ELLIJAY, Ga – “Misplaced priorities” is what Travis Crouch, a local citizen, a former business owner in the county, and former Post Commissioner, called a preview into next year for the county.
That comment came for one specific project as Crouch’s first spoke in the Citizens Wishing to Speak section on two bridges over Rock Creek in Cherry Log that are constantly being used by county vehicles over the bridge weight limit. Crouch said he noticed last fall that the weight limits had been reduced.
He said that he understood the previous plan had been to use TSPLOST to repair these. However, as the TSPLOST had been rejected by citizens, his question was how the county planned to address the issue of the bridges.
He compared the 11-ton weight limit on the higher of the two bridges to several standard vehicles that need to cross the bridge. A dump truck delivering gravel weighs around 56,000 pounds on the low side (about 26 tons). A propane tank truck is 30,000 pounds (15 tons). A county fire truck, or tanker truck, is over 60,000 pounds (30 tons). He said that if they were condemned like Lower Cartecay Road, he would be completely isolated and cut off from vehicle traffic.
County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris responded by giving a preview into his personal look into the 2021 budget process saying that he has tried to get salaries up over recent years, but wants to focus on roads and bridges in 2021. Paris said that he is wanting to find a way to allocate more resources to the area of roads and bridges in the budget process, but that is going to entail some sacrifices in other areas. Some of those areas are already seeing relief as Paris noted the CARES Act Grant is being used to support needs in the Public Safety Department. Other areas will see needs prioritized and possibly delayed. Paris gave the example that the Sheriff’s Office may not be able to get a new vehicle in 2021.
These are all examples that the Chairman gave of his own expectation and plan. All three Commissioners will be sitting through these budget meetings as they historically do every year in October. On top of that, Paris also stated that the process would not be solved in 2021. Fixing bridges and roads and getting them to the condition that is desired, he said, “It’s going to take a number of years.”
Because of that, even the roads and bridges will need to be prioritized for attention. Paris said bridges like the ones that Crouch spoke of would definitely have to be a higher priority.
Considering the process and issues the county has had in the past, Crouch asked the board to begin processes and looking into the bridges now. He considered things like permits, easements, engineering, repair needs, and other things that could be taken care of early to attempt to make the process as quick as possible.
One example of the length these projects could take is highlighted at a higher extreme as the county has gone through a lengthy process and is still looking towards state completion of replacing the Lower Cartecay Bridge, a project that has gone on for years since its closure in 2017. However, Public Works Director Jim Smith did confirm that the county has other bridges in similar status, built decades ago and sitting on “stacked rock” as they said in the Special Called Meeting.
Before leaving, Crouch asked one final question about roads and bridges in comparison to another county project. The project that he later in the meeting called, “misplaced priorities.”
Crouch asked if the county should really be building a new pool with such needs for roads and bridges.
A project that has been contentious since its inception, many citizens of the county agree with Crouch’s statement and have made similar statements in previous county meetings. Yet, also a project that has been hotly supported by many citizens in other meetings as they debated needs, designs, and locations.
Paris noted this back and forth as he said running the county is a balancing act between people and their wants. He said that he agreed that the amount the county will spend on the pool won’t do much for roads and bridges as they are so expensive.
Paris stated, “I believe that the swimming pool is essential to the youth of the county and that it needs to be built. If we decided not to, we probably wouldn’t see any difference at all in roads… because roads are so wickedly expensive.”
Crouch responded saying, “There is nothing more basic than public safety for responsibility for the Board of Commissioners… Years ago the commissioners were called Road Commissioners.”
Crouch said that roads and public safety are the primary tasks and responsibilities for the commissioners. He made a comparison between the two items calling the pool a “luxury.”
While discussion ended on the topic there for today, it is sure to re-emerge as the county draws closer to October and its marathon of meetings during the budgeting process.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – The process that began last year with former Post 2 Commissioner Travis Crouch, now continues as the Gilmer BOC (Board of Commissioners) is asking for citizens to comment and help direct them on this plan with a survey.
They survey is being disseminated through several outlets and interested parties in the development of this plan. In August of 2018, the Board began seeking to do more with the annually updated document as both Crouch and Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller began questioning what more they could accomplish and utilize the document for.
At that time, Miller had noted in the Regular Session that he was disappointed that there was no resolution needed on the plan. He clarified that as a strategic planning document, it did not address the counties highest priorities, its infrastructure, or anything about revenue or funding for those projects.
The next step and current pursuit is to have as many citizens of the county complete the survey as possible. The survey is short requiring only 10 minutes to complete, and poses questions for opinions on things from housing to growth and recreation for citizens.
Current Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson said, “This helps us to plan for future growth and the direction we want to go in as a community.”
As the board moves forward, there will be meetings and times made available for continued input as they meet with both cities, the Chamber, and other “stakeholders” within the community.
Completing the survey and offer your opinions on the future of the county.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – An official release from the Board of Commissioners will see a small change in next year’s meetings.
Although the days will stay the same with work sessions on Wednesdays before the Regular Meetings, which are scheduled for the second Thursday of each month, the time of those work sessions will move from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m.
Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris told FYN the one-hour pushback is not to accommodate something new, but rather the ending of an accommodation. The Board has held there work sessions at 8 a.m., according to Paris, as an attempt to help complete their business and get Post 2 Commissioner Travis Crouch back to his business.
