March 29--  An effort to mediate how Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) revenue will be divided in Toombs County failed Thursday at the county courthouse.

The county and the cities of Vidalia, Lyons and Santa Claus have been in discussions since the first of the year with no agreement.  The cities want the formula to remain the same with Vidalia and Toombs County each getting 41.5%, Lyons 16% and Santa Claus 1%.

Vidalia city manager Bill Torrance says the towns' shares should really increase, but they are willing to settle for the status quo.

"We feel like we qualify for more funds than we are getting right now, but are willing to accept the present breakdown and have communicated that pretty consistently," Torrance says.

Commission Chairman Buddy West says the county will not accept the status quo.  "Everyone is entitled to their opinion and based on the numbers and how you look at them, we feel comfortable with our position of not having the status quo.  This is the first time this has been looked at by professionals and we are just going to go with that," West says.

County officials initially wanted to increase the county's share of the sales tax by almost 20% but made some counter-proposals Thursday through mediator Franklin Edenfield of Swainsboro. 

Edenfield shuttled back and forth between two rooms in the courthouse with city officials in one and county officials in the other.  The sessions started about nine and ended about 4:30 p.m. with no agreement.

Chairman West says county commissioners rejected a suggestion from the cities that another public meeting be held to try one more time to resolve the issue.

"You know we've had two of those at the Chamber of Commerce building.  Nothing was settled there in a public forum and after talking to all the commissioners, they decided not to do that," he said.

West says county attorney Howard Kaufold has been instructed to work with city lawyers to take the case to court.

"He and the city attorneys will get together and file a petition and move forward with an impartial judge from outside the circuit here," West reports. 

Whatever formula a judge comes up with will take effect in January and continue for ten years.

by Laura Diamond, AJC

The House voted down a bill Tuesday that would have allowed logs that sunk to the bottom of Georgia's rivers to be raised and sold.

Lawmakers have long debated "deadhead" logging, with supporters arguing Senate Bill 362 would create jobs and raise money for the state. They said the logs were meant to be sold when they were harvested from forests more than 100 years ago.

Environmentalists and some lawmakers opposed the bill, warning it could have a negative environmental impact. Removing the logs from the Altamaha, Flint, Ocmulgee and Oconee rivers could stir up sediment and harm fish habitats, they said.

The bill was rejected by a vote of 93-67.

Senate President Pro Tempore Tommie Williams sponsored the bill, which passed the Senate.

March 28--  The Georgia General Assembly is wrapping up its session and four bills passed the state Senate yesterday according to the Senate Press Office.

"The Georgia Senate today passed House Bill 1114 by a vote of 48 to 1. Sponsored in the House by Rep. Setzler and carried in the Senate by Sen. William Ligon (R-Waverly), this legislation prohibits assisted suicide, making it a felony punishable by incarceration of up to 10 years. 

“This legislation was crafted to prevent unnecessary deaths as a result of assisted suicide,” said Sen. Ligon. “The passage of HB 1114 was a positive step toward protecting the lives of Georgia’s citizens while also strengthening laws which govern end-of-life care or physician-assisted suicide.”

HB 1114 was drafted in response to the Georgia Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the state’s assisted suicide law, which prohibits the advertisement of assisted suicide services.

According to this bill, it would be considered a felony punishable by law if an individual knows that someone intends to commit suicide and knowingly and willfully assists in that person’s suicide. The offense is punishable by imprisonment of up to 10 years. According to the bill’s provisions, the following individuals are exempt from this law, including:

·       Those dispensing palliative care with the intent to relieve pain but without the intent to cause death;

·       Those withholding treatment with the patient’s consent or other authorized consent;

·       Those dispensing medicine according to a living will or similar document, as long as mercy killing or the deliberate act to end life is not involved;

·       Those withholding treatment pursuant to a living will or similar document; and

·       Those advocating on behalf of a patient in accordance with one of the above exceptions.

Any health care provider convicted of committing this offense must notify the state licensing board and will have their licenses revoked.  

Additionally, the act of assisted suicide is covered under the Georgia Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act as a racketeering activity.

HB 1114 will now travel to the Governor’s desk for final approval.

**********************

The Georgia Senate today passed House Bill 822 by a vote of 42 to 0. Sponsored in the Senate by Sen. William Ligon (R-Waverly), this legislation aims to combat fraud in government programs and contracts.

“I am pleased by the passage of HB 822 in the Senate today,” said Sen. Ligon. “This legislation is designed to protect the taxpayers from having their money fraudulently stolen by those who are unethical and cheating the system.”

The Georgia Taxpayer Protection False Claims Act establishes civil penalties for any person or legal entity that commits or conspires to engage in certain fraudulent acts, including but not limited to:

  • Knowingly presenting a false or fraudulent claim for payment or approval;
  • Possessing property or money to be used by the state or local government and knowingly delivering less than all of that money or property;
  • Knowingly buying or receiving as a pledge of an obligation or debt public property from an officer or employee of a state or local government who lawfully may not sell or pledge the property;
  • Knowingly conceals or improperly avoids an obligation to pay or transmit money or property to the state or a local government.

