Gilmer Animal Shelter expansion approved

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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.

expansion

Brought by a citizen speaking in support of the shelter’s expansion, a sign sits in front of the BOC meeting on September 12, 2021.

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.

Daniel Laukka

Animal Shelter Director Daniel Laukka, left, sits in the Gilmer BOC meeting waiting to speak about the donations and plans to expand.

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.

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A photo of the GIlmer Animal Shelter from the Volunteers Helping the Gilmer Animal Shelter.

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.

expansion

As the unanimous vote made approval of the plans for expansion, citizens rose to their feet in applause to show their own approval of the motion.

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.”

Gilmer approves moratorium on larger subdivisions

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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.

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A packed assembly room saw several standing to listen and comment on the moratorium in Gilmer County during a special called meeting on August 23, 2021.

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.

Campground draws debate in Planning and Zoning

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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.

County approves Millage Rate for Property Taxes

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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.

Gilmer still has no bids for pool project

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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.

River Park changes continue with county and Georgia Power

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The completed playground equipment at River Park is officially opened after today's Ribbon Cutting Ceremony, park

ELLIJAY, Ga. – River Park in Ellijay has been uplifted and changed numerous times with upgrades over recent years, from the massive facelift to the playgrounds to upgrades to the walking path and ballfield relocations.

Those changes are continuing this summer as previously approved projects are continuing their progress towards completion. One of those projects includes Georgia Power updating the underground utilities. In February 2021, FYN reported that the county was discussing an easement for excavation and subsequent repairs to areas of the park to install underground utilities.

At that time, County Attorney David Clark noted the county would be making some minor changes to the agreement before returning it to Georgia Power for final approval.

Now, the easement returned to the Commissioners with a change requested. That change that has been going back and forth involves protections for the civil war memorial in front of the civic center. Chairman Charlie Paris said today that the plan does involve some above ground equipment. In the original plan, one of these spots was very close to the memorial. The new plan has the equipment moved. However, Paris said its not enough as he has requested that Georgia Power move it further away from the memorial in order to preserve the site.

Paris said that Georgia Power could have an answer by tomorrow’s meeting. It was originally reported as citizens could be seeing construction at the park and mistake it for construction on the pool. The pool project has seen constant delays and stoppages over the last year as the county officially halted the project early in the COVID-19 pandemic in order to reassess finances and the economic effect of the virus. In March of 2020, the pool project halted.

Then the Commissioners returned to the project in early 2021, but saw another delay as the engineering firm became quarantined in February. But after the short delay, with specifications set, the county approved advertising for bids on the project.

Now, the county is amid the advertising window and accepting bids. Members of the board are considering holding a Special Called meeting in the last week of May as another item may need attention as well. While the board did not officially set a date today, they did say they would be discussing dates.

With the pool construction back in full swing and Georgia Power also seeking to upgrade equipment on site, River Park is continuing its climb in upgrades and renovations through this summer as citizens are continuing to visit the park for sports, training, and personal healt

County Advertises Version 9 with a look to further changes later

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – After months of debate, revisits, revisions, and deliberations, the Board of Commissioners is advertising its Land Development Ordinance changes as proposed in Version 9 for the county. Citizens are now able to see what the final document could look like if approved in both May and June.

After the months of preparation and details surrounding other minor details like standardizing and limiting personal driveway slopes to maintain access for public safety vehicles and emergency services, the county almost hit a tenth version as discussion continued onto the subject of workforce housing returning to the subject brought up by the Greater Gilmer JDA (Joint Devel0pment Authority) in recent months and years.

The topic was broached with discussion of high density housing through apartments and similar structures to provide affordable housing to working citizens supporting the community. It was noted these structures would need to be closer to the cities as they would require water and sewer access. The subject touched on drastically reducing the restrictions on the highest density residential zonings to support such structures and relying on the need for water/sewer access rather than wells, septic tanks, and similar options used by more of the unincorporated areas of the county.