Since Crouch is now rotating off the Board of Commissioners, the time is resetting one hour later.
|Work Sessions – 9 a.m.||Regular Meeting – 6 p.m.|
|Wednesday, January 9, 2019||Thursday, January 10, 2019|
|Wednesday, February 13, 2019||Thursday, February 14, 2019|
|Wednesday, March 13, 2019||Thursday, March 14, 2019|
|Wednesday, April 10, 2019||Thursday, April 11, 2019|
|Wednesday, May 8, 2019||Thursday, May 9, 2019|
|Wednesday, June 12, 2019||Thursday, June 13, 2019|
|Wednesday, July 10, 2019||Thursday, July 11, 2019|
|Wednesday, August 7, 2019||Thursday, August 8, 2019|
|Wednesday, September 11, 2019||Thursday, September 12, 2019|
|Wednesday, October 9, 2019||Thursday, October 10, 2019|
|Wednesday, November 13, 2019||Thursday, November 14, 2019|
|Wednesday, December 11, 2019||Thursday, December 12, 2019|
ELLIJAY, Ga. – “Privileged to have Travis Crouch as our Post 2 Commissioner” is how Chairman Charlie Paris described the four-year term of his colleague.
During their December Regular Session, and consequently Crouch’s final meeting as a Post Commissioner, the Board of Commissioners offered a token of gratitude to Crouch for his service. A plaque was given to Crouch as Paris and Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller offered their thanks and pride in serving alongside him.
Miller offered a few words as well saying, “You’ve done well, I appreciate it. I know our citizens have been better because of your service. I thank you.”
As Crouch begins to step down at the end of this month, he will still be Gilmer’s Post 2 Commissioner until January 1 should a situation arise needing a special called meeting or similar requirement.
Crouch spoke of his term by noting that he enjoyed working with the Board saying, “We’ve seen eye-to-eye sometimes and sometimes we haven’t, but I feel like we’ve worked together well and I appreciate that.”
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Questions are continuing about the Gilmer County 2019 budget. With a 2-1 vote to advertise behind us, it seems like another split decision will send the Board of Commissioners into 2019.
Citing concerns over the budgeting process, Travis Crouch answered a question in citizens wishing to speak at today’s, December 12, Commissioners Work Session that he believed he would be voting “no” on tomorrows Regular Session agenda item to approve the budget. He said that, though he felt the Chairman had done a lot of work on the budget, he did not feel the post commissioners had enough time with it and enough discussions with it before they voted to advertise.
Chairman Paris said he disagreed and noted that Crouch had even asked for one meeting. They set the date and held that requested meeting.
Despite his disagreement, Paris said he was open to further changing the budgeting process later, and even instructed the County Clerk to place the item on January’s agenda to set dates and hold more discussion on the budget process for next year.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Home Rule won out on December 4, 2018, as the Board of Commissioners met for a Public Comments session regarding the 2019 budget.
“I think the citizens have spoken,” said Post Commissioner Dallas Miller after an understood agreement was reached by the members of the Board to forego the idea they’ve held for almost two months. Originally, the Board was going to send the resolution for a raise for the Post Commissioners to Atlanta do be voted on by State Legislation in order to have the issue taken care of by mid 2019.
Due to an overwhelming response by citizens questioning why they were sending this resolution to Atlanta and other details about the raise, the Public Comments meeting lasted more than an hour as Board of Commissioners Chairman Charlie Paris and Post Commissioners Travis Crouch and Dallas Miller listened.
Citizens like Joene DePlancke and Brian Pritchard adamantly told the Board they wanted the decision for raises kept in county. Miller has already noted sentiments on the issue in previous meetings, stating that it didn’t feel right that sending the choice to Atlanta would end up with him also receiving the raise. He revisited the concept at this meeting, calling it an ethics issue that he would be voting to give himself a raise.
FYN also weighed in on the issue with a recent article, “Commissioner’s pushing for “Fast Answer” in pay raises,” where the question was raised about a Post Commissioner’s election qualifying fees being paid based on the position’s salary, a salary that would then change after they took office.
By reaching an agreement to consider the raises by home rule, the issue will be pushed into the coming months of BOC meetings as they consider the issue locally. It also negates the budget line that was placed in anticipation of a possible Atlanta approval for the Post Commissioner salary raise.
This does not mean the Commissioner’s will not be getting the raise. Instead, it places the decision for it back into Gilmer County and its citizen’s hands. If the Board approves the issue, it will begin taking effect with re-election cycles, the next position up for re-election, the Post 1 seat currently held by Dallas Miller, is in 2020.
But the home rule was not the only part questioned by citizens at the public comments meeting. Other questions saw clarification and no change. DePlancke also questioned the board on their 1.5 mill in bond debt service, calling it smoke and mirrors. She stated her concern was that the Board was, in a sense, making sure it had SPLOST money left to use in capital without having to tell the citizens.
Paris explained that his intent with setting a separate millage for bond service was to keep it separate from the general fund saying, “If we were to take that one and half mill and move it over to general account, it could be used in general fund. That’s a situation I don’t want to see happen. The whole point of all this is to improve the capital infrastructure in Gilmer County and I don’t want this money where it could be used in the general fund.”