Individuals or entities found guilty of committing these violations will be liable to the State for a civil penalty of $5,000 to $11,000 for each false or fraudulent claim, plus attorney’s fees and three times the amount of damages which the state or local government sustains because of the violation. An individual who commits these violations will only be held liable for two times the amount of damages if he or she fully cooperates with government investigators and provides all known information about the violation within 30 days.

Under this legislation, the Georgia Attorney General may investigate alleged violations of this Act and impose a civil suit. The Attorney General may also delegate the authority to investigate and bring suit to a local government that has allegedly sustained damages because of the violation.

In addition, an individual may bring suit upon written approval by the Attorney General; however, the suit must be in the name of the State of Georgia or local government.

There are several limitations to civil actions under the Act. Public employers are not allowed to bring a civil action that is based upon allegations of wrong doing that the public employee or official had a duty to report or investigate. This also includes information that the public employee or official had access to as a result of his or her position.

The statute of limitations for civil actions brought under this Act is six years after the date of the violation was committed, or three years after the date when facts material to the right of civil action reasonably should have been known. However, no action may be filed more than 10 years after the date the violation occurred.

Additionally, this legislation also updates various provisions of the State False Medicaid Claims Act. These updates include adding definitions to the current code, redirecting certain proceeds from civil actions under this Act from the Indigent Care Trust Fund to the Department of Community Health and revising the statute of limitations for civil action under the Act.

HB 822 will now travel to the Governor’s desk for final approval.

*******************

The Georgia Senate passed HB 861, the Social Responsibility and Accountability Act, today by a vote of 36 to 15. Sponsored in the House by Rep. Michael Harden and carried in the Senate by Sen. John Albers (R-Roswell), this legislation requires recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to undergo drug screening to receive welfare benefits.

HB 861 is the companion legislation to the Senate’s version of the Social Reasonability and Accountability Act, or SB 292.

“The passage of HB 861 today is the culmination of several months of hard work as members of both the House and Senate worked to pass this historic piece of legislation,” said Sen. Albers. “The reason I worked on SB 292, which is identical legislation to HB 861, was to establish a new precedent for how government welfare programs are run and challenge the status quo as it relates to the overall perception of government entitlement programs. Ultimately, TANF benefits were always intended to provide families with a “hand up” and not a “hand out.” This common sense legislation provides for families in need and ensures that hard earned taxpayer money isn’t being diverted to drug use.”

Under this legislation, which was merged with the original language from SB 292 in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, the drug testing requirement was modeled after the tests required by the Mandatory Guidelines for Federal Workplace Drug Testing Programs or other professionally valid procedures. If enacted into law, this test would require a swab test in lieu of urinalysis.

TANF applicants who are not currently enrolled in Medicaid will be responsible for covering the drug-testing application fee, which could run up to 17 dollars. However, if these individuals test negative for controlled substances, they will be fully reimbursed for all expenses as part of their first benefits check.

In addition, TANF applicants enrolled in Medicaid will be required to pay the $17 drug-testing application fee and will not be eligible for direct TANF reimbursement.

As part of the bill’s provisions, all TANF applicants must be drug tested no later than 48 hours after their application has been approved by the Department of Human Services (DHS).

Under this legislation, individuals who test positive for controlled substances will be ineligible for TANF benefits under the following restrictions:

  • If an applicant tests positive, the individual will be ineligible to reapply for benefits for one month.
  • If a second positive result is produced, the applicant will be ineligible to receive benefits for three months.
  • For a third and subsequent positive result, the applicant will be ineligible for benefits for one year.

If an applicant is found ineligible after subsequent drug tests, the individual may reapply after six months if they successfully complete a substance abuse program.

Recent studies have shown that individuals who engage in drug abuse are less likely to maintain employment and, as a result, remain on welfare-related programs for longer periods of time. In a study surveying New Jersey TANF recipients, individuals who abused drugs stayed on welfare for an average of 12 years, versus 5.8 years for those who did not.

For two parent families, only one parent must comply with drug screening requirements. However, teen parents who do not currently live with a parent or adult caretaker will be responsible to comply with all drug testing requirements. In addition, dependent children under the age of 18 are exempt from these requirements.

If a parent fails the state mandated drug-testing and is deemed ineligible to receive TANF benefits, the eligibility of a dependent child will not be affected. For these instances, another individual can be designated to receive benefits on behalf of the child.

According to this legislation, if an applicant fails a drug test, the DHS must provide them with a list of substance abuse providers, although the state will not be responsible for providing or paying for treatment.

Exemptions for mandatory drug testing will be made for individuals who are considered by the Department of Human Services to be significantly impaired due to a physical, mental or developmental disability. In addition, persons enrolled in a Medicaid enhanced primary care case management program will also be exempt from this requirement.

In an effort to protect the privacy of welfare applicants, all screening results will remain confidential and exempt from public records law.

HB 861 will now travel to the Governor’s desk for final approval.

