Attorney hired for pool project

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – The hiring of a specialised attorney for railroad agreements was approved by the county in a Special Called Meeting this week with concerns over the planned agreement.

As the county continues pursuing the agreement to cross the railroad tracks at the expected location of the pool project just off of Progress Road, the hiring of this attorney is expected to bring two major benefits.

The first being to have someone more specialised and experienced in these types of agreements to look at and make changes needed for the county side of the agreement.

The second being having this attorney ready to pursue the agreement on the county’s behalf if the need should arise.

The attorney would have no retainer fee, but a $300/hour charge.

During the Special Meeting, Gilmer Commission Chairman Charlie Paris said he had spoken to the attorney already to gather what information he would need.

As the county continues awaiting the response from the railroad, approval for the attorney is preparing the county for the next step in either situation, review or further pursuit.

Author

Playing in the county’s pool?

Opinion

With over two months since Gilmer County first announced they would keep the pool closed this year, a lot has been said, debated, changed, and changed again.

Much of the angst in the situation can be narrowed down to three topics though; time, finances, and responsibility. These three subjects have been the foundation for numerous meetings and countless hours of discussion. And while the topic hasn’t quite reached its conclusion, there is a sense of finality as the county moves towards bidding out the engineering process in the next two months.

Yet, the county is doing this with some citizens still in rather vocal opposition. A certain phrase comes to mind about pleasing all the people all the time. Naivete has its own blissful selfishness, but to think the entire county would 100 percent agree on something as major as this could be considered beyond naive and just straight ignorant.

One of the most vocalized oppositions to the county’s plan that you will hear in the monthly meetings isn’t about whether the county should do the pool, but rather if it can be done by the goal of Memorial Day 2020. It is a fair question, but Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris has noted numerous times that it is simply a goal he specifically wanted. Admittedly, this leaves the opening that the county may not finish it by then and doesn’t have a hard deadline. On the other hand, with constant changes, debates, and additions to the plans even into this month, it may not be entirely the county’s fault if the deadline is missed.

So, should people stop giving ideas and addressing what they, as taxpayers, want from the pool that they, as taxpayers, are buying? No, of course not. Ultimately, I think Memorial Day of next year is more of an attempt to let people know the county is avidly working towards quickly answering a very vocal portion of the community pushing for this project.

That said, Post Commissioner Dallas Miller also raised a very good point that shooting for that quick answer and deadline could cause issues as rushing tends to mean mistakes. Like fire tempering steel, this opposition is good for the county as a balancing act of speed and caution may be reached… “may.”

The topic vocalized evenly in and out of these county meetings, finances are always on the minds of citizens, especially those living in the far reaches of the county’s borders or those on dirt or otherwise unpaved roads. “Why is the county spending money on a pool when my road needs paving?” or maybe “… when we have so much debt?”

The answer to this is obvious. There isn’t one. The county can show how much improvement the road department has made in recent years. They can also show the bond refinancing and the work towards paying that off while also addressing capital needs. This is all very good. It is progress towards what many want, a debt-free county. Still, there is no specific answer, no singular reason. There is a county of reasons. There isn’t one, there are several.

A very vocal portion of the county is asking, quite loudly, for this to be done. And why shouldn’t they? It is what they want. They have kids that use that pool. They have families that want to cool off. So, why should the county listen to them and not to those asking for the money elsewhere? According to the Board of Commissioners, they are. Progress is a beautiful thing, but it is not a quick one. It is slow, it is tiring, and it is arduous.

Making a personal budget to take care of one’s bills and debts is not fun. And most who make those budgets wouldn’t make the entire budget and leave literally nothing for entertainment of some kind, some sort of fun. Similarly, With so many voices asking for this, there has not been comparable numbers of those asking not to do it. Granted, there have been a few singular voices loud enough to count for many, but when looking at a few loud voices versus many combined, one simply cannot be loud enough. What do you want? Where does your support lie? And who knows about it?

Financially, the commissioners have found enough money to “make it happen.” The county is about to see in the next few months if that $1.2 million is going to be enough. Then the voices heard will be the deciding factor on what gets built, what gets added, and what gets left on the table for later.

Ultimately, the county has made the motions, found the money, and they definitely are moving forward on this project. This is one of the few issues that has somewhat been decided, but that hasn’t stopped the community and people in it from asking why the county is building a pool. Some have asked why the school system isn’t building the pool for the swimmers. Others are saying it should be solely private entities who are responsible for building a pool. Where does the responsibility lie for this project?

