Thurmond’s vote is decisive in Crystal Falls development

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DAWSONVILLE, Ga. – Against a unanimous recommendation of denial by the Planning Commission and despite the opposition of two county commissioners and a large number of area residents, the Dawson County Board of Commissioners voted Thursday to allow a developer to add 1,012 new homes to the Crystal Falls Lake and Golf Community.

The property is located west of Cowart Road between Yellow Creek Road and Kelly Bridge Road. In 2005, the owner developed a golf course in the community but since then, only five homes have been sold and the owner’s representative argues that his client is losing about $1 million per year to maintain the golf course.

A large number of area residents filed into the meeting room to express their opposition to the development. Some said it would destroy the quality of life in this mostly rural southwest corner of the county. Others complained about increased safety concerns and traffic congestion.

Commissioners Julie Hughes-Nix and Sharon Fausett joined with the crowd in opposing a request by Dawson Cherokee Capital, LLC to rezone 1,038.46 acres from Residential Sub Rural (RSR) to Residential Planned Community (RPC).

Commissioners Chris Gaines and Tim Satterfield voted in favor of the request, resulting in a 2-2 tie. Dawson County’s Chairman Billy Thurmond only votes when it is necessary to break a tie. In this case, he voted to allow the development to go forward.

In a phone conversation Friday, Fausett, who made the motion to deny the request, said, “I had a lot more phone calls and emails from people who did not want this than I did from those who supported it. My job is to represent them, if I didn’t, I would feel like I was not doing my job.”

Nix, who seconded the motion said, “When I was elected to this office, I promised to listen to the citizens who put me here. I listened and the people who are most affected by this development spoke very clearly, saying it will ruin their quality of life. That’s why I voted against it.”

Gaines said, “It was a tough decision, probably toughest decision I’ve had to make since being elected to the Board of Commissioners.”

Before the request was adopted, he added a series of stipulations aimed at making  the project less objectionable to opponents, including:

  • Reducing the number of entrances from three to two plus one for emergency vehicles only;
  • Developer is required to abide by the development of a regional impact study;
  • Developer must do another traffic impact study once 50 percent build out is reached;
  • Developer must pay $70,000 to help pay for a traffic light on Cowart Road once it exceeds acceptable traffic standards.

 

  

 

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B0C approves reduction in impact fees and sets public hearing

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DAWSONVILLE, Ga. — New businesses wanting to move to Dawson County got a major break Thursday when the Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 to reduce impact fees by a whopping 75 percent. Chairman Billy Thurmond cast the deciding vote.

The issue still must survive public hearings on March 7 and March 21 before being implemented. Both hearings are set for 6 p.m.

It was only six months ago the Board voted to set impact fees at the maximum amount allowed  by law. But the Board dynamic has changed significantly since former Commissioner Jimmy Hamby retired in December and was replaced by Tim Satterfield. Hamby was a strong proponent of impact fees and voted to charge the maximum amount percent.

Chamber of Commerce President Christie Moore appeared before commissioners two weeks ago to request the reduction saying two businesses had declined to move to Dawson County because of the fees.

“Our concern was not that the commercial impact fees would hurt the large businesses, the Olive Gardens of the world, they are used to impact fees,” she said at the time. “But it could really hurt some of our attempts to attract some other organizations that we really want in our community.”

Impact fees are payments required by local governments of new development for the purpose of providing new or expanded public capital facilities required to serve that development.

The reduction also impacts residential development. Instead of a 75 percent reduction, residential developments would only be reduced by 25 percent.

District 1 Commissioner Sharon Fausett tried to get commissioners to consider a smaller reduction of 50 percent, but Chris Gaines, who made the motion said he felt the 75 percent reduction was the right amount.

“If we see that it hasn’t made an impact like the adverse impact that it’s made now at 100 percent, then we can look at increasing it at a future date,” Gaines said.

Fausett pointed out that Bill Ross of Ross and Associates, the firm that created the impact fee study and calculated the maximum amount the county could charge, told commissioners that impact fees do not slow growth.

“He’s an expert, and he’s done this for years and years and years. So if he made that statement, I wonder why it’s slowing growth here, and it’s not slowing it in other places” Fausett asked.

“We’re in kind of a boom now and I’d like to take advantage of that. Another thing that bothers me is that we as a board, we said we would seek alternate ways of (raising) revenue…if we said we were going to do it, I want to do it.”

Thurmond said that the sales tax money generated by businesses has allowed the county to maintain the same millage rate for the past 14 years.

The vote was 3-2 with Fausett and Nix opposed and Gaines and Satterfield in support. In Dawson County, the chairman is allowed to vote only in case of a tie. The public will have an opportunity to be heard on the issue in two weeks.

In other business, the Board voted 3-1 to censure Nix for disclosing confidential information to a county employee via email. Nix abstained from the vote and Fausett voted in opposition.

An emotional Fausett, who has been friends with Nix her entire life, said the resolution was too harsh and unnecessary. She spoke directly to Nix, saying, “I don’t think you’ll ever do this again, I still trust you, I’ve still got faith in you, I’ve still got confidence in you. You’ve had years and years of public service and I don’t want this to define you. I think you have been a part of great, great things for this county, and I appreciate what you’ve done.”

Nix said she accepted responsibility and publicly apologized for her action saying she had no desire to benefit herself or anyone.

“This was just done really to assist an experienced employee just packed with a knowledge and information, who I felt wasn’t getting all of the information needed to really do her job,” Nix said.

A motion of censure carries with it no penalty other than the written reprimand.

 

 

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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David Headley chosen GMRC Official of the Year

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DAWSONVILLE, Ga. — The Georgia Mountains Regional Commission (GMRC) named Dawson County Manager David Headley Appointed Official of the Year at a meeting in the Dillard House in Rabun County Friday.

