October 31--  A Toombs County man died Saturday in an auto accident.

According to the Toombs County Sheriff's Office, 76-year-old Wilton Cox of the Toombs Central Community was killed when his car ran off Highway 56 about a half mile west of Hardens Chapel.  The car hit a tree and overturned.  

Toombs County EMA was called to the scene to extricate him from the wreckage.  

October 31--  The Vidalia school board plans to hire a construction manager to oversee two construction projects for the school system.

Board members voted to pay an overseer from three to ten percent of the overall project cost for work at J.D. Dickerson Primary School and J.R. Trippe Middle School.

According to School Superintendent Dr. Tim Smith, "At J.D. Dickerson we're planning on a complete renovation of that building except for the pre-K building which is new and the library which is relatively new.  All the classrooms, bathrooms and office spaces and we will take what is the current kitchen and dining room and that will all become dining room and we will build a new kitchen.  At J.R. Trippe we've been needing a field house and we are going to put a conditioner in that gym to try and cool it down some."

The projects are being funded with sales tax collections from a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax which expires in 2014.  Dr. Smith says Vidalia schools and the Toombs County school system plan to seek a five-year extension to the sales tax for education.

"We're looking at the next SPLOST that we are going to try to get passed in March.  The vast majority of that for Vidalia will go into the instructional program itself.  We owe it to our students to prepare them to work in the 21st century.  If you're going to work at just about any job in the next 20 years, you're going to have to be prepared technologically and we need to make a move to prepare our students for just that," Dr. Smith says.

Dr. Smith believes wireless technology will mean the school system can save money on books in the future.

"We'd like to have all of our buildings wireless so we can go to Ebooks and Ipads instead of carrying around textbooks.  In the long run, that will really be a moneysaver for us," he says.

In other actions at its meeting, the school board approved $5,000 as its share of $28,390  startup costs for the new JROTC program at the Southeast Early College and Career Academy in Vidalia. 

Jumpstarting our Economy

By Rep. John Barrow

There’s pretty much universal agreement throughout the country that our government has too many regulations on the books.  It’s never been more difficult or time consuming to try and start a small business or expand an existing company.  According to the Federal Register, the 2009 Code of Federal Regulations contains 163,333 pages in 226 books.  Imagine trying to start a business and having to navigate through all those regulations.  It’s absurd, wasteful, and an enormous obstacle to our economy.

According to OMB, the amount of time businesses and people spend doing paperwork for the government has increased 30% in the last ten years.  And according to the New York Times, that paperwork burden now amounts to more than one day a year for every single American.  That’s an awful lot of time being spent on government paperwork – whether it is doing your taxes, submitting reports, or applying for grants or permits.

Many regulations are necessary.  They protect us against snake-oil salesman, keep our food supply safe, and prevent toxic chemicals from being released in our rivers and streams.  But there are still many more that are ridiculous and overly burdensome.  How many are implemented without fully considering the impact on our economy or on the folks whose livelihoods are affected?  How many are implemented by government bureaucrats justifying (and possibly abusing) their regulatory authority?

Far too many.  We are living in tough times, and our economy needs a boost to get people back to work.  Job creation needs to be Congress’s number priority.  Right now, the so-called Super Committee is considering ways to cut trillions of dollars from the Federal Budget.  There is pressure from all sides to cut spending, raise taxes, or some combination of both.  They have a tough job.  One place I think they ought to look for some savings is among those 163,333 pages of Federal Regulations.  We can really make a difference if we get rid of some of these useless and onerous regulations.

As the Blue Dog Co-Chair for Policy, I've appointed a Task Force on Oversight and Regulatory Review to highlight some of these useless and burdensome regulations.  I plan on putting together a list and eliminating them one by one.  I ask everyone to help me – the Super Committee, the President, Cabinet Secretaries – even Congress. 

I can’t do this alone, though.  The problem is too big for any one Congressman to understand, much less fix, on his own.  I need the help of small business owners and local officials who have been affected by these regulations.  Send an email to my office at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and let me know about regulations that are slowing your business development or holding us back from creating jobs.

You help me find the useless, burdensome regulations, and I’ll help you get rid of them.  Maybe then folks will have a little more time to work on what’s really important – improving our economy and creating jobs.

John Barrow represents Georgia’s 12th District in Congress.

 

October 29--  Here's a preview of Georgia's state budget challenges from State Senator Jack Hill of Reidsville.

FY 2013 BUDGET CHALLENGES

Last week we outlined the growth trend that state revenues has been in the last 17 months or so but pointed out that pressing state needs would lay claim on any new funds generated this coming year plus an unknown amount.  We started the list of challenges with the $400 million hole in Medicaid and State Health Insurance funding.

This week, we will complete the list.

 

  1. Department of Community Health - Medicaid Shortfall -- $345 million and State Health Benefit Plan Shortfall -- $55 million (noted in previous column)
  2. Retirement Systems--$170 million
  3. Behavioral Health-DOJ Agreement -- $66 million
  4. Tax Cuts - Property Tax ¼ mill and Senior Citizen Income Tax Exclusion -- $60 million
  5. K-12 and Higher Education Growth -- $217 million

 

RETIREMENT SYSTEMS

With all the discussion of pension systems, it is important to state from the beginning that Georgia is in good shape with its pension systems.  The Teachers Retirement System (TRS), Employees' Retirement System (ERS) and Public School Employees' Retirement System are funded above 80% - a level that indicates soundness.  Many states are well below this.  But these systems are facing pressures that will require the addition of $170 million between the three.  First, like many of our individual stock portfolios, the pension system was hurt during the stock market downturn of the past few years.  Second, as the state laid off employees who were retirement age and others retired to avoid the budget reductions occurring, the system increased the number of recipients. Third, like the State Health Benefit Plan, there are fewer current employees (with lower salaries) to contribute to the systems.  All of these pressures require the state to add funding in order to meet the important Annual Required Contribution.  Georgia has always met the ARC and I foresee that we will meet it this time as well.

 

BEHAVIORAL HEALTH - DOJ  AGREEMENT

The settlement agreement between the State and the US Department of Justice requires Georgia to expand services in the area of mental health and developmental disabilities.  These include staffing for mental hospitals, mobile crisis teams, supported housing, respite care among other things.  As a result of this agreement, Georgia has obligated itself to additional funding of $66 million in FY13. 

 

 

TAX CUTS FOR SENIORS

The ad valorem tax and senior income tax exemption passed in HB1055 will also reduce revenues by $60 million as the state approaches the final $223 million revenue reduction expected by 2016.  That will completely eliminate the ¼ mill property tax the state receives as well as all state income taxes on senior citizens 65 and above.   In tax year 2012, each spouse will be granted a $65,000 exclusion to state income tax.  This next step in the elimination of the income tax got caught up in the tax reform debate in the 2011 session and could become part of any new proposal as well.

 

K-12 AND HIGHER EDUCATION

FY13 General Need: $217 million

 

K-12 enrollment growth has not been reported yet, but we are assuming approximately $90 million in K-12 funding will be needed for FY12 and FY13. 

 

In FY12, the state did not fund enrollment growth in Regents or Technical Schools.  For FY13, Regents is requesting $104 million to cover a projected 3.1% increase in semester hours and other operational costs.  An additional $7 million is being requested to fund the physician and nursing graduate expansion.  Technical Schools, one of the fastest growing technical school systems in the country has submitted requests for $17 million to cover enrollment growth and other operational needs in FY13.

 

NEXT WEEK:    A Quick Review of Other Issues and Unknowns

 

October 28--  CCA, America's leader in partnership corrections, is proud to announce a new long-term contract with the Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP) for the expansion and continued management of the McRae Correctional Center.

The agreement follows a competitive bidding process, resulting in the 1,524 capacity at McRae increasing to house up to 2,275 male inmates. The expansion will generate short-term construction jobs and continued workforce stability for the facility's professional correctional staff.

"CCA is proud to be able to continue serving the FBOP with a cost effective solution at McRae and maintain the careers and livelihoods of our correctional team," said Tony Grande, CCA Executive Vice President and Chief Development Officer. "We've been a part of the community for more than ten years and we want to thank the McRae and greater Telfair County community for their strong support throughout this process, which was a valuable component to our successful bid."

The new FBOP four-year management agreement contains three, two-year renewal options, enabling CCA to provide services at McRae through the year 2022.

"CCA McRae has an outstanding track record of operating a secure facility for both the inmates entrusted to our care and for the citizens of McRae," said Ron Thompson, CCA Vice President of Operations. "This renewal is a testament to the dedication and hard work of our team at McRae, who I know look forward to sustaining our track record of outstanding performance and safety at the facility."

As correctional systems across the nation face a number of convergent challenges including rising costs, high recidivism rates and overcrowding, CCA remains a dedicated and dependable partner with governments at all levels, working hard to find practical solutions.

About CCA McRae
Located in McRae, Georgia, CCA McRae Correctional Facility houses an all male minimum-security inmate population for the Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP). CCA McRae, which has been company owned and managed since 2000, is independently accredited by the American Correctional Association (ACA) – the national gold standard for professional correctional management.

About CCA
CCA is the nation’s largest provider of partnership corrections to federal, state and local government, operating more than 60 facilities, including more than 40 company-owned facilities, with approximately 90,000 beds, in 20 states and the District of Columbia. In addition to providing the residential services for inmates, CCA facilities offer rehabilitation and educational programs, including education, vocation, religious services, life skills and employment training and substance abuse treatment. For more information, visit
www.correctionscorp.com and www.ccacommunities.com.

October 28--  Georgia's new immigration law is causing more paperwork for local governments and companies.

