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“Ahead of the curve” : Board of Commissioners talk funding for these Dawson County jobs
BOC employees 3 2 2023
Parks and Rec director Matt Payne asks for two more employees during the BOC’s work session on March 2, 2023. - photo by Julia Hansen

CORRECTION: An earlier online version of this article misstated that the Board of Commissioners had already voted on a request for two additional park employees. That vote hasn’t happened yet and is scheduled for the board’s March 16 meeting.

When Parks and Recreation Director Matt Payne recently asked for two more employees, he stressed the increase in traffic to Dawson County greenspaces in the past five years. 

Sports participation runs until 10 p.m., seven days a week— a 41% growth in program registration since 2018, Payne told the Board of Commissioners’ at their March 2 work session. 

Payne’s request included a full-time athletic assistant and maintenance worker. The positions would cost a combined $113,812 out of the county’s general fund balance. 

The board is set to make a decision about the Parks and Rec request at their March 16 voting session, which will occur immediately after their 4 p.m. work session that evening. BOC meetings are held in the second-floor assembly room of the Dawson County Government Center, located at 25 Justice Way in downtown Dawsonville. 

“Another coordinator to help with those nights, weekends [and] to help with some of those programs…is really becoming vital,” Payne said. 

The new athletic assistant position will pay a rate equivalent to $15.54/hr, and the maintenance worker will be paid at a grade equal to $14.09/hr.

The parks and recreation director previously asked for the two positions while the county drafted its FY2023 budget.

Although Payne called his current coordinators “ the best in north Georgia,” he did acknowledge that the uptick in program participation had them spread “really thin.”

Even with an initial decrease in park visitors because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the loss of the annual Relay for Life event, there’s been a 50% increase in overall park foot traffic.

And that number is only going to increase, Payne said.

The additional maintenance is partially a byproduct of that increased foot traffic. This new maintenance worker will work under a supervisor at Rock Creek Park but take care of River and War Hill parks in southern Dawson County. 

County officials will also have to consider “the elephant in the room,” the parks along Lake Lanier that Dawson County plans to take over in the future, he added. 

“We want to be ahead of the curve, the growth that we all know is coming,” Payne said. 

District 2 Commissioner Chris Gaines asked about the status of lakeside park negotiations. Payne explained that he and his colleagues are currently “in deep negotiations” with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and he plans to come back before the board again when he has a better idea of what additional staff will be required at that point. 

Deputy coroner

The board also approved a combined position for one person to serve as a deputy coroner with the Dawson County Coroner’s Office.

David Allen, a full-time firefighter paramedic with Dawson County Emergency Services, has been appointed as a new deputy coroner. 

Because the deputy role was a part-time role, the county combined it with Allen’s existing job as a firefighter paramedic to calculate his specific pay rate and be compliant with federal law, HR Director Kristi Finley told the board. 

Allen’s pay rate will be $34.62/hr, and since the deputy coroner and firefighter positions already exist, no additional funding is needed, Finley said. 

BOC Chairman Billy Thurmond pointed to Finley and interim county manager Vickie Neikirk’s work on the matter, noting that it was “very important for the coroner’s office to fill this position,” as coroner Ted Bearden and his colleagues had been “picking up the slack themselves for about the last two months.” 

In January, former deputy coroner James Wiggins was arrested and charged for alleged possession of child pornography. He was subsequently terminated from his deputy coroner role. 

Bearden cited the move from case fees to salary-style pay as a positive step for the role. The coroner and Bearden Funeral Home president underlined the local importance of funeral and coroner-related work. 

“Dawson County per capita, for the last 10 years, has had the highest suicide rate of any county in the state of Georgia,” Bearden said. “There have been at least three or four suicides this year already.” 

“We work a lot of unusual cases here for one reason or another, but we try to do it with dignity,” Bearden added. “ We try to do it with respect, and we try to do it knowing we’re representing this county when we’re doing our jobs.”

Help Resources
  • 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline: Call 9-8-8; text TALK to 838255 or start a chat at
  • The Veterans Crisis Line can be reached by dialing 988 and pressing 1.
    Georgia Crisis and Access Line (GCAL): 1-800-715-4225; text and chat through the My GCAL app, available on Google Play and in the App Store
  • Crisis Text Line: Text TALK to 741741 or start a chat via WhatsApp
  • The Trevor Project (LGBTQ): 1-866-488-7386; text START to 678678 or start a chat at

Treatment court

Dawson County Treatment Services will again apply for the Drug Treatment Court grant after the board approved director Jessi Emmett’s request to seek the grant’s 2024 version, worth $598,938.

The grant requires an in-kind match of about $35,872 from the county, which will help continue to fund one position in her office, Emmett told the board. 

If the grant is awarded again, it will pay for counselor and surveillance officer positions, individual and group therapy sessions, drug testing supplies and professional development. 

Emmett estimated the total economic impact of the local drug court was about $505,000, “when considering the [program] graduates and community service done in Dawson County.”

That’s $18,429 in direct cost savings for the county, she added.