First off, let’s start by saying that the county already had a pool. Citizens have gotten use to seeing and using that pool. The “responsibility” was already there. However, it is fair to question things in a time of change and transition. Some even pointed to the recent Board of Education ESPLOST survey to say that citizens had an opportunity to get a new pool there. One consideration there is that a school facility is specifically for that… school. The high school has a gym, basketball courts, and baseball fields. These are not county used facilities.

True, that doesn’t mean the county has not used or cannot use these facilities. Park and Recreation have partnered with the school system, held tournaments, and done other things. But when it comes down to a conflict of the Parks and Recreation teams and the school team, where does and should the priority go to. It’s not wrong to give priority of school facilities to school usage.

More than that, if citizens are wanting this to be a year-round facility, then year-round control should go to the people with the year-round responsibility. Would county citizens want to work with a private-organization to schedule or use the facility, or would they want government elected officials to control it, government officials that they as citizens can go talk to, complain to, and fire by election. At least, that’s what my education taught me.

As the county continues on in this project, these questions are going to continue. There won’t be an end even when the project is done. There are still going to be those who question things and question the pool. Should we have the pool? Should we do it now? Should we wait? Should we pay for it through the amendments that were approved? Should we really try and finish by Memorial Day? Should this guy be in charge? Should it be at this location or that one?

Ultimately, another phrase comes to mind, “The squeaky wheel gets the oil.” Considering that, the only question that really matters in this debate is, “Why aren’t you squeaking?”

Author

Citizens and Commissioners ask for changes to pool design

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County is submerging into discussion on the county’s pool design and what they each want from the design, including changes to the presented design.

One major change came during the Commissioners meeting when local swimming coach Larry Lykins asked about the lane widths. The plan held the inner six lanes at 6.5 feet wide and the two outer lanes at 8 feet wide. However, Lykins said he thought the design would be better served with minimum 7 feet wide lanes. He suggested all lanes be 7 feet and it would only add 1 foot to the total pool width.

The competition pool will be 5 feet deep with one end rising to a 4 feet deep section in favor of possible aerobics or similar activities. The kids pool will be “Zero Entry” but reach a depth of 3 feet on the opposite end.

Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris assured citizens who questioned priorities, saying that the county will build the competition pool, then cover it, and then build the kids pool. He did make a stipulation that if they didn’t have the money to build the cover but did have enough to build the kid pool then they would consider that option.

While the pool construction will include a heater pad for the pool off to one side and construction of the bathrooms and concessions stands, but not the entire recreation center. While some points were included, but not shown in the video, Lykins also noted that during construction, they should go ahead and put in the anchors in the concrete for backstroke flags, lane dividers, and dive posts. This means the county needs to go ahead and decide which types and/or brands of this equipment they want to use so they can know which equipment and anchors may be needed.

Additionally, the design currently expects to utilize ozonation for water sanitation. This method, according to Scott Walk of Premier Pools & Spas, is slightly more expensive to install but saves money over the life span of the system as it removes the cost for chemicals like chlorine. It was also stated that if the cost makes the option prohibitive, they could use salt solutions instead. He also said the ozonation is better for the finish on the pool.

Citizens have already begun commenting on articles and social media posts asking for shaded areas and fans for those who may be there with family but not getting into the water.

During the meeting, Paris told citizens that the only major issue they could be facing with the East Ellijay land near River Park would be getting permission from the railroad to cross the tracks at that location. While he did say that they have had verbal discussions that seem promising, Paris said they don’t have anything in writing yet.

The board will move forward with the pool design this week as they hold their monthly work session on Wednesday, July 10, at 9:00 a.m., and the regular meeting on Thursday, July 11, at 6:00 p.m.

Any and all citizens wishing to speak on the matter can attend these meetings to discuss their opinions of the issue as well.

Author

Gilmer County sees pool proposal

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County finally has an actual image of what their future pool might look like when built.

The proposal was approved last month for Premier Pools & Spas (PPAS) to be the designer. Now, nearly a month later, the team has returned with a video presentation of a walk-through of both pools and a priority list set for what citizens should expect in the coming months. The design showcased the basic layout, but still a few issues were mere placeholders as Scott Walk, PPAS Representative, said there will be both an adult and a kid slide, but the computer program only shows the adult slide.