Starting in January, cities and counties which hire new employees will have to check and document the immigration status of all new employees.  The same holds true for companies which do public works projects for state and local governments.

{mosimage} City and county administrators learned details of the new law at a seminar at East Georgia College in Swainsboro.  Todd Edwards from the Association County Commissioners of Georgia moderated the two-hour session.

"Like many laws which are passed by the General Assembly, this one falls on city and county governments to enforce and we want to make sure they are ready to comply with the law come January 1," he said.

The city clerk in Lyons, Lynn Rowland, attended the session and said, "I have gotten some issues out of it that I didn't even know existed.  The city of Lyons has been following it (E-Verify) except for the new law which is coming into effect and it's a lot of paperwork for just one new employee," she observed.

Edwards adds, "The will of the General Assembly was to get tougher on illegal immigration.  If it is their will to increase local taxpayer dollars to create a larger administrative process at the local level, then so be it.   We're just trying to educate our officials so they can do it in the most efficient manner at the local level." 

October 27--  It will be a special Christmas this year for two Toombs County sisters.  Twelve-year-old Jocelyn Walker and 14-year-old Breanna Walker will welcome their Dad home from Afghanistan where he's working as a government contractor.

{mosimage} 

At the courthouse in Lyons are (L-R) Courtney Joiner, Breanna and Jocelyn Walker, Judge Palmer and Shannon Walker.

Up until last week, Anthony Walker was the girls' step-father.  Then his attorney Courtney Joiner had the idea of a long distance adoption via the Internet and Superior Court Judge Kathy Palmer agreed.

"On the day of the hearing we all met in a private room here in the courthouse and we had the Skype set up.  The petitioner, the stepdad, was online and I could look at him and I gave him his oath looking at the computer monitor and he was all smiles ear-to-ear. We went through all parts of the hearing and everybody was crying and smiling and after all the testimony was received, I granted the adoption," Judge Palmer recounted.

{mosimage}Walker served as a soldier in Iran with the Army's 82nd Airborne Division before working in Afghanistan for a civilian contractor.  Via the internet, he said
"It's very excited and I'm very happy.  It's a first all the way around and I really enjoyed it.  I'll be home Christmas eve," he said.

The girls' mother, Shannon, says it's great to be "officially" a family.  "It's extraordinary.  I'm so grateful we were able to accomplish this without him having to come home," she said.

As for the girls, Breanna says, "It feels good, I'm so excited," and her younger sister says it means "now he can really be called Dad."

Judge Palmer says this is the first-ever use of the Internet for an adoption in the Middle Judicial Circuit and after this experience, she thinks there will be other opportunities to use the technology to save the court and its clients time and money.

October 26--  Thankfully there are people in our community who go "above and beyond" in their love and care of animals.  Such a couple are Therisa and Dennis Ingley who founded the Sweet Onion Animal Protection Society and work everyday to protect homeless animals.  Not only do they provide a foster home to dogs and cats, they visit dumpster sites to feed animals who scavage the sites for food.  Some of the animals they feed at the dumpsters finally trust Therisa and Dennis enough to allow themselves to be picked up, fostered and perhaps placed in a forever home.  However, some are not so lucky, as Therisa reports below.

"A dog died today.  Not just any dog--a little, white American bulldog that had stolen

Dennis and my heart.  She was tossed out at the dumpster with another puppy when

they were barely old enough to be weaned.  Both emaciated and mangy.  The other

pup lasted only a couple of weeks before the road claimed him.  But Casper was

different.  She was street smart; wise beyond her age.  The only problem--she was

very wary of humans.  Over theh past 3 months, she would bound out of the woods,

tail wagging, body wiggling with joy when she heard the truck.  She would come

close enough to take treats from my hand.  But the minute you reached for her, she

cowered away.  Too much pain from humans to trust.  She wanted to though.  Many

evenings she would follow our truck out of the dumpster lot and sit at the edge of the

road watching us until we were out of sight. We kept hoping that before winter really

got here we would be able to catch her.  She was covered in sores and nearly hairless,

but she was well fed and I believe she knew she was loved.  A kind soul called to let

us know we would find her dead when we went to do our evening feedings of the stray

cats and dogs.  It is so hard to loose something you never really got a chance to love.

Some day, I'm just going to quit going to those damn dumpsters.  Too much heartache,

too much pain.  But not today.  There's a little beagle with a hurt leg and a mama pit

waiting for their food.  And who knows, maybe tomorrow they will let us catch them.

Good night sweet Casper.  Sleep well in doggy heaven."

 

 

 

 

October 25-- Mount Vernon Police Chief Calvin Burns attended the Chief Executive Training Class for newly appointed chiefs of police and heads of law enforcement agencies at the Dr. Curtis McClung Training Center in Duluth, GA., from October 3rd through October 12th, 2011.

{mosimage} The 60-hour course, administered and provided by the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police (GACP), is required by state law for all newly appointed heads of law enforcement agencies.  Chief Burns, who was appointed to his position on January 1, 2011, will also be required to attend 20 hours of management/executive level training each year.

 The curriculum is designed to give newly appointed law enforcement administrators training on police management, as well as inform them of laws and policies affecting their departments.  Topics covered in the course include: Managerial Liability and EEOC, Police Manpower Allocation, Budget Administration, Political & Practical Realities, Office & Role of the Police Chief, Evolution of Ethics, Media Relations, Departmental Organization, Employee Selection Process, Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training, Promotional Systems, Pursuit Policy Workshop, Developing Policies, Leadership/Management Role of the Chief, Employee Performance & Employee Discipline, Legislative Process along with other timely topics.

 "It is our mission to offer exceptional training that provides professional executive and leadership development which will prepare the newly appointed agency head for the difficult, but rewarding position they have accepted," said GACP President Stan York of the Sandersville Police Department. 

Chief Burns was among 50 law enforcement administrators attending the course.  The GACP provides the executive training for newly appointed heads of law enforcement agencies twice a year, along with several other training programs throughout the state.  It is the largest professional association for law enforcement administrators in Georgia, and one of the largest in the country.  The membership of over 1,700 includes executives representing municipal and county law enforcement agencies, college and university police departments, corporate and private security firms and numerous state and federal agencies.

 

October 24--  A man fell to his death Monday while working on a warehouse roof between Lyons and Vidalia.

Toombs County Sheriff Junior Kight reports 37-year-old Ricardo Lunas Livas suffered fatal head injuries when he fell about 20 feet and hit the concrete floor just inside the door of the tobacco warehouse located at 146 H.D. Wright Road.

A witness said Livas and three others were on the roof of the building and removed a sheet of metal to make repairs.  Witness Ronnie Jones said he saw Livas step into the hole where the metal had been located.

 

October 24-- Paul Bennett, Chairman and President of Alma Exchange Bank (left) welcomes Al Ross as the new head of the Peoples Bank of Lyons and Vidalia.  Ross's first day at the bank was Monday. (Photo courtesy Kathy Bradford)

{mosimage} 

Earlier Bennett announced the appointment to bank employees and said "I am pleased to announce that AI Ross has been elected Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer as well as Director for Peoples Bank. Al has a strong work ethic and is a very well respected banker. I think each of you will like him and appreciate the knowledge that he has gained and brings to our bank. He comes to us from Colony Bankcorp in Fitzgerald, Ga. where he served as CEO. Please join me in welcoming Al as well as his wife, Sonya and children Abby who is a student at Valdosta State University and Austin is an 11th grade student at Coffee High."

October 24--  Twelfth District Congressman John Barrow came bearing gifts from the Library of Congress to Treutlen Elementary School Friday in Soperton.

{mosimage} 

The congressman was greeted in the school media center by students who gathered to accept the new books and computers for the library.   

October 24--  The Toombs County Development Authority has received a long-awaited $500,000 grant from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.  The money is earmarked for pre-treatment of waste by the new U.S. Pet plant which is co-located with Chicken of the Sea in the Toombs Corporate Center on U.S. One north of Lyons.  The pet food company is now in production according to Bill Mitchell at the Toombs County Development Authority.

At its October meeting, the Development Authority approved a $25,000 grant to Universal Tools and owner-operator Perry Brown.  Half of the money is contingent on the company creating at least five new jobs in the next six months.

Names in local business news:

The People's Bank of Lyons and Vidalia has a new Executive Vice President and Chief Executive Officer.  Al Ross comes to the bank from Colony Bankcorp in Fitzgerald where he was the CEO.

Toombs County will be represented in the next class of Leadership Georgia.  Kareem Owens, who works at Plant Hatch, has been selected for the Class of 2012.  

October 21-- Students at Montgomery County Elementary School have elected their first-ever Student Council.

{mosimage} 

Front left to right:  Mikoya McRae-navy shirt (VP),  Bria Boyer-red shirt (5th Grade Rep),  Amber Eason -royal blue shirt (Treasurer).  Back left to right: Shaw Robinson-burgandy shirt (Secretary),  Andrew Poole-pink cancer ribbon (President),  Zachary Horton-royal blue shirt (5th Grade Rep). Photo by Donna Evans.

Students from grades four through six cast their votes on October 14.  The results of the election were:  President – Andrew Poole; Vice President – Mikoya McRae; Secretary – Shaw Robinson; Treasurer – Amber Eason; Fifth Grade Representatives – Zachary Horton and Bria Boyer. 

The four elected officers—all sixth graders—came from a field of sixteen students who campaigned by making posters and giving speeches on the GMME Show (the school’s dailyvideo broadcast).  Their speeches explained to the other students why they would be the best choice for the office and included their campaign slogan.

