Major Fire Dept issues rise in March City Council

News

JASPER, Ga. – Several issues have mounted up on the Jasper Fire Department in the last month.

The issues are also mounting into a major budget issue for the city as they seek repair Fire Engine #2 from engine troubles and deal with an unbudgeted Fire Interface Purchase. Both of the issues come amid a new vehicle purchase for the Fire Department as well.

While the Council did agree that the engine repairs could be covered as Chief Steve Roper suggested he had a few projects that he could put off until next year in order to pay for the major issue of the repair, including a driveway repair and a painting project.

As the Fire Engine requires an “in-frame repair” as Roper called it, the need could cost nearly $30,000 if the engine block needs to be fully rebuilt. However, Roper also said there is a chance the issue could be a smaller issue needing a gasket replacement costing $7,500.

The council approved up to $30,000 for the repairs to come from the line items of the other projects.

However, this was not the biggest issue the Fire Department saw as the next item on the agenda listed a 911 Interface Purchase.

Roper informed the council that the department has been in process of establishing a Computer Assisted Dispatch interface since 2018 and has seen stalls throughout last fall and winter. This system was picked up again this year with a total cost of $18,120.

The interface, according to Roper, will allow all information that 911 has taken into the system and dumps the information into Ipads for users to instantly access the information, history, and conditions among other things. This not only accumulates and accesses this information, but cuts down on radio traffic and aids in reporting for the city as well.

However, the $15,120 has been spent to proceed with this project, but was not budgeted in the 2019 budget. Jasper City Councilmember Anne Sneve clarified in the meeting that it was budgeted at one point but postponed. Having never returned to the budget, the City is now facing the $18,120 unbudgeted expense and seeking a way to cover the cost.

Roper said that he had a conversation with the City Manager, Jim Looney at the time, earlier this year about the project and its importance to the city overall. He said, “He gave me the go ahead to proceed with the project, and that’s where I am right now.”

While Jasper City Councilmember Tony Fountain noted that if the engine issue comes in to cost $7,500, they could could use the remaining funds to cover the $18,120 for the interface system, he also questioned what the city would do to respond if the engine took the entire $30,000.

Mayor John Weaver offered his opinion saying, “I think we need to give a stern reprimand that we did not know that we had approval for a $18,120 item before this council.”

Jim Looney was present at the meeting and took responsibility for the mistake as he said his understanding was that it was budgeted, but has now discovered it was not.

As the council moves forward, they are still seeking funds to cover the expense in case the engine repairs monopolized the excess funds from the canceled Fire Department projects.

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High tension continues into 2019 at Jasper City Council

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JASPER, Ga. – The City Council is continuing to see dissension among the ranks as a disagreement has now arisen about organizational meeting appointments.

As the January meeting reached item “VI. Organizational Meeting,” Council member Dr. Sonny Proctor stated he wanted more information on these appointments saying, “I think the council should have prior knowledge of who the appointments are, what the duties are. We need to make sure that we educate them  to do their jobs properly.”

The point of debate came from the council members wanting more information and control on the decisions before coming to open meeting. Mayor John Weaver contended against the point saying that he, as mayor, makes the decisions to put before the council during meetings.

Weaver consulted city attorney Will Pickett, Jr. who stated, “The mayor has the right of appointment and the council can decide whether or not to approve your appointment.”

Proctor disagreed with Pickett saying, “I don’t think that’s what the code says.”

Moving along on the item, Weaver presented three appointments for the council’s approval, Luke Copeland to the Planning and Zoning Commission, Karen Proctor to the Planning and Zoning Board of Appeals, Don Boggus to the Housing Authority. All of these were re

All three appointments saw a motion from Tony Fountain, but no second. Each failed for that lack of a second.

Weaver stated during the failed motions, “This is the chaos that prevails.”

Pickett noted that without new appointments those serving would continue to serve until an appointment is approved.

Proctor stated after the motions failed that he was trying to prevent the chaos. He said, “The council deserves input on who serves on these committees. And we’re not saying we don’t disagree with your appointments, but we deserve input on it.”

With Proctor asserting he only wanted input on what goes on, Weaver responded saying, “Sir, you’ve got more input than you can imagine, so congratulations.”

