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Winder budget for FY22 could increase spending, millage rate

Larger investments in public works and economic/downtown development are fueling a potential 16% increase in the City of Winder’s General Fund budget for fiscal year 2022, and the city council appears poised to approve an increased millage rate and higher user fees to balance the budget and help fund its priorities.

The council plans to hold its third scheduled budget work session, with just over two weeks left in the current fiscal year, at 6 p.m. Thursday, June 17, at the city’s utilities complex at 138 Sweetwater Trail, off Miles Patrick Road, to discuss what could be any final adjustments prior to the required public hearing on and adoption of the budget by the end of this month. The new fiscal year begins July 1.

Thursday’s meeting will come one week after the council met for over two hours June 10 to hear city administrator Mandi Cody present the latest proposed budget. If the budget were approved as it was presented last week, the city would increase its General Fund expenditures by $3.1 million and have a $5.77 million deficit without any adjustments, according to figures presented by Cody.

The proposed spending plan includes more money toward public works projects — particularly more money toward road paving and stormwater infrastructure — and an additional $1 million for the downtown development authority, including more development/redevelopment of city-owned properties, expanding stormwater master-planning, infrastructure and streetscape improvements, and implementation of the work program being identified by a new downtown master plan in the works. The city also plans to begin implementing recommendations that will stem from a Rose Hill Cemetery master plan that is under development. Spending in the police department would also be increased in an effort by the city to address recruitment and retention issues.

Other than reducing expenditures, Cody said the budget could be balanced through a combination of raising user and impact fees across the various city services, transitioning some direct-benefit services to user fees rather than the millage rate, and raising the millage rate itself. She recommended that the council set all user fees at 100% cost-recovery levels, including capital purchases. The new fees would be adopted along with the budget.

According to Cody's presentation, the city would need to increase its current millage rate from 4 to 14.7 mills to fully fund the council's priorities that were identified at its annual strategic planning retreat in February, though she said the "true" increase would be less because although the city has been charging residents 4 mills, residents have actually been “living off of” 14.54 mills.

The increased millage rate, which would require three public hearings in order to implement, would mean a $1,070 tax/service increase for a single-family home valued at $250,000, according to the figures presented. With proposed stormwater and sanitation fee rates, the impact would be $1,113, or just under $93 a month. Cody said she anticipates the council will ultimately approve a budget with an expected millage rate but won't hold the public hearings on and vote to adopt the rate until the county tax commissioner certifies the tax digest, likely in September. 

The budget, as currently proposed, does not include contributions to or decreases from the city reserves, which Cody said currently are $5.62 million below recommended levels. She noted that the proposed budget also does not even address several other issues that the city will continue to grapple with into next fiscal year and beyond — including, among several others, the need for more long-term planning for capital and debt-intensive projects like the joint water reservoir with the City of Auburn, greater investments in infrastructure, and fee increases to handle continued population growth and annexations.

The council will likely dissect the proposed budget much further this week, but there did not appear to be any widespread consensus last week on what expenditures, if any, to lower.

“Anything we take out, we’re just kicking the can down the road on it,” councilman Chris Akins said.

That’s especially true of road projects in the city, said Mayor David Maynard.

The city would continue to receive sales-tax funding for various projects through the 1-cent SPLOST if voters countywide approve the extension this November. And while the city has previously lobbied for a separate 1-cent TSPLOST to fund road and transportation projects through sales tax proceeds, Maynard said other municipal leaders have been hesitant to get behind a referendum this year and that the county is not likely to support placing two 1-cent sales tax referendums on the November ballot — with the thought being, he said, that the chances of the SPLOST extension could be jeopardized.

“We’re shooting ourselves in the foot if we don’t fund roads,” Maynard said.

