Arrest made in Murder near Roy Road

News

GILMER COUNTY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office (GCSO) has made a statement in regards to a murder investigation after a body was discover over the weekend.

murder

Joshua Robert Weaver

According to the Sheriff’s Office’s statement, Sheriff’s deputies were dispatched to the area of Roy Road in reference to an unresponsive male in the yard on Friday, April 22, 2022, at approximately 11:49 a.m.

When deputies arrive, they found the male with extensive visible injuries. The report stated, “A relative of Crate Hollis Weaver, age 65, had located Weaver in the yard deceased and called 911.”

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) was called in to process the scene and assist the sheriff’s office. After an investigation by GCSO detectives and the GBI, Joshua Robert Weaver, 39, was taken into custody and is charged with Murder and Aggravated Assault. Joshua is reportedly the nephew of Crate Weaver, the deceased.

According to the Booking Report, Weaver was taken into custody by GCSO just after 12:00 p.m. on April 22, 2022. He was booked into the Gilmer County Adult Detention Center at 2:09 p.m. Both murder and Aggravated Assault are Felony charges.

FYN has reached out to Sheriff Stacy Nicholson for comment and details on the incident and is awaiting a response at this time.

Two charged with Heroin Trafficking in multi-agency investigation

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heroin

GILMER COUNTY, Ga. – Continued operations throughout the Appalachian area are seeing Gilmer’s Sheriff’s Office stepping up its work both in solo operations, and in joint operations alongside groups like the Appalachian Regional Drug Enforcement, Police, and Sheriff’s Offices in other counties and leading to drug seizures like heroin and meth.

heroinOn Wednesday, March 30, 2022, one of those operations involved Gilmer County Deputies, Fannin County Investigators, the Cherokee County North Carolina Sheriff’s Office, and the GBI Appalachian Regional Drug Enforcement Office.

This coalition of law enforcement offices arrested two individuals allegedly involved in heroin trafficking. According to Gilmer’s Sheriff’s Office, an investigation into the trafficking saw the arrest of Jamie Willis Whitener, 44, of Murphy, North Carolina, and Natalie Lynn Scogin, 47, of Murphy, North Carolina.

The two have been charged with Trafficking Heroin after being stopped on Highway 515 in Gilmer County, Georgia. Headed north on the highway, Whitener and Scogin are suspected of being involved in trafficking heroin between Gilmer County, Georgia and Murphy, North Carolina. The Sheriff’s Office states that the two were known to the agencies involved in the investigation.

heroinGilmer Sheriff’s Office stated, “Approximately 10.9 grams of heroin was seized in this investigation, its value being approximately $1,600.”

Working along other agencies, numerous arrests have been made over the years after joint operations such as a four month long investigation in 2017 with the Zell Miller Mountain Parkway Drug Task Force. Additionally, Gilmer’s own deputies continue solo operations resulting in drug seizures like the record-setting arrest for 1.69 pounds of methamphetamines made in 2021.

The Appalachian Regional Drug Enforcement Office is a multi-agency unit that consists of the following Sheriff’s Offices: White County, Lumpkin County, Banks County, Jackson County, Habersham County, Stephens County, Rabun County, Franklin County, Gilmer County, Fannin County, the Cleveland Police Department and the Toccoa Police Department, along with the Georgia National Guard Counter Drug Task Force, the Department of Public Safety, Department of Community Supervision and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

GHS announces STAR Student Kinsleigh Purvis

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer High School has announced the 2022 PAGE STAR Student as Senior Kinsleigh Elizabeth Purvis who, in turn, selected former Mathematics teacher Ashley Stover as her STAR teacher.

Kinsleigh Purvis is the daughter of Steven and Kara Purvis of Talking Rock, Georgia. She has earned this recognition due to hard work, academic achievement, and SAT scores. In addition to being named STAR Student, she stated that she has also been accepted to attend the University of Georgia and its honors program. Purvis plans to pursue an Environmental Health Science degree that fulfills Pre-Med needs to go into Medical School.

The Student Teacher Achievement Recognition (STAR) program is sponsored, administered, and promoted by the Professional Association of Georgia Educators (PAGE) and the PAGE Foundation. The STAR Student must be a senior with the highest score on a single test date on the SAT and be in the top 10 percent or top 10 students of their class based on grade point average to qualify. The STAR program has honored nearly 28,500 students and the teachers selected as the most influential to their academic achievement over the years. There are competitions that continue in the STAR program at the region and state level.