Walk also said that the building representing the Recreation center is just a placeholder in the video and does not represent an actual design. One addition since last months meeting is the design added a “splash pad” near the kids pool. This pad is a fountain like zone with no depth for kids to play in who may not be ready for the actual pools.

Additionally, if you watch the video, the showcase will be of the uncovered pool. However, if you look at the 5:30 mark of the video, you can see what the covering for the pool is designed to look like in the background off to the far end of the “Recreation Center.” Complete with “garage-style” doors to open when needed and allowing a makeshift “breeze-way,” the cover is part of the priority lists that the commissioners have mentioned in meetings before.

Author

Ferguson talks the “community” side of the pool

News

“It’s important to me… I think it’s a service to the community.” Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson speaks on the priority of the pool in her own opinion.

Ferguson spoke about the balance the county has to maintain as they face the needs of the county versus the availability of funds in the budget. Ferguson also noted how important physical activity is to her. Owning Stay Active Ellijay, Ferguson has spent years in the business of keeping people active and healthy. She points to her history here as she says how important a pool, and later a full recreation center, is to her.

While acknowledging that she is one-third of the board, Ferguson said her own priorities for the coming project is to focus on both pools as a single thought as she wants to have the children’s play area and ramp entry to be easier for those who need it. The “zero-entry” concepts plays a special role as Ferguson wants the growing senior population to have just as much access as any others.

But it’s not just the pool, according to Ferguson, who says, “One of my things with the whole River Park, is to build community. The pool is a place where we can build community, where we can come together, all ages, all economic backgrounds, and be a community there. To me, it fits so many of our needs, in my mind, of what’s important for the county, for the community.”

With such a large project originally being planned for Clear Creek, but now looking more and more like it will be located at River Park, Ferguson was excited to look at a partnership with East Ellijay for a closer location as well as the chance to save money on the project with both locations not costing the county money for the land.

While she said she is more responsible for the unincorporated parts of the county, Ferguson looks at the citizens inside and outside of the city limits as the same body of Gilmer County.

Despite the positivity and optimism, Ferguson said she is “crossing her fingers” on the River Park location as the county continues investigations into its viability. Even though it “fits very well there,” says Ferguson, “It’s all about the flood plain.” Ferguson acknowledged the planning phase is still in motion and she emphasized that the county is still answering questions to make sure it will not raise the expense of the project to make the land viable. She said the county still has a budget to follow and must stay within that budgeted amount.

Ferguson also said she wants to stay positive and is “hopefull” when looking at the Memorial Day opening goal. However, she also said she would not be willing to rush it just to get it open by then. While having a goal is great for projects, she wants to take her time and do it right.

Author

‘Pool’ing the county’s time and resources

News

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

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

Gilmer County Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author

Postponed budget talks for pool to happen Monday

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – After a recent announcement to keep Gilmer’s Community Pool closed this year, the Board of Commissioners are entering talks to revisit the Capital Budget for 2019 in attempts to expedite construction of a new pool.

Gilmer County Board of Commissioners Chairman Charlie Paris likened the current situation with the pool to “Russian Roulette” saying, “Spin the cylinder and pull the trigger, odds are you’re going to be fine. The problem is when that one time comes up that you’re not fine, the results are so devastating that you just don’t do it to begin with.” Paris said he would not take the risk or endanger citizens and children who might use the pool.

Paris has told FYN in a previous conversation that he would almost be willing to have the county put up with the costs of the water loss in order to keep a pool for citizens if not for the danger of a hole.

During their May meetings, the commissioners began looking a budget amendments in capital projects for the county to expedite the plan that was put in place two years ago.

This plan was collecting money on an annual basis to fix the community’s pool issues by building a new facility. However, the current escalation of issues with the current pool will not wait for that plan to come to fruition in 2020. Instead, Paris wants to speed up the process with these amendments to add an extra $300,000 to the pool project this year. This adds onto the already saved $600,000 total from this year and last year. The board will use this $900,000 to begin engineering work, plans, and preparations for the pool while next year’s budget plans to also have $300,000 will finish the project by Memorial Day, opening day for the pool season, of 2020.

The board did not come to an agreement on amendments this month, however, as Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller requested more time to study and look into the plans and the budget.

Now, the board is set to host an additional Special Called Meeting on May 20 at 6:00 p.m. On the agenda for the meeting is one item:

1. Discussion and possible action on Budget Amendments for Pool Funding

It seems at this time that the board is planning to move forward with the proposal to expedite the construction as the discussions are expected to focus on budget amendments. However, Miller has already noted in their Work Session that he did not see the pool as “an acceptable priority.”

