Officials say resignation of volunteers won’t affect ISO or fire protection for Wildcat Community

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DAWSONVILLE, Ga. – Dawson County officials issued the following press release Monday:

“Dawson County Emergency Services continues to provide fire and medical coverage to the Wildcat Community. The agency stands ready and is prepared to serve this community. In no way do the recent resignations of Station 8 volunteer support personnel members affect the ISO rating for this community, nor does it decrease the level of service provided. Measures have been put in place to ensure adequate service now and into the future.

“Dawson County Emergency Services continues to work closely with Pickens County, and both departments demonstrated this commitment over the weekend during the winter weather event. Additionally, Dawson County officials are working together to ensure the continued safety of both residents and visitors.

“Over the past few weeks, there has been much said regarding the future of Station 8,” said Dawson County Manager David Headley. “I want to affirm with the residents of the Wildcat Community that Dawson County will honor its commitment to them by not abandoning the services outlined in our agreement.

“Steps are being taken to enhance the level of service, and we look forward to working alongside the residents of the Wildcat Community as well as Pickens County moving ahead.”

 

 

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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City, county officials strive for greater cooperation During day-long retreat at Amicalola Falls Lodge

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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.”

 

 

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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The single-county TSPLOST is gaining popularity among voters across Georgia

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DAWSONVILLE, Ga. – Georgia voters rejected a regional transportation special purpose local option sales tax (TSPLOST) in May. Understandably. The idea of someone living in one county paying for road improvements several counties away did not appeal to most voters.

But a “single-county TSPLOST” where residents of one county invest in paving or widening roads, repairing unsafe bridges or patching potholes in their own county via a one-percent sales tax is gaining popularity among Georgia voters.

Voters in Athens-Clarke, Banks, Bryan, Bulloch, Colquitt, Decatur, Early, Fulton, Haralson, Putnam, Seminole, Walker and Ware have already approved a single-county TSPLOST this year.

Five more (Baldwin, Carroll, Habersham, Lee and Miller) will ask their voters to decide the issue during the November election. Lumpkin, Dougherty, Coweta, McIntosh, Morgan, Newton and Worth counties are planning to bring the issue to a referendum in March.

Why has the single-county TSPLOST succeeded where the regional TSPLOST failed?

Kathleen Bowen, legislative associate with the Association County Commissioners of Georgia explained:  “I would say the single-county TSPLOST efforts have been successful because the local elected officials (working with their citizens) have been able to articulate what the transportation needs are and that all of the funds raised would stay in their own county to fund transportation projects.”

Something else that seems to appeal to voters is that the single-county TSPLOST can only be collected for five years, compared to the regional TSPLOST that can continue for 10 years.

Dawson County Manager David Headley said Dawson County could benefit from a single-county TSPLOST.

“It’s especially important for a small county like Dawson with limited funds to absorb the amount of cost it will take to make major transportation improvements,” he said. “This could help us fast track some much needed transportation projects that we could do on our own that will prepare us for the growth headed our way.”

Headley says there have been some informal talks between city and county staffers regarding the single-county TSPLOST. “There has also been discussion with State Rep. Kevin Tanner about the possibility of Georgia Department of Transportation participation,” he said.

City and county officials would need to work out an intergovernmental agreement, draft a list of roads projects and hold public awareness meetings to gain public buy-in before bringing it to the voters in a referendum for their final approval.

If approved by voters, the funding mechanism could help solve major road issues that have long festered in the county such as Shoal Creek Road widening/replacement and Lumpkin Campground Road widening.

More talks between city and county staff are planned for Sept. 19.

But the citizens will have the final say about making the investment to improve the roads in 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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Two county departments ask for budget cuts

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Coroner Ted Bearden presents budget request.

DAWSONVILLE, Ga. – Dawson County officials are walking that fine line between trying to reduce the cost of government and providing the quality services citizens expect. Two more departments presented budget requests for 2019 that reduce their operational expense during Thursday’s budget hearing. Several others asked for modest increases.

County Manager David Headley asked for $8,625 less than his 2018 Administration budge while Justin Power in the Clerk of Courts office is requesting $36,743 less.

The General Government budget requested shows a $131,261 increase over 2018. But that amount is misleading since $100,000 of that is in a contingency account which can be used in an emergency, but which is not expected to be spent. There was some discussion about removing that from the General Government budget and placing it in the county’s Fund Balance.

Coroner Ted Bearden is another example of a county official working hard to keep costs down. So much so that he is self-funding some functions.