There were committee appointments for council members that were approved. Finance committee includes Tony Fountain and John Foust. Water Committee is Tony Fountain. Public Safety Committee is Dr. Sonny Proctor. Street Department in Anne Sneve. Parks is John Foust. The JYSA Liaison is John Foust. Roper-Perrow Property is Jim Looney and Sonny Proctor. These were approved unanimously by the council.

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Jasper still waiting for new City Manager

News

JASPER, Ga. – Despite a special called meeting of the Jasper City Council with a “City Manager Appointment” item on the agenda, no new public information is available.

At this time, Mayor John Weaver said that the council is recomending the current City Manager, Jim Looney, to move forward with the process. This means that Looney will enter into negotiations with the candidates and move forward in the hiring process. There is no new information about the issue at this time, but with Monday’s December 10 day of interviews, it does meant he city is moving closer to an announcement of their new manager.

 

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City Council Talks Festivals in August

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JASPER, Ga. – The Jasper City Council’s August meeting saw a change in the traffic direction for this year’s Marble Festival in October as well as for the popular JeepFest event starting at the end of August.

Haley Bouchie, President of the Jasper Merchants Association, presented a request to close a portion of Main Street during the festival. The road is already to be closed for the Road Race and the Parade that are scheduled for the weekend’s festivities. The new request would see the road staying closed from 6 a.m. on Saturday to 6 p.m. on Sunday evening.

Bouchie stated the joint venture between the Jasper Merchant’s Association and the Pickens County Chamber would have security for the vendors on the street overnight. The request was made last year as well but denied. After several close calls with the traffic and pedestrians, according to Bouchie, they have returned with the request for this year’s festival.

Bouchie also told the council that they would be working alongside the merchants on the street to improve and increase their foot traffic despite the loss of the parking spaces on the street.

Expanding the Marble Festival up to Main Street cause a large discussion on how to get traffic around the closed street including Dixie, Mary, or even Whitfield streets. Sitting down with police and businesses to discuss traffic by foot and vehicle were assured to be forthcoming in preparation of the event.

Ultimately approved by unanimous decision, the event will see the road closed to traffic from 6 a.m. on Saturday, October 6, to 6 p.m. on Sunday evening, October 7.

The same request came for September’s JeepFest event asking to close Main Street for a “Show & Shine” of Jeeps lined up on the street. City Manager Jim Looney presented a letter from Kris Stancil of the Picken’s County Sheriff’s Office requesting the closure of the street on Friday, August 31, starting at 5 p.m. and ending at 10 p.m. after a concert.

This is not the first time this request has been presented, having been done for years now. The request was approved for the event. Mayor John Weaver commented saying that the Jeeps take over all of Main Street with hundreds of Jeeps lined up down the road for the Show & Shine.

An additional request came from Wingsology for the JeepFest event. Requesting an outside beer and wine license, Wingsology is also a request from previous years.

The council approved the request unanimously as well.

With these events coming up quickly, citizens should be aware of the closures of Main Street during these events as to avoid congestion as they seek to travel through town or attempt to find parking. Shuttles are also being made available for the Marble Festival specifically. Citizens can find the shuttle areas by visiting the Marble Festival Website.

 

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Brewery Ordinance Changes prep Jasper for new business

News

JASPER, Ga. – Final approval came this month in the City of Jasper’s ordinance changes for breweries in the area.

While details were discussed last month on setting the costs for the license at $1,500, it was the July 2 meeting that that approved the final adoption as well as the effective date of the ordinance change to the alcoholic beverage ordinance allowing the business as well as the zoning ordinance change to include Brewery in the accepted uses under General Commercial (C-2) and General Industry (M-1).

The amendment allows brewers to manufacture malt beverages and beer in the city limits of Jasper and provides for the creation of the authorized license for that end. Additionally, City Attorney Bill Pickett confirmed the breweries were allowed to have consumption on premises and were exempt from city restrictions for consumption.

This means the allowance of tastings and similar events on premises of the brewery.

With the new ordinance, last month’s meeting indicated that other popular options at breweries would be available such as growlers and crowlers. For those still curious, a growler is a container or vessel that is used for the transport of beer. It can also be described as an air-tight jug, typically made out of glass, ceramic, or stainless steel that allows you to take draft beer from one place to another without a degradation of quality. A crowler is similar but in can form.