Purvis

Kinsleigh Purvis, Gilmer High School’s 2022 PAGE STAR Student.

Purvis told FYN that the award was not something she was directly looking to achieve. While she did know about the STAR student program, she said she has been working hard towards the highest SAT score she could get for herself and not towards the STAR program specifically.

STAR Teacher Ashley Stover taught Purvis in ninth grade Geometry before stepping out of the classroom to become the Dual Enrollment Coordinator for two years. A program that Purvis has utilized to attend Dalton State College where she has been taking classes for core credits to add to her AP classes in high school.

Now, Stover is with Ellijay Elementary School.

Purvis chose Stover as her STAR Teacher because, as she states, “In the classroom, she is always very encouraging to everyone, including myself, and always pushed me to do my best. Then, as dual-enrollment coordinator, she helped me a lot with scheduling and doing what’s best for my future career and what’s best for me now.”

When asked about how surprising it was to hear the Purvis had been named STAR student, Stover said, “She’s always been at the top.”

Purvis

Ashley Stover, Gilmer High’s 2022 STAR Teacher.

She went on to add the Purvis was “the whole package.” She explained that the desire is there to fuel her. And while Purvis has always understood and gotten concepts quickly, she has stayed humble enough to realize the need is still there to work hard for what she wants. In addition to her drive and academics, Stover said she is kind and helpful to anyone.

That drive reaches out from school and academics as well. Purvis attends dance classes, teachers younger dancers from first and second grade, is a part of Girl Scouts, she is also very involved in her youth group that meets on Wednesday and Sunday nights.

Having gone through AP classes during the virtual academy and at-home days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Purvis still maintained her efforts and did “very well” on her AP tests according to Stover.

GHS Principal Carla Foley also lauded Purvis’ achievements saying, “We are very proud of Miss Purvis and Mrs. Stover and the academic excellence they have exemplified at Gilmer High.”

Speaking specifically about Purvis both as a past student and looking to the future, Stover said, “She’s going to do great things. I’ve known that since I met her, but she is. She is going to change the world.”

Gilmer BOE redrawing district lines for board members

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district

EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – With a letter from from the state reapportionment office suggesting changes, this Thursday will see the Gilmer Board of Education considering redrawing district lines for the county in regards to the board members.

district

Redrawn district lines as presented to Gilmer BOE by the state.

This does not affect the county’s voting registration or citizens voting districts within the county. Instead, it changes the lines of the county and the districts that each board of education members’ seat represents. The diagram, pictured to the right, shows these changes on Gilmer’s map. The green lines represent the former district lines, established in 2012. The colored sections represent how the districts will look if approved on Thursday.

Based on the recent census, Superintendent Dr. Brian Ridley told board members that the changes look to rebalance populations within the districts.

The new lines show three major changes to the districts with the west side of District 5 reaching further west across Mountaintown, the east side of District 4 reaching further east towards the cities, and the southwest side of District 2 reaching further west across Yukon.

According to documents presented in their work session, this redraw will see each district with just over 6,000 people living in each of the districts.

This redistricting has not been approved yet, but is set for consideration this week, having the districts set for the coming election.

district

State drawn district lines for reapportionment in Georgia are presented here with roads overlaid.

About voting on board members, Dr. Ridley stated, “The only thing that this affects is where future board members may live. Since all of you are voted on at large, it really doesn’t have any effect on who votes for who.”

Board Member Joe Pflueger question the origination of the map and Dr. Ridley clarified that the map was redrawn and provided by the state reapportionment office. Pflueger further noted that there has been no local input on the districts map as presented so far. Comments were made that the board would discuss legal options in executive session.

Dr. Ridley did note that the board could accept the map as presented or potentially alter it and ask for changes. Tomorrow’s, January 27, 2022, Regular Meeting of the Gilmer BOE will see the board’s decision on the map at 6:00 p.m.

