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.”
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. – Honoring the entire Ralston family for contributions to the county and the park specifically, including that of Georgia House Speaker David Ralston, the Gilmer County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to rename the riverside park along Old Highway 5 to “Ralston River Park.”
Originating in this month’s meeting as an agenda item to rename the walking path for the Ralston family, discussion turned to the 28 years of service the county has received through numerous efforts from the family as a whole. Parks and Recreations Director Kevan White spoke during the Commissioners Work Session on the topic saying that some of those efforts include employment with the Parks and Rec Department, officiating basketball games over the years, memberships to the Parks and Rec Advisory Board, coaching various sports, GRPA awards and recognitions, state level service with public service since 1992, state legislation since 2002, volunteer services in disasters like Hurricane Isaac, state-level support in the recent upgrades, county level public service in the commissioners office, and more.
The original proposal the White spoke of was to name the path the “Ralston Riverwalk.” However, Post Commissioner Hubert Parker offered a step-up alternative in naming the whole park instead of the just the walking path. While White said he had thought about it, but didn’t propose it at first, he noted that several parts of the park, like the tennis courts, bear names of people who have dedicated great services to the county and the Parks and Recreation Department as well. White also noted that he has further plans for other dedications in the Clear Creek area as well.
Ultimately, no objection came, and a unanimous agreement to increase the dedication from the walking path to the park in general was made. The BOC May Regular meeting saw the formal motion to add the honorific.
The official name change completed, Chairman Charlie Paris did tell FYN that the county would be placing some sort of plaque or signage bearing the name in the future. But does not currently have a sign ready for it.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.