Commissioners set to approve 2020 budget today

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DAWSONVILLE, Ga – The Dawson County Board of Commissioners will hold the third public hearing before adopting the 2020 budget during Thursday (Oct 17) at 6 p.m. in the Dawson County Government Center Assembly Room, 25 Justice Way.

The 2019 budget was just over $27 million. The proposed 2020 budget is $29.9 million, an increase of almost $3 million or 10.26 percent over this year.

When Commission Chairman Billy Thurmond presented the proposed spending plan two weeks, he said it is justified by what is projected to be a $2.8 million increase in revenue for next year. But much of that increase will come from the county’s reserve or “rainy day fund.”

In some unfinished business from Sept. 19, commissioners are expected to vote on a controversial vape shop ordinance.

New business items on the agenda include a request to use the county facility parking lots during the Mountain Moonshine Festival;

Consideration of an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) between Dawson County and the Development Authority of Dawson County;

Consideration to move forward with a public hearing for Special Event Business License Ordinance Revision; Consideration of the sale of surplus real property owned by Dawson County;

Consideration of a request for additional funds for legal fees;

There will also be a number of zoning requests for commissioners to consider.

 

 

 

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Commissioners hit pause button on vape ordinance

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DAWSONVILLE, Ga. – County commissioners were prepared Thursday to end the sale of flavored vape products and prevent vape shop owners from having their business license renewed. But the compelling and passionate argument of dozens of consumers and vape shop owners caused them to reconsider – for now.

The Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to table an ordinance that would have put four specialty vape shops out of business and impacted thousands of their customers.

The proposed ordinance would define a specialty vape shop as one whose sales of alternative nicotine products and vapor products, combined, exceeds 25 twenty-five percent of sales.

Those who pleaded with commissioners came from Dawson, Cherokee, Paulding and Gwinnett counties. One man came all the way from Warner Robins. Many repeated the same theme: Vape products get smokers off cigarettes. Another man who smoked cigarettes for 40 years said flavored vape products were the only way he could quit. Other smokers said without flavored vape products they were afraid they would go back to cigarettes.

Jamie Wheatley, owner of The Vaperz Den, said, “The proposed vapor ban would push people back into a more harmful choice. There is something in this ordinance that no specialty vapor shop could operate in this county. There are four that it would force out of business.”

Wheatley continued, saying, “We know the underage thing is a big deal. We’re the ones that card at the door. You can’t walk into any one of these specialty vape shops without being of age. I would like to ask if there is a way we could table this ordinance and schedule some one-on-one meetings with you guys to educate and inform you about what it is we do and come to some sort of compromise that we can continue to do business.”

Their comments obviously had an impact on commissioners.

Julie Hughes-Nix who made the motion to table a vote on the proposed ordinance said,

“I appreciate your comments. Everyone up here is listening to you because we care. I want to learn more. I think we need to do a better job of checking into what we need to do here.”

Her words were interrupted by a long, very loud applause. “So my recommendation to this board is that we table this and go back to the drawing board.”

Commission Chairman Billy Thurmond said, “There has been a lot of information brought forward tonight that needs to be investigated.

 

 

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 officials break ground for Fire Station 8

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PRESS RELEASE

Representatives from the architecture firm Clark Patterson Lee, general contractor CT Darnell, Dawson County Emergency Services, the Dawson County Board of Commissioners and Dawson County Administration gathered at the site of the future Dawson County Fire Station 8 to hold an official “Ground Breaking” ceremony. The site is on Sweetwater-Juno Road near the intersection of Reagan Rd.

Fire Chief Danny Thompson welcomed all in attendance and spoke of the importance of the new station. He explained how response times and insurance ratings will be greatly reduced with the addition of the new station. Commission Chairman Billy Thurmond also addressed the crowd. He stated that this station will bring a level of emergency response to this area of county that most of the rest of the county has been accustomed to for years.

Due to parking constraints the “Ground Breaking” ceremony was not open to the public. However, Chief Thompson stresses that once the new building is complete the public will be welcome to attend a “Grand Opening” ceremony and tour the community’s newest public safety facility.

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Sheriff Johnson has sole authority to give employees a pay raise

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DAWSONVILLE, Ga. – Dawson County Sheriff Jeff Johnson has had the budget and the authority to give his employees a well-deserved pay raise for the last two years but chose not to do so.

As a constitutional officer, elected by the citizens of Dawson County, Johnson has sole discretion over how he manages his budget. Board approval is not required.

But on July 2 Johnson did come before the Board to request approval of a 15 percent across-the-board pay increase for employees. In a passionate plea to the Board he said, “In a time when law enforcement agencies are aggressively competing for staff through increased pay, benefits, signing bonuses, recruiting bonuses, etc., DCSO continues to fall further and further behind in these areas.”

But at last Thursday’s meeting, Commission Chairman Billy Thurmond explained to the sheriff that he can give his employees a pay raise any time he chooses.

Johnson has had serious budget management issues in the past. In 2017, his first year in office, he initiated a lawsuit against the Board in an effort to have them increase his budget. The lawsuit failed and, at the end of that year, the sheriff discovered he had $526,565 left over in his budget. That money had to be returned to the county fund balance.

Again in 2018, the Board allocated more money to the sheriff’s budget than he actually spent. At the end of that year, Johnson had $200,995 left over. In two years, Johnson wound up returning $727,560 to the county fund balance.

2020 is an election year and Johnson has not yet announced whether he will seek reelection. Two candidates — Jeff Perry, a veteran parole officer, and Marcus Sewell, Chief Investigator for the Lumpkin County Sheriff’s Office — have announced they will campaign for sheriff. Johnson’s opponents are expected to attack the sheriff for what they perceive to be his fiscal mismanagement.

 

 

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 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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