The GMRC is a sub state district created by local governments to promote proper development of human, natural, physical, social and economic resources in 13 counties (Banks, Dawson, Forsyth, Franklin, Habersham, Hall, Hart, Lumpkin, Rabun, Stephens, Towns, Union, and White) as well as 51 cities. Being chosen Appointed Official of the Year in a group of public servants of that size is a very big deal.

In presenting the award, GMRC Executive Director Heather Feldman said, “This year’s Appointed Official of the Year award celebrates an individual who is dedicated to serving the public and who has shown passion and commitment not only to the county for which they serve, but the GMRC Council and staff as well. He has one of the most uplifting, caring, and cooperative attitudes in the public service realm.”

She added, “He is a hard worker who understands the value and importance of community and his compassion, stellar leadership abilities, and willingness to help others is to be commended. He is a man of true integrity and this is amplified by his desire and passion to help people. His policies and initiatives exemplify and demonstrate the values and ethics held so esteemed within the local government profession.”

In a phone interview Monday, Headley said, “It is an extreme honor to have been recognized and selected among such other dedicated and supportive GMRC applicants. I can’t say enough about the great work they do for Dawson County and the member counties it serves. I’m moved the team that selected above the other candidates collectively felt that mine and Dawson County’s commitment rose to this level. The GMRC is the true recipients of this award for the outstanding service it provides. It is with great respect and admiration for their organization that I accept this award on behalf of Dawson County.”

County Commission Chairman Billy Thurmond said, “David is very deserving of the award. He does a good job representing the citizens of Dawson County. He has also worked well with the GMRC on several projects, including the comprehensive plan.”

District 2 Commissioner Chris Gaines said, “We’re lucky to have him. The drive, dedication and energy he has put into his role as county manager has been a good thing for Dawson 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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Flat Creek earns “Dirty Dozen” designation thanks to Gold Creek Foods chemical spill last March

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DAWSONVILLE, Ga. – The Georgia Water Coalition has released its 2018 Dirty Dozen last week — a report that lists places and practices that endanger the state’s water quality. Prominently featured on that list: Gold Creek Foods in the City of Dawsonville and Flat Creek.

The report points to the incident last March when a Gold Creek forklift driver punctured a 55-gallon barrel that contained ferric chloride which flowed into a retaining pond then into Flat Creek. The report states, “two days later, City of Dawsonville workers noticed the creek flowing bright orange and saw dozens of dead fish and traced the problem to Gold Creek Foods.”

The report also states, “The spill killed virtually all aquatic life in Flat Creek for nearly four miles. Crayfish, salamanders and fish littered the orange-tinged water of the creek as it flowed past a local elementary school and residential areas in Dawsonville. Georgia Department of Natural Resources investigators estimated that 8,262 fish perished, including 1,990 Cherokee darters.”

Flat Creek is a tributary to Shoal Creek and the Etowah River which provides about 13 percent of metro Atlanta’s drinking water, including large portions of Cherokee, Cobb and Paulding counties.

Industrial facilities in Georgia are supposed to have a plan in place to control spills and polluted runoff to prevent tragedies like that at Flat Creek. But, according to the report, the Environmental Protection Division (EPD) has only two and a half employees responsible for reviewing the stormwater plans at 2,800 facilities.

In the case of Gold Creek Foods in Dawsonville, EPD’s industrial stormwater team had not inspected the facility since 2013. Following the March spill, the inspectors found the area where ferric chloride and other chemicals were stored lacked structures to contain spills and prevent them from flowing to Flat Creek.

According to the report, “numerous complaints about pollution from Gold Creek Foods prompted regional EPD personnel to visit the facility. During one of those visits, the improper storage of chemical drums was noted and the company’s Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan (SWPPP) was discussed. In fact, records show that water monitoring required by the SWPPP and conducted by Gold Creek Foods from 2015-2017 indicated regular violations of clean water benchmarks.”

But, EPD staff in Atlanta with the industrial stormwater team never completed a thorough review of the site. In the end, Gold Creek Foods got little more than a slap on the wrist and Georgia taxpayers were left to pay for the cleanup. The fine for the devastation the company caused to Flat Creek: $15,000!

The Department of Natural Resources personnel spent dozens of hours addressing and investigating the spill. The cost of the fish kill survey alone amounted to nearly $6,000.

Former Dawsonville City Councilman and now Dawson County Commissioner Chris Gaines is all too familiar with Gold Creek Foods habitual offender status.

“If EPD is lacking funds why would they use taxpayer dollars to clean up a mess created by someone else,” Gaines asked. “If GCF did incur some cleanup cost and with the negative PR surrounding this event hopefully lessons were learned.

“Dawson County is blessed to have so many great natural resources. It’s a tragedy that this happened. To me the EPD fine does not seem to effectively match the amount of permanent ecological damage done to the streams. In addition to the fine, all cleanup cost should have been the responsibility of the party that caused the situation in my opinion.”

When Gaines served on city council he often heard water department officials complain about the high density of “slugs” of wastewater that would kill microorganisms in the city’s wastewater treatment ponds.

“They told me they would fine (Gold Creek). But the fines were either not paid or so small it didn’t seem to be a hurdle that was curbing their behavior.”

Now a county commissioner, Gaines said the county has “reached out to the EPD and is setting up meetings to gain a better understanding of responsibilities and we stand ready to assist the city with its efforts to prevent this from happening again. We all should hope that this never happens again and that the EPD will be doing more inspections to ensure that GCF is doing everything possible to prevent situations like this from occurring again.”

 

 

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 says no to smaller lot sizes in Chestatee

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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).

 

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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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

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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

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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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