Dawson County EMS staffing reaches crisis stage

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DAWSONVILLE, Ga. – Emergency Services Director Danny Thompson made a heartfelt and emotional plea for a pay raise on behalf of the men and women of his department during Thursday’s Board of Commissioners work session.

Thompson said the attrition rate in emergency services is nearing a “crisis situation” with 11 percent of the employees leaving to work at other fire departments or to go into the private sector. “That is two-and-a-half times the national average, he said.

“In exit interviews, we’ve learned that a lot of them love working in Dawson County. The big reason for the exodus is money. Right now, there are 11 fire departments within 30 miles of this county that pay between $10,000 and $16,000 more.”

Thompson presented three options to commissioners for a potential salary increase.

When asked by Commissioner Sharon Fausett which option worked best for his department, he answered Option A – a 10 percent across-the-board increase for all personnel.

Dozens of firefighters/EMTs sat in the audience as Thompson spoke

“These men and women sitting back here tonight love this county. They love its residents. They’re willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. But, I need your help,” he said.

“Bottom line is I need you to stand up for these men and women. Don’t turn your back on them because tonight, if you need them, they’re going to be there for you no matter what decision you make. I’m troubled as you can tell. I’m tired of looking at these men and women knowing they’re living paycheck to paycheck. It’s sad and it’s got to stop. It starts with you guys.”

While Thompson said the situation is nearing the crisis state, Chairman Billy Thurmond, who used to manage the same department said, “I can tell you, having run this department that 11 vacancies is a crisis today. That is not a crisis tomorrow.”

Agenda items discussed during work sessions are generally voted on at the next regular meeting.

 

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. FYN attracts 300,000+ page views per month, 3.5 million impressions per month and approximately 15,000 viewers per week on FYNTV.com and up to 60,000 Facebook page reach. 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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BOC tables Dawson Village vote for 30 days

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DAWSONVILLE, Ga. – Dawson County commissioners voted to place a rezoning request by Dawson Village Partners, LLC to build the largest development in county history on hold for 30 days last night (May 16).

The controversial project attracted very strong public participation. The meeting room was nearly full and two dozen Dawson County residents rose to share their views with commissioners. Eighteen opposed, eight supported.

Rod Bishoff

The project, if approved, would add 2,175 new residential units, 338,000 square feet of retail space and 242,000 square feet of office space to the county which, many argued would over burden the roads, law enforcement and public safety. It would be built on 777 acres from the intersection of Ga. 400 and Lumpkin Campground Road west to Etowah River Road before crossing Etowah River.

The county planning commission voted 3-2 to recommend denial to the Board of Commissioners based on the impact the development would have on the health, safety and general welfare of the citizens and the environmental impact on the Etowah River and flood plain.

Approval of a mixed use village is a two-part process. The initial phase calls for a concept plan in which the county looks at proposed uses, designates areas, open space, amenities, the road system, access points, location of streams and public and private streets for the development.

Dwight Roberts

If the concept is approved, the project would come back before commissioners who would then take a deeper dive into water and sewer locations, a stormwater plan, building areas and landscaping and architectural standards

Rod Bishoff, a retired developer who said he has developed property in Fulton, DeKalb, Forsyth and Gwinnett counties, called the project a fantasy.

“These (developers) are doing a great job but not one of them is going to build a darn thing in this county,” he said. “Not one of them has any money to build these things. I have friends in the banking and insurance industries and not one of them knows anything about this project.”

He added, “Once you do this zoning, you open the door to a whole lot of problems. I think it’s a great idea, but you need the right people to do it with you. You need people to say, ‘this is my project. I’m here to build it with you.’ We don’t have that and that is a problem.”

Dava Hudgins said some part of the project would be built on a historic site.

“My ancestors opened a trading post on that site,” she said. “They married Cherokee women. There are Indian mounds there and I know where there are two different Indian burial grounds. It’s not just a flood plain. It is historically important.”

