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…”

Author

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.

Author

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.

Author

Sheriff’s warning for floods in Gilmer

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – With confirmation of roads in and around Ellijay and East Ellijay, the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office has issued a statement for drivers.

Gilmer Dispatch, deputies, and city police officers are reporting that several of the main roadways in town, as well as others throughout the county, are beginning to flood.

The Sheriff’s Office has suggested you stay in if possible, but if you have to drive, they ask that you please be on the lookout for standing water in the roadways.

DO NOT attempt to drive through roads that are under water!

This rain is in our forecast for at least the next 2-3 days, so we expect there is a possibility that the flooding on the roads may get a lot worse before it gets better.

At this time, Gilmer county remains under a Flash Flood watch until at least Thursday evening.

Author

Board splits on Hotel/Motel

News, Police & Government

ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners split their opinions on an idea to alter the Chamber and County sharing of the Hotel/Motel tax during budget sessions this year.

Brought up during the Chamber’s meeting with the board by Post 2 Commissioner Travis Crouch, the two entities delved into what it would mean to possibly shift the current 70/30 split to increase funding for the county as well as a boost in their own ambitions for increasing tourism and county draw.

Crouch mentioned only shifting it by 10% to a 60/40 split in the Chamber’s favor. Among several ideas, the county’s recent agreement and push for better signage at the county line arose. The idea resurfaced after a recent push from citizens to claim Gilmer as the Wrestling Capital of Georgia. The county is actively seeking funding sources for the project. However, the idea of funding it through the capital budget seems less likely as the budget meetings revealed at least two departments whose request could consume the entire budget on their own.

As members of the chamber were present at the meeting, the consistent report was overwhelming support and praise for what the Chamber has accomplished saying, “I love the Chamber, they are so engaged with my needs.”

Ultimately, Crouch noted that he has enjoyed and appreciated the Chamber’s work. Instead, he noted that as a business owner he agrees, but as a Commissioner, he sees the constant people talking about road conditions and similar needs. He went on to say that the change wasn’t by any means a reflection of a poor job by the Chamber, but rather he felt at a certain point, he was seeing diminishing returns alongside greater needs elsewhere.

Commission Chairman Charlie Paris disagreed with the idea saying, “My concern would be that we are talking about putting ourselves in a difficult situation in the future to have a better situation in the immediate. I think we have got to look at it long term.”

He went on to add later that he knows the county isn’t where it needs to be on roads. He related a story when he was tasked to go out to the road department and take pictures of junk equipment to be sold off or moved for disposal. Paris said, “When I got back into our meeting and I was showing the pictures, Jim Smith just about had a stroke because ‘No we use that. We use that. We use that.’ That’s what they had to work with.”

Chamber President/CEO Paige Green

Chamber President/CEO Paige Green

Paris noted that the last four years have seen increases from a 16 person crew to 22 people. He noted the equipment replacements including dump trucks, bulldozer, paving roller, road sweeper, and an equipment shed to prolong the life of that equipment. He made a point to note the progress the road department has made saying that the Road Department is continuing along the path of improvement. He said they will continue needing to reverse the department’s neglect for years to come, it can’t be solved in a single year.

Chamber President and CEO Paige Green noted that she expects a plateau at some point. While she agreed with the ideas like gateway signage and organic growth from the county’s location. She added that she understood the “tough decisions” that the board makes, but the hotel/motel money reinvested in an appropriate way would be the long-term solution as opposed to the short-term solution of decreasing funding.

Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller also commented saying he would look at the number if the budget absolutely demanded it.

However, as of now, no changes have been made in the proposed budgets split. The Commissioners still have their October 16 work session and October 17 regular session as well as expected special called meetings before the budget is balanced.

Author

Gilmer “survives” the storm

News

ELLIJAY, Ga. – As Gilmer continues to clean up and recover from Saturday mornings storm, officials are beginning to assess damage and costs for the county.

According to Public Safety Director Tony Pritchett, around 4 a.m. on Saturday morning emergency services began receiving calls for aid around the county.

As one of the hardest hit counties in North Georgia, the damage with downed trees and powerlines alone could have weeklong effects according to reports as power outages continue and line-men continue working around the clock to repair both downed line and downed poles. There have also been reports of mudslides causing damage to areas, but no roads have been blocked or destroyed.

