December 31--  Here is the January Calendar of Events in the Toombs County School System.

Toombs County Schools will observe Christmas holidays January 1-4.

January 7 – Teacher workday/Student Holiday

Lyons Primary School PTO meets Monday, January 7 at 6:00 p.m. in the gym.  All parents are invited to attend.

Toombs County Board of Education meets Thursday, January 10 at 6:30 p.m. in the board room.

January 8:  Toombs County Middle School basketball versus West Laurens at 4:00 p.m. at West Laurens.

January 10: Toombs County Middle School basketball versus Vidalia at 4:00 p.m. at home.

January 10: Toombs County Middle School wrestling versus Swainsboro at 4:00 p.m. in Swainsboro.

Report cards will be sent home for all students in Toombs County School on Monday, January 14.

Toombs County Schools will host a Cyberbullying Parent Workshop on Tuesday, January 15 at 6:00 p.m. at Lyons Upper Elementary School.  Refreshments and child care will be provided and all parents are invited to attend.

January 17:  Toombs County Middle School wrestling versus Swainsboro at 4:00 p.m. at home.

Toombs County Band Boosters will meet Thursday, January 17 at 7:00 p.m. in the TCHS band room.

Toombs County Schools will be closed Monday, January 21 in observance of Martin Luther King Day.

Toombs County Middle School 8th grade students will take the 8th grade Writing Assessment Wednesday, January 23. Parents are asked to get their student to school on time and send two number two pencils.

Toombs County High School will host an 8th grade Parent Night for all 8th grade students entering Toombs County High School in the fall of 2013 on Thursday, January 24 at 6:00 p.m. in the TCHS cafeteria.  Information about elective choices and Career Pathways will be presented and students can meet 9th grade advisors for next year.

January 24:  Toombs County Middle School wrestling League Tournament at East Laurens High School at 4:00 p.m.

Toombs County Middle School will conduct 8th grade registration during the school day on Tuesday, January 29.

January 31:  Toombs County Middle School soccer versus Vidalia at 4:00 p.m. at home.

December 29-- On Sunday Dec. 30th at 9:00am The Wardlaw Brothers, now professionally known as TWB, will appear on the nationally and Internationally syndicated Television Show Bobby Jones Gospel on BET Network.

{mosimage}In July of this year The Wardlaw Brothers traveled to Washington D.C to BET Studios for the taping and it was a humbling experience. For years the Brothers have traveled around the country to not only churches but also College/Universities and prisons with a mission to spread the gospel throughout the world at all times in order that God's Will be done. Now after 12 years of hard work, dedication and humble service, The Wardlaw Brothers have advanced to a higher level of Gospel Music Ministry. 

Natives of Toombs, County GA, The Wardlaw Brothers are 5 biological brothers and sons of Rev Carl Wardlaw Jr. pastor of First African Missionary Baptist Church in Vidalia and Mary Wardlaw. TWB was brought up in the church and were taught about Christ and the value of family at a very early age. All five of the brothers have attended college and have loving and supporting families.

Earlier this year, The Wardlaw Brothers did what many thought could not be possible. They signed a distribution contract with New Christian Distributors in Nashville, TN which will now place their new Album Entitled God's Been There in stores all over the world. "It has been a long time coming. To think of so many days and nights spent in the recording studios and on the road away from home and family - It is exciting to see it all pay off but we are not out of the woods yet, we still have to sell the product lol". In order to properly promote the Album and sell the CD's, it is important that TWB do much more traveling making many appearances and doing much more ministry. 

To date, The brothers have appeared on Atlanta Live, The Bobby Hurd Show, Sessions on TCT, I'm Just Sayin on TCT, Babbie's House with Grammy Award winning Babbie Mason and now Bobby Jones Gospel on BET.

As well, The brothers recorded a music video in the city of Vidalia for one of their singles entitled "Somewhere LIstening" which is now being viewed all over the world http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9XrakRM-UsA

 

To Begin the New Year, The Wardlaw Brothers will attend the STELLAR AWARDS in Nashville, TN, they will minister in Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas for the months of January and February. Following, their tour dates will include Israel, Moscow, The Virgin Islands and The UK to name a few.

 

December 29-- As the nation nears the fiscal cliff, President Barack Obama has ended the pay freeze on federal employees — giving workers, ranging from Vice President Joe Biden to members of Congress and the Supreme Court, a raise.

Obama signed the executive order on Thursday, The Weekly Standard reports. The increases take effect in late March. “The pay raise will generally be about 1/2 of 1 percent," the order says.

Citing recessionary factors and budgetary concerns, Obama instituted the pay freeze in 2010.

Under the new guidelines, for instance, Biden’s salary will jump from $225,521 last year to $231,900 next year.

Members of Congress, from the House and Senate, also will receive a slight raise — from $174,000 to 174,900.

And the majority and minority leaders in both chambers will see their salaries rise to $194.400.

The salary for the Speaker of the House, currently the Ohio Republican John Boehner, will increase to $224,600.

In addition, the pay for the members of the U.S. Supreme Court also will rise, with Chief Justice John Roberts receiving $223,500, and associate justices being paid $213,900.

Circuit judges, district judges and those of the U.S. Court of International Trade in New York also will see slightly higher pay, The Standard reports.




December 28--  A Soperton man will spend the rest of his life in jail for the July 2011 murder of Marquis Wadley of Soperton.

Sylvester Davis Jr. was sentenced to life without parole by Superior Court Judge Donnie Gillis for what the judge called, "a senseless act."

Davis was convicted of shooting Wadley in the head and transporting the body to Vidalia where it was found the morning after the killing.

His half-brother, Jonathon Wright, was an accomplice and turned state's evidence in the case.   Treutlen Sheriff Tommy Corbin says he hopes Wright's case will adjudicated in a hearing set for January 10.

December 28--  A Toombs County grand jury convened in December and returned 22 indictments.

Seven people indicted on drug-related charges are Jackie McNeil and Mindy Kay Carroll, Sanquinton Brown, Kevin Wilson, Leo Campbell, Sara McKinney and Jerome Smith.

Raymond Simpson was indicted for child molestation, Kenneth West for failing to register as a sex offender and Chondra Harris for cruelty to children.

Indicted for burglary are Clint Parrish, Algie Mallory, and Jonathan Shivers.

Theft indictments were returned against Marquise Simkins, Freddie Lewis, III;, and Kenneth Dismuk while David Munford, Jr. was indicted for enterting an auto to committ theft and Peggy Bowles was charged for interfering with government property.

Other indictments were returned against John Jordan and Jimmy Helms for aggravated assault; Ryan Belch for credit card fraud and Jamie Lynn Allen for escape. 

December 28--  A black lab has been found and a white American Bulldog is missing in the Vidalia area.

{mosimage}This boy looks like he may have been on the road for sometime.  If you know anything about him, please call 537-2341.  Otherwise, the Sweet Onion Animal Protection Society will try to place him with a Lab Rescue organization.

{mosimage}This is Samson.  He's a male American Bulldog who's been missing since noon on Christmas Day from his home at 741 Chelsey Drive in Vidalia.  If you have seen him or have info, call Terri Gay, 293-5145.

December 28--  The Georgia Department of Labor announced today that the preliminary unemployment rate in the Heart of Georgia-Altamaha region declined to 10.6 percent in November, down four-tenths of a percentage point from 11 percent in October. The rate was 11.3 percent in November 2011.

The rate declined because of fewer new layoffs, represented by first-time claims for unemployment insurance benefits. There were 1,377 fewer layoffs in construction, manufacturing, retail trade, transportation and warehousing, administrative and support services, educational services, health care and social assistance, and accommodations and food services. 

Metro Athens had the lowest area jobless rate at 6.2 percent, while metro Dalton had the highest at 11 percent.

Meanwhile, Georgia’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate declined to 8.5 percent in November, down two-tenths of a percentage point from 8.7 percent in October. The rate was 9.5 percent in November a year ago.

Statewide, there were 3,984,000 jobs in November, up 9,600, or two-tenths of a percentage point, from 3,974,400 in October. Over the year, Georgia gained 61,900 jobs, or 1.6 percent, from 3,922,100 in November 2011.

Local area unemployment data are not seasonally adjusted. Georgia labor market data are available at www.dol.state.ga.us

December 28--  Here's an update on the story below.  

The man wanted in connection with a fatal shooting in Soperton has turned himself in.  Treutlen County Sheriff Tommy Corbin says Travis Lee Bostic of Dublin turned himself in to the Dublin Police Department early Thursday evening.  He has since been transported to the Treutlen County jail and is charged with the murder of Donald Miller of Soperton this past weekend.

December 26--  Treutlen County Sheriff Tommy Corbin reports that a warrant has been issued on Travis Lee Bostic of Dublin, Georgia for murder and aggravated assault in connection with a weekend shooting in Soperton that left one man dead and another hospitalized.

