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Best days are ahead for Calhoun-Gordon County

By: BRANDI OWCZARZ | Gazette Owner-Publisher
Friday, Aug. 25, 2023


Calhoun Mayor Jimmy Palmer (sixth from right) and Gordon County Board of Commissioners' Chair Bud Owens (seventh from right) pose with members of City of Calhoun Government, Gordon County Government, Gordon County Development Authority and State Legislators at the Friday, Aug. 25, 2023 State of City/State of County meeting.

At the Gordon County Chamber of Commerce Booster Breakfast on Friday morning, Aug.25, Calhoun Mayor Jimmy Palmer and Gordon County Board of Commissioners’ Chair Bud Owens gave reports on the State of the City and State of the County. The annual Booster Breakfast is sponsored by the Development Authority of Gordon County.

The theme of growth was present in reports from both the City and County, and despite the large growth that has been experienced in the area, both Calhoun and Gordon County continue to thrive.

In the City of Calhoun, Calhoun Mayor Jimmy Palmer pointed that the growth experienced has brought jobs, which are essential to the health of the community.

“Job growth is essential for improving the quality of life in our community,” said Palmer, stating that the city gives $120,000 to the Development Authority each year for economic development for all of Gordon County.

Palmer also mentioned the Revolving Loan Fund, where more than $2.5 million dollars has been loaned out at low interest to businesses with the goal of increasing economic development and establishing low to moderate income job creation.

Palmer addressed the growth in the area, saying that last year there were 536 permitted single family dwellings, up from 313 the year before. But the mayor pointed out this is not the first time the community has seen expansion of this magnitude.

“We all know growth and construction in the city is moving forward rapidly,” said Palmer. “But this is not the first time we’ve been recognized with fast growth. We were once recognized as one of the fastest growing cities in the nation.  The 2000 Census showed a population increase in the City of Calhoun of more than 49.5 percent (from the prior 10-year period using 1990 Census numbers). The next five year period, from 2000 to 2005 showed a 27 percent increase. Our Comprehensive Plan in 2007 projected us to have a population of 27,000 by the year 2025. Because of the slow downs, we are currently at 18,000.”

Palmer said that while the location of Calhoun attracts a lot of growth, there are other factors that draw people to the community, including schools, healthcare and quality of life.

“I think people locate here because of our strengths,” said Palmer. “First of those is our schools. I believe we’re a leader in public education, with a 100 percent graduation rate and we all know the benefits of education to our community. The next is healthcare, I believe we have the number one ranked small hospital in the state of Georgia, and I think healthcare opportunity is excellent in our community. The next is quality of life; we were recognized as number seven in the state as one of the best cities by and we also ranked number four as the best place to raise a family. We all want to live in a safe community; we’re ranked in the top five percent of safest cities in Georgia.”

Palmer said Calhoun Fire responded to more than 2,300 calls in 2022; 76 were fire calls with more than 1,500 medical calls. He said that the Police Department last year removed 990 pounds of crystal meth and 160 gallons of liquid meth as well as other drugs on the street. The CPD partners with the FBI in the Safe Streets program and with the local school system by putting resource officers in the schools.

Palmer said that the Downtown Development Authority is working hard to bring additional events to the community, and has completed the Court Street streetscape renovation project and has received a state award for the project on Park Avenue.

The Mayor said that the Calhoun Recreation Department continues to grow and improve to meet the needs of the community. The old maintenance building at the top of the hill beside the pool will soon be demolished to make way for a new gym. New pickleball courts and a new pavilion is in the early stages of construction. The Tennis Facility just received an award from the USTA for being an outstanding facility. The Rec has also added new programs and is seeing additional participation from the community. Fields Ferry Golf Course saw another successful year with more than 37,000 rounds of golf played last year. Fields Ferry hosted 35 high school and middle school matches.

Palmer also said a strong point of the City is the utilities department, which plays a major role in economic and industrial development as well as quality of life.

“I would say we are the only place in Georgia that’s expected to have capacity in water, sewer and power to last the next 50 years,” said Palmer. “I think this speaks highly of the planning that’s gone into it, and we’re one of the 15 largest water producers in the state and serve wholesale water to Pickens County and Floyd County as well as the City of Jasper. We’re involved with MEAG and recently had Plant Vogtle Number 3 come online that provides clean energy to the system.”

Palmer stressed the importance of the upcoming SPLOST and how SPLOST has helped to keep the millage rate down for the residents of Calhoun.

“I think something else that sets our city apart is having a very low millage rate,” said Palmer. “There are 28 cities in the State of Georgia with a population between 15,000 and 20,000 people; their average millage rate is 9.1. The millage rate of Calhoun is 3.2. What this means to you is, if you use the average millage rate of 9.1 and you have a $200,000 house, the taxes on that house would be $726. This same house in Dalton would be $442; the same house in Rome, $918. In Calhoun, these taxes (at 3.2) would be $256. As another example, a small business valued at $500,000, use the average millage rate, the taxes would be $1,812. The same business in Calhoun the taxes are $640. Only 11 percent of the City’s budget comes from property taxes. This is compared to 32 percent on average for all other cities in Georgia.

“One thing that makes this possible is having a SPLOST in place,” continued Palmer. “This is an important election year for the City of Calhoun and Gordon County because there is an opportunity on the ballot to continue the SPLOST. The City has a population of 18,000 people, but it is estimated that the daytime population is 50,000-55,000 people. It is also estimated that 40-45 percent of the SPLOST dollars come from people who do not live in our community. I believe this is an excellent way to continue to improve our community and it has no budgeted impact…it’s a way to keep our property taxes low.”

