Million dollar donation has county looking at Animal Shelter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Returning to the river regulations debate in Gilmer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

County approves advertising for bids on new pool

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

County backs off from creating Board of Elections

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scott Chastain, Elections,

Gilmer County Probate Judge Scott Chastain

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commissioners revamp Land Use changes again

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer’s Board of Commissioners took another meeting this week to revisit changes to the Land Use Ordinance considering density, Residential, and Agricultural Zonings.

This time, the board met alongside the Planning Commission to inquire and discuss changes with them as well. While much of the focus recently has been on R-1 and R-2 zones and the lot size for those zones, the commissioners ultimately focused on Agricultural for most of its changes as proposed by the end of the meeting.

After the nearly two-and-a-half-hour meeting, these changes included backing off of lot-size changes in R-1 and R-2 as Commission Chairman Charlie Paris said he spoke with “a representative from the regional commission and the Department of Community Affairs last week.”

Paris said his discussion with the regional commissioner representative suggested that the high-density growth would follow the sewer lines through the county. Paris did say he wants to keep an eye on the topic so as to address it if this is not the issue.

Paris said of his discussion, “Without sewer lines, septic systems themselves will be something of a restriction because the health department will not approve so many of them that it endangers our groundwater supply.”

Along that idea, Paris said he contacted the Water-Sewer Authority to inquire of plans to expand the sewer system. He reported that he was told there were no plans.

Paris noted that the county also hosts a comprehensive plan to indicate regions to support agriculture in the county while designating areas for residential and density housing.

Land Use

Post 2 Commissioner Karleen Ferguson

Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson agreed with the concept as well referencing a need for “affordable housing” in the county. A topic discussed over recent years in the Chamber, County Plans, and other agencies looking to increase workforce housing.

Ferguson did say that her concerns come from R-2 developments in isolated parts of the county. These become islands of high-density housing in the county.

Ultimately, however, changes to Residential Zone in the Land Use Ordinance changes were left behind in support of the theory that these projects will follow sewer lines and the idea that the board may revisit the idea when sewer lines expand or density does become a larger issue. One change that looks like it will remain for residential is the hobby livestock coverage. Instead of supporting large animals, the new change will likely only allow chickens and possibly small animals like goats in residential. Most of the meeting considered only allowing chickens until a comment brought up the idea of goats specifically. With the board’s efforts focused on larger animals including cows and horses, the main focus is likely to allow for a limited number of smaller animals for personal use.

The board instead is going forward with increasing lot size minimums from 3 acres to 5 acres for Agricultural zones. Also, they will move forward with separating campgrounds into their own Agricultural Recreation (AR) Zone, though the name is probably going to change before approval. This zone will require 25 acres and a 300-foot buffer for the campgrounds and RV grounds to be built in the county.

Elections, Density, Land Use

Commission Chairman Charlie Paris

Lessening the restrictions among lot sizes in the county comes after a packed meeting and many developers loudly opposing the restrictions saying the county is hurting their businesses.

However, the county also saw a meeting last month considering the changes with many supporting the changes to keep Gilmer a rural county.

Additionally, Paris himself opened this meeting saying he has received numerous emails both for and against the Land Use changes.

The third major discussion of the meeting focused on roads in the county and maintaining the quality of those roads throughout the county. As one of the driving forces, not much changed in the roads changes, however, consideration was given to shoulder widths in the county as thoughts were given to burying utility cables and the possibility of fiber optics stretching through the county.

The changes discussed were handed off to County Attorney David Clark who will be scribing the changes into the resolution to amend the Land Use Ordinance. The county is looking at these changes and could be seeing further discussion Thursday night at their Regular Meeting. However, the Board is also considering another Special Called Meeting towards the end of the month to discuss it then along with other topics.

February will decide the moratorium, ordinance, and future of Gilmer’s large developments

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – As Gilmer’s Commissioners continue working on limiting and controlling growing sizes and numbers of developments in the county through its ordinance, they received the other side of the moratorium’s effects when a Special Called Meeting saw a large group of developers seeking information about the future of their work.

