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Dawson County Commission Chairman Billy Thurmond spoke at the Squires & Stags breakfast on several topics important to Dawson County residents. PHOTO BY WAYNE TIDWELL

Labor, or lack thereof, a critical issue in Dawson County, across Georgia

BY WAYNE TIDWELL

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Dawson County Commission Chairman Billy Thurmond updated March 1 Squires & Stags breakfast attendees on the state of the county including transportation, planning and development, growth, finances, revenues and other issues. But the subject that seemed to concern him most is the competition for labor in the county.

“Labor force is critical,” Thurmond said. “It is something that we have to continuously look at and try to figure out how we can help our businesses be sustainable. It is exciting to see that big list of new stuff that is going to come but if you can’t sustain what you already have then you are no better off. We don’t want a bunch of empty structures because we don’t have the labor.”

Finding manpower for public safety is a problem across the state, according to Thurmond.

“I spoke with the sheriff last week,” Thurmond said, “and he currently has 16 open positions. And our fire department has nine. These have been advertised over, over and over again.”

There is a big demand for paramedics, according to Thurmond.

“The private sector has taken a lot of those,” Thurmond said. “A lot of them work in hospital emergency rooms because they can give that person $20 an hour instead of $30 for a nurse.”

There is competition for labor countywide regardless of the type of the work.

“Labor or the lack thereof is very key not only in Dawson County but all across the state,” Thurmond said. “You can go to about any retail business on [Ga. State Route] 400 whether it’s food or retail store, they have ‘help wanted’ signs in every single one of them.”

He said it was the big topic at the recent Georgia Mountain Regional Commission meeting. He said there is a statewide meeting on March 15 with people from all over the state to talk about the workforce in Georgia. He said big companies are desperate for help.

There are plenty of development plans for Dawson County that will increase the demand for labor.

Building permits in 2018 were up 49 percent over 2017 and housing was up 106 percent over 2017.

Planet Fitness will occupy the part of the old Kroger pharmacy, according to Thurmond.

“The Chamber and all those people who are on that committee are working diligently trying to find other tenants for that building,” Thurmond said.

Dawson has received about $1.6 million in grants that will be used to build a senior center, according to Thurmond.

About 50 percent of 283 detached single-family residences on Red Rider Road are complete.

“Residences are selling or renting about as fast as they are being built,” Thurmond said.

Other residential projects are underway including 220 apartments behind the new Publix on S. R. 400 and other projects are “in the hopper.” Many of the new projects were approved by the board years ago, according to Thurmond.

A multi-faceted mixed-use complex with single family homes, assisted living, and permanent care along with some retail is planned at a site at the Dawson/Forsyth County line. A 130-room assisted living complex is planned near the movie theatre in Dawsonville.

A “huge” plan has been turned in for a mixed use complex on the old Catholic College property on Lumpkin Campground Road, according to Thurmond, that encompasses over 970 acres.

“It’s something in line with Avalon (a mixed-use complex on 400 at Highway 120,” Thurmond said.

Thurmond said the county would pursue grant money and update ordinances to match the new land use plan.

“The land use plan is only as good as your ordinances,” Thurmond said. “You saw how busy the planning department is,” Thurmond told the crowd. “So, I have encouraged the board in reference to that to hire somebody to help us with the ordinances instead of trying to get our planning director to do it as he does his real job.”

Transportation projects include a double roundabout at State Road 9 at Dawson Forest, bridge replacements, resurfacing and much needed new public works/fleet buildings.

Residential property re-evaluation is complete, Thurmond said, and commercial property evaluation is in process.

Thurmond said even with the growth in Dawson County the county still doesn’t have the staff that it had in 2009.

“One of the things we have been able to do in the 2019 budget that we haven’t been able to do in the past 10-12 years was to give our departments more help,” Thurmond said. “You see the growth and the service demands on our departments continues to grow.”

He said of the 40 positions that were “frozen” in 2009, 22 have been reinstated.

The 2019 $27 million Dawson County budget is about $300,000 less than in 2009, according to Thurmond.

Thurmond said his two main goals for 2019 are an increase in productivity and efficiency to provide the services that people need. He said adding to the public works staff allows road paving crews to continue work on a project without having to stop work to attend to anything that needs immediate fixing.

“Now they don’t have to shut down a road project to fix something that happened on the other side of the county,” Thurmond said. “That’s not efficient or productive.”

Thurmond reminded the group that there are 18 boards and committees in the county and encouraged all to visit the county’s website and go to “Boards and Committees” to find volunteer opportunities.

Squires & Stags meets on the first Friday of the month in the Mountains Grille at The Clubhouse at Lake Sconti. Coffee is ready at 7:45 a.m. followed by a buffet breakfast served at 8:00 a.m. Big Canoe residents and guests are invited to attend the meeting. The price of breakfast is $13 payable on your POA account or by cash at the door.

Reservations are required and must be received by noon on Thursday before the Friday morning meeting. You may also call (706) 268-3346 to make reservations.

The April speaker at Squires & Stags will be Pickens County Commission Chairman Rob Jones. The May speaker will be Dr. Kang of Northside Hospital about strokes.

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