ELLIJAY, Ga. – After a lightning strike hit the Central Office of Gilmer County Charter Schools damaging internal systems and losing power, back-up power in the form of a generator and UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) systems for emergency power proved to be insufficient for the office building. A situation that the Board of Education is looking to rectify after inspections have provided options for replacement.
The emergency power system could run operations for roughly 30 minutes, enough time to save projects and shut down or to active that generator to take over. However, the full generator is needed for anything longer. One of the issues the board has faced is that when the system tries to run off of the generator, the system overloads and shuts down. With new systems having been added over the years, the generator was never updated to keep up with the additional electrical draw.
Adding in a new 250 amp interface switch in addition to replacing the actual generator is just the start of the costs for the school. The switch itself will cost about $13,000 according to Superintendent Dr. Brian Ridley.
In addition to the switch, continuing supply chain issues mean that a replacement will take between nine and twelve months to get here. Dr. Ridley informed the board that one option for immediate response could be to rent a 250 amp generator for $2,800 a month until the replacement arrives. He quoted a total cost before installing anything new to be $47,396.
After that immediate response, purchasing a replacement for their current system included options for a 250 amp generator for $41,000 or an 800 amp generator for $141,000, but would also cost an additional amount to replace the switch again, this time for an 800 amp switch.
He went on to tell the board that he could get the switch and rental generator quickly and address the office’s back-up power issues. Additionally, all of the information given for replacement generators was an estimate from inspections and repairs. Ridley said the board would have to go through the process of a Request for Proposals (RFP), but wanted to offer the immediate information to the board so they would have an idea.
The board was also informed that the lightning strike also damaged the UPS Emergency power systems.
Boardmember Michael Parks stated, “If we’re going to spend that much money, we need to make sure it’s going to work for what its purpose is meant for.” Advising extra caution as the office already built over its capacity once. He said he didn’t want to gamble on a generator that will also immediately fail do to overload, suggesting that they take time to gauge and see exactly how much power the system needs.
The board was assured that the school system has already had two separate electrician’s look at the system and would also go through the RFP process, fully covering their bases on the office’s needs. The 250 amp generator would run the critical systems, but not the whole office. The 800 amp generator could support everything. No action was taken in the meeting as Ridley wanted to inform the board of the situation so they could ask questions and deliberate on the path to take.
The board also briefly discussed purchasing the additional generator to support their current one, operating both simultaneously. But as the school system continues collecting information, this and other options will be revisited in the October meetings.
GILMER COUNTY, Ga. – Continuing to build the county’s image for outdoors, hiking, and biking, the Board of Commissioners approved a designation in this month’s meeting as a Benton MacKaye Trail Community.
Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson spoke to the item saying that not only is there no cost to the county but also a communal benefit would come from additional advertisement for our community. The Benton MacKaye Trail Association looks to organize charitable and educational purposes to construct, maintain and protect the Benton MacKaye Trail and, according to their website, “to inform (by newsletter, brochure, correspondence, guidebook, map, and other means) its members and the general public of opportunities for outdoor recreation and public service; to conduct workshops, seminars and work trips to foster skills in trail construction and maintenance; to promote hiking, camping and a wilderness experience in the Southern Appalachian Mountains; to instill in its members and the general public a conservation ethic.”
Ferguson noted that the Benton MacKaye Trail begins in Gilmer County. Starting on Springer Mountain, which rests on the boarder between Gilmer and Fannin Counties. It then stretches over 300 miles long. In the county’s meeting, Ken Cissna, President of the Benton MacKaye Trail Association, spoke to the board about the project and the many landmarks along the trail including Three Forks, the Toccoa River Suspension Bridge, and Long Creek Falls among others.
Adding on to the Appalachian Trail Community that Gilmer already has, the new Benton MacKaye Trail Community designation was also reported by Ferguson to be supported by the Gilmer Chamber as well. The board discussed the benefits including inviting more hikers to the area will further encourage those tourists to our local businesses along with purchasing supplies and other items that visitors need.
With the official approval in Thursday’s meeting, Gilmer has officially added the designation in cooperation with the association, which will continue its scheduled minimum of two hikes per month, one of five to eight miles and moderate difficulty as well as a leisurely, shorter, easier hike that may be somewhat slower paced. In addition, more information about the association, the trail itself, conservation efforts, and other scheduled hikes can be found on the Association’s website.
GILMER COUNTY, Ga. – Both the BOC’s special meeting and the BOE’s monthly work session saw discussion after falling median sales ratios in the Tax Assessors Office could set the county up for another state consent order and penalties in fees.