Dwight Roberts, a realtor, said he had not made up his mind before attending last night’s meeting. “I wanted to learn more and see more,” he said. “But after listening and knowing how many good people there are in the community and how concerned they are about this project, it makes me think they are probably right. There is something here that is precious. There is something here that should not be bought or sold. So, I just want to say that I am now against it.”

Tony Passarello

On the other side, Tony Passarello argued in favor of approving the project.

He pointed out the project complies with the county’s future land use plan (FLUP) and gives the county a way to manage the growth that is headed to Dawson County.

“Let’s assume that each of these properties were developed individually over the same time period according to their assigned zoning,” he said. “In this hypothetical scenario, there would be no zoning and planning commission hearing required. There would be no opportunity for citizen input, and in most cases, there would be no commission vote.”

Passarello then asked, “Is it not better to treat these 777 acres in a managed planned development with the scale, quality and vision of Etowah Village or piecemeal without continuity or vision.

In addition to planned management, he said the project presents a number of opportunities, including controlled growth over eight to 10 years, development of Dawson County as a destination spot, living wage jobs for decades and the opportunity to attract millenials and members of Generation X,

Chairman Billy Thurmond said, “When you look at the portion east of the river toward Ga. 400, the majority of that property is currently zoned where most of the pods (A,B,C,D,E, and F) they are requesting could be done without the approval of this Board.”

Those pods consist of retail space, office space, performing arts center, convenience center, 300-room luxury hotel, art museum, Asian garden and retirement community.

Thurmond said he could see the negative side of the project across the river. “You have flood plain issues that will require a floodplain analysis. It could require a bridge that may or may not get approved by the (U.S. Army) Corps of Engineers, and EPD. You have endangered species in the river that have to be taken into consideration. Most of that is outside the current zoning and land use plan. That’s a lot to think about when you look at the vast complexity of a project such as this.”

Thurmond’s motion to table the request for 30 days was unanimously approved.

 

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. FYN attracts 300,000+ page views per month, 3.5 million impressions per month and approximately 15,000 viewers per week on FYNTV.com and up to 60,000 Facebook page reach. 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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County legal fees are twice the budgeted amount

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Joey Homans

Joey Homans

DAWSONVILLE, Ga. – Legal services in 2019 will cost Dawson County taxpayers about $250,000 more than what county commissioners had budgeted.

The budget was set at $160,413. But, after four months less than $20,000 remains so the Board of Commissioners were forced to approve an additional $250,000 during Thursday’s commission meeting.

Most commissioners agree the fault does not lie with the interim law firm of Jarrard and Davis. Some blame the overrun on former in-house counsel Lynn Frey who resigned in December due to poor health.

Commissioners Julie Hughes-Nix and Sharon Fausett say Frey frequently did not show up for work and rarely worked an eight-hour day in the office. Both say they told County Manager David Headley and other Board members about the problem in 2017 but nothing was done. They also say that much of the work he was supposed to do was left for Jarrard and Davis to complete.

Julie Hughes-Nix

Nix said, “In the fall of 2017, department heads were saying to me we have an issue. (Frey) isn’t coming to work. He’s not getting the work done. I alerted the rest of the Board to that. I wanted him in the office from 8 until 5 because that’s what we hired him for. I think that was doable. I kept trying to get the attention of the Board but they didn’t have an issue with that. As a result, we let this linger on and this is what we created. If we had addressed the issue in 2017 when I tried to, we would not be in the situation we are in now.”

After the meeting, Fausett said, “We definitely sounded the alarm a long time ago but got nowhere. We made it crystal clear many times that we wanted him in the office five days a week. We even wrote him up on performance evaluations.”

Commission Chairman Billy Thurmond said, “Mrs. (Angela) Davis did say last week that as soon as we cleaned up the remainder of the stuff that is pending, we would see a downward trend.”

Two years ago, county commissioners decided the $180,316 they paid attorney Joey Homans for legal services for one year (2016) was too much. After 20 years of service, they declined to renew his contract and hired Frey to replace him.