*********************

In a great show of bipartisan support today, the Georgia Senate passed HB 1176 by a vote of 51 to 0. The comprehensive sentencing and corrections reform bill promises to save Georgia taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars, move low-level offenders permanently out of the system, and improve overall public safety. Sen. Bill Hamrick (R-Carrollton), a long-time supporter of criminal justice reform in Georgia, carried the bill.

“The common-sense solutions found in this bill are the result of months of work analyzing our state’s corrections system and consulting a wide range of stakeholders,” said Sen. Hamrick. “HB 1176 outlines much-needed reforms that will improve public safety, lower recidivism rates and bring real costs savings to Georgia taxpayers. Without action, taxpayers would have paid $264 million over the next five years to accommodate a rising prison population. I am pleased to see the Senate overwhelmingly support this bill.”

The overall intention of HB 1176 is to strengthen penalties for violent and career criminals, while providing more effective punishments for low-level drug users and property offenders. The creation of a rehabilitation-based system for low-level offenders will free up prison space in order to keep the most dangerous offenders behind bars.

 

Specific initiatives of HB 1176 include creating a tougher process for probation and parole supervision; expanding proven community-based sentencing options to reduce recidivism, such as accountability courts and substance abuse and mental health programs; and holding agencies accountable for better results by implementing systematic data collection and performance measurement systems.

If signed into law, the legislation will place Georgia in the company of more than a dozen states—including Texas, South Carolina, North Carolina, Arkansas and Kentucky—that are currently implementing criminal justice policies designed to improve public safety, hold offenders accountable, and control corrections costs.

This legislation is the product of more than six months of work by the Special Council on Criminal Justice Reform for Georgians.  This bipartisan, inter-branch Council conducted an in-depth analysis of the state’s sentencing and corrections data and met with a wide range of stakeholders including victim advocates, sheriffs, prosecutors and county officials.  Members of a special joint legislative committee approved this bill before sending it to the Georgia House of Representatives where the bill passed unanimously. 

The next step will be final agreement by the Georgia House of Representatives and Governor Deal to sign the legislation into law.

 

 

 

 

 

May 27--  Vidalia attorney Blake Tillery is running for Chairman of the Toombs County Commission.

{mosimage}"Basically, I feel the people of Toombs County are looking for someone to head the county government whom they feel they can talk to and also for someone with a vision for the future.  I think our campaign provides both," he said.

Tillery announced his decision Monday to run in the Republican primary election scheduled for July 31.

Two other possible candidates for the seat are incumbent Buddy West and former Toombs County chairman James Thompson.  West says he's "still debating" whether to seek re-election and Thompson says there's "a strong possibility" he will run for the office again.

Tillery, who is 28, believes he can handle the job.  "I think Chess Fountain was 28 when he first ran for county clerk and Greg Morris was 28 when he ran for the county commission the first time as well.  I do think I provide a different perspective.  I grew up here, went to Vidalia High School, played ball here, went to the University of Georgia and got a law degree and came home.  I can look at our community and remember people who make decisions ten and twenty years ago and before that, forty and fifty years ago, who are the reasons we are where we are today.  There's a reason why our community continued to grow where others didn't and if we don't continue to make those forward-looking decisons, we, too, could fall by the wayside," Tillery says.

Tillery promises more cooperation between the county and its three cities if he is elected.

"We need to make sure we're working together to promote economic development for job creation.  That's the biggest thing in our community. Our citizens aren't worried about street lights being turned off, they're worried about putting food on the table.  What can we as a county government do to support them.   That and providing an accessible, user-friendly county government.  The people want someone heading our county government who they feel they can talk to," he said.

Tillery's campaign finance chairman is Dr. Wayne Williams and the candidate says they're off to a strong start with fund raising.

Qualifying for the July primary opens May 23rd and closes May 25th. 

March 23-- VNS Corporation announces it is opening a new Choo Choo Build-It Mart location on the Southside of Jacksonville, FL, and re-opening their Richmond Hill, GA location as a roofing distribution center.  The Jacksonville location will distribute a full line of building materials.

VNS Corporation, a regional building products and construction services company headquartered in Vidalia, GA., is the largest privately owned building products company in Georgia and is ranked in the top 50 in the nation by Pro Sales magazine.  VNS is the parent Company of Choo Choo Build-It Mart, Wholesale Building Products, Bestline Sash & Door, and Charlie’s Discount Building Materials.  In addition, ProCon Construction Services, LLC and TrussMart Building Products, LLC are wholly owned subsidiaries of VNS Corporation. 

Joe Inman, Vice President and General Manager of the Kingsland, and Richmond Hill, GA locations, will also oversee the Jacksonville store.   

Gary Campbell, President & CEO of VNS, states “We are excited to announce the opening of a new location in Jacksonville and the re-opening of our Richmond Hill, GA location.  Both of these locations give us easy access onto I-95 to distribute products north and south.   VNS Corporation takes great pride in selling and serving the professional contractor and also homeowners building or re-modeling their own home.  Choo Choo Build-It Mart started selling building materials in 1961, building our company on first class service and integrity.   We truly serve as partners to our customers.  Our mission is to help our customers be successful.”