Chief Appraiser, Theresa Gooch stated that if the county’s median falls below a 38, the first consequence comes as the possibility of losing some public utility money or tax revenue. This number comes from the state’s Department of Audits and Accounts (DOAA) studies that occur annually. This means the Audit will look at samples of sales in the year and look at the sale value and compare that to what the county Tax Assessors assessed the value at. Since the state expects the assessors to set there evaluations at 40 percent of the property’s value. The optimum ratio, according to the state, is set between 38 and 42 percent so that there is no major variations.
However, to “pass” the audit, a term presented by BOE Finance Director Trina Penland, the assessed evaluations must fall between 36 percent and 44 percent, allowing for a 4 percent margin of error on either side as some might say. The report of the test samples for 2021 in Gilmer County fell to 35.88 percent, according to Penland’s report.
The study lags, however, according to Gooch who explained that the Department uses 2021 sales to set 2021 values while the county must use 2020 sales to anticipate and set expected 2021 values. The time lag also comes as the county has to have its values set by January 1, 2021. The state, however, comes later as Gooch said in the August 2022 meeting that the county just received the study results. Since the county’s and the states values are at odds, the discrepancy arises. The difference is so stark this year with the rising inflation and market values in just the course of one year.
There is no immediate consequence this year as the county is not under an official review year, Gooch said that will take place next year with regards to the 2022 assessments currently in their final stages. The Tax Assessors will use this information to set the expected 2023 values, but the state will wait until the end of 2023 to set those values based on actual sales.
With the current issue, she urged the county to formally file an appeal to have their concerns on record that Gilmer is “not happy with the findings.” Additionally, Gooch noted that the county could rise up again and make the requirement by next year’s review, but she has concerns if the state continues studies with the time difference allowing major influences to change market values drastically between the county’s anticipatory values from 2022 and the states actuals from 2023.
Not meeting the state required study median causes a fine, County Chairman Charlie Paris noted $174,000. The option is going under a consent order. Paris also noted that the last time the county was under a consent order, “it cost us more than paying the fine.”
In addition to those, Penland reported to the BOE that the Tax Assessors will also have to change their ratios for the digest in coming years, further reducing the money collected for both the Board of Education and the Board of Commissioners budgets.
Gilmer County is not the only county going through this issue currently as Penland showed reports from 2019, 2020, and 2021 audits with more and more counties falling out of compliance each year. In the 2021, the majority of North Georgia along with counties all over the state are facing this same issue of being out of compliance.
Gooch reported that the last time Gilmer County was out of compliance, with a median percentage below 36, was “prior to 2010” and the last time it was out of optimal range, with a median percentage below 38, was 2013.
EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – With a letter from from the state reapportionment office suggesting changes, this Thursday will see the Gilmer Board of Education considering redrawing district lines for the county in regards to the board members.
This does not affect the county’s voting registration or citizens voting districts within the county. Instead, it changes the lines of the county and the districts that each board of education members’ seat represents. The diagram, pictured to the right, shows these changes on Gilmer’s map. The green lines represent the former district lines, established in 2012. The colored sections represent how the districts will look if approved on Thursday.
Based on the recent census, Superintendent Dr. Brian Ridley told board members that the changes look to rebalance populations within the districts.
The new lines show three major changes to the districts with the west side of District 5 reaching further west across Mountaintown, the east side of District 4 reaching further east towards the cities, and the southwest side of District 2 reaching further west across Yukon.
According to documents presented in their work session, this redraw will see each district with just over 6,000 people living in each of the districts.
This redistricting has not been approved yet, but is set for consideration this week, having the districts set for the coming election.
About voting on board members, Dr. Ridley stated, “The only thing that this affects is where future board members may live. Since all of you are voted on at large, it really doesn’t have any effect on who votes for who.”
Board Member Joe Pflueger question the origination of the map and Dr. Ridley clarified that the map was redrawn and provided by the state reapportionment office. Pflueger further noted that there has been no local input on the districts map as presented so far. Comments were made that the board would discuss legal options in executive session.
Dr. Ridley did note that the board could accept the map as presented or potentially alter it and ask for changes. Tomorrow’s, January 27, 2022, Regular Meeting of the Gilmer BOE will see the board’s decision on the map at 6:00 p.m.
GILMER COUNTY, Ga. – With several zoning requests considered for January, two saw increased opposition alongside some support from residents, neighbors, and members of Keep Gilmer Rural (KGR). The nearly three hour meeting on January 20, 2022, saw discussion stretch from public discussion to debate among the board members over issues.
