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.”

Gilmer Schools is changing COVID response for students tomorrow

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GILMER COUNTY, Ga. – “We will shift our focus away from contact tracing and quarantine to monitoring children for signs of illness,” says a new statement from Gilmer County Schools as the announcement comes today that COVID response and state guidelines are changing again. Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Brian Ridley said it was a return to focusing on educating kids in school and not being an “arbiter of quarantines.”

responseDr. Ridley sent the letter out with this statement today, notifying the community of the change. He added that he wants to be a partner with parents in their care for their children.

Ridley noted that the change is coming after the governor and the Department of Public Health (DPH) announced changes in their guidelines for COVID response,acknowledging the hardships that families have had due to quarantines on any possible exposure.

Now, instead of instantly quarantining students who have been around others in school who have tested positive, they will be allowed to stay in class while being “strongly encouraged” to wear a mask. His letter this morning stated 10 days, but Dr. Ridley said that continued updates have made that a misprint as the schools will be encouraging mask usage for 5 days.

Additionally, the statement extended this same change to those currently in quarantine due to exposure. While the last update on the school systems website noted 77 students currently in quarantine, Dr. Ridley said this number is not up to date with these changes as well as another set of changes to guidelines that the schools just received last Thursday.

The school system will continue notifying parents when their students have been exposed and will be sending out letters “notifying you that your child was in class, on the bus, participated in a sport, etc. with a positive case just as we do with any other communicable disease.”

Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Brian Ridley

As such, some tracing will still be done with this new response as the school is still asking parents to monitor their children and notify the school if they test positive. Dr. Ridley stated, “We will continue to notify DPH when a notifiable disease is reported and alert DPH of concerns with clusters and outbreaks which may require immediate public health intervention.”

But this isn’t contact tracing as it has been in the last year, these notifications will not continue for those that have been around someone who was around someone who was exposed to a student that tested positive.

The school system is asking parents to continue monitoring your child each morning before sending them to school. They also noted that students showing any signs of the virus or any illness should not be sent to school.

The school system is also taking extra steps for parents in understanding the change or with further needs as Ridley’s statement asked parents to contact their student’s school if they have any concerns of if their child might need extra help for a medical vulnerability.

Superintendent Ridley did confirm that he had discussed the new response individually with members of the Board of Education before implementing them. While he said they mostly agreed with the new format, he did confirm that the board could still add or reinstate any extra steps and precautions should they feel the need arises.

The school system had just posted recent changes on January 4, 2022, with updates from over the December break, but the state is already updating new changes with this today. Dr. Ridley also said in his letter, “While the constant change in guidance has been frustrating at times, we want to thank our Gilmer County families for their support throughout this pandemic. We hope that with the help of our parents, we can even more effectively monitor students for symptoms while also meeting the new DPH standard of keeping healthy students in class.”

 

Weather has delays and the warming center open for Friday morning

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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 Schools and Courthouse delay work day amid snowy forecast

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EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – Gilmer Schools and the Gilmer courthouse are both delaying this morning’s start in favor of caution as reports of snow in the forecast have come over recent days.

The National Weather Service has both a winter storm warning in effect until 9 a.m. for Murray, Fannin, Gilmer, Union and Towns Counties and a Wind Advisory between 15 and 25 mph with gusts up to 40 mph for most of North Georgia until noon.

Gilmer Schools Superintendent Dr. Brian Ridley said, “The weather forecast for our area indicates that winter weather will likely occur overnight in the Northern part of the county which could potentially create hazardous road conditions in the morning. As a precaution, our Professional Learning Day will be delayed two hours. Staff should report at 10:00 a.m.”

Dr. Ridley said nothing about further delays or any other effects. The district calendar is still set for students return on Wednesday, January 5, 2022.

The courthouse has also issued the same delay for employees, opting for the later start and allowing a few hours of sun.

Concerns raised for the day were not of snow or buildup, but instead the Gilmer Sheriff’s Office specifically noted black ice as a major concern.