Ordinance

However, full details were not delved into and discussed as the board sought to broach this subject later and no longer delay the main changes to the Land Development Ordinance that has been in process for months.

The board spoke of discussing the subject with the Planning and Zoning board as well as others involved including developers.

Additionally, Kent Sanford, Greater Gilmer JDA Executive Director, thanked the board this month as he spoke during the Citizens Wishing to Speak. He noted that demographics in Gilmer are continuing to show increasing retirement age citizens. However, Sanford said the county still needs more workforce housing and thanked the board for considering that.

One counterpoint came in the discussion saying that easing restrictions and allowing such density could still result in constructed “luxury apartments” that would still be unaffordable to many people working local jobs.

With more discussion to come and this topic not included in the current version, the board is looking at options to restrict or encourage affordable housing over luxury style.

The current version of the Land Development Ordinance is not in place yet, and even if final approval comes in June, the board is also looking to not implement these changes until at least 2022 or possibly one year from approval. No formal date has been set yet, but will be set before approvals come in May and June.

Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson also told citizens that this was not the only look into affordable housing as she shared she will be attending a meeting in the coming week on the topic looking for answers in the county.

As the “final version” of land development moves through its process, the board’s continued discussion is indicating that the current changes may complete soon, but it will not be the end of the discussions on housing in the county.

Chamber says Taste of Ellijay will happen

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Taste of Ellijay

ELLIJAY, Ga. – An official permit has been submitted to the City of Ellijay, according to Jennifer Grimmer, President and CEO of the Gilmer Chamber, who said today that the Taste of Ellijay is happening this year.

New Chamber President and CEO, Taste of Ellijay

Jennifer Grimmer is the new Gilmer Chamber of Commerce President and CEO

The Chamber has been plagued by cancellations of their major events over the past year since the first cases and the beginnings of the COVID-19 pandemic early last year, 2020. They cancelled the Apple Blossom Festival, Taste of Ellijay, and the Apple Festival in 2020 as well as cancelling the Apple Blossom Festival again this year, 2021. Usually held in early May, the decision  had already been made over the festival, the Taste of Ellijay event, typically in late May, has now been confirmed as happening.

Grimmer has only been under the CEO mantle for two months, dealing with getting up to speed in the position while also planning and preparing the early stages of this event, she has dealt with updating the Chamber’s website, branding, signage, and even storm damage from late March on the Chamber’s roof in East Ellijay.

As reports continue of dwindling cases and issues with COVID, the news comes as a positive to many citizens who say they are happy to return to these long held annual events. Grimmer has indicated that the Chamber will be moving forward with plans to return the annual Apple Festival in October this year, as well.

In addition to the news of the Taste of Ellijay event, Grimmer announced a new challenge with the street festival. In honor of the county and its 50th Anniversary of the Apple Festival, the Chamber will be hosting a challenge amongst the restaurants participating for the “most original apple dish.” Grimmer said there was a surprise for the winner, but did not comment on what it is.

The Taste of Ellijay event is scheduled for May 27, 2021. The first return to annual events will also be the first one under the leadership of Grimmer as the new President.

Million dollar donation has county looking at Animal Shelter

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – An announcement today from Gilmer Chairman Charlie Paris informed the public of an additional large donation to the Gilmer County Animal Shelter.

The announcement came amid a special called meeting, but it is the first mention of the donation in public as Commission Chairman Charlie Paris said it happened yesterday, February 23, 2021. Paris said that the county is receiving $1 million in a donation to expand and improve the county’s Animal Shelter.

The county has received other donations recently. Two separate donations of $200,000 each set the county to expect to add in $100,000 in county funds to improve the Animal Shelter. Paris noted then and reiterated today that the county is looking at an increased need in the department.

Gilmer Animal Shelter Director Daniel Laukka works with all kinds of organizations like Be-Paws We Care to find homes for animals in local counties or in other states.
(Photo by Pickens’ Be-Paws We Care, Inc.)

These previous donations, when made, pushed the county to look at the shelter and the use for that money in improving and addressing the needs that were coming.

