Dawson County Commission Chairman Billy Thurmond provided an update on the state of Dawson County during Thursday’s Chamber of Commerce Luncheon, which included an update on the much anticipated Etowah Village project.
The application for rezoning of Etowah Village, which was slated to be brought before the Board of Commissioners on Oct. 17, has been withdrawn for the second time. Thurmond, however, expects that it will be put before the board in the future.
“It’ll come back up at some point in time. I don’t know when, but it will come back up. That is something we will have to deal with when that time comes,” Thurmond said. “The board will look at that whenever it comes back up, see what is the best option for the citizens or listen to the citizens to see what they have to say, but there’s a lot of things that could happen there today.”
Thurmond stressed that whatever happens on the property where the mixed-use community was proposed should be in line with what the commission is trying to accomplish in the county.
“A lot of times citizens don’t understand the fact that a lot of this stuff’s already zoned. It’s been zoned for years and years and years, so all they’ve got to do is go to planning,” Thurmond said. “When a rezoning comes, our job is to look at that and see how that blends with what the future needs to look like for the citizens so that’s what we try to do with each and every one of those and stay within the law. A lot of people forget that Georgia’s a property rights state. If you own land you do have some rights so it’s not just up to the government to tell you what you can and can’t do.”
Thurmond also announced the current commercial projects in the works in Dawson County which include Olive Garden, Holiday Inn, Dawsonville Self Storage, Fairfield Inn, Schroeder Industries, Hellman-Chang, Atlanta Bread, Yogli Mogli and Chipotle.
Plans for the future of Dawson County includes diversifying its businesses from being a retail-based to community to adding technology-based companies “so that when these ups and down times that we’re going to see and we know we’re going to see, we have ability to maintain a good, solid base,” according to Thurmond.
The county’s economy is also looking good, according to Thurmond, who stated that LOST and SPLOST collections are up 8.35% over 2018 which has allowed the county to roll back the millage rate for the first time since 2004. The millage rate was rolled back from 8.138 to 8.089 thanks to the revenue generated from the one percent sales taxes.
“None of us like taxes, but if you’re going to pay a tax, local option sales tax, special purpose local option sales tax, ELOST are the best taxes there are because this is one of the greatest communities you could be in as about 85 percent of that comes from somebody who comes here to visit, goes to our Outlet Mall, buys goods, pays that sales tax and goes on home. It is the best tax, if you can say that,” Thurmond said. “One penny of sales tax in this county equates to 4.86 mills of property tax. Without SPLOST and without LOST and without ELOST, and doing exactly what we’re doing today, it’d be almost 15 more mills in property taxes.”
Thurmond said the county is also in the process of conducting a salary study to make the county more competitive in the market, hoping to address the continued staffing concern that many of the county’s departments face. The latest example was a recent pay increase for first responders the board approved over the summer.
“We just did a 10 percent pay increase for firefighter/paramedic and five percent pay increase for our firefighter/EMTs. Since we did that, I think back in July, we’ve had two applications and lost three, so we’re still not in the game,” Thurmond said.
Thurmond said he called Forsyth County’s fire chief to ask what first responders are paid in the neighboring county.
“We start a firefighter/paramedic today at $15.40 with a 10 percent pay increase that we just gave. Forsyth County’s paying $16.77 so we’re still $1.37 off of our closest competitor for good, solid firefighter/paramedics,” Thurmond said. “We’re looking at everything, totality look at how we can keep the manpower that we have today.”