But Homans’ fee was a bargain compared to what the county will spend this year and he was on hand to take a victory lap during Thursday’s meeting.

“Two years ago, when you made another appointment other than me after 20 years, you asserted that it was done to save the taxpayers money,” he said. “With this request (for additional funding) your total legal fee will be $410,000.

“The comment that it was done to save taxpayers money, I took as an attack on my integrity and my character. It was an indicator that I was gouging or overcharging. The fact, that legal fees now are twice what they were, I submit, absolves me of that. I submit that what you’re paying for legal services to very competent legal counsel reflects there was no overcharging. There was no gouging. In fact, taxpayers are now paying more.”

 

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. FYN attracts 300,000+ page views per month, 3.5 million impressions per month and approximately 15,000 viewers per week on FYNTV.com and up to 60,000 Facebook page reach. 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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Commissioners approve addition of a $100,000 emergency contingency to the general fund budget

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DAWSONVILLE, Ga. – By the narrowest of margins, Dawson County commissioners voted Thursday to add $100,000 contingency to the general fund budget that County Manager David Headley will have the authority to spend in case of an emergency without receiving Board authorization.

Prior to the vote, Dist. 2 Commissioner Chris Gaines asked for three stipulations:  The expenditure would require dual signatures from CFO Vickie Neikirk and Headley, a maximum amount of $25,000 for each emergency expenditure with an aggregate amount of $100,000 annually and the expenditure be included in the public record at the next Board of Commissioners meeting.

Chairman Billy Thurmond, Dist. 3 Commissioner Tim Satterfield and Gaines voted to approve the contingency.

But Dist. 4 Commissioner Julie Hughes-Nix and Dist 1 Commissioner Sharon Fausett, who wanted Headley on a shorter leash, voted no.

Nix reminded commissioners that the money they spend is not theirs, but belongs to taxpayers and that commissioners should maintain a tighter control on spending.

“I would really like to know up front what it is,” she said. “I’m really guided by the fact that the money belongs to our citizens and we need to be more accountable.”

In other decisions, commissioners voted to approve a Landbridge Development, LLC request to rezone property located between Krystal and the movie theater just off Hwy. 400 from Commercial Highway Business to Residential Multi Family for the purpose of building five apartment buildings with 12 rental units each.

Commissioners unanimously approved Amber Popphan’s request for a variance to the Land Use Resolution that will allow her to build a mobile home on property of less than five acres that was given to her by her father.

The Board also approved a request by Planning Director Jameson Kinley to hire an Alcohol Licensing administrative assistant at a rate of $15.84 per hour.

Two weeks ago, the county received a low bid from CT Darnell to execute a design-build contract for Fire Station 9. However, no contract was awarded and since then, the county discovered it could save as much as $75,000 by entering into negotiations with Darnell. Commissioners unanimously agreed to allow the negotiation to proceed.

The Board also voted 4-0 to approve a local share commitment letter for Legacy Link.

Thurmond read a proclamation to celebrate Arbor Day on April 26. The event this year will be celebrated by the Dawson County Tree Preservation Committee and Keep Dawson County Beautiful planting a tree on April 26th and encouraging others to plant trees across the county.

 

 

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. FYN attracts 300,000+ page views per month, 3.5 million impressions per month and approximately 15,000 viewers per week on FYNTV.com and up to 60,000 Facebook page reach. 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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Commissioners will vote on new meeting schedule Thursday

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DAWSONVILLE, Ga. — Dawson County Commissioners will vote Thursday on a proposal brought to the Board by Chairman Billy Thurmond that would limit commission meetings to just two days a week when they meet Thursday at 6 p.m. in the County Government Building.

In the past Dawson County commissioners have held meetings four times a month with work sessions and voting meetings held on alternate Thursdays. Work sessions are held for the purpose of discussing issues that will be voted on the next week. That has led to some voting sessions lasting less than 15 minutes.

Thurmond said rather than bring staff and citizens together for two very short voting meetings each month, it would be more efficient to hold work sessions and voting meetings on the same night.