With lot size minimums looking to increase, current lots smaller than the minimum would be grandfathered in. Some comments in the meeting revolved around these increases with one speaker, Develle Frady, asking about a parent looking to split their land and give a piece to their child to build on. He said this would hurt some of those people working hard all their life to cut some land and leave it to kids.

Frady said the changes wouldn’t stop growth, but rather create more class division.

Crystal Chastain spoke in the meeting as well asking to support some more of the developments. While she said she the county needs to control growth and it does need to grow, she wanted the county to put off the vote for the ordinance changes advertisement to look deeper into the topic. She said the county needs “affordable workforce housing.” Something that could be accomplished through developments.

ordinance

Crystal Chastain speaks to the BOC about her opinions and requests for the county’s Land Use Ordinance in a meeting on January 29, 2021.

Post Commissioner Karleen Ferguson agreed saying she has been thinking about the affordable housing. She said she and the board is trying to balance the issue and she was thinking on a half acre increase and what it would do to affordability. It is something she has worked on in previous positions as well. She promised Crystal that the board is considering the issues saying, “We’re working on it.”

Much of the discussion centered on lot size changes and the effect the changes will have on citizens and the county. Other commenters repeated asking the commissioners to delay and look closer at what consequences and effects the changes may cause.

The meeting also saw minor confusion on the exact changes as the county continues to work on the issue. It has yet to formally approve anything on the Land Use Ordinance, and, in fact, it remains in unfinished business on their agendas as the county once again pushed back approving advertisement of the changes in favor of continuing talks with the community. Some of the confusion in the community has come from exactly this reason, the county has had two separate meetings with numerous speakers both for and against the changes being discussed. As new changes and adjustments are made at every meeting, the county is constantly changing the proposed ordinances to keep pace with citizens comments.

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Keith Sumner, a local builder in Gilmer, debates the Land Use Ordinance and its effects on citizens.

Commission Chairman Charlie Paris said during the meeting that if they were to have voted on something that day, it would only have been to advertise changes.

To make these changes, the county must go first approve an official advertisement of the changes, hold an official public comments meeting, then approve the changes once during a monthly meeting, then approve changes a second time during the following meeting for final adoption of those changes. After all of January with its work session, regular meeting, and a special called meeting, the county has yet to take its first official step in making these changes to the ordinance.

Instead, with some commenters in the meeting asking the county to look again and one asking to wait and see if the market changes soon, they are once again tabling the discussion to possibly adjust the changes once more and consider advertising again in February. Pushing the item back is creating an issue with the county’s moratorium in place and set to expire in a few months. The County Attorney David Clark suggested the board consider this alongside their motion to table the discussion. He asked that if the commissioner continue pushing the vote back, they discuss lifting the moratorium. He said it could be unfair to developers to continue the moratorium indefinitely if the ordinance change discussions continued too much longer.

Clark said, “I’d encourage you not to extend the moratorium.”

ordinanceClark also warned that he felt like much of the current discussion focused on lot sizes, but there could be more “nuts and bolts” in the changes that could come to light after the lot sizes.

Other issues the county is considering includes road quality and zoning labels among others.

Ferguson requested a joint meeting between the Board of Commissioners and the Planning Commission to further discuss the Land Ordinance. Paris agreed saying that he also wanted some representation from the Builders Association and a few other associations at the meeting to include their input as well.

That joint meeting has officially been published for Monday, February 8, 2021, at 2:30 p.m. in the Jury Assembly Room of the Gilmer County Courthouse. It will prove to be a busy week for the county as this meeting comes only two days before their February Work Session on February 10, 2021, at 9 a.m. and the Regular Meeting on February 11, 2021, at 6 p.m., both at the same location.

The county is also going to obtain information from other neighboring counties on the topic from the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission (NWGRC).