Pritchard questioned the Board’s allocation of the budget saying he could find a half million dollars to reallocate into the Road Department, an area that Paris called the biggest area of citizens concern in his opinion. He stated that the majority of calls he answers has to do with roads.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller called the budget “workable” as he promised citizens to continue working on the budget in 2019.
Calling it the biggest financial decision of the year, Miller said he wished that more people had dedicated more time to the budget process and discussions. As opposed to an expected split decision after their work session, the Commissioners put forth a 3-0 vote for approval.
The vote came shortly after Miller’s comments, but also after a lengthy work session on Tuesday with much discussion dedicated to the topic. An understanding seemed to be reached during the work session as Post 2 Commissioner Travis Crouch spoke about a need for a change in the process as a whole and Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris agreed he would be willing to look at the process, even putting it on the agenda for January.
This budget comes in a transition time as Crouch prepares to step down from his position as Post 2 Commissioner-Elect Karleen Ferguson will step into the office. This means that Crouch is not only resting on promises from Miller and Paris to continuing working on the budget, but he rests on the experience, training, and dedication of the Ferguson as well.
Along with the budget, Ferguson will also step into another major decision as the Board tabled the decision on the Post Commissioner’s Salary. As reported in “BOC backs off legislative option for Post Commissioner Raises,” the Commissioners have stated they will be looking at home rule for the discussion. But as that backs it off from a push to get it in Atlanta in early 2019, it also allows the change in the Post 2 Commissioner position. These financial decisions are likely to be the first major decisions she will vote on.
What’s the rush in Gilmer County for Post Commissioner pay raises? As the issue is moving forward in the Board of Commissioners revolves around three post commissioners, new information has drastically changed how the Board as a whole is attempting to achieve the goal of a raise.
Looking back into recent years, the Administrative Wages stood at $20,685 in 2017. It was then raised in 2018 to $21,083, not an uncommon increase as post commissioner positions gain “Cost of Living” adjustments, certification supplements, or longevity increases.
The current Post Commissioners’ base salary is $7,125.38. If the Post Commissioner has completed the Carl Vinson Institute of Government classes, they gain $1,200 in supplement pay. There is also Cost of Living Increases that have been added in recent years as well as a “Longevity Payment” if the Post Commissioner is re-elected. Additionally, health insurance is included.
However, this raise will only increase the Base Pay, everything else is added on after. So it will take what is considered a part-time position as Post Commissioner from $7,125.38 to $14,250.76.
It has been well documented that Post 2 Commissioner Travis Crouch is the one who initiated the conversation about a raise for Post Commissioners. He has said that as he looks at the position on his way out, he did not run for re-election, it is something that he feels should be changed. The final agreed amount seemed to fall at doubling the base pay of the position, from 10% of the chairman’s salary to 20%.
When it was originally brought up, the idea was to handle the change by “home rule.” This means that the Board would change its own charter, and it would hold meetings where citizens could speak and comment on their thoughts about the change. Then the board would approve or not approve the change. If approved, the change would take effect at the next election cycle.
The catch came when County Attorney David Clark informed the Board at a later meeting that such a change would have had to be done before qualifying. This was a time when Crouch said he was unsure if he would run again or not.
This is because if the positions pay changes, it will affect qualifying fees for running in the election for that position. A post commissioner candidate pays 3% of the position’s annual salary as a qualifying fee.
However, since this revelation, the county has not decided to move forward with the change to take effect for the next election cycle. They have instead pushed straight for a local legislation answer to the issue by sending it to Atlanta to be approved by the state in their earl 2019 legislative session.
However, if this happens, it will not only push away the opportunity for a public hearing and opinions by locals on the issue as the county’s charter demands, it will also take immediate effect as soon as the Governor signs the bill. It will also take effect for BOTH post commissioner positions instead of just one.
This means the current Board of Commissioners is attempting to rush ahead with an idea that was only raised a little over a month ago through the fastest option possible instead of following their own charter and their own rules to let the home rule change take effect on the next cycle. Why?
The argument was also made that these people aren’t paying attention to what they make annually, instead running for the benefit of the county. Yet, in their public meetings, Attorney David Clark openly said the pay increase would entice more people and more qualified people to the position as he likened it to that of management of a $20 million company.
Additionally, this raise further seems to be only fueled by the idea that it makes the position more attractive and “worth it” as their is no apparent changes in the responsibilities or duties of the Post Commissioner.
Is that a good reason to raise the position’s pay? That is for citizens to decide instead of state legislators.
If this is sent to the state legislation instead of handled at the county level, it also introduces a fault in the law of the county. As it is stated that a candidate should pay 3% of the Post Commissioner annual salary as a qualifying fee. Changing through state legislation puts these people outside of the county’s law as they did not pay the expected 3%.
Yes the Post 1 Commissioner (Dallas Miller) has spent close to two years in the position being paid what he qualified for with the 3%, but the Post 2 Commissioner Elect (Karleen Ferguson) will likely only spend 6 months in office before her salary doubles. The “6 months” comes from estimations from county officials that the Governor may not even sign the bill, if approved, until June or July. Regardless, that is a Post 2 Commissioner spending the vast majority of her term at double the salary that she “qualified” for.
Put aside the people, put aside the question of if the raise should happen or not. The real question is why the Board is so bent on pushing this change through as fast as possible.
Breaking down the options is easy.