The officers have been charged with these responsibilities:  (1) Be a role model and demonstrate leadership in the school and community; (2) Conduct themselves with academic integrity and exemplary conduct; (3) Talk and listen to classmates and bring their ideas and concerns to the Student Council and to the principal; (4) Help plan and carry out school fundraisers and service projects; (5) Work well with the administration and other officers; (6) Promote school spirit and pride in the school.

Some of the service projects that have been suggested for the Student Council include collecting prescription eyeglasses to donate to a civic organization such as the Lion’s Club, sponsoring a day to recognize students whose parents are serving in the military, and collecting dog and cat food for animal shelters.

The school wishes to thank all sixteen of the candidates who worked hard composing speeches and making posters before the elections!It is hoped that by having a Student Council and witnessing the process of campaigning and voting, all students are learning what it means to participate in a democracy.

 

October 21--  The Toombs-Montgomery Chamber of Commerce hosted a ribbon-cutting Friday morning at the new Retro Soda Fountain and Sandwich Shoppe in Lyons owned and operated by Mark and Alexis Montfort.

{mosimage} 

Here’s the lineup: (L-R) Emily Hitchcock, Alexa Britton, Alan Thigpen, Mark Montfort, Alexis Montfort, Yolanda Todd, Ashley Murphy, and Lyons Mayor ProTem Ben Mitchell. (Photo: Becky Palmer)

 

October 21--  The following information is furnished by the environmental group Ogeechee RiverKeeper.

Ogeechee Riverkeeper Challenges State Handling of Fish Kill

Lawsuit Highlights State’s Inability to Protect Georgia’s Rivers

ATLANTA – Just days after yet another fish kill on a Georgia river threatened public water supplies, Ogeechee Riverkeeper, represented by the public interest law firm, GreenLaw, filed a legal challenge to the state environmental agency’s handling of the largest fish kill in state history. In May 2011, more than 33,000 fish turned up dead in the Ogeechee River. Public health advisories were also issued warning local citizens not to use the river.

In September 2011, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) entered into an agreement, called a “Consent Order,” with King America Finishing, Inc., a textile manufacturing facility located on the Ogeechee River in Screven County, Georgia. The Order followed an investigation which found that the fish kill started 50 yards downstream of King Finishing’s discharge pipe. The investigation also found a host of other problems at the facility including, most egregiously, that the facility had started two unpermitted production lines which were discharging into the Ogeechee River.

While the Order will require King Finishing to spend $1 million on an unspecified “supplemental environmental project,” it does not require the company to pay a penalty, nor does it require that it cover the costs for the restocking of the fish in the river which was conducted by the state last month. Presumably, state taxpayers will be responsible for picking up that bill. The Order also allows the company to continue the unpermitted discharge of pollutants from the manufacturing line, although both state and federal law prohibit discharging into waterways without a permit. Adding insult to injury, the public has been given no opportunity for input into any of the Order’s terms.

"EPD left us with no choice but to file this lawsuit," states Dianna Wedincamp, Ogeechee 
Riverkeeper. “Citizens throughout the basin are simply outraged that the state not only
failed to prevent this catastrophe, but is excluding those most impacted by the catastrophe
at every turn. King Finishing seems to be EPD’s priority, not the citizens who live, work
and play along the Ogeechee River.”
 “The law is clear that any enforcement action must bring the facility into compliance with the law, 
stated Hutton Brown, water quality attorney for GreenLaw handling the case for Ogeechee
Riverkeeper. “Instead of enforcing the law, EPD is using the consent order process to give the
facility a ‘free pass’ to continue violating the law. If they had allowed the public, and particularly
the affected local citizens, to participate in the process before the Order was issued, they might
have avoided these problems.”

Under state and federal law, citizens are allowed 30 days to file a legal action challenging a final agency action, in this case, EPD’s decision to issue a consent order against King Finishing. The lawsuit, filed today with the Department of Natural Resources, will be heard by the Office of State Administrative Hearings.

The Ogeechee Riverkeeper has been receiving complaints about the facility going back as far as 2002. In August 2011, Ogeechee Riverkeeper filed a notice of intent to file a citizen suit against King Finishing in federal court for violations at the facility. The Riverkeeper is currently preparing to pursue the citizen suit if the problems with the Consent Order and river restoration are not adequately addressed.

EPD has been under increasing scrutiny on whether it can adequately protect public health and the environment from industrial spills. Last year, EPD was criticized for its slow response to a spill from a porta-potty company that turned Trail Creek in Athens metallic blue. The public is also questioning whether EPD should have been able to prevent the spill in the Ogeechee River as staff had conducted inspections of the King Finishing facility but had failed to notice the problems that led to the spill. Just last week, a spill occurred on Brier Creek outside of Keysville which shut down water intakes downstream of the spill.

A copy of the lawsuit and consent order can be found at www.green-law.org/OgeecheeFishKill

 


 

October 21--  A political watchdog group called Common Cause Georgia would like for Georgia lawmakers to place a limit on how much money lobbyists can contribute to candidates and office holders.

William Perry from Common Cause told the Vidalia Kiwanis Club there should be limits.

"In Georgia there are absolutely no limits on what a lobbyist can spend on your state legislator or even someone down at city hall.  If a lobbyist wants to buy a car to influence a decision of a public official, they can do it.  No other state in the southeast has unlimited restrictions like that," Perry reports.

Perry urges citizens to support the Georgia Alliance for Ethics Reform which supports caps on lobbyist spending.  More information is available at www.georgiaethicsreform.com.

Perry also claims extremes in politics are killing the country's ability to get anything done.  He says Common Cause Georgia is trying to bring more people to the middle.

"We work to get people from the left and the right to meet in the center to work on issues to allow our system to work.  If our system is broken, it doesn't matter if you're a liberal Democrat or a conservative Republican, your issue is not going anywhere if the system is not working," he says.

Common Cause also tracks contributions to statewide and legislative races in Georgia.  You can see how Georgia candidates fund their races at www.MoneyWatch.CommonCause.org.

October 20--  Georgia’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate rose to 10.3 percent in September, its highest level since January. The September rate was up one-tenth of a percentage point from 10.2 percent in August. The state’s jobless rate was also 10.2 percent in September a year ago. 

The rate increased due to Georgia losing jobs in September and many new job seekers continuously being unable to find work. The number of jobs in Georgia decreased 15,100, or four-tenths of a percentage point, from August to 3,793,200. Most of the loss was among seasonal workers in leisure and hospitality.

Although the rate increased, Labor Commissioner Mark Butler expressed that there are some positive economic signs in this month’s report. “One positive is fewer layoffs, which results in a smaller quantity of initial unemployment claims,” he said.

While there were 3,200 new jobs in professional and business services, 400 in manufacturing, as well as seasonal gains in state and local public schools, there weren’t enough to offset the overall losses.

First-time claims for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits in September decreased to 51,267, down 5,209, or 9.2 percent, from 56,476 in August. Most of the first-time claims were filed in trade, manufacturing, administrative and support services, and construction. There was an over-the-year decrease of 5,879 initial claims, or 10.3 percent, from 57,146 filed in September of last year.

The number of long-term unemployed workers increased 2,800 to 256,900, or 8.6 percent higher than in September of last year. The long-term unemployed account for 52.7 percent of Georgia’s 487,471 jobless workers. September is the 50th consecutive month Georgia has exceeded the national unemployment rate, which is currently 9.1 percent.   

October 20--  The Montgomery County school board is continuing its efforts to meet accreditation standards suggested by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).  A SACS review team is scheduled to return to the county in early December to assess board progress after putting it on probation this past summer.

{mosimage}One of the SACS suggestions is for the school board to have more community involvement in the development of strategic plans.  Monday night the school board heard a presentation from Bill Sampson from the Georgia School Board Association on one option the association can provide.

"I think it's important for every system to look at where they want to go.  The board has to ask where are we now, where do we want to go and how do we get there," Sampson said.

Sampson suggested a community outreach effort with a price tag of nearly $30,000 which seemed a bit high to board members Jim Paul Poole and Lendle Hamilton, however, chairwoman Deloris James believes it's worth it.

"I'm very impressed with all the things Mr. Samspon had to say tonight relative to strategic planning.  I know that some of my colleagues on the board think it's really expensive at $29,500.  We only have roughly a thousand students in this county, so we're only talking about $30 per child and I think every child in our county is worth $30," James said.

The school board said it will study Mr. Sampson's proposal as well as other options.

Meanwhile, the board appointed a third member to a tribunal scheduled to conduct fair dismissal hearings Tuesday, October 25.  Allen Smith, former Irwin County school superintendent, will join school superintendents from Dublin City and Wilcox County on the tribunal.

The hearings are being held for three teachers who lost their jobs during a reduction in force.  They are elementary school teacher Marilyn Haymons and middle school teachers Allie Rhodes and Lisa Parker.

Supply & demand at root of rising peanut butter costs

October 19--  Georgia Peanut Commission Chairman Armond Morris and Georgia Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall are submitting this editorial to address the misconception consumers may have that rising peanut butter costs are due to higher peanut prices paid to farmers. Georgia grows almost half of all peanuts produced in the U.S. The Georgia Peanut Commission represents Georgia's 4,500 peanut farmers. Georgia Farm Bureau is the state's largest general farm organization and many of its members grow peanuts.

Recent reports of increasing peanut butter costs and farmers receiving record high peanut prices don't tell the whole story. Some consumers may have concluded from these reports that farmers are responsible for the higher peanut butter prices peanut butter manufacturers have announced.