Bearden asked for a minimal increase of $20,747 Thursday. He pointed out that his office has not asked for an increase in nearly 20 years. He also noted there has been a 30 percent increase in the coroner’s call volume so far this year. He is also requesting the addition of one new deputy coroner, plus training expense and the cost of some equipment.

Bearden thanked Commission Chairman Billy Thurmond, who served as the county’s Emergency Services Director for many years before running for chairman, for volunteering to act as deputy coroner.

“The county doesn’t pay him to work cases,” Bearden said, “So I pay him out of my own pocket.”

Bearden did hire a deputy coroner this year but because there was no position in the budget, Bearden funds that position himself. “I really don’t think it’s fair that I have to pay him just to keep the county covered,” he said. “But that is the only way I can make it work. We are 24/7, 365. If we get a call Christmas morning, somebody’s got to go.”

Facilities Maintenance, which is responsible for repairs, preventative maintenance and construction of all county facilities, requested an increase of $25,206 to $1,049,928. Much of the increase, if approved, will go toward property repair and maintenance.

Board of Equalization requested a slight increase of $5,533, $5,000 of which was an increase in the salary line item that resulted from the commission-approved salary increase of 2017.

Information Technology is also asking for an increase of about $46,138 in its 2019 budget.

 

 

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 asks county to reallocate $397,318.58 remaining in his 2017 budget to 2018

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DAWSONVILLE, Ga. — Dawson County Sheriff Jeff Johnson has asked the Board of Commissioners to reallocate $397,318.58 that was left unspent in his 2017 budget to his 2018 budget. County policy dictates that an overage in any departmental budget must be returned to the General Fund.

Johnson sent an email to the Board of Commissioners Tuesday which states: “Lately, there has been much discussion about excessive funds remaining in the S.O. (Sheriff’s Office) 2017 Budget. It has been asserted that these funds may have been applied to a CAD System or other needs. I ask you to simply reallocate those remaining funds to this 2018 budget. Although I cannot say with all certainty that this amount would completely cover the cost of a new CAD System, I believe it would. Remaining funds could be applied to other needs such as SWAT equipment, etc.”

FetchYourNews (FYN) obtained a copy of that email via an open records request. Johnson himself confirms what FYN reported last week: “That he could have purchased the CAD system and had money left over.”

County officials have repeatedly recommended that he allow the county Finance Department and Purchasing Department to assist him. It is a free resource that, to this point, the sheriff has declined to utilize.

Several county officials have questioned whether Johnson knew he had money left in the 2017 budget.

County Manager David Headley said, “We are at a loss to understand why he would not address more of his needs if he did know. It could have been used. He could have used it to fund whatever he wanted. He could have gotten the CAD system and the SWAT equipment.”

Several sources who were present when Johnson addressed a Leadership Dawson class recently said when he was asked how much money remained in his budget his answer was: about $100,000.

On the Sheriff’s Office Facebook page, Johnson advises, “Always consider the source” in reference to a recent FetchYourNews article. That is excellent advice.

The source of the following information is Johnson himself. The sheriff has claimed that a significant population increase has led to an increase in law enforcement activity. However, he provided a report to the county recently that contradicts that claim.

His report shows a decline in citations, traffic stops and arrests over a 10-year period, and more importantly, during his first year in office.

Between 2007 and 2017, citations declined from 2,323 to 914. Traffic stops dropped from 9,254 to 4,473 and arrests declined from 2,273 to 1,494.

Looking only at Johnson’s first year in office, citations dropped significantly from 1,727 in 2016, to 914 last year. Arrests fell from 1,665 to 1,494. Only traffic stops showed an increase from 4,170 in 2016 to 4,473 last year.

Johnson’s claim that the county population has increased significantly, likewise, is not accurate. In rejecting the sheriff’s lawsuit against the county, Senior Superior Court Judge Fred A. Bishop said research shows that Dawson County’s population has only increased by an average of 1 percent per year for the last 10 years.

The first quarter of 2018 will end soon. Hopefully, it is the year in which the sheriff and Board of Commissioners can work out his differences for the sake of all county taxpayers.

 

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Commission Could Name Staff Attorney at Thursday Meeting

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DAWSONVILLE, Ga. — The Dawson County Board of Commissioners is expected to name a staff attorney when it meets in a regular session Thursday at 6 p.m.