Owens then took the stage for an update on Gordon County.

“What is the State of the County? What does that really mean? I looked up the definition and it means the condition the condition that something is in currently. And I believe we just heard the condition of the City of Calhoun, and it’s a privilege to work hand in hand with the City of Calhoun and right things for Calhoun and Gordon County because we support each other,” said Owens.

Owens began the State of County by discussing public safety.

At the Gordon County Sheriff’s Office, Sheriff Mitch Ralston has implemented a new program called C.H.A.M.P.S, Choosing Healthy Activities and Methods Promoting Safety. C.H.A.M.P.S focuses on fifth grade students in each of the six county elementary schools and offers a wide range of programs consisting of several elements or individual topics of concern for students, they learn about alcohol, bullying, they do a C.H.A.M.P.S. project, they learn about choices and the consequences of those choices, home alone and child abduction safety, gangs, firearms safety, internet safety and social media, illicit drug abuse, prescription drug abuse, tobacco, stress and avoiding violence, all things that are extremely important for our children to learn.”

Owens said that at Gordon County Fire & Rescue, the department responded to more than 3,900 calls last year and completed more than 500 inspections. The staff assisted the community by giving and installing 21 car seats, 33 smoke detectors and 31 reflective address markers. The department hosted the annual Santa in Uniform, providing Christmas to 60 children who otherwise may have not had Christmas. The department staff has accumulated more than 21,000 hours of training in the last year and seven new firefighters completed the recruit training. The fire department was able to purchase new air packs for the firefighters, equipment to sterilize the masks and air hoses and four thermal imaging cameras. The County has also ordered four new fire trucks that will go a long way to serve the citizens of Gordon County.

The EMA Department has completed the revision of the County’s Emergency Operations Plan and participates in four full-scale emergency drills throughout the year. EMA has been able to focus on training and education with resources that include Winter Weather Preparedness Week, Flood Safety Preparedness Week and Severe Weather Awareness Week. Gordon County EMA applied for and received a Hazardous Mitigation Grant for the purchase of 200 Weather Radios to disperse to all government buildings and citizens upon request. EMA also provides community classes such as CPR, Stop the Bleed, Basic First Aid, Community Alerts and Response Training and Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events.

At Gordon County E911, there were several system upgrades over the past year, with a new telephone system, a new CAD system, and a recording system. The department also implemented a new Rapid SOS system that allows real time location of cell phone callers. The department had more than 155,000 calls last year and the system upgrades allows them to better serve the community.

Owens also announced that Angie Gillman, who has served as the Interim Director of Gordon County E911 since March 2023 when former E911 Director Debbie Vance retired, has been named the director of the department. Gillman has been with Gordon County E911 since January 2000, serving as telecommunicator, sergeant, tactical dispatch commander and lieutenant.

At Gordon County Animal Control, the department took in over 820 dogs and 650 cats.

“We are offering adoptions with free spay and neuter certificates,” said Owens. “Our local animal control is able to work with local and regional rescues to ensure the department does not euthanize pets based on space.”

There are now five vets that honor the free spay and neuter certificates provided with pet adoption at Gordon County Animal Control.

At the Gordon County Senior Center, new health and wellness classes are being implemented such as healthy eating, fall prevention and classes on dementia. The center has also started walking groups and invites anyone age 55 and over to participate.

In the Building Inspections and Public Works, there is a subdivision expansion of over eight homes and a new subdivision of around 400 homes in the County being developed at this time. There are three industrial facilities under development, as well as several agricultural operations. There have been more than 1200 permits issued in the last year; more than 600 of those since January of this year. A new E-Plan Review system has been implemented, which has sped up reviews by 83 percent.

More than 45 miles of roadways were paved throughout the unincorporated areas of Gordon County this past year, with more than four miles being paved in the municipalities over the past year. Public Works also installed 123 culverts and cross drains.

At Gordon County Parks & Recreation, more than 1700 children registered to participate in youth sports. The department hosted numerous Georgia High School events in cooperation with the Gordon County School System.

Owens then addressed SPLOST and millage.

“Mayor Palmer talked a little bit about SPLOST; as you already know, there’s going to be a referendum to renew the one cent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax. This one cent tax helps relieve the burden on our property tax payers by helping to fund capital projects and capital equipment, such as the newly renovated courthouse,” said Owens. “I think you as a citizen will be so proud (of the renovation). We’re trying to do every project we do, to make sure it lasts for (many) years and serve our citizens very well.

“Along with the Courthouse, we’ve completed renovations to our Senior Center. There’s been a great increase in the number of attendees,” said Owens. “In addition to that, we used SPLOST dollars to complete renovations out at Salacoa Park. So far we have completed the Salacoa Beach Concession Stand. We continue to work on a new Evidence Building, new Morgue, Greenway trails, the Salacoa Beach Bathhouse renovations, a new ball field and rec area on the west side of the County, the Sugar Valley Fire Station renovations, a multi-purpose Agriculture building and much, much more with already collected SPLOST dollars.

“These SPLOST dollars are very important to our community,” continued Owens, mentioning previous projects such as the Judicial Building, Animal Control, Red Bud Fire Station, Sheriff’s Office and Jail, Library Renovations, Sonoraville Parks & Recreation, as well as miles of road paving. “These could not have been possible with SPLOST. We always have folks who say, ‘No New Taxes, we don’t want to pay another penny,’ but nobody is paying another penny, they’re just continuing the penny (tax) that’s already existing and it’s working well to make sure that we’re able to do infrastructure improvements to our community and future life improvements to our community, with 40-45 percent of that money being paid for by visitors that come through our community.