The city is projected to receive more than $5.6 million in federal stimulus money through the American Rescue Plan, which city officials have suggested could be applied toward a major stormwater infrastructure project that will address flooding issues at the Center Street underpass and carries an estimated price tag between $5-6 million. Cody said there is the potential that the city could receive additional federal dollars through transportation-centered legislation currently being discussed in Congress, though it’s unclear how much if any Georgia’s 10th Congressional District would receive if U.S. Rep. Jody Hice does not make any funding requests for the district.

Camp Will-A-Way at Fort Yargo State Park turns 50 years old

Editor’s note: Camp Will-A-Way at Fort Yargo State Park in Winder, the first comprehensive outdoor recreational complex for people with disabilities in the U.S., turns 50 years old this week. The Will-A-Way Recreation Area opened in 1971 after four years of planning, design and construction, and, since 2009, Camp Twin Lakes has partnered with Fort Yargo to provide summer and weekend programs for children with serious illnesses, disabilities and other life challenges.

Camp leaders recently submitted an application to the Georgia Historical Society for a historical marker and, if approved for the marker in late summer, aim to hold a dedication ceremony later this year and hope to invite those who were involved in the early years of the camp to attend.

Ashley Henderson, volunteer coordinator for Camp Twin Lakes at Will-A-Way, said she hopes to record oral histories from former camp participants, volunteers, and invites people to contact her at Ashley@camptwinlakes.org or 770-867-6123, ext. 223.

Henderson provided the history and background of Camp Will-A-Way below to The Barrow News-Journal.


Georgia State Parks pioneered providing accessible recreation for people with disabilities at Fort Yargo State Park in Winder. This groundbreaking project received funding from the State of Georgia, the Federal Bureau of Outdoor Recreation Land and Water Conservation Fund, and a special grant from the Contingency Reserve of the U.S. Department of the Interior.

In the mid-1950s there was a growing recognition of the lack of adequate recreational facilities to meet the growing needs of Americans with more leisure time. As a result, the federal government established the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation (BOR) under the Department of the Interior. The Bureau of Outdoor Recreation assisted state and local governments with planning and funding of recreation areas. Created by the BOR in 1965, The Land and Water Conservation Fund provides federal funds through a 50/50 matching grant with the states. To receive the LWCF grant monies, each state was required to complete a Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan (SCORP).

Throughout 1967, Georgia’s first SCORP was compiled through multiple outdoor recreation research studies. One of the studies, “Outdoor Recreation Needs of the Ill, Handicapped, and Aged,” set forth the recommendation that; “Nation, State, County and City parks should include facilities adapted for the handicapped” and that, “all organizations planning recreational facilities for the ill, handicapped and aged should utilize the American Standard Specification for Making Buildings and Facilities Accessible to, and Useable by the Physically Handicapped guide developed by the American Standards Association.” By the time this study was published, the Georgia Department of State Parks was well underway with the planning of a new “outdoor recreation facility for the disabled” at Fort Yargo.

In 1966, Georgia’s state parks were visited by more than 6 million people, a 71% increase since 1957. Located near Interstate 85 and within close proximity to Atlanta, Gainesville, and Athens, Fort Yargo State Park drew a then-record 45,153 visitors in 1965, making it a popular park for camping and day trips. The policy of the State Parks Department at the time was to have a park located within 50 miles of every resident of the state. During this time Robin Jackson, assistant to the director of Georgia State Parks, and state parks director Horace Caldwell, began planning for a recreation area specifically for children, adults and families with disabilities.

In the fall of 1966, the Department of State Parks assembled a group of consultants and nine agencies serving people with disabilities. Department officials based their plans off both their own experience in public recreation and collaboration with potential users. The goal of a separate facility to provide access to recreation was to eliminate the physical and psychological barriers that individuals with disabilities faced. By removing architectural barriers and “screening out” non-disabled users, “it is expected that many who only come to the specialized facility for their outings to begin with, will grow into a fuller use of their bodies, a feeling of greater confidence in their physical abilities, a lesser feeling of self-consciousness, and a renewed desire for more outdoor recreation.” From the beginning, the department emphasized that the purpose of the project would remain recreational.