Details on GHS lockdown released from Superintendent

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County High School went under lockdown this morning after a student reported to the principal about possibly sighting a firearm.

According to a statement released by Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs, “At approximately 0754 this morning, a student reported to an assistant principal that they saw a gun and ammo in a another student’s book bag.”

Downs went on to say that the Assistant Principal immediately used the Centegix Crisis Alert to place the school on lockdown. Reports began coming in about the lockdown and statements that the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office (GCSO) set up a command center and began searching the facility. According to Gilmer Sheriff Stacy Nicholson, the “best case scenario is that it’s a fluid operation and command is being set up while operations is dealing with the issue.”

Downs said, “GCSO and school officials began investigating, questioning witnesses, and viewing both classroom and hallway cameras.”

Thorough searches of involved students, their belongings, and facilities yielded no weapon. According to Dr. Downs, GCSO cleared the building at 8:51.

Sherriff Nicholson also commented to FYN this morning saying, “This morning, a student reported to faculty of GHS that another student possibly had a gun. The school immediately went on lockdown and law enforcement responded. It was quickly determined by Sheriff’s Office personnel and school officials that the student in question did not have a gun.”

As of now, sources say the lockdown has been lifted, including parents who say they have received a call from the school stating the same.

With less than an hour under lockdown, Gilmer administrators and the Gilmer County Sheriff reported, responded, and cleared the suspected. It is not the first time Gilmer has dealt with a lockdown situation this year as another lockdown in December came after a loud noise “like a gunshot” was reported at the Larry Walker Education Center in December, 2020, and Clear Creek Middle School went on Lockdown after an incident at the bus garage occurred in February, 2020.

Shooting in a Doctor’s Office leaves one victim and suspect on the loose

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UPDATE: The suspect was taken into custody without incident. Matheson Cove Road is open to traffic. Use caution in the area.

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Authorities are confirming reports of a shooting in a medical facility in the city of Hiawassee. Public statements from the Hiawassee Police Department confirmed the shooting and also confirmed one victim.

Hiawassee Police said, “We are currently working a domestic related shooting at the Chatuge Regional Hospital Rehabilitation and Wellness Clinic on River St.”

According to police, the suspect originally left the scene in a black 2003 Ford Ranger (NC tag FKN8148) Now, police have updated their information saying that the suspect’s vehicle has been located in Hayesville. However, the suspect is not in custody. That suspect is reported to be Jason Matheson.

Police have stated that the suspect is “ARMED and DANGEROUS.” According to Towns County Sheriff Kenneth Henderson, he supported the police in their initial response and worked alongside them in the city. Henderson said, “We arrived on the scene and informed the Chief up there that we were there to assist in any way that we could to help him with the situation.”

Henderson noted that they were only present to assist in the situation as the Hiawassee Police and Chief Paul Smith. FYN also reached out to Chief Smith for details and is awaiting his response.

FYN has learned that the Georgia Bureau of Investigations has become involved as well. According to the police statement, the sole victim of the shooting has been transported to another hospital for treatment.

Clay County Sheriff’s deputies blocked off Matheson Cove Road and asked residents of Matheson Cove Community to remain indoors once they located the suspect.

Chairman assures citizens that changes are to limit density

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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.

Gilmer looks at developments, subdivisions, and it’s future as rural or metro

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer’s Land Ordinance could push our county into a metro city rather than our rural agricultural based feel. A comment from County Attorney David Clark offered his professional opinion on what could happen with releasing density restrictions on land use ordinances.

The topic was ultimately pushed to a later meeting, however, that decision came after a lengthy discussion on the proposed changes. Revisits to the ordinance have come after a Gilmer has experienced record setting numbers and sizes of developments in the county. In July of 2020, there were nine multi-lot developments with plans filed. An overabundance of developments like this could and is changing the face of Gilmer County. For better or worse is a split response among some citizens and developers.