Citizen interest has already been shown as well as the business interest of at least one brewery to come. The only question citizens have raised so far is how the facilities will handle parking. A subject the council indicated would be handled with the zoning into only industry and C-2 commercial zonings.

 

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Sharktop Ridge land annexed into Jasper

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JASPER, Ga. – The second part of the development of Sharktop Ridge Road has reached its conclusion with a city approval to annex the land into the city.

Originally meeting last month to discuss the topic, the council had agreed to table the item to allow for a more detailed study on Burnt Mountain Road as feasible alternatives to access the land being developed.

The annexation is a part of a Planning and Zoning issue revolving around Paul King looking to have a residential development in the area connecting to Sharktop Ridge. The development would host around 23 homes, according to King. While he would utilize city water for the project, the sewage would be dealt with in septic tanks.

Three new points of detail were offered in favor of keeping the entrance at Sharktop Ridge Road including a survey from Chastain & Associates, P.C., a cost estimate on building the road from Burnt Mountain Road, and an accident report on the intersection of Cove Road and Sharktop Ridge Road.

Mark Chastain of Chastain & Associates, P.C., speaks with the city council on his study of accessing the development from Burnt Mountain Road.

Mark Chastain of Chastain & Associates, P.C., speaks with the city council on his study of accessing the development from Burnt Mountain Road.

Mark Chastain was on hand from Chastain & Associates, P.C. to discuss what it would take to build the entrance down from Burnt Mountain Road. Speaking mostly on the grade, or slope, the road would have to take and how long it would need to be to not exceed the maximum grade. Chastain did say that an entrance from Burnt Mountain Road could be possible, but it would need to be close to a quarter mile at maximum grade on the road. He went on to say that he had originally recommended to those looking to develop the property because “it’s a safety aspect of having to climb or descend at maximum grade for that long to achieve the difference in elevation from highway to the road.”

He explained later that fire code preference is a 12% grade, meaning you rise 12 feet for every 100 feet you travel. Chastain continued saying that in his time in engineering and surveying experience, traveling at maximum grade for that long could cause extra stress to vehicles. Without some way to level out or alleviate stress on the vehicles, you could approach an increased risk to situations “where clutches fail.”

However, this suggested that if added points of leveling for vehicle stress relief or other extra steps were taken, it could be possible. Chastain noted however that, in his opinion, Sharktop Ridge Road provides a better, more pleasant, grade to make it a safer entrance relative to Burnt Mountain Road.

Paul King, of Sharktop Ridge LLC., offers his costs estimate of changing entrances to the development, calling it a "deal killer."

Paul King, of Sharktop Ridge LLC., offers his costs estimate of changing entrances to the development, calling it a “deal killer.”

The second point came when Paul King, the representative of Sharktop Ridge, LLC., presented a quote he received on accomplishing the Burnt Mountain Road entrance, he noted an extra $200,000 in costs on top of the current costs of developing the property. King called the extra costs a “deal killer” for the project.

King noted the original plan from Chastain saying he didn’t want to spend the extra money on a “marginal, somewhat unsafe road to come into the development.” He went on to say that the road would also take out one of the planned lots for the development representing a loss to the usable residences in addition to the road costs.

Finally, King asked Jasper Police Chief Greg Lovell to comment on the accidents at the intersection of Cove Road and Sharktop Ridge Road regarding a comment from the June meeting indicating an already bad intersection due to a high number of accidents.

Chief Lovell reported there were no wrecks there in two years. Though two accidents were noted, one in 2007 and another in 2009. However, citizens present at this meeting still noted numerous instances where they had to quickly slam on their breaks or nearly missed other vehicles at the location. They also commented saying that the council should take into account all the extra traffic they would be bringing to location as well.

Though the council did ultimately approve the annexation, this is not the end of the discussion of Sharktop Ridge. The council noted several times that they would revisit the issue. They discussed options such as if the city could place certain restrictions on the development. Mayor John Weaver noted that the city had an option of a planned unit development. He noted that the council could approve the planned development before the council and any change made would have to come before the council. However, all these ideas will come later.

City Manager Jim Looney stated, “There will be opportunities for the developer to work with the mayor and council, and city manager,  on what it looks like if it is annexed in and developed.”

