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.

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.

BOC will consider cost of living increase for county employees Monday

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WHITE COUNTY, Ga. – The White County Board of Commissioners will consider a cost of living allowance (COLA) for county employees and setting compensation for Board of Elections and Registration members when they meet in a combined called meeting and work session Monday (Sept. 28) at 4:30 p.m. in the County Administration Building.

Commissioners will also discuss:

  • A land use application filed by Justin Hester to redistrict 1.04 acres at 3391 Hwy. 129 in Cleveland from C-2 Highway Business District to R-1 Residential single family district;
  • A land use application filed by Chad Knott for a conditional land use permit on 1.5 acres on Sang Springs Trail in Cleveland to be placed in the short-term rental program;
  • A land use application filed by Sam Kondamudi for a conditional use permit at 645 Yonah Mountain Road in Cleveland to be placed in the short-term rental program;
  • A land use application filed by Trina Lovell to redistrict 1.41 acres on Hiawassee Lane in Cleveland from R-3 Residential Seasonal District to R-1 Residential Single Family District;
  • A land use application filed by Priscilla Pearson to redistrict two acres at 333 Skywood Lane in Cleveland from R-1 Residential Single Family District to R-3 Residential Seasonal District to be placed in the short-term rental program;
  • A land use application filed by Robert Sloane for a conditional use permit on 17.16 acres at 3088 Skitts Mountain Road in Cleveland to be placed in the short-term rental program;
  • A draft nuisance ordinance;
  • A Fire Department request to purchase two truck chassis for two wildland fire units;
  • A surplus resolution for the sale of obsolete items by the Public Safety Department;
  • Renewal of a two-year veterinary services contract with VCA-Chestatee Animal Hospital for White County Animal Control;
  • A Business and Grounds Maintenance request to purchase two zero-turn mowers and a new field lining machine;
  • Purchase of a remote monitoring management software for utilization by the Information Technology Department;
  • Appointments to the Board of Elections and Registration.

 

 

Board lowers Bond Millage with final approval of rates

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Millage Rate Meeting

ELLIJAY, Ga. – A unanimous vote on Monday, August 24, 2020, saw the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners follow up on statements from last year where they discussed lowering the Bond Millage Rate in the county.

While they did not approve lowering the rate in 2019, many citizens have continued discussing and pushing for the reduction this year. A few have very vocally called for the reduction of the “extra half mill” that was put on the Bond Millage rate raising it from 1 to 1.5 mills. Additionally, the viral outbreak and subsequent shutdowns of counties and states cast a dark shadow on local economies and doubt for the financial future of Gilmer.

The Commissioners halted capital spending and major projects as they watched and waited to see just what kind of impact it would have, even delaying their pool project that has been underway for over a year now. The pool was closed at the beginning of May in 2019.

However, the last two months have shown quite the difference. Despite the cancellation of major events in the county and increasing numbers from the virus, recent reports show an increase in collections from tourism and SPLOST.

Whether this played a role in their decision, the commissioners did not say, but they did approve a drop in the bond millage rate by .25 mills, taking it from 1.5 to 1.25 mills.

The School-Board-approved millage rate of 13.963 was approved to be implemented by the Board of Commissioners. This is the Rollback Rate calculated for Gilmer County Schools as they have advertised over the past month since the July meeting. The Board of Education approved this rate last week during their regular August meeting.

They also moved forward with approval of the county’s M&O (Maintenance and Operations) Millage Rate of 6.783 mills. This is also a Rollback Rate calculated for the Board of Commissioners and advertised for the past month since their July Meeting.

Health Department Responds to positive test in Courthouse

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GIlmer Health Department

ELLIJAY, Ga – Gilmer’s Health Department and Courthouse are working closely together this week after a confirmed positive test was reported by the county Probate Judge, Scott Chastain.

FYN reached out to the Health Department and spoke with Gilmer Commissioner Chairman Charlie Paris about the Health Department’s involvement. Both entities noted that the Georgia Department of Public Health already has guidelines and directions in the case of positive exposure and the Courthouse is already taking measures in its own way.

Public Information Officer and Risk Communicator for the North Georgia Health District of the Georgia Department of Public Health, Jennifer King said, “COVID-19 is still transmitting in Gilmer County… and while we don’t refer to any specific cases or locations unless we have reason to believe the public is at a higher level of risk, we do share the latest Governor’s Executive Orders relating to COVID-19 protocols with the public, businesses, organizations, and agencies to follow, including information that helps prevent the spread of COVID-19 and how to respond if cases occur.”

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Gilmer County Courthouse

King asserted that Gilmer’s local Health Department is working closely with the community in every way possible. Paris also noted that he had been in contact with the Health Department as the courthouse was responding to the exposure.

Continuing communication reaches far beyond just the courthouse, though, as King said, “Our local health department and environmental health office work very closely with community partners, including EMA, Family Connections, government agencies, businesses, churches and schools to remind residents of measures they can take to prevent the spread of the virus and protect against COVID-19.”

