Gilmer’s pool design debate

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – With the bid for demolition awarded and proceeding, the county is starting to look closer at the projects designs and details as they prepare to take the next step towards construction of the pool design in the coming months with bids for construction.

However, a Special Called Meeting this week saw the BOC revisiting the design aspect of the pool. Many things have changed since the plans for the pool were presented to the county. While the county approved a proposal in June 2019 to have Premier Pools & Spas be the pools designed and a design was presented, County Attorney David Clark has recently informed the Commissioner that no actual approval or adoption of the design was given.

So, in preparation of bidding out a design for engineering and construction, the Commissioners set to discussing that design this week. The largest topic debated this week became the depth of the deeper end of the smaller “splash” pool. While plans originally had the deepest section of this at 2.6 feet, according to County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris, aerobics and therapy classes need this to be 4 feet deep.

The county went through discussions on several design changes and ideas, debating pros and cons of each. Some of these included combining the two pools, making part of the lap pool more shallow for this, creating to “L”s on the pool similar to the county’s old pool, and simply altering to splash pool. The discussion also grew to include general changes to the aquatic center idea for the county including covering both pools and heating both pools for year round access.

The project has also seen other changes, Paris confirmed after the meeting that placing the pool in the same location as the old one would obviously not allow for the full recreation center originally planned and designed. However, he did say this hasn’t killed that idea, but rather forced it further down the line to possibly placed elsewhere. Regardless, the county is focusing on the pools design at this time.

pool design Kevan White Parks Recreation Gilmer CountyConsidering all of these changes, the options will be sent to Premier to redo the pool design, through the numerous discussions, the Board will be sending the changes and are expected to be ready for the March meetings. Current understanding is that while the pools will still be separate, the “Rec Pool” and the “Zero-Entry Pool,” as the county decide to call the main pool with lanes and the smaller, shallower pools respectively, will see other changes.

The Rec Pool will be 5 feet deep instead of previous reports of four feet and, at one time, four feet in the middle and five feet on the ends.

The Zero-Entry Pool will slope down for nearly half of the pool and have a four feet deep area for aerobics and activities. It will also be squared off instead of the rounder shape in previous designs.

While these changes are the understanding from this special called meeting, nothing is finalized until the design is brought back before the county in March and approved.

County Approves Second Amendment Sanctuary

News

GILMER COUNTY, Ga. – Officially, Gilmer County has declared itself a Second Amendment Sanctuary. With the urging of citizens and submitted petitions to the county, the vote came unanimously in support of a resolution declaring the official adoption of this moniker of Second Amendment Sanctuary.

County Commissioner Charlie Paris stated during the meeting, “This is, essentially, the very same resolution that was presented to us initially. We’ve just had two or three very minor, one-word type changes.”

Jason Williamson speaks to to the Board of Commissioners about the Second Amendment Sanctuary at Thursday Night's, February 13. 2020, meeting.

Jason Williamson speaks to to the Board of Commissioners about the Second Amendment Sanctuary at Thursday Night’s, February 13. 2020, meeting.

The minor changes were not unexpected as even Jason Williams, one of the initiators of the agenda item and the one who submitted the collected petition signatures to the county, told FYN last week that he expected the County Attorney, David Clark, to have a few such changes for legal wordings or clarifications.

Applause came from the crowd as the motion and second came and was finalized by a yes vote from all three commissioners for the resolution to support the second amendment in Gilmer County.

The county has approved a resolution at this time, but said they would look an actual ordinance change in time. Williamson previously said that an ordinance change is what specifically he wanted as it is harder to take out or change than a resolution.

Stay with FYN as we delve into the citizens comments and responses to the approval along with the actual resolution wording over the next few days.

Will Gilmer become a Second Amendment Sanctuary?

News
Second Amendment Sanctuary

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Debate has risen among some in the county after the Gilmer Board of Commissioners published the agenda for their February meetings as people are noticing an agenda item to discuss becoming a Second Amendment Sanctuary.

The official discussion with the BOC will occur during their work session this Wednesday, February 12. 2020, at 9:00 a.m and continue during the Regular Meeting with a final vote on Thursday, February 13, 2020, at 6:00 p.m.

Gilmer County's Board of Commissioners at a previous meeting. From left to right, City Clerk Edwina Daman, Post 1 Commissioner Hubert Parker, Chairman Charlie Paris, Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson, and County Attorney David Clark.

Gilmer County’s Board of Commissioners at a previous meeting. From left to right, City Clerk Edwina Daman, Post 1 Commissioner Hubert Parker, Chairman Charlie Paris, Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson, and County Attorney David Clark.

