.

While not specifically noted in the budget, the county is also utilizing its Tax Anticipaton Note (TAN) later into the year. Paris noted that he expects, with the county’s current progress, he could see Gilmer reaching a point in a few years for bidding a TAN but not using it. Though the first year in that situation may still bid the TAN as a back up, not using it would be the exemplification of the achievement.

Despite the positives achieved, the process of budgeting for Gilmer took in all requests for the county budget and saw a need for massive cuts. Much of the county’s offices and departments requesting raises will not see the full request fulfilled. The Sheriff’s Office and Emergency Management  personnel already saw raises in the last couple of years. While the number of requests drove home the importance, the county’s finances could not support every increase. Paris tells FYN this is what leads to tough decisions for the county such as focusing on the lowest paid employees this year for raises.

A major concern from Post Commissioner Miller was noted as he stated, “What I am concerned most about this budget … We spend three times as much on public safety as we do on public works. Public safety is almost 50 percent of our budget.” Miller noted public safety as inclusive of departments like the jail, the Sheriff’s Office, Fire and Rescue, 911, animal shelter and others.

Miller’s aforementioned building concerns were also noted saying, “We have aging infrastructure in our county that is unsafe, that is falling down, that is deteriorating and needs to be updated. We don’t spend but about two and a half million dollars a year on the public works … It’s out of sync.”

Noting the infrastructure was among his major concerns, Miller stated he would be pushing harder to address this in the future.

Crouch and Miller both echoed notions that they expect further conversation and discussion on the budget. However, with the already advertised special called meeting next week on Dec. 21, the budget approval looks to be a major item at this month’s regular meetings.

The proposed budget is showing 25 departments increasing and five decreasing in total budget. However, Paris notes that most of the changes are less than five percent in either direction.

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