March 23-- U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., today made the following statement on the two-year anniversary of President Obama’s terribly flawed health care law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Isakson, who serves on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, voted against the health care bill in December 2009, and he has voted to repeal the law.

“On the two-year anniversary of President Obama’s health care law, we continue to find more and more major flaws in the law that will impact the lives of millions of Americans.

“President Obama promised Americans that if you like your plan, you can keep it. Beginning in 2014, the health care law will require small business to provide health insurance to employees, or else pay a fine per employee. As a former small business owner, I know that small businesses will see this fine as significantly less expensive than providing health benefits. I predict many small businesses are going to get rid of their benefit plans and send their employees to the government exchange. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that as many as 20 million Americans will lose their employer-sponsored health insurance plans as a result of the law. Even worse, the mandates in the law could cause as many as 800,000 Americans to become unemployed.

“In addition to decreasing patient choice, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is anything but affordable. The law itself will cost as much as $1.75 trillion, which is almost double than what President Obama initially claimed. On top of that, premiums are expected to go up by as much as $2,100 per family per year in the individual market as a result of the mandates in the law.

“Finally, I am gravely concerned with the effects this law is going to have on our seniors. When I saw that the president’s law takes $500 billion out of the Medicare trust fund, which at the time was predicted to go broke in 2017, and moves it to the other side of the balance sheet to underwrite the cost of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, I knew that we were in trouble. We’re robbing Peter to pay Paul for a new program. It is robbing taxpayers of the money they’ve paid for a benefit that the law is going to diminish and move to fund beneficiaries who haven’t paid a dime for it. This law is wrong for seniors. It’s wrong for Medicare, and it’s wrong for America.

“This terrible law is full of broken promises, and I will continue to work to repeal the law and replace it with solutions to contain the costs of health care and increase patient choice through competition in the private-sector.”

March 23--  The Toombs County Commission has approved changes to the county's commission district lines.

The state reapportionment office recommended the changes to a previously approved map in order to increase minority representation in District One which is represented by Commissioner Roy Lee Williams.  The adjustment added population from Lyons to District One and removed it from District Three represented by Commission Skeeter Toole.

The map requires approval by the U.S. Department of Justice and local legislation in the Georgia General Assembly before it can be finalized.

In other actions at a called meeting Wednesday, the commission approved a $150,000 economic development loan to Tommie and Clint Williams of Lyons to do some renovation work on the old Capitol Bolt Building on Highway 292 in Lyons.  Williams Development. LLP will lease the building to U.S. Pet to use as a packaging and distribution center.  It's a four-year loan at three percent interest.

March 21--  There's a Cornhole Tournament going on at the Vidalia Community Center this weekend that's attracting players from all over the country, according to Frank Geers with the American Cornhole Organization.

"The furthest group traveling is coming in from California and we've got groups from Connecticut, Illinois, Tennessee and Ohio.  So they're coming in from all over the country and it's going to be a good party there in Vidalia, that's for sure," he says.

There's almost $20,000 in prize money in games that start Friday night and continue all day Saturday and Sunday at the Vidalia Community Center.  Anyone can enter the contests which are similar to horseshoes.

"It's the top tailgating game in the United States.  It's a game where you have two platforms or boards that have a six-inch hole cut in them placed 27 feet apart.  You have one pound bags and each team or each player competing has four bags and the object is to put your bag in the hole from 27 feet.  That's a cornhole when you throw a bag through the hole.  The traditional name of cornhole came from the fact that you were throwing bags filled with corn through a hole," he says.  Today the bags are filled with beans.

The Vidalia Area Convention and Visitors Bureau invited tournament organizers to town for the event under the corporate sponsorship of Cintas.

Spectators are welcome and if you want to play, you can enter singles, doubles and four-person crew competition.  

"f you're not aware of what the game is, on our website, there's a lot of video footage where you can see some competitors playing at the highest level and also see the social levels out there playing.  It's a wonderful game that sort of originated with tailgating and that's what we'll be doing in Vidalia this weekend," Geers says.

The ACO website is www.americancornhole.org.

March 21--  The Ogeechee Riverkeeper issued a news release today objecting to a judge's ruling against the group in last year's Ogeechee fish kill.

"On March 20, 2012, a judge in Atlanta ruled that citizens have no right to challenge the State's handling of the largest fish kill in Georgia's history.  Ogeechee Riverkeeper, represented by the public interest law firm, GreenLaw, and the environmental law firm, Stack & Associates, had filed a legal challenge to the state environmental agency's handling of the largest fish kill in state history. While Judge Lois Oakley, who issued the decision, found that Ogeechee Riverkeeper members were injured by the fish kill, she nevertheless rejected their case finding that Ogeechee Riverkeeper could not show that its members had been harmed by the agency's decision. 

In May 2011, the biggest fish kill in the history of the State was caused by an illegal discharge into the Ogeechee River by a textile company based in Chicago, King America Finishing. Shortly thereafter, King America Finishing ("KAF") and the State Environmental Protection Division ("EPD") entered into secret negotiations where KAF agreed to a Consent Order, which allowed them to continue discharging illegally and without a proper permit. The Consent Order also imposed the requirement of an environmental project. Citizens, including Ogeechee Riverkeeper and its members, had no input into this process.