The first debated application came for 128 Adventure Trail by Jonathan Graves to rezone from R-1 to A-1 in support of a Hobby Livestock Farm.
Those in opposition to the rezoning spoke against the location being surrounded by other Residential zoned lots. Some noted other allowances that could come to the site if sold. Additionally, concerns were raised over potential nuisances for close neighbors and references were made to Gilmer’s ordinances.
An opposition was also noted about the environment as the location tends to drain into the road in heavy storms and then into a creek which feeds into a pond and then on into the lower Cartecay River.
Both Graves and one speaker in support of the application noted that while no A-1 zones touched his property there are some large A-1 zones nearby. Graves noted that one of these farms already drains into the local creeks in a natural way. He said he may not know everything about the impact of that, but his intentions were not to build an intensive animal farm. Rather, a more hobby-livestock style of farming would mean less animals and drainage than many were thinking.
With board members debating about due diligences when buying properties, one noted that a lot doesn’t have to have A-1 touching it to be considered. Chairman Mooney stated, “I’m sympathetic to what Mr. Graves is trying to do but he stated he bought it with the intention to do agricultural type activity. The proper way to do it is to get it rezoned the way you want it before you purchase it.”
Ultimately, a motion and approval came with one opposed to deny the application.
The nights second major discussion came for a new 50 unit subdivision at 0 Boardtown, Cherry Log. A 66.37 acre tract comes in under the moratorium while maximizing the acreage. The applicant, Joe Sission of Sisson Corporation, stated, “We are requesting it to be zoned R-1 to build vacation homes.”
When asked about how many homes, Sission said he hadn’t done a preliminary yet. Though he estimated 50 homes considering space for roads, easements, water system, and driveways.
The property is looking to connect to different roads for ingress and egress including potential options of Boardtown Road, Lucius Road, Goose Island Road, and Whitepath Road.
With concerns raised over traffic and contamination of a spring, the major issue debated by public speakers came with speakers using Mooney’s own words saying that the rezoning should have been sought upon buying the land. Citizens pointed to Sission’s experience both as a developer and as a Planning and Zoning Board member that he should have sought the rezoning when he purchased the property.
The discussion became a major focal point with some calling it favoritism and unfair zoning that the board might consider this zoning minutes after telling another applicant that a major zoning change with major impact is subject to “due diligence” that should have been sought before completing a purchase.
Others also pointed to a lack of planning and information available during the meeting for both the board and citizens to consider. The stated that Sisson himself noted he hadn’t done a preliminary and was unable to give specifics on how many homes he was building.
Sisson replied saying, “As far as a plan stating exactly how many houses that would be put on this piece of property, it would be impossible to determine until we know if we’re able to get the zoning.”
One speaker spoke to how Sisson has improved and bettered areas of the county. Sisson himself later added that he would be aiding in tourism which has been one of the county’s greatest sources of income.
Board discussion spoke about the differences in the two applications and the involvement of animals and going from Agriculture to Residential and inversely. Mooney stated in response to the comparisons, “It is a different situation. But that was one of the factors that played in my decision. It wasn’t the only factor, it wasn’t the main factor. There were several factors that weighed in. I try to take in all the factors and weigh those.”
The board also noted several access points would allow the traffic disbursement to spread along different roads. Mooney also noted that it would be ideal for every citizen to be able to afford 100 acres to build on. He said it isn’t practical, though. He stated, “With the smaller tracts, you’re putting people in homes that probably couldn’t afford them if they were bigger tracts.”
However, several citizens noted after the meeting that Mooney was off-base in his comments as he was speaking of homes for people to live in that couldn’t afford larger homes while Sisson specifically noted in the beginning that he was building vacation homes and second homes and later noted he wanted to aid in tourism. Citizens were angered by the unanimous approval of the development in the meeting.
Kimberly Reckles, an attendee to the meeting, later commented on social media saying, “I still cannot wrap my head around why they denied a young family a zoning variance — from R-1 to Ag-1 — to build themselves a private hobby farm, but approved a variance from Ag1 to R-1 for Sisson to build a 50 lot subdivision in the middle of agriculturally zoned land.”
GILMER COUNTY, Ga. – “We will shift our focus away from contact tracing and quarantine to monitoring children for signs of illness,” says a new statement from Gilmer County Schools as the announcement comes today that COVID response and state guidelines are changing again. Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Brian Ridley said it was a return to focusing on educating kids in school and not being an “arbiter of quarantines.”