Planning and Zoning sees strong opposition in meeting

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zoning

GILMER COUNTY, Ga. – With several zoning requests considered for January, two saw increased opposition alongside some support from residents, neighbors, and members of Keep Gilmer Rural (KGR). The nearly three hour meeting on January 20, 2022, saw discussion stretch from public discussion to debate among the board members over issues.

The first debated application came for 128 Adventure Trail by Jonathan Graves to rezone from R-1 to A-1 in support of a Hobby Livestock Farm.

Those in opposition to the rezoning spoke against the location being surrounded by other Residential zoned lots. Some noted other allowances that could come to the site if sold. Additionally, concerns were raised over potential nuisances for close neighbors and references were made to Gilmer’s ordinances.

An opposition was also noted about the environment as the location tends to drain into the road in heavy storms and then into a creek which feeds into a pond and then on into the lower Cartecay River.

Both Graves and one speaker in support of the application noted that while no A-1 zones touched his property there are some large A-1 zones nearby. Graves noted that one of these farms already drains into the local creeks in a natural way. He said he may not know everything about the impact of that, but his intentions were not to build an intensive animal farm. Rather, a more hobby-livestock style of farming would mean less animals and drainage than many were thinking.

With board members debating about due diligences when buying properties, one noted that a lot doesn’t have to have A-1 touching it to be considered. Chairman Mooney stated, “I’m sympathetic to what Mr. Graves is trying to do but he stated he bought it with the intention to do agricultural type activity. The proper way to do it is to get it rezoned the way you want it before you purchase it.”

Ultimately, a motion and approval came with one opposed to deny the application.

The nights second major discussion came for a new 50 unit subdivision at 0 Boardtown, Cherry Log. A 66.37 acre tract comes in under the moratorium while maximizing the acreage. The applicant, Joe Sission of Sisson Corporation, stated, “We are requesting it to be zoned R-1 to build vacation homes.”

When asked about how many homes, Sission said he hadn’t done a preliminary yet. Though he estimated 50 homes considering space for roads, easements, water system, and driveways.

The property is looking to connect to different roads for ingress and egress including potential options of Boardtown Road, Lucius Road, Goose Island Road, and Whitepath Road.

With concerns raised over traffic and contamination of a spring, the major issue debated by public speakers came with speakers using Mooney’s own words saying that the rezoning should have been sought upon buying the land. Citizens pointed to Sission’s experience both as a developer and as a Planning and Zoning Board member that he should have sought the rezoning when he purchased the property.

The discussion became a major focal point with some calling it favoritism and unfair zoning that the board might consider this zoning minutes after telling another applicant that a major zoning change with major impact is subject to “due diligence” that should have been sought before completing a purchase.

zoning

Tom Whatley speaks to the Planning and Zoning Board about a 50-unit subdivision on Boardtown Road.

Others also pointed to a lack of planning and information available during the meeting for both the board and citizens to consider. The stated that Sisson himself noted he hadn’t done a preliminary and was unable to give specifics on how many homes he was building.

Sisson replied saying, “As far as a plan stating exactly how many houses that would be put on this piece of property, it would be impossible to determine until we know if we’re able to get the zoning.”

One speaker spoke to how Sisson has improved and bettered areas of the county. Sisson himself later added that he would be aiding in tourism which has been one of the county’s greatest sources of income.

Board discussion spoke about the differences in the two applications and the involvement of animals and going from Agriculture to Residential and inversely. Mooney stated in response to the comparisons, “It is a different situation. But that was one of the factors that played in my decision. It wasn’t the only factor, it wasn’t the main factor. There were several factors that weighed in. I try to take in all the factors and weigh those.”

The board also noted several access points would allow the traffic disbursement to spread along different roads. Mooney also noted that it would be ideal for every citizen to be able to afford 100 acres to build on. He said it isn’t practical, though. He stated, “With the smaller tracts, you’re putting people in homes that probably couldn’t afford them if they were bigger tracts.”

However, several citizens noted after the meeting that Mooney was off-base in his comments as he was speaking of homes for people to live in that couldn’t afford larger homes while Sisson specifically noted in the beginning that he was building vacation homes and second homes and later noted he wanted to aid in tourism. Citizens were angered by the unanimous approval of the development in the meeting.