The item, listed as “Discussion and possible action of Gilmer County becoming a 2nd Amendment Sanctuary,” would declare Gilmer County as an official protection for the second amendment. It would be public statement against the Federal Government that if they should ever pass a law we consider to hinder or damage the Second Amendment of the Constitution.

One of the people leading this charge, Jason Williamson, spoke with FYN about the Resolution. He said he has seen many other counties passing similar resolutions. Williamson said he and another submitted the resolution alongside petitions to show the communities desire for support. Williamson said the petitions are key in showing “a presence of support.” While he hasn’t completed the petitions and doesn’t know exactly how many supporters have signed so far, he will be turning these petitions in as part of preparation for Wednesday.

With the meeting only days away, the Gilmer Sheriff, Stacy Nicholson, has also shown support for the resolution. Williamson said he is glad to have his support saying he felt confident going into the meeting.

Williamson said, “I am very big on the Second Amendment. I realized, and most people do, that the Second Amendment is the only protection we have from tyranny. When I started seeing what the state leadership of Virginia was doing, and hearing some of the other things from friends of mine that live there, we, the people, need to speak out.”

He went on to say that while Georgia hasn’t officially passed anything that he sees directly threatening yet, this is a message to other counties and other states that we support this and to also push the point to expose our leadership’s views on the subject in Georgia and in our counties.

Gilmer County Sheriff Stacy Nicholson

Gilmer County Sheriff Stacy Nicholson

Part of that leadership, Sheriff Nicholson told FYN that he was fully in support saying, “I support, wholeheartedly, these resolutions being passed by counties in Georgia… I think it sends a good message to our legislatures in Washington and to those in Atlanta.”

Nicholson offered that while he hasn’t read the specific resolution being put forward in Gilmer, yet, he is very pro second amendment.

FYN questioned exactly what kind of power or pushback this resolution would legally give in the event of State Legislation. To which, Nicholson replied, “I think it’s more about sending a message to the entire nation where we stand on protecting our citizens’ constitutional rights.”

It was a sentiment separately repeated by Williamson who agreed the resolution was a preemptive move to put Gilmer in the position of being proactive rather than reactive to any such legislation.

Additionally, he went on to say the topic also “to make sure that our Sheriffs understand that they’ve got our support just as much we ask for their support as they are the supreme authority as the constable of the county.”

Williamson said he wants everyone who can attend to show support for the resolution to be present at this weeks meetings. Some have already offered counter points to the resolution saying that as a sanctuary nation by right due to the second amendment being a part of the constitution. Williamson said he has had some calling the resolution a “waste of time” because of this. But his response comes as he points to both the state and federal governments offering “interpretations” of the law and constitution. He said that much has been degraded through these people constantly picking apart these amendments to “what they think is reasonable.”

Instead, Williamson said, “I think this is just, hopefully, going to put that debate to bed.”

Pool Demolition Bids approved at BOC

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County 2020 budget, Pool Demolition

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Though short, the Gilmer Board of Commissioners’ Special Called Meeting saw a large step forward as demolition on the county’s old pool is set to start before February 1.

During the meeting, the Board announced Jacob Anderson Co. LLC. as the lowest bidder for the demolition project. Their bid was reported in the meeting at $76,000.

Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris said in the meeting that the county has had previous dealings with this company. They were awarded the demolition project of chicken houses on county property.

Additionally, Public Works Director Jim Smith also commented on the company saying even the few smaller problems that were raised with previous projects, he noted an example of mud on the road, were quickly dealt with as soon as he brought them up. Smith went on to say he had nothing but good things to say about the county’s experiences so far with the company.

Moving forward with this project, demolition beginning no later than February 1, 2020, the county will be inspecting the project closely as they look for issues and concerns to address before it starts bidding out the coming construction of the new pool.

TSPLOST debate moves to include cities

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners is advertising a meeting early in the new year with the city governments of Ellijay and East Ellijay.

This Special Called Meeting, set for January 7, 2020, at 10 a.m., has only one agenda item, “Discussion and possible action of Intergovernmental Agreement for a proposed T-SPLOST with the Cities of Ellijay and East Ellijay.”

Recent months have seen the TSPLOST progress from an idea in the Roads and Bridges Town Hall to approval to be on the ballot in less than two months.

The meeting is actually set the day before the county is set to hold its January Workshop, scheduled for January 8, 2019, at 9 a.m.

While not fully confirmed, the county has held similar meetings in the past when discussing their SPLOST renewal in 2018 where they negotiated each of the cities’ percentage that they would take from the tax. At that time, it was confirmed that the county could have moved forward without the cities, but noted several benefits to cooperating and negotiating their involvement.