Dr. Ridley sent the letter out with this statement today, notifying the community of the change. He added that he wants to be a partner with parents in their care for their children.
Ridley noted that the change is coming after the governor and the Department of Public Health (DPH) announced changes in their guidelines for COVID response,acknowledging the hardships that families have had due to quarantines on any possible exposure.
Now, instead of instantly quarantining students who have been around others in school who have tested positive, they will be allowed to stay in class while being “strongly encouraged” to wear a mask. His letter this morning stated 10 days, but Dr. Ridley said that continued updates have made that a misprint as the schools will be encouraging mask usage for 5 days.
Additionally, the statement extended this same change to those currently in quarantine due to exposure. While the last update on the school systems website noted 77 students currently in quarantine, Dr. Ridley said this number is not up to date with these changes as well as another set of changes to guidelines that the schools just received last Thursday.
The school system will continue notifying parents when their students have been exposed and will be sending out letters “notifying you that your child was in class, on the bus, participated in a sport, etc. with a positive case just as we do with any other communicable disease.”
As such, some tracing will still be done with this new response as the school is still asking parents to monitor their children and notify the school if they test positive. Dr. Ridley stated, “We will continue to notify DPH when a notifiable disease is reported and alert DPH of concerns with clusters and outbreaks which may require immediate public health intervention.”
But this isn’t contact tracing as it has been in the last year, these notifications will not continue for those that have been around someone who was around someone who was exposed to a student that tested positive.
The school system is asking parents to continue monitoring your child each morning before sending them to school. They also noted that students showing any signs of the virus or any illness should not be sent to school.
The school system is also taking extra steps for parents in understanding the change or with further needs as Ridley’s statement asked parents to contact their student’s school if they have any concerns of if their child might need extra help for a medical vulnerability.
Superintendent Ridley did confirm that he had discussed the new response individually with members of the Board of Education before implementing them. While he said they mostly agreed with the new format, he did confirm that the board could still add or reinstate any extra steps and precautions should they feel the need arises.
The school system had just posted recent changes on January 4, 2022, with updates from over the December break, but the state is already updating new changes with this today. Dr. Ridley also said in his letter, “While the constant change in guidance has been frustrating at times, we want to thank our Gilmer County families for their support throughout this pandemic. We hope that with the help of our parents, we can even more effectively monitor students for symptoms while also meeting the new DPH standard of keeping healthy students in class.”
ELLIJAY, Ga. – “The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” A sign say in front of the Gilmer County Courthouse’s Jury Assembly Room, brought by one of the supporters of the county’s Animal Shelter and an expansion plan alongside two major donations for the facility.
The plan actually includes both expansion and retrofitting of the facility. With encouragement from groups like FOGAS (Friends of Gilmer Animal Shelter), Volunteers Helping the Gilmer County Animal Shelter, Paws Be Good, Homeward Bound, Furry Paws, and many others according to Jack Peyton of FOGAS, who spoke first in the Commissioners meeting on September 9, 2021.
The expansion and donations have been discussed before with questions arising over how the county will support the annual increase in budget for maintaining a larger facility.
Many of those who spoke at the meeting, including Animal Shelter Director Daniel Laukka, stated that the need for a larger facility is already here and more growth is coming. Laukka and others spoke about how animals have become so increased in number that they are being housed in areas like offices simply because their is not enough room elsewhere. With cages in his own office for cats, Laukka spoke of the benefits that the expansion and retrofit will provide in caring for the animals, and how some money could be saved in the annual costs.
Minor items like having to take animals to the vets office for spay/neuter appointments will be neutralized as the expansion has a small area for vets to come and perform the procedures in the animal shelter with equipment in the shelter.
Laukka said he already has 2 vets committed to coming to the shelter to do this. With volunteers continuing to help when possible, speakers in the meeting repeated the need that they have seen as they have helped and visited the shelter. He also noted that a local commercial laundry service has offered to service new laundry equipment designated in the retrofit for free. Also helping with some additional maintenance costs.
Additional discussion moved from what is needed to what has already been accomplished. Dr. William Mitchell, a veterinarian, walked to the podium and said, “I am here to speak in support of Daniel.”
Though the topic at hand was about plans to expand the animal shelter, many of the speakers spoke specifically to what Director Daniel Laukka has accomplished and the leadership he has provided. Dr. Mitchell went on to say he has worked with Animal Control facilities for several decades, “I have never seen a more dedicated and hard working individual than Daniel.”