Kimberly Reckles, an attendee to the meeting, later commented on social media saying, “I still cannot wrap my head around why they denied a young family a zoning variance — from R-1 to Ag-1 — to build themselves a private hobby farm, but approved a variance from Ag1 to R-1 for Sisson to build a 50 lot subdivision in the middle of agriculturally zoned land.”

Weather has delays and the warming center open for Friday morning

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weather

GILMER COUNTY, Ga. – A new statement from the National Weather Service has authorities in Gilmer County returning to caution and delaying schedules tomorrow in addition to early closures today.

Statements from the Gilmer County Courthouse and Gilmer County Schools have reported early closures for today. Both ended the day two hours early, roughly 3 p.m. for the county and 1 p.m. for schools. However, in addition to early closures both have issued statements for tomorrow, Friday, January 7, 2022. This is the second time this week that winter weather has caused a delay for the county.

The statement from the courthouse said, “The Gilmer County Courthouse will be closing at 3:00PM today and will delay opening tomorrow until 10:00AM due to incoming winter weather events that we anticipate will make driving difficult and perhaps dangerous.”

The statement from Gilmer Schools said, “Tonight’s weather forecast is predicting some severe Winter weather in the Northern end of Georgia, including parts of Gilmer. Therefore, the Gilmer County Schools will operate on a 2-hour delay on Friday January 7th, 2022.”

The National Weather service stated, “A strong cold front will bring cold and windy conditions to much of north Georgia tonight into Friday morning. Northwest winds of 10 to 15 mph with gusts up to 25 mph this evening will gradually decrease overnight. However, with the very cold, sub-freezing temperatures, wind chill values will fall into the teens across north Georgia with readings in the single digits in the mountains.”

Closures and delays are not the only response coming through as Gilmer Public Safety is also responding to the extremely low temperatures by opening the Civic Center Warming Center. They said, “The Warming Shelter at the Civic Center – 1561 S. Main St. – will be open today (Thursday) and tomorrow (Friday) from 5:00 PM to 7:00 AM for all those in need of protection from freezing temperatures. Visitors are asked to bring a bedroll if available. Pets are welcome.”

With slight rain today in areas of the county, some estimation totals have reached between a quarter and half of an inch possible. Lows are estimated between 17 and 20 degrees just before dawn. Some forecasts have even set the wind chill down to single digits in the area.

Gilmer is along the southernmost reach of the Winter Weather Advisories reach across the entire northern tip of Georgia coming from the front of “arctic air.”

Gilmer Honors Veteran’s Day today

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Veteran's Day

At the 11th hour today, on this 11th day of this 11th month, a tradition continued for many citizens, a tradition of honor and recognition. This Veteran’s Day celebrates those veterans who have served in our armed forces.

Veteran's Day

Members of the 507th Civil Air patrol post the colors for the Veteran’s Day Ceremony on November 11, 2021.

Keeping the tradition of the signing of the armistice of World War I, the recognition in Ellijay began at 11 a.m., the eleventh hour. And today saw smiles and laughter, hugs amongst friends and family, and the honoring of our soldiers. It came from both loved ones and strangers. It came in the musical celebrations and the solemn prayers. It came in the casual handshakes and thanks and the rigid codes and regulations.

As a community, many traditions were honored at the Veteran’s Day gathering at the Ellijay Lion’s Club Fairgrounds. Traditions like the GHS Band playing “Salute to the Armed Forces” and singing “God Bless the USA.” There were newer additions like the PGBC Trio under direction of Doug Lee.

Veteran's Day

The award winning Gilmer High School Band performs the “Salute to the Armed Services” to honor veterans on November 11, 2021.

Most of the morning was saturated in familiar songs patriotically honoring the country and its defenders. Jeannette Kelly sang our National Anthem, Scott Eaton sang “God Bless the USA,” and the EES Chorus under direction of Katie Mayfield and GHS Chorus under direction of Hannah Carter sang together and each on their own.

A celebration as a community, incorporating veterans and civilians, students and adults, and young and older, becomes more meaningful. Watching members of the 507th Civil Air Patrol post the colors and deliver the memorial wreath beneath the American Flag instills pride as they work to make their moves precise, giving reverence to the soldiers who have done it before them.

Veteran's Day

George McClellan plays Amazing Grace on bagpipes during the Veteran’s Day Celebration at the Gilmer Lion’s Club Fairgrounds.