Although some farmers have been offered $800 to $1,000 a ton for their peanuts this fall, most farmers contracted their peanuts for $550 to $600 a ton before planting their crop last spring. Farmers forward contract their crops in order to obtain financing to buy supplies needed to plant the crop.

Peanut market experts estimate 75 to 80 percent of Georgia's farmers contracted their peanuts with buyers at the lower prices, so only 20 to 25 percent of the peanuts that farmers are harvesting this fall are expected to be sold at the higher prices.

References to USDA estimated prices, known in the industry as the USDA National Posted Price, also misled consumers. In mid-October, the USDA National Posted Price, which is issued weekly, listed runner peanuts - the type used to make peanut butter - at $1,200 a ton, but it's well known in the peanut industry that farmers never receive the USDA estimated price.

A low supply of peanuts left from last year's crop, poor market prices at planting and drought conditions throughout this year's growing season have converged at one time to create a perfect storm that is driving up the price of peanuts. The tight peanut supply and the rules of supply and demand, not farmers, are responsible for higher prices consumers may experience.

Some might criticize farmers for not planting enough peanut acres, but farmers told peanut buyers in the spring that prices were not high enough to compete for cotton and corn acres, but buyers assumed there would be enough peanuts. Farmers are business owners and just like other businesses, they have to make planting decisions that will keep their farms economically viable to survive.

Peanuts require crop rotation to maximize production efficiency and to protect natural resources. Cotton and corn are the predominant crops used for this purpose. Farmers already have the specialized equipment to plant, tend and harvest each of these crops, so it requires only a shift in resources when the market dictates.

Although peanut prices are higher than farmers have seen in a long time, it should be noted that farmers are facing record high production costs. According to University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Economist Nathan Smith, this year's peanut crop will be one of the costliest to produce on record. Rising costs of fuel, fertilizer, seed, and pest and weed control are expected to increase the cost of irrigated peanuts by 30 percent and non-irrigated peanuts by 20 percent above last year.

Even in the face of rising peanut butter prices, peanut butter is still a relatively inexpensive source of high quality protein.

Georgia's peanut farmers have remained committed to feeding America in good years and in bad because they take pride in knowing their peanuts are used to make nutritious products that feed America. They know that peanut butter has increased in demand as Americans have cut their budgets to weather the recession and their hope is that supply and demand will soon stabilize.

Sincerely,

Armond Morris
Chairman, Georgia Peanut Commission

Zippy Duvall
President, Georgia Farm Bureau

October 19--  Monthly Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for more than 60 million Americans will increase 3.6 percent in 2012, the Social Security Administration announced today.

The 3.6 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) will begin with benefits that nearly 55 million Social Security beneficiaries receive in January 2012.  Increased payments to more than 8 million SSI beneficiaries will begin on December 30, 2011.

Some other changes that take effect in January of each year are based on the increase in average wages.  Based on that increase, the maximum amount of earnings subject to the Social Security tax (taxable maximum) will increase to $110,100 from $106,800.  Of the estimated 161 million workers who will pay Social Security taxes in 2012, about 10 million will pay higher taxes as a result of the increase in the taxable maximum. 

Information about Medicare changes for 2012, when announced, will be available at www.Medicare.gov.  For some beneficiaries, their Social Security increase may be partially or completely offset by increases in Medicare premiums.  

The Social Security Act provides for how the COLA is calculated.  To read more, please visit www.socialsecurity.gov/cola

 


October 19--  Walmart has made a $1,000 grant to Montgomery County Elementary School.  Teachers say the money will be used to buy classroom supplies and make learning fun for their students.

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Montgomery Elementary Students Left to Right: Bryce McGuire, Xzavia Nichols, Davion Hagan and Tevin Hagan. Back Row: Walmart Management Team Member: Abraham Grollon, MCES 5th Grade Math Teacher: Mae Mills, MCES 6th Grade Reading Teacher: Vanessa McGuire and Walmart Management Team Member: Joe Holaway.

 

         

October 19--  A second Augusta-area resident is entering the race for the 12th Congressional District House seat currently held by Democrat John Barrow.

Rick Allen is a 59-year-old construction company owner who is making his first run for office.

{mosimage}"The first thing I would do is vote to repeal Obamacare which Barrow didn't do.  He voted against the bill initially and then voted against repealing it and I didn't quite understand that.  Frankly, we don't know the impact that's going to have on small business.  The next thing I would do is would come up with legislation to deregulate and create jobs.  Small business is the job creator and that is what is necessary in this economy.  I think there's a lot of pentup demand out there, but the small business community is just sitting on hold," Allen believes.

Allen was born on a farm in Columbia County and moved to Augusta to start his construction business after graduating from Auburn.  One of the candidates he'll face in the Republican primary is State Representative Lee Anderson of Grovetown.  Allen believes it's an advantage not to have held office. "I think there's an anti-incumbent mood in this country," he says.

As a businessman, Allen says he's got a lot in common with presidential candidate Herman Cain.

"I like Herman.  I've never met him, but I like what he's doing.  This plan he's got is very bold. I'm not ready to say I endorse 9-9-9, but he's sticking by his guns and I admire a man who does that.  He's been successful in business and we need business people in Washington.  We've got enough lawyers, but we need pay who know how to create jobs and sign a paycheck," Allen says.

Allen met recently in Vidalia with onion farmers and says he distressed with the problems they're facing with the government's guest work program and with the new state immigration law.

October 18--  Food Stamp recipients will soon experience a change in the timing of their monthly benefit.  Starting in November, the State will use a new formula to determine when clients will receive their benefits.  Food stamp benefit amounts will not change as a result of this new process and the date will still fall between the 5th and the 14th of each month.  Benefits will now be distributed based on the last two digits of the Client ID for the Head of Household.

The Client ID is a unique number assigned to each Division of Family & Children Services (DFCS) client when applying for food stamps. The Client ID can be found on all notices received from the Georgia Department of Human Services (DHS). The chart below can be used to determine the benefit availability date.

 

Last 2 digits of Client ID

Monthly DEPOSIT date

 

Last 2 digits of Client ID

Monthly DEPOSIT date

00-09

5th

50-59

10th

10-19

6th

60-69

11th

20-29

7th

70-79

12th

30-39

8th

80-89

13th

40-49

9th

90-99

14th

 

Since the Client ID does not change over time, this will help ensure that clients receive food stamp benefits on the same date each month. A Client ID is used by several programs in DHS and can also be used to create an online account via COMPASS at www.compass.ga.gov. On COMPASS, DFCS clients can apply for eligibility, check their benefits, report changes, and renew benefits.

If assistance is needed with obtaining a Client ID, please contact a DFCS Eligibility Specialist at your local DFCS office.

October 18--  The Georgia Republican Party issued a statement criticizing Democrat Congressman John Barrow of the 12th District for voting against Free Trade Acts with Korea, Columbia and Panama.  We asked Congressman Barrow for comment.  Both statements are below.

ATLANTA - Georgia Republican Party Chairman Sue P. Everhart released the following statement in response to Georgia Congressman John Barrow's vote in opposition of all three U.S. Trade Agreements that came before Congress on Wednesday, October 12:

"I would like to applaud the United States Congress for working in a bipartisan manner to overwhelmingly approve the long-awaited U.S. Trade Agreements with Columbia, Korea and Panama. These agreements will undoubtedly provide new opportunities for mutually beneficial partnerships, create abundant job opportunities in Georgia and across the country and will expand opportunities for Georgia's lucrative export market.

"In spite of the fact that the United State Department of Agriculture estimates an additional $45 million in exports from Georgia annually as a direct result of the passage of the Trade Agreements, Congressman John Barrow once again chose to sell his vote to the highest bidder, much to the appeasement of his labor union buddies and special interest donors.

Georgians take job creation and economic growth very seriously, and it is nothing short of incomprehensible that he would vote against the future prosperity of our state and our nation.

"While Representative Barrow continues to vote against the best interest and economic well-being of the hard working citizens of Georgia's 12th Congressional District, the Georgia Republican Party will work tirelessly to ensure that come 2012, John Barrow will no longer stand as the single largest impediment to economic prosperity in Southeast Georgia. Simply put, Georgia deserves better."

Congressman Barrow's office issued the following statement in reply:

"We've seen this story played out with previous free trade agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA," said Congressman John Barrow (D - GA 12). "We are promised that free trade agreements will bring tremendous job growth and prosperity to everyone here in America. But after passage, we are confronted with a crushing reality of more job losses when companies outsource our jobs overseas. We have folks who need work here at home and we need to bring good jobs to America, not export more jobs overseas to other countries."

October 17--  The remake of the movie "Footloose" was the number two movie in the country this past weekend and part of the soundtrack was penned by two Vidalia musicians.

{mosimage}The rap lyrics for the song, "Feet Off the Ground" were written by Mathew Dontel Hill, Jr. His stage name is BANK Mr. 912.

{mosimage}Martin Wardlaw, founder of Stackthat Entertainment, wrote the music. According to Wardlaw, the song really got started at Vidalia High School. "Indians In My System,' that's what people really knew it as.  The cheerleaders did a routine to it and BANK already had a dance to it, so they learned the dance and did it at a pep rally.  It was played at the football games and at a few of the Vidalia High School basketball games," Wardlaw recalls.

"The whole purpose behind Stackthat Entertainment was to showcase some of the local talent we have here in Toombs County.  To have something in a major Paramount film is a big thing not only for the label and the artists, but also Toombs County.  We're very excited," he says.

{mosimage}Another of Wardlaw's artists is finishing her college work at Brewton Parker and is planning release of a song planned for a television show in the Philippines.  Lisa Taylor, who records as Miss Leesah," is doing a song written by Wardlaw for the program "Party Pilipinas."

