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Dawson County commissioners pinpoint these growth-related goals at planning retreat
BOC to set discuss this critical decision in E911 project
BOC retreat 1
Freshman District 1 Commissioner Seth Stowers ponders which goals he considers priorities for Dawson County during the BOC’s March 29 planning retreat at Amicalola Falls State Park. - photo by Julia Hansen

For the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Dawson County commissioners attended a March 29 planning retreat, held at The Lodge at Amicalola Falls State Park. 

This story continues below.

Heads from the county’s Planning and Development, Public Works and Emergency Services departments also attended the retreat.

Hardin Watkins, a public service assistant and trainer with the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute for Government, facilitated discussions during the event. 

Watkins has 32 years of experience in local government leadership, including over 9 years’ time spent as the city manager in Suwanee, Georgia. He helped the commissioners rank their top priorities and concerns for Dawson County in the next five years. 

County commissioners placed improving infrastructure as their top priority during the retreat. 

With roads and intersections in mind, the county is again considering the merits of a one-cent Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax after voters rejected the initial measure in 2020.

Freshman District 3 Commissioner Alexa Bruce described the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars often associated with just paving a single section of road and said a TSPLOST referendum could contribute to infrastructure improvements “very largely from a budget standpoint.”

“To be able to provide the infrastructure we need and correct the infrastructure we already have…that’s a lot,” Bruce said of the cost.  

“We need that revenue to make that drastic improvement to [our] infrastructure,” BOC Chairman Billy Thurmond added.  

Thurmond later clarified that a transportation study, which the Long Range Planning Committee (LRPC) has discussed, would not necessarily have to be done before any vote on a TSPLOST or in order to compile a project list. 

LRPC members are currently researching how to go about getting a transportation study done for Dawson County. The board chairman added that getting an intergovernmental agreement with the city of Dawsonville for the TSPLOST should be easy, since public works officials at both levels have already been in contact. Joint city and county projects would be a required component of a TSPLOST plan. 

Similarly, Thurmond and interim county manager Vickie Neikirk said they would meet with Dawson County Schools officials to determine whether the latter intends to put their next education SPLOST on the ballots this November. 

Thurmond said he expects to talk more with BOC members later this month about a rough project list. Then, discussions about a TSPLOST could land on an agenda for one of the board’s May meetings. 

County officials would also have to coordinate with the Board of Elections and Registration about when exactly to get the TSPLOST on the ballot. If this November’s election is the goal, they would have to work to meet an August deadline, as state law dictates special elections have to be scheduled by 90 days before a vote. 

Thurmond as well as Neikirk and Public Works Director Robert Drewry would have to coordinate on this county initiative. 

Other goals included maintaining community identity through measures like the county’s forthcoming comprehensive plan update, improving board communication with county department heads and using mechanisms like the Development Authority of Dawson County to drive local growth of more medical and tech-related industry and more median-wage jobs. 

The county is in the process of hiring its next county manager, which Bruce added would help with communicating goals and expectations between the board and staff.

Freshman District 1 Commissioner Seth Stowers said he was “pleasantly surprised” by the concrete action steps they got out of the retreat.

“Me coming into this, I had no government experience whatsoever, so I learned so much today,” Stowers said. “Thank you to staff members for saying those tough things we may not want to hear but for being honest with us…if we don’t know some of those tough problems, we don’t know that we need a solution.”

Bruce shared that the work before her and her colleagues “feels less overwhelming now that we have a potential plan.”

“Now, the real work begins. This was the easy part,” said District 2 Commissioner Chris Gaines. “Now, it becomes our challenge to implement it and put the energy, effort, passion and intentionality to make these things become reality…and that’s not just [for] us but for staff as well.”

Next meetings

Talks on Dawson County’s new emergency operations and E911 center will continue during the 

Board of Commissioners’ next work session. 

Development consultant Jim King will present the BOC with further pros and cons to help them decide whether to place the E911 center off of Ga. 53 West in Dawsonville or next to Fire Station 2 near Ga. 400, according to the board’s April 6 work session agenda. 

The EOC and E911 center is one of several projects voters approved as part of a Dawson County Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax in 2021. That SPLOST VII measure included a planned $5.5 million for the EOC and E911 center and $3 million for a radio system upgrade, a total of $8.5 million.

The board is also expected to decide on changes to the county’s land use rules during their subsequent voting session.
BOC meetings are held every first and third Thursday, with work sessions starting at 4 p.m. and voting sessions that immediately follow. People can attend the meetings in person at the second-floor assembly room of the Dawson County Government Center, located at 25 Justice Way in downtown Dawsonville. 

The public can also watch live streams of the meetings on the Dawson County Government’s Facebook page.