Home Rule requires a time frame before qualifying, requires all advertisements and public hearings necessary for changing the county’s charter, and doesn’t take effect until the position is up for election again.
Local Legislation is done in the next three months, is only required to spread the information of the change through state level requirements, and takes effects for all parties immediately.
The moral question at hand is not whether the Post Commissioners deserve a raise, many past Post Commissioners have openly stated that the job is not worth the pay. The question is simple, “WHY THE RUSH?”
Why does the Board not move forward with a suggested change to its charter or ordinances as it should, and as it has with many of its other changes including the River Regulations, Land Ordinance changes, and even its annual budgets.
Why the rush?
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Splitting the board in two, the final vote after months of work came down 2-1 for approving the advertisement of the Gilmer County Budget.
The $21,711,407 budget is in the advertisement phase right now and available for public comment and perusal. Officially, there will be a Public Hearing the first week in December alongside the Commissioner’s regular meetings.
The county has already waded through several rising issues including a questioned raise for Post Commissioners, questions about elections in the Probate Judge’s Office, and issues with the Hotel/Motel split. They spent another hours-long meeting this month going over one of the two biggest issues, it seems, for this year. Requests in the Capital Budget are being strained and cut. Though these issues have occurred every budget session in recent years, an easier balanced Maintenance & Operations Budget (M&O) has drawn the extra attention to these needs.
Some of the more extreme cuts focused on the larger budget departments and offices like the Sheriff, Road Department, and Fire/EMA.
The road department saw cuts removing the chance for an Asphalt Spreader, a reduction in funding for a new lift station, and two trucks put on lease instead of outright purchases.
Most of the county’s vehicle purchases across departments in the capital budget were either put on lease or straight cut from the budget.
Fire/EMA lost funding for a replacement Rescue truck, EMA Headquarters, and mobile command centers as well as funding for turnout gear for employees. Amid discussions. Post Commissioner Travis Crouch said he had a hard time eliminating funding completely for the gear and was searching for a way to partially fund it over something else.
Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris noted to the other board members that it was done on the basis of a verbal priority list that Public Safety Director Tony Pritchett gave to the board during individual sessions.
The M&O portion of the budget saw an increase in ammunition for the Sheriff’s Office, decreases in detention center salary raises (still receiving a slight increase overall), an increase to Road Striping for the Road Department, and an increase in Park & Recreation staffing among other things.
The other of the two major issues the county saw in this budget session was a split in the board on a potential change to Gilmer Chamber funding from the Hotel/Motel Tax. As the county has seen increases to this revenue over the years, a rift began forming as Crouch began questioning the return-on-investment the county is seeing from the ‘Chamber-favorable split.’
In opposition, Paris said he felt the split is justified as it is. Several notes were made by Chamber President Paige Green as well as to the increases of the funding and increases in tourism the county has seen. Though she admitted fault in not living up to agreements made to details and information reported in her quarterly attendance to the commissioner meetings, she felt strongly that decreasing the Chamber’s funding from the Hotel/Motel tax would not only adversely affect the Chamber, but the county as a whole.
Crouch stated in a previous meeting as reported in FYN’s Board Splits on Hotel/Motel article;
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.
As the third member of the board, Post Commissioner Dallas Miller seemed conflicted on the issue at first, agreeing with Crouch’s statements as to the struggling needs in other areas. Miller did state earlier in the meeting, separate from this issue, that he was pleased with what he saw as increased attention to the Road Department in the budget, a cause he has championed in recent years.
Ultimately, considering the Hotel/Motel split and the numerous other portions of the county’s budget. Miller sided with Paris in a 2-1 vote to approve the budget for advertising. However, we do not know for sure if it was the Hotel/Motel split that pushed Crouch to the “no” vote as he declined to comment at this time.
As the budget moves forward, it is now the citizens’ turn to question and comment on the budget in the coming month before the new year. Be sure to check out the full budget before these meetings.
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.”
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.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Probate Judge Scott Chastain met with the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners in October to speak about the county budget in the Probate Office.
Chastain spoke to Commissioners about budget increases to appoint a Clerk as Chief Clerk and providing her with a raise and additional traveling to training classes with Judge Chastain in order to be able to fill in certain duties when the Judge is away for training or something requiring him to be out of the office. While she would only fill in for administrative issues, not court or similar duties. Also on his proposed budget, he spoke with the Commissioners about pay increases for the clerks as well.
Among other details including travel expenses and certifications for the clerks in the office, Chastain began a conversation with the Board saying he does not want to have Elections in his office anymore. Despite saying he just wanted to have a conversation about the issue and understanding that it would cost the County more to have an Elections Board than to keep elections under the Probate Office, Chastain pushed on the issue saying that many of the other surrounding counties have already separated the two.
Midway through the meeting, the Gilmer County Post 1 Commissioner Dallas Miller began speaking about the condition of some of the counties precincts. Chastain noted that the county has four precincts within a mile of each other and he was looking at holding town hall meetings next year to consider consolidating precincts together to save some money. He assured the board that he didn’t want to change any of the outlying precincts, but instead wanted to look at those “in town.”