 

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"On behalf of Meadows Healthcare Foundation, Director Ansley Threlkeld (R) accepts a grant of $15,000 from B.J. Davis for the Georgia Power Foundation.

The funds will go towards equipping and maintaining the emergency room and services at Meadows Regional Medical Center and to ensure the most advanced emergency services are in place for the employees of Plant Hatch and other Georgia Power employees in the area.  Meadows Healthcare Foundation is proud of its relationship with the Georgia Power family, and it looks forward to working together for the betterment of our community.

This gift is one of several significant donations made to the Meadows Foundation in the last 12 months and helps further the Foundation’s mission of providing our community with an opportunity to invest in their healthcare.”

October 17-- With the continuing influx of data on Georgia’s new immigration law, Sen. Curt Thompson (D-Tucker), announces a public briefing to be held on Tuesday, Nov. 15 at the Capitol.

Thompson, the chairman of the Senate Democratic Special Committee on Immigration and Georgia Economy, said several months have passed since HB 87 was signed into law and statistics have become available on the impact the law has had on Georgia’s economy.

Several interested parties are expected to offer testimony before the Democratic Special Committee with emphasis on two recent reports: “How Georgia’s Anti-Immigration Law Could Hurt the State’s (and Nation’s) Economy,” by journalist Tom Baxter, and “An Evaluation of Direct and Indirect Economic Losses Incurred by Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Producers in Spring 2011,” by the University of Georgia Center for Agribusiness and Economic Development.

Those expected to offer testimony include journalist Tom Baxter, with the Southern Political Report; Karen I. Bremer, executive director of the Georgia Restaurant Association; Republican Mayor Paul Bridges of Uvalda, Ga.; Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials; and Charles Hall, executive director of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association.

Other committee members joining Sen. Thompson at the briefing will be Sens. Doug Stoner (D-Smyrna), Vincent Fort (D-Atlanta), Jason Carter (D-Decatur), Gail Davenport (D-Jonesboro) and Emmanuel Jones (D-Decatur).

 

October 17--  Local officials report someone who says they represent "Meals on Wheels" has been trying to get personal information from senior citizens in the Glenwood area.

The Area Agency on Aging says a person has been going door-to-door for information such as social security numbers, date of birth, driver's license info, etc.

The person is not associated with "Meals on Wheels" and if you are approached you need to call your local police or the Heart of Georgia Altamaha Regional Commission Area Agency on Aging at 888-367-9913 toll free.

October 17--  Congressman John Barrow (GA-12) will be holding several events in the district this week, including tours of manufacturing facilities in the Savannah area, the presentation of the Congressional Award to two recipients, a visit to drought-affected areas near Millen, and a book drop in Soperton Friday.

A complete schedule of events appears below.  All events are free and open to the public. 

Monday – October 17, 2011

2:30 PM-3:30 PM

Tour of Efacec

2789 Hwy 21 South

Rincon, GA

Wednesday – October 19, 2011

9:00 AM-9:20 AM

Early Voting

Chatham County Board of Elections

1117 Eisenhower Drive, Suite E

Savannah, GA

 

9:30 AM-10:00 AM

Presentation of Congressional Award to Luke Emmoth and Paloma Mercado

Savannah District Office

450 Mall Blvd. Suite A

Savannah, GA

 

1:30 PM-3:00 PM

Tour of Mitsubishi Plant

1000 Pine Meadow Drive

Pooler, GA

Thursday – October 20, 2011

12:15 PM-1:30 PM

Speech to Sylvania Rotary Club

R&D’s Restaurant

1176 Burton’s Ferry Hwy (Hwy 301)

Sylvania, GA

 

2:00 PM-3:00 PM

Drive through drought affected areas in Millen

Meet at 434 E. Barney Avenue

Millen, GA

 

6:00 PM-8:00 PM

Augusta Credit Union Chapter Meeting

Doubletree Hotel

2651 Perimeter Pkwy

Augusta, GA

Friday – October 21, 2011

8:00 AM-9:30 AM

Glennville Eggs and Issues Breakfast

Glennville Garden Club

123 N. Caswell Street

Glennville, GA

 

11:00 AM-12:00 PM

Treutlen Elementary Book Drop

2166 N. College St.

Soperton, GA

October 15--  Fish and Wildlife Management students from Southeastern Technical College pulled on their boots and waders to inspect wood duck boxes at George L. Smith State Park on Wednesday, October 12.

The students, accompanied by STC instructor Jill Lehman, examined nearly 100 duck boxes over two trips to the park.

“We’re monitoring the boxes,” said Lehman. “They have to have cedar shavings put into them, and every year, we’ll come through, clean out the old shavings, and count the number of hatched eggs. We record that info and send it to the Duck Conservation Society.”

The boxes, which serve as nest housings for the wood ducks, sit atop poles placed varying distances from the water, so while some students sunk their boots into water and mud, others hoisted a partner up to a box a dozen feet high.

The wood duck nesting box maintenance program is a key component in the continued restoration of wood duck numbers in the state.  Lehman notes that the staff of George L Smith State Park has been invaluable in this effort, which is turning heads outside of Georgia.

“Georgia has the most successful duck box monitoring program,” said Lehman. “It’s just unbelievable. In fact, other states are contacting the Duck Conservation Society of Georgia to get information about how to improve their programs.”

In addition to the boxes at the park, duck boxes at the Herrington Homestead Georgia Sheriffs’ Youth Home also fall under the watch of STC’s Fish and Wildlife Management students.

The Fish and Wildlife Management Diploma Program is a sequence of courses that prepares students for careers as wildlife technicians. The Fish & Wildlife Program prepares individuals to conserve and manage wilderness areas and the flora, marine, and aquatic life therein, and manage wildlife reservations and zoological/aquarium facilities for recreational, commercial, and ecological purposes.

{mosimage} 

Joe Rhinehart examines a duck box as Jesse Frost holds him up.

October 17-  Last week's annual golf tournament to benefit the Toombs-Montgomery Chamber of Commerce raised over $16,000 according to tournament organizers.

{mosimage}

The team from TUMI took first place.  Pictured (L-R) are Doug Roper, Golf Tournament Committee Member; Ben Davis, Tumi; Dexter Johnson, Tumi, John Koon, Golf Tournament Chair (Not pictured: Richard Lawrence, Tumi and Larry Curl, Tumi).

Garrett Wilcox won the tournament raffle for rounds of golf at Pinehurst.

 

October 17--  Army Private First Class Ian Edge suffered serious combat injuries in Afghanistan.  He is the son-in-law of Father Jim and Anne Clendinen of the Episcopal Church of the Annunciation in Vidalia.  The newspaper in Bainbridge provides the following story on his return to his hometown after treatment and ongoing rehab at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington and the Navy hospital in Bethesda, Maryland.  Click below for the story.

http://www.thepostsearchlight.com/2011/10/10/brinson-soldier-welcomed-home/

October 17--  State Senator Jack Hill of Reidsville is among those appointed by Governor Deal to a committee studying funding of post-secondary education in Georgia.

Gov. Nathan Deal today announced that he has formed a higher education funding study commission through Executive Order. The commission will serve in an advisory capacity and will examine how the funding formulas for the University System and Technical College System should be changed in order to improve higher education outcomes in the state. 

“The work of this commission will help us ensure that taxpayer dollars are being used to boost our No. 1 tool for economic development: a talented, highly educated workforce,” Deal said. “We have assembled a strong group representing every region in the state to do this work, and I look forward to receiving its recommendations.”

Georgia spends approximately 11 percent of the state budget and approximately two-thirds of the lottery funds on providing access to college.

The commission’s recommendations will focus on how to incentivize college completion through performance funding and other mechanisms.

“The current funding formula is based on student enrollment but not student completion,” Deal said. “It rewards institutions for increasing the number of students but does not consider whether or not institutions are successful in educating those students. I want to incentivize college completion.”

The commission may also review existing components of the higher education funding formulas, which were originally developed in 1982. The commission shall provide recommendations to the governor by Dec. 1, 2012.

By 2018, more than 60 percent of job openings in Georgia will require some form of postsecondary education. However, less than a quarter of full-time students at two-year colleges graduate. For public four-year colleges, only 44 percent of students graduate within six years. To meet this need, the state of Georgia needs strong university and technical college systems to prepare its students to be career-ready upon graduation.

The members of the commission are as follows:

Representing the University System of Georgia:

Mr. Hank Huckaby, Chancellor, University System of Georgia

Mr. Don Leeburn, Jr., At-Large Member, Board of Regents

Mr. Philip Wilheit, Sr., At-Large Member, Board of Regents

Dr. Bud Peterson, President, Georgia Institute of Technology

Dr. Gary McGaha, President, Atlanta Metro College

Dr. Ron Core, Vice President for Business and Finance, Georgia Southern University

Dr. Sandra Jordan, Provost, Georgia College and State University

Mr. James Taylor, Student, University of Georgia

Mr. Kevin Vantrees, Student, Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College

Representing the Technical College System of Georgia:

Mr. Ron Jackson, Commissioner, Technical College System of Georgia

Mr. Otis M. Raybon, Jr., 11th Congressional District, State Board of the Technical College System of Georgia

Mr. Michael Sullivan, 7th Congressional District, State Board of the Technical College System of Georgia

Dr. Anthony Parker, President, Albany Technical College

Dr. Ray Perren, President, Wiregrass Technical College

Dr. Mindy McCannon, Vice President of Academic Affairs, Georgia Northwestern Technical College

Mr. David Weldon, Vice President of Administration, Gwinnett Technical College

Mr. Alvie Coles, Student, Ogeechee Technical College

Representing the Georgia House of Representatives:

Chairman Terry England, Appropriations Committee

Chairman Len Walker, Higher Education Committee

Chairman Tom Rice, Motor Vehicles Committee

Representing the Georgia Senate:

Chairman Jack Hill, Appropriations Committee

Chairman Buddy Carter, Higher Education Committee

Chairman Johnny Grant, Public Safety Committee

Representing the Business Community:

Mr. Chris Klaus, CEO, Kaneva

Ms. Alexis Balkum, Vice President of Learning and Development, Turner Broadcasting System, Inc.

