BOC says no to smaller lot sizes in Chestatee

News

DAWSONVILLE, Ga. – The Dawson County Board of Commissioners unanimously denied a request by Brian Ferris and Chestatee Development Corporation to amend Chestatee subdivision’s Master Plan during Tuesday’s meeting.

Ferris wanted to change the master plan that called for lots in the Linkside section to have 100 foot widths to allow 70-foot widths to accommodate 11 more lots in that section. There are 46 lots in Linkside and 34 remain unsold. Homeowners in Chestatee have strongly objected to the request, saying it would decrease the value of their homes and create additional traffic congestion.

Ferris’ attorney Ethan Underwood argued that his client didn’t need approval of the Board to change the master plan. “The number of lots per unit shall not require further approval by the Planning Commission or Board of Commissioners,” he said. “That’s the law. That’s the master plan.”

In other business, the Board agreed to a request by Georgia State Patrol Post 37 to purchase two radar units and two laser units to equip the patrol cars assigned to the Dawson County area at a cost of $8,890. Commissioner Chris Gaines pointed out that GSP’s law enforcement effort has raised $83,118 for  the county this year.

Commissioners voted unanimously to allow Tax Commissioner Nicole Stewart to write off $73,237.38 in uncollectable taxes due to businesses closing or moving out of county.

The Board also agreed to purchase 16 new fire hydrants at a total cost of $55,440 for Nix Bridge Road, Overlook Drive, Woodland Circle and North Seed Tick Road.

Fire Chief/Public Safety Director Danny Thompson requested the Board appoint Lucas Ray as interim Emergency Management Agency Director while he completes courses required for him to gain Certified EMA status. Commissioners, instead, chose to appoint Thompson as the interim director.

The Fiscal Year 2019 contract with Legacy Link was renewed at a cost of $337,901 and commissioners unanimously approved the Title VI plan for Dawson County Transit.

The Board also approved the following appointments: Kathryn Reagan Smith and Gail Smith (Library Board); Brian Trapnell (Industrial Building Authority); Brian Trapnell and Christie Haynes Moore (Joint Development Authority).

 

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Sheriff had nearly $400,000 left in his 2017 budget when he sued the Board of Commissioners

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Sheriff Jeff Johnson

DAWSONVILLE, Ga. – Dawson County officials say they do not understand why Sheriff Jeff Johnson sued the Board of Commissioners for a bigger slice of the 2018 budget when he had nearly $400,000 left in the 2017 budget he failed to spend.

District 2 Commissioner Chris Gaines said, “He actually had about $500,000 left in the budget while we were going through the court hearing. But he reimbursed his staff for accrued leave that was left unpaid at the end of 2016.”

Johnson sued the county in Superior Court, claiming the Board of Commissioners abused their discretion by not providing enough funding for him to adequately perform his responsibilities as sheriff in 2018.

Senior Superior Court Judge Fred A. Bishop ruled in favor of the county, stating, “(Commissioners) exercised their discretion in a reasonable fashion. They have honored their obligation to do so giving all due consideration to the needs of the sheriff and to the entire fiscal picture of Dawson County and its citizens, of which the sheriff’s duties are a key part – but not the only part.”

Commissioner Chris Gaines

An end-of-year financial report obtained from Finance Director Vickie Neikirk Friday showed Johnson had $397,319.58 remaining on Dec. 31. That is more than enough to pay for the new computer aided dispatch (CAD) system the sheriff wanted and to pay his staff for their accrued leave time, which went unpaid for nearly two years. Under the county’s financial protocol, that money must not be returned to the county’s General Fund.

District 2 Commissioner Chris Gaines is one commissioner who said the lawsuit – which cost taxpayers about $20,000 in legal fees – made no sense.

Gaines said he does not know if Johnson was aware he had close to $400,000 left in his 2017 budget. However, he questioned why the sheriff needed more money when he did not spend the money he had.

“My goal is for each department to know what their budget is and use it to provide the best service to citizens they can,” he said.

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that covers Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. If you would like to follow up-to-date local events in any of those counties, please visit us at FetchYourNews.com

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Judge Bishop rejects sheriff’s claim that Dawson County Commissioners abused their discretion

News

Sheriff Jeff Johnson

DAWSONVILLE, Ga. – Senior Superior Court Judge Fred A. Bishop has ruled against Dawson County Sheriff Jeff Johnson in his petition for mandamus against the Dawson County Board of Commissioners.