As the conversation progressed, Chastain said, “After the nightmare, in my opinion, or the may have been hiccup in some people’s eyes, the Danny Hall situation from last year… I went through and listed the counties that currently have the Probate Judge as the Election Superintendent. At the time I did this, we have 38 counties in the state of Georgia that was still doing elections through the Probate Office.” (34:24 in video)
Chastain went on to note that the yearly supplement he gets as Probate Judge for also being the Election Superintendent is $3,800. He said, “When nothing’s going on, that’s probably not a bad gig, but when it’s full-blown election season and all that was going on, that was a drop in the bucket.”
Chastain admitted that moving the elections to a board of its own would cost the county more money and said his understanding is that other counties have had to add a couple of full-time employees to their payroll for the department.
He noted, “I don’t want to be the Probate Judge that comes in and gets rid of elections because we’ve always had it in the Probate Court, but, for the life of me, I cannot understand how it’s still there.”
Though he did say that he was, at this time, just wanting it “out there” for discussion, he did make special note that 2020 is a big election, suggesting that he wanted to have a final decision by then. He added that if the commissioners decided it is best for him to keep it, he would not “pitch a fit,” but if it is better to separate it, “then I definitely want to look at that option.”
ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners sat with departments and offices alike this month to look at proposed budgets that will make up the county’s finances in 2019.
At this time, these are all proposed budgets from the Department Heads and Elected Officials. This means that the county’s coming meetings on Tuesday, October 16, and Wednesday, October 17, will offer discussion as well as an expected Special Called Meeting later in the month to discuss cuts and balancing.
While Gilmer County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris said he wished to look at increases in the department head’s salaries, no concrete number was set yet. Paris had mentioned $3,000 in one meeting, but later said it would be looking at this topic again when he could see a clearer picture of the budget and needs.
Additionally, concerns were raised through several meetings about capital budget requests and constraints on that side of the budget. As struggles continue with employee pay in many departments, the board is looking at a decrease in healthcare costs for the first time in years. As they have finalized numbers on the savings and their impact on the budget, an unexpected event occurred.
According to the county’s current 2019 budget request spreadsheet, they are currently looking at $686,894.42 difference of revenue over expenditures. This difference was discovered after the end of these meetings as the final numbers were calculated.
According to Gilmer County Finance Officer Sandi Holden, a large portion of this revenue over expenditures is made from the Health Insurance savings. However, she did note that the county could still have items come up in the budget as they have only gone through the budget once during these meetings. The county is preparing to revisit these in coming meetings.
Additionally, the difference here is only on the Maintenance & Operations part of the budget. The capital budget is still to be discussed and analyzed in the coming meetings as well.
Holden told FYN she cannot remember, in the eight budgets she has worked on, ever being in the black after the initial meetings.
Each video is logged for individual departments unless multiple departments are under single purviews like Roads and bridges with solid waste under Public Works or Probate and Elections.
One of the Animal Shelter’s major requests is for a full-time employee at 40 hours/week and a 50 cent rais for two of its current employees. This cost falls under the Maintenance and Operations budget, but in capital requests, the Animal Shelter is looking for a new truck as the shelter’s truck gets excessive use through animal sharing with other states. The large accruement of miles adds extra wear, however, discussion in the budget meeting may have already found a truck to donate in order to cut the capital expense. There is also a request for a storage shed for equipment. This as well may be offset by a request in maintenance for a larger shed, meaning the Animal Shelter may receive their old shed.
Board of Commissioners
The Board of Commissioners began speaking in their own meeting as Post Commissioner Travis Crouch brought up a subject concerning his position after he leaves. Expressing feelings that the Post Commissioners should receive more pay for the work and effort they put into the county, Crouch suggested an increase in salary. Currently, the Post Commissioners receive a salary of 10% of what the Commission Chairman is paid. The suggestion in the meeting was to raise this to 20%. However, Crouch would receive none of this increase as not only will he not be in office in 2019, a Post Commissioner cannot take advantage of the raise until a new post commissioner is elected or the current one is reelected. While this does mean an increase for the coming Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson, it also means that Post Commissioner Dallas Miller will not receive a raise in salary until his post’s next election cycle if re-elected.
Another major item on the Commissioner’s budget is funding for the recently reinvigorated push for dynamic welcome signage at the county line. It was reintroduced into discussion last month as citizens pushed for the county’s help in acquiring state recognition as the Wrestling Capital of Georgia. The commissioner’s decided to go further and incorporate the two state-capital recognitions the county has already received, Apple Capital and Mountain Biking Capital, and consider building a better county sign at the border welcoming travelers to the county and providing quick information about current events.
With updates to the Chamber’s coming Welcome Center on the square in downtown Ellijay, the Gilmer Chamber is looking at funding strains across the organization as discussion arose about changing the split in Hotel/Motel Tax (see Board splits on Hotel/Motel). Discussion included changing the split from 70/30 to 60/40, still in the Chamber’s favor. Chamber President/CEO Paige Green disagreed, calling the change a short-term answer with long-term detriment. While officially, the split has not been renegotiated, discussion continued about the expectations for Chamber Reports and duties in the future. Additionally, Paris also disagreed with changing the split. Miller did not indicate a leaning to either side saying that he would look at it if the budget demanded it.
Clerk of Court
The Clerk of Court’s office saw a $9,000 increase in supplies requests over last year’s budget due to increases in mandatory e-filings. However, the board is considering moving this to capital expenses as much of the need is for new computer equipment for the office.