Donald Miller of Soperton was pronounced dead at the scene and Kelly Carter, also of Soperton was transported to the hospital on December 22nd in an area of Soperton known as "the bottom".  The Georgia Bureau of Investigation out of Eastman, Georgia was called to assist with the investigation. 

According to Sheriff Corbin, "A fight had occurred that started in the club.  Soperton boys and Dublin boys starting arguing and the fight went outside.  From witnesses at the scene, we learned that Travis Lee Bostic of Dublin, Georgia shot both men."  He also stated, "He is at large at this moment.  He is on the run and any information would be greatly appreciated."

Also involved in the event, Julius Williams, Jr. of Dublin, Georgia was arrested and charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and Tyreka Jackson of Soperton was charged with hindering apprehension of a criminal and obstruction of an officer.

If you have any information regarding this shooting, please contact the Treutlen County Sheriff's Office at 529-3222.

 

December 27--  There's a changing of the guard at the Toombs County courthouse as we approach the new year.

Three of the five county commissioners, including the chairman, are new to the job plus there's a new county manager.

{mosimage}John Jones of Eastmas was hired in December to take the job.

"We'll I'm excited about it.  My wife and I are looking forward to it and being in Toombs County," Jones said.

Jones is leaving a managerial career with an oil distributor due to downsizing by the company.  "We've been over there in the oil business for the past 20 years and about five years ago the owner wanted to start scaling that down and when that was accomplished I started looking around and this job came up.  Hopefully we'll be here for the next 20 years," he said.

Jones says he plans to apply the same business principles to his new government job as he did in private enterprise.

"You're still looking at revenues coming in and you're still looking at expenses that you've got to balance out.  Those concepts are the same and we're looking at efficiencies we can apply to delivering services to the taxpayers," he said.

The new county manager says he has an open door policy and if somethings wrong, he wants to know about it.

"If there is any kind of problem whatsoever, feel free to call or come to the courthouse.  I want to talk to taxpayers and people in the community and if there's a problem, I want to know about it," he said.

December 26--  Superior Court Judge H. Gibbs Flanders, Jr from Dublin, Georgia has released his ruling from the local option sales tax (LOST) hearing that was held on October 30th regarding the distribution of sales tax dollars for the next 10 years among Toombs County and the cities of Vidalia, Lyons, and Santa Claus.

In the ruling, Judge Flanders stated, "While there have been changes in the population and economic activity within the political subdivisions, the court does not find evidence justifying radical departure from the current distribution.  Taking into account all of the facts and the criteria and limited to consideration of the offers submitted, the court concludes that the Best and Final Offer presented by Vidalia is the most rational offer presented.  The court hereby adopts the Best and Final Offer from the City of Vidalia."

Based on the ruling, beginning in 2017 the county's share would begin to decrease over a 3 year period to 38% from the current 42.17% and remain there until 2022 when the distribution would be re-evaluated once again.  Also during that time, the City of Vidalia's share would increase from the current 42.17% to 45%, and the City of Lyons' share would increase from the current 14.66% to 16%.  The City of Santa Claus' share would remain at the current 1% for the ten year period.

Vidalia City Manager Bill Torrance stated, "You can, by agreement of all the agencies, make adjustments to this.  The key is cooperation and communication."

Toombs County Chair Elect Blake Tillery also stated, "As the Chair Elect and more importantly as a citizen, I found paragraph 6 of Judge Flanders order to be the most instructive.  He noted the numerous intergovernmental agreements between the municipalities and the county and he stated these agreements highlight the interdependence of the cities and the county and the necessity for cooperation between these bodies to provide the best services for our entire residential population."

Vidalia Mayor Ronnie Dixon stated, "We're just glad that this process is over and I don't think anybody really won or lost.  It cost the taxpayers of our county quite a bit of money to go through this process.  This could've been avoided if we had just sat down and talked about this like we have done in the past."

December 26-- Four newly elected officials and three re-elected office holders took their oaths of office for their terms starting in January the Friday before Christmas at the Toombs County Courthouse.

{mosimage}Probate Judge Larry Threlkeld, who is also starting his second term of office, told the audience that incoming Toombs Commission Chairman Blake Tillery, at age 29, may be the youngest county chairman in the state.

"What I'm looking at is what we can do for Toombs County.  I ran on a platform that's pretty simple: paving roads, having better relations among the cities and the county and trying to keep people's taxes low.  If we can do those things, I'll be very happy at the end of one year, two years, four years whenever, I'll hand it over to somebody else and let them do this job," Tillery said.  Tillery was sworn in with his mother holding the family Bible.

Toombs County is in the best financial shape its ever been in and the new chairman says some giveback to citizens may be in order, "I believe the government needs to remember that it's not our money we're spending, we're spending citizens' money.  If we have an excess, we need to return that to the citizens," he said.

At the same time, Tillery notes managing health insurance costs in the new year will be a challenge for the county's treasury.

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Other new officials sworn in are Tax Commissioner Brenda O'Neal Williams, and Commissioners Darriel Nobles (L) and Wendell Dixon

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Re-elected officials sworn in are County Sheriff Junior Kight, Coroner Ron Hall and veteran Clerk of Court Chess Fountain who is starting his ninth term of office and saying this will be his last.

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December 22--  This little gal named Annabelle went from the Sweet Onion Animal Protection Society to Atlanta Pet Rescue last week and found her forever home just in time for Christmas.

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December 21--  Citizens gathered in the morning cold Friday to remember the 26 children and educators killed a week ago by a deranged gunman at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

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The Vidalia Prebyterian Church hosted the memorial which started at 9:30 a.m., the same time the shootings started at the school.

{mosimage}Reverend Kevin Hicks conducted the service with prayer and named each of those killed.  The church bell was rung for each victim.  He agreed to share his message with our readers.

Opening Prayer

O God, who gave us birth,

you are ever more ready to hear than we are to pray.

You know our needs before we ask,

and our ignorance in asking.

Show us now your grace,

that as we face the mystery of death

we may see the light of eternity.

Speak to us once more your solemn message of life and of death.

Help us to live as those who are prepared to die.

And when our days here are ended,

enable us to die as those who go forth to live,

so that living or dying, our life may be in Jesus Christ our risen Lord.

And now, source of all true wisdom,

calm the troubled waters of our hearts,

and still all other voices but your own,

that we may here and obey

what you tell us in your Word,

through the power of your Spirit.

Amen.

Mark 10:13-16,   The Little Children and Jesus

 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.

 Charlotte Bacon, 6

 She was sweet, outgoing and full of energy.   She loved school and dresses. Her hair was a mass of beautiful red curls.

Daniel Barden, 7

He loved to ride waves at the beach and make s'mores around the bonfire with his cousins.  "He embodied everything that is wholesome and innocent in the world," the family said.

Rachel D'Avino, 29

She likely didn't know it when she died, but her best friend was about to propose.

He had recently asked Rachel's parents for permission, and he was planning to ask for her hand in marriage on Christmas Eve.

"Her passion was her occupation as a behavioral therapist working with children within the autism spectrum"

Olivia Engel, 6

Her favorite stuffed animal was a lamb; pink and purple were her favorite colors.

Her family described her as a "grateful child ... never greedy." Each night, Olivia led grace at the dinner table.

Josephine Gay, 7

*

Dylan Hockley, 6

He loved video games, jumping on a trampoline, watching movies and munching garlic bread, she said. He had dimples, blue eyes and "the most mischievous little grin"

Chase Kowalski, 7

At 6, he completed his first triathlon, but that was just one of his pursuits. He loved baseball. He was in the Cub Scouts. He looked forward to the kids' workshop at the local Home Depot.

What Chase really wanted for Christmas was two front teeth.

Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung, 47

She became Sandy Hook Elementary School's principal two years ago.  She was "really nice and very fun, but she was also very much a tough lady in the right sort of sense," and the students loved her. "Even little kids know when someone cares about them, and that was her,"

Madeleine Hsu, 6

Catherine Hubbard, 6

Jesse Lewis, 6

Jesse loved math, riding horses and playing at his mom's farm.

His father said that his son was to make gingerbread houses at school Friday. He was planning to help.

Instead, the last time he saw his son was when he dropped him off at school at 9 a.m.

Ana Marquez-Greene, 6

"1, 2, 3, ready and go," Ana counts down in a homemade video   The girl in pigtails stands in front of a piano as her brother plays. Her voice is clear, bigger than her size. Ana smiles and waves.  She was "beautiful and vibrant."

James Mattioli, 6

He looked up to his older sister, wanting to do everything she could.

"They were the best of friends, going to school together, playing games together, and making endless drawings and crafts together."

The boy, whose family fondly called 'J," will be incredibly missed.