In challenging the Consent Order, Riverkeeper brought numerous witnesses to testify about how they have been directly affected by the illegal discharge and how they fear it may happen again. A prominent biologist at Auburn University, Dr. Alan Wilson, testified that these fears are well founded and that the fish kill could happen again. Nevertheless, the Judge ruled that the members of the public most affected by the fish kill and overall health of the river have no standing to challenge the State's inadequate penalty. 

"Georgia's citizens who live in the Ogeechee Basin have borne too many insults," states Dianna Wedincamp, Ogeechee Riverkeeper. "First, we had to endure a massive fish kill, then EPD shuts us out of the process, and then a judge says we have no right to complain. We have a right to protect our rivers."

"We believe that the court erred because we showed that the Ogeechee Riverkeeper and its members were not only shut out of the process but also that they had been injured by the Consent Order which allows the facility to keep polluting illegally," stated Hutton Brown, water quality attorney for GreenLaw who is handling the case for Ogeechee Riverkeeper in partnership with Don Stack of Stack & Associates. "We intend to appeal the decision."

To see the Judge's ruling, go to www.greenlaw.org/OgeecheeFishKill

March 20--  The State Board of Education today voted unanimously to recommend to the Governor suspension with pay of the Miller County Board of Education. The State Board conducted a hearing pursuant to O.C.G.A. 20-2-73, relating to recommendations for potential suspension of local boards of education for governance related issues. 

The following statement was read by the Chair of the State Board of Education, Barbara Hampton at the conclusion of the hearing:

Pursuant to O.C.G.A. § 20-2-73(a)(1), Suspension and removal of local school board members under certain circumstances, the Georgia State Board of Education has received and reviewed all reports requested since the initial hearing date of November 28, 2011 in addition to the testimony heard and evidence presented today.  In accordance with the official vote, the State Board of Education hereby recommends to the Governor to suspend with pay all members of the Miller County Board of Education this day of March 20, 2012.

Meanwhile, the Montgomery County school board is currently on probation and will have a hearing this summer before the state Board of Education.  The board is working on correcting governance issues raised by an inspection team from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

March 20--  The faculty advisor to the Vidalia High School DECA Club, Bobby Stanley, provides the following regarding a scholarship in memory of Courtney Wilkes.

"Applications are now being accepted from high school Seniors wishing to apply for the 1st Annual Career, Technical and Agricultural Education Scholarship – In Honor of Courtney Wilkes, sponsored by Vidalia Comprehensive High School DECA Club.  A scholarship in the amount of $750 will be awarded to one recipient from either Vidalia Comprehensive High School or Toombs County High School, based on the following criteria:

·       Vidalia Comprehensive High School or Toombs County High School Senior, planning on attending a two or four year college and choosing a Career, Technical or Agricultural Education (CTAE )field of study (16 Pathways; List Attached)

·       Strong GPA and Class Ranking

·       Excellent Moral Character

·       Scholastic Achievement

·       Extracurricular / Community Involvement

·       Financial Need

All applicants will be required to complete and attach to their application, a one page essay (typed, 12 point, Times New Roman Font, 1 ½ spacing).

Courtney Wilkes was a rising junior at Toombs County High School (and academically number one in her class) when she was brutally murdered in June of 2011, while vacationing with her family in Florida.  The DECA Club of Vidalia Comprehensive High School sought a way to honor this exceptional young lady by creating an annual scholarship in her name.   Courtney was a friend to all, had a contagious, bubbly personality and exhibited a love of learning.  She had a bright outlook on life and planned to be a veterinarian.  She held an officer position in FFA and excelled on her soccer team.  Most importantly, Courtney upheld her principles by demonstrating a strong moral character and deep Christian faith.  

Deadline for submission is April 16, 2012.  To receive an application or should you have any questions, please contact Bobby Stanley, DECA Advisor, VCHS at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 537-7931.  Recipient will be announced during Senior Night for recipient’s school in May 2012.

Recipient will be chosen by a Scholarship Committee appointed by DECA Club advisor.  All funds for the scholarship are raised by the members of the Vidalia High School DECA Club.

March 19--  Toombs County is paying severance money to the recently resigned county manager.

In response to a Freedom of Information request, the county reported it is paying Doug Eaves $47,538.48 for six months salary and six weeks of accrued vacation time.  

Eaves resigned March 13 and said in his resignation letter part of the reason was because of "circumstances beyond my control."

County attorney Howard Kaufold says Eaves' contract contained a provision that he would receive a severance package "if he resigned following a suggestion to resign whether formal or informal."

In an interview, Eaves said he could not comment on circumstances surrounding his decision to resign. However, he noted his contract was similar to many endorsed by the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG) due to the political nature of jobs occupied by county managers. 

Eaves started work as Toombs County's first county manager in October, 2008.  His contract was renewed by the county in October, 2010.

Eaves letter of resignation says:

"It is with regret that I tender my resignation effective March 13, 2012 from Toombs County.  I have enjoyed my employment with Toombs and feel that we have made a great contribution towards the future of the county.