Based on months of collaborative conversations with agencies within the state, attendance at conferences, and visits to facilities “similar in concept, though not in scope,” the planners believed they had “exhausted the best resources available in the country today in our research and planning, and may conclude from this study that the disabled, their friends and families, do urgently need recreational opportunities. The lack of precedence is certainly a testimony for this need. The enthusiastic response is certainly another. We are confident that we can achieve through this program an excellent recreation concept for all of them and create a demonstration opportunity for the disabled that is unprecedented.”

By the end of 1966, the general concept of the project with its group camp, day use, and family cottage area was developed. The plans called for three types of recreational facilities to serve those with disabilities in three ways:

“•Group Camp: The group camp will provide complete living and program accommodations. It is a group of structures such as campers’ cabins, dining hall, and program buildings. The entire camp will be leased on a short-term basis to various organizations who provide services for the disabled.

“•Public Facility for the Disabled: The day-use area will accommodate the daily visitors with opportunities to fish, swim, picnic, boat, and enjoy some play and game apparatus. The area will be opened and closed on a daily basis.

“•Family Cottage Area: the vacation-style cottages will be available for rent on a short-term basis to families who wish to stay overnight on the park. The cottages are located so that they can be used in conjunction with either the Area for the Disabled or the public facilities for the able, elsewhere in the park.”

While the Georgia State Parks group camp at Indian Springs had long been host to agencies serving children and adults with disabilities through residential camps, there was a lack of precedence when it came to planning the family cottages and especially the day-use area. Based on an observation during a tour of Camp Harkness in Connecticut that “after a disabled child soon outgrows the youth-serving agencies and is left with little to no opportunity to exercise the interest he has developed in their programs,” the director “made the beach and bathhouse at the group camp available to disabled adults and their families.” This observation reinforced the need to develop a day-use area within the complex. Studies showed that some 2 million people, or 48 percent of Georgia’s population, resided within two hours’ driving time of the park. This included about 19,000 disabled persons who could benefit from the day use area and family cottages. There were also 48,550 potential overnight campers from Georgia and neighboring states within a four-hour drive.

The department hired architect William Holland of Atlanta to draw up the plans for the complex. Architectural planning considered and incorporated recommendations from the American Standards Association, including no curbs, no steps, slopes at no more than a 5-percent grade, and paved paths. Innovative and unique architectural features were implemented into the design of the complex as well. The circular design of the buildings helped eliminate the space in a 90-degree corner that would be lost to wheelchairs. To better serve citizens with loss of sight, a 4-foot-wide terra cotta tile strip was placed around the pool and in front of doorways to serve as a warning that a hazard existed.

The original cost estimate for the recreation complex was $700,000. The state allocated $150,000 that would be matched by another $150,000 from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. Facing a shortfall of $400,000, the department was encouraged to apply for funds from the contingency reserve of the Interior Department. The grant request met all the criteria and more. In his letter to the Interior Department, Caldwell noted that, “this project demonstrates a new idea in outdoor recreation, which meets a national need not envisioned by the criteria” which had been met. In giving the funding approval, Acting Director of the Interior Lawrence Stevens wrote to Caldwell and recognized the demonstration aspect of the project: “It is primarily through its potential capability for demonstrating, in a single location, a broad range of outdoor recreation facilities for the handicapped, that this project is considered eligible for fund assistance…”

The project was approved on Aug. 15, 1967, and a grant of $642,243 was awarded to the state through the Federal Bureau of Outdoor Recreation on a matching funds basis. The total budget was roughly $1.33 million.

Though slated for completion in spring of 1969, delays plagued the project throughout. Only a handful of bids for the project were received in April 1968. The lowest bid was $250,000 more than funds available. The architect was asked to reduce the cost of the project, and the department requested a six-month extension and an amendment to the funds request stating, “…this project was the first of its kind in the nation. Consequently, we had no place from which to draw information for development of plans. We are confident that the delay in our project will help any future projects of this type to be developed much more rapidly.”

