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Future county district map, budget and more covered at recent BOC meetings
Dawson County Commissioners 2021

After collection efforts for the decennial U.S. Census recently concluded, the Board of Commissioners took the important step on Dec. 2 of rubber stamping Dawson County’s local redistricting plan.

Ultimately, the state legislature will have the final say in approving such plans for Dawson and other Georgia counties. 

County attorney Angela Davis described the revised voting map schematics as keeping in mind population changes and other criteria outlined under the Voting Rights Act. 

The Dawson County government opted for the state’s Legislative and Congressional Reapportionment Office to draw up the suggested map changes. The reapportionment office is a joint entity of the state’s General Assembly. 

Dawson voting district maps.jpg
Courtesy of Dawson County government.

In Dawson County, districts 2 and 4, represented by Chris Gaines and Emory Dooley respectively, saw the largest population increase over the last decade. In response, districts 1 and 3, represented by Sharon Fausett and Tim Satterfield, were expanded to allow for equality of Dawson districts based on population size. 

District 3 was expanded into the easternmost portions of District 2, while District 1 was expanded into the westernmost parts of districts 2 and 4. 

“With respect to the Voting Rights Act, often the focus there is on ensuring that there’s a preservation of majority-minority districts,” said Davis during the meeting. “That really wasn’t an issue with the demographics in Dawson I think it’s one of the more simple map changes I’ve seen.”

The attorney added that all of the incumbent commissioners and school board members are maintained in their area, so nobody will be kicked out of their district and put into a new one. 

County email system issues resolved

It’s been a busy week for the county’s IT department, which detected attempts on Nov. 29 and Dec. 1 to hack into the local government’s email system using malicious emails. 

Chief Financial Officer Vickie Neikirk read a statement from county manager David Headley, who wasn’t able to attend the meeting. His statement clarified that the events were “not a hack” and “at no time were Dawson County servers ever infiltrated, and no data was accessed.”

IT Director Herman Thompson explained that the events were attempts to exploit part of Microsoft Exchange software used for the county’s email infrastructure.  

With a virtual window into the email system, the perpetrators could see the email lists and manipulate them as if they were physically inside the building. Fortunately, they never intruded into the government center, and no county equipment was infected. 

Emails could be sent as if they were sent by the individual with the county email. In other words, it was a sophisticated spoof. 

“Right now, we’re safe and secure. We’ve had outside parties verify this, and all of our email and data is safe and secure. All of the county data is as well,” Thompson added. 

While he couldn’t guarantee that perpetrators wouldn’t find a new hole in Microsoft software, he did outline what is being done to remedy the situation. 

Measures taken include geo-fencing, verifying all 600-plus county emails and confirming firewalls’ and routers’ strengths. The IT director said it will help to have the additional IT staff as authorized by the recently-approved budget. He added that a fiscal year 2023 move from an in-house server to cloud-based Microsoft Office 365 could also help.

Budget ins and outs

During the Nov. 18 voting session, the county commissioners gave the fiscal year 2022 budgets their stamps of approval. 

Updated figures have the FY 2022 general fund budget clocking in at $32,486,680. That includes the millage rate of 7.625 mils, down from 7.885 mils. The county budgets total an overall $57,339,342. 

The general fund budget for next year includes money that the tax commissioner’s office requested as part of a separate motion the night the budget was approved. A state mandate to increase bailiff pay must be voted on and approved before an amendment can be made to include it in the 2022 budget. 

To recap, the FY2022 budget includes new or upgraded positions for: 

  • a county marshal

  • custodian

  • general mechanic

  • IT network administrator and two technicians

  • a senior judicial assistant

  •  permit technician

  • legal assistant for the public defender

  • building inspector

  • pre-trial officer

  • senior plan reviewer 

  • fire inspector

The public defender’s salary will also be corrected by increasing it $11,229 to $154,461.

As previously reported by Erica Jones, $1.5 million has been set aside for first responders to receive salary increases for the next three years. For the part and full-time employees who did not receive money from COVID-related funding, each will receive dollar-per-hour raises from a planned amount of $341,615.

Additionally, the county manager will be given $75,000 as a contingency for county employees who may want to request additional pay raises after doing certifications, training or performing over and above job expectations. 

On Nov. 18, the board approved the Dawson County Sheriff Office’s security system upgrade project contract with South Western Communications.

The project is not to exceed a cost of $2,075,409.40 and will be financed using previously-approved capital funds of $1,405,500 and $669,909.40 from the General Fund fund balance. Those funds will be reimbursed by the SPLOST VII funds approved for the upgrade.

The total cost of the project will be $2,279,339.40, according to information shared with the BOC at its Nov. 4 work session. Included in that overall total is the service and maintenance support contract, which will account for $203,930 of the total and can be paid over a period of five years. 

According to DCSO Major Greg Rowan’s Nov. 4 presentation, the proposed security upgrades would include testing the current equipment; running new wiring; installation of the latest available version of all equipment and software; testing and quality control; training staff on the new equipment and software; and provision of a comprehensive support, repair and maintenance agreement. 

The sheriff’s office also added a few more security upgrades to the bid, including 15 new secure doors; additional cameras both indoor and outdoor; new camera client stations in the courthouse; cameras in the Butler Building where the old jail used to sit; cameras in the old historic courthouse; cameras in the K-9 building and cameras in the courthouse elevators. 

Rowan explained during that meeting that the SWC bid, as well as the other proposed bids, were above the $1.5 million target price approved in January because of inflation and supply availability. 

The project total of $2,279,339.40 includes the maintenance contract, the related costs for which would be spread out over a five-year span of time. 

In more recreational news, the BOC also approved $20,000 for an educational butterfly park to be installed at River Park by the Rotary Club of Dawson County. 

Speaking on behalf of the club, Brooke Anderson said at the Nov. 18 BOC work session that should the project move forward, the club could complete it by the end of February, just in time for spring. 

Over the last several years, Anderson said the club has done several projects in conjunction with the Parks and Recreation department, such as a splash pad, pickleball and basketball courts and batting cages.

What’s next for the year’s last BOC meeting

The BOC’s Dec. 16 agenda will include items from two important property-related issues. Further discussion on the county’s forthcoming short-term rental ordinance has been postponed until that time. 

Likewise, a possible subdivision off of Ga. 9 and Goodson Road will come back up for a vote after being postponed. 

During a Nov. 17 community meeting at Rock Creek Park, development consultant Jim King told residents that he would try to redesign the proposed neighborhood’s current site plans. He also said he would send them an existing traffic study and a forthcoming hydrology study when it becomes available.