In ruling against the sheriff, Bishop wrote, “(Commissioners) exercised their discretion in a reasonable fashion. They have honored their obligation to do so giving all due consideration to the needs of the sheriff and to the entire fiscal picture of Dawson County and its citizens, of which the sheriff’s duties are a key part – but not the only part. I conclude there has been no abuse of the Board of Commissioners’ discretion and petitioner has not shown good cause for making mandamus absolute in this case.”

Johnson stated, “Obviously, we are disappointed in the ruling and continue to be concerned for the safety of our community. Our primary argument was and continues to be for additional staff to perform the duties and responsibilities required of this office. Very little in the ruling addressed this primary concern. Ultimately, the court found that the BOC properly exercised their discretion in setting the budget. Regardless of this outcome, we will continue to serve the citizens of Dawson County at our highest level.”

Bishop rejected several of Johnson’s claims. For example, the sheriff testified that he sought to have staff paid for accrued leave lost at the end of 2016. However, when asked on cross examination if he had sufficient funds in the budget to do so, he testified that he did. In fact, it was recently disclosed that at the end of the budget year, Johnson had more than $397,000 left in his budget that he did not spend.

Bishop rejected Johnson’s claim that his request for additional funding was justified by the county’s increased population. Bishop found the best indicator of population trends shows the county has grown by less than 1 percent per year.

While Johnson claimed that crime and arrest figures have increased sharply, the judge noted that the sheriff’s own indicators demonstrate that is not the case. Crime, arrest and activity figures are up and down year by year the judge wrote and the Georgia State Patrol has helped lighten the sheriff’s load considerably by its activity.

In ruling for the county, Bishop wrote, “The Board of Commissioners is charged with management, control and use of all county property, funds and assets in such a manner as to balance a budget, which reasonably provides for all county operations within available funding.”

He added, “The board has assigned the highest priority to public safety, which gets roughly 47 percent of the Dawson County General Fund appropriations, and specifically to the Sheriff’s Office, which was allocated about 29 percent of that budget for 2018.”

Bishop likewise rejected Johnson’s claim that his budget had been cut from the previous year. “The 2018 budget allocation to the sheriff from SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) has increased by $100,000.00, from $500,000 to $600,000.00, and the Capital Fund budget appropriation included $40,000 for an HVAC system upgrade as well as the $260,000 set aside to cover half of what the sheriff requested for a 911 dispatch CAD system,” Bishop wrote.

Finally, the judge found Johnson’s claim that the county refused to meet with him not to be factual.

“The record clearly shows that the Board of Commissioners met with the sheriff on a number of occasions to hear his comments and requests and to hear his attorney speak on his behalf at several meetings,” Bishop explained.

Upon hearing the decision, County Commissioner Chris Gaines said, “I am proud of our team and especially our attorney, Lynn Frey, for his hard work and efforts to properly defend a decision that was made in the best interest of the community. As we have always said, as revenue increases, we look forward to working on meeting the needs of every department.”

 

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that covers Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. If you would like to follow up-to-date local events in any of those counties, please visit us at FetchYourNews.com

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Dawson Development Authority’s Future in Jeopardy

News

DAWSONVILLE, Ga. — With its very existence in jeopardy, the Development Authority of Dawson County held its first meeting of the new year Tuesday to elect a slate of officers and approve a 2017 budget.

Sherry Weeks was re-elected to serve as chairwoman, Brian Sticker was chosen vice chairman.

The budget adopted yesterday was about $150,000 less than 2016 after the Dawson County Board of Commissioners voted late last year to withhold funding for the organization.

Authority members acknowledged this is the final year it can exist at the new funding level.

Asked by one board member, if the county commission understood they may end up with no development authority, Chairwoman Sherry Weeks said she had informed commissioners they did not have the money to operate for more than one year. “They were clear about that,” Weeks said.

The lone county commissioner to attend Tuesday’s meeting was Chris Gaines, who was not on the board at the time commissioners voted against funding the authority in 2017.

Asked to comment, Gaines made it clear that he would like to see the DADC continue its work.

“Speaking only from my perspective, I believe in the mission you guys have in front of you,” he said. “We have to move forward in finding a way to provide the finances this organization needs.”

Although the county commission no longer funds the authority, it does appoint new members, something it is expected to do in the next few weeks.