Grace McDonnell, 7

The ultimate "girly girl." Grace loved wearing pink and playing dress-up with jewelry.

She loved art, gymnastics, soccer and her small spaniel, Puddin'.

Anne Marie Murphy, 52

A hero. That's how a first responder reportedly described Murphy to her father.

Her body was found in a classroom, covering young children killed in the shooting in an apparent attempt to shield them.

"She died doing what she loved. She was serving children and serving God,".

A married mother of four, Murphy was artistic and hardworking.

Emilie Parker, 6

She could "light up a room.  Her laugh was infectious.

She was "an exceptional artist and she always carried around her markers and pencils so she never missed an opportunity to draw a picture or make a card for someone."

Her father recalled his last conversation with his daughter was in Portuguese, a language he was teaching her.

"She said that she loved me, and I gave her a kiss and I was out the door," he said.

Jack Pinto, 6

His interests ran the gamut - baseball, basketball, wrestling, snow skiing. But his first love was football, and his idol was NY Giants star receiver Victor Cruz.

Cruz paid tribute to the team's young fan by scribbling "Jack Pinto. My Hero" on one of his cleats and "R.I.P. Jack Pinto" on the other during the team's game with the Atlanta Falcons over the weekend. On his glove, Cruz wrote, "Jack Pinto. This one is 4 U!"

Noah Pozner, 6

"He had a huge heart and he was so much fun, a little bit rambunctious, lots of spirit.  He was really the light of the room."

He loved playing with his cousins and siblings, especially his twin sister.

Caroline Previdi, 6

*

Jessica Rekos, 6

She loved everything about horses -- horse movies, horse books, drawing horses and writing stories about them.

She asked Santa this year for new cowgirl boots and a cowgirl hat. Her family had promised she could get her own horse when she turned 10.

Avielle Richman, 6

She was happiest when she was on a horse.

She would "giggle when she trotted."

Like kids her age, her first wobbly tooth was a sign she was growing up.

Lauren Rousseau, 30

Rousseau, a permanent substitute teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary, "wanted to be a teacher from before she even went to kindergarten.

Mary Sherlach, 56

She was Sandy Hook Elementary's school psychologist.  She was with the principal when they heard a "pop, pop, pop" sound around 9:30 a.m. She was shot to death after heading into the hall to find out what was happening.

Victoria Soto, 27

She would not hesitate to think to save anyone else before herself and especially children. She loved them more than life, and she would definitely put herself in front of them any day.

Benjamin Wheeler, 6

His family moved to Newtown from New York City in April 2011 so he could grow up in a quiet community.

He would follow his dad around the yard, helping him with chores by handing him tools.

Allison Wyatt, 6{mosimage}

Closing Prayer

Merciful God,

You heal the broken in heart

and bind up the wounds of the afflicted.

Strengthen us in our weakness,

calm our troubled spirits,

and dispel our doubts and fears.

In Christ’s rising from the dead

you conquered death and opened the gates to everlasting life.

Renew our trust in you

that by the power of your love

we shall one day be brought together again

with all of your children.

 

Loving God,

give us the faith to believe,

though these children have died,

that you welcome them

and will care for them,

until, by your mercy,

we are together again in the joy of your promised kingdom.

 

Grant this, we pray, through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.

 

Benediction

 

May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,

the love of God,

and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit

be with you now and evermore.

Amen.

 

 

December 21--  The students in the first, second and third grades at Vidalia Heritage Academy decided to “give Christmas away” this year by sending care packages to military personnel stationed at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan.

{mosimage}Specialist John Hadley is the husband of a former staff member at the school and is currently stationed in Afghanistan with a unit of approximately 80 soldiers. He communicated with school Headmaster, Jeff McCormick that some items we take for granted on a daily basis are hard to come by for military personnel serving in Afghanistan.

The students responded and filled care packages for Christmas with encouraging notes and soap, shampoo, deodorant, skin lotion, toothpaste, chapstick, powdered drinks, hard candy, cookies, gum and word puzzles.

 

December 20--  Ribbon-cutting for the new Montgomery County Sheriff's Office was held Thursday afternoon.

{mosimage}Veteran county Sheriff Clarence Sanders cut the ribbon only days before he leaves office and a 30-year career in law enforcement.

The previous sheriff's office and county jail were condemned by the Fire Marshall and have been replaced by a parking lot adjacent to the new $240,000 building.

"It's a nice facility and I think the people in the county will enjoy it before it's over with," Sheriff Sanders observed.

He also took the opportunity to express his thanks.

"I hate to go, but I hate to stay.  I'd like to thank the people for working with me and for being as good as they have been," he said.

Sheriff Sanders' first job in law enforcement was as a part-time deputy for his brother-in-law, the late Sheriff Jim Higgs, whom he called, "One of the best."

"The first thing that motivated me was working with the people.  I love the people of Montgomery County and I wanted to serve and protect the people of Montgomery County," he said.

December 20--  One thing led to another for Vidalia police overnight Tuesday.

Officers say they were called to investigate a complaint of shots fired inside the Raymonia Apartment Complex.

While investigating officers were informed that drugs were being sold inside Apartment 41 and initiated a search warrant which resulted in the arrests of the apartment's occupants, 27-year-old Tavares Martell Franklin and 31-year-old Callie Leann Morgan.  They're charged with possesion with intent to distribute marijuana.

Confiscated were five-and-half ounces of marijuana, multiple cell phones and $727 in cash.

December 20--  An early morning accident on Highway 292 West in front of Rabbit's Convenience Store seriously injured one person.

{mosimage}The Georgia State Patrol says the motorcyclist, 27-year-old Jason Littleton of Ailey, was helicoptered to a Macon hospital after his motorcyle collided with a car.  He was reported in surgical intensive care.

Two women in the car were on their way to work when the accident happened and were not injured.

 

December 20--  The Georgia Department of Labor announced today that Georgia’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate declined to 8.5 percent in November, down two-tenths of a percentage point from 8.7 percent in October. The rate was 9.5 percent in November a year ago.

“This is the lowest state unemployment rate in nearly four years, since it was 8.5 percent in January 2009,” said State Labor Commissioner Mark Butler.  “Once again, the rate dropped because of continued job growth and fewer new layoffs.”

The number of jobs increased to 3,984,000, up by 9,600, or two-tenths of a percentage point, from 3,974,400 in October. The monthly growth came mostly in trade, transportation, and warehousing, up 12,400; educational services, up 1,700; information services, up 1,600; local government, up 1,300; financial services, up 1,200; and manufacturing, up 600. The overall job growth was strong enough to offset some losses in some sectors. Construction was down 4,000; leisure and hospitality, down 2,700; professional and business services, down 2,100; and other services, down 1,100.

Over-the-year growth remains consistent, showing an increase of 61,900 jobs since November 2011. The growth was primarily in professional and business services, up 20,100; trade, transportation, and warehousing, up 15,800; manufacturing, up 12,200; education and health care, up 11,700; leisure and hospitality, up 6,800; and information services, up 5,000. 

“I am encouraged by the continuing growth in the number of manufacturing jobs in Georgia,” said Gov. Nathan Deal. “This is a result of focusing on a pro-business environment and working closely with Georgia employers to help them grow their businesses, while actively recruiting new industry to our state.”

The number of initial unemployment insurance claims declined to 47,351, down by 4,114, or 8.0 percent, from 51,495 in October. This is the lowest number of claims for November in seven years. And, the number of initial claims was down over the year, dropping by 10,222, or 17.8 percent, from 57,573 in November 2011. Most of the over-the-year decline came in manufacturing, construction, administrative and support services and trade. 

The number of long-term unemployed workers declined to its lowest level in 32 months, dropping 4,100 from October to 202,600 in November. The long-term unemployed—those out of work for more than 26 weeks—make up 49.5 percent of those unemployed in Georgia.

Georgia’s labor force continues to grow, reaching 4,800,345 in November, its highest level since February 2009. The labor force was up by 7,101 from 4,793,244 in October.  The state’s workforce totaled 4,735,411 in November 2011.

December 20--  The Marietta Daily Journal reports on a guilty plea entered by a Swainsboro resident.
 
Robert A. Hill


A Swainsboro man pled guilty Wednesday to selling several million dollars’ worth of stolen property through his eBay store and shipping the goods across state lines to customers in a case dating back to March 2010 when a Cherokee County resident reported credit cards had been established under his or her name without the person’s consent.

The multiyear identity theft ring resulted in roughly $9 million in losses to victims across the U.S., including possibly 11 people in Cherokee County, authorities said.

Robert A. Hill, 51, pleaded guilty to working with a ring of identity thieves who fraudulently purchased the goods on credit at large retail stores using the personal information of numerous victims in Georgia.