The county decided in December to end its 20-year agreement with Joey Homans of the Fox, Chandler, Homans, Hicks and McKinnon law firm. County Manager David Headley said the decision was “mainly an efficiency and economics issue.”

The finalists for the position are Monroe Lynn Fry III and Richard Stancil.

Frey has over 35 years’ experience in civil practice, including litigation, local government, contracts, employment law and insurance matters. He earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in religion in three years at Emory University then attended the University of Georgia Law School, graduating with a degree in Juris Doctor, Cum Laude. He served the City of Brunswick until 2011 when the City chose to outsource its legal services and he went into private practice

Stancil served as Hiawassee City Attorney from 2007 to 2009 and City Manager from 2007-2016. Prior to working with the City of Hiawassee, he worked for a general practice law firm. He is experienced in civil and criminal litigation, corporate and nonprofit law, administrative representation, personal injury and real estate.

Commissioners are also expected to approve a staff recommendation to implement a debt collection and write-off policy for its emergency services department and select an agency to carry out collections.

In other action, the board will consider issuing a Letter of Roundabout Support to the Georgia Department of Transportation, for work at the intersection of SR 136 and Bailey Waters/Keith Evans.

Public Works Director David McKee told the board last week there have been many serious accidents at that intersection and the letter does not necessarily mean a roundabout will be built but without the letter, the GDOT will still take action to make it safer.

McKee is also seeking approval to increase fees at the county transfer station. Current fees are $5-$22 lower than surrounding transfer stations and landfills.

McKee said his staff has reviewed all fee options and recommends the bulk garbage rate be increased to $44 per ton. Staff also recommends a minimum fee of $5 per load weighed. If approved, bagged garbage rates will remain the same at .50 per bag with a 10 bag limit. Any garbage over 10 bags shall be weighed.

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Commissioners Reject Controversial Rezoning

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Dawson County BOC

DAWSONVILLE, Ga. — Dawson County Commissioners said no to two controversial zoning requests that would have allowed approximately 330 single-family housing units for seniors age 55 and up in the 400-corridor on Hwy 53 East at Tuesday’s meeting.

One 15-acre plot, located between Slack Auto Parts and Farmington Creek, would have contained a 95-unit town home development bordered by Dawson Forest Apartments on the west. The land, located off Hughes Court, is currently being used as a rental mobile home park.

The other 57-acre plot would be located across Hwy. 53, next to the Tractor Supply and the Dawson County Government South Annex and would include 240 housing units, tennis courts, swimming pool and clubhouse. Both developments would have targeted senior citizens, 55-years and up.

Commissioners did approve ZA 16-04, to rezone 3.63 acres from Residential Agriculture to Residential Multi-Family for retail sales.

The developments drew great deal of opposition from neighbors whose main concern was the traffic that would be generated. They formed the “Stop 335 Townhouses on Elliott Road” group, signed a petition to oppose the rezoning and created a web page to provide information updates.

Commissioners rejected the proposal on the grounds the development would negatively impact property values of the surrounding property, the health, safety and general welfare of the public and would impose special hardships of the surrounding property owners.

The Board also formally ended its agreement with Fox, Chandler, Homans, Hicks and McKenna to provide legal services to the county and move forward with hiring a staff attorney

County Manager David Headley has said the decision is “mainly an efficiency and economics issue.” Headley said the county was billed $190,673.64 for legal services in 2015 and $167,530.69 thus far in 2016.

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Dawson County Closer to Hiring Staff Attorney

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DAWSONVILLE, Ga. — Although there has been no formal vote, Dawson County is one step closer to ending its relationship with the law firm of Fox, Chandler, Homans, Hicks and McKenna and hiring a staff attorney after a 12-member committee met today and began to outline the scope of work that would be expected if such a hire should take place.

Because Commissioners Jim Hamby, Julie Nix and Sharon Fausett are members of the committee, it is almost certain they will vote to make the change when the Board of Commissioners meets in regular session Tuesday.

County Manager David Headley said recently that the decision is “mainly an efficiency and economics issue.”

Headley said the county was billed $190,673.64 for legal services in 2015 and $167,530.69 thus far in 2016.

Monday’s meeting came after Chairman Mike Berg, who will be leaving the Board at the end of this month, cautioned fellow commissioners to be careful what they wish for, however.

Berg said when he was member of the Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners in the 1980s the same decision was made and, “The first couple of years we spent twice as much as we planned.”

The legal services agreement with Fox, Chandler, Homans, Hicks and McKenna will end on Dec. 31.

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