With the TSPLOST, there has been no specific discussion on the need, benefits, or reason for involving the cities since the Board already approved the TSPLOST to go for a vote on the ballots without them. However, County Attorney David Clark did say at that meeting that the county needed to finalize details and work on a few more items before they would be ready to put it on the ballot.

In any scenario, at this time, it appears the county will be reaching out to the cities for their support of or involvement in the TSPLOST in the coming week.

Frustrations in BOC over pool project

News
Gilmer County BOC, Intergovernmental Agreement

ELLIJAY, Ga. – County officials are looking deeper into the demolition of the county’s old pool and deciding what to salvage and what to dispose of as they look at placing the county’s new pool project there.

The county is also looking at the plumbing as Maintenance Director D.J. Spagnola said he wanted to be involved with the process as the dig down so that he could look at plumbing for the restrooms and pool project to determine needed fixes and replacements before they move forward with constructing the new pool.

Commission Chairman Charlie Paris said at the December meetings, “Originally, I really wanted to have this done by opening day. I don’t think we’re going to be able to make that… I’m getting really frustrated because it has been seven months now…”

Paris went on to say that most of the county’s time has been spent looking for a location when it started at Clear Creek and then on to River Park. The county began looking for property but came to the conclusion that they didn’t want the old location due to the costs of demolition, a project they could effectively delay until a later date. Now, considering the costs of buying property versus demolishing the old location for the new pool.

The county has almost completely decided on this location for the new pool. However, reservations are still being held as Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson has said in previous meetings that she wants to see what they find during the demolition before setting the location in stone. She did note that she is for the location, but is just wanting to hold a way out in case they find something big and to consider the price of the demolition.

As Paris said he still wanted to expedite the project to attempt to complete it before the season ends, Ferguson said, “I commend you for the work. We’ve tried different avenues. I think this is too important a project to speed through and rush it anyway… I think it’s better that we have taken the time and we have tried different options. We have considered all options that were possibilities.”

The county is focusing on this location, though, and are looking to get out and receive bids on the demolition as soon as possible.

TSPLOST vote will be on ballot in 2020

News
Gilmer County BOC, Intergovernmental Agreement

ELLIJAY, Ga. – A unanimous vote this week from the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners (BOC) gave final approval to put a new tax of TSPLOST to public vote in the new year as they prepare to address Roads and Bridges issues.

The new tax will be a TSPLOST (Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) specifically designed to bring in new funding to address the 501 miles of paved roads within Gilmer County that the county is responsible for paving and maintaining.

Citizens have been debating this issue in earnest since November 13 when a Roads and Bridges town hall meeting turned to a TSPLOST discussion after Commission Chairman Charlie Paris put the idea forth saying he could not find any alternative to address the issues as quickly as people have been wanting. However, the discussion has been going in the BOC since budget sessions and talks of shrinking the contingency fund in late October and early November.

This week, the Chairman said that the recent Post 1 Commissioner campaign really “stirred the pot.” The campaign highlighted an issue that many people understood that progress was being made slowly. Now, people are getting more vocal about the issues. Paris said, “And they’re right. We need to do something about this.”

The board appears to agree that raising the millage rate to fund the roads is completely out of the question. Instead of raising the taxes of the millage rate, a new TSPLOST tax is coming forward to be voted on by the public.

As discussion from the work session continued on the TSPLOST, the commissioners discussed the difference between the TSPLOST and continuing as-is. The major note came to be speed. Paris has stated several times since November that he believes the progress will continue as they strengthen the road department. Paris said this week that a TSPLOST will allow us to accomplish over the next 5 years what we will accomplish over the next 25 years.

Also mentioned in the meeting, Paris said he believes the option of bonding the TSPLOST is out. He explained that if approved the county will pursue rights of way, begin collections that are allocated quarterly, and citizens would really see a big effort increase in the Road Department by Spring of 2021. In fact, Paris said later in the meeting, “If these folks approve this TSPLOST, I am going to be paving in the Spring of 2021.”

This discussion also restated Paris’ desire to switch future projects in the county to start bidding out asphalt paving projects across LMIG and new projects and having the Road Department continue with tar and chip and other roads.

County Attorney David Clark urged the commissioners to continue talks in the coming months to focus and list all possible projects for the TSPLOST as the discussion has ignored the bridge issues in the county, many of which have come from failures in the maintenance of those bridges

Paris clarified that while they have not been specifically mentioned, thoughts for bridges has definitely been on his mind.

Still, Clark said the board should get their projects set and details set before the county puts the option on the ballot for public vote as the public needs to know everything possible and everything being considered in a TSPLOST.