Representing the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget:

Debbie Dlugolenski, Director, Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget and State Chief Financial Officer

The Commission will be co-chaired by the two Higher Education Chairmen, Walker and Carter.

This commission is being formed as part of Deal’s focus on college completion, and the Complete College Georgia Initiative is an important piece of Deal’s broader Georgia Competitiveness Initiative. In August 2011, Georgia was one of 10 states that won the $1 million Completion Innovation Challenge grant. Thirty-three states applied for the 18-month implementation grants for innovative, high-impact college completion initiatives designed to enhance student success and close attainment gaps for traditionally underrepresented populations. Georgia’s application focused on restructuring remediation programs. Complete College America received funding support for the grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

 

 

October 17 – The Heart of Georgia Altamaha Regional Commission held their Transportation Roundtable meeting last week at the Vidalia Community Center.  The purpose of the meeting was to approve the final list of local and regional transportation projects that will be included in the transportation referendum that will go before the voters next July.     

Executive committee Chairman Buddy Adams explained the details of the meeting.  “The vote today was to approve the regional projects.  There were 3 counties that didn’t have a project that met DOT specs.  We approved all the regional projects and our region turned in more regional projects than any other region in the state.”  Adams also stated, “The DOT looked at them and told us what we needed to do on both the local and regional projects because there were some differences in the monies.  It took us a little while but everybody is getting something out of this.”  All the local and regional projects that were presented at the meeting were approved to be on the referendum. 

Chairman Adams explained the reason why voters should approve this tax referendum next July.  “This is some money that we would not get otherwise, mostly the local projects, from resurfacing and building some roads in our communities.  This is a way that we can do some projects for our citizens in each community.” 

Chairman Adams went on to explain that if 1 or 2 counties does not vote to pass the referendum but the overall 17 county region passes the referendum the tax will still go into effect for all the 17 counties involved.   

Jesup Mayor Herb Shaw was the lone dissenting vote on the commission in regards to the projects that were selected to be on the referendum.  Mayor Shaw stated that he felt the proposed projects would cost the taxpayers of Wayne County approximately 10 million dollars because the tax would generate approximately 40 million dollars but that Wayne County would only receive approximately 30 million dollars in transportation projects in return.   

Voters will cast their ballot on July 31, 2012 to determine if the 1 cent transportation special purpose local option sales tax will be enacted.

October 14--  The Executive Director of the Vidalia Onion Committee has been named by the business magazine "Georgia Trend" to its annual "40 Under 40," list.

Susan Percy is the magazine's managing editor, "This is something we've been doing for 15 years and its our way of recognizing young high achievers from throughout the state and sharing their stories with our readers," she says.

{mosimage}Wendy Brannen helped the Vidalia Onion achieve new sales levels two years ago when she and Universal Studios partnered to promote the Vidalia Onion in conjunction with release of a new Shrek movie.

Percy says that's the kind of leadership which makes Georgia Trend take notice. "We just want to remind our readers the next generation of leaders is coming up to make our state and their particular corner of the state a better place to live and work and that's what we hope to achieve with our "40 Under 40," she notes.

Brannen is most proud of bringing the Vidalia Onion Museum to reality and says it took a lot of people to make it happen.

"Really and truly the state and the country has paid attention to the fact that we in this area have been able to build a museum around the Vidalia Onion.  I think that's a big deal for all of us and if they want to put me on a list of 40 people and recognize me for that, I certainly appreciate it, but it was a collaborative effort," she says.

October 13 – Escapee Frederick Newton was captured this afternoon and is back in custody according to authorities.

Newton got away from guards Wednesday afternoon at Indian Ford Farms along Georgia Highway 152 between Cobbtown and Lyons. 

More details will come as they are made available. 

 

October 11-- The Medical Staff of Meadows Regional Medical Center is again sponsoring the Medical Staff Youth Advisory Board.  This is the fifth year for the Board composed of juniors and seniors with exceptional academic records and interests in a medical related career from Montgomery County High School, Vidalia High School, Toombs County High School, Robert Toombs Christian Academy, and Treutlen County High School.    Dr. Karen McColl is the Youth Advisory Board Director.

The Board began meeting on a monthly basis in September.  The programs each month will vary, from topics on healthcare, to community issues, to special guests discussing topics that will be interesting and informative to the students.

Participants will learn about the healthcare industry and how integral healthcare is to the health and vitality of a community.  The motto for the program is LEADING TODAY’S YOUTH TO A HEALTHIER TOMORROW.  The MRMC Medical Staff hopes this program will provide participants with the knowledge, confidence, and skills to encourage them to pursue a healthcare related career.

{mosimage}Members of the 2011-2012 Medical Staff Youth Advisory Board are Tamia Anthony, Haley Carter, Rosauro Castro, Jasmine Cheeves, Carol Anne Conley, Anna Davis, Hunter Dennard, Kyle Fabacher, Teyaijah Givens, Victoria Harris, Danielle Holton, Cole Johnson, Mark Madison, Darby Oliver, Jacob Richardson, Chanel Riggins, Sydney Snow, Jellej Stanley, Jacob Stuckless and Anna Sullivan.

October 11--  The price of trash pick-up and water rates is increasing slightly next year in Vidalia.

Monday night the city council approved a dollar a month increase for trash pickup and another dollar a month for water and sewer service.  City manager Bill Torrance says its because the cost of doing city business has been going up. "That goes to help pay for the increased cost of utilities, gas and the increased cost of other activities like the recycling center and the pickup of yard trash ," he said.

The council also okayed the sale of a city-owned home on Julie Drive to Byron Fountain for $120,000 and reappointed Barbara Reid to the Vidalia Housing Authority Board.

October 11--  The Montgomery County Commission is allocating an estimated $100,000 a year for the next 15 years to the county's Development Authority.

The commission voted to invest one-half mil in taxes in economic development at its October meeting Monday.

Development Authority Chairman Colon Sammons says it will give the Development Authority the money it needs to attract business and jobs to the county.

"It allows the Development Authority to make some plans for the future and continue the good things that our Executive Director Joe Filippone has been doing for the last three or four years.  There are quite a few new businesses in Mount Vernon now," Sammons says.

Meanwhile, Filippone told the Commissioners there's some increase in local sales taxes due to new retail activity in the county.  He also reported that Montgomery County has met state requirements to be designated a "Work Ready" community and thanked Lisa Adams and Kim Taylor from STC for their assistance.

The commission also met with residents of Ailey who are concerned about redistricting maps which are being developed in conjunction with the Georgia Office of Reapportionment in Atlanta.  The Ailey District has only a quarter of the more than 1,600 potential voters required by federal law.  The new map is expected to move a significant amount of voters from the Mount Vernon District into the Ailey District.

The commission appointed Dee Anne Shiplett to succeed Cathy Moses on the Regional Mental Health Board.

October 10--  An elderly woman perished early Monday morning in a Toombs County mobile home fire.

{mosimage} 

Nothing is left of the mobile home in this pre-dawn photo courtesy of Donna Lee.

Firemen from North Toombs Fire Department responded to the fire  at 262 Apache Lane in northeast Toombs County about three a.m. according to Toombs County Sheriff Junior Kight.  He identifies the victim as 76-year-old Nira Jean Schmidt and says two other people in the home, Danny Lee Sims and Lynn Amerson, were able to escape.

Donna Lee with the American Red Cross says Mrs. Schmidt perished after alerting the other two people about the fire.

"The older lady who died in the fire actually woke up and, according to the other two residents of the home, she woke them up to tell them to get out.  They split up in the hallway and the other two people got out but she didn't make it," Lee reports.

Lee says the Red Cross is helping the survivors with food and clothing and their medicine and medical equipment.

Sheriff Kight says the State Fire Marshall's office is investigating the cause of the fire.

October 10--  The radioactive water leak at Plant Hatch south of Vidalia has been repaired with no impact on public health and safety, according to the following information Monday from the Southern Company.

"Things are going very well at the site. The Plant Hatch sampling program has worked successfully in identifying the suspect line and leak. All of our testing is complete, and we have confirmed that one underground leak was present in one line. The line has been drained, with covers welded on both ends so it cannot be used in the future. It is no longer in use.

A new line will be added above ground to replace the one with the leak. We have continued our sampling and there have been no increases in tritium on or offsite. There remains no impact to the health and safety of the public."

 

 

October 10--  There's a new video on the worldwide web and it's all about opportunities available in Toombs County.

The Toombs County Development Authority paid $30,000 to produce a video designed to attract new industry to the community.  You can see the vido by clicking www.toombsconnect.com.  The Authority released the following info on the video.

"The Toombs County Development Authority (TCDA) has produced and released a new video about growth and business in the county.  The video offers a glimpse of business growth and lifestyle as told by business leaders who address the viewer in a testimonial style while showing Toombs County at work and play. The video is featured on the TCDA web site at www.toombsconnect.com.