Paris suggested that the coming need to increase staff at the location is likely inevitable as he said that Gilmer’s Shelter is gaining a statewide reputation for its operations. The Director of the Animal Shelter is Daniel Laukka. Laukka has been praised numerous times through the community and through the county’s government during specific meetings addressing the department such as budget meetings.

The shelter has made allies both in and outside the county, working with other shelters to find homes for pets. Some of their efforts outside of the county include transporting animals north for support outside of the state of Georgia. These animals that have not found homes here in Gilmer are given more opportunities elsewhere. Just this week, the Animal Shelter posted information about transporting pets to Illinois.

However, these programs are made possible by community support and aid. One of the most well known partnerships comes from working with the public through the community driven support program, “Friends of Gilmer Animal Shelter” (FOGAS).

According to their page, FOGAS is a Georgia, non-profit, tax exempt, 501(C)3, all volunteer organization that raises funds to save homeless pets at Gilmer County Animal Shelter.

The now $1.5 million project to expand the shelter is facing two separate issues that the county is discussing. The first being that such an expansion will undoubtedly increase expenses for the Animal Shelter, a department that is one of the county’s smaller budgets according to the board. Post Commissioner Hubert Parker urged the board as a whole to consider the increase that this project will bring, not only though increasing required staff for operations but also for the increase in utilities and supplies. Paris said at one point that he expects a need for one or two additional personal even before looking at plans to expand the facility.

The second issue comes not from the shelter itself, but rather from today’s economy. With the effects of the COVID-19 virus still being felt, Paris noted that building supplies and costs are still increasing. Though the county had an architect look at plans and consider the project last year, Paris said in today’s meeting, “What I was anticipating that we could get for that half million dollars, turns out, in today’s environment, to be just about what we can for that million-and-a-half dollars.”

Paris said that a lot of the increase seems to be coming from the COVID virus through materials and shortages.

The Board of Commissioners is taking extra time on the project. Considering the new donation, changes are coming to increase the plans and to address the new donation. One idea to address came in today’s discussion as Parker asked if the board might consider asking the donor if part of the funds might be set aside for operations. Parker explained that the concept might include setting aside $200,000 or $300,000 and to use the earnings off of that to help support the animal shelter operations. However, he offered the thoughts as an example that the county could discuss with those who gave the donation.

Paris did note that any project or plan for the facility still has a lot of unanswered questions. Having just received the donation, the county is looking at possibilities and their impacts on the county and the Shelter going forward.

Returning to the river regulations debate in Gilmer

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Addressing suggestions from outfitters, law enforcement, and citizens on the county’s River Committee, Gilmer is looking to move forward with changes to the river ordinance for regulations.

Much of the conversation amongst members of the Board of Commissioners involved marking areas of the take-out for loading and changing from required wristbands for people on the river to requiring a stamp on people’s hands.

The county is looking to further cleaning efforts in the take out location in order to open more space as they are hoping to mark a line that people should not cross, allowing the vehicles unblocked access to pull in and out. Additionally, the outfitters would use sequentially numbered forms with signatures to match to the stamps. The county tracks those numbers to keep track of the number of people on the river in order to keep track of the dollar per person used in funding projects for the river.

Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson disagreed with changing the wristbands saying that she felt they worked well. However, the board decided to try the stamps out for this year saying that they could return and change back or change to something else if need be.

The county is also reserving the right to be on premises at the take out location to observe operations on the county property. Along with this, the BOC said that current understanding was that a sheriff’s deputy would be on location on the weekends of the season to monitor and help with situations like alcohol consumption and trespassers.

Though discussions continued over details of the ordinance change, the board is ultimately waiting for a Special Called Meeting later in February to approve the changes for advertisement as they await County Attorney David Clark to add in more changes addressed during the county’s work session meeting.

Some additional details are also going into the final copy that the commissioners are expected to adopt later this month as they all indicated to be supportive of the most of the changes. FYN will be adding new information when the final version is adopted for advertisement and when this meeting is scheduled.