Pritchett reports that the emergency services only had one reported injury as a tree fell on a local woman’s camper in the Coosawattee area. As paramedics reached the woman, she was taken to an area hospital. However, no reports of any fatalities have come in as authorities are still, days later, responding to calls for aid.

As the intensity of the storm increase through the early hours, an estimated 8,000 – 10,000 homes lost power in the county between Amicalola Electric Company and Georgia Power. Public Safety has counted 20 homes with trees on top of them as they continue the survey process. These were just a few of the different situations that Pritchett says they have continued responding to in the days since the storm.

County services are in full swing with the Gilmer County Road Department and Public Safety department both attempting to clear trees from the roads as they find them.

Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris told FYN that the county is still collecting estimates for exact amounts of costs of the damage. However, their biggest disaster came in the Buckhorn area and the county golf course which lost part of its most recent paving of the cart path, has numerous trees down on the greens, and is still looking at water damage to the course. Early predictions say the course will not re-open to the public until Wednesday or Thursday at the earliest.

Despite the highest damage to county facilities and equipment being there, the hardest hit part of Gilmer County is actually inside Coosawattee, according to Pritchett. While the county continues the clean up in the outer areas of the county and the cities deal with the damage inside their limits, Coosawattee’s Public Works department is dealing with the mass of downed trees and road damage inside the resorts gated community.

Gilmer has also experienced flooding in low-level areas. However, River Park, which has become notorious for flooding and flood damage in recent years, made it through the storm, according to Paris, with minimal damage and little to no flooding through the buildings.

The major damage from the rainfall came with 5 damaged culvert pipes. Director of Public Works, Jim Smith told FYN that four of those pipes had part of their base wash away as water overtook the pipe and began flowing over the road. The fifth pipe, however, was located on Tyler Road, just off of Highway 282, and was completely washed out and carried away. This pipe had to be replaced and reset. However, the Road Department has all five locations repaired and passable for vehicles at this time.

Alongside the continuing official response of the county, citizens are also still out in droves continuing to help neighbors chainsaw trees in driveways and across roads that authorities haven’t reached yet. Citizens across the county are calling it a major storm, the likes of which they have not seen before.

Citizens are also reporting damage tolls in the hundreds of thousands between damage to homes and vehicles being damaged or crushed by falling branches, trees, hail, power poles, and other debris. Reports of damage continue through local farms including at least one chicken house struck by lightning and burnt down.

Continuing reports of high wind, continuous lightning, and heavy rain have locals calling it a “tornado-like storm without the tornado.”

Officials agree as the Public Safety Department is currently sharing all their information collected with the National Weather Service in attempts to classify the storm. Pritchett confirmed that they are collecting damage reports and assessing weather data to assess the possibility of microbursts, straight-line winds, or actual tornadic activity.

Gilmer is not alone in its time of recovery, though. As is common practice with power companies, Gilmer is receiving aid from counties all over Georgia. Crews are in town this week from Volt Power, Amicalola Electic, Pike Electric, Sumter Electric, and Georgia Power among others. Two visiting workers confirmed they were from Columbus, Ga. and Atlanta, Ga. With others coming in from across the state, work is continuing for those parts of Gilmer and North Georgia that are still without power.

Author

Inmate trash pickup returns

News

(Photo by Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office)

ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners (BOC) has been considering litter in the county for over three months now.

As FetchYourNews originally reported in February, “Roadside trash concerns rising in Gilmer” and further discussed in a Special Called Meeting, the BOC was set to hire seasonal employees to cover trash pickup ahead of the county’s mowing team. With a cost close to $45,000, the board was all approved and ready to move forward with the hiring when Chairman Paris returned with another option that was approved in the March Regular Meeting. For a similar cost, the county could hire one extra sheriff’s deputy to supervise prison inmates to travel the roads instead.

This option would serve the county year-round instead of a specified summer season. Additionally, the program enlists inmates of the prison system to provide service to the county during incarceration.