Public Works Director Jim Smith

Even the County Attorney David Clark warned the Board on the possible outcomes of the new ordinance as it appears. Commenting on the high number of developments, Clark said part of the need for a response was due to “the high demand that was being placed on the infrastructure that simply wasn’t there.”

Clark went on to offer the board his thoughts on increasing population density saying, “Density is not a friend to an agricultural community. In my opinion, it’s the enemy.”

With notes referencing the county’s own emblem, he pointed out the major agricultural influence the county has through its poultry, apple orchards, and the mountain rural life. He also offered other counties as evidence including North Cobb and Paulding Counties when he was much younger.

Clark said, “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.”

The continuing density growth and concerns have been echoed through citizens comments on recent topics such as the Flint Mountain Holdings’ 305 lot major subdivision on Highway 282.

More recently, September saw a major moratorium on certain subdivisions, greenspace developments, and Class E Roads. These large developments are now continuing to push for a return to work since that moratorium. However, discussions on the Land Use Ordinance are continuing after minor confusion on some of the recommendations from the Planning Boards and the needs of what the Commissioners and the people of the county desire for the ordinance and for developments in the future.

Clark called Gilmer County’s future a “bedroom-subdivision of Atlanta” if the major density increase is allowed to support increasing numbers of people working from home. The allowance of unrestricted developments could lead to this outcome. However, he said it ultimately comes down to what the Commissioners want Gilmer to look like “30 years down the road.”

He reiterated that this is a major part of shaping that future.

Speaking with Public Works Director Jim Smith, the Commissioners heard more concern for loopholes within the ordinance and fixes that Smith wants requiring rezoning from R2 high density in situations that do not meet certain requirements. Smith also spoke about county roads needing support in the face of these developments. Especially since these roads were not built to handle the traffic and wear due to the adverse impact.

Smith went on to add that he believed a solution for roads be that the developer need pay for the improvements that the roads require rather than setting that burden on taxpayers who must have the Road Department go out and improve, fix, and upgrade the roads.

Echoing similar sentiments, Planning and Zoning Director Karen Henson said that zoning should match road requirements and capabilities.

The county is ultimately trying to balance its growth with density, developers, roads, and citizens needs. Yet, no final action has been taken. Instead, the commissioners are looking to address this either next month or in a special called meeting before then.

Pool project hits another delay with COVID

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Probate Judge Chastain addresses commissioner questions in email

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – With the continuing process of such a “major change” for Gilmer County on the horizon, the Board of Commissioners have continued questioning the need, process, make-up, and representation for an Elections Board outside of the Probate Office for the county.

Continuing the discussion this month, Probate Judge Scott Chastain spoke with Commissioners about the board again. However, he had also been answering commissioners questions outside of meetings, too. Delving into the idea, Post 1 Commissioner Hubert Parker had issued questions to Chastain via email in order to garner more information.

Parker asked three questions of the Probate Judge. Upon request, the Board of Commissioners have provided that email to the public. The following are Chastain’s answers for the Board of Elections, in his own words.

What is the problem or situation we are attempting to solve?

One of the problems I am facing is the amount of work that I have to do in my office as the Probate Judge. As the numbers increase here in Gilmer County, the more volume of work I will see in my office. Another problem I face is as an elected official that Is over elections, when I am on the ballot, I cannot have any involvement with the elections. I have to appoint three people and pay them to monitor the elections in my absence but ultimately, if something goes wrong, I am still the Election Superintendent and would be responsible for the outcome. I do not like that nor believe it to be fair. They tell me that I cannot have anything to do with the election but then hold me accountable if something goes wrong. I am attempting to fix a couple of things by requesting a Board of Registration and Elections. I am trying to assure the citizens of Gilmer County that they have someone or a board that can focus entirely on the registration and elections here in Gilmer County. I feel as though my other responsibilities and duties are keeping me from being able to do that. I am trying to restore confidence in our election process by removing the administration of elections by an elected official that appears on the ballot. I am also trying to preserve the right of Gilmer County to create this board on their own without the intervention from the State of Georgia. As I previously stated, it is just a matter of time before every county in Georgia has a board. With 31 Probate Judges left as Election Superintendents and 29 of those Judges wanting it removed from their office now, it is only a matter of time before Gilmer County will be forced to create one and I would rather us have the flexibility to create it now instead of like they tell us to.