Drastic cuts were discussed to reduce the cost and scope of the project. In a memo to the parks director, staff urged him to carry out the original intent of the project: “Since we are listed among the first in the nation to develop a project of this type, there has been considerable national publicity. Many inquiries have reached this office from all over the nation regarding Fort Yargo…to abandon the project at this stage would create a bad image nationwide for the state.”

After securing additional federal funds, J.S. Burdette and Company was awarded the project and construction began in October 1968.

Throughout the construction process, the department hosted tours of the facility to groups from across the U.S. According to Robin Jackson, the state of Georgia received letters of inquiry from 45 of the 50 states. A letter from Larry Rhodes, director of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, congratulated Georgia “as seemingly the state to get the first olive out of the bottle regarding the development of a park for the sole use of the disabled” and said that “you are to be congratulated on your perceptive pioneering. A mixed blessing will probably also come to you from the likes of us who are interested in brain picking to get an idea of how to approach our own state to set up such a park, using the experiences of those who went before us as guidelines.”

In the fall of 1970, the public was invited to submit names for the new accessible outdoor recreation facility at Fort Yargo. “Will-A-Way Recreation Area” was submitted by Mrs. B.A. Deaver of Macon, who received a week’s stay at the Georgia State Park of her choice for her winning entry. Noted Deaver in her entry letter: “Will-A-Way was based on the axiom, ‘where there is a will, there is also a way.’” According to her letter, she felt that this phrase would best represent the outdoor recreation needs of the handicapped and their fulfillment at Fort Yargo.

By spring of 1971, George Bagby, the new director of state parks, appointed Siothia Longmire as the recreation coordinator at Will-A-Way. She was responsible for the administration, supervision, and programming needs of the group camp, day use area and family cottages.

The first group to hold camp at Will-A-Way was Camp Ben Massell, a camp serving children with muscular dystrophy from Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama. Fifty-nine campers and 64 teenaged volunteers attended the weeklong camp led by director Lois West, First Lady of South Carolina. The children were able to roll their wheelchairs down the ramp into the swimming area at the lake or into the swimming pool. In their cabins, the design of the bunks and bathrooms allowed easy transfers from their wheelchairs. Campers played games in the accessible teepees throughout camp.

With the first campers in attendance, a dedication ceremony was held on June 20, 1971, and officiated by then-Gov. Jimmy Carter. Hundreds of visitors, including multiple state and local dignitaries, joined in the celebration of the “first and only federally and state funded campsite of its kind in the nation built especially for the handicapped.”

During the first summer, seven agencies provided 873 campers an outdoor experience in the group camp. The day use area hosted over 1,000 visitors in the summer of 1971. Fishing was a favorite activity. While visiting with a group of seniors from Athens, 83-year-old Monroe Neely kept his coat and tie on as he fished from the bridge. Said Mr. Neely: “I farmed for 50 years, and now I’m going to fish.”

One of the nurses with the group said, “I take blood pressure every day and I have to go down on the dock to get his. The other day I was down there taking his blood pressure and just then he got a bite! His blood pressure shot up to 250 but it came right back down when the fish got away.”

The cottages at Will-A-Way proved extremely popular with families. Longmire noted, “…there was the man from Canada, paralyzed from the waist down, who was brought here by his sister and her family.” She explained, “He told me he'd try it for one night. By the time I got home, the phone was ringing, and the man said he would rent the cottage for three weeks. He drove all over the place in his electric wheelchair. Told me it was the longest he'd ever stayed away from home because our facilities were geared for his use.”

Over the next 10 years, the Will-A-Way Recreation Area continued to partner with organizations to serve not only Georgia’s citizens, but those from across the Southeast. On the 10-year anniversary in 1981, 23 agencies used the day use area with 8,202 in attendance and 28 agencies used the group camp, serving 14,729. Will-A-Way served as a demonstration project and, because it was a pilot project, was featured in various publications in the field of recreation.