Listening to bagpipes play Amazing Grace is an amazing sound, but speaking with the man playing them, George McClellan, you gain insight on just how hard it is to play and handle the instrument. Couple this with his formal uniform, complete with kilt and sporran, and it gives a small glimpse into the dedication that men and women give to this celebration.

Incorporating the entirety of the community not only shows our thanks but teaches future generations how important this day is to us. It may seem convenient to award the poster and essay winners from the schools during this ceremony, but it may be the day to show support for these students, especially in the higher grades. Some of these students are now considering and talking with recruiters about joining the military themselves.

Veteran's Day

Marie Wych and SMSgt Sam Burrell, Retired USAF, pose with winners of the Poster contests and the Essay contests. Pictured from left to right on back row, Marie Wych, 12th Grade Essay Winner Reagan Boling, 11th Grade Essay Winner Sawyer Wishon, 10th Grade Essay Winner Lucy Ray, 9th Grade Essay Winner Tony Gonzalez, and SMSgt Sam Burrell.
Pictured from left to right on front row, 5th Grade Poster Winner Mattelyn Jones and 3rd Grade Poster Winner Olivia Steingruber.
Not Pictured, 8th Grade Essay Winner Tabitha Hunter, 7th Grade Essay Winner Bayleigh Jasinski, 6th Grade Essay Winner Payton Headricks, and 4th Grade Poster Winner Lissette Garcia.

String of thefts has authorities investigating

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thefts

GILMER COUNTY, Ga. – The Sheriff’s Office is asking citizens to be diligent this week as October has seen a string of thefts involving specific equipment.

According to a recent post by the Sheriff’s Office, October has seen “several thefts” that have been some type of heavy equipment including tractors and trailers. One citizen noted her husband’s work truck was recently stolen, the work truck including a dumping bed. Additionally two excavator buckets were also stolen.

The Sheriff’s Office has not specified any specific details on any thefts, but has noted that the heavy equipment connection. They also asked citizens to take specific note of their equipment just in case something happens.

They stated, “If you own equipment, please keep note of the brand, model, serial/VIN # and any distinctive identifying markings.”

Citizens should also take extra precautions at this time with any equipment like this. Securing vehicles, tractors, trailers, and even potentially bobcats and attachments for anything like this.

The Sheriff’s Office has not disclosed what possible connections these thefts could have either with each other or any possible connections with any other illegal activities within the county.

Citizens have already started conversations and sharing information and looking for ways to aid neighbors. In addition, the Sheriff’s Office has asked that any citizens you may have any information about stolen equipment, “Please call Detective Henson or Detective Sippel in the Criminal Investigations Division at 706-635-4646 or 706-635-8911 after normal business hours. If you see any suspicious activity, call 911 immediately.”

County will expand water next year with American Rescue Plan

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Water

ELLIJAY, Ga. – In discussions for the spending of funds from the American Rescue Plan, Gilmer County’s Board of Commissioners heard a proposal from the Ellijay Gilmer County Water and Sewerage Authority (EGCWSA) to utilize funds for the Roundtop Road area of the county to extend water lines to the Pickens-Gilmer line.

Water has already reached part of the area. EGCWSA Director Gary McVey spoke in the October Commissioner’s Meeting about the project, saying that the plan was to from the end of the current water line all they way down Roundtop Road.

McVey stated that a majority of calls requesting city water come from this area currently. He noted that the well water in the area has high iron content.

Adding to the project, McVey said he wanted to treat the new line exactly like the last project in the area with the funds paying for the meter installation and even the tie-ons between a meter and a house. It was stated that the EGCWSA Board might reduce impact fees for citizens, but McVey did not say it would negate them. He noted that this would be a board decision that would have to be made. Additionally, the project also looks to make water more readily available in emergencies, aiding in fire protection along the way.

The cost of the project is estimated at $1 million.

As opposed to other projects approved recently, such as the county’s hazard pay for employees, this project will not be put into motion until next year with the second round of the American Rescue Plan funds.

The county has been discussing projects and is continuing to pursue them, however, waiting until the next round of funding will allow the county to go forward with its plans and allow the EGCWSA to begin plans and preparations for the new project before 2022. The official motion came for a resolution to approve the project and reserve the upcoming funds for it.