County approves advertising for bids on new pool

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Engineering reports are completed and in the hands of the Commissioners for their pool project.

The project saw a delay early this month when COVID hit the engineering firm causing a major quarantine. However, with the specs and the firm working alongside Project Leader Loy Jarrett and County Attorney David Clark, reports indicate that Gilmer could be bidding out the project as early as mid-March.

Commission Chairman Charlie Paris said that the advertisement will have to be open for four weeks as it is a public works project, which means bidding would last into May. Citizens could see the county awarding the bid in their May Regular Meeting.

One change to previous designs came with modifications to move the diving well to the right side, from the center. That is moved to the right hand side when viewed from the civic center.

One point of note that Post Commissioner Hubert Parker put forth was to inform citizens that the progress is underway and while the designs are in, the finalization of the bid package is being undertaken as a part of the same project with the firm.

With that, citizens could be seeing physical progress on construction in May or June after that bid process is completed, awarded, and the contracted company begins the project.

The county was looking to a special called meeting towards the end of February to look at final approval for advertising the project for bids and a few other items. However, with optimistic news coming on the day of the Regular Meeting, the Commissioners did move forward with approving advertisement of the bid package upon completion.

With that approval, the next step is to wait for the advertisement period and bid openings before citizens will know which company will be actually building the new pool.

County backs off from creating Board of Elections

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Once again returning to conversations of an election board in Gilmer County, the Board of Commissioners is putting the agenda item to create a board on hold.

According to Commission Chairman Charlie Paris, the BOC will not host the agenda item on every meeting as previously planned. The decision came among the board’s agreement after Paris reported that he thought it best to seek an alternative path due to his investigations and considerations of the board’s make-up.

Paris said, “When I got to looking around some at Elections Boards, what I found is that yeah almost all counties have them, but a lot of counties are having a lot of problems with them.”

Paris noted Fulton County specifically whose election board is denying legal requests for documents. He also noted reported problems in Fannin County where board members won’t speak to each other.

Paris said, “I don’t believe the two parties can hold civil conversation between themselves nowadays.” Though he noted that he previously believed Gilmer might be one of the few places it could occur, he no longer felt that way.

Acknowledging that elections have grown, Paris said he understood that elections are so minutely watched and that the work is substantially larger than it used to be.

The discussion continued with Post Commissioner Hubert Parker saying he agreed with not moving forward on an election board until the alternative has been studied.

Scott Chastain, Elections,

Gilmer County Probate Judge Scott Chastain

That alternative that the Board of Commissioners agreed to pursue and the Probate Judge Scott Chastain is currently looking into, involves reconfiguring the Probate Office to possibly include some extra staff to “offload” some of that work.

What the Probate Office would use this staff for in off years without elections is yet to be discussed. However, the concept is in very early stages as both entities continue to look for a path forward.

Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson said, “I think that’s fantastic because that group has done a fantastic job with our elections.”

Paris echoed the sentiment saying Gilmer is among the few counties, in his opinion, that had a flawless election.

With a solid path forward for the commissioners, Paris made a final note that he told Judge Chastain that if there was a push in state legislation to force a Board of Elections, Gilmer would “fight it tooth and nail.”

However, Paris was also quick to note that while he shared this with Judge Chastain, it was not as a threat. Rather he wanted him to know the county’s stance. Paris said the conversation was “not contentious.” He went on to add that Chastain has been very civil in all conversations considering the county’s path forward for elections.

Chairman assures citizens that changes are to limit density

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Elections, Density

ELLIJAY, Ga. – After last week’s meeting and discussions addressing Gilmer’s growth and density concerns. The Chairman of the Board of Commissioners as responded to clarify the county’s current actions on the Land Use Ordinance.

Gilmer County Board of Commissioners Chairman Charlie Paris said to FYN, “I think many, many people have taken your article the wrong way. They believe that we are trying to increase the density for the sake of growth. In fact, we are trying to hold the density down by making changes to the land use ordinance that will provide less density, rather than more.”