According to a special weather statement shared by the Sheriff’s Office, “As the rain exits the region this evening cold air will filter into the are quickly behind the rainfall… many area roads and bridges will not have an opportunity to dry off and subsequently have an opportunity to freeze overnight and into the early AM resulting in areas of black ice.”

With no expectation of continuing weather throughout the day, most warning and advisories are ending before or at noon. Citizens should still exercise caution after the delay when traveling to work and be aware of the roads as they continue improving.

Temperatures are still ranging in the 20’s and 30’s so those in the higher elevations of the county could see worse conditions lingering throughout the day.

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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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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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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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.

Highway 382 roundabout project now in use as final stages commence

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ELLIJAY, Ga. – Highway 382 has seen construction on the roundabout project to connect a direct route to Highway 515 for nearly a year. The Georgia Department of Transportation project began in the latter half of 2019 despite the COVID-19 outbreaks and is still continuing today.

roundabout

A view from entering the roundabout from Highway 382 and heading towards Highway 515.

However, the project has hit the point now where all traffic has been moved from the old route passing directly beside Green’s Country Store to the new path curving off just past Dollar General, if you’re traveling towards Ellijay.

The stop signs at the old intersection have been removed and traffic is now fully engaging the roundabout with the Highway 382 extension in use as well.

Utilizing the extension that now crosses Old Highway 5, via the roundabout, and continues straight towards Highway 515 instead of merging with Old Highway 5 before a a small connector split off to intersect 515 at Powersports Drive.

roundabout

Construction continues into the final stages for the Old 5 and Highway 382 roundabout as it enters the final stages of construction.

The new direct path intersects Highway closer to town at the Gun Pro Shop. However, the intersection is not a traffic stop.

Instead, drivers traveling to 515 along the new connection are forced to turn right (Southbound) away from Ellijay before using a turn lane a few hundred feet down the road in order to turn back towards Ellijay.

The project reaches all the way back to 2016 when the Gilmer Board of Commissioners and the City of Ellijay received letters from GDOT about the coming project. Original seeking letters of support, discussion later turned towards lighting and maintenance costs for the roundabout itself as GDOT wanted the county or city to take over those costs while they continued paving maintenance for 382 itself.

roundabout

GDOT has been working on the roundabout project since last year, but plans began back in 2016 with letters to Gilmer County and the City of Ellijay.

Current understanding is that these are the remaining steps in the project as GDOT has put some lighting on the roundabout for night traffic, but it was not seen operational over the weekend.

While the project continues these steps and clean-up, the larger portion of the project is now complete and has begun traffic flow only in the last couple of days. GDOT stated earlier this year that expectations were to complete the project over the summer. The project has seen delays through weather over the last year, but no specific details are available at this time on whether returning COVID-19 numbers or increasingly heavy rainfall in some weeks were the cause of any major delays.

A pound and a half of Meth found in single car traffic stop

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Methamphetamine

ELLIJAY, Ga. – The Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office issued a statement on social media today reporting a single traffic stop. A normal traffic stop is nothing of import except that this stop resulted in the seizure of 1.69 pounds of methamphetamine.

Methamphetamine

Corporal Parks of the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office arrested two on September 9, 2021, after finding 1.69 pounds of methamphetamine in the vehicle of a traffic stop.

For reference, federal guidelines referencing the United States Sentencing Commission dictate a minimum sentence of 10 years for trafficking in 50 grams of Meth. According to the Sheriff’s report, the driver of the vehicle, Ethan Matthew Leonard, 17, and passenger, Anthony Stephen Ray, 20, were in possession of over 15 times that amount.

According to the Sheriff’s Office, “Corporal F. Parks initiated a traffic stop on a vehicle for failure to maintain lane and a window tint violation. Upon contact with the occupants in the car, Corporal Parks determined the driver was under the influence of marijuana.”