Additionally, Will-A-Way hosted professionals in the recreation and camping fields through visits during the American Camping Association conference in 1974. Will-A-Way was billed to participants as the “only facility of its kind in the nation.” The guided tour provided information on “eliminating architectural barriers, interpretive trail signs, and general facility design.” Continuing with the demonstration model, Will-A-Way staff took their programming models on the road through a traveling summer camp to three other state parks in Georgia.

Most significantly, Will-A-Way was a project that multiple municipalities sought to replicate. In response to one such request for guidance from Jackson Davis of Columbus, on planning a facility of their own, Robert Baker, Southeast regional director of the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation, wrote:

“The project was a demonstration type development to show how facilities could be made accessible to all people. After completion, it was determined that one recreation area for the exclusive use by the handicapped and their guest would not suffice. Our regulations have been revised and now require that all recreation areas and facilities developed with assistance from the Bureau under the Land and Water Conservation Fund be accessible to the handicapped. It was found that by simple architectural and design modifications, buildings, playgrounds, pools, etc., could become accessible to all persons. This policy has been supported nationwide by organizations for the handicapped. Any future L&WCF grants to Columbus would be required to be barrier free before project approval could be granted.”

Georgia received recognition as “a model for other states to imitate” for years after the first citizens enjoyed access to the new recreation area at Will-A-Way. Eight years before the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504), and 20 years before the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Georgia State Parks were a pioneer in providing the nation’s first recreational complex for people with disabilities.

For the first time, Georgians, and indeed the nation, could benefit from an area that provided recreation for all.

Pair of large industrial warehouse projects proposed in Barrow

A pair of proposed large industrial warehouse projects in Barrow County were submitted to the state last week and are set to undergo a regional review process.

One of the projects, referred to as “Project Tarpon,” would bring 599,600 square feet of warehouse space northeast of the intersection of Bowman Mill and Bird Hammond roads in Winder, according to a developments of regional impact (DRI) form submitted by the county’s planning and community development department to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.

Developer Panattoni Development Company, of Atlanta, is seeking a permit from Barrow County to build the warehouse space. Lisa Maloof, the county’s director of economic development, said the project is still confidential and is being headed up by the state. She said the developer is working with a specific end-user that is considering Barrow County.

Panattoni specializes in building speculative and built-to-suit industrial and office spaces for national, regional and international companies in the U.S., Canada and Europe, according to its website, and lists FedEx, The Home Depot, PetSmart, Bridgestone, Ace Hardware and others as some of its major clients.

The project would be valued at an estimated $40-50 million at full buildout, according to the DRI form, and a traffic study indicates the development would generate 992 daily trips.

The project, which must undergo a DRI review by the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission over the next month because of its size and scope, is slated to be completed next year if given the greenlight.

The other project submitted to the state last week, “Project Paradise II,” would include the construction of a little over 1 million square feet of industrial warehouse space on 95 acres of land bordering State Route 316 on the eastern side of Kilcrease Road in Auburn. The project has an estimated $70 million value at buildout.

Euphoric Development, also of Atlanta, plans to seek a rezoning of the property to allow for the project. Company representative Austin Brannen said the project will include four buildings that will be marketed to companies looking to expand their space. He said the developer doesn’t currently have any suitors lined up.

“It’s going to be a really nice park and hopefully a great job creator for the area,” Brannen said.

Once the regional commission completes its review, the developer will then need to go before the county planning commission, which will make a recommendation on whether to rezone to the county board of commissioners.

If the rezoning is approved, the project would be completed by the end of 2022, according to the DRI form.

Feasibility study on CFIT campus community center project wrapping up

Construction on a planned community park and recreation center on the Barrow County School System’s Center for Innovative Teaching (CFIT) property in Winder is still slated to begin sometime in 2023 with a combination of public and private funding through an effort being spearheaded by the Barrow Community Foundation.

