County finds funding for Jones Mountain Road slide

News

JASPER, Ga. – The citizens of Pickens County breathe a sigh of relief today as County Commission Chairman Rob Jones shares information on funding for repairs of the damage that has shut down Jones Mountain Road close to two months ago.

Citizens have been avoiding the area since February 22, 2019, when the county closed the road after major storms washed out the ridge under the road and caused part of the pavement to crumble away. The road is still closed today, but Jones says this will change soon as the funding will allow them to move forward with a proposal from GeoStabilization International to reopen the road.

The county has secured $1.3 million in funding from the Georgia Transportation Infrastructure Bank with the SRTA (State Road and Tollway Authority as well as an additional $500,000 from the state’s emergency LMIG (Local Maintenance Improvement Grant) to cover the estimated $1.8 million project. These estimations came when Chairman Jones called the event a “major disaster” in early March.

Jones says that additional companies have spoken with the county about their own proposals for the repairs. But utilizing these funds requires the project to meet and adhere to DOT guidelines. Additionally, operating under the emergency status for the county, they will not wait for a bid process that could take up another two months before any repairs begin. Instead, the county is moving forward under the proposal with GeoStabilization International.

While the road will take upwards of two months to fully repair, Jones reiterated his intentions, as he explained in the March Commissioners’ Meeting, to get the road open for use of a single lane within the next two weeks. As part of the proposal, this quick turnaround will address the extra 4.7 miles that both citizens and emergency services must travel to go around the slide area.

While some points of the project are still up for negotiations in the upcoming pre-construction meetings, Jones asserts that the funding will cover the entirety of the project. However, he did note that the county could reach into the $100,000 contingency funds should the need actually arise.

Jones noted that receiving the state funding would not have been possible without a major concerted effort. Pickens County Finance Director Faye Harvey in conjunction with state representatives Steve Gooch, Rick Jasperse, andChuck Payne worked alongside Emily Dunn on the State Board to make a last-minute push for state involvement to bring funds to relieve the citizens from such a major financial impact from this emergency.

Citizens of Pickens should begin seeing the repairs and construction beginning soon and in a matter of weeks, access through the entirety of Jones Mountain Road should be returned, if only a limited one lane access.

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Jones Mountain Road a “major disaster”

News

JASPER, Ga. – “A pretty good hit for a small county like Pickens,” that is how Pickens County Commission Chairman Rob Jones referred to the Jones Mountain Road incident that lost an entire lane and part of the bank as well as ripping out a water line.

The incident occurred on February 22, 2019, after the massive rains the area had suffered in recent weeks. Chairman Jones had confirmed the road closure that is still in effect today. Original plans were that the road was to be reopened in the following week. However, the damage is larger than originally thought.

Jones confirmed with FYN today that rough estimates indicate the repair project could end up costing close to $1.8 million in total. There is a proposal before the BOC for repairs using GSI (GeoStabilization International), a company commonly used to the Georgia Department of Transportation.

Jones said the proposal, if approved, would make a priority to reopen the section as a single lane for traffic within seven days which could include some gravel over the back shoulder in an effort to alleviate the single lane squeeze. He wants the lane open as he asserted it will be at least a month before this proposal would have Jones Mountain Road fully repaired.

The $1.8 million project also represents a titanic hit to the county’s budget this year. To respond to this, Jones told FYN he is actively seeking aid from both State and Federal agencies as the county starts looking at a long-term recovery process that could easily drift into late spring.

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Pickens year-end budget review

News

JASPER, Ga. – January’s meeting of the Pickens County Board of Commissioners brought with it the final budget report of FY 2018.

Entering the new year showcases departments both over and under. Most notably, the budget sat at 97.92% ($25,648,382) of total revenue collected.

On the other side, total expenditures came in at 92.72% ($24,287,881).