Laukka himself said he could never do what he does without his staff and supporting groups. It is a collective of efforts from the community that support the shelter.
Programs from supporting groups have allowed for help in the community like low cost spays and neuters for those who need it and the capturing of feral cats in order to spay/neuter and then re-release.
All of these culminate in a department that citizens said has every county in North Georgia looking at Gilmer and how they handle this. One speaker went so far as to call it a “mecca” of the animal shelters in the area.
Laukka himself noted that in 2013, the shelter averaged around 1800 to 2000 animals a year. Laukka noted that close to 1100 of those animals were euthanized every year. WIth expansion first looked at four years ago, according to Laukka, the county instead went with a van that is used in partnership with other programs in other states in the north.
With this hard work towards becoming a “no kill” status, Laukka said in the meeting, “Ninety-nine percent of the animals that come into the shelter now, leave the shelter alive, adoptable, healthy. I get all the credit for it but I couldn’t do it without all the volunteers and the employees. The employees do way more than anybody could ever know.”
Almost 45 minutes of discussion saw every single person that did stand to speak on the topic discussing their support for accepting the donations and the expansion plans. After that, the commissioners moved to the agenda item on the plans.
A very emotional night saw several speakers fighting back tears, and so followed Chairman Paris as he said, “I understand. I can’t say a lot, but I’m going to make a motion to accept the money and build a shelter.”
Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson later seconded the motion after clarifying and Paris’ amending his motion that the county fund an expansion with costs not to exceed the fund for the building from the donations. He explained the fund contains a little over $1.5 million. As such, the fund is specifically designated for the shelter. Paris said there is nothing else it can be used for.
According to a statement by FOGAS, “The input, planning, architectural work, and engineering have been completed for this expansion project.” Now, the county will take on the plans with the intent to bid and begin construction. The engineer was present at the meeting and relayed that with the work that’s been done, the county could be bidding the project by the end of the year with construction to begin in 2022.
Speaking on the expansion, Director Laukka said, “I could probably stand up here and talk for hours about what we’ve accomplished over the last few years but I want to accomplish more over the next few years as well. It’s definitely something we have to do together.”
JASPER, Ga. – A special called meeting of the Pickens County Board of Education met this week and put the final approval on the board’s millage rate.
Upon calling the meeting to order and approving the agenda, however, the Pickens County Board of Education retreated to an executive session to discuss, as Board Chair Sue Finley read, “the appointment, employment, compensation, hiring, disciplinary action or dismissal or periodic evaluation or rating of a public officer or employee. Or to interview applicants for the position of superintendent.”
The board took no action upon exiting executive session, but instead moved on to the regular agenda.
An official motion came to approve the Board of Education’s millage rate at 14.30 mills. Board Member Aaron Holland made the motion with a second from Steve Smith.
This sets the millage rate 0.53 mills lower than last year and continuing the steady decline according to the school’s 5-year history of the tax levied.
The system estimates, according to the 5-year history, $22,648,385 in total M&) taxes levied. The budget denotes $24,908,755 in local taxes.
Finley said, “I would like to thank Mr. Young and Ms. Smith for their hard work to make this happen to bring our budget to the point where we can have our millage rate at 14.30 and still have our budget in the black. Thank you very much.”
A unanimous vote for both the millage rate and the FY 22 budget saw the board passing an initial budget for the year.
That budget totals $48.7 million, estimating that the school system’s fund balance will remain at $10.5 million.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Over two hours of citizens speaking for and against a moratorium on large subdivisions saw some division on the Board of Commissioners with a 2-1 vote approving the moratorium.
A “defining moment” is what citizen Tom Whatley called the August 23, 2021, meeting that was special called to discuss the moratorium. In it, Commission Chairman Charlie Paris said that he wanted to better manage some growth. With Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson holding the dissenting vote against the moratorium, it came down to Post Commissioner Hubert Parker to second the motion for the moratorium and then provide the second vote for it.
The moratorium, according to the Board of Commissioners, will allow the county to partner with the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission to implement studies across the county for growth, infrastructure, and traffic, among others. The board noted Ethan Calhoun would be there NWGRC contact during those studies. The debate between citizens saw fairly even discussion on those speaking for and against the moratorium. The same debate fell to the commissioners themselves with those for and those against.
