Dawson County Commission Chairman Billy Thurmond has been on the board for two years, but his experience with the county extends decades.
Thurmond began his career in 1978 on staff with Dawson County Parks and Recreation before going to EMT school, receiving his paramedic certification, overseeing operations of the county’s EMS division and later being named Emergency Services director in 2001, a position he retired from in 2015 prior to running for board chair.
Coming from that county government background, he knows all too well how operations can be slowed by policy and procedure.
Thurmond sat down with the Dawson County News earlier this month to talk about ways he wants to improve operations countywide in 2019.
While his goal from the start has been and continues to be improving communication not just internally but with the citizens as well, Thurmond is setting his sights on improving two specific things in 2019.
“To me, 2019 is going to be a success based on two words: increasing productivity and efficiency,” he said. “I say that because I think the citizens are looking for their government to be a more productive government and a lot more efficient; that’s what I want the board to work toward this year.”
Thurmond said that process started last year with the 2019 budget, when new staff was added to help make departments more productive.
“I think you’ll see huge productivity increases, especially in public works, where we added a whole other crew where they don’t actually have to stop doing what they’re doing to go and fix a problem that comes up on a daily basis,” he said.
Another way to increase productivity will be to find a solution to employee retention issues.
Thurmond said the issue is particularly affecting the public safety arena, where personnel are leaving for similar but higher paying jobs in more metropolitan areas.
“I think we have to look at that in a multifaceted way, we have to look at salaries as well as benefit packages that we offer,” Thurmond said. “And we need to start looking at who we’re actually losing employees to. We may not can match up to obviously to Dunwoody or Forsyth County but we can get closer.”
Thurmond also said he wants the board to look at updating old ordinances and policies so that they not only make sense for the county as it grows, but increase efficiency. The board recently approved an updated purchasing policy that gives the county manager permission to approve purchase of items over $25,000 that were previously budgeted for by the commission, to help cut down on wait times for those items.
Thurmond also wants the board to take a look at the Ga. 400 guidelines, which can impact which businesses decide to come to Dawson and which ones don’t, and the tree ordinance, which he said could be changed to help enhance the beauty of the county.
Something else Thurmond hopes will be influenced by his 2019 philosophy are all of the projects the county has set to complete within the next year or so.
Land for a new fire station at the corner of Reagan and Sweetwater Juno Roads was purchased late last year, and will help bring the ISO ratings of the citizens in a five-mile radius down from a 10 to a 3. Thurmond said that project will hopefully be completed by the end of the year.
The station is a SPLOST VI project, and Thurmond intends for the county to get as much bang for the buck as possible.
“I would say let’s build one that is what we need, not extravagant, where we get not only the station with the money that we have but that we also get the equipment and everything that we need to put in that station,” Thurmond said. “We have $1.75 million to get that project done.”
Thurmond said he will be recommending that the board approve fully staffing the station with firefighters.
“We’d be backing up if we didn’t staff it because otherwise you’re just building a garage,” he said.
Another SPLOST project currently underway is a
new public works and fleet maintenance facility at the transfer station, which
will bring both entities under one roof.
“That’s definitely going to increase productivity especially for fleet,” Thurmond said. “What they’re working out of now is in my opinion a disgrace and we need to make sure we provide them a good environment to work in.”
Long term, Thurmond is hopeful that citizens will be on board for SPLOST VII, which should come up for a vote in the next two years or so, and for a new one-cent tax that will solely fund transportation projects.
He said the board will be looking to create a SPLOST VII list for voters to see by the end of 2020, and that he will recommend patrol cars, ambulances and fire trucks have priority, as well as a new building for the department of health and some funds to help the Development Authority of Dawson County make its way toward self-sufficiency.
The board will also be looking to come to an agreement with the city of Dawsonville on a split for the potential Transportation Local Option Sales Tax, or TSPLOST, that could get on the ballot for voters in 2020. The original plan was that the project lists would make it to the voters this year, but the board has put the brakes on that.
“We decided to put that off to give us more time to work together and come up with a solid intergovernmental agreement that both the city and the county can agree to that would be beneficial to the citizens,” Thurmond said.
With the number one complaint at the county level being road maintenance, TSPLOST could help the county to not only maintain the road structure but improve it, like the current construction at Hwy. 53 and Lumpkin Campground Road.
Moving traffic around the Ga. 400 corridor will be a challenge, Thurmond said, and planning must begin now for what the corridor might look like in 10 or 15 years.
Those projects will cost money, and Thurmond said it makes the most sense for that money to come from sales tax.
“When you look at sales tax and 80-85 percent of that comes from people that don’t even live here, obviously that is the best methodology to generate that revenue and not property tax,” Thurmond said. “These are for projects that are going to have to be done regardless.”
Thurmond said that hopefully in 2019, citizens will see more productive and efficient use of resources to benefit the county as it continues to grow.
“It’s going to grow, there is no such thing as just putting up a gate and stopping growth...it’s going to grow so you want it to grow in the most efficient way that it can where it doesn’t change what brought you here to begin with,” Thurmond said.