According to the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office, “Despite a very cool and wet last two weeks, Sheriff’s Office inmate work detail has performed litter pick up on Big Creek Road and as of April 9, 2018, has moved on to Roy Road. The inmate workers have picked up 117 bags of litter and have delivered 2,300 pounds of garbage to the Gilmer Landfill.”

The project was approved in the March meeting of the BOC with set expectations to analyze and monitor the progress so that the commissioners could keep track of the project.

The Sheriff’s Office has utilized an inmate workforce to pick up litter on the county’s roadways in the past. However, according to the Sheriff’s Office, “Budget cuts beginning in 2009 caused the program to come to an end.”

With the new funding allocation covering salary and benefits of a deputy sheriff, the office is utilizing equipment it already possessed to operate the transportation and needs of the job.

Originally, the BOC stated that with the mowing season upon us, these crews would travel ahead of the mowing teams. Gilmer County Sheriff Stacy Nicholson confirmed the immediate goal for the inmate work detail will be to go ahead of the county’s Road Department mowing crews, so the litter can be picked up before the mowers shred and scatter it.

He went on to add that on inclement weather days, the inmates will be utilized to accomplish “inside” jobs. As the work detail gets caught up ahead of the mowing schedule, it will be bounced around to address problem areas when possible.

With an ongoing concern by citizens and businesses about the issue of litter in the county, Chairman Paris has stated that this is not the end answer, but a step towards a solution.

Sheriff Nicholson would like to remind everyone that there are pretty costly fines for anyone convicted of littering and that “intent” is not a requirement of the offense, meaning trash blowing out of the bed of a pickup truck is just as much “littering” as someone purposely throwing it out the window of his or her car. Fines for someone caught littering can reach $1,000.

 

Author

Road Median Flowers

Outdoors

Before the cold turned them brown, I was getting questions about the flowers planted in the road median between Blue Ridge and Ellijay.  As it turns out the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) is teaching all of us about an old floral favorite that needs to be brought back to the garden: cosmos. This year they were planted in medians and roadsides all across the state.

 

If you have ever wondered, “Do those specialty license plates pay off?” The answer is yes, and of course, on display. What is even more exciting is that the future is bright for these types of floral plantings. GDOT is revved up on planting pollinators along the highway system, and this should have everyone doing the happy dance.

 

But let’s go back to the cosmos. This is not the orange cosmos, instead it is the Cosmos bipinnatus. This cosmos is native to Mexico and is related to coreopsis and rudbeckias. It is the quintessential cottage garden flower and brings in the pollinators.  It is so good that the University of Georgia has put them in their promotional seed packs labeled the “Pollinator Blend.” The pack states that pollinators will make a beeline to your garden when you plant this beautiful flower mix.

 

These cosmos have daisy-like flowers 2 to 4 inches wide in shades of burgundy, pink, lilac and white with orange centers, and they are borne on stems of airy, fern-like foliage for weeks on end during the growing season. As GDOT and UGA would testify, these are easy to grow from seed. In fact, they are so easy to grow from seed, you can sow successive plantings to have blooms the entire growing season, especially if you want to have a bounty of flowers for the vase too.  You might get lucky and find nursery plants, but seeds seem to be readily available.

 

Plant your seeds or nursery-grown transplants into loose, well-drained soil once the soil temperature reaches 60 degrees.  Fertility need not be high for this Mexico native. Seeds germinate in five to seven days with blooms, bees and butterflies in eight to 10 weeks. Thin the seedlings or space transplants 12 to 36 inches apart depending on your variety.

 

Yes, there are varieties like the 1936 All-America Selections Award Winner ‘Sensation’ that tops out in the 4- to 5-foot range.  But if you are into the more diminutive cosmos, then you might want to try the 2-foot-tall ‘Sonata,’ which was a Fleuroselect Award Winner. There are plenty of others to try as well.

 

Although considered an annual, the cosmos gives a perennial-like performance by reseeding, which is perfect for the highway system and your pollinator garden too. These are tough plants, so water sparingly but when you do, water deeply, training those roots to go deep. Your volunteer seedlings may look a little different than what you originally planted when it comes to height, but they will nonetheless be dazzling.

 

If GDOT can have success with cosmos, you can too. I hope you’ll give them a try next spring.

 

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