"Due to circumstances beyond my control and the opportunity to pursue other business interests at this time that is important to me and in the best interest of my family, I tender this resignation.  I leave knowing that Toombs County is in a better financial and managerial situation than when I started.  I leave with a sense of satisfaction knowing the improvements we have made.

"I wish you and the county well in your future endeavors." 

 

March 19-- With final legislative passage of the charter school amendment today, Gov. Nathan Deal encouraged Georgians to vote for it this November.

                                                                                                            “The General Assembly has acted wisely and courageously to give Georgians the choice to implement true local control: parental choice. We must encourage innovation and the pursuit of excellence in our schools.

"Starting a state-chartered school is not done easily or without lots of hard work, but we need a system that allows for this option. State-chartered schools help students trapped in underperforming schools and aid communities that want to invest in new and imaginative ways of learning for their children.

"Approving this amendment will simply restore the process for creating state-charted schools that existed before the state Supreme Court struck down the state’s system for granting charters, and I hope Georgians will cast their vote for protecting and promoting schools that have a strong record of student achievement.”

March 19--  You can expect some mail delays if the U.S. Postal Service proceeds with consolidation of some processing centers.

It has announced plans to move the processing center in Swainsboro to Macon and relocate two centers in Savannah to Charleston, Jacksonville and Macon.

Vidalia Postmaster Bill Warnock says consolidation won't impact Express Mail, however, he believes delivery of First Class Mail could take two days if and when the changes take effect.  The Postmaster says delivery of mail in this zip code zone currently should only take one day if the letter is at the post office before five p.m.

Final decisions on consolidation proposal are expected in mid-May.

March 19--  A Vidalia city school has received a clean bill of health from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division.

A state inspector visited J.D. Dickerson Primary School to check on the school's asbestos monitoring program.  Officials say both records and the school were checked and the inspector reported both are in compliance with environmental regulations.

Vidalia school superintendent Dr. Tim Smith has assured concerned parents that upcoming renovation at the school will not expose students to airborne asbestos.

 

March 19--  The 67th Annual Pine Tree Festival and Southeast Timber EXPO focuses on an old-fashioned hometown celebration for Emanuel County with this year's slogan, “200 Years of the Amazing Pine Have Made Emanuel County Fine!” 

After hearing the voice of the community, the Pine Tree Festival Committee has decided to host the majority of festival events scheduled for Saturday, May 5 in downtown Swainsboro in order to make it more centralized and inviting. Other events will be held from Saturday, April 28 through Wednesday, May 9.

The Festival Committee is proud to announce the debut appearance of Swamp People on May 5. Swamp People, a popular History Channel television show that has seen record-breaking reviews and ratings with over 3.9 million viewers, follows swampers through a time of year that is crucial to their survival: the 30-day alligator hunting season

   {mosimage}Swamp People celebrities R.J. and Jay Paul, Jr. Molinere will be guest celebrities on-site at the 67th Pine Tree Festival & Timber EXPO, May 5 from 11 a.m. until 5 p.m., to sign autographs and take pictures. A Houma Native American, R.J. Molinere was born and raised in a small Native American village and has lived most of his life off of the land's resources by trapping, shrimping, crabbing, and alligator hunting. R.J. is a four-time World Champion arm wrestler, eleven-time National Champion, two-time Arnold Classic Arm Wrestling Champion, and two-time GNC Champion. Jay Paul, Jr. is a two-time Golden Gloves Boxing champion, regional boxing champion and undefeated MMA fighter. The pair began their stardom on Swamp People this past April. For more information regarding the show or the Molineres, visit www.history.com/shows/swamp-people, or find them on Facebook.

To find out more about these and other events, please visit the Pine Tree Festival & Timber EXPO website at www.pinetreefestival.org or visit the Chamber’s Pine Tree Festival site at www.emanuelchamber.org. Information may also be found on the Pine Tree Festival & Southeast Timber EXPO's page on Facebook.

 

March 17--  The Association of County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG) is asking its members to contact legislators regarding a House Bill on the use of state fees for other than their intended purposes. 

Pressure Builds as Final Days of the 2012 Legislative Session Draw Near

The General Assembly is on track to wrap up the 2012 legislative session before the end of March. Next week, legislators return for four official days (Days 34 – 37).  Now is the time when ACCG and county officials must keep a watchful eye on all legislation to ensure that bills are not amended in ways that could negatively impact county operations.

ACCG has updated the legislative tracking database and is only tracking legislation at this time that has passed in either the House or the Senate (or both) and is still alive. Remember that you can track legislation by issue, policy committee, or policy staff member to get a quick snapshot of issues that interest you. The ACCG legislative database is available by clicking here.

Watch for updates from ACCG next week on major issues including criminal justice reform, juvenile justice reform and tax reform. Below are updates on other legislation representing county priorities that saw action this week.