The county already saw its first opposition and support for the project in the same meeting as citizens wishing to speak portion. With one citizen asking for a rebate for water filters he has had to buy in his area of the county for the same iron issues.

City of Ellijay to discuss removal of downtown parking Monday

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parking

ELLIJAY, Ga. – More than just citizens living inside the city limits, people from East Ellijay and all over Gilmer County outside of either city’s limits have been voicing opinions and concerns over the loss of parking on the square and down River Street.

parkingThis Monday, October 15, 2021, will see the Ellijay City Council hear the proposal from a representative of the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) and has an agenda item to take action on the subject. The agenda lists this as “Downtown Parking Elimination Test.” The idea is to test how the area will respond without parking through Light Up Ellijay in December. The Mayor’s Report in the city council notes that this will eliminate parking “on the roundabout and River Street.”

Discussion has risen from the DDA, but has found stark opposition from certain members of the public. From very specific concerns of elderly and handicapped people looking to keep the close by parking for places like the Cantaberry Restaurant, Blue Ridge Olive Oil Company, Ellijay Wood Fired Pizza, River Street Tavern, and others to general concerns about eliminating any parking in such a busy area of the city.

Those speaking in favor of the elimination have quoted public safety concerns and traffic flow. Accidents have occurred in the area and comments have been made referencing these incidents when someone may pull out or back out into traffic. Others have complained about how difficult it is to back out of the lots on the square.

Discussions have also come from some to convert the roundabout parking into all handicapped parking spaces and marking off several spots to allow for van unloading from the sides for wheelchair users.

parkingThe Downtown Square already has posted speed limits signs along River Street and the city has also put up flashing signs in the past warning drivers of their speed as they cross the bridge on River Street.

Eighteen parking spots isn’t a large number compared to the lot sizes like the one behind Dalton State College or the one behind the courthouse next to the Tabor House, but the main push to keep the spots has focused on the needs for closer parking for older people. Four years ago, in 2016, research was shown in the Gilmer Board of Commissioners meetings as the county was losing its hospital proving Gilmer had 25% of its population as 65 or older. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, research has proven that the consistent occupancy of Gilmer County is increasing from more and more people moving here along with more and more tourists visiting.

The question of the day and the question behind the parking spots on the roundabout and down River Street, ultimately, has very little to do with parking, but has everything to do with traffic and congestion. Some downtown business owners are also pushing to keep the roadside parking to allow for older citizens to have easier access, but also to allow for those who may see an open spot and are only looking to quickly get in and out of one store instead of touring the downtown area.

Officials have emphasized that the action taken, if approved, is only a test run. Discussion has continued to run rampant among how the city would block off the spots, what kind of image it gives to visitors, what it would do to locals, how it would affect businesses, how it will change the look and feel of the downtown area. Discussion will continue on Monday, October 18, 2021, at 5:30 when the City of Ellijay enters its workshop right before the 6:00 p.m. meeting.

Gilmer BOC receives Audit Report

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Receiving their Audit Report, Gilmer County saw a generally good audit, with most portions finding no deficiencies and the company delivering a “clean, unmodified opinion.”

According to the Rushton audit report, the county’s general Audit Opinion Letter reported as clean and unmodified, meaning that the company’s opinion is that financial statements were fairly stated and had no issue.

Delving into the audit and breaking down the county’s position saw several different points of financial interest along with comments on one area.

Despite the COVID Outbreaks and issues, the audit reveals increases in the county’s unrestricted funds showcasing that even though the virus and issues occurred, Gilmer saw an increase in spending and in areas like the Hotel/Motel Tax.

Gilmer already noticed the trend last year as research done on the SPLOST Tax during the COVID outbreak showed surprising increases in June and July of 2020. This was surprising because the county halted capital spending earlier in 2020 and many locals saw businesses closing due to the virus. However, those that did stay open saw an influx of people. Many attributed the influx to visitors to the county attempting to flee the major cities during the worst parts of the the COVID shutdown.

There were increases in costs according to the audit, some of the larger ones came through Fire and Road Departments, but saw slight decreases in other areas like the Detention Center.