“Talking about our millage rate; our sales tax, SPLOST and LOST, help us to keep our millage rate (for the county) the lowest it has been since 2010,” said Owens. “Because of his continued growth, the Board of Commissioners is planning to meet on September 19 and we plan to take a full rollback on the upcoming millage rate. This will take the county government’s portion of the millage rate to 9.042. Along with the County School’s rollback, and Governor Kemp’s additional $18,000 homestead exemption, a $200,000 homesteaded property that was valued in the last valuation in unincorporated Gordon County will see a decrease in their property taxes of over 27 percent. On that $200,000 homesteaded exemption property, that equals about $548 dollars decrease in taxes. It’s amazing that we have the ability to do that. It’s because we have a county staff that works really hard to make sure we’re fiscally responsible for every dollar that comes through and the way it is spent. While these numbers seem very promising, we also remain very cautious and always operate in a fiscally conservative manner.”

Owens said that the past year has been trying because the County continues to face soaring inflation rates, supply chain issues as well as labor shortages.

“However, even in the midst of economic issues, Gordon County continues to see growth in the residential market and the commercial/industrial market,” said Owens. “Because of this growth, and 533 business license renewals and over 121 new businesses that have opened, Gordon County’s unemployment rate dropped to 2.4 percent in April 2023.”

Owens thanked the Gordon County Development Authority and Mayor Palmer with the City of Calhoun. “By working together, we will see Gordon County continue to grow and become an even better place to live, learn, work and play. I believe that (despite) all of our challenges, our best is yet to come and Gordon County has a bright hope for tomorrow.”

‘SPLOST is absolutely essential’

With tremendous growth, infrastructure and public safety needs and a negative increase in the county’s ISO rating among other issues the community needs to address, the importance of the upcoming SPOST referendum was discussed at a special called meeting of Gordon County on Friday, July 7

Some of the prior SPLOST projects for both Gordon County and its municipalities include the Health Department, new Fire Stations, improvements to Peter Street, fire trucks, and recreation areas.

By: BRANDI OWCZARZ | Gazette Owner-Publisher
Saturday, May 20, 2023

On Friday, July 7, four of the five members of the Gordon County Board of Commissioners, along with County Administrator/Attorney Jim Ledbetter met to discuss proposed projects for the upcoming SPLOST.

SPLOST stands for Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, and is a financing method for funding capital outlay projects. It is an optional 1-percent (one penny of every dollar) sales tax levied for the purpose of funding the building of parks, roads and other public facilities. The revenue generated cannot be used towards operating expenses or most maintenance projects. Because it’s collected through sales tax, a large portion of the local SPLOST comes from people traveling through Gordon County. The County met with the Municipalities in April 2023 at the first public planning meeting, where it was mentioned that close to 50 percent of those tax dollars come from people traveling through Gordon County. On Friday, Ledbetter said that number was more than 30 percent.

SPLOST must be approved by voters in a general referendum in order to be enacted and last for a maximum of 72 months (6 years).

According to information shared in the April meeting, the 2018 SPLOST collections will end on April 30, 2024 and to be able to continue SPLOST collections, a referendum to continue the SPLOST must be voted on by the citizens. That referendum would be voted on this November 7 during the Municipal Elections.

“What I think is important for the public to know is that our SPLOST is absolutely essential to fund capital projects,” said Ledbetter. “Our current SPLOST referendum will ask the voters to continue the ‘one penny on a dollar’ one-percent sales tax that’s been in place for many years (in Gordon County). Our prior SPLOST has funded essential improvements to Public Safety, Fire, EMA, E-911, the Sheriff’s Office, Public Works, over 30 miles of paving per year, resurfacing, repairs, bridges, equipment to our Public Works infrastructure, the parking deck, Animal Control, courthouse, Sheriff’s Office and Jail, fire stations, fire trucks and equipment, Health Department and Parks and Recreation.”

Ledbetter stressed that without SPLOST, either the projects would have to be paid by local taxpayers or the projects just wouldn’t be completed.

“Our best estimates indicate that much more than 30 percent of our SPLOST collections are on money spent by non-residents passing through Gordon County,” said Ledbetter. “Without the SPLOST, these capital projects would either have to be paid for by the tax-paying residents of Gordon County or we just couldn’t have them; our roads would be in worse shape, our capital equipment projects, our buildings, would be in worse shape.”

Ledbetter then explained how the 2018 SPLOST has positively impacted the community.

“Our last SPLOST was 2018; we estimated collections (for that SPLOST) at $48 million dollars. Actual collections to date, just over five out of six years, are $60 million dollars. So we’ve run well ahead,” said Ledbetter. “We think we’re running well ahead because, one, inflation increasing the cost of goods; number two, internet sales; and number three, large commercial establishments that have chosen to locate here that have generated a whole lot of sales tax. For our 2018 projects, which we’re still working on, we approved approximately $17.9 million dollars for road and bridge improvements, which includes our annual paving of the 30-plus miles per year resurfacing, repairs and acquisition of right-of-ways. (In projects), Sheriff’s (Office) vehicles, fire engines, brush trucks, staff vehicles, renovations to (the Administration) building, public safety facilities, renovations at E-911, fire stations and so forth. The Ag Facility that we need get built, repairs and replacements at Salacoa, Evidence Building and Morgue, Records Retention, Sugar Valley Community Center. Those were the highlights of the County projects, which were estimated at $33,700,000 but we are expecting to over that but we will be covered with overages.