Not only has Paris put forth the proposal for funding of a new pool, but he along with Parks and Recreation Department Head Kevan White, have put forth a basic plan for a facility to be added on later. This plan will eventually enclose the pool for an indoor facility. Add on an outdoor zero-entry water play pool, four basketball courts, and have potential for more additions later. However, Paris said he would have it engineered and planned to have the pool built now, with plans to continue saving and building on the extra additions later.

The budget discussion are simply the first step before the county would discuss and finalize what they want the final facility to include. Then they would go forward with stages of construction projects. It all begins Monday with a board decision on what to amend in the budget for the pool or if they even do want to move forward with the proposal.

Author

Pool will stay closed this year

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Confirmed reports indicate that due to a high volume of water loss, Gilmer County Board of Commissioners (BOC) Chairman Charlie Paris has decided to keep the county’s public pool closed this year.

Paris told FYN that the decision was made after county authorities tested the pool and began preparations for the summer season. It was discovered that the pool’s leak, which the county has dealt with for years now, has worsened. He said that the pool is leaking about 5,000 gallons of water a day with nothing running. However, when they turned on the water pumps and systems, that amount increased to roughly 22,000 gallons of water a day. Paris said they expect to lose over 1.5 million gallons of water over the three month season if they were to remain open.

This translates to the water level of the pool dropping by six and a half inches every single day that they are open to the public and a possibly needing refilling several times a day with public use.

A 2015 inspection of the pool for leaks and voids by Ground Penetrating Radar Systems representative Jeff DeHart.

A 2015 inspection of the pool for leaks and voids by Ground Penetrating Radar Systems representative Jeff DeHart.

Paris noted that even more important to him than the costs and maintenance, he is concerned about where the water is going. He noted an inspection the county had done with Ground Penetrating Radar in 2015 which found two leak areas, but no major issues of voids or spaces where all the water could be going. Paris said this week that the only place not checked by the radar or other investigations is under the pool. His biggest concern now is that pushing 22,000 gallons of water a day into the ground could lead to failure in the pool bottom and collapse into a large void below.

Paris said he has discussed the issue with Parks and Recreation Director Kevan White who said that a collapse like that is not unheard of and, in fact, a very real possibility.

Paris went on to say that while he felt it necessary to keep the pool closed, he does understand how much value and importance the county’s citizens place on having a public pool. As such, Paris pointed out that the last two year’s budgets have set aside $300,000 each for the county to save towards the pool. This has been done with the expectation that the current pool would eventually become unsustainable.

Paris said that his plan now is to expedite the process as the issue has “come to a head.” The original plan was to begin construction on the new pool in 2021. However, now, Paris wants to have the construction project completed by the beginning of the pool’s season in 2020, one year from now. He did note that if it could not be completed by opening day, then he would open it as soon as the project completed.

From left to right, Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller, Chairman Charlie Paris, and Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson.

From left to right, Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller, Chairman Charlie Paris, and Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson.

The catch is that this plan will require the Board of Commissioners to return again to their 2019 budget and look at amendments and a reallocation  of funds for the project. Changing the budget is a Board decision. Paris asserted that his plans and hopes were his own, and he will have to bring the subject before the board as a whole to decide on funding and budget changes. The subject is sure to arise in tomorrow’s, May 8, work session for the Gilmer County BOC.

Citizens have already noted their desire for a new pool numerous times. In 2015, citizens spoke in the BOC May meeting with many asking for a new facility and local Amy Woodring even offered a petition of over 80 families asking for such. In 2016, citizens again returned with members of the Three Rivers Athletics Club looking to upgrade the current pool with a “bubble top” that could then be moved to a new pool.

Despite the years of public support, as the subject comes to this month’s meeting, discussion will adjust away from the established desire of a new pool, and on to the financial resources available to fund the project. Citizens have already split on the issue with some wanting the county to push forward while others are hesitant to look at more financial adjustments before the county has even reached the year’s midpoint. During the 2015 meetings, some citizens even suggested the county look at possible funding from the school system as it would support a swim team and athletics there.

No clear picture on the path forward will be available until the commissioners discuss the issue during their two meetings this week, the Work Session on May 8 at 9 a.m. and the Regular Session on May 9 at 6 p.m., at the courthouse, 1 Broad Street in Ellijay. As always, these meetings are open to the public and time is available for citizen’s input at each meeting.

Author

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