A few dozen voters turned up for the Gordon County Chamber of Commerce's Candidates Forum on Thursday evening at the Depot in downtown Calhoun, an event that saw eight of the 20 individuals listed on the Nov. 5 ballot speak.
All of the candidates in attendance were allowed five minutes to introduce themselves and talk about their reasons for running, while the five candidates present who are running in contested races also took questions from a panel of media representatives and high school students.
Al Edwards, who currently holds the Calhoun City Council Post 2 seat, and Judy Peterson, who is challenging for that position, were both in attendance.
Edwards spoke first and shared his background and experience. He's been in the Post 2 job for 12 years, and before that he spent 12 years on the board of education. He also talked about his family, including his father and grandfather's service on the council and as mayor.
Peterson shared her story of being a retired educator who has found a new passion in volunteer work. She said she knows the value of giving back.
Both candidates were asked about low public participation in government meetings, and both agreed it is an issue.
Peterson suggested there might be other and better ways of notifying the public about such meetings, saying that transparency is important.
"I think the people need to understand our government," she said.
Edwards said he hoped public apathy wasn't an issue, but he wasn't sure how to best get more people involved before a decision is made, saying he often hears from folks afterward.
The candidates were also asked about traffic congestion and parking concerns, especially in the downtown area.
Edwards acknowledged that as a real concern, saying he has heard from downtown business owners who complain that their customers don't have anywhere to park. He said there are potential solutions, such as a parking deck, but "there's not always an easy answer."
Peterson agreed that it is a concern, and she said the first step is to ask questions and explore options. She also said people have told her the downtown area needs more green space.
"We need a way to have both, and I think we can," Peterson said.
Don Hood, who is running to fill the Calhoun Board of Education Post 5 seat that will be vacated by the retirement of Tony Swink, attended the forum.
Hood spoke about his background working in education, finance and in the Air Force. He was asked about his thoughts on out-of-district students, vaping and the role of the board of education.
He explained that the board is ultimately responsible for everything that goes on in the system's schools, because the members choose the superintendent, approve or deny policies and oversee spending, among other things. He said vaping is a very real concern and he thinks it should be completely banned on all campuses, but he also spoke about the difficulties of teachers finding the devices students might have and the health concerns those products pose.
"It's a very difficult problem to solve," Hood said.
Becky Gilbert George, who is also running for the Post 5 BOE seat, did not attend the forum. She announced at another event earlier in the day that she would be attending her daughter's final Calhoun High School volleyball game.
Christopher "Kit" Cunningham is running for the Post 2 spot on the Resaca Town Council. His opponent, Ben E. Niles, was not present.
Cunningham spoke about safety improvements that could be made in the town, such as street lighting and speed bumps.
James R. Miller, who is running for mayor in Plainville and has been serving as mayor pro tem for the past year, attended the event. He said Plainville is a quiet and peaceful place with a lot of good people.
Miller also mentioned how they've recently made several changes around city hall that resulted in a monthly savings of about $430 in utility costs.
Taylor Payne, who is also signed up to run for mayor in Plainville, was not present.
Other candidates in noncontested races who did attend the event and introduced themselves to voters were Calhoun Mayor Jimmy Palmer; Jackie Palazzolo, the incumbent for Calhoun City Council Post 1; and Clark Bunch, who is seeking reelection for his Plainville City Council Post 2 seat.
Other candidates who did not attend the forum included Eddie Reeves, the unopposed incumbent for Post 4 on the Calhoun school board; Steve Brannon and Harry Pierce, who are both running for mayor in Fairmount; John F. Holsomback Jr., unopposed for Fairmount City Council Post 2; Bill Mauldin, unopposed for Fairmount City Council Post 4; Mitch Reed and Nathan Wyatt, who are both running for mayor in Resaca; Todd Rutledge, unopposed for Resaca Town Council Post 1; and Ray Black, unopposed for Plainville City Council Post 1.
The Gordon County Board of Commissioners approved by a 5-0 vote Tuesday evening the proposal to maintain the current millage rate for property taxes of 9.631 mills for fiscal year 2019-2020.
While not an increased rate, the proposed tax levy is an increase of 0.728 mills over the rollback millage rate of 8.903 and requires an increase in property taxes of 8.18%.
Two people spoke out against the rate during the third public hearing conducted before the vote Monday.
Victoria Choate told commissioners that she felt compelled to attend the meeting to let them know that there were people in opposition after reading in the Calhoun Times that only two people spoke at the previous two hearings. She said not everyone reads the newspaper or listens to local news radio.
"So they weren't even aware of it," Choate said.
She told commissioners that while she wasn't familiar with the details of the budget, she wondered if they had explored options to cut costs, such as layoffs or the merging of department heads to reduce employee costs.
Donna Sandy of Plainville told commissioners that her family moved to Gordon County specifically because of the attractive tax rates, but she has watched those numbers climb every year she's lived here. She also wondered where that money goes.
"Of course in Plainville we don't see all these benefits," Sandy said.
In total, five individuals spoke during three public hearings conducted by the board of commissioners.
The first two public hearings were conducted Tuesday, Sept. 24, with one in the morning and one in the evening. Two people took to the podium to ask questions but not necessarily support or oppose the proposed millage rate during the second hearing.
The first public hearing, conducted Tuesday morning, saw only county officials a representative from the Calhoun Times present.
With a property tax rate of 9.631 mills, a home that has a fair market value of $150,000, the average value of a home in the county, will result in a tax increase of approximately $43.68. The proposed tax increase for a nonhomestead property with a fair market value of $150,000 is approximately $43.68.