There is also a $20,000 increase over this year’s budget as the office has lost three people in the last year with only two being replaced. Believing they are going to need to replace the third person as well now, they noted this as the major reason for the increase.
Code & Regulations
Like most of the departments, requests for salary and wages increases for the department were forefront. Again, the commissioners noted they are looking to offset this in Health insurance savings, but are waiting to see final numbers on the savings and budgets before final adoption.
The Appalachian Judicial Circuit is looking at a $150,000 budget increase next year as they add another administrative position to the office. Also in wages, the office is looking to add a 5% increase to “spacer” positions in the office. Spacer positions are classified as state employees and get benefits from the state. Their pay, however, ultimately comes from the county as the state pays them and the county reimburses the state.
In capital expenditures, the District Attorney’s office is looking to change audio/visual networks in the county’s courtrooms. District Attorney Alison Sosebee noted this is a need throughout the circuit. The request is to install the network instead of the current system of wheeling a single cart used for tv and audio evidence to the different courtrooms. The new system would individually upgrade all but one of the county’s courtrooms.
The county has indicated its intentions to move the offices of the Extension Agency into another location as they are looking to sell the building and land that the current office sits on. Noting continuing maintenance costs and issues, they spoke about possible locations and needs that the agency could be interested in. They are also looking at increasing education/training expenses and travel as classes are coming in Columbus, Ohio.
With expected continuations in overtime and education/training, rises in related expenses came from the Fire/EMA Department. But the major issue with the department in 2019 lies in the capital budget as vehicles and equipment are in need of replacing.
Pressing the highest priority in ambulances, the department noted that emergency calls have been increasing in 2018 alongside the continuing transport calls from the Piedmont Emergency Department in Ellijay. Capital expenses continue to include a 2,000-gallon pumper truck to carry water to areas of the county. Public Safety Director Tony Pritchett spoke to the board saying that several areas of the unincorporated parts of the county are without fire hydrants. As such, the need for large amounts of water to fight fires is especially important in those situations. Additionally, keeping a maintained and working truck for those areas and ambulance fleet were key factors in ISO safety ratings for the county as well, affecting insurance rates and liability.
Additional needs fell to turnout gear and equipment for the department’s firefighters, a new emergency operations command, and a new mobile command unit for the department.
With so many large expenses, the board has already indicated cuts in the area as they began questioning the department on what it would mean if they only got some of the turnout gear and options on the EOC and training increases as well as partnering with the school system as they have utilized the old Oakland Elementary building for training.
Requests for capital expense could see the Health Department changing its outside areas as concerns were raised over handicap accessibility at the Health Department. They are looking to put in automatic opening doors for handicap access as well as possibly changing the parking lot as to where the handicap parking is in relation to the access ramp.
The Library has increased its requests over the 2018 budget as they have seen increased traffic in the department. With more people utilizing the library for multiple needs and events, the budget has seen shortfalls this year. Salary increase requests could also see changes in the department alongside concerns over health insurance costs. However, changes to the 2019 budget’s health insurance did offset part of the need.
Talks also arose about a second access point to the library as the basement project will likely begin before the new year. While no set plan was decided, officials are looking at both access for patrons later, but also construction and renovation workers that could spill over into the early part of the year.
The board discussed issues with the courthouses capstone discoloration and options for solutions. While the main option included painting the stones, the price quoted at $11,950. Addition issues involved the iron railings in certain areas are beginning to wear down and also need painting, which would increase that cost. An additional $15,000 was requested for replacing the carpet in certain high traffic areas of the courthouse.
The department is also looking for two new additional maintenance workers included in the budget requests.
The major project of upgrading the courtrooms also fell into the capital budget for $195,000 for three courtrooms in the audio/visual systems. Discussions continued about options of maybe upgrading one courtroom at a time. The problem with that option comes with needing to maintain both systems during the years of transition.
Parks & Recreation
Concerns over the Parks & Recreations budget also centered on wages with a high point in “mowing season.” While Parks & Recreations Director Kevan White said staffing was adequate, he noted several times employees have hit overtime in high traffic times.
The commissioners are still looking at pool costs and balancing against staying open year round. Separating costs and upgrades for heating the pool and costs for staying open, these will be reimbursed from the community and the clubs supporting the change. This is a new change as the Commissioners looked closer at how to budget for the off-season operations.
Continuing to seek grant funds for upgrades and repairs to areas of the park, the department is continuing its work from this year to change and update the park area.
Probate & Elections
Like most departments, Probate Judge Scott Chastain said one of the office’s largest problems is fighting against the loss of staff. As he requests a 50 cent raise for most clerks, he is also looking for a larger raise for an appointed Chief Clerk who would fill in for the Judge in days where he may be out of the office for training courses or other responsibilities that may take him from the office. Chastain told the board that this position would cover only for administrative duties and signatures, he or she would not be able to do anything in the courtroom or handle those types of responsibilities.
Another increase in the requested budget fell into travel expenses as he would want his chief clerk to attend certain training sessions in the next year to experience some of the training he sees for the possibility of her filling in for those administrative duties. Clerks in the office are also gaining state certifications, this could include an award ceremony for those who gain the certification, a ceremony Chastain wants to send those clerks to as a reward for their work.
Additionally, the office could be looking for a conversation about separating the elections from the Probate Office. Chastain asserted that this was just a conversation at this point as he wanted to explore the option with the commissioners, an option that he says the majority of counties in the state have already done.