According to Chris Hollifield, who presented the Audit Report on behalf of Rushton, the county increased in “unassigned fund balance” from $6.3 million to $10.2 million. Hollifield said, “That’s about 5.5 months of our expenditures for 2020. So, when you think about the health of the county, where should we be? We expect to be three to four months minimum… We have those ‘reserves,’ if you will, to carry forward to the next year’s budget.”

These reserves have been brought up in Audits over the years as important items. Auditors relayed that they registered the balance by months of expenditures because they saw that if something dire happened and no revenue comes in, then the county could cover its costs for the stated number of months.

Hollifield said the county has done a good job getting to this point as he could remember in the past when the county could not achieve that reserve.

The audit also noted that the county received support in its funding. Some of the funding for expenditures and capital outlays came through the CARES Act funds.

With another letter on internal control matters, laws compliance, grants and debts agreements. The audit report noted five deficiencies and two non-compliance including one overbudget and timing on payouts. The comments seemed to revolve around deposits’ timing. Though Hollifield noted that some considerations could be made for COVID delaying certain things, they noted that deposits were not made weekly like they, the audit company, would have liked to seen.

The Audit also noted no findings or issues in the handling of government funding like in the CARES Act. As the county handled the governement funds and they exceeded $750,000, Hollifield said this isn’t a usual report for the county, but was required specifically because the total amount of funding exceeded that limit.

Gilmer Animal Shelter expansion approved

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expansion

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.

expansion

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.”

Pickens BOE sets millage after Executive Session for personnel

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JASPER, Ga. – A special called meeting of the Pickens County Board of Education met this week and put the final approval on the board’s millage rate.

Upon calling the meeting to order and approving the agenda, however, the Pickens County Board of Education retreated to an executive session to discuss, as Board Chair Sue Finley read, “the appointment, employment, compensation, hiring, disciplinary action or dismissal or periodic evaluation or rating of a public officer or employee. Or to interview applicants for the position of superintendent.”

The board took no action upon exiting executive session, but instead moved on to the regular agenda.

An official motion came to approve the Board of Education’s millage rate at 14.30 mills. Board Member Aaron Holland made the motion with a second from Steve Smith.

This sets the millage rate 0.53 mills lower than last year and continuing the steady decline according to the school’s 5-year history of the tax levied.

BOE Budget, millage

BOE FY 22 Initial Budget

The system estimates, according to the 5-year history, $22,648,385 in total M&) taxes levied. The budget denotes $24,908,755 in local taxes.

Finley said, “I would like to thank Mr. Young and Ms. Smith for their hard work to make this happen to bring our budget to the point where we can have our millage rate at 14.30 and still have our budget in the black. Thank you very much.”

A unanimous vote for both the millage rate and the FY 22 budget saw the board passing an initial budget for the year.

That budget totals $48.7 million, estimating that the school system’s fund balance will remain at $10.5 million.

 

Gilmer Schools responding to COVID case increases

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EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – “Gilmer Schools have seen an explosion of positive COVID cases and quarantines throughout this week.” Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Brian Ridley read a statement during the Gilmer County Board of Education this week on Thursday night, August 19, 2021, during their Regular Scheduled meeting.

Gilmer Superintendent Dr. Brian Ridley, COVID

Gilmer Superintendent Dr. Brian Ridley

As of that meeting, the total cases in Gilmer’s school system surpassed a district wide 900 students in quarantine and 100 positive cases in students and staff.

That explosion also culminated in the cancellation of the season opening varsity football game against Pickens on Friday, August 20, 2021. The school system stated, “Decisions such as these are not taken lightly, and we must prioritize the safety and well being of all student-athletes and spectators for both teams.”

Dr. Ridley said in a letter to parents about COVID restrictions earlier this week that the school system would be mandating masks and face coverings starting on Monday, August 23, 2021. He stated, “I feel it is imperative that we act now in an effort to keep our students safe and our schools open.”

In efforts to notify and share the information well in advance, that letter was sent out. However, at the Thursday meeting, Dr. Ridley also informed citizens that while working with the Department of Health, new guidelines will be coming next week in implementation. He confirmed that he would be discussing these with the press on Monday to inform citizens more about those changes as the school looks to continue implementing DPH guidelines into the schools.