Senate Appropriations Committee Approves Watered Down Version of HB 811

The Senate Appropriations Committee passed, but made major modifications to, HB 811 this week which will allow state budget writers to continue diverting dedicated fees for other purposes. The Committee amended the bill to allow for the unabated diversion of dedicated fees without any fee reduction until state reserves reach at least 7% percent of the previous year’s fiscal budget, or about $1.1 billion.  The current total held in state reserves is $328 million, and the reserves have topped the billion dollar mark only once in the past 23 years.  Also, indigent defense fees were removed from the bill.  The bill now awaits action by the Senate Rules Committee. 

The media has closely followed HB 811 and asked Senators tough questions this week regarding the need for transparency in the state’s budget making process.  Some of the media coverage includes:

HB 811 is one of ACCG’s top priorities this legislative session.  Please contact your Senators and ask that they support HB 811 and encourage an amendment to reduce the 7 percent reserve threshold to 3 percent. Without this change, the redirection of fees will continue with little, if any constraint. ACCG fully supports building up the state’s shortfall reserve, but not at the expense of fees dedicated to services local governments must carry out. 

 

March 16--  A Toombs County grand jury has returned 28 indictments according to Toombs County Clerk of Court Chess Fountain.

Indicted on 19 counts of financial identity fraud are Sharline Craven and Robert Medders, Jr. for defrauding TAR Land and Timber Company.  Others indicted in fraud cases are Anthony Cook and Sierra Wright with Larry Cauley indicted for credit card theft.

Burglary indictments were returned against Matthew Guenther, Deriek Lawler, James Law, Taneka Warren, Terry Walton, David Anderson, Elizabeth Carr, Sonia Hartman and Sierra Oglesby.

Indicted for Theft by Taking are Billy Gupton, Charlie Clemons, Spencer Musgrove and Jesus Almazan.

The grand jury indicted Shelley Thompson for cruelty to children and Bobby Durden for cruelty to animals in the shooting and cutting of a horse.

Aggravated assault indictments were filed against Juan Mendoza, Samuel Raiford, Amanda Mobley and Tomie Davis.

Indicted for drug-related charges are Cecil Wilson, Robert Powell, John Bell and Stephen Corouthers.

Others indicted are Jennifer Roy for theft by conversion, Justin Jones for interference with government property, Willie Robinson III for shoplifting and robbery and Tracy McDaniel for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. 

March 16--  It took a decade, but the long arm of the law finally took a child molestor off the street.

District Attorney Hayward Altman reports Victor Tyrone Campbell of Lyons will spend 25 years in jail without parole for sodomizing a little girl in 2002. Toombs Superior Court Judge Kathy Palmer also placed Campbell on lifetime probation and he will be registered as a sex offender for the rest of his life.

Officials say the delay occurred because there was a delay in reporting the crime and because Campbell fled the state when it was reported.

March 15--  The longtime Sheriff of Montgomery County has decided not to run for re-election. 

{mosimage}Sheriff Clarence Sanders made the announcement at a Thursday morning news conference and said he'd been thinking about it for six months.  After a family meeting earlier this week, Sheriff Sanders said he thought and prayed about the decision and got no sleep the night before he decided what to do.

"I fixed me a cup of coffee, got me a breakfast bar, went out and fed our horses and rode down to the branch and looked at our cows, went back to the house.  When I got back to the house, I went in. I told Ruby Nell, I've made the decision. She said hold on just a minute, I want to tell you something before you say anything else.  No matter which decision you've made, the family is going to stick behind you.  So I said, I'm going to retire.  She grabbed me and hugged my neck, and if I'd known I was going to get a neck-hugging, I'd retired a long time ago," Sheriff Sanders related.

Sheriff Sanders started as a Deputy Sheriff in 1983 and was elected to office in 1996.  He says when he was a deputy, he got to spend too little time with his daughter and doesn't want to make the same mistake with his grandchildren.

He thanked his staff and people in Montgomery County for their support during his career and promised to be around to help anyone he can in the future.

March 15-- Gov. Nathan Deal today announced that the Denmark-based Dinex Group plans to open a manufacturing plant in Dublin-Laurens County. The automotive emissions control and exhaust manufacturer will create 250 jobs and invest $15 million in this operation.  

“Automotive suppliers are leading the way for the manufacturing rebound in Georgia and we have companies such as Dinex to credit for that,” said Deal. “Our state is uniquely equipped to help manufacturers compete globally, so I am especially glad to welcome this company to Georgia.”

 The Dinex Group is a leading global manufacturer and distributor of innovatively engineered exhaust and emission control products and solutions for the heavy-duty diesel engine and vehicle industry. The company’s Dublin facility will be its first in the United States and will produce exhaust and emission systems for the off- and on-road markets for diesel engines in North America. Dinex’s customers include Caterpillar, Carrier, John Deere, Case New Holland and Volvo among several others. Dinex will also develop a full range of products for the truck and bus aftermarket (AEM) in North America.

Following an extensive multi-state search for the right U.S. business location, including more than 50 site visits, Dinex decided on Dublin for a number of reasons. “Georgia’s pro-business community met our requirements with respect to logistics, access for our suppliers, operating costs, workforce and quality of life,” said Dinex Vice President and CFO Kim Toft Jensen.