With approval to be put on the ballot done, many questions are still out there on the topic. Paris mentioned wanting more town halls on the TSPLOST for specific regions of the county to ‘go to the people.’ He explained that he wanted to make it far easier for those in the local area to attend and discuss the topic, holding four different meetings in four different sections of Gilmer.

Additionally, estimated collections are still to be calculated and details worked out for the coming vote.

Newly elected Post 1 Commissioner, Hubert Parker also spoke in the meeting saying, “You’ve identified the situation and the options. SPLOST is the only tax I know of where the voters have a direct voice rather than going through an elected representative. So, I think it’s up to them…”

Major issues to be discussed at final 2019 BOC meeting

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County is not taking the final month of 2019 easy as published agendas for next week highlight action to be taken on the possibility of a TSPLOST (Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) in Gilmer alongside other issues with board and authority appointments, a leftover concrete bid not awarded in November, updates on the 2020 Road Paving List, and 10 zoning requests among other items on the long agenda.

As stated in previous months and special called meetings, the TSPLOST proposal will be a five-year tax similar to SPLOST. However, the TSPLOST will be dedicated to Gilmer transportation needs specifically. This could be usable for equipment purchases, paving, maintenance, and even road crew salary.

Although support was high in the Roads and Bridges Town Hall meetings, others are voicing concerns over another tax added to the county. As opposed to additional millage on property taxes, this TSPLOST would be another one-cent tax added to purchases in the county.

Discussion will be held at both meetings along with opportunities during the “Citizens Wishing to Speak” sections of those meetings. The work session will be held Wednesday, December 11 at 9 a.m., and the regular meeting will be held Thursday, December 12 at 6 p.m.

Along the same topic of roads, the commissioners are set to discuss next year’s paving plans including the 2020 Road Paving list, setting exactly which roads will be covered under the LMIG (Local Maintenance Improvement Grant) and county funding for the year.

Additionally, the monthly update and discussion on the county pool could highlight costs as the county is pursuing bids for demolition of the old pool and preparation for its use as the new pool’s location.

County requesting bids to demolish the old pool site

News
Gilmer County BOC, Intergovernmental Agreement

ELLIJAY, Ga. – The county is moving forward with and advertisement for bids to demolish the old pool after approval this month in their work session.

Despite some slight confusion in having the entire board on the same page about using the location as the site for the coming pool, County Attorney David Clark urged the county to move forward with demolition plans for the site due to hazards and liability issues that could arise with the site.

Chairman Paris said his original understanding was that the board was very much in favor of the location.

And although Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson wanted more discussion on officially declaring the site as the definitive location of the new pool, she did agree that they should go ahead with the demolition proceedings and the vote came unanimously in favor of advertising for bids.

In fact, Ferguson even said she did not have a problem with the location as the new pool site “unless there is something crazy that we find under the pool…” Ferguson’s concerns tended toward unexpected costs that could come through issues they had not found yet or may find as they demolish the old pool.

As she said she didn’t have a problem with the site, she later added that she didn’t realize that they had agreed on the location “no matter what.”

Paris did point out that a lot of time has been spent on site locations and inspections and that the county has yet to even advertise for bids on the project. Continuing along the process, the target of a pool constructed in May is fast approaching. In fact, the Memorial Day target has been spoken of less and less in recent meetings.

However, recalling the original meetings and planning session for the project, Paris did note several times that the Memorial Day opening was not a deadline, but rather a target date that he wanted to shoot for.

Still, progress is continuing on the project with this advertisement, and should the county move forward and accept a bid, it will be one step closer on a long journey that has become the pool project.

Roads and Bridges discussion turns to TSPLOST support

News
roads and bridges town hall

Gilmer County’s freshly restored-to-three Board of Commissioners is delving deep into talks with citizens on the topic of roads and bridges. 

Going through town hall meetings, the discussion was originally advertised to hear citizens’ thoughts on roads and bridges. However, at the beginning of their first town hall, Commission Chairman Charlie Paris offered a few words of his own thoughts saying he receives numerous calls daily about the situation.

With 501 miles of roads in the county, Paris said just under 200 miles of that is unpaved gravel road. Paris noted the major problem with the gravel roads is that as soon as the county fixes a road, a heavy rain will destroy the repairs and work they have accomplished.

Even though they planned to move road to road with two teams across the county, these teams cannot follow schedules as Paris says he constantly tells them to respond to one complaint or another, whether it’s ditches or other worse gravel roads.

When trying to find an answer to these issues, Paris said he wants to pave more roads. While he points to the major improvements in the road department over the recent years, he admits the budget is not enough to accommodate everything he wants to do with and in the Road Department.