In truth, three major comments were voiced in the Commissioners’ January Work Session offering concerns over the Land Ordinance as it stands now. The county is looking at its future becoming far more densely populated through if major projects are allowed to continue to grow. However, Paris assured citizens in his response that part of what they are looking at is ways to decrease the county’s density growth. One note of discussion from January’s meeting came over lot sizes. In his response, Chairman Paris stated, “We are trying to ensure that Gilmer County stays a rural, agricultural community and not the opposite. We do this primarily by increasing the minimum lot sizes for building. I know that this will make it more expensive for people to build – although they will have the advantage of more land – but it is the only workable way to reduce density as Gilmer grows.”

Indeed, growth has continued coming to the county, even despite the national pandemic of COVID-19. Just looking at SPLOST Numbers from June and July of 2020, as reported in an August 2020 Article on FYN, saw major economic increases despite widespread closures and shelter-in-place orders at that time. Yet, economic growth also includes the County’s Tourism, which is a major impact. However, the county also noted nine multi-lot developments in July of 2020. A number that showed major changes to parts of Gilmer County’s mostly rural make-up.

With the major increases and continuing uptick in developments like this, concerns have been raised like those noted from County Attorney David Clark. Paris states, “David was warning about what would happen if we did not make the changes – he wasn’t warning us about what will happen if we do make the changes.”

Density

Planning and Zoning Director Karen Henson speaks to the Board of Commissioners about the Land Use Ordinance changes and recommendations.

As previously reported, County Attorney David Clark stated in the meeting, “Gilmer is known and is an agricultural community. The density that is allowed, the size of the lots that are allowed at this current time, is going to change that.”

It is a statement echoed by Paris in his response today as he stated, “Right now, the land use ordinance in Gilmer will allow for a very high density future. The proposed changes will actually reduce the prospects for such a high density future and protect our rural, agricultural status as Gilmer grows.”

The board as whole and the commissioners individually are continuing to look at the density growth and at citizen comments urging them to stop the increasing density in the county as they are currently considering changes to the Land Use Ordinance. According to Paris, these changes are now and have been looking to plug up loopholes and protect certain rural aspects of the county that both the citizens and he want to keep.

Pool project hits another delay with COVID

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Reports during a special called meeting of the Gilmer Board of Commissioners (BOC) indicate that the county’s pool project hit another delay this month.

Loy Jarret reported to the board that the engineering firm the county is using has been hit by the COVID virus. Due to this, at least a two week delay is coming to the pool construction project.

According to Jarrett, a large portion of the project is finished but the firm is now awaiting recovery and quarantine periods to end and for the firm to reconvene in order to finish the project. This means Gilmer will also see a delay in the promised 3 weeks originally promised. This could come closer to 6 weeks now.

The board is hoping to have the engineering finalized in February before returning to scheduling on the project which has been plagued with delays and issues including many from the ongoing Coronavirus outbreak and resurgence.

The pool project is attempting to continue under conditions after a major delay saw the Commissioners halt the project completely after demolition of the old pool last year. The commissioners, at that time, wanted to wait and see what the virus outbreak, quarantines, and self isolations  would do to the county’s economy.

In the same area of the county, at River Park, the commissioners also approved an easement for Georgia Power to begin excavation and subsequent repairs to areas of the park to install underground utilities. According to County Attorney David Clark, the county will be making some minor changes to the agreement before returning it to Georgia Power for final approval.

With that, citizens could be seeing more immediate construction work in the area of River Park stretching through different areas. This construction work is not a part of the pool project, but rather Georgia Power performing this installation.

The Governor and Gilmer County honors Keep Gilmer Beautiful

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Keep Gilmer Beautiful

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County has cause to celebrate amid the year that 2020 has become as the Keep Gilmer Beautiful Committee has received the Governor’s Circle Award.

Along with the framed award, the county approved a special resolution thanking the committee and applauding their hard work and efforts towards the betterment of Gilmer County.

Gilmer County Public Works Director Jim Smith praised Keep Gilmer Beautiful saying they have accomplished much and worked hard for the community even amid the pandemic this year.