Individual Departments and Offices over-budget at the end of December include:

  • Sheriff was budgeted at $6,663,915. The 2019 Actual was $6,759,370, achieving 101.43% of the budget.
  • Probation & Drug Abuse Funds was budgeted at $27,500. The 2019 ACtual was $58,984, achieving 214.49% of the budget.
  • General Gov Buildings was budgeted at $420,728. The 2019 Actual was $522,158, achieving 124.11% of the budget.
  • Superior Court & Grant Admin was budgeted at $365,124. The 2019 Actual was $395,334, achieving 140.14% of the budget.
  • Economic Development was budgeted at $56,273. The 2019 Actual was $56,768, achieving 100.88% of the budget.

Be sure to see the full budget provided by Pickens County below.

December Summary Pg. 1

December Summary Pg. 2

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Continuing operations in Pickens BOC

News

JASPER, GA. – Much of the Board’s meeting focused on continuations of present items as they reappointed members to boards and authorities and continued as the agent for a grant.

Family Connections requested the continuation of the Board of Commissioners acting as the fiscal agent of the Family Education Grant. Finance Director Faye Harvey said that either the Board of Commissioners or the Board of Education has to be the agent on the grant. She also noted that the expenses for the grant are reimbursed quarterly.

County Commission Chairman Rob Jones stated that the county has “done this for a few years now.” The motion came for approval by giving the chairman the authority to sign the agreement.

The Board also reappointed John Tatum, Phillip O’Bryant, and Jack Brown to the Pickens County Water and Sewer Authority and Lee Thrasher to the Pickens County Planning Commission.

Also continuing previous work, a resolution was passed by the board confirming the use of the land where the Veteran’s Memorial currently is and the land south of that as well as the property west of the parking lot for honoring veterans of Pickens County.

The Veteran’s Memorial currently in place stands as an achievemnt for both Pickens County and the City of Jasper, but continuing further developments are possible with the confirmation of this property.

Though this doesn’t guarantee the land for any one organization, it is set aside for that use.

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Chairman Jones optimistic after meeting with Dawson County Chairman

News, Press Release

JASPER, Ga. – A press release from Pickens County could indicate a positive movement on the recent troubles and issues of Dawson County Fire Station 8.

Pickens County Commission Chairman Robert Jones and Dawson County Commission Chairman Billy Thurmond met on Wednesday the 12th to discuss the recent discrepancies involving Fire Station 8 located off Monument Road. The meeting was productive in making clear the desires and expectations of both counties. The Chairmen agreed the most crucial aspect is to provide adequate fire protection for both counties’ citizens. The two men representing their respected Boards tentatively agreed to work together to solve these discrepancies and guarantee proper service to this area. The Chairmen also tentatively agreed to begin renegotiating a new Intergovernmental Agreement that will reflect the desires of both government agencies as well as the citizens in the affected community. Chairman Jones believes the meeting was in good faith from both sides and is appreciative for Chairman Thurmond’s willingness to build constructively on the partnership between both counties. Chairman Jones is optimistic in the direction this situation has taken and believes the result will be beneficial to all involved.

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Jones publicly addresses Fire Station issue in Work Session

News

JASPER, Ga. – The Pickens County Board of Commissioners held their December work session for department updates. With nothing else but General Discussion on the agenda, no action was discussed for later this month.

However, one point arose as Chairman Rob Jones took a moment in general discussion to address Post Commissioners Becky Denney and Jerry Barnes about a rising issue on the eastern side of Pickens County. Though nothing was set for specifics, Jones noted he wanted to get training sessions for Authority Boards in the county. With some Boards able to bond and perform other tasks in the county, Jones said he wants the people on these boards to know “what the process is and what it does to the tax base of the county or city.”

Jones also took time to address (25:25 in video) a rising issue in Pickens as he spoke pubicly that the Board has been approached about taking control of a Fire Station on Burnt Mountain. The issue has been rising between Dawson and Pickens Counties over the recent months. Dawson County Fire Station 8 is located inside of Pickens County and operated under an intergovernmental agreement. The area served by this volunteer fire station actually reaches across both counties.

