DAWSON COUNTY, Ga. – City and county officials gathered for a day-long retreat at beautiful Amicalola Falls State Park and Lodge Friday to explore ways the two governments – that don’t always see eye-to-eye on issues – might be able to work together for the benefit of all residents.
Facilitator Langford Holbrook of the UGA Institute of Government led the joint strategic planning session while leaders discussed broad issues such as goals, a vision for the future and areas of possible collaboration between the two governments. Then they narrowed the discussion to more specific issues like impact fees, the importance of a truck route around the city and a potential local road maintenance and improvement tax.
The one goal that was mentioned more than any other was improved communication between the two governments and with the citizens they serve.
The session had just begun when Holbrook asked the leaders to identify important goals. Commission Chairman Billy Thurmond, who cited improved communication throughout his 2016 campaign, was first to answer.
“We should strive to improve communications between ourselves and with the general public,” Thurmond said.
County Commissioners Julie Hughes-Nix, Sharon Fausett and Chris Gaines and County Manager David Headley quickly agreed, as did Mayor Mike Eason and commissioner-elect Tim Satterfield.
City officials did take a major step toward improving communications with the public earlier this year by streaming video of their city council meetings onto the website. Citizens who cannot attend meetings in person can now view them at their leisure.
The county is also taking steps to provide more information. Last month, Headley requested the position of public information officer (PIO) be added to the 2019 budget. So far, the PIO position has not been added to the budget, but Gaines, Nix and Fausett have all said they support the initiative.
In assessing the current relationship between the two governments, Eason cited a need for more “understanding of each other’s goals and willingness to work together to accomplish them.”
Headley said the “exchange of information has improved.” And, Fausett said she senses there is “more spirit of cooperation than ever before.”
Dawson County Chamber of Commerce President Christie Haynes said the two governments need “a more unified vision.” Stephen Tolson called for elected officials to consider how issues “benefit the whole and not just the part.”
Leaders also addressed future trends the two governments need to consider together and how they will impact city and county residents. City Councilman Caleb Phillips quickly identified “transportation congestion.” Satterfield cited infrastructure, including water and sewer and service delivery.
City Councilman Stephen Tolson surprised nearly everyone in the room when he said there are more than 110 homeless families in the county that need help. Tolson said finding jobs is not the problem. Many of the homeless, he said, have jobs. The problem is finding affordable housing for people in low-paying jobs.
There was also a discussion other issues that lend themselves to collaboration between the two governments – a local transportation and road improvement tax, downtown revitalization, a truck route around the city and the future of the airport.
Headley pointed out that a local transportation and road improvement tax collected over a five-year period could generate up to $50 million, all of which could be used to fund only local roads and bridges. He added there is a possibility the Georgia Department of Transportation would match whatever amount the tax generates.
City officials said rerouting truck traffic around the city is the key to revitalizing the downtown area.
Eason said more than 100 trucks pass City Hall every hour. “We have to get these trucks out of town,” he said. “GDOT says it will not restrict truck traffic unless we have a truck route. We have to do that before we can revitalize the city.”
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DAWSONVILLE, Ga. – After the second of three scheduled public hearings Thursday, the Dawson County Board of Commissioners and first-term Sheriff Jeff Johnson remain at odds over the sheriff’s 2018 budget request.
Johnson’s request to provide services that include the jail, K-9, school resource officers, 911 and court is $8,130,477. The sheriff’s budget in 2017 is $6,822,566. Commissioners have proposed $7,344,486, an increase of about half a million dollars but nowhere near what is being requested.
Johnson says, “That amount is inadequate. The amount budgeted last year wasn’t insufficient then. We’re just trying to increase it by a reasonable amount and not be excessive in order to meet what the needs are.”
He also points to the tremendous growth in retail and residential, especially along the Ga. 400 corridor that will place greater demands on his office. “We’re anticipating a 28 percent increase in the amount of calls we will respond to in 2018,” he said.
The sheriff’s request includes the unfreezing of seven employee positions, one new criminal investigator and a 2 percent cost of living increase for sheriff’s office employees.
Johnson and attorney Joey Homans have asked to meet with commissioners again before the budget is scheduled to be adopted on Sept. 21 to plead their case. As of Friday morning, Johnson said commissioners had not responded to that request.
County officials will point to a Georgia Department of Community Affairs survey that shows Dawson County citizens already pay more to operate the sheriff’s office and jail than any other county in north Georgia. In the 26 counties surveyed, Dawson County citizens pay $273 each, followed by Rabun County where citizens pay $210 each. Nowhere else do citizens pay as much as $200 each.
Johnson says that is an apples to oranges comparison.
“We’re the only law enforcement provider here,” he said. “There is no city police. No other law enforcement entity whatsoever. In all those other counties there is some sort of jurisdiction to help them out.”
But commissioners say that a $1.3 million increase is more than citizens should have to bear.
While next year’s millage will remain the same, homeowners will still see a 4.4 percent increase in their taxes next year.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for the sheriff and the men and women of our sheriff’s office,” Commissioner Julie Hughes-Nix said. ”It gave me great pleasure to vote for the wage and salary study that provided a well-deserved pay increase for them this year. But we have to be fair to our citizens and do our best to hold the line on spending. The sheriff is asking for an increase of more than $1 million in last year’s budget. I just don’t think we can spend that much more and be fair to the taxpayers.”
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
DAWSONVILLE, Ga. — The three local races that have attracted the most interest in Dawson County this year are County Commission Chairman, Sheriff and Tax Commissioner where a total of nine candidates will campaign.
Sheriff Billy Carlisle, who has been Dawson County’s top cop for 18 years, will not seek reelection. Chairman Michael Berg, who has devoted nearly half his life to public service has announced his retirement and Tax Commissioner Linda Townley, who has served the county for 12 years, said she is leaving to spend more time with her family.
Their departure creates opportunities for others to serve. Billy Thurmond and Peter Hill have tossed their hats into the ring to vie for County Commission Chairman.
Four veteran law enforcement officers will battle it out for Sheriff. Tony Wooten is an 18-year veteran of the Dawson Sheriff’s Office. Jeff Perry has 26 years experience, serving the last 18 as a parole officer. Jeff Johnson has nearly 23 years of experience in both a sheriff’s office and police department and Frank Sosebee has 32 years experience. He is currently the chief of security at the Hall County Correctional Institute.
Townley’s departure has attracted three potential replacements, Karin McGee, Johnny Glass and Nicole Stewart
District 4 County Commissioner Julie Hughes Nix, who seeks her fourth term in office, has drawn one challenger in Heather Hulsebus.
Incumbent Board of Education members Elaine Wilson, Roger Slaton and Doris Cook will return to office without opposition and so will long time Coroner Ted Bearden.