“The 2018 Intergovernmental Agreement divided the proceeds strictly based upon population plus,” said Ledbetter. “The population of Gordon County is at 67.93 percent, Calhoun at 28.83 percent, Fairmount at 1.3 percent, Resaca at 1.37 percent and Plainville at .57 percent. In addition, we had special projects that were $2 million to Calhoun for Peter Street improvements, $100,000 to Fairmount for sewer, $100,000 to Resaca for their Town Hall project.

Ledbetter then explained the process for the proposed 2024 SPLOST.

“On the 2024 SPLOST, I think it’s important we all understand the process,” said Ledbetter. “One, it’s always on our mind, ‘What does our community need?’ But we really started this process in earnest back around the same time last year that we started the Comprehensive Plan. Some of that plays into some of our decisions. If we were to say we have a theme for the current SPLOST, I think that theme would be to address vital infrastructure needs, such as roads and intersections that have become overwhelmed due to growth; increase fire protection capacities, not only in the interest of public safety but it’s also in our financial interest as I reported last month of our ISO ratings going up. So we’ve got some new fire station provisions in this SPLOST and new fire equipment.”

At the June 20, 2023 meeting of the Gordon County Board of Commissioners, Ledbetter announced that the ISO (Insurance Services Office) Rating for Gordon County had increased from a 4,4y to either a 5,5y or 5,5x as both updated ratings were announced in comments at the meeting by Ledbetter. The ISO score reflects how prepared a community is for fires. An ISO score has the power to affect the insurance premium of every homeowner in the area and can even cause an insurer to deny coverage in some circumstances.

There are four categories that account for the ISO scoring model, no matter where in the U.S. a home is located: Fire Department, Water Supply; Emergency Communication Systems and Community Risk Reduction.

The highest PPC (Public Protection Classification) score an area can receive from the ISO is a 1 and the lowest is a 10. While the biggest category that accounts for the scoring is the fire department, which is 50 percent of the score, the hardest to improve is an area’s water supply. A lack of fire hydrants and access to an adequate amount of water cannot be easily remedied and would require extensive infrastructure development to fix.

“We have gotten our rating and we were afraid we’d regress or back up a little with that,” said Ledbetter at the June 20 meeting. “How this applies property owners (is) what you pay for fire insurance, homeowners insurance, is somewhat dependent on the ISO rating. At our last rating, we were at a 4,4y. Lower is better. At this rating, we are at a 5,5y. Our problems had to do principally with personnel and equipment. The ISO rating is an analysis of the structural of the fire suppression delivery system in the county. They are a factor in determining the cost of your insurance. Based on the report from June 9 (2023), the Public Protection Classification regressed, as I just said, from a 4,4y to a 5,5x. Significant areas of deficiency included on ladder trucks, we rated a 0.13 out of four. On reserve ladder trucks, which would be those available in other jurisdictions, we rated a 0.00 out of five. And then we need additional stations and additional personnel. These things cost a whole lot of money. A ladder truck has been quoted to us at $1.7 million dollars; it’s 18 months out for delivery. We have a SPLOST referendum that will be on the ballot in November. In that SPLOST we’ve got $4 million dollars for fire engines, that’s basically a ladder truck and three or four others (trucks). We have at least one new fire station and renovations to our others, and so we’re hoping for - I’m not politicking for it - is a passage of the SPLOST so we can get that equipment for our firefighters.”

In addition to fire safety needs, Ledbetter said at Friday’s meeting that most every department has equipment needs.

“Across the board, basically every department has worn out equipment,” said Ledbetter. “So it’ll be addressing growth and replacing obsolete equipment. This equipment is getting to where it costs so much to maintain, it’s not worth it to keep it. We need to surplus it to get new (equipment).”

Ledbetter then explained to the Board the 2014 SPLOST planning process to this point.

“So how did we get to this point?” asked Ledbetter. “We always talk, whether it’s one-on-one, two-on-two or in our planning sessions. Internally, starting in about January or February, Keith (King, assistant administrator) and I solicited SPLOST requests from all of our department heads, constitutional officers, elected officials and agencies for their input into their capital needs. So everyone was given an opportunity and I think pretty much everyone participated in what they might need. Some don’t need much; Magistrate and Probate are getting brand new facilities from a previous (2012) SPLOST. So in addition, the comments from the Community Survey and the Comprehensive Plan Stakeholder Committee really dove-tailed with what we see as our community needs and what our department heads indicated they needed with emphasis upon traffic and intersections, primarily. Of course, we’ve had individual and official group discussions with Calhoun, Resaca, Fairmount and Plainville to discuss what their needs might be, coordinate the process and money. As the result of that, we kind of have a proposal. What I’m (suggesting) today of course are all estimates and they have not been voted on by (the Board) or agreed upon by (the Board), but time is upon us to start getting there.

“As a result of that process, we are estimating SPLOST collection (for a 2024 SPLOST), of over a six-year period, at $77 million dollars,” said Ledbetter. “That was compared to the $48 million that we’d estimated (in the 2018 SPLOST) and we’re at $60 million. That (proposed $77 million) is a conservative estimate; that estimate does not account for much growth, if any, because we have an uncertain economy. It really doesn’t hurt to come in at $77 million versus (more) and it has served us well to be conservative (in the past) because we have handled our projects with all the inflation we have seen the last few years because of that conservative estimation.