“We’re very pleased with the results,” said Bill Mitchell, Executive Director of the TCDA. “We felt it was important to tell our story to companies and site selection consultants that are thinking of bringing jobs to our area of the state.”

That story includes not only testimonials from companies like Dot Foods, Oxford Apparel and Trane which have long called Toombs County home, but growing entrepreneurial companies such as U.S. Energy Sciences and more recently, new companies such as Chicken of the Sea – GA Canning and US Pet Nutrition.

“We’ve really emphasized our proximity to the Port in Savannah,” said B.J. Davis, Local Manager for Georgia Power & Chair of the TCDA.  “It’s a good story that will highlight our community spirit and ability to support our diversified workforce.”

Supporting existing companies that are expanding and recruiting companies who are relocating are the primary jobs of the Toombs County Development Authority.  The video launch caps a two and a half year phase of rebranding for the Authority that has provided a long-term strategic plan, a new visual identity & logo, assorted marketing materials and web site.  The TCDA spent more than a year alone shooting footage before making the video so that it provides a wide variety of seasonal “slices of life” for the viewer.  In addition to port & infrastructure, business scenes and testimonials, the video also captures The Vidalia Onion Festival, Tales From the Altamaha, The Real Squeal Bar-B-Que & Bluegrass Festival and many others, as well as dramatic aerial views of the county. 

“We’re really grateful for all of the area business leaders who came together and helped us tell the story,” said Pollyann Martin, Associate Broker with The Temples Company and 2010 TCDA Marketing Committee Chair.  “This is the kind of video message that promotes our county, our people, our workforce and the assets we have in Toombs County”.

Coastal Marketing Group (www.coastalmarketinggroup.com) produced the video in collaboration with the TCDA."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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October 10--  The lack of labor cost Vidalia Onion farmers an estimated $16 million last growing season according to a produce industry study.

Overall the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association estimates Georgia's new immigratiion law cost farmers of seven commodities about $140 million.

Aries Haygood is the Chairman of the Vidalia Onion Growers Committee and says the new state law means many migrant workers are bypassing work in Georgia.

"With the new law a lot of us farmers who rely on that help are seeing an impact from the workforce actually moving from Florida on up to North Carolina and not coming to Georgia.  Since we can't find enough workers here, we count on that labor to be efficient," he says.

Officials from Governor Deal's administration have been meeting with farmers to find solutions and Congressman Jack Kingston has visited Vidalia for ideas on making the federal government's guest worker program more responsive to farmers.

Haygood hopes help is the on the way and the sooner the better.  "I feel like we've got a lot of folks supporting us and trying to come up with a good program.  We'll find out in November when we begin to plant the crop.  I want to stay optimistic," he says.

Meanwhile, the produce growers association says over half the growers it surveyed are planning to cut back on acreage because of labor uncertainities.

 

October 8 -- Partin Park in Lyons was filled with thousands of people Saturday for the 2nd Annual Real Squeal BBQ and Music Festival and once again it did not disappoint as the weather, the music, and the barbeque were absolutely perfect.  Saturday’s Kansas City Barbeque Society sanctioned professional event featured 39 teams competing in 4 categories for a total of $15,000 in prizes.  Each participating team was required to cook chicken, ribs, pork, and brisket.  

{mosimage}The Grand Champion in this year’s professional event and the winner of the $2,000 top prize was the team of ButtRub.com from Santa Rosa Beach, FL.  Byron Chism of ButtRub.com (shown with Alexa Britton of the Lyons Better Hometown Office,)says this was his first time at the Real Squeal and the event was excellent.  “I think it is an excellent contest.  There is a lot of hospitality in the true southern nature.  Of course it’s a great time of year to be cooking.  Anytime you don’t have to turn on an air conditioner and you can just open up a window and enjoy the great outdoors and enjoy the camaraderie and the people and passersby.  Its been a great experience and I look forward to coming back.”  

Reserve Grand Champion and winner of $1,500 was Myron Mixon of Jack’s Old South from Unadilla, GA.  Winners of the individual categories were Uncle Chet’s BBQ in the chicken category, Butt Naked and Smokin’ in the Ribs category, EJ’s Q in the pork category and ButtRub.com in the brisket category.    

After a long day of preparation and cooking on Friday, the amateur participants had to wait until Saturday at Partin Park for the winners to be announced.  The Grand Champion of the amateur event was Competition Smokers who won the individual rib category as well as the overall event.  The Reserve Grand Champion prize went to The Grill Life who also won the chicken category.   

Another popular event was the People’s Choice competition on Saturday at Partin Park where public tasting of participating team’s Boston Butt barbeque was conducted and the team of BS & J’s was named the winner.   

A soccer tournament was added to this year’s Real Squeal: BBQ and Music event with games being held all week long leading up to Saturday and the winner of the soccer tournament was the team sponsored by KJ’s construction.   

Don’t forget to start planning now to be a part of next year’s Real Squeal: BBQ and Music festival on the first weekend in October as it promises to be even bigger and better. 

 

October 7--The state of Georgia’s net tax collections for the month of September totaled $1.5 billion, an increase of $80.6 million or 5.6 percent compared to the same period last fiscal year. Through the first quarter of FY2012, net revenue collections totaled $4.1 billion, an increase of $272 million or 7.2 percent compared to last year, Gov. Nathan Deal reported today.

“This is the fifth straight quarter of positive net revenue growth over 3.8 percent,” Deal said. “While the continued trend of year-over-year growth for a third consecutive month is certainly a positive sign, we will continue to work tirelessly to promote job growth and maintain a conservative state budget. I am optimistic about the economic outlook for Georgia over the next several months, but there is still much work to be done.”

The following changes within the various tax categories led to the overall net revenue increase:
 
Individual Income Tax collections for September totaled $812 million, up from $792 million in September 2010, for an increase of $20 million or 2.6 percent.

The following notable components within Individual Income Tax account for the increase:
 
•      Individual Income Tax Return payments were up $13 million or 98.7 percent
 
•      Individual Estimated payments were up $9 million or 7.3 percent
 
•      Individual Income Tax refunds issued (net of voided checks) remained essentially unchanged
 
•      All other Individual Income Tax categories combined for a decrease of $2 million

Net Sales and Use Tax collections for September totaled $441 million, up from $412 million in September 2010, for an increase of $29 million or 7.1 percent. The monthly Sales Tax Distribution to local governments totaled $395 million, which was an increase of $18 million or 4.8 percent over last year’s distribution.

 

October 7--  Three people are under arrest after a "meth bust" Thursday.

Toombs County Sheriff Junior Kight says a search of a house on Highway 56 West near Uvalda turned up the methamphetamine.

"Most of these type labs, what they call the 'shake and bake' labs, are mostly for personal use.  They can go to Walmart and buy everything that's in it.  They can sell a little bit of it, but most of it is used for personal use," he said.

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The sheriff said the three being charged with manufacture of a controlled substance are 50-year-old Danny Lee McCarty of Uvalda (L), 31-year-old Scott Allen Dees (middle) and 50-year-old Lynn Downie Watson(R) of Lyons.  McCarty was out of jail on probation.

Sheriff Kight reports drug use of all types is widespread in Toombs County.

October 7--  A woman was seriously injured late Wednesday afternoon in a Toombs County auto accident.

The Georgia State Patrol reports 62-year-old LLuuanna Wright of Uvalda suffered head injuries when her SUV ran off Aimwell Road and hit pine trees. 

Officers said she was flown to Memorial Medical Center in Savannah in critical condition.

Mrs. Wright was a retired school bus driver for the Toombs County school system.

October 7--  Herman Cain has opened up a 20 percentage point lead among likely Republican primary voters in the race for the Presidential nomination, and also holds a narrow lead among all likely voters over President Barack Obama.

Cains share of the GOP primary has jumped 10 percentage points since Sept. 26 and is now at 38%. Mitt Romney is second with 18%, followed by both Rick Perry and Ron Paul, at 12% each.

The Oct. 3-5 IBOPE Zogby interactive poll also matches Cain, Romney and Perry against Obama. Cain led Obama, 46%-44%, while Obama is one-point ahead of Romney, 41%-40%, and leads Perry, 45%-40%.

Please click the link below to view the full news release on our website:
http://www.ibopezogby.com/news/2011/10/06/ibope-zogby-poll-cain-expands-lead-over-gop-field-leads-obama-46-44/

October 6--  You'll want to put Lyons on your weekend agenda for the 2nd Annual Real Squeal Barbeque and Music Festival.

Amateur chefs will be barbequing downtown most of Friday with a classic car cruise-in capped by a Friday night concert by new country music singer Mandy Gawley, a gal with family roots in Lyons according to Alexa Britton of the Lyons Better Hometown Office.

"She is from Milton, Georgia and her grandmother was from here.  Her grandmother was Claytene Coxwell and she remembers coming to Lyons to visit and considers Toombs County one of her homes.  She has a beautiful voice and will do a great, family-oriented show," Alexa says.

The concert is at 7:30 Friday night in the Blue Marquee Theater in downtown Lyons.

Saturday includes a Classic Car Show from nine till two and the finals of the festival soccer tournament on the grounds near Chicken of the Sea north of Lyons.

Meanwhile, the gates open at nine a.m. Saturday at Partin Park for the Professional Barbeque cooking and contest and other events.

"We have People's Choice barbeque tasting, the chain-saw carving competition will be going on all day (some of the carvings will be auctioned Friday evening and Saturday), there's an artisan show in the Durden Cabin and an Indian artifacts show in the Dream House with the Primitive Skills Demonstration behind the Dream House, a kids creative play area, an Outdoor Expo on one of the baseball fields and other good food as well," she notes.