Jones noted he still wants to maintain the automatic aid agreement between the two counties even as the Board goes forward with requests from several in the area. Jones stated, “Our main goal is for the protection and cooperation of the citizens in that community.”

Stay with FYN as we sit down with Rob Jones to speak about the rising issue between the two counties.

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Pickens BOC approves Sunday Sales

News

JASPER, Ga. – A Special Called Meeting saw the Pickens County Board of Commissioners approve a resolution to officially adhere to election results from November.

The Sunday Sales question on Novembers ballot resulted in 63.55% approval, that’s 8,205 votes. Though election results showed the county’s wishes, it still had to be approved by the Board. Though almost a formality, the election results were followed with a 3-0 vote by the Commissioners to approve the resolution.

Effective immediately after the vote, Chairman Rob Jones clarified with County Attorney Philip Landrum that this allows the sell of spirits on Sundays with a few notable exceptions including holidays like Easter Sunday and Christmas. This will be allowed from 11 a.m. to 11:59 p.m.  on Sundays.

Though the county already has resolutions for beer and wine, this resolution allows for the sales of distilled spirits.

 

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Sheriff’s budget in question for 2019

News

JASPER, Ga. – A full extra mil on taxes, that is what citizens could expect if no cuts are made to the over $1.1 million difference between the 2018 and 2019 budgets for the Sheriff’s office.

The difference accrues over a loss of revenue including an end to the housing inmates from Sandy Springs in the Pickens Detention Center as well as $448,043 increases in the Sheriff’s Administration, Uniform Patrol, Detention Center, and School Resource Officers areas alone.

Although the budget already had at least one point ready to cut as it covered two contingencies involving either continuing overtime pay for certain staff or hiring new employees to spread the work among them. Craig noted there are 11 openings in the office that he is seeking to fill.

Like the other offices and departments, the Sheriff’s Office is seeking the 2.5% increase in salaries for employees. There are other increases such as repairs and maintenance in the office as Craig says some of the older cruisers are showing their age, with some vehicles dating back to 1996.

While the county is attempting to push some of the costs like newer vehicles among other things into the county’s next SPLOST cycle, there are many things that Craig said need immediate attention. He also noted that many of the increases involve things the Sheriff’s Office can’t control saying, “I can’t cut employees, and I can’t cut the services we have.”

He also noted increases to the demands on the office including 37,000 in call volume in this year alone. He said there hasn’t been a major increase in staffing in recent years despite doubling the call volume in the last decade.

Plans for an additional School Resource Officer and upgrading computer systems are just a small part of the changes coming. But citizens need not wait until next year to see them beginning as December will see the office going live with the upgraded Caliber System. Next year will see the $117,965 payment for the system, though.

As the Board of Commissioners are still working on the budgets, the Sheriff’s Office is working along with them to deeper analyze the office’s revenue and expenses. Chairman Jones did note that he believed the county could handle up to a $300,000 increase in the budget without needing to change the millage rate.

FYN reached out to Chairman Jones to ask when the last time a major increase like this occurred in the county’s budget. He replied saying that the county raised the Sheriff’s budget three years ago by about $700,000 to cover inadequate salaries.

If approved as is, the Sherriff’s budget will reach $7,092,649. For comparison, Pickens’ northern neighbors, Gilmer County’s Sheriff’s Budget is proposed for 2019 to total $5,673,394, that’s $1,419,255 less for a county of similar size and population.

However, this is still early in the budget process for Pickens County. As both the Board of Commissioners and the Sheriff’s Office have agreed to continue working on the budget, citizens can continue to stay informed through the county’s work session, Thursday, November 1, and special called meetings that may arise in the coming month.

One thing to note as talks continue and a final budget is set. Though discussed and agreed to under the county budget meetings, it is ultimately the Sheriff’s budget and responsibility as the elected official in 2019.

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