Paving roads in the county costs between $40,000 – $50,000 per mile for “tar and chip” according to Paris, asphalt paving is more costly at about $90,000 per mile. These costs do not include striping as the county does not stripe its own roads. However, Paris said another “wish” would be to begin looking for equipment and having the road department begin striping as it has been difficult to find companies recently to do the striping.

After paving and striping, maintenance also includes mowing of all 501 miles of road.

As he spoke about the costs of each need the county has for paving and the wants he verbalized for the department and the county, Paris said, “When I first took office, I could be heard to say many times, ‘We’re broke. We can’t do that, we’re broke.’ We’re not broke anymore, and I’m really proud of that. We’re in a good financial position…” Paris went on to note that some people have said to use reserves money to pave or to take the money from the larger budgets like Fire, EMA, or Sheriff. Paris noted that these budgets are all severely cut already during the budget process. He said taking enough from these other sources would cripple the departments just to make a little progress on the roads.

One of the biggest strains on the budget each year is, of course, the debt service for the county paying off its bond debt. Citizens have been contending with this situation for years. And More recently, they have dealt with the 1.5 mill bond millage. However, Paris did say that during the budget process this year, they had considered lowering this rate, and in fact are looking to take the bond millage in the 2020 budget down to 1.25 instead of 1.5 saying, “It was never intended to be a permanent extra half mill. We have projected in our 2020 budget that that will go down to a mill-and-a-quarter rather than a mill-and-a-half. With the idea that in the 2021 budget, it will go back down to a mill and the half mill will be gone.”

Returning to the subject at hand of roads and bridges, ultimately, Paris said he saw only three options for the county.

With 13 years left to pay on the bond debt service, the county can continue as it is, spending about a million dollars on paving a year and raise it after the debt is paid.

The second option would be to raise the millage rate, which Paris adamantly stated was not an option he would consider. 

The third option Paris offered, was to enact a “local TSPLOST.” Paris said that several years ago, the county voted on a regional TSPLOST. Paris said he opposed that TSPLOST as it was a regional tax, usable in many of the other counties.

Many will recall what citizens at the time called a “punishment” for voting no, the matching funds for LMIG grants was raised from 10% to 30%. Paris said that even today, he would still adamantly oppose a regional TSPLOST.

What he proposed as a local TSPLOST, the stipulation would be that the money must be used for nothing outside of transportation. Usable for equipment purchases, paving, maintenance, and even road crew salary, Paris said he wouldn’t want to use it for salaries “because that TSPLOST will go away at some point and those salaries will still be there.”

A TSPLOST would be a 5-year program. As he noted this, Paris stated, “You have the option of renewing it after 5 years, my pledge is that I will never ask for a renewal if we do it one time.”

Paris said he has tried for other alternatives to get the roads in shape and maintain them but has yet to find a sufficient answer.

After his nearly 30 minute speech over the state of the county’s roads and road department, many of the citizens present offered their support for a TSPLOST. Towards the end of the meeting, Paris asked how many people would be willing to support it. Nearly every person attending raised their hand. In fact, only one person at the meeting opposed the TSPLOST.

Paris also asked another question during the meeting. Far fewer people, less than half of those present, supported the idea when Paris asked who would want to sell bonds on the TSPLOST to see a faster effect on the county’s roads. This second topic was actually originally raised by one citizen, John Schmidt, who asked how soon the citizens would see the option to vote on it and would begin seeing the changes as he said, “People, a lot of the time, we expect things to happen overnight.”

Paris said, “I have had it recommended to me that if this passes, that we go ahead and get a bond and do it all once and then pay for it with the TSPLOST. But, I’m not real big on doing that. I would kind of rather just let things sit for four or five months and let some money build up and then do it as it comes in.”

This is not the first time the Commissioners have spoken of the topic of a TSPLOST, but it is the first time it has been discussed with citizens as an actual option for the county to pursue. It could come as soon as the May ballot in 2020. Collections would begin on the first day of the next quarter.

County updates Cartecay Bridge progress

News
Cartecay Bridge

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.

Commissioner Parker sworn-in

News
Parker Sworn-in Nov 14 2019

ELLIJAY, Ga. – After last week’s Post 1 Commissioner election results, a quick turn around after the state’s verification of the results saw election winner Hubert Parker sworn-in today as Gilmer County’s newest Post 1 Commissioner.

With the resignation of former commissioner Dallas Miller, the special election was drawn in quickly for the November ballots.

Now, Parker has officially taken his oath of office before Gilmer County Probate Judge Scott Chastain, completing the final steps before officially stepping into the position just in time for November’s Board of Commissioner Meetings.