He pled guilty to charges of interstate transportation of stolen property. The charge carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

Under his plea, Hill must also forfeit over $44,000 in cash, two bank accounts with over $47,000, a 1999 Lexus RS 300, and thousands of dollars’ worth of electronics equipment and jewelry.

“The Cherokee Sheriff’s Office is committed to aggressively investigating and seeking justice for all citizens of Cherokee County that become victims of identity fraud,” Cherokee County Sheriff Roger Garrison said. “ We are pleased to have partnered with the United States Secret Service and the United States Attorney’s Office, Northern District of Georgia, in this investigation.”

Reginald G. Moore, special agent in charge of the Atlanta field office of the Secret Service, said the case validates the wide-reaching impact of identity theft.

“The Secret Service, in conjunction with our law enforcement partners, will continue to work closely to investigate these types of financial crimes cases,” said Reginald G. Moore, special agent in charge of the United States Secret Service, Atlanta Field Office.

Hill’s sentencing is scheduled for March 14, 2013, at 9:30 a.m. before United States District Judge Richard W. Story.

“This case demonstrates the damage that can be done by criminals who combine identity theft with the power of the Internet to reach beyond state lines,” said United States Attorney Sally Quillian Yates. “The defendant worked with identity thieves who used fake driver’s licenses to get store credit and buy expensive items. He then resold the items from his eBay store to buyers from across the United States, all the while pretending to run an honest business. His crimes leave a wake of individual victims whose good names and credit were abused, in addition to numerous retail victims who suffered millions in lost sales from the scheme.”

According to Yates, for over 10 years through December 2011, Hill operated a scheme out of Roswell that involved shipping stolen merchandise across state lines.

Hill sold the merchandise to buyers across the U.S. through his eBay store, called Atlantis Discount Warehouse LLC.

Hill worked with a group of identity thieves to obtain the merchandise. They bought expensive items, such as iPads, iPods, iPhones, computers, Wii game systems, cameras, golf clubs, and tools from large retail stores, using fraudulent credit cards opened in the names of numerous victims.

The co-conspirators used fake drivers’ licenses to apply for new credit cards and take over existing accounts at the stores. They targeted accounts at Best Buy, Sam’s Club, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Walmart, Target, and Dick’s Sporting Goods.

Hill then bought the items from his co-conspirators at approximately 60 percent of retail value though he was aware the merchandise had been stolen and obtained by fraud.

“He sometimes gave the thieves lists of items that he needed for his eBay store,” Yates said.

Hill stored the merchandise at a storage facility in Alpharetta and sold items at just under retail value to buyers from around the United States.

As part of the scheme, he shipped items to buyers in numerous states, including California, New York, Florida, New Hampshire, Indiana, Maryland, Colorado, North Carolina, Michigan, Illinois, Washington, Virginia, Utah, and Maine.

During the course of the scheme, Hill sold over $9 million in merchandise through his eBay store.

Search warrants executed at his residence and storage facility uncovered over $44,000 in cash and a large quantity of high-value electronic equipment in boxes ready for sale.

This case is being investigated by special agents of the United States Secret Service and investigators with the Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office.




December 20-- You can enjoy a Christmas experience on Durden Street in Vidalia.

{mosimage}The family of Bob Nadekow surrounds their home with hundreds of Christmas decorations and invites everyone to come enjoy.

"When you see the kids stand there with a glow in their eyes and the smiles.  We had a 75-year-old couple spend three nights in a row sitting on our hay and the gentleman said, 'Where else can you sit, watch free movies with a blanket around you and your sweetheart and drink hot chocolate for free.'  Made our night." Nadekow says.

An unique aspect of the display is that it's interactive on the Internet.

"We've got a live webcam every night.  It's www.livestream.com/nadekowchristmas . We've had people from the Bahamas call their family while they were here.  A family called their great-great-grandfather in Florida and he got to see his great-great granddaughter for the first time on our webcam.  It was phenomenal," he remembers.

Nadekow starts putting the display together in early November and it opened this year on Thanksgiving night.  He has a couple of events coming up.

"We're going to have Santa Claus this Saturday night and The Grinch from the STC play last week will be at our house on Christmas eve," he reports.

December 19--  Friday morning at 9:30, seven days from the time of the massacre at Newtown, CT., area residents are invited to attend a memorial observance in front of the Vidalia Presbyterian Church.

The church bell will be rung and the names of the victims will be read aloud.

December 19--  Ten agencies in Georgia are among 197 in the country which are receiving federal funds to start or upgrade school-based health centers.

The Tattnall County school board is receiving $500,000 as part of the program.

Georgia
Turner County Board of Education Ashburn Ga. $298,009
West End Medical Centers, Inc. Atlanta Ga. $234,745
Bleckley County Board of Education Cochran Ga. $231,444
Coffee County Board of Education Douglas Ga. $500,000
Dodge County Board of Education Eastman Ga. $426,668
First Choice Primary Care, Inc. Macon Ga. $500,000
Colquitt County Board of Education Moultrie Ga. $225,297
Tattnall County Board of Education Reidsville Ga. $500,000
Primary Health Care Center of Dade, Inc. Trenton Ga. $287,971
Community Health Care Systems, Inc. Wrightsville Ga. $500,000

 

December 18--  If you were ever a student in Bobby George's history class at Toombs County High School, chances are you wrote a paper called "Biography of a Great American" or "Family History." 

The assignments were a part of his class from 1984 until 2006.  Now he has over 2,000 papers in a filing cabinet and he wants to give them back to his students.

"Now I realize this is something that needs to go back to the community and back to those students who basically wrote a little biography," he says.

Most of the papers were based on interviews students conducted with older members of their families whom Tom Brokaw wrote about in his book, "The Greatest Generation."

"History really is made by everyday Americans who just raised their families, worked at their jobs, served in the military, or had to step up in situations like the Great Depression or the civil rights movement to pull their families through.  A lot of times we miss that these people have a story to tell and it's an important story even though it may not be a major story," Professor George says.

"That's something I think they remember most about being in my class.  Many times they didn't want to do it, but after they finished interviewing somebody it meant something to them.  Many times they were interviewing a grandmother or grandfather," he remembers.

Bobby will be a Toombs County High School this Thursday and Friday handing out the papers.  He'll be in the school's Media Center both days from 7-9 a.m., 11 a.m. - 1p.m. and from 5-6 p.m. and urges students to come and get their piece of history.

"It's been a good project and I'm very grateful I had students who did this. It's something that I'm hoping former students will come and get.  Even if they don't come during the days I'm trying to hand them out, if they'll contact me we'll get the papers to them because that's really what we want," he said. 

December 17--  The deadly shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut are prompting school administrators to take another look at their security and emergency reaction procedures.

In Vidalia. City School Superintendent Dr. Garrett Wilcox met with school principals Monday morning.

"The first thing we are trying to do is start the process of making sure our plans, which are in place, are more standardized across the system.  We talked about some obstacles and obviously practicing on a more regular basis these plans that we have set for intruders in the building," Wilcox reports.

He notes that buildings like Vidalia High School have some security challenges.  "It's an older building with multiple entrances.  Our schools were built in neighborhoods and they're not fenced in or set off the road and they're accessible to anybody.  That poses some issues." he said.

Dr. Wilcox says Doug Maybin, commander of the Georgia State Patrol post in Reidsville, came to his office Monday morning to discuss contingency plans and a meeting will be held to get everybody on the same page.

"On January 7, we're going to meet with the Vidalia Police Department. the Toombs County Sheriff's Office, the Georgia State Patrol and the Toombs County Emergency Management Agency to allow them to scrutinize our plans and become familiar with how the schools will respond should we experience something of this nature," he said.

Dr. Wilcox also says the school system is also working on a mass communication system and is reaching out to "a few other agencies and churches for the purpose of staging or reunification efforts" should something tragic happen.

Toombs County School Superintendent Dr. Kim Corley reports similiar security reviews are being done in Toombs County schools. 

The following statement was posted on the school system's webpage, "The Toombs County School System sends its love and thoughts to the families and community affected by the tragedy that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut. In memory of the victims, we are flying the American flag at half staff and wearing Sandy Hook Elementary school colors."

 


 

December 17--  A Toombs County man died in a four-wheeler ATV accident Friday.

Toombs County Sheriff Junior Kight says 57-year-old Roger Curry of Lyons was riding his ATV on Simpson Road late Friday afternoon when he lost control of the vehicle and was thrown into a barbed wire fence.  He was pronounced dead at the scene by Toombs County Coroner Ron Hall.

December 17--  State Senator Jack Hill of Reidsville reports some sobering numbers regarding state revenue in November.