Increases are set to come to the Public Works office as the board is attempting to respond to continuing citizen concerns by adding 8 positions back to the Road Department. Paris has noted over recent years that these positions are being added “back” to the department as it is still understaffed compared to what it was before the recession. As the board increases efforts in the department to better handle the large mileage of roads in the county, they are still raising concerns about the increasing costs of materials each year. Stone and asphalt are two major needs in the road department, both have seen major increases over recent years.
Public Works Director Jim Smith also noted that even with the increase in staff, he still expects to have to shift workers around and pull from certain crews for major projects like the annual LMIG paving. He also noted an increasing need to continue replacing equipment across his departments like the aging asphalt spreader.
Some increases are being mirrored into the revenue side as well as slight increases are being planned in the solid waste department based on trends in past years. Planning for these increases helps offset some costs, but major projects are also coming with issues that Smith is reporting for the solid waste department’s scales and lift stations. Discussions have already begun about prioritizing these capital expense needs over and above the Maintenance and Operations Budget.
Another increase in salary and wages, the Registrar’s office is tracing increases in workload back to state-mandated changes that are registering massive numbers of people to vote as they apply for driver’s licenses. This program is also registering numerous people who are not allowed to vote or already registered to vote. The added work hits the Registrar’s Office as they are having to find these duplicate registrations and combine them as well as finding registrations that must be deleted felons not allowed to vote.
Especially during major elections, the department is reporting that they cannot operate further without a full-time employee set to operate every day alongside the part-timers.
Whitepath Golf Course
Capital projects like a new water well and a pavilion sit on the golf course’s budget for the coming year. Increasing the appeal and accessibility to drinkable water on the course aren’t even the largest items. Efforts are continuing to update the course as it draws closer than ever to becoming self-sufficient. This has been a major desire of the commissioners in the last four years.
In 2019, the budget requests are so close, around a $22,000 difference, the commissioners are looking at minor budget changes to connect the small gap. With confidence that the goal could be reached, they pushed forward in discussions and capital needs. However, Paris cautioned the board saying that if they pushed too hard to balance this budget, they could get unrealistic numbers.
The course is also requesting capital funds for newer Golf Carts, a range picker for the driving range, and a security gate at the maintenance area for those golf carts. An option was put forth to split the costs of the security gate over two budgets, but nothing has been set yet.
With the Commissioners set to discuss and balance the budget in the coming weeks, the have the finalized budget requests as a starting point moving into these discussions. Make sure to check out both the 2019 Requested Budget and the current 2018 Budget in preparation for this week’s meetings.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – A “hindrance” is how Post 2 Commissioner Travis Crouch described the toll a Post Commissioner takes during their service.
Having served almost four years and stepping down at the end of December, Crouch has led the board’s discussion on Commissioner salaries as he described in October’s meetings how it has affected both his business and life.
Crouch went further to say the increase would help to attract people who would do a good job for the county, noting that his business has been affected by the time he has spent on Post Commissioner duties and has cost him money in the long run.
However, much has changed since he began the conversations earlier this month in budget sessions. The Commissioners are still considering raising the salaries from 10% to 20% of the Chairman’s, effectively doubling the pay. Yet, the county’s attorney, David Clark, informed them during the special session that changing the salary should have been done before qualifying was held for the position.
Discussion continued on the topic despite the setback as the county is moving toward a legislative session answer to the obstacle. Though the board can change the salary prior to qualifying, now, they will seek to have their District Representative and Speaker of the House David Ralston or State Senator Steve Gooch introduce a change the county’s Post Commissioner salaries in the 2019 general assembly.
Clark also noted the last time the Commissioner’s Salary was changed was in 2001. Though all three Commissioners agreed about changing the salaries, moving forward now will also change the discussion since the budget session as if it is done at the legislative level, it will immediately affect Post 1 Commissioner, Dallas Miller.
Clark called the change in salary overdue, not only for the Post Commissioners, but for the entire board. If the board was to change the post Commissioners to 20% and then raise the Chairman’s salary, it would effectively further raise the Post Commissioners as well. Even though it wasn’t further discussed during their meeting, Paris confirmed that it was mentioned in discussions.
However, Paris also said, “I’ve indicated that I’m fine where I am,” adding that he was focused on the Post Commissioners at this time, the Chairman not being the priority of the discussions.
Clark also agreed with the change to 20% as he said it was probably a truth that “for every five days the chairman works, a post probably works one day of that week” through their time spent fielding phone calls and their other responsibilities.
He likened the county to $20 million company saying that in order to seek out those willing to put in the time and effort into managing that, you need to invest in them.
If completed in this manner, it was estimated that this could become active in May.
The board is continuing the discussion on the topic this month and into the November Meeting of the board. Alongside the new information that it would affect Miller as well, it also pushes back the raise for newcomer Karleen Ferguson to May as well, a change from the expected entrance at the new pay scale.
Breaking down the numbers, this change would affect the base salary calculations. According to Paris, his base salary that affects all of this as Chairman is $71,253.78.
Taking that number, the current Post Commissioner Base Salary, before any supplements or bonuses, would be $7,125.38. However, adding the increase would shift this to $14,250.76 annual salary before supplements or bonuses. On top of these, the Post Commissioners are added for costs of living and other certifications.