The United States Department of Justice states that Crystal Methamphetamine is a Schedule II substance under the Controlled Substances Act. Schedule II drugs, which include cocaine and PCP, have a high potential for abuse. Gilmer Sheriff Stacy Nicholson has also offered reports on the influx of and arrests made in relation to large amounts of drugs in the county. In July of 2021, he delivered a report to the media indicating a number of arrests made in the first half of the year.

Methamphetamine

A bag of of 1.69 pounds of methamphetamine was seized along with THC oil in a traffic stop, resulting in charges including intent to distribute.

Going from what information the Sheriff’s Office delivered in those arrests, only one comes close. A July 19, 2021, arrest for 628 grams (1.38 pounds) of Meth.

With this arrest, it becomes the largest amount out of those released to the public. The Sheriff’s Office stated that when Parks questioned the two in the vehicle, both occupants had conflicting stories and timelines of their travels.

The office stated, “The passenger provided Corporal Parks with a THC oil vape which gave probable cause to search the vehicle. During the search, approximately 763 grams (1.69 pounds) of methamphetamine was located under the back seat.”

Arrested on September 9, 2021, Ethan Matthew Leonard and Anthony Stephen Ray, both from Franklin, North Carolina, were arrested and charged with Possession with Intent to Distribute, Trafficking Methamphetamine, Possession of Schedule 1 Drug (THC oil), and Georgia window tint violation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gilmer looks to cut off TikTok trend with parents’ help

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delay, Cagle, trend

EAST ELLIJAY, Ga. – News sites have recently reported numerous cases of vandalism and destruction of property in schools across the country due to a new “trend” on TikTok called the “Devious Lick.”

With arrests, convictions, school expulsions, and many other ramifications coming from these activities, the administration within our local county is attempting to get ahead of the trend here. Superintendent Dr. Brian Ridley released a statement and a letter to parents about the trend. Dr. Ridley noted that we have had “minimal issues” in our county.

The challenge of this trend requires the student to steal or destroy items from their school and later post a video bragging about the crime. Make no mistake law enforcement all over the country has condemned the trend and are pursuing it as criminal activity. Law enforcement have reported what some refer to as “Organized Criminal Activity” as an arrest-able offense.

Schools are also reacting, with some going so far as locking restrooms and certain areas during classtime. Gilmer has not reached this point, however, as they are attempting to deal with the “Devious Licks” before they become a real issue.

The letter to parents states

You may have already seen news stories regarding a concerning new TikTok trend called the “Devious Lick Challenge”. The challenge involves students destroying and stealing school property (particularly in bathrooms) and posting it on social media. Although there have been minimal problems locally, the challenge has become widely disruptive in some areas of the country.

We ask that you please speak with your children about the dangers of engaging in destructive and dangerous social media activities. Vandalism of school property is a serious violation of the school code of conduct that can lead to suspension and even long-term expulsion in addition to significant restitution fees.

In Gilmer County, our students are very fortunate to have access to top notch facilities. Pride in our schools is a large part of our culture. Aside from the fact that this latest challenge is just plain dumb, engaging in this type of behavior is beneath us.

Looking through reports in other cases show countless arrests and charges ranging from petty theft to vandalism, criminal mischief, destruction of government property, and more.

While some are questioning why there is such a serious response to minor theft. Some of the “trends” are posted with items as small as hand sanitizer or soap dispensers. However, other reports indicate that many include larger items ranging from toilet seats to even fire alarms.

The Gilmer Sheriff’s Office has already worked with school’s in previous years where they have worked with Gilmer Schools and even prosecuted students for issues. That Appalachian Judicial Circuit has also proven its willingness to follow through with criminal prosecutions with District Attorney Alison Sosebee going so far as performing in school presentations warning students about the possible outcomes of criminal activity, though her presentations focused on SnapChat at the time with the trend towards photos of underage kids.

As of this time, Gilmer Schools is hoping to get to its students and parents before any major issues arise or possibly create a major incident.

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