NOVEMBER COLLECTIONS NEGATIVE-SALES TAXES LAG

State Revenues were negative for November showing a 0.7% decline on total collections of $1.3 billion, the first negative month since December of 2011.  While only declining $9 million, the fact that revenues have been growing at a declining rate for the past year was highlighted by Year To Date Total Revenue Growth slipping under 4% to 3.7%.

 

Individual Income Taxes grew 3.3% or only $22.2 million on total collections of $701.4 million.  Individual Withholding payments were up 4.3% as were estimated payments, and net refunds were down by -10.3% and the number of refunds was down as well.

 

For the month Net Sales Taxes for the state portion declined by -3.6% on collections of $435.0 million, a $16.1 million decline.

 

Motor Fuel Taxes increased slightly by 0.4%.  Excise taxes were down by 0.3%.  Motor Fuel Sales Taxes were up slightly at 0.8%.  This is a little tricky, but since the sales tax has been frozen at 12.1 cents per gallon and did not go up this summer with the price of fuel, only previously unidentified Motor Fuel Payments being posted accounted for the slight increase where it would have been negative otherwise.

 

Corporate Tax collections for the month were negative compared to last November showing a negative -$20.0 million drop.  Tobacco and Alcoholic Beverages which are being adjusted compared to a year ago were positive for the month.

 

November of 2011 was a really good month whereas December and January were not.   With Christmas shopping appearing to rebound this year, the next two months have a good chance of showing growth.

 

YEAR TO DATE REVENUE TOTAL SLIPS TO 3.7%

Since the first quarter of FY2012 a year ago which showed a 7.2% increase, state revenues have continued a general slide downward with quarters of 3.4%, 3.4%, 5.3% in FY2012 and 4.3% for the first quarter of FY2013.  With October and November added in, the cumulative growth rate for this fiscal year through 5 months is only 3.7%, the lowest it has been since June 2010.

 

YEAR TO DATE NUMBERS

Individual Income Taxes are up only 3.9% through November on collections of $3.6 billion and a gain of only $137.9 million.  This is, of course, the state's largest category, accounting for about 50% of revenue collections.

 

Gross Sales Tax collections for the year only show a 0.7% increase while net collections to the state are up only 1.4%.  Within that category, sales tax areas which are negative include Home Furnishing at -0.9%, Manufacturing, -2.3%, Retail Trade, -2.2% and Utilities/Energy -8.5% or some $41.2 million YTD.

 

Year To Date Motor Fuel Taxes are down 3.9% with both sales taxes and excise taxes showing declines.

 

Corporate Tax collections are positive for the year, showing a gain of $68.6 million.  Corporate refunds were down -$33.7 million and corporate estimated payments were up $52.7 million or 35.5%.  The number of refunds, though, were up YTD.

 

Tobacco and Alcoholic Beverages are up slightly YTD at 2.0% and 0.4% respectively.

 

So, after 5 months of FY2013, state revenues are up by $249.4 million on a total collection of $6.9 billion.  To have met the budget passed by the Legislature for 2013, revenues would need to increase by some $800 million or 5% by June 30, 2013.  December and January have been make or break months over the past few years and are critical this year.

 

THE NEWTOWN TRAGEDY

No one who saw their child, grandchild or anybody's child this weekend could stop from thinking about the horrific slaying of the 20 children and 6 adults at Newtown, Connecticut on Friday.  Children of primary age are so precious and just as I have said about my grandchildren: pure pleasure.  It is difficult to watch TV with parents and friends talking about the children and not just feel the most intense pain and sorrow. Maybe it will cause us all to redouble our efforts to make every child's future secure, safe and successful.

 

 

December 17--  There will be a new pricipal at Toombs County High School in the New Year.

Last month the current principal, Doug Alexander, requested a transfer to teach gifted students at Toombs County Middle School.

At its meeting December 13, the Toombs County school board approved his request and hired Dr. Tosha Middlebrooks to take his place.  She is currently the principal at Montgomery County Middle School.

{mosimage}"This is an opportunity I have been preparing for during my career.  I'm thankful that the Toombs County Board of Education is giving me this opportunity.  It's a bittersweet time because I'm leaving the students of Montgomery County and the community I've grown to love.  I'm looking forward to building the same thing that I've built here in Montgomery County and that's success for our students," Dr. Middlebrooks said.

Dr. Middlebrooks is a native of Pelham and has been in education for 12 years, the last six of which have been spent in the Montgomery County school system.

December 17--  A 1954 graduate of Vidalia High School is the latest recipient of the school system's "Indian Star" award.

{mosimage}The presentation was made by School Superintendent Dr. Garrett Wilcox at the December meeting of the Vidalia school board.  Dr. Lloyd Darby took as a personal mission the "Adopt A Teacher" program and encouraged others to help classroom teachers.

"He doesn't only ask this for the Vidalia city system, he asks people to find you a teacher whether its Vidalia, Toombs, Truetlen or Montgomery and show them a little support.  There's no monetary figure that makes you a supporter, he justs asks you to do what you can and allow the teachers to do what they will with the donation," Dr. Wilcox said.

Dr. Darby recounted some of his experiences growing up in the Vidalia city schools and thanked the board for the recognition.

"It's been a real trip and I really do love this school system.  Thank you very much for this particular honor," he said.

December 15--  Two newly elected area sheriffs graduated Friday from the Georgia Sheriffs Elect Academy at Forsyth.  The training is conducted by the Georgia Sheriffs Association.

{mosimage}Incoming Montgomery County Sheriff Ladson O'Connor accepts his graduation certificate from Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills, President of the Georgia Sheriffs Association.

{mosimage}Sheriff-elect Maurice Johnson, Jr. of Wheeler County is the third member of his family to hold the office.  He is the grandson of the late James Maurice Johnson who served as the Wheeler County Sheriff for 32 years.  His great-grandfather was also a Wheeler County sheriff.

Both men will assume office in January.

December 14--  Sandy Roberts, Director of the Salvation Army in Vidalia, issues an appeal for help.

"CHRISTMAS IS DAYS AWAY AND THE SALVATION ARMY IS IN NEED OF YOUR HELP. 

"OUR CHRISTMAS BOXES WILL START GOING OUT NEXT WEEK AND WE STILL HAVE CHILDREN WHO ARE IN NEED OF GIFTS. 

"YOU CAN BRING NEW OR GENTLY USED TOYS  FOR CHILDREN 12 AND UNDER TO THE SALVATION ARMY AT 204 JACKSON STREET. 

"WITH YOUR HELP WE CAN MAKE A CHILD'S CHRISTMAS BRIGHTER ."

December 13--  The flu season seems to have come a bit early this year.  Walk-in medical clinics in Vidalia say they've seen an increase in the last few days of patients with flu-like symptoms.

"Eight to ten patients a day we were having last week and the first part of this week, so it's really picked up the last week or two, it's rapidly growing says Brenda Morris at Applecare in Vidalia.

Meanwhile, Meadows Regional Medical Center in Vidalia has a full house, but it's not because of the flu, according to hospital spokesperson Elizabeth Harville.

"We've only got three of 69 patients with confirmed flu cases.  The issues were having with our volumes have nothing to do with the flu.  Our volumes are coming from the physicians we've recruited.  Their business is really good and we're starting to become a true regional hospital," she notes.

Meanwhile, medical authorities say it's not to late to get a flu shot and they recommend it to protect yourself in the future.

 

December 13--  A 19-year-old Soperton man has been found guilty of murder.

{mosimage}Treutlen County Sheriff Tommy Corbin reports a jury found Sylvester Davis guilty of killing 25-year-old Marquis Wadley on July 12, 2011 at a house in Soperton.  The verdict was returned late Wednesday in a trial that started Monday at the county courthouse in Soperton.He says Davis shot Wadley twice in the back of his head and stole drugs and money from the dead man. 

{mosimage}Davis' half-brother, 25-year-old Jonathan Wright, helped wrap the body in a sheet and place it in the trunk of Wadley's car. The two drove the car to Vidalia and parked it on Orange Street where it was discovered the next morning.

Wright testified against Davis at the trial and Sheriff Corbin says Wright's case will be considered by the court in the future.

Judge Donnie Gillis is expected to sentence Davis Thursday, December 20.  He could get life without parole, according to the Sheriff.

December 13--  The chairman of the Toombs County Commission is leaving the job after four years and is proud of what's been accomplished during his tenure.

{mosimage}Commissioner Buddy West chaired his last meeting of the County Commission and looked back on his time in office.

"When I came on we had the first county manager and the first parttime chairman and the worst economic times I've ever seen.  We've had the Local Option Sales Tax negotiation and have been through the ring of fire, but the bottom line is we're better off now than we were four years ago and the record will reflect than in finances and morale," West said.

Toombs County currently has $2 million in Certificates of Deposit and a cash balance in the general fund of $3.6 million.