Chairman Paris officially told FYN that they are would wait until the 2019 session to put this bill forward. They would not be interested in adding it into the November Special Session.
Even with this set in the early 2019 legislative session, it could be only a half-year change as it would not take effect until the Governor signs it. Paris noted this could mean a June or July change.
Additionally, Paris also noted that this is not the first time the county has used this option, having previously changed the coroner’s salary in the same fashion years ago.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners is taking steps to make changes to how it deals with something that has been called “useless” and “a document you approve then throw in a desk.”
While the Commissioner meeting spent a large amount of time on citizen’s concerns over Rainbow Lake, the Commissioner also spent a large portion of time discussing their future with the county’s Joint Comprehensive Plan.
The annual update to the Community Work Program and Capital Improvements Element within the Joint Comprehensive Plan Document was how the agenda item was worded, yet it grew into much more with input from both Post Commissioners Travis Crouch and Dallas Miller.
With a joint meeting to be set for input from the community involving the cities of Ellijay and East Ellijay, Crouch suggested there are far more entities that need to be involved in the process as a whole and in that meeting.
Miller noted in the Regular Session that he was disappointed that there is no resolution needed on the plan. Attempting to make a point, he clarified that as a strategic planning document, it doesn’t address the counties highest priorities, its infrastructure, or anything about revenue or funding for these projects.
Miller went on to say that there are many things about the document that needs to be changed to become more useful to the county instead of something the board does to maintain its qualified status for grants and government funding sources. He also noted that the document does not commit the county to anything listed on it.
Counterpointing Miller’s discussion, County Commission Chairman Charlie Paris stated that he thought the fact that the document held no legal commitment was a good thing as it isolated the regional commission from the county in that aspect. However, he did note that the county does commit itself to projects on its own and nothing would stop the county from doing those things.
Crouch also commented further saying the document was so frustrating to him as it is wasted potential as the county is, in fact, is addressing the issue last minute. Instead of just saying “here it is,” he wants more involvement and more usage of the document.
While the Joint Comprehensive Plan is not useless, as it is required for certified status and helps in grant pursuit, the feeling from both Post Commissioners indicated they wanted more. A feeling that has been voiced numerous times over past years.
Though the county still needs to move forward on this item now, Paris suggested an alternative to waiting until next year to address concerns saying, “We have to do this document and we’ll do it and we’ll get it out of the way. But there is not a thing in the world that stops us from creating our own document that does everything that you said, Travis. We can have our own plan, and it will undoubtedly include an awful lot of whats on [the Joint Comprehensive Plan] and some things that, perhaps, are not. That can be our plan and we can commit to it, and we can do whatever we want to with it.”
Attempting to include all the stakeholders while addressing the concerns of usefulness and commitment from the board, the document could be used to create the necessary document for the Joint Comprehensive Plan.
With both Post Commissioners indicating an interest in the concept, Paris suggested they take the next few months to begin the process to create the county’s own “plan.” While no direct action was taken, all three commissioners seemed agreed to pursue the plan.
Also taking time from the Commissioners’ meeting was a rezoning request asking to change a property on Laurel Hill Lane from R-1 Residential to A-1 Agricultural. The applicant, Jason Rice, and his lawyer, Jeb Chatham, indicated at the meeting his intention to construct an outbuilding and hosting of animals on the property. Paris questioned if he was aware of last year’s changes to hobby livestock in Residential areas of the county.
Rice said it was more about the freedom and flexibility of an Agricultural Zoning. He wanted to have more freedom to do what he wanted without worrying about the rules and restrictions of R-1. He stated he didn’t fully have it figured out, but what he wanted was the flexibility to do more.
Ultimately, the zoning failed to gain a motion from the board and was then was denied 3-0 with Paris reasserting his statements from previous meetings to protect landowners who researched and did their due diligence to find a residential area and expect it not to change. It was noted in their work session that while the Planning and Zoning board recommended approval, there was opposition and a letter sent to the Chairman in opposition to the zoning changes.
Their meeting continued on as the commissioners appointed Ron Cheslocke to the Keep Gilmer Beautiful Committee.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Board of Commissioners officially took action in support of mountain biking in the county.
With two separate actions, the county is beginning to explore the mountain biking potential of our county. Led by Post Commissioner Travis Crouch, now well into the second half of his final year as Post Commissioner, the board officially motioned to draft a Letter of Support for a designation as a bronze level IMBA (International Mountain Bicycling Association) Ride Center.
The letter of support is the board’s part in a county application to become a “Ride Center” in efforts to support the mountain biking community and help in increasing the draw of them to our area. Crouch said it offers a level of prestige to our county with the official ride center setting us as more of a ‘destination’ for the activity.
The second item held no real motion, but the Commissioners did agree to a late September visit to Cherokee County where they will be discussing the importance of the county’s trail system and its impact and effect on the citizens. With all three commissioners agreed to attend, this will be an official meeting in another county as they meet with Cherokee Representatives. With some details still under works, the commissioners did indicate they may also visit the counties aquatic center while there.
As this process continues, Crouch told FYN he wanted the other commissioners to see and hear details about this sport, not just from those who participate, but from their fellow commissioners and peers in government. In the meantime, the application will continue on as a separate issue on its own. IMBA will be visiting Gilmer County as a part of the process to assess our trail system, community, amenities, lodging, and more.