However, Parker has already been attending meetings in recent months, and though his oath wasn’t until today, Parker did sit with the Commissioners during their Work Session yesterday morning, November 13, 2019. As a work session, the meeting held no votes, action, or even an executive session, but Parker did speak very little during discussions in anticipation of the Regular Meeting tonight, November 14, 2019,

Parker will be sitting in the meeting tonight as a verified voting member of the Board of Commissioners.

With Parker sworn-in now, many of the major issues the county has been dealing with lately and to which he offered opinions during the campaign, will continue as the BOC returns to its normal three-person board instead of the two members it has made due with for 62 days including major events like the 2020 budget meetings and the October Meetings.

Budget talks consider smaller contingency fund

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Moving closer to the November meetings of the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners, a special called meeting this week revealed that budget cuts are not yet completed.

Commission Chairman Charlie Paris said in the meeting that he has gone over the budget numerous times and cut everywhere he thinks he can. As with recent years, the budget process has reached similar points before when previous commissions had to cut a percentage across the entire budget. Looking to cut a total of a million dollars from the proposed budget, the chairman has come to needing another $330,000 cut to balance.

One option that Paris and Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson are considering is reducing the contingency line item. Paris stated, “If we don’t find another dollar to cut somewhere, we’d be looking at a contingency of $170,000 rather than $500,000.”

Paris said he wants to mitigate this as much as possible. At the very least, he’s looking to keep the contingency line at $200,000 and looking for the extra $30,000 elsewhere. Ferguson said they may need to go over the whole budget again with “a fine-toothed comb” to find the needed cuts. She also said she would continue looking into the budget as well before next weeks regular meetings.

A different option would be to look at rolling back on the raises the Board is trying to give this year on positions at the lower end of the pay scale. Paris said the county has already been advertising three job openings in the road department for months and not received new employees.

Ferguson agreed saying the raises were important to the county and needed to keep its focus on improving the area.

As the county continues looking at these option, it is likely that a final decision will come next week to allow time for advertisement and adoption in December’s meetings before the first of the new year.

Also as the discussion continues on the budget overall, similar issues will come into play with the board listening to special town hall meetings next week on the Road Department and listening to citizens input on options. Ferguson had brought up the subject of TSPLOST option for the county. While Paris said he didn’t want to rely on a TSPLOST that runs a 5-year cycle for things like salaries, the board did not further discuss the idea overall. Instead the citizenry will continue discussions next week at the special meetings on Wednesday, November 13, at 6 p.m. and Saturday, November 16, at 10 a.m.

Hubert Parker, Post 1 Commissioner Candidate

Election
Hubert Parker

“It appeared to be a time when my background and experience would be a help to the county,” said Post 1 Commissioner Candidate Hubert Parker when asked why he decided to run in this year’s election.

Hubert Parker has lived in Gilmer County for 15 years since he last moved here, however, he also grew up in the county before moving away. “You keep coming back,” he said as he has continued to return to the county and family who have lived here. He has been married for 55 years and has two kids, a son and a daughter.

Parker has served as a certified public accountant for three years, 33 years in University of Georgia’s Business and Financial Administration, 

Such a business background focused on banking relationships and treasury functions throughout his accounting experiences as Parker agree it is not his first time in budget processes and balancing finances. In fact, its not even the first time Parker has served in parts of Gilmer’s government. He has served on the Board of Tax Assessors and Building Authority before.

Parker said he mainly wanted to focus on roads and jobs, growing small business in the county and finding the right kind of businesses saying, “The quality of life is very important here, and we have to keep that in mind in the kind of businesses we recruit.”

Parker pointed to a lack of jobs for young people in the county as an example of this need. He said creating opportunities for people is only one step. Projects like the CORE (Collaboration On River’s Edge) Facility and its mentor programs is another step.

As we continue growing and recruiting businesses, Parker said we need to recognize and appreciate the tourism as well. Looking even further out, other projects and goals for Parker include a desire to continue expanding the water system and reduce the impact of the county’s debt.

In his part to accomplish these goals, Parker said, “I want to continually seek to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of county government.”

While realizing a Post Commissioner is not as involved in the day-to-day operations, Parker said he feels that being on the board, helping to identify these opportunities and guide the board while working with the other commissioners.

When asked what he sees as some of the challenges ahead if elected, Parker noted that working towards improving roads and continuing along the budget process could present challenges as he steps into the position mid-process. But he reasserted that continuing the intergovernmental relationships was another point he wanted to focus on with their projects.

Alternatively, Parker said he has never run for public office, but the aspect has energized him as he continues to get involved and speak to people in the county. He is continuing to learn “the whole picture of the county.”