"Our first year we had to borrow money to get through the year.  Now we've turned it around by making some decisons which were hard to make but were the right decisions.  We have money in the bank and are probably a lot better off than counties in the surrounding area.  We are leaving the county debt free and I think that's quite an accomplishment," he notes.

One of the decisions the Commission made during West's term in office was to increase county property taxes by one mil.  He says that allowed the commission to cease transferring money from the county landfill account to the general fund and to meet state requirements for landfill monitoring in the future.

Critics of that decision would like to see it reversed, but West disagrees.

"'I've always said what is popular is not always right and what is right is not always popular.  We've had to make some unpopular decisions, but they were the right decisions," he believes.

West has accepted a new job at Plant Vogtle near Augusta but is keeping his home in Toombs County and says he may consider another run in local politics in the future.

December 11--  Toombs County's general fund budget is projected to go up nearly a quarter-million dollars in 2013, but officials caution there are some unknowns which could cause some changes.

At its last meeting of the year Tuesday, the Toombs County Commission approved a nearly $9.3 million maintenance and operations budget.

It includes a four percent pay raise for county employees which was contested by Commissioners Roy Lee Williams and Skeeter Toole who wanted a five percent raise.  Commissioners Jeff McCormick and Louie Powell favored a four percent increase and Commission Chairman Buddy West cast the deciding vote for four percent.

"Going to a five percent could have cost this Commission and employees a lot of heartache and contentiousness and been very argumentative in the future.  I think more of the county having harmonious times than I do of a one percent pay raise," West said in casting his vote.

Incoming Commission Chairman Blake Tillery told the meeting he would not support across the board salary increases in the future.  He said raises would be based on recommendations by supervisors based on merit.

Commissioner Jeff McCormick warned the new budget faces a couple of key unknowns.  

On the revenue side, the Commission is awaiting a Superior Court ruling which could increase or reduce its share of local option sales tax collections.  The budget which passed assumes an increase of $150,000 in sales tax revenue in 2013.

On the expense side, he said the impact of Obamacare is not factored into the budget and could cause some adjustments to county health care insurance costs in the coming year.   The county's share of premiums could go down while at the same time it may have to start paying health insurance for employees who work 30 hours a week.

The biggest line item in the budget is the cost of county law enforcement and the jail.  Those budgets are up more than ten percent and total more than $2 million.

{mosimage}The Commission provided farewell plaques to three departing members and approved the hiring of a new county manager. 

Chairman West (center) and Skeeter Toole (right) served four years and Commissioner Louie Powell (left)is leaving after 12 years.

John Jones of Eastman was approved to succeed Doug Eaves and will start fulltime in January with a salary of $72,500 a year. 

December 10--  The Cedar Crossing Fire Department has named its Volunteer of the Year.

{mosimage}Cindy Butler, shown with Fire Chief Wayne Brantley, was honored at the firemen's Christmas Party Saturday night for the hours of administrative work she does on behalf of the department. (Photo courtesy Blake Tillery)

December 10-- Students and staff from Southeastern Technical College attended the Georgia Fall Leadership Conference in Atlanta.

{mosimage}Eighteen students and five advisors made the trip to the Renaissance Waverly Hotel in Atlanta. The conference gave members of all of Georgia's technical college student organizations opportunities to improve their leadership skills.

“Southeastern Tech recognizes the importance of preparing students for the workforce through both classroom and extracurricular activities,” said Helen Thomas, STC's conference coordinator for the event. 

“The Georgia Fall Leadership Conference is just one of the numerous extracurricular activities supported by Southeastern Tech that provides opportunities for students to develop, enhance, and exercise their leadership skills as they prepare for the workforce,” said Thomas.

Student organizations Phi Beta Lambda, SkillsUSA, and Student Leadership Council represented both the Swainsboro and Vidalia campuses at the conference, which included breakout sessions and presentations from staff members of Georgia technical colleges and professionals from a variety of fields.

“The conference provides an opportunity for students to attend interactive leadership sessions, network with peers, and participate in community service activities such as a March of Dimes walk and a Toys for Tots drive,” said Thomas. “Everyone gets to have a lot of fun.”

 

December 10--  The state's lawmakers are expected to face some difficult budget decisions when the legislature reconvenes next month.  State Senator Jack Hill of Reidsville discusses the situation in his "Notes From The Senate."

2013 AMENDED BUDGET PROJECTIONS

The Executive Branch is currently gathering information from agencies to build the Governor's FY 2013 Amended Budget.  This budget will be presented to the General Assembly in January, 2013 for consideration.  This week we discuss the components of the current year deficit, priorities in funding these needs and the role agency cuts will play.   

 

MEDICAID - DOMINATING NEEDS

FY13 Amended Need: $350 million

Every year, the state population grows and several programs tied to enrollment and population increase and create a need for what seems like every dollar of increased revenue. In the Senate, budget writers have been monitoring state agency needs and the increasing list of priority state services.  We currently anticipate that the amended budget will require approximately $540 million in additional funds in order to meet our obligations.

 

The Department of Community Health (DCH), which administers Medicaid, PeachCare and the State Health Benefit Plan, continues to be the major force behind budget discussions, and will continue to play a significant role this upcoming session.  FY2012 deferred payments will require approximately $200 million of the $350 million needed.  Enrollment growth and increased utilization will claim the rest.  As we will discuss next week, DCH is entering a perfect storm of issues that range from dealing with the provisions of the Affordable Care Act, the Hospital Provider Fee renewal and demand for services from those still hurt because of the recession.

 

K-12 EDUCATION
FY13 Amended Need: $150 million
K-12 enrollment growth of a little over 1% will require approximately $130 million in the amended budget.  This is higher than the $90 million we have been being in the Amended budget of prior years.  The rest of the funds will be dedicated to funding a portion of local funds not received by charter schools.  These funds were authorized by the enabling legislation, HB797, which went into effect upon passage of Amendment One in November.

 

OTHER AREAS

FY13 Amended Need: $40 million
Increased utilization of foster care services in the Department of Human Services adds a $4.4 million deficit to agency concerns. The Department of Behavioral Health, under a consent decree with the US Department of Justice is requesting $13 million for its work to comply with the provisions of the settlement.

 

What is not known is the immediate impact of federal sequestration discussed last week.  National groups have pegged Georgia's potential losses at $220 million but it is unknown how much that will be in FY2013 or how much will need to be covered by state funds (if any) if negotiations between Congress and the President do not change this amount.

 

WHERE WILL THE MONEY COME FROM? MAINLY AGENCY CUTS

As revenues have come in, we've seen some growth over FY2012 revenues.  The FY2013 budget was built on approximately 5% growth in collections over FY2012. We are currently collecting slightly below 5%, with virtually flat revenues in sales and use tax and lower than optimistic income tax revenues.  At this point, which admittedly is still a little too early to tell, we do not expect revenue growth to exceed the amount set in the FY2013 General budget.  In other words, new revenue, probably will not be there to cover these new deficits.

 

The Revenue Shortfall Reserve (RSR) is currently in the $550 million range including the $167 million or so that will be needed for the Mid-Year K-12 adjustment.  The adjusted balance, including lapses, leaves approximately $385 million which would fund just over 7 days of state operations. Some debt service savings might add a little more.

 

The primary tactic that Georgia will have to cover the remaining deficit is through agency cuts.  The Governor has called for 3% reductions in the FY13 Amended. The Governor's instructions did exempt several state programs from additional reductions, including the state funding formula for education known as QBE. With the exclusions he outlined, this will only generate approximately $250 million for the amended budget.  What is concerning is the belief among many that some of these reductions are not feasible given the reductions of agencies over the recession. Medicaid has offered up $62 million in cuts; Higher education, $64 million; Corrections and Public Safety agencies, $52 million and all other state agencies $77 million.

 

 

 

December 10--  Students at Sally Meadows Elementary School in Vidalia are learning more than just their ABC's at the school.

{mosimage}According to Principal Ginger Morris, "Sally Meadows third and fifth graders are learning about energy with some hands-on help from Georgia Power employees who bring energy education into the classroom."

{mosimage}Students also enjoy field trips.  The Meadows Elementary Wise Guys Science Club visited the Vidalia Fire Department station on Aimwell Road and learned about the fire protection firemen provide to residents of Vidalia.

December 10--  Vidalia High School is in the top ten percent statewide and leads the area on the Georgia High School Graduation Writing Test.

Eleventh graders from 467 high schools around the state were tested this Fall and the Juniors at Vidalia High School had an overall pass rate of 98.9 percent.  The state average is 95 percent.  Only 34 high schools in the state had higher pass rates than Vidalia High School.

“We are extremely excited about these results,” reports Principal Dr. Garrett Wilcox.  “I think this says a lot about the job our English teachers are doing to prepare our students and a lot about the effort students are putting forth. This accomplishment is something the entire system should take pride in. I really believe the foundation that the students have received at the lower grades has a tremendous impact on a students’ ability to be successful as they move through high school so everyone in the system has played a role in some part in this accomplishment.”