An advisory group to the county, Keep Gilmer Beautiful sponsors, hosts, and works along side the county in many different ways among many projects. Most notably, the community would recall the annual Earth Day events held in the county, yet cancelled this year due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

The group also works alongside the county’s Solid Waste Department on the Amnesty Tire program, which was not fully cancelled this year, but rescheduled until they held it in October.

KGB Chairman Jay Zimmerman, left, accepts the Governor’s Circle Award from Public Works Director Jim Smith, middle.

During the pandemic, they have still worked on projects including finishing the e-waste recycling project. One of their key objectives of Keep Gilmer Beautiful, and a great focus of their efforts, is recycling. This shown through, said Smith, in their recognition with a Governor’s Circle Award.

Additionally, one of the most notable programs they spearhead is the Adopt-A-Road program. Smith stated even amid the pandemic, the county still has 65 adoptees that have adopted a minimum of one mile or more. Though less active in previous years, the committee continues the program and supporting the adoptees in the limited ways possible now.

Smith stated about the qualifications of the award; “To qualify for the 2019-2020 Governor’s Circle Award, affiliates must be certified by Keep America Beautiful, the national non-profit that oversees state and local programming, as well as active members of the Georgia network from July 2019 through June 2020. Certified Keep America Beautiful affiliates are required to affect meaningful, positive, and lasting change by directly addressing community needs in the areas of litter prevention, recycling, waste reduction, and beautification.”

Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson said, “I just, personally, want to thank you… and the whole group. All of those 65+ adoptees that adopt roads all across this county, you make such a difference in keeping our county beautiful. We appreciate your efforts.”

New budget could bring changes to Public Works in 2021

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Public Works

ELLIJAY, Ga. – “The year of Roads and Bridges” is what Gilmer Commissioner Chairman Charlie Paris said he wanted for the 2021 budget in order to improve Public Works. One comment among many as Gilmer’s BOC is still hammering out details for its coming year.

That comment is something that he has done many times over recent years during budget sessions as he has stated that he wanted to focus on getting departments up to par through that extra focus, whether it came through the Maintenance & Operations (M&O) Budget or through the Capital budget.

This year, Some of that extra focus for roads is coming through capital as the county is funding new equipment for the department through capital expenditures and funding almost all of their capital requests along with the county looking to increase Public Works employees pay. Though the Public Works request came for 5 percent, the county looked for ways to maybe increase this a little more, to potentially 8 percent.

On the revenue side, an increase is coming with changes to the weighed trash drop off. Now becoming 14 cents per pound, the rate is similar to surrounding counties, including neighboring Fannin County who Public Works Director Jim Smith says is 12 cents per pound. However, Smith also noted that his requested changes included the elimination of individual charges for items like sofas and appliances. Now, all of that type of construction and demolition trash will follow the 14 cents per pound rate. Additionally, passenger tire disposal went to $5 and larger truck tire disposal went to $12.

If adopted, these changes go into place January 1, 2021.

Another point of note in the budget came as Paris pointed out the county is currently repaying its TAN at around $400k. In previous years, the county has been excited that the TAN has been pushing further back for use. However, they have yet to completely negate the need for a TAN as was their hope. However, in recent years that TAN has been more akin to a $1.5 million repayment.

While Paris and Sandi Holden, Gilmer’s Financial Officer, attributed some of this difference to CARES ACT funding coming for capital expenses and the way it is handled, Paris said that this wouldn’t make the entire million dollar difference they have. Additionally, the county has received additional funds this year through sales tax in LOST and SPLOST for parts of the budget as well.

Paris said the county would know next year just how much this number has been affected by unusual circumstances as to how much it mirrors this year’s $400,000 or the previous year closer to $1.5 million.

The budget is coming up for adoption and Public Comments this week as the Board of Commissioners meet for the Public Hearing at 5:30 p.m. and the Regular Meeting at 6 p.m. on Thursday, December 10, 2020. The BOC did cancel their Wednesday Worksession.

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