The 6 p.m. voting session of the July 18 Board of Commissioners meeting began with the unanimous acceptance of the withdrawal of ZA 19-05, the rezoning request surrounding the Etowah Village project.
The withdrawal had been expected since Etowah Village Partners submitted a letter of withdrawal on July 17. However, since the letter was not filed ten days before the meeting, the withdrawal still had to be formally accepted by the Board.
“It is with much regret that we must withdraw our Rezoning Application. Upon careful consideration of the responses from county planning committee and county board of commission, one of our primary investor[s] has decided not to proceed with the development,” read the letter.
The letter stated the primary reason for the investor’s withdrawal from the project to be “the compounding requirements and restrictions placed upon the property through the continuing zoning process,” and especially the “non-approval” of the portion of the project located on the west side of the Etowah River.
After the withdrawal, the Board was scheduled to hear Sheriff Jeff Johnson’s request for additional funding for staff pay raises. The request is the latest in Johnson’s financial battle with the Board of Commissioners over officer pay, dating back to 2016, when Johnson unsuccessfully sued the county over funding.
Before the Sheriff even began his request, Board of Commissioners Chairman Billy Thurmond spoke up.
“After looking at this action further, the fact that you have the authority to give them that raise without coming to this Board — there’s really no need for this board to take action or vote on that, because it’s well within your authority to do so,” said Thurmond.
Dawson County District 2 Commissioner Chris Gaines also chimed in on the subject.
“This whole Board respects our law enforcement,” said Gaines. “In this particular situation, it’s not our call. As we go into budget season, we will take anything into consideration when we see what our revenues are going to be.
“You have every right to do what you need to do within your own department with the resources you’ve been allocated,” Gaines added.
The Sheriff, for his part, remained optimistic.
“We were looking for a long-term commitment [of funding from the Board], but I respect the Board’s ability to not to be able to forecast that far along,” said Sheriff Johnson. “My concern, and obviously we want to caution our folks, is that if we get a raise, we may have something we need to buy and then we’re committed to that, and most raises don’t come with a termination date on it. So we want to really caution our folks to be careful through the end of the year and see how the next budget cycle process goes.”
“But thankfully,” Johnson added, “we’re close to the budget process or we’ve started the budget process already, so hopefully the funds will be there in 2019 to carry this on. It [a raise for police officers] is a win for Dawson County. From a recruiting standpoint, from a retention standpoint, we’re in a lot better shape than we were.”
At the 4 p.m. work session, much of the focus turned to a proposed updated to the county fee schedule — the list of fees charged for things like building permits and business licenses.
According to the presentation given to the Board of Commissioners by Planning and Development Director Jameson Kinley, most of Dawson County’s current fees are significantly lower than those in surrounding counties.
For example, a commercial building permit for a new 4,000-sq.-ft. building costs $480 in Dawson County. The same permit costs $1,200 in Lumpkin County, $960 in Hall County, and $850 in Union County. White County’s permit also costs $480.
This proposed increase in fees is in direct response to the recent lowering of the county impact fees — the fees paid by businesses to offset the financial impact to the county for necessary increases in public services.
Impact fees were lowered earlier this year to bring them in line with neighboring counties.
One of the main differences between impact fees and other fees placed on businesses is that impact fees can only be used for very specific purposes related to individual projects. These other permitting and licensing fees go into the general budget to be used as the county sees fit.
“These rates have not been reviewed in almost 20 years and are well below the rates that are charged in the counties around us,” said Gaines. “This simply gets us in line and provides some additional funding to address increased needs.”