“So out of the $77 million dollars, we would be proposing, like we did the last time but on new numbers, a distribution (to the municipalities) based upon population from the latest Census in 2020,” said Ledbetter. “That puts the County (as receiving) 66.98 percent (of collection); Calhoun at 29.45 percent, Fairmount at 1.34 percent, Resaca at 1.61 percent and Plainville at 0.62 percent. In addition to that division based upon population, we’ve been discussing special purpose projects with the cities that would be from our county funds of what we might expect to collect off the 66.98 percent, which of $77 million is $51,574,638. As a footnote, the total departmental requests we received were in excess of $65 million, just from within our umbrella (at the county), so we’ve had to pretty severely prioritize and cut some of those requests to get down to our $51 or $52 million dollar estimate.”

Ledbetter mentioned some of the projects on the SPLOST list.

“We are working on our estimated project list,” said Ledbetter. “For Parks and Recreation, we’ve narrowed their requests down to renovations at the Ranger Community Center, the Ranger Park, replacement playgrounds at Salacoa and Ookie Faith Parks, some outdoor Pickle Ball Courts and some LED lighting upgrades to our ball fields.

“Public Safety projects are vehicles for the Sheriff’s Office; for EMA and E-911, equipment and vehicles; fire engines, a ladder truck, fire and rescue equipment and fire hydrants (for the Fire Department); in Public Safety facilities, we have a new E-911 and EMA Center, a new fire station and repairs and renovations to existing fire stations,” said Ledbetter. “At Public Works, resurfacing about 168 miles, major culvert projects, and various widening projects. We’re really looking at major improvements. Calhoun is improving the Curtis Parkway corridor on the west side of the interstate and we’re looking at a joint project with Calhoun of some form or fashion to basically redo the frontage road, so to speak, of the Union Grove/Belwood intersection, across Highway 53, working on Lovers Lane (already have money for the Lovers Lane/Boone Ford intersection from 2018 SPLOST), moving on down to improving Harmony Church/Dews Pond/Lovers Lane. That’s really a signature project to suggest in this proposal.”

Ledbetter also said that additional county-wide equipment and vehicles, including a 4-H Extension Bus and other capital equipment is on the list to replace worn out equipment. Joint projects with the cities were also discussed.

“On Joint Municipal Projects, I just referred to the Belwood Road, Harmony Church/Lovers Lane corridor to be hopefully jointly with Calhoun; funding for sewer project in Resaca and Fairmount; and then funding for storm water management in the City of Plainville,” said Ledbetter. “Within those, if we start expanding them out, it amounts to a whole lot.”

Ledbetter said that an Intergovernmental Agreement is the next step.

“We would come about this with an intergovernmental agreement (IGA),” said Ledbetter. “The advantage of an intergovernmental agreement is that the SPLOST collections can run for six years versus five. SPLOST is a county-wide sales tax collection but it’s important to everyone within the county, that’s why cities are included and they have essential projects to benefit us all as well. So if we’re able to come to an agreement, we get six years of collections, which we have historically been able to do. We’ve collected $60 million in five years, that’s $12 million a year, so that’s a $12 million difference on the 2018 SPLOST.

‘We are proposing that we would have $77 million in estimated collections; if we collect more, we’re proposing that it would be divided pro rata (proportionally) based upon population,” said Ledbetter. “If we collect less, the loss would be shared pro rata based upon population. The division of proceeds would be made upon our County Project List which will be attached in sort of the level of detail in Exhibit A1 of the 2018 SPLOST Agreement, which will outline the projects and the estimated funds assigned to them. We want flexibility in the referendum that will come from the IGA just in case projects change or demographics change, or (for example) if GDOT were to come up with money for the intersection of Harmony Church or Dews Pond, we wouldn’t spend money there we would move it somewhere else. It would outline the joint special projects with the cities. It requires an annual audit of funds to make sure everyone is spending them right. Then any money that’s left over at the end of the SPLOST (project completion) would be used to pay off existing debt, or if we have no debt, it would be used to offset the millage rate or reduce taxes.”

According to Ledbetter, August 15, 2023 is the last date to have the IGA adopted by all parties (county and municipalities) and a Resolution of Referendum submitted to the Board of Elections. August 27, 2023 is the day the Elections Office will have to send the Call for Referendum to the ballot builder. The election for the SPLOST referendum will then be held on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2023.

Team Red, White & Blue’s Old Glory Relay makes way through Gordon on way to Atlanta

By: BRANDI OWCZARZ | Gazette Owner-Publisher
Saturday, May 20, 2023

A volunteer with Team Red, White & Blue's Old Glory Relay brought the flag from Sugar Valley Baptist Church towards Calhoun on Thursday evening, May 18, 2023.

Another relay for a great cause came through Calhoun-Gordon County Thursday night when Team Red, White & Blue’s Old Glory Relay made its way through the community on the way to Atlanta where the group will present the flag for a flag folding ceremony at the Atlanta Braves game today at Truist Park. In addition, 100 Team RWB veterans will hold a giant American flag along the field prior to the National Anthem. Atlanta Braves third baseman Austin Riley is a member of the Team Red, White & Blues’ Advisory Board.

The American flag traveling in the Relay was flown above the battlefields of Iraq while supporting Operation Inherent Resolve and presented to Team RWB. 

Team Red, White & Blue’s Old Glory Relay is a national movement showcasing the strength, grit and commitment of American veterans in support of their well-being. Over the span of 50 days which began on April 1, supporters unite to walk, ruck, run, push and cycle a single American flag more than 4,000 miles from Seattle, Wash. to Atlanta this year.