Development of the county is important to Hubert Parker as he says he wants to keep the character of the county and not change the quality of life.

Looking specifically at recent issues the county has faced, Parker said he wants a full study on Carters Lake saying, “Let’s look at the total picture, lay everything on the table before we make a decision, and then from that, based on good information, make our decision.”

Studying financial feasibility and benefits versus costs, Parker said he wants to know what’s being offered while considering the money.

Similarly, when considering the pool, Parker said, “We need a pool, the young people need a pool, the teams need a pool. This is important. The problem as I understand it, I’ll find out more if I am elected, is where to put it.” In making these decisions, people want it to be convenient, but the county has to consider the project as a whole and locations based on financial practicality and location viability.

Some of these issues continue to focus on the natural resources the county has. In addition to the people, Parker said the rivers, the lake, the mountains, and the agricultural heart of the county are things the county holds dear. Parker said these are not resources to be exploited and taken advantage of, but they must be used and managed responsibly. 

Taking up a leadership position is nothing new to Parker, even if an elected position is. Debating and working towards solutions as part of the board is a labor of mutual respect. He said he feels strong stepping into the position, even coming amid the tail end of the county’s budget process.

“I view myself as a workhorse, not a showhorse,” Parker said as he explained an uneasiness with the public eye and media attention of his campaign. Working towards the county’s future and the goals set is what Parker says he wants to strive for.

Jason Biggs, Post 1 Commissioner Candidate

Election
Jason Biggs

Priorities. Post 1 Commissioner Candidate Jason Biggs says he realizes that certain things need prioritization over others. Balancing those priorities and being successful in the position requires details and research, two points that he says are a large part of his life and skills.

Though visiting family and the county for 20 years, Jason Biggs has lived in Gilmer County with his wife for the last five-and-a-half years. With two sons and one daughter, he says his family has been a family of farmers and ranchers. Today, he proudly states his grandson is a native of Gilmer County.

Currently working as a Regional Security Manager, Biggs oversees properties to maintain security and safety on a daily basis. Also retired law enforcement, he is no stranger to analysis, research, risk, and budgeting as he says he operates daily on a number of properties within his given budget. He notes that as he continues studying the changing landscape of his business to continue new initiatives that he must research and implement in his business.

However, he also states he is no stranger to staying busy and working hard in his life. When he was a full-time police officer, he also worked full-time at a store-front business for screen-printing and embroidery for over three years.

Living in Gilmer County now, it has been astonishing, Biggs said, at how easily and readily he has been accepted into the county. It is the community that has welcomed him and his family and made this place a home.

Now, as the position of Post 1 Commissioner has opened and his current job schedule has become more flexible, Biggs has become concerned with what he sees in the county that is his home. He said, “The thing that concerns me the most is that we have a debt in excess of $4,000,000 that we have to service annually for a courthouse. That was supposed to paid by sales tax… It’s very hard for me to look 20 years into the future and say, ‘Sales Tax will be able to pay for this.’ At some point, you have to realize that there is a risk of that debt coming back on the taxpayer. And I am afraid that that might happen again if we’re not careful.”

Biggs said he wants to support the recreational sides of the county, but he also knows that to enjoy these projects, people have to be able to get to the pool. he said specifically that he is for constructing a new pool, but he wants to dig deeper to find “real costs” in the project including maintenance and operations for the larger size and a second pool.

Similarly, he addressed concern over Carters Lake as the county moves into a reactionary stance to this need. Touching on the possibilities at the lake, he questioned how the county would respond if they did create a new department. What would the staff costs including benefits and salary? What would the legal fees be for contracts be? What would operations include?

Biggs said, “As a taxpayer, I want to know, it is going to cost ‘X’ amount of dollars, to the penny…If I am elected to this position, that is something I want to start doing.”

Also looking at the roads in the county, continuing the improvements and continuing to “grow intelligently” requires the priority on this infrastructure to continue its prioritization. Biggs said the infrastructure has to be top priority.

He went on to say, “Tax payer dollars should be treated as sacred. You are getting money from the sweat off of people’s backs. I think there is a lot to be said for those people paying their taxes. I think politicians need to be very, very careful how that is spent.”

As he went through these situations, he noted that he has concerns over these issues, but he felt running for the position was his way to do something. Though he is currently a concerned citizen, he didn’t want to be someone who complained about an issue but didn’t do anything about it. Finding issues is the first step, researching solutions is another.

Sometimes these issues require strange answers. Biggs recalled how he came in for tag renewal one day to find the tag office closed at lunch. He spoke about citizens who work daily and take their lunch hour to try and comply with something the government said they have to do. Whether its opening over different hours or opening Saturdays instead of another day, the compromise between the county and citizens is the key to operating the county in favor of the citizens who fund and own it.