If approved, future work sessions will be held at 4 p.m. followed by an executive session at 5 p.m. if necessary and a voting meeting at 6 p.m.

Thurmond said he proposed the change, “In an effort to make meetings more efficient and more productive.”

Commissioners will also vote Thursday on the hiring of an Alcohol Licensing Administrator at a pay range between $17 and $26.35 per hour. The position is currently frozen.

Other issues to be voted on Thursday include:

  • The hiring of Ross and Associates to conduct the land use resolution update the Board requested at a cost of $8,100;
  • A request by the 4H Rabies Clinic to hold the 5th annual parade and assembly on April 27;
  • Creation of a general fund contingency of $100,000 to be added to the 2019 budget.;
  • A request from MLH Farm/Uncle Shucks to hold a corn maze, sunflower maze and possibly a Christmas tree sale at their new location;
  • A request to surplus/demolish the Transfer Station weigh station modular office;
  • A presentation of the 2019 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) VI;
  • A three-party agreement between Dawson County, City of Dawsonville and Dawson County Humane Society on animal control;
  • A new pay schedule for Constitutional Officers;
  • An appointment to the Tax Assessors Board.

 

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. FYN attracts 300,000+ page views per month, 3.5 million impressions per month and approximately 15,000 viewers per week on FYNTV.com and up to 60,000 Facebook page reach. 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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County Commissioners consider changing meeting schedule

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DAWSONVILLE, Ga. — In the past Dawson County commissioners have held meetings four times a month but that could change to twice monthly if they decide to adopt the proposal discussed at Thursday’s work session.

Currently, the Board holds work sessions on the first and third Thursday each month and a voting sessions on the second and fourth Thursday. During the work sessions, they discuss issues that will be voted at the voting session. But that has resulted in voting sessions that, at times, have lasted less than 15 minutes.

Chairman Billy Thurmond said rather than bring staff and citizens together for two very short voting meetings each month, it would be more efficient to hold work sessions and voting meetings on the same night.

If approved, future work sessions will be held at 4 p.m. followed by an executive session at 5 p.m. if necessary and a voting meeting at 6 p.m.

“Chairman Billy Thurmond he proposed the change, “In an effort to make meetings more efficient and more productive.”

Planning Director Jameson Kinley asked commissioners to authorize the hiring of an Alcohol Licensing Administrator at a pay range between $17 and $26.35 per hour. The position is currently frozen.

He also asked for $8,100 to hire Ross and Associates to conduct the land use resolution update the Board had requested. The department put the update out for bids. Ross and Associates was the sole bidder.

Commissioners heard a request by the 4H Rabies Clinic to hold the 5th annual parade and assembly on April 27.

Chief Financial Officer Vickie Neikirk requested Board approval to create a general fund contingency of $100,000 in the 2019 budget. Dawson County has had a contingency in the past but it was not included in the 2019 budget.

Generally, department heads would ask for money for their department and if she believed it to be in the county’s interest, she would present it to County Manager David could authorize the expenditure before presenting it to the Board as part of his County Manager report.

Other agenda items discussed include:

  • A request from MLH Farm/Uncle Shucks to hold a corn maze, sunflower maze and possibly a Christmas tree sale at their new location;
  • A request to surplus/demolish the Transfer Station weigh station modular office;
  • A presentation of the 2019 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) VI;
  • A presentation of a three-party agreement between Dawson County, City of Dawsonville and Dawson County Humane Society on animal control;
  • A presentation of the pay schedule for Constitutional Officers;
  • A presentation of a board appointment to the Tax Assessors Board.

 

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. FYN attracts 300,000+ page views per month, 3.5 million impressions per month and approximately 15,000 viewers per week on FYNTV.com and up to 60,000 Facebook page reach. 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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Thurmond will ask commissioners to censure Julie Hughes-Nix

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DAWSONVILLE, Ga. – Dawson County Commission Chairman Billy Thurmond will introduce a resolution to censure Commissioner Julie Hughes-Nix for a breach of attorney-client privilege and executive session privilege during Thursday’s voting session.