Team RWB is a nonprofit organization that is shaping up to be America’s leading health and wellness community for veterans. Rooted in an epic display of patriotism, the Old Glory Relay epitomizes what Team RWB is all about — showing our nation’s veterans that their best days are ahead through a strong focus on health and wellness.

“America’s veterans know firsthand that life is a team sport. There’s no better demonstration of that concept than the Old Glory Relay,” said Mike Erwin, Team RWB founder and Executive Director. “As we pass the flag from one great American to the next over its 4,000-mile journey, we are reminded that together we can show veterans that their best days are ahead.”

The Old Glory Relay made its way from the Northwest U.S. down through Southern California, Southern Arizona and New Mexico, Texas, a small portion of Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee and down to Atlanta. The Relay was made up of many supporters and volunteers from states where the Relay did not pass through this year, such as New York, Indiana and Florida. The supporters traveled hundreds of miles to be able to help get the flag to Atlanta.

The relay group from Team RWB entered Gordon County from Whitfield and made a stop in Sugar Valley at the Sugar Valley Church of God. A solo runner headed south on Hwy. 136, clocking around a 7 minute mile, then passed off the flag along the way to a couple of cyclist who brought the flag to the Calhoun Post Office. The flag was then passed to a couple of runners, who headed down South Wall Street to Kroger, where the group met up with the team from Carry The Load, another veterans support group who were in town for their annual Carry The Load Relay. From Kroger, two cyclists took the flag to Buc-ee’s Calhoun, where the relay ended for the day.

Team RWB is America’s leading Health & Wellness community for veterans. Team RWB exists to guide veterans through their civilian journey with real-life and virtual opportunities focused on building a healthier lifestyle because a strong focus on mental and physical health which is critical to ensuring veterans’ best days are ahead. More than 200,000 members are forging the nation’s leading health and wellness community for veterans.

Recent data from the Wounded Warrior Project Annual Survey shows that veterans are facing chronic pain and sleep challenges which negatively impact their quality of life. Team RWB offers veterans a community with training, programming and events to build a healthier lifestyle, serving as supportive solutions for those with challenges.

“It’s going to be an incredible moment when the Old Glory Relay flag enters Truist Park in celebration of Military Appreciation Day,” said Riley. “Between this event and the Austin Riley Charity Golf Tournament in June, I’m excited to support this organization making a big impact on our nation’s veterans.”

Find out more about Team RWB and the Old Glory Relay online at or download the Team RWB app.

WHO ARE YOU CARRYING? Team from Carry The Load makes stop in Calhoun for annual relay to recognize true meaning of Memorial Day

By: BRANDI OWCZARZ | Gazette Owner-Publisher
Friday, May 19, 2023

Members from Carry the Load's New England Route, Calhoun Police Department, Calhoun Fire Department and Gordon County Fire & Rescue pose for a photo before the almost 2-mile walk for the Carry the Load Relay leg through Calhoun on Thursday, May 18, 2023.

A Relay group from Dallas-based non-profit Carry The Load made a stop in Calhoun Thursday night, May 18, 2023; the group, part of the New England Route of Carry The Load’s National Relay, which is held each May, is headed to Dallas, Texas for a special event to honor Memorial Day.


Carry The Load is a non-profit organization that provides active ways to connect Americans to the sacrifices made daily by our military, veterans, first responders and their families. What started in 2011 by two veteran U.S. Navy SEALs to restore the true meaning of Memorial Day has now grown into a nationwide movement with people volunteering throughout the year to honor and remember our nation’s heroes. The main mission of Carry The Load is to make sure that people know why Memorial Day was established: to honor those who have died in service for their country. Carry The Load provides active ways to honor and remember the nation’s heroes by connecting Americans to the sacrifices made by military, veterans, first responders and their families.

The National Relay consists of five routes that cover 20,000 miles across 48 states. The relay teams walk and/or cycle daily throughout Carry the Load’s Memorial May campaign.


Carry The Load’s New England Relay Manager Andy Medrano has participated with Carry The Load since 2014, participating in the National Relay the past three years.

“I spent 23 years in the Army; I was an Infantry guy and went to Ranger school,” said Medrano. “I did a lot of cool things while I was (enlisted). I retired in 2014, which is when I first started doing Carry the Load and in 2021, I was asked to be on the Relay.”


Medrano’s group consists of anywhere between 7-10 volunteers at a time covering an approximate 3,700 mile journey.


“Our team has been traveling since the third of May,” said Medrano. “We had an event in Long Island, New York, with one of our sponsors, Henry Schein Cares, and did a walk with them before we moved up to Burlington, Vermont, where the relay began. Our route has taken us from Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island and all the New England states. So far, it’s been a very good trip for us. Sometimes you have people who do not understand what our organization is about, so we talk to them and let them know that we’re a non-profit out of Dallas, we support our military veterans and first responders and their families. We also want them to remember the true meaning of Memorial Day, which is remembering those who paid the ultimate price for the freedoms that we have today.”


The team walks from about 7 o’clock in the morning to 8 or 9 o’clock in the evening, which is when the walkers recoup and move to the next spot, by bus. The bus, which is wrapped with the images of service members or first responders from areas along the Relay route, honors the sacrifices made by those while serving our country.


“This year, we have four people on each side of the bus that we’re honoring,” said Medrano. “Representing the state of Georgia, (we’re honoring) Specialist Murphy. We actually walked with his parents on his birthday. They told us some stories while we were walking, and it was really great just to have them walk with us because Gold Star families are truly a blessing for us. It’s their day. The great thing about Gold Star families is they talk about their loved one as if they’re still here. That’s great because we never want to forget their names. Once we stop saying their names or forget their name, that’s the second time they’ve passed.”