“The thing we have before us now is to fill the board with qualified candidates,” Gaines said. He added that he is trying to schedule a meeting with newly-elected Commission Chairman Billy Thurmond to discuss future appointments.

“It is my goal to find a way to support you but I’m only one of many,” Gaines added.

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Commission Approves Variances for Dollar General

News

DAWSONVILLE, Ga. — Following a public hearing Thursday, the Dawson County Board of Commissioners granted two variances to allow Hibbymo Properties Nix Br., LLC, to move forward with development of a Dollar General store at the intersection of Harmony Church and Nix Bridge roads.

The 1.73 acre property is zoned Commercial Community Business (CCB) which restricts buildings to a maximum of 5,000 square feet and requires five parking spaces per 1,000 square feet. The variances will allow Hibbymo to construct a 9,100 square foot store with 33 parking spaces instead of the 46 that would otherwise be required.

Commissioner Sharon Fausett was on vacation and did not attend the meeting. Commissioners Chris Gaines, Jimmy Hamby and Julie Nix all voted to allow the variances but added several conditions proposed by Gaines.

The conditions included: ensuring the entrance is on Harmony Church Road, lighting doesn’t bleed off the property, no merchandise sold outside the store, gating around the dumpster area and the development meets or exceeds Ga. 400 corridor guidelines.

A total of six area residents rose to speak in opposition to the development but their objections were based mostly on a Dollar General store being built in that area. But the property has been zoned commercial for many years and the decision to allow a Dollar General to be built was made months ago. Thursday’s public hearing was only for the variances.

Judy Clack noted that the Dawson County Planning Commission recommended denial of the variances. She also expressed concern about the added strain the development will place on traffic at the intersection of Harmony Church and Nix Bridge roads, especially with the tractor/trailer deliveries to the store.

Michael Rickey expressed concern about the diminished property value of homes in the area and said the preference is “to put something in the area that is more fitting to the area.”

Others expressed concern about the possible increase in crime in the area.

 

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Commissioners Authorize GDOT Letter of Support

Business, News

Jimmy HambyDAWSONVILLE, Ga. — The Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) could begin work immediately on access controls where Ga. Hwy. 400 intersects with Kilough Church Road and the North Georgia Premium Outlets after Dawson County Commissioners voted last night to authorize a letter of support for the project.

The Right In Right Out Left In (RIROLI) access controls will be fully funded by GDOT and should cause minimal inconvenience to motorists since the work will all be done within the existing Right of Way.

Commissioners Sharon Fausett and Chris Gaines missed last night’s meeting while attending training. Their absence required Chairman Billy Thurmond, who usually votes only in the case of ties, to vote on all issues.

The three-person Board voted unanimously to apply for a GDOT grant to fund the repair of a wing wall off Dawson Forest Road along Blacks Mill Creek damaged in last year’s storm.

Commissioners also approved the purchase of a side arm mower and utility tractor mower to replace three tractors that are no longer serviceable at a cost of $210,000. The equipment will be purchased with SPLOST VI proceeds.

In addition, commissioners approved a Drug Treatment Services request to apply for a state grant in the amount of $279,514 to bring HELP Program under Treatment Court as a mental health court track. A county match of $31,057 is required from county funds.

The Board also agreed to renew an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with the City of Dawsonville authorizing the county to organize and implement all municipal elections and another IGA with with Etowah Water and Sewer Authority regarding the Taffer Road Gravity Sewer Line.

Commissioners authorized two resolutions to be sent to the City of Dawsonville, one expressing opposition to the city’s purchase of the airport located in Dawson County and it’s future operations and another expressing opposition to a request by Atlanta Motorsports Park (AMP) to relax noise and light restrictions.

During the Public Comments period, Jonathan Wolfe asked commissioners to revisit the Paladin Wireless issue. Paladin is a Royston-based wireless internet provider that has proposed placing antennas on the roof of the courthouse. The company said that by doing so it can provide internet access to 400 customers who do not have access.

But commissioners tabled the issue last month to give the company time to provide additional information they requested and Chairman Billy Thurmond said the company has not yet responded.

District 3 Commissioner Jimmy Hamby expressed real concerns about liability issues and whether county taxpayers would be responsible to pay for any damage to the roof or injuries to Paladin personnel who have access to the roof.

Hugh Stowers spoke to the Board about improving communications with its citizens. Mr. Stowers pointed out there are some major projects on the horizon and that citizens need to be fully informed.

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