Thurmond claims Nix sent emails to a county employee despite the fact the emails were marked confidential and attorney-client privileged.

The resolution states: “Despite this specific admonition, such communications were forwarded by Commissioner Nix in violation of the attorney-client privilege when such communications were concerning personnel issues about the very employee to whom she forwarded the communications, this employee was represented by an attorney, and this employee was taking positions adverse to Dawson County’s interests.”

Nix told Fetch Your News Tuesday, “I accept responsibility. I did inadvertently release information from executive session. I apologize to my fellow commissioners and, more importantly, to the citizens of Dawson County. I can promise that will never happen again.”

Censures are mainly symbolic. There is no loss of rights or privileges and therefore, a censure carries no more weight than a written reprimand.

The issue that is expected to draw a large crowd, Thursday is a request by Chamber of Commerce President Christie Moore that commissioners consider reducing impact fees on road projects and fire protection categories to 25 percent.

During last week’s work session, Moore said impact fees are the reason at least one company declined to open a business in Dawson County.

Moore provided the example of one large fitness center that had planned to build a new facility in the community but backed out when it was learned the impact fee would be $51,000.

District 1 Commissioner Sharon Fausett challenged assertion.

“What would have been their tap fee,” she questioned. Moore said she didn’t know. Fausett continues, saying, “But you know it would have been a lot more than that right.”

“It certainly would have been,” Moore said and that is another entity we’ve been advocating with.”

 

Other issues commissioners are also expected to vote on include:

  • A resolution extending the agreement with interim county attorneys Jarrard & Davis;
  • A FY 2019 public defender intergovernmental agreement between Dawson and Hall counties;
  • The FY 2019 state public defender contract;
  • 2019 Charity Boot Drives;
  • Special event business license application for a motorcycle event;
  • Acceptance of a Geographic Information System summer intern grant;
  • A new recycling agreement with Advanced Disposal;
  • A request for Highway 53 / Lumpkin Campground Road Intersection Improvement Project budget;
  • Approval of a legal services agreement to retain Blasingame, Burch, Garrard & Ashley, P.C. as special legal counsel in opioid litigation;
  • A settlement agreement with Hodges-Mace, LLC to resolve a contract claim.

 

A resolution of censure. 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. FYN attracts 300,000+ page views per month, 3.5 million impressions per month and approximately 15,000 viewers per week on FYNTV.com and up to 60,000 Facebook page reach. 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 County surrenders operation of Fire Station 8 to Pickens Co.

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DAWSONVILLE, Ga. – Following the resignation of 12 of 13 volunteer firefighters at Fire Station 8 in the Wildcat Community, Dawson County has relinquished operational control of the station to Pickens County.

Commissioners ratified a new intergovernmental agreement (IGA) at Thursday’s work session that also gives Pickens County responsibility for training and equipping the volunteers and providing workers compensation insurance. Pickens also will continue to provide insurance for the building and contents of the station. Dawson County will transfer title of the fire engine and other contents of the station to Pickens which will insure both the engine and tender. Existing hoses and equipment will remain at the station.

Both counties will continue to utilize the station to provide automatic aid to adjoining areas under the Dawson/Pickens County Automatic Aid Agreement.

Fire Station 8 was constructed in 2009 to provide emergency services to the Wildcat Community, a very remote community, parts of which are in Dawson and Pickens County.

Dawson County attracted strong criticism from residents of the community after a home on Burnt Mountain Road was destroyed by fire late last year. A flaw in the county’s 9-1-1 system failed to notify Fire Station 8, which was the closest one to the fire.

Commission Chairman Billy Thurmond said he and Pickens County Chairman Rob Jones and Dawson County Emergency Services Director Danny Thomas worked together to draft the new agreement and that Thompson is working to modify the Automatic Aid Agreement between the two counties.

 

 

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