 “By the end of September 2012, we will have capabilities to supply quality products ‘Made in the USA’ to our customers across the U.S.,” said President and CEO Torben Dinesen. “We are anxious to grow our customer base in the U.S. and we are confident in the continued support from the state of Georgia and Laurens County.”

Dinex will collaborate with Quick Start, Georgia’s nationally recognized workforce training program, to train the company’s workforce on a range of advanced manufacturing applications. Quick Start provides tailored and industry-specific training resources free of charge to qualified new, expanding and existing companies creating new jobs in Georgia. The Dinex manufacturing plant will be located in a 60,000-square-foot facility in Dublin and expects to expand by more than double within the next five years.

“Our community is thrilled to have another proven European company to locate in Dublin and Laurens County,” said chairman of the Dublin-Laurens County Development Authority Jimmy Allgood. “We are fortunate to have the quality workforce in this area which Dinex needs to operate successfully in the U.S.”

The Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDEcD) collaborated with the Dublin-Laurens County Development Authority to secure this project. GDEcD director of advanced manufacturing, Bill Dobbs, and senior project manager, Andrew Neumann, coordinated this project on behalf of the state.

“Georgia’s resources for advanced manufacturers are significant and we consider this decision by Dinex as a proof point of our abilities to help global companies compete here and abroad,” said Georgia Department of Economic Development Commissioner Chris Cummiskey. “From our highly skilled workforce to advanced logistics network, Dinex will find in Georgia an infrastructure capable of helping it meet current and future customer needs.”

Dinex was also assisted by Binswanger Real Estate Solutions, the Trade Council of Denmark and the Royal Danish Consulate under the advisement of the Honorary Consul General Christopher N. Smith in Macon.

“Through our partnership with the Trade Council of Denmark, we are actively working to attract Danish companies to Georgia,” Smith said. “Dinex is a fabulous addition to the growing list of Danish companies who have chosen Georgia as their home in North America.”

As positions become available at Dinex, interested applicants may apply and get additional information at the Laurens County Department of Labor.

About Dinex Group

Established in 1982, Dinex has experienced massive growth from a small exhaust system manufacturer to the leading supplier in Europe of complete exhaust systems and emission technologies. Dinex’s vision is to become the heavy duty market leader in modern emission technology worldwide. Dinex supplies complete exhaust systems – from turbo to tailpipe – for trucks, buses, vans and industrial machines. In addition, Dinex offers a variety of emission technology products for this range of applications. Dinex operates within the Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM), Original Equipment Spare Parts Supply (OES) and Aftermarket segments (AEM). To serve the European aftermarket, Dinex subsidiaries functioning as regional sales companies and distribution centers are located in Germany, United Kingdom, France, Italy, Spain, Poland, Latvia, Russia, and Turkey. The company operates in a total of 14 countries.

The Dinex Group is located in all major European countries and is headquartered with Group Management and production located centrally in Denmark. Further production facilities are situated in Latvia, United Kingdom, Germany, Russia, Turkey and China. www.dinex.dk  

 

March 15--  Ogeechee RiverKeepers urges opposition to a proposal that would allow loggers to remove ancient logs from Georgia rivers including the Altamaha.  The organization issued a "call to action" this morning.

Ask Your Representative To Vote No On SB 362

SB 362 is scheduled for a hearing in the House Natural Resources Committee on Thursday, with a possible floor vote shortly thereafter.  This bill applies to "deadhead" logs (logs on the bottom of the rivers) in the navigable portions of the Altamaha, Oconee, Ocmulgee, and Flint Rivers.  It would allow log miners to both harvest the logs and set the price for the logs through a sealed bidding process. Current law has DNR setting the price for this precious public asset.

 

Problem:

The logs sank in the late 1800's during massive harvesting a and transporting  to coastal sawmills and ports for export.  Over time they have become an integral part of the river bottom and serve as habitat for fish spawning, food production and protective cover.   Even under a highly regulated program, mining for the logs on the river bottom will disrupt fragile ecological systems and may release heavy metals and potentially carcinogenic PCB's residing in sediments into the river and related water systems.  Mining activities will disrupt boating, fishing, and swimming activities in the river and may create additional hazards to people using the river.  Mining these logs will serve only a handful of "trophy" wood collectors who can make large profits by selling the old, preserved logs for use as upscale floors and furniture.

 

Solution:

Mining logs from the Georgia's rivers provides no benefit to Georgia's citizens or our priceless rivers and their aquatic resources.  The likely compensation price to the state for the acquisition of these resources will certainly not adequately compensate the state for the sale of these resources.  In addition, there is no justification for the health and ecological dangers presented by this kind of log mining.

 

Action Needed:

Tell your Representative to oppose any effort to pass SB 362.  

 

Click here to send YOUR REPRESENTATIVE a message!

 

Deadline for responding: Please take action by Tuesday, March 20, 2012.

 

The following organizations are participating in this campaign:

    Altamaha Riverkeeper
    Flint Riverkeeper
    Georgia Canoeing Association
    Georgia Conservation Voters
    Georgia River Network
    Mothers & Others