As of now, Monday will see masking on school buses only with strong encouragement to wear masks throughout the day. Dr. Ridley also urged others to consider using masks and getting vaccinated against the virus. During his statement in the meeting, Dr. Ridley stated, “Students and staff who are fully vaccinated or masked during exposure will not be subject to quarantine.”

Additionally, the Board of Education also approved COVID leave time for staff that have exposures and positive tests. Superintendent Ridley stated that the official numbers will be updated on their website tomorrow, August 20, 2021.

COVIDWith the announcement of new COVID guidelines made and implementation on the way, the school system is currently working on the “logistics of implementing this new guidance as early as Monday or Tuesday of next week.”

Gilmer is continuing with quarantining for 10 days and requirements to be fever free for at least 24 hours without the use of fever reducing medications with an improvement of symptoms.

Additionally, Dr. Ridley previously told FYN that virtual academy was not being implemented for the start of school, but Gilmer does have the option if the need arises. He did not mention virtual academy at the meeting.

As the Superintendent shares more information on the changing guidelines FYN will continue to share new articles with the updated information.

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 returns to high transmission designation with COVID

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GILMER COUNTY, Ga. – Gilmer, like most all of North Georgia, is seeing resurgence in the COVID-19 virus, whether from the original virus or some variant.

According to reports from the Georgia Department of Public Health, Gilmer saw 15 new cases yesterday alone. In the last two weeks, it has seen 61 new cases. Along with this, the Georgia DPH has once again put Gilmer on the High Transmission counties list.

High TransmissionAccording to documentation on the GDPH website, they classify High Transmission with the following criteria; “14-day cases rate is >100 cases/100,000 county residents (>5 cases during this period) AND 14-day average % positive PCR tests >10% (>20 total tests performed during this period).”

The Georgia DPH also reports that Gilmer has had 2,663 total cases as of August 9, 2021. Gilmer is among the vast majority of counties in Georgia with this classification, now, as only eight counties in the entire state still remain outside of that criteria. Last week, there were nearly 30 counties not classified as High Transmission.

Further breaking down their statistics, the Department reclassified the counties into three classifications of Green, Yellow, and Red based on their positivity rates in testing. Gilmer received a Yellow Classification. Yellow means “5-10% PCR positivity during previous 14 days.”

Gilmer has seen a 9.7% Positivity of the 432 tests performed in the last 14 days.

Along with the increasing numbers within the county, discussion is increasing at state and federal levels about pushing further with mandates than what has been previously seen.

On August 3, 2021, the North Georgia Health District published an article that stated, “In areas with substantial and high transmission, the CDC recommends that everyone (including fully vaccinated individuals) wear a mask in public indoor settings to help prevent spread of COVID-19 and the Delta variant.”

FYN has confirmed with some local public safety authorities in nearby counties that local discussions have already started for reinstating suggested preventative measures and restrictions in some areas.

Gilmer Schools have also been monitoring the numbers consistently as Superintendent Dr. Brian Ridley said they look at several reports from the daily numbers to specifically school age children from the Department of Health. Dr. Ridley noted that the schools are, again, working closely with the Department of Public Health as these numbers trend upward. From webinars to communicating with the local branch of the Georgia Department of Health, the system is continuing to stay connected with both medical experts and surrounding counties and their BOEs according the Ridley.

He also noted that some steps are already being taken as suggested mask usage and separation in the cafeteria are just some of the small steps they have taken so far. While he said that the virtual academy is available as a back-up, they have no immediate plans for usage as a response to the numbers. He also stated that mask usage is suggested to students. The school mandate was lifted towards the final few weeks on the last school year.

Board of Commissioners Chairman Charlie Paris has also commented saying he monitors the county’s numbers. With the county’s regular meetings starting tomorrow morning at 9 a.m. and Thursday at 6 p.m., there is no planned discussion nor any immediate response in how the meeting will be held.

Gilmer has seen a one day spike of 15 cases, but it barely compares to January as cases peaked on July 15, 2020, with 49 new cases. Both July 2020 and January 2021 say 7 day averages topping 15 to 20 new cases. Comparatively, August 9, 2021, saw a 7 day average of 6.9 cases.

The Department of Health has put the majority of counties into the High Transmission category while local boards are opting for caution and analyzation to see if this is simply a small spike, or a trend towards something more.

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