How are elections handled now? What is your role and what is Tammy’s role?

I am not sure if you mean specifically or just generally. Right now, Tammy Watkins is in charge of registration and all early voting, including absentee ballots. My role is to over see the election side of it. Most of that will happen the day of election. I am also in charge of all qualifying and filing of the elected officials reports. Tammy does a large portion of that now. Tammy and I proof all ballots, order the ballots, order election supplies, Logistic and Accuracy testing of the election equipment, notifications in the news paper, sample ballot in the news paper, recruit poll workers, train poll workers, secure polling places, deliver all election equipment to polling places, Election Day support for poll workers, election results, upload election results, email election results to the state, pick up equipment from polling places, consolidate the election results, etc. Of course, Tammy and I have a wonderful team of folks to help us do all of this because there is no way one person could do it all. I also prepare a budget each year for elections and I am required to attend several hours of training in elections. Tammy also attends this training. I am also in charge of changing and/or consolidating precincts.

Generally, boards serve as an oversight function and do not handle the daily operations. What role do you think they would play in this situation?

I know that Tammy has several connections with nearby counties that have created boards in the past and I know that there are a few of them that have active working boards. Tammy would not be in favor of just an oversight board. This board would need to be active in the workings of an election. Tammy would have more insight into that than I would. I understand your concern and I respect it. I do not want to create a problem or burden for the county and that is why I am advocating for this board. With the increase of the workload in my office, if the elections remain, I will be forced to add staff in the coming years or worse, I will make a mistake because I am trying to do to much at one time. Both of these outcomes will cost the county more money. Tammy and I are already doing duplicate work at times. Because we are both trying to be sure that elections are ran the best they can be, we sometimes do the same task when it only needs to be done once. We both are responding to emails and phones calls at the same time, we both are trying to fix the same problem at the same time. We both attend training and we both have budgets related to elections. As you know, I have a Probate Judge budget and an Election budget. If there was a board appointed, Tammy could combine her Registrar budget with the Election budget and therefore eliminate one?

Chastain also offered a final paragraph in response. He stated,

I truly want what is best for Gilmer County. If I didn’t I would have just ask the Commissioners for additional compensation or additional staff. I feel the best thing that could be done right now is to form a board of registration and elections and put people in place to protect our elections by having people able to provide supervision 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year. Thank you again for seriously considering this proposal. If you have any follow up questions, please feel free to let me know. I look forward to hearing the discussion tomorrow morning.

As previously reported, the Board of Commissioners have yet to make an official resolution, but have been actively discussing and debating the make-up and the way they would like to create a board, indicating that they are likely to move forward with the establishing of such an entity. The coming months will see more details fleshed out on the topic and should provide a clearer picture on specifically how the county will move forward with this item.

Additionally, the Probate Office is set to finish out this year following up on the most recent elections, should anything arise. Chastain agreed with Commissioners about taking time to create the new Election Board. He did request, however, to have the board in place before the beginning preparations of the 2022 Governor’s race are needed.

Gilmer Courthouse suffers bomb threat on election night

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Second Amendment, Officials, threat

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County may not have had issues at the poll precincts, but the courthouse saw issue on election night as a bomb threat was called in on the facility.

According to the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office, “An anonymous caller notified the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office of Facebook posts made by a Travis Ingram regarding his anger against law enforcement about a prior arrest, as well as a specific threat that he had a bomb and was headed to the courthouse.”

Staff at the courthouse was put on high alert, and while the statement from the Sheriff’s Office did not directly connect with election night, other counties are receiving specific threats related to political ideals and the elections specifically.

