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BOC talks library, IT upgrades
Dawson County courthouse

The Board of Commissioners took the next step in planning for future upgrades to the Dawson County Library during their April 7 meetings. 

Board members voted 4-0 for the county to commit to the 10 percent portion of a “90-10” capital outlay grant, a critical step in the library’s process for securing state funding.

Chestatee Regional Library System Director Leslie Clark shared a preliminary estimate of $671,000 for renovation and construction costs, of which the county’s obligations would be about $67,100.

Once the library system gets a commitment letter from the county, they can work toward getting on the capital projects list, which is updated during each state legislative session, Clark said. 

While CRLS would most likely start at the bottom of the list, they could work their way up faster with a mix of support from the community, state legislators and a letter-writing campaign. 

The library system’s first opportunity to fund the updates would be in fiscal year 2024, or next July.

“With an active county board, library and regional board, I think we can move this project faster, especially since it’s [just] 10 percent, and we'd like to be able to do the [room dedication] fundraising we mentioned at our last meeting,” Clark added.

District 2 Commissioner Chris Gaines wanted to clarify the definition of impact fees and what projects qualify for those monies. 

“If the library is working to expand or improve service delivery to be able to facilitate more people using services, [it] may qualify for impact fees,” he said.

Chairman Billy Thurmond didn’t think the library upgrades would fall under impact fees, since the Dawson County location won’t be expanding its footprint. So, the board deferred to county attorneys to study the matter and come back to them with an answer. 

Vice chairman and District 4 Commissioner Emory Dooley reminded his colleagues that the earliest they’d be able to move forward on the updates would be spring next year, so they have time to collect more information. However, he cautioned against waiting too long, should projected project costs increase. 

IT upgrades approved

The BOC also voted 4-0 in favor of a much-needed email system upgrade that IT Director Herman Thompson said would bring the county’s email system “into the 21st century.” 

With the affirmative vote, he and his staff will be able to transition the older email system from being hosted locally to being hosted in Microsoft’s Office 365 / Microsoft 365.

The upgrade will happen across county departments, including the Dawson County Sheriff’s Office and almost all of the government’s 500 full-time and part-time employees. Currently, emails account for about 65 percent of all employee communications, Thompson said. 

The approval follows the county’s Microsoft Exchange server’s multiple downtimes, open records requests delays and a looming end-of-life date for the server, meaning it wouldn’t receive new security updates after 2025. 

A more routine upgrade would not help the county, Thompson said, explaining he and his staff have already tried implementing smaller fixes, to no avail. 

The project was initially planned for 2023, but Thompson explained the timeline’s been moved up because of all the issues they’ve been having. 

With this project’s implementation, the email server will no longer be housed inside the Dawson County Government Center. County email users will receive a 50-gigabyte mailbox; spam control and virus protection; Microsoft Teams access; one terabyte of storage on Microsoft OneDrive; and full, regularly-updated versions of  Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook.

The cost is $44,750 for each of the next two years, starting from the date of implementation. 

As part of this larger change, the county will also be changing its domain name to be to promote increased trust among citizens, Thompson said, adding that anyone can go online and buy a “.org” domain. 

The county will still retain the old domain, and employees with “.org” emails will automatically have their emails forwarded to the new “.gov” accounts. 

New emails will be created for employees in stages by department. 

“This upgrade, except for the work that the IT department did after the 2018 hack, is probably the largest upgrade that the IT department in Dawson County has ever done because it affects every single user,” Thompson said. “Now that we have additional staff, we can actually make this happen.” 

Gaines asked whether the email changeover would be cumbersome if IT had to create a completely new pathway to access Outlook emails and calendars.

Thompson clarified that it should be easier to set up new accounts and have messages from the old accounts forwarded, rather than importing the old accounts.

Dooley commented that the server and email changeover was something the county “has to do,” given the worsening tech issues Thompson described. 

“People can’t get their work done on time,” District 1 Commissioner Sharon Fausett said. 

“One of our big things is productivity and looking for any ways that we can help with that,” Thompson added. “If county staff aren’t working, that’s an issue, and we don't want the issue to be with IT.”

Bathroom bid denied

The BOC also denied a proposed bid of $169,883 for a new bathroom next to Rock Creek Park’s popular splash pad. 

If approved, the bathroom would have been funded with $129,374 from SPLOST VI funds and $40,509 from impact fee funds.

Gaines made the motion for the bid to be denied and to allow staff to proceed with looking at other opportunities to facilitate putting a bathroom there

“The timing’s not efficient for using taxpayer money in an efficient manner,” he said. “If it was my personal taxpayer dollars, there's no way I would support this.” 

He recommended staff look at rebidding or table the project until economic winds shift and construction costs are in a different, more favorable position, and Thurmond agreed, suggesting looking at a portable bathroom option. 

Commissioners also looked at a proposed city annexation of a three-acre area along Cleve Wright Road. Since they aren’t objecting to the measure, they didn’t have to vote on it. 

Both County Manager David Headley and Planning Director Sharon Farrell said this was a small residential parcel surrounded by city land, and its annexation wouldn’t create an island. Rather, it is “kind of its own enclave now,” Farrell added. 

Dooley was in agreement with the proposal “as long as it meets the criteria for annexation.” 

Gaines asked planning and legal staff if they’d done their due diligence in ensuring the county would have no potential issues with it. 

County Attorneys Jeff Strickland and Angela Davis reminded the board that for the annexation process, the county has a limited amount of time, 30 calendar days, to raise an objection and file a response. The county received the document on March 16, and it was dated March 14.

“At the macro level, we need to make sure we’re looking at any annexation because as we all know, annexations can potentially create more service delivery on the county’s behalf without us having any say-so,” Gaines said. “We need to very seriously take every annexation that comes before us and moving forward, we need to take a deeper dive.”

Strickland said that the county would only have a week to provide a response but suggested the option of a county attorney working with staff to do a further review. 

“We were talking about wasting money earlier,” District 3 Commissioner Tim Satterfield said. “This would be a waste of money we can’t do anything about, and we’re going to spend money looking into [it] with several hours of attorneys’ fees and have the same results.” 

Satterfield added he could disagree with the idea of the annexation but given the particulars, there’s “nothing to be done about it.”

Gaines elaborated that three acres can make a difference in allowing bigger developments or businesses to happen or not. 

“We have to cross our t’s and dot our i’s with annexations moving forward because it’s a long- term cost on the county regardless of what happens,” he said.