Spc. Etienne J. Murphy, 22, of Snellville, Georgia, died May 26, 2017 in Al-Hasakah, Syria, of injuries sustained during a vehicle rollover-related incident. He was assigned to 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia. He was on his first deployment, according to information from the U.S. Army Special Operations Command. He enlisted in June 2013; after training at Fort Benning, he served in 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment which is part of the 10th Mountain Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team at Fort Drum, N.Y. In October 2015, Murphy volunteered to serve in the 75th Ranger Regiment, successfully completing airborne school and Ranger Assessment and Selection Program 1. That is when he was assigned to the 75th Ranger Regiment, where he served as an anti-tank gunner. His awards and decorations include the Parachutist Badge, the Army Achievement Medal with three oak leaf clusters, the NATO Medal and the Operation Inherent Resolve Campaign Medal with Campaign Star. He was posthumously awarded the Army Commendation Medal.


On Thursday night, the Carry the Load group arrived in Calhoun and was greeted by Team Red, White & Blue’s Old Glory Relay team, who was making its way to Atlanta after a Relay that began in Washington State. The Carry the Load group then met with members of the Calhoun Police Department, Calhoun Fire Department and Gordon County Fire & Rescue before walking the nearly two miles from Kroger to Calhoun Fire Station 1 in downtown Calhoun. Officers with the CPD provided escort for the relay, while members of both CFD and GCF&R put on their full turnout gear and walked alongside the Relay group.


“Our veterans have put their lives on hold and at risk to protect our freedom,” said Calhoun Police Chief Tony Pyle. “I feel as Americans, it is our duty to support these men and women in every way possible, and programs like this allow us to do just that. CPD is proud to play a small part in making this happen."


Upon arriving at the fire station, the Relay group got hot showers and was treated to a meal catered by Monty Erwin and Dub’s High on the Hog.


“Calhoun Fire had 10 members of the department walk the Calhoun leg of Carry the Load in full turnout gear to honor the sacrifice of many who have died in the line of duty. Our department was honored to be able help carry the load of many families who have lost a loved one in service to our country or in service to their community,” said Calhoun Fire Deputy Chief Terry Mills. “Calhoun Fire was honored to host the Carry the Load team at our Headquarters Station for a hot meal provided by Dub’s BBQ and a hot shower before the group continued on to the next leg of their journey. Calhoun Fire thanks all of the citizens who, while driving by our teams walking, said ‘thank you for your service.’ Calhoun firefighters make sacrifices every day to serve this community and the department is proud of all its firefighters and the job they do.”


There will be stops in Tennessee, Arkansas and Louisiana for the Relay group, with their final destination being Dallas, Texas for the Dallas Memorial March, hosted each year in Carry The Load’s hometown. The March is their flagship event and the culmination of the National Relay; it’s a two-day Memorial Day weekend event honoring service members and their families for the sacrifices they make. All five routes of the National Relay will meet up at the Dallas event.


“The Dallas Memorial Day March will begin on May 29th, the Sunday prior to Memorial Day,” said Medrano. “What happens there is all five Relay Teams culminate two stops prior to Opening Day ceremonies. We’ll get together at (a local) high school with the other relay teams and a couple hundred people walking a five-mile leg. We reach our stop point just prior to the event, at a Chase Bank, where all five Relay Teams will walk in; last year we had about 20,000 people participate and raised just over $2 million dollars.”


This year’s fundraising goal for the organization is $2.25 million dollars. Carry The Load has raised more than $38 million dollars since their formation. More than 93 percent of the funds go towards their three programs: Awareness, Continuum of Care and Education.

Carry The Load’s Continuum of Care program is built upon a strategic collaboration among their corporate and non-profit partners. The program raises much needed awareness and funds to assist with the many issues facing military, veterans, first responders and their families. In addition to healing the nation’s heroes experience by physically walking or volunteering with Carry The Load, peer-to-peer fundraising and corporate support strengthens nationwide services such as counseling, adaptive training, suicide prevention, equine therapy, service dogs, job placements, civilian transition, home improvements, hope for homeless veterans, care for burn victims, educational scholarships for children of the fallen and many other healing services.

One of the Education programs offered by Carry The Load is Carry The Flag, which focuses on the younger generation, teaching them about our nation’s traditions and why they’re important. With Carry The Flag, kids learn more about our nation’s heroes by developing storyboards to honor and remember a hero, giving a presentation on patriotism and learning the history of the American flag.


In their Awareness program, Carry The Load’s mission is rooted in raising awareness for the true meaning of Memorial Day. Each May, people can actively participate in Carry The Load’s Memorial May awareness campaign to make Memorial Day matter again. People can participate by hosting a Carry It Anywhere experience, organize a youth Carry The Flag activity, walk in the National Relay, attend a Rally, fundraise for our nation’s heroes, and take part virtually throughout the month.


For more information on Carry The Load or to donate, visit

GOING RED: Local Keller Williams agency helps the Calhoun Housing Authority in changing lives this RED Day

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Associates of Keller Williams Premier North Georgia, located on North Wall Street in Calhoun, stand in front of a home on Court Street with Calhoun Housing Authority representatives Carol Hatch, Gary Erwin and Toya Washington during Keller Williams RED Day Community Service event on Thursday, May 11.

Justin Childress and the associates of Keller Williams Premier North Georgia, located at 204 North Wall Street in Calhoun, spent the majority of the day on Thursday, May 11, 2023 performing a large community service project in honor of Keller Williams’ RED Day.