First Community Development of Atlanta has completed a feasibility analysis for the project on the CFIT campus (the old Russell Middle School property) between West Candler Street and West Midland Avenue and plans to present its findings to the community foundation’s board of directors later this month, Lynn Stevens, the foundation’s executive director and a Barrow County Board of Education member, said Monday, June 14.

The project, currently projected for a five-year buildout, is proposed to feature several elements — including a community “destination” playground that would have educational elements incorporated into its design and be inclusive for children of all ages and those with disabilities; a water play area; walking path; basketball/volleyball courts; outdoor reading spaces; outdoor amphitheater; sculpture and art garden; dog park; picnic pavilions; historical-information signs and a building that would include art showcases and conference space.

“It’s an ambitious project, but one that’s really needed in this area,” Stevens said. “It just touches so many aspects of the community and checks off so many boxes.”

The school board and foundation agreed in 2019 on a memorandum of understanding and partnered with nonprofit ArtsNOW to begin formal planning for the campus project, with the goal of raising $13.5 million over a three-year period. First Community Development was retained to assist with crafting a strategic plan and, after a pause last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, finalized the master plan in January.

First Community Development then spent the last three months conducting “confidential” interviews with 45 corporate, government and community leaders as part of its feasibility analysis, according to a news release from the company.

Steve Dorough with First Community Development said the analysis focuses on five areas of interest within the community:

•awareness among local leaders regarding the project.

•community opinion regarding the campus development strategy.

•funding potential for a community-wide initiative.

•positive and negative factors that would impact the project.

•recommendations regarding a feasible campaign goal, project timing and potential leadership.

Stevens said once the findings are presented, the foundation will start the process of determining which parts of the campus will be built first, adding that much of that will be determined by which elements have the most public support. She said local fundraising continues for the project and that she expects the foundation will explore grant opportunities as well, with an actual goal of raising closer to $17 million to help fund long-term maintenance.

“The response so far from the community has been very positive, simply because it’s much-needed,” Stevens said. “If you look at the needs of the county, we don’t have a lot of places where people can feel comfortable just going on walks and taking their families. We want this to be a place for everybody to come and benefit from. What we’re wanting to do is create a sense of community with this.”

More information on the project can be found at barrowcommunityfoundation.org/cfit.

School district announces Covid plans for 2021-22

When Barrow County School System students return to classrooms Aug. 3, masks will no longer be required, though they will still be recommended, especially for students and others who have not yet received a COVID-19 vaccine.

The school district laid out its Covid plans for the 2021-22 academic year in a news release Monday, with officials saying they would continue monitor community spread levels, contact-trace cases and enforce quarantines/isolation of staff and students as needed, per a mandate from the Georgia Department of Public Health.

Non-vaccinated students and staff are asked to follow the Centers for Disease Control guidelines regarding mask usage (available at cdc.gov), and employees who haven’t yet been vaccinated, as well as eligible students are encouraged to get vaccinated this summer.

The district is currently exploring the possibility of doing a mass vaccination event for students ages 12 and up, similar to the two it held for over 1,100 employees earlier this year. The district has published a two-question survey to its website at barrow.k12.ga.us to determine if there is enough interest to hold the event.

Officials said they will continue virus-mitigation practices and utilize physical distancing and cohorts on campuses when possible. Meal service will resume in school cafeterias, and students are encouraged to bring their own water bottle to use at filling stations.

“Everyone is encouraged to practice proper hygiene, such as washing their hands,” officials said. “Students and staff should self-monitor daily for COVID-19 symptoms.”

School visitors will also be welcomed back during school hours, and the district expects to release plans for open-house sessions at each school next month, according to the release.

Officials said their plans could change if there is a spike in Covid cases later this summer, but the county has remained in good shape lately, averaging just 2.6 new daily cases over the past week.

According to the latest DPH statistics, 28% of county residents were fully vaccinated as of Tuesday morning, June 15, and 32% of county residents had received at least one dose of vaccine.

“We are optimistic and looking forward to a more ‘normal’ year, based on the current pandemic situation,” district officials said in the release.