Even Parker and Paris debated and adjusted the original motion before coming to a final vote. Paris started the meeting offering a preliminary idea to start the discussion, a 9 month moratorium on subdivisions exceeding 25 lots. However, the first citizen speaking during the night, Joene DePlancke, questioned aspects of the moratorium to clarify what the county was discussing. DePlancke countered Paris’ preliminary idea and said 50 lots would be better.
After 2 solid hours of discussion, Parker offered a second to the motion for 9 months and 50 lots as he said, he was seconding just so they could discuss it. That discussion saw Parker suggesting 6 months instead of 9 months. Parker said, “I know how you will push to get it done in six months.”
Paris acquiesced to the request for six months with the understanding that the board could extend another three months if really necessary.
Much debate centered originally on the growth in the county, and the common theme throughout the night included “affordable housing.” Many developers suggested that an abundance of homes and subdivisions could aid in that, while others argued against the concept saying that high priced subdivisions are not “affordable.”
Misty Dove spoke to the commissioners about that concern. Working in social services, she noted there is a two year backlog in Fannin, Gilmer, and Pickens for help finding affordable homes for people in local jobs.
Yet, others still voiced concerns against any government answer to the housing. From overlay districts to impact fees and subsidized housing, many ideas and thoughts went back and forth through speakers. Keith Nunn, owner of Appalachian Supply, noted that many of the subdivisions being built by local builders were smaller comparative to some of those being reported that contain thousands of acres.
Many supported the idea to have these studies in the county alongside NWGRC, but the pushback came on a moratorium stopping building. Several speakers called it a halt to growth and a halt to building in the county.
Develle Frady noted a similar boom in 2006 and noted over 638 permits pulled in that year. This year, 2021, he noted 226 permits this year as of August when the meeting was held. He went on to voice concerns against the moratorium and spoke about many of the lots developed over the years are still empty. He also pointed to panic in the early 2000’s and estimates that Gilmer would be 44,000 people by 2010. He said that now, in 2021, there still isn’t 44,000 people.
Frady said that he’s been in the county for 57 years since he was born here. However, he said that he was 30 before he could make a decent living here.
Many citizens pointed to the Comprehensive Plan in the county and areas. Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson noted that she put a lot of work into the plan and wants to see it used better.
Ferguson said that she believed the testing and the Regional Commission’s work could be done while continuing the growth and building in the county. She said, “I don’t think we need to stop growth, stop building, stop anything right now.”
She went on to add, “I think you’re going to be hurting us, by putting this moratorium on, on our chances for affordable housing because the prices will go up. And six months? Unfortunately, I know all too well now how quickly the government works, and it’s not fast… I don’t know how soon, now we have COVID coming back in, that will happen with this testing.”
Like many present, Ferguson agreed that the testing should be done. However, she said she was not for the moratorium.
With the 2-1 vote, Gilmer County is under this moratorium currently. Paris said the county has already engaged the NWGRC for testing and begun the process in recent days. Now, with the moratorium in place, the county is waiting for results and is likely to be looking at zoning and regulations on the larger subdivisions in the coming future.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Major crowds have been surging into Planning and Zoning Meetings recently for several different reasons from affordable housing to local zoning change requests.
August was no different as 12 people stood at the podium to speak during the Thursday, August 19, 2021, meeting to respond specifically to a campground. The campground, located on Laurel Trail, is 5.19 acres of land looking to establish geodesic domes under a campground with company for “glamping.”
According to Karen Henson, the application came under older rules with the A1 agriculture before the Gilmer BOC changed camping to an outdoor recreation designation.
Through investigation, it appears there may be covenants on the property, and attorneys have gotten involved at this time. County Attorney David Clark suggested waiting for a declaratory judgment on the binding nature of the covenants as they are older. He noted automatic renewals, but said a declaratory judgment would protect the county and allow the courts to offer their “decision.”
A number of local residents and land owners in the area of the location opposed the application in meeting. The gathering all stood at the podium at once as a show of opposition. Voicing traffic and the current quiet nature of the area, some points they made against the zoning change included the inclusion of a commercial site right in the middle of a large residential area.
The owners of the application spoke in rebuttal saying that they want the same quiet low impact area that the residents are asking for. They offered promises that they wanted to keep it with as little impact as they could and that they have managers to oversee the properties.
As the board members leaned away from their microphones to discuss privately, there eventually came a call for a motion.
But while the motion came to change the zoning to Agricultural. The board opted to deny the application in light of the legal issues wrapped up in the subject. This is, however, a recommendation an the Board of Commissioners will make the final determination.
EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – “Gilmer Schools have seen an explosion of positive COVID cases and quarantines throughout this week.” Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Brian Ridley read a statement during the Gilmer County Board of Education this week on Thursday night, August 19, 2021, during their Regular Scheduled meeting.
As of that meeting, the total cases in Gilmer’s school system surpassed a district wide 900 students in quarantine and 100 positive cases in students and staff.
That explosion also culminated in the cancellation of the season opening varsity football game against Pickens on Friday, August 20, 2021. The school system stated, “Decisions such as these are not taken lightly, and we must prioritize the safety and well being of all student-athletes and spectators for both teams.”
Dr. Ridley said in a letter to parents about COVID restrictions earlier this week that the school system would be mandating masks and face coverings starting on Monday, August 23, 2021. He stated, “I feel it is imperative that we act now in an effort to keep our students safe and our schools open.”
In efforts to notify and share the information well in advance, that letter was sent out. However, at the Thursday meeting, Dr. Ridley also informed citizens that while working with the Department of Health, new guidelines will be coming next week in implementation. He confirmed that he would be discussing these with the press on Monday to inform citizens more about those changes as the school looks to continue implementing DPH guidelines into the schools.
As of now, Monday will see masking on school buses only with strong encouragement to wear masks throughout the day. Dr. Ridley also urged others to consider using masks and getting vaccinated against the virus. During his statement in the meeting, Dr. Ridley stated, “Students and staff who are fully vaccinated or masked during exposure will not be subject to quarantine.”
Additionally, the Board of Education also approved COVID leave time for staff that have exposures and positive tests. Superintendent Ridley stated that the official numbers will be updated on their website tomorrow, August 20, 2021.
With the announcement of new COVID guidelines made and implementation on the way, the school system is currently working on the “logistics of implementing this new guidance as early as Monday or Tuesday of next week.”
Gilmer is continuing with quarantining for 10 days and requirements to be fever free for at least 24 hours without the use of fever reducing medications with an improvement of symptoms.
Additionally, Dr. Ridley previously told FYN that virtual academy was not being implemented for the start of school, but Gilmer does have the option if the need arises. He did not mention virtual academy at the meeting.
As the Superintendent shares more information on the changing guidelines FYN will continue to share new articles with the updated information.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – After originally approved for advertising in July and a special called meeting from the Board of Education, final approval came this month for the County’s Millage Rates.
These rates have been advertised for 14 days and were approved in Gilmer’s Board of Education before moving over to the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners for approval to then be processed by the Tax Commissioner for collection.
Gilmer’s Board of Education approved their rate at 12.624 mills.
Gilmer’s Board of Commissioners approved their rate at 6.222 mills.
Gilmer’s Board of Commissioners also approved a decrease in their Bond Millage Rate to 1 mill. Another quarter mill reduction after last year removing a quarter mill and giving indications that they would be looking to drop it again this year.
Many citizens have been waiting and calling for this reduction over the years after the Bond Millage was increase previously due to economic issues not fulfilling the bond payments.
The BOC has reduced that back down to the original 1 mill to cover bond payments in addition to SPLOST being used to pay the bond payments.
As for the main Millage Rates, increasing property values, according to the Tax Assessors office, has individual homes revalued annually. Though the Rollback Rate was approved, lowering the Millage Rate, this Rollback Rate is calculated to determine, roughly, the rate that will bring in a similar amount of money as last year.
Individual citizens should still check with the Tax Commissioner to determine what this means for their individual property taxes. With those revaluations, the Tax Assessors’ inspections have shown increasing values, meaning the decrease in the Millage Rate, however, many citizens may fluctuate on their own property taxes and the Millage Rate reduction balances against the value increases.
With final approval, the county will soon be preparing to move into September and October when they usually work toward and then hold their public hearings on individual departments for budgeting. By October’s end, Gilmer will have a solid look at what next year’s finances should look like.
ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County is nearing the August Millage Rate approvals and citizens are hearing those rates advertised this week as required. Both the Board of Commissioners and the Board of Education have approved the advertising and are now open to public input before the early August deadlines.
The BOC approved their advertisement yesterday with the calculated Rollback Rate of 6.222 mills.
With that, their estimated tax revenue sits at $10,390,546.
Additionally, the BOC also discussed their Bond Millage Rate. The commissioners have been discussing lowering that rate back from the added “half mill” since the days of former Post Commissioner Dallas Miller. Last year saw that Bond Millage lower by one quarter, going from 1.5 mills to 1.25 mills with indications and discussions that they would be looking at the other quarter of a mill later.