County Administrator Jim Ledbetter said previously that the Board of Commissioners elected to maintain the current millage rate in an effort to balance the county's budget. He also emphasized that a millage rate of 9.631 mills, though not the rollback, is still the lowest millage rate the county has seen since 2010 and has helped the county see nearly $48 million in actual growth.
"We were at 8.9 mills then, in the middle of the recession," Ledbetter said. "As a result of taking rollbacks in the past, we've actually had less revenue coming in. In 2017, our millage rate was 9.829 mills and we had to use reserves. In 2016-2017, we used reserves. We can't keep doing that. By keeping the millage rate where it is, the prediction is that we will generate $1.8 million more than last year. That will get us what we need to balance the budget."
Owner Sabrina Holsomback will be officially opening her salon The Blonde on Mane, located at 350 S. Wall St., this morning from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Those who attend the event will be entered into a drawing for free salon T-shirts and products. Refreshments will also be provided.
Complete with numerous styling, shampoo and drying stations for clients, Holsomback said the salon has been a labor of love for her. She worked in the same building as a stylist under different ownership and said she purchased the building in August, when it became available, because she wanted to keep seeing her regular clients and stay in the area. It took two days and two nights to renovate the space and brand it with its new name, which is inspired both by Holsomback's signature blonde hair and her love for horses.
"I work on H&H Farms too, so I'm horse crazy, which is where the 'mane' part of the name came from," she said. "And blonde came from me and the girls being blonde."
"The girls" as she affectionately calls her employees are April Childers, Angie Herndon, Shayne Robertson and Brittany Nichols. Childers, Herndon and Robertson are fully-certified Master Cosmetologists. Nichols is younger and acts as Holsomback's assistant. Together, they make up a "rock solid team," Holsomback said.
"We all stay up to date on the latest styles and we're constantly training to be better," she said. "We're a great team too because we're friends and we're honest, and we don't really ever stop learning. We know we have to stay on top of trends."
The Blonde on Mane is a full-service salon, meaning the services they offer include all hair services, nails, body treatments, waxing and extensions. They also do weddings and special occasion hair. Both appointments and walk-ins will be accepted.
Holsomback said anyone who wants to see examples of the stylists' work can do so by visiting the salon's Facebook page or by visiting @theblondeonmane on Instagram. Prices vary based on the stylist and service requested.
The third annual Future Fest career expo returned to Georgia Northwestern Technical College on Thursday, introducing more than 800 Calhoun City and Gordon County eighth graders to a variety of career opportunities available to them in Gordon County and Northwest Georgia.
More than a dozen organizations participated in the event, allowing students to take part in interactive learning experiences and providing them with information on careers in engineering, manufacturing, health, education, skilled trades, police service and more. Participating organizations included North Georgia EMC, Coca-Cola, Apache Mills, Mohawk, Shaw, First Bank, Learning Labs Inc., Advance Rehabilitation Physical Therapy, Georgia Northwestern, Gordon County Fire Rescue, Gordon County 911 and Food City.
"Future Fest is a wonderful opportunity for all eighth graders to experience an interactive work simulation from local business and industry. This allows students to explore career options in Gordon County that, without this experience, they may have never known about," said Leah Braddy, the Career, Technical and Agricultural Education director and Work-Based Learning coordinator for Gordon County Schools.
Brandi Hayes, the director of the College and Career Academy for Calhoun City Schools, planned and facilitated the event alongside Braddy. She called Future Fest a "win-win" for the community and its members and she noted that it helps teach young people about employment opportunities that are local to this area.
"It shows the kids a wide variety of jobs and exposes them to employment and industry opportunities that are local to Calhoun and Gordon County. It helps them see that you don't necessarily have to go elsewhere to do whatever it is they want to do," Hayes said. "It's also a big win for our businesses because they get access to all of our kids without having to go to each school individually."
Gordon County Chamber of Commerce President and Chief Executive Officer Kathy Johnson agreed that the expo provided an excellent opportunity for students to plan for their futures. She also praised its success, noting that an Athens-area school visited this year's Future Fest to get ideas for how to replicate a similar program for their students.
"The Chamber is proud to partner with our local schools and businesses to create relevance, purpose, and hope for students for their future careers," Johnson said.
Students who attended Future Fest 2019 came from Red Bud Middle, Ashworth Middle, and Calhoun Middle, as well as some College and Career Academy students from Calhoun and work-based honor students from Gordon County Schools. While there, they got to take part in balancing challenges, virtual reality simulations, demonstrations and challenges.
Jake Taylor, a student from Red Bud Middle, said his favorite booths were the Shaw Logistics booth and the Advance Rehabilitation Physical Therapy booth because they were "really fun and interesting." At the Shaw booth, he was able to take part in a truck driving simulation. At the Advanced Rehabilitation booth, Taylor got to do an agility ladder drill.
"I had the most fun there and that made me more interested in what they were telling me," he said. "It's really boring sometimes to sit around and just listen, so I liked that they let me actually do something. That's what I want in a job."
Ashworth Middle School student Katelyn Harris said she wants to be a nurse and knew a lot about that career field already because her mom works in nursing. Her favorite experience of the day was writing a description of her future on Shaw's "My future is ..." poster. She wrote: "Pretty good, I hope."
"I know you're supposed to write what you want to do," Harris said, "But I think it's OK to want things to be good too."
The 2019 Future Fest was funded by grant funds from the College Access Grant from the Georgia Partnership for Excellence in Education, which were awarded to the Gordon County Chamber for work with both the city and county school systems in 2018.