King said that public health is urging people to get tested for COVID-19. She went on to note that the department is also attempting to provide that opportunity to do so for free. She said, “We are attempting to prevent further spread of the transmission through contact tracing and repeatedly reminding residents of the critical need to always wear a mask in public, wash their hands frequently or use a hand sanitizer, avoid large crowds, social distance away from others by at least 6 feet, avoid physical contact with others by not shaking hands or giving hugs, and stay home and call their doctor if they feel they may have symptoms of COVID-19 or have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive over the past 14 days.”

Public Health is urging people to get tested for COVID-19 through options like Drive-Thru Testing sites providing free testing for citizens.

The Health Department is reaching out across all platforms of media to spread the information of options like the drive-thru testing sites and schedule postings

Citizens who feel they have been in contact or may have been in the courthouse recently are also encouraged to visit the Testings Website. Gilmer has their own testing site times, on Mondays and Fridays, but there are other sites in our nearby counties in case some residents find it more convenient to register for an appointment at one of those.

King also stated, “Because the number of cases in our Hispanic/Latino population in Gilmer County is disproportionally high, local public health works with community leaders, partners, churches and schools to increase outreach to this community by sharing translated information, encouraging free COVID-19 testing, and providing education about the need to prevent the spread of the virus and how to protect against it.”

The Public Health website offers information in both English and Spanish as well as several flyers in both English and Spanish.

County seeks to help farms to support recovery

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer’s Board of Commissioners made two approvals this week for farms to, as Chairman Charlie Paris said, “try to recover as quickly as possible.”

While Paris said they are looking at several areas of the county’s economy, two of the approvals in June focused solely on farms and agriculture including the first steps of a change and easing of the ordinance for Farm Wineries and a Resolution supporting the “Right to Farm Act” in legislation.

With local farm wineries, Paris said the only way the county can really help with this is through lessening regulations. To that end, the Commissioners voted to approve moving forward with advertising to change the ordinance to allow local wineries in the unincorporated parts of the county “to serve local Georgia craft beer in their tasting rooms. They would not be allowed to sell the beer packaged and there will be no Sunday sales.”

Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson said, “I know that the winery owners have requested this for some time and we were waiting to bring it up and to see when the right time was. I do think it is a great time to put that gesture in… I also love the fact that we are restricting it to Georgia Craft beers, so it is not any of the name brand national or international brands.”

Gary Engel speaks to Commissioners in June of 2020 about easing the ordinance restrictions for local Farm Wineries and allowing craft beer sales of Georgia Craft Beers.

Gary Engel speaks to Commissioners in June of 2020 about easing the ordinance restrictions for local Farm Wineries and allowing craft beer sales of Georgia Craft Beers.

Gary Engel spoke to the Commissioners in the work session noting that a few wineries were represented in the audience. He said that other counties in the state are already selling beers. He also noted that it would not equate to a great surge in sales, but rather it allows a service to different tastes. Engel said that sometimes a couple will come up to listen to music, one doesn’t like wine but would enjoy a cold beer. He did say that the small increase in sales could aid in the wineries business as well.

He also said they are wanting to increase and pursue the business as Gilmer is increasing in popularity with these as well. Engel said, “From a perspective of the state, with the number of wineries that are going into Gilmer County, this county will soon be the most populated county, south of Virginia, with wineries.”

Additionally, the other approval for farms came in support of a legislative Act in Georgia, the “Right to Farm” Act. Paris said that lawsuits come often against farms as people move in nearby and then sue over the smells or noise. Paris explained that through discussions with farmers, he found that these are not often won, but are often filed and can be expensive to fight against in courts.

In support of local farmers and through discussions with them, Paris said that they asked for support for this Act in protection of some of what he called “nuisance lawsuits.”

The Act increases requirements to file lawsuits against farms according to Paris, in attempt to protect them from some of these filings.

The approval came for Resolution to support the Act at the state level in efforts to help it pass.

Gilmer BOC will hold April Regular meeting in person

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Meeting

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Both cities and counties carry on amid the shutdown, and Gilmer is also moving forward in this time with their April meeting, but with a few changes.

Gilmer has already made changes over March as meetings saw a distancing line in the meeting room, and all meetings have been held in the Jury Assembly Room in the Gilmer County Courthouse. However, this month will see another change as the Board is only sending one agenda. Gilmer’s BOC will still meet is person, as of now, but will not be holding their usual work session.

Gilmer is continuing monitor situations during the shutdown and two agenda items stick out among the agenda as potential ramifications of the nations current situation.

Among the items is listed “Discussion and possible action to grant authority to the Tax Commissioner to waive Interest and Penalties” and “Discussion and possible action regarding the upcoming May General and Presidential Primaries.”

Elections have been a growing topic as we draw closer to May during a Presidential Election year which has, historically, been one of the highest turnout years for elections.

Not holding a work session, the public will be hearing discussion and votes in the same day for April. The rest of the meeting is set to proceed as normal with usual items like Citizens wishing to speak and the financial statement. The meeting will be held on Thursday, April 9, 2020, at 6 p.m., in the Jury Assembly Room of the Courthouse.

Meeting

Meeting

 

 

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