 

Area High School Rankings on State Writing Test

Area Ranking

High School

Percent of Students Who Passed

1

Vidalia

98.8

2

Montgomery Co

94.2

3

Metter

92.5

4

Appling co

92.1

5

Tattnall Co

90.0

6

ECI

89.7

7

Jeff Davis Co

89.0

8

Treutlen Co

88.7

9

Wheeler  Co

88.1

10

Toombs Co

87.3

11

Swainsboro

81.6

 

 

 

 

December 7--  Another "Happy Tail" from Therisa Ingley at the Sweet Onion Animal Protection Society.

"This is Luke.  Many of you know the very HARD road Luke endured.  We found
him early in June with a huge laceration from his abdomen to his left foot.
Danielle and I were sooo shocked, we just knew the injury would make him an
instant candidate for euthanasia.  He was only a 5-6 month pup.

Dr. Padgett helped Luke, along with many donators.  He had 6 skin grafts and stayed at the vet for 40 days.  Luke was finally able to come to my house in August.
Luke continued to recover and was able to use his leg like a normal dog.  He
attracted little interest and waited for over 3 months in foster.  

In late November, Luke escaped the fence and injured his leg/hip beyond repair.  His
leg had to be amputated.  Pam, who visited Luke many days while he was
boarding, offered him a comfortable inside foster home for recovery.  Thanks
to Holly, Pennie, and Thyra for communicating constantly to all the rescues.

Thanks to Rescue Adoption Inc. in Florida, Luke left Georgia Nov 29th and
found his forever home, see below for what his new family had to say.  There
are many dogs in need, but this boy touched a few of our hearts deeply and
we are more than thrilled for him.  We can't help them all, but look at what
helping one can do.  This is our reward."

{mosimage}"He is amazing.....instantly part of the pack, everyone loves him!  

What a sweet boy, after playing with his new brothers all afternoon, they are all
napping together in the family room, we can't thank you enough"

December 7-- Gov. Nathan Deal today announced that Dublin-based Green Power Solutions will open a power plant in Laurens County, creating 35 permanent jobs with an initial capital investment of $95 million. This new biomass-fueled plant is the culmination of more than 18 months of collaboration between Beasley Forestry Products and Land Care Services, and it will support up to 200 additional jobs in the forest industry. Having already received approval from the Georgia Public Service Commission, the GPS plant is slated to be the largest renewable energy qualifying facility developed to date in Georgia.

“Georgia is increasingly becoming a go-to location for biomass-based energy ventures, so we are encouraged by Green Power Solutions’ decision to choose Dublin and Laurens County for this innovative renewable energy plant,” said Deal. “Companies such as Green Power Solutions do well in Georgia due in large part to our plentiful forestry resources and existing workforce trained for this industry.”

The GPS power plant will be located at an existing paper mill in Laurens County that was recently purchased by SP Fiber Technologies, LLC. The planned capital expenditures will allow GPS not only to provide the steam required for the paper mill’s daily operations but also to generate 56 megawatts of electricity that will be provided to the electrical grid. GPS will provide base load power, which will be sold to Georgia Power Co. under a 20-year power purchase agreement.

“This is a great project that will help the local economy and advance the goal of energy independence by utilizing locally produced renewable resources,” said Tim Kennedy of Green Power Solutions. “We look forward to working with the community as the facility takes shape and begins operations.” 

GPS will also construct a new wood yard in connection with the project and expects to utilize in excess of one million tons of round wood, bark and other woody biomass annually from the local area.  

“We are excited about the new partnership with SP Fiber Technology and GPS. SP Fiber’s commitment to sustainability growth in our community is without comparison,” said Jimmy Allgood, past chairman of the Dublin-Laurens County Development Authority. “The team at GPS makes this project viable for long-term growth in Laurens County. The Dublin-Laurens County Development Authority completely endorses this new technology for our community, state and nation.”

The Georgia Department of Economic Development collaborated with the Dublin-Laurens County Development Authority to manage this project. GDEcD Regional Project Manager Ryan Waldrep assisted Green Power Solutions on behalf of Georgia.

“Our state’s profile in the renewable energy sector is raised significantly when companies such as Green Power Solutions choose to do business in Georgia,” said GDEcD Commissioner Chris Cummiskey. “Our goal is to be recognized not only as the best place for business, but also as a strategic location for companies in the fast-growing biomass energy industry.”

Construction at the Green Power Solutions plant is scheduled to begin in May 2013, with commercial power plant operations beginning in 2015.

About Beasley Forest Products

Beasley Forest Products LLC, located in Hazlehurst, has significant hardwood production sawmills and procurement operations in several Southeastern states. The company is the largest production hardwood sawmill in the United States, producing more than 90 million board feet of lumber per year. For more information please go to www.beasleyforestproducts.com.   

                                                                    

December 7-- Governor Nathan Deal announced today that Georgia’s net tax collections for November totaled nearly $1.35 billion, which was a decrease of $(9) million, or -0.7 percent, compared to the same period last fiscal year. Through five months, however, net tax revenue collections are up $249.5 million, or 3.7 percent, compared to YTD November 2011.

The following summarize net revenue changes within major tax categories during the month:

Individual Income Tax: Individual Income Tax collections for November totaled $701.5 million — up from $679.25 million in November 2011— for an increase of $22.25 million, or 3.3 percent.

The following notable components within Individual Income Tax account for the increase:
•      Individual Withholding payments were up $10 million, or 1.5 percent
•      Individual Income Tax refunds (net of voided checks) were down $(3.5) million, or -10.3 percent
•      All other Individual Income Tax categories combined for an increase of $8.75 million

Sales and Use Tax: Net Sales and Use Tax collections for November totaled $435 million — down from $451.25 million in November 2011 — for a decrease of $(16.25) million, or -3.6 percent. While gross sales tax collections improved $15.75 million, or 2.0 percent, compared to last year, the distribution to local governments totaled $378.5 million, which was an increase of nearly $32 million or, 9.2 percent, compared to last year’s distribution. With refunds essentially flat, the large distribution variance offset the growth in gross collections.

Corporate Income Tax: Corporate Income Tax collections for November were down $(20) million, or -191 percent, compared to last year. Net corporate refunds outstripped monthly revenues to create a negative revenue figure of $(9.5) million, down from $10.5 million in net tax revenue during November 2011.

The following notable components within Corporate Income Tax make up the decrease:
•      Corporate Tax Estimated payments were up $4.75 million, or 46.1 percent

•      Corporate Tax refunds (net of voided checks) were up $26 million, or 580.0 percent

•      All other Corporate Tax categories (including S-Corp) combined for an increase of $1.25 million

December 6--  Augusta businessman Rick Allen is considering another run for Congress in 2014.

{mosimage}Allen lost in the 2012 Republican Primary runoff to Lee Anderson by 159 votes.  He met with Toombs County Republicans this week and said he hopes to decide early next year if he will try again for the 12th Congressional seat now held by Democrat John Barrow.

In the meantime, he's invoved with a group focused on the nation's debt crisis.

"We have a runaway train here and we have got to fix this debt.  It is going to destroy our economy.  If you go to our website, www.fixthedebt.org, you'll see the people involved.  You can sign a petition there and we have over 400,000 signatures so far.  People are serious about this and we're asking for a bi-partisan effort.  This is bigger than Republicans and Democrats and it's got to be solved," Allen says.

December 5--  The city of Lyons is resuming accepting stray dogs picked up in Toombs County. 

In early 2012 the Lyons Animal Shelter stopped taking the animals because Toombs County was behind in its payments for the service.  Lyons councilman Wayne Hartley informed the city council Tuesday night service is resuming as long as the county pays it share on time in the future.

The council also passed a Hartley motion that Lyons quit picking up debris in Santa Claus.  Mayor Willis NeSmith said he will contact the town's mayor to see what kind of agreement can be reached.

Councilman Hartley asked the council to adopt a code of ethics statement applicable to city employees and elected officials.  It will be considered following review by the city attorney.

The council was informed that the Toombs County Development Authority is considering building another "spec" building in the U.S. One Industrial Park north of Lyons.  

Development Authority Executive Director Bill Mitchell says U.S. Pet is expected to start production in the park in March.  He noted the Authority has built and sold five "spec" buildings in the last 12 years and that another is needed to attract future business prospects. 

December 5-- The Toombs County FFA Agricultural Communications Team  competed in the Area IV FFA Agricultural Communications Career Development Event at Southeastern Technical College in Swainsboro.

{mosimage}Agricultural Communications team members are (L-R) Summer Dykes, Emily Banks, Breanna Mitchum and Emma Owens.  The Agricultural Communications Career Development Event develops the abilities to apply the principles and concepts used in creating articles, commercials and news reports. 