Communication, honesty, and transparency, these three keys to any relationship are what Candidate Jason Biggs says he can bring to the Post 1 Commissioner position. When the open conversation stops, that is when the problems begins. It’s the point of involving the people of the county to include new ideas from every walk of life. This allows the board to prioritize and maximize their spending.

However, learning more about the county is more than just listening to citizens in the board room. He wants to go further in learning the ins and outs of the county. He pointed to opportunities such as possible ride-alongs with Sheriff’s Deputies to becoming more involved with Team Cartecay, the mountain biking team that his son rides with.

“Being able to look back and say, ‘Hey, I made a positive impact on something that I was involved with would be the reward, Biggs said as he spoke about the county that has welcomed him. Fostering the growth and cooperation continues through partnerships. He pointed to the work the Gilmer Chamber and their work with local business. Small business in the county is a key part of the county. Being pro-business also helps to alleviate some of the tax burden to the citizens.

Just like speaking with citizens, local business is a relationship to work alongside in pursuit of an agreed upon goal. But maintaining Gilmer’s identity, especially in areas like agricultural success, has to be protected in the growth that continues. Looking at the county as a whole has to be part of the commissioners’ jobs as they move forward with the different entities within the county, including the cities and the Chamber.

He noted the recent budget sessions the county has gone through. Watching the videos on those sessions gave some insight into the county’s needs and what each department wants. It returns to the same process as the Sheriff asks for support in their retirement plans or Public Safety in their capital requests. He said, “When you start looking at the safety and security of taxpayers, that should be paramount.” But he fell back to the details of these requests and looking at the “to the penny” costs and how they fit into the limited funds of the county.

Hearing the opinions of the people, and balancing the costs of the county, Jason Biggs said this is the job he wants to take on. Running for Post 1 Commissioner is his way to step up and face the concerns he has seen. But, he said, “If you’re looking for somebody to go along to get along, I’m not the guy. I am going to do what I feel is the best for the taxpayer’s dollars and I am going to be the voice of the people of this county because I don’t think everyone has an equal voice, and I feel like they should.”

Soccer Field Road will NOT be county pool location

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Due to the months of preparation and study given to the county’s formerly favored location, Gilmer County Commission Chairman Paris stated today that Soccer Field Road, just off of Progress Road, has been declared an unviable location for the future pool of Gilmer County.

The location was originally offered as part of an agreement with East Ellijay to purchase and provide the land. Paris said that one of the reasons for this came with the several analyses performed and the realization that the county would need to move and bring in an extra 86,000 cubic yards of dirt for grading and leveling.

This of course seems like it would revert back to the Clear Creek location previously looked at. However, Paris went on to say, “That put us in the position of either putting it out at Clear Creek or trying to find another location. Nobody wants it at Clear Creek. I think everybody has been pretty clear about that.” He went on to note that finding another location could become a costly endeavor.

Considering that, he noted that if the county would have to begin looking at the costs of purchasing land anyway, considerations for the old pool’s location arose. Paris stated, “One of the reasons that we decided to put it somewhere other than where the current pool is is because of the expense that would be incurred in tearing out the old pool and putting the new pool there. But, if we’re going to have to be looking at buying property somewhere for the new pool, we might as well just spend the money tearing out the old pool, and just put the new pool back where the old pool currently is.”

Later, Paris told FYN that if the county moves forward with that pool location, they would likely be expanding into the parking lot for the secondary “wading” pool. Additionally, the concept of someday adding a splash pad might have to be considered in a different location. Many plans that were being considered for the Soccer Field Road location are still being considered, such as utilizing dirt from the 382 project if found to be usable.

Paris said that considerations for fitting both pools at the location is already being looked for feasibility. Paris also noted that Recreation and Parks Director Kevan White assured him that the tennis courts currently under construction next to the civic center will not interfere with construction as they will be completed by year’s end.

Paris indicated he is still looking for ways to seek ways to handle the costs of the pool when he said there is considerations that the county might use some of its employees for clearing and preparatory work if the county does move forward with that location.

The remaining question is balancing how much of the parking lot will be lost to the secondary pool and the effect on attendance. Paris said he doesn’t foresee a major problem in that area, but was unsure of exactly how much of the parking would be changed. Additionally, he noted that the county will be transitioning the older tennis courts into additional parking for River Park as well.

While this was just announced as a possibility today, it already seems to be a front runner of options with the considerations and statements made in today’s Commissioners’ Meeting. However, neither Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson or Chairman Charlie Paris declared the old pool location as the final decision for the new pool’s location.

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