Pickens County posted officers at precincts in a pre-emptive effort based on the threats in other counties as well.

According to the Sheriff’s Office, the staff inside the courthouse was put on alert, and election staff had to follow special response considering election ballots being on premises.

According to Chief Registrar Tammy Watkins, as they prepared ballots and discussed what to do as they are not normally allowed to leave ballots unattended, the threat was dealt with before they were forced to move or do anything with the ballots due to the threat.

The statement read, “Based on the severity of the threats and actions he stated he intended to carry out, the courthouse staff was put on a high alert status and deputies began looking for Ingram.”

The statement continues on saying that Ingram was found and arrested. Ingram is facing charges of Terroristic Threats & Acts and is currently being held in the Gilmer County Detention Center.

Despite the threat, proceedings continued at the courthouse throughout the night. Elections were still allowed to continue as planned with ballot counting during the night.

Gilmer Courthouse suffers bomb threat on election night

Featured, Featured Stories, News
Second Amendment, Officials, threat

ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer County may not have had issues at the poll precincts, but the courthouse saw issue on election night as a bomb threat was called in on the facility.

According to the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office, “An anonymous caller notified the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office of Facebook posts made by a Travis Ingram regarding his anger against law enforcement about a prior arrest, as well as a specific threat that he had a bomb and was headed to the courthouse.”

Staff at the courthouse was put on high alert, and while the statement from the Sheriff’s Office did not directly connect with election night, other counties are receiving specific threats related to political ideals and the elections specifically.

Pickens County posted officers at precincts in a pre-emptive effort based on the threats in other counties as well.

According to the Sheriff’s Office, the staff inside the courthouse was put on alert, and election staff had to follow special response considering election ballots being on premises.

According to Chief Registrar Tammy Watkins, as they prepared ballots and discussed what to do as they are not normally allowed to leave ballots unattended, the threat was dealt with before they were forced to move or do anything with the ballots due to the threat.

The statement read, “Based on the severity of the threats and actions he stated he intended to carry out, the courthouse staff was put on a high alert status and deputies began looking for Ingram.”

The statement continues on saying that Ingram was found and arrested. Ingram is facing charges of Terroristic Threats & Acts and is currently being held in the Gilmer County Detention Center.

Despite the threat, proceedings continued at the courthouse throughout the night. Elections were still allowed to continue as planned with ballot counting during the night.

Gilmer BOE updates code, meeting dates, and handbook in December

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EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – Preparing for the new year and new board members, Gilmer Schools updated their students code and handbook as they hit their mid-year meeting and prepare for the return for the second semester in January.

Coming late in the year, changes to the student handbook were approved this week in order to provide for students needing certain credits for graduation. Adjusting specifically a world language instead of certain CTAE courses in graduation requirements, this change comes, according to Superintendent Dr. Shanna Downs, as the virtual academy is not able to do those courses online.

Because of this and because some students need to adjust and cover this requirement in their final semester of high school, the Board approved the change to support this digital students as the COVID-19 outbreak continues to require adjustments and changes from organizations moving into the future.

meetingAdditionally, the board is changing an official job title adding a Title IX Director for Lindy Patterson, who is already the school system’s State and Federal Programs Coordinator.

The Board is also looking at new meeting dates next year. They have looked at the dates since November, adjusting and changing as needed. The board of education usually approves these meetings in January of the year, approving the 11 months of that year along with the January Meetings for the following year.

This means that the Board’s two newest members, Joe Pflueger and Michael Parks, will have the opportunity to vote on these in their first meeting of the new year.

The Board is updating its Student Code of Conduct to incorporate new needs as the school shave reached a point when students have Chromebook for use throughout their grade levels. Incorporating information gained through use of a program monitoring what students are typing and reading through the Chromebook. This new update will incorporate the new screenings that the school is using along with protections on the Chromebook usage.

 

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.”

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