Saturday night there's a free concert at the Blue Marquee featuring two folksingers from Tennessee.  "It is Larkin Poe.  They write their own music and it's open to the first three-hundred people who enter," Alexa says.

For a complete rundown of events and times, click www.therealsqueal.com.

 

 

October 6--  The Columbus Ledger-Inquirer reports an Augusta businessman is seeking the Republican nomination to oppose Congressman John Barrow in the 12th Congressional District Race in 2012.

"An Augusta businessman says he's joining the field of Republican candidates seeking to challenge Democratic Rep. John Barrow next year in Georgia's 12th Congressional District.

Rick Allen, founder and CEO of the construction company R.W. Allen and Associates, announced his candidacy Wednesday. The 60-year-old businessman is a political newcomer who's seeking office for the first time.

Barrow, who has served four terms in the 12th District, is expected to face stiff Republican opposition in 2012 after state lawmakers recently redrew his district to carve out the congressman's home city of Savannah. The district now includes Augusta and a wide swath of rural eastern Georgia.

GOP state Rep. Lee Anderson of a Grovetown is already running. Other Republicans considering the race include state Rep. Ben Harbin of Evans."

 

October 5--  A federal judge says the Montgomery County school system was within the law in 2007 in the way it terminated former high school ag teacher Chris Bowman.

Judge Dudley Bowen Jr. gave a two-hour explanation before announcing his decision Wednesday afternoon at the federal courthouse in Dublin.

Bowman claimed he was fired in retaliation for reporting an alleged sexual affair between a high school counselor and a student at Montgomery County High School and that school officials attempted to keep him for getting his teaching certificate and from gaining employment elsewhere.

Judge Bowen felt Bowman's reporting of the alleged affair was protected by federal law, but said he went too far by actively helping with the intitial phase of the investigation which included secretly taping two students at the high school.

Bowman reported allegations about counselor Carrie O'Connor who is also the daughter of the school superintedent at the time, Dale Clark.

"I think it was a fair decison and I think if this had not happend that my daughter nor I would have ever been in the situation we were put in," Clark says.

The former superintendent says Judge Bowen's decison vindicates the school system for following policy and procedure.  However, she has concerns that some current school board members supported Bowman and his lawsuit.

"I would hope this would begin to build a little faith in the people, but I don't know since some of the people who were involved in this have been removed from their positions.  The judge made wonderful glowing comments about Luke Smith and the job he did, but yet he was removed from the high school. The thing that really bothers me about all this is the fact that some of the people who supported Chris Bowman monetarily and also gave him support emotionally and encouraged him to go forward are now sitting on our board of education," she observes.

The federal case in the last in a series of court actions stemming from the Carrie O'Connor case and current Superintendent Randy Rodgers is looking to the future.

"We need to move forward.  We need to be doing the things that bring closure to a lot of situations in Montgomery County.  We need to be focusing on what is the best interest of children rather than dealing with some of these things," he said.

Judge Bowen ordered Bowman to pay court costs relating to the suit. The former teacher is now employed at a wheel manufacturing facility in Rome, Georgia.  He said, "I'm glad to have finally gotten my day in court."

October 4--  The attorney for the Montgomery County school board spent Tuesday challenging the credibility of former Montgomery County High School teacher Christopher Bowman who is suing the school board for firing him four years ago.

Bowman was ordered out of the school by former school superintendent Dale Clark on March 20, 2007, the same day she learned he had reported alleged sexual misconduct by her daughter, a high school counselor, with a high school student.  He was paid for the remainder of his contract which expired in June, 2007.

Bowman was on the stand three hours Tuesday where he admitted he had resigned from Walker County High School rather than contest charges that he ignored drinking by students.  Three months later he was hired by Montgomery County High School where he had problems doing the job as an ag teacher and ended up on a remedial program for two years.

The school system claims it was Bowman's failure to follow instructions which led to his job loss.  Dale Clark told the court, "We would not be here today if he had followed the chain of command" in reporting O'Connor.  Bowman reported the case to a juvenile justice officer at the school, Gil McDaniel, who gave him a tape recorder to secretly tape two students about the case and who later called in the GBI.

Bowman later moved back to his native Chattooga County and applied twice for a job at his alma mater, Chattooga County High School, where he was interviewed by Ag Program supervisor Jimmy Dean.  Dean turned him down after talking with Luke Smith in Mount  Vernon and learning Bowman had been fired.  In a deposition, Dean said Bowman never told him he had been fired nor that he was in a program to improve his job performance.

Federal District Judge Dudley Bowen turned down three motions by defense attorney Chris Steinmetz that he issue a verdict for the school system.  The judge says he wants to hear more testimony from witnesses Wednesday at the federal courthouse in Dublin.

October 3--  The Montgomery County school board is keeping its public participation policy which makes it less cumbersome for citizens to speak at school board meetings.

The board voted three to two to keep the policy at its Monday night meeting despite a plea from School Superintendent Randy Rodgers that requiring three days notice from a citizen would actually make it more possible to respond to citizens' comments in a timely manner.  Board Chairwoman Deloris James and Lendle Hamilton voted for the change.

Rodgers also read a prepared response to questions posed by Pastor Adrian Bell over the last few months regarding various board actions and decisions.  Bell thanked the board for its answers.

"Thank you for answering my questions asked last month and the month before that and previously.  Hopefully, we can keep these lines of communication open," he said.

{mosimage}Bell also questioned why the school board is paying over $45,000 more in local salary supplements this year than last and thanked board member Jim Paul Poole for opposing the supplement payments.

"If we're in such dire economic straits, then why are we paying more than we paid last year.  Thank you Dr. Poole for doing what you say in this situation.  I just ask you (the board), 'Why are we paying more if we're cash strapped,'" Bell asked.

Bell brought documentation to the board which he claims shows a bigger supplement to the new high school principal than to former principal Luke Smith and also to Superintendent Rodgers than to former superintendent Dr. Lynn Batten. 

Meanwhile, another local citizen, Heather Williams, says she will soon have to decide if her child will attend Montgomery County High School.  She urged the board to work in such a manner that she won't decide to send him elsewhere.

"We do have to find a way to work together and I am all but begging that we put aside those things we cannot change and let's start working toward a system we can all be proud of," she told the board.

October 3--  The Southern Company reports it has found the source of a leak of radioactive water at Plant Hatch south of Vidalia.

Spokesperson Amoi Geter says workers started digging Friday after plant water monitors showed traces of radioactive tritium which is produced when energy is produced at nuclear reactors.  She reported Monday that workers have found one underground water pipe with a leak and stressed there is no danger to public safety or to area drinking water.

"This has no impact on public health and safety.  We will be working around the clock to stop the tritium releasing and go about the process of repair and replacement.  We've tested all of the sample points both onsite and offsite and have found no evidence of any increased tritium," she said.

There is no danger to drinking water in the area, according to Geter.

September 30--  Toombs County EMA Director Lynn Moore forwarded the article below:

— Radioactive water has been found underneath a nuclear plant in southeast Georgia, but officials say it does not pose an immediate threat to public health.

The Atlanta-based Southern Co. says workers will start digging Friday under Plant Hatch in Baxley to find the source of the leak.

Plant Vice President Dennis Madison says radioactive tritium was found Wednesday in two test wells at the plant. Tritium is a radioactive form of hydrogen. It’s created when energy is produced at nuclear reactors and is found in water.

It is unclear how much water is leaking.

Madison and state officials say the radioactive water appears confined to a small area at the site. They say there’s little or no chance it could get into drinking water. Testing shows local aquifers remain safe.

 

 

 

October 3--  A Lyons woman died Saturday morning in a Vidalia traffic accident.

{mosimage}According to Vidalia police, 49-year-old Myrtice Powell of 215 Skyline Boulevard in Lyons was killed in a two-car collision at the intersection of U.S. Highway 280 and Pete Phillips Drive near the Walmart Shopping Center.  Her husband, Kenneth Powell, and an occupant of the other car, Cierra McOliver of South Lakewood, Washington, were seriously injured.

The police report says Mrs. Powell pulled her car onto Highway 280 and was hit in the side by a car travelling at a high rate of speed driven by 23-year-old Iashea Caldwell of Killen, Texas.

 

October 3--  Efforts by Vidalia Onion farmers to honor the memory of 15-year-old murder victim Courtney Wilkes have sparked a strong response in the community.

Bob Stafford with the Vidalia Onion Committee says Courtney's Scholarship Fund gives people an opportunity to empathize with her family in a positive way.

{mosimage}"This young lady was so involved in 4-H and FFA and she wanted to be a veterinarian and was very involved in school.  Her family is involved in the Vidalia Onion industry and this is a community effort.  The folks just wanted to do something," Stafford said.

According to Stafford, people appreciate the chance to perpetuate what Courtney's life meant to them for years to come through the scholarship fund. "The response has been tremendous.  The amazing thing is I'm getting a lot of notes with the contributions saying how much the people appreciate us giving the community an opportunity to participate in this great effort," he says.

Stafford reports contributions have already exceeded the original $10,000 goal. "We had originally set a minimum of a $1,000 scholarship for ten years and we've already gone over that," he reports.

{mosimage}Meanwhile, a Florida prosecutor reports a pre-trial conference for Courtney's accused killer will be held December 15.  However, Assistant State's Attorney Bobby Elmore says he can't predict when Steven Cozzie's trial will begin.  Cozzie has pleaded not guilty and has recently hired new lawyers after his public defender withdrew from the case, according to Elmore.  He says it's not uncommon for a capital murder case to take up to two years to come to trial.