FFA is a national organization of over 449,000 members preparing for leadership and careers in the science, business and technology of agriculture.  FFA is an integral part of the agricultural education program in public schools.  The FFA mission is to make a positive difference in the lives of students by developing their potential for premier leadership, personal growth and career success through agricultural education.

Joey Montford, Mark Montfort and Joey O’Neal are the Toombs County FFA advisors.  The Agricultural Communications Career Development Event is sponsored by the Georgia Development Authority as a special project of the Georgia FFA Foundation.

December 5--  Unless the U.S. Congress and the President get together on a plan addressing the country's financial challenges, schools in our area could see more cuts to their funding next year, according to State Senator Jack Hill of Reidsville.

Here's his discussion of the issue in his "Notes From the Senate."

SEQUESTRATION AND THE STATE BUDGET
In August 2011, Congress was deadlocked on the decision to raise the debt limit. As a compromise, Congress passed the Budget Control Act (BCA) of 2011, which mandated the creation of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction. As required by the Act, this committee was tasked with proposing recommendations by November 23, 2011 to reduce the deficit by $1.2 trillion, over a ten year period beginning in 2013.

As an incentive to achieve meaningful deficit reduction, the Budget Control Act provided for automatic cuts if the commission did not pass legislation by the deadline date. These cuts are known as sequestration (the funds are sequestered or held back). These automatic cuts were intended to be a poison pill since both Republicans and Democrats would see their priorities hurt if the Joint Committee failed to act. Half of the $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts would come from defense and half would come from domestic programs. Unfortunately, the Joint Committee did not come up with an acceptable plan so the poison pill has become reality.

Sequestration instituted caps on discretionary programs and limited the growth of those appropriations to about 2 percent a year from FFY2014 through FFY2021. Mandatory programs such as Social Security, Medicaid, Food Stamps, Children's Health Insurance Program (PeachCare as implemented in Georgia) are exempt from the reductions. The total amount of deficit reduction required is $1.2 trillion over a ten year period. The total spending reduction required by sequestration for FFY2013 is approximately $109.333 billion.

Georgia receives about $12 billion in various federal grants and payments that are reflected in the state budget. About half of this amount is the federal share of the Medicaid program which is exempt.  With our Medicaid issues, Georgia leaders are a little relieved that we will not have another problem to contend with. But there are other programs that will be impacted.

 

The National Conference of State Legislatures predicted that Georgia will receive about $200 million less in federal funds in FY2013.  For those programs that are subject to sequestration, there will be about an 8% cut in FY2013. Some Title I funding for low income schools as well as funds for children with disabilities will be reduced. Various public health and social service funds will be reduced as well. Although education and public health are not the only areas impacted by the sequestration, these areas will be heavily affected. Also, some of these federal funds flow through Georgia's budget while others go directly to local governments. However, it is necessary to note that a vast majority of defense spending does not flow through the state budget and it is a little too early to tell how those reductions will impact Georgia.

I recently heard a saying that "You can't cut spending without cutting spending".  Georgia has followed this mantra over the past few years. If you compare Georgia's FY2008 budget of $20.5 billion with the FY2012 budget of $18.5 billion the state is collectively down over $2 billion or 10%. If you include inflation and population growth in areas like healthcare and education, we are doing more with less. Obviously some of these sequestration issues are not ideal, but we must be cognizant of the situation in Greece. Their national government got to a size that was unsustainable and the economy suffered tremendously as a result. I hope our national leaders streamline the federal government so that we avoid a similar fate.   


FISCAL CLIFF -TAX INCREASES AND SPENDING CUTS

The term "fiscal cliff" does not refer to just one bill that is set to expire, but rather a series of laws and policies that expire in January 2013. These range from scheduled revenue increases that will kick in as well as mandatory spending cuts that will begin to be implemented. This is a list of the components of the fiscal cliff and the FY2013 national impact.

Tax Increases ($393 billion total)

  • Expiration of the Bush Tax Cuts ($225 billion)
  • Expiration of the payroll tax cut ($85 billion)
  • Taxes included in the Affordable Care Act ($18 billion)
  • Other revenue provisions ($65 billion)


Spending Cuts ($98 billion total)

  • Sequestration ($54 billion)
  • Expiration of federal extended unemployment insurance benefits ($34 billion)
  • Expiration of the Medicare "doc fix" ($10 billion)

You can find additional information and resources on the sequestration at the following websites:
http://www.pewstates.org/uploadedFiles/PCS_Assets/2012/Pew_fiscal_cliff_report.pdf
http://taxpolicycenter.org/numbers/displayatab.cfm?Docid=3389&DocTypeID=2

 

 

December 5--  Three people are under arrest in connection with a burglary at a Georgia Department of Transportation office.

Toombs County Sheriff Junior Kight says computer monitors and printers were stolen from the trailer office located on U.S. One north of Lyons sometime last weekend.

Those arrested are 48-year-old Robert Earl Williamson, 24-year-old Cameron Carl Williamson and 20-year-old Elizabeth Irene Kirkley, all of Lyons.

 

 


 

December 4--  A drug suspect was shot in Vidalia Monday night during an attempted arrest.

District Attorney Hayward Altman says Mario McNeal attempted to flee the Forest Glen Village Apartments on Edwina Drive when he ran over Drug Agent Michael Clements of the Tri-Circuit Drug Task Force who was attempting to serve a federal drug warrant.

"In the process of executing the warrant, McNeal attempted to flee and he had the officer hung up on his vehicle.  Clements fired shots to protect himself and fired shots and McNeal was struck.  Clements was taken to the hospital and released and McNeal was flown to Macon where he is listed as critical, but stable," the DA reports.

Clements started his career in law enforcement with the Vidalia Police Department as an investigator and as a DARE officer.

The GBI is investigating the incident and will turn its findings over to the District Attorney for possible criminal prosecution.

December 3--  The Treutlen County Board of Education accepted the resignation of county School Superintendent Chuck Ellington at a called board meeting Friday night.

Ellington joins more than 1,700 Georgia educators who retired effective Saturday to take advantage of a pension benefit that's being eliminated. 

A one-time three percent increase in their base for yearly pension benefits that has been given to retirees for more than 20 years is being discontinued in January.

A Treutlen teacher also decided to retire and in Toombs County four teachers and a secretary submitted resignations.  No resignations were reported in the school systems in Vidalia nor Montgomery County.

Ellington has been the superintendent in Treutlen County since July, 2004. 

{mosimage}The school board named assistant superintendent Regina Harris as the interim superintendent.  She's been in the assistant's job for six and-a-half years.

 

December 3--  Nine people were injured in a Sunday evening wreck in Toombs County.

The Toombs County Sheriff's Office reports a GMC Jimmy and a Tahoe collided at the intersection of Highways 86 and 152 north of Lyons.

The Jimmy was being driven by Rodney Shumans of Swainsboro and held six passengers.  Two passengers were air-evaced to Savannah from the accident scene and the other four were later flown to Savannah from Meadows Regional in Vidalia.  They're identified as Tina Moore of Swainsboro, Susan Weaver of Reidsville and Megan, Koby, Ramon and Lissie Gonzalez, all of Reidsville.

The Tahoe was occupied by the driver Tonja Sellers and infant Rance Sellers, both of Tifton.

Trooper James Metts of the Reidsville Georgia State Patrol Post and the Sheriff's office are investigating.  According to the Sheriff's office, the Jimmy failed to yield at a stop sign and was hit in the side.

December 3--  The United Way of Toombs, Montgomery and Wheeler Counties is launching an initiative with the agencies it supports and local churches to make sure local charities are not being ripped off.

United Way Executive Director Patricia Dixon reports a data system called "Charity Tracker" is being considered to make sure only those who really need help get it and that there's no double dipping going on.

"We feel like we have to be good stewards of the money which people give the United Way.  We do have people who do try to work the system and then we have people who really have a need penalized.  If we join together, we have more accountability of who is getting help and who's not getting help," she reports.

Last week a representative of the United Way in Charleston, South Carolina was in Vidalia to meet with local agencies and explain how the system has been working in their area.

According to Cathy Easley, "We have been doing Charity Tracker for about four years and it has changed clients' lives.  We have a lot of generational poverty in our area and breaking the cycle and by working with all the agencies in our area and by knowing where they've been for help and what they need, we can better change their life."

The computer system links all the social service agencies together and allows them to track assistance to various individuals.

"I'm so excited about this coming to the table because I've been trying to get it implemented for several years," Dixon says.  "I just think if we can go out into the community and say this is what we are doing to track the funding, it will make a huge impact on what United Way and our whole community is doing here in the Toombs, Montgomery and Wheeler Counties," she believes.