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Health benefits discussion ends in Jasper’s March meeting

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JASPER, Ga. – On the agenda since January, Jasper City Council has been discussing self-funding for medical insurance versus insuring normally as they have been for years. They have had both Matt Bidwell, of MSI Benefits, and Kevin Godfrey, of Godfrey-Downs, looking through their contacts and markets to bring forth proposals to the council for insurance.

The city ultimately went with the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) recommended by Bidwell and MSI Benefits. Though the original recommendation was a $1,500 deductible plan, the council’s motion approved an alternate plan with a $1,000 deductible. The new plan’s premiums for the city would come to $1,104,163.00, around a $52,000 increase, which is far less than the near $300,000 increase the city was originally looking at during the beginning of the year. According to Bidwell, this plan is just above a 4 percent increase over the $1,500 deductible plan for the city.

The plan also allows, according to Bidwell, for any employee receiving compensation in the form of workman’s comp or a salary from the city to be covered under the insurance. This covers the issue the city had with their current insurance preparing to drop an officer from coverage who was injured in the line of duty.

The city may be closing down North and South Main street once a month in favor of a recurring Chamber event. Setting the events as May through August, the Chamber is attempting to establish the Saturday Social in the Mountains as a tourism event. The issue came before council to close South and North Main Street for the social events. While representatives had no set point of exactly what every event would entail, they did suggest they could include live music, children’s events, food, and other activities. Ultimately approved, the item passed with two votes, as Dr. Sonny Proctor and Anne Sneve abstained due to their involvement with the Chamber.

The council also approved a number of previously budgeted expenses including $14,000 to swap out the Cove Well emergency generator, $11,900 to rebuild pump four across from Shiloh Church, and the previously discussed 3 percent raise for city employees.

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Council member resigns to take new position

News

JASPER, Ga. – Jasper City Council Member Jim Looney resigned during the Jasper City Council Meeting Monday, Feb. 5.

Resigning so that he may take the interim position of city manager, Looney stated it was due to information advised to him that state law prohibits a councilman from holding another municipal office without resigning from his council seat.

Looney read the state code in the council’s meeting: “A councilman or alderman of a municipal corporation shall be ineligible to hold any other municipal office during the term of office for which the councilman or alderman was chosen unless he first resigns as councilman or alderman before entering such other office.”

Immediately after his resignation, the city council officially nominated Looney as city manager for Jasper. As part of the motion made, the city manager position was set “until such time as specific duties and powers of the mayor and city manager are clearly delineated by the city council, that the city manager report to the mayor and city council collectively.”

Jasper Mayor John Weaver recognized members of the public to speak at the meeting. The council was questioned about the public knowledge of the proceeding involving the transfer of the city manager position from Weaver and now to Looney.

Jasper City Council Member Dr. Sonny Proctor commented saying he had asked about the situation last year and began researching the position and the separation of positions. Having spoken on the topic several times, Proctor confirmed there was closed discussion about personnel issues in executive sessions, but the votes were taken in public.

In addition to this resignation and appointment to the city manager position, Looney’s move leaves a city council seat open. During their meeting, the council approved a call for election and set the qualifying fee at $35 for the position. With details still coming about the approval, Jasper will be seeing more details about the election in the coming weeks.

One last comment from Proctor came before the final vote on the issue. “This is a time for us all to come together, and I know it doesn’t feel like that is what’s going on,” Proctor said. “I’m not trying to divide us. I’m trying to bring us together, in a different way I understand that. But I want us to collaborate and work together.

The official vote appointing Looney as city manager came 3-1 with council member Tony Fountain being the dissenting vote.

As the meeting moved through the rest of the agenda items, it came time to adjourn the meeting. However, Mayor John Weaver took time to make one final comment before adjournment saying, “I have been mayor/city manager for 25 years, 5 months, 2 days and 15 minutes, maybe 4 hours and 15 minutes. Anyway, I have enjoyed my stay here and I feel like by being the mayor/city manager, being the evil thing that it is, has allowed the city of Jasper to grow from a $1.6 million budget to over $12 million without raising taxes and with only one water rate increase. I feel like by being the mayor/city manager has given me the opportunity to go visit people, look them in the eye, and argue the case of the city of Jasper better than any city manager that you could possibly have.”

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