RED is an acronym for Renew, Energize and Donate and gives Keller Williams agencies a chance to give back to the local community they serve.


Every second Thursday of May, Keller Williams agents, leadership members and associates step away from daily business duties, proudly donning their red KW gear, and venturing into the communities they serve with those three goals in mind: renew, energize, donate.


This annual day of service took shape in May 2009 in celebration of Keller Williams’ board member Mo Anderson’s birthday. Fourteen years later, it continues to grow in momentum as the Keller Williams family unites under a shared commitment to philanthropy.


“We’ve always been a community service-oriented company; we love serving the community that has supported us since 2015,” said Childress.


Each year, agents choose the project they want to support. In years past, Keller Williams Premier North Georgia helped with a coat closet and performed yard cleanup projects.


This year, Childress again looked to the Calhoun Housing Authority for a referral and was given the idea to help with some outdoor maintenance at the home of Ms. Golden on Court Street. Ms. Golden recently received a CHIP Grant through the Calhoun Housing Authority’s New Foundations Development, a non-profit that performs home rehabilitations within Gordon County to upgrade and expand the local housing inventory. Since its creation in 2013, NFD, with the help of local contractors and the City of Calhoun and Gordon County Building Inspectors, has completed hundreds of home rehabilitation projects for local home owners, especially veterans. New Foundations Development is under the direction of Carol Hatch, the program coordinator.


The money the Golden household receives trough the CHIP funds will go towards a new roof, new HVAC, new flooring and other updates to the home.


But before the home rehab project can begin, the home’s yard needed a lot of work. Weeds had grown up on the side of the home and over the driveway, preventing anyone from parking at the residence.


Keller Williams Premier North Georgia has around 30 associates that serve in this community. On Court Street, some of those local KW Premier North Georgia associates performed yard work, clearedlimbs and debris and cut or trimmed overgrown shrubs and trees. The house was also pressure washed.


“We roll up our sleeves, take a day off from work and just try to make a difference,” said Childress. “We try to make a difference in the community every day, but especially on RED Day.”

Internationally, Keller Williams has 186,000 people supporting the volunteer efforts on Red Day, with more than one million hours of community service performed worldwide on Red Day by Keller Williams’ agents and staff.


For more information on Keller Williams Premier North Georgia, visit their Facebook page at or call 706-625-6535.


For more information on New Foundations Development, visit visit

GSWCC launches regional newsletter

Thursday, May 4, 2023


The Georgia Soil & Water Conservation Commission has launched their first newsletter for Region 1, which covers the eight districts of Blue Ridge Mountain, Catoosa County, Cobb County, Coosa River, Fulton County, Limestone Valley, Roosevelt and West Georgia. The Region 1 office is located in Calhoun, on Highway 53 Spur.


In the first newsletter, the public can learn about the GSWCC and how it serves our area.


About the Soil & Water Conservation Commission

The GSWCC is a Georgia State Government Agency that is dedicated to protecting, conserving, and improving soil and water resources across the state. Regional offices were able to be re-implemented in 2023 due to additional funding. The regional staff provides support to the Soil & Water Conservation Districts (SWCD), Local Issuing Authorities (LIA) and community members with concerns about soil and water quality. Additional staff administrative responsibilities include minute taking and requisitions, district program support, outreach and a variety of other functions to serve each district.


Region I Staff

Josh Jackwood, Conservation Regional Manager


Ricky Ensley, Resource Specialist


Ashley Temples, Administrative Specialist



About Conservation Districts

The Georgia Assembly created the Soil and Water Conservation Districts in 1937 to protect the state's soil and water resources following the Dust Bowl. Each District provides a way for citizens to set local resource priorities for state and federal assistance programs. There are 40 SWCD's across the 159 counties in Georgia. Throughout the state, 370 district supervisors work to conserve, improve and protect the natural resources. There are at least 2 district supervisors in each county, one is appointed and one is elected. The supervisors are unpaid state officials that work with the GSWCC and the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service.


Districts hold regular monthly meetings to plan their work and determine local needs for soil and water conservation and resource development. SWCDs work on a local level to promote conservation goals. These meetings are public and the schedule can be found on the website (


Partners for Fish & Wildlife

GSWCC in cooperation with the US Fish & Wildlife Service, partners with private landowners to provide livestock exclusion fencing for waterbodies. This Partners for Fish & Wildlife Program (PFW) will provide a cost share to improve water quality and water habitat on farmlands.


GSWCC also offers stream bank restoration through public-private partnerships by offering advice and funding. This PFW program will provide a cost share to restore stream banks, wetlands and adjoining wildlife habitat that might otherwise go unprotected. See program details below:

  • Program will reimburse 90% of total costs up to $10,000 for fence exclusion projects in priority watershed areas.

  • Program will reimburse 90% of total costs of any small stream restoration projects.

  • Maximum reimbursement for stream restoration projects will be determined according to available funds.

  • 60% of funds must be used to provide streambank protection.

Land Owner Responsibilities:

  • Assist with project scope development.

  • Be available for any inspections.

  • Be available for any media.

GSWCC Responsibilities:

  • Develop project scope, including:

       *Synopsis of farm and planned activities.

       *Goals and list of BMP's to be installed.

       *Size of buffer created.

  • Write & submit project for approval.

  • Provide necessary maps and photos


NRCW: National Resources Conservation Workshop will be held June 11th-16th in Tifton, GA. This workshop focuses on the value of protecting wildlife, forestry, soil & water resources. Registration is due by May 1st. For more information please visit the website