This weeks’ advertisements followed through with those indications as the second quarter was removed for a total Bond Millage Rate of 1.0 mills.
With that, their estimated Bond Rate sits at $1,683,091.
As for the Board of Education, their advertised millage rate is at it lowest point in recent years, according to Chief Financial Officer Trina Penland. Penland reported an increase in the digest of about 15 percent.
With their Rollback Rate, the board is advertising the millage at 12.624 mills. Slowly declining the rate since 2011, Penland said that values have continued increasing in our areas.
With that, their estimated tax revenue sits at $18,169,000.
All of these millage rates are in advertisement stages, allowing the public to comment and contact their elected officials on the millage rate before then.
From here, the Board of Education will hold a special called meeting on August 9 at 6 p.m according to statements made in their meeting. The Board of Commissioners will be holding their regular work session Wednesday morning, August 11, 2021, at 9 a.m. and then they will give final approval for their own rate as well as approval to collect the Board of Education’s Rate at 6 p.m during their Regular Meeting on August 12, 2021.
EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County’s Board of Education made Dr. Ridley official last night with a unanimous vote during their monthly work session for their new superintendent.
Dr. Hal Brian Ridley was named the finalist of the school system’s Superintendent search during a special called meeting on June 26, 2021. According to the Board of Education, “The Board voted unanimously to name Dr. Ridley as the single finalist for the position and announced its intention to name him as Superintendent after the 14-day period of public notice.”
Nearing the end of July now, the Board is trying to get Dr. Ridley in and ready before the start of the school within the next two weeks. Most teachers are returning and final preparations are coming into play this week in the school system such as teachers rooms being moved into Clear Creek Elementary today.
Normally, most votes don’t happen until the boards Thursday meetings as it is the regular session of the government entity.
During the meeting, the board voted to enter executive session along with Ridley. Returning a few minutes later, the official motion came to approve Dr. Ridley as the new Superintendent along with comments during the meeting about the school system and a special thanks to Kim Cagle, who served as Interim Superintendent over the summer.
Now approved, Ridley is likely to be taking his first meeting this Thursday as his first official meeting as Gilmer’s Superintendent. The board is also holding a reception on Thursday at 5 p.m for Dr. Ridley and to allow the public time to meet and speak with him before their Regular Meeting.
Dr. Ridley and the Board signed the contract after the meeting, right before the board retreated into their usual executive session for personnel.
Dr. Ridley stated, “I would like to thank the Board for this opportunity. And thank you to Kim Cagle, she has been very welcoming as I try to get myself oriented to this new job. I’m looking very forward to working with all of you and we’re going to do some great things in Gilmer County.”
ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Board of Commissioners is reporting another round of advertisements for their ongoing pool project with no official bids.
Despite receiving no bids, the county has gotten interest in the project with contractors questioning and discussing the advertisement. Project Manager Loy Jarrett shared with the the board and the public that many of those showing interest declined to submit a bid as they are very busy with projects currently. He went on to add that the advertisement held a completion date by Memorial Day in 2022.
The board did debate whether they should rerun the advertisements with a completion date. However, the county is not rerunning the advertisement at this time. While this was considered and even thought to possibly have an effect on the bids, other considerations by the board pointed to current costs of supplies and continued fluctuations in those prices. Rerunning the advertisement without a completion date still might not get bids due to the instability of prices.
Chairman Charlie Paris also indicated he wants to see completion sooner rather than later. However, the board as a whole said they want to consider all options and possibilities.
A couple of those possible options on a path ahead could include the county operating as its own general contractor hiring each crew and overseeing the project by themselves. Another option is hiring a construction project manager.
From the public, a suggestion was made to scale back the project to a smaller scale so the county could have something and then added onto later.
Paris noted that a pool like this isn’t something you can put in and then just expand. The county also decided on the current size based on requested uses from swim teams utilizing lanes for competition and practice to some looking for classes like water aerobics. However, the county did discuss the subject as a possibility, whether it scaled back size or just features.
Rebidding could see a halt until at least next year if the county decides to follow other paths or simply wait until some of the contractors are not so backed up, but another possibility could see the county rebidding in the next couple of months.
The county did offer more news in the regular session to point them down the path toward rebidding the project sooner rather than later. Paris noted that the county had been in contact with a commercial pool builder that showed some interest. Paris said that talking further with the company and as they gain more information, the board could reconsider paying for one more round of bidding if given assurances that this company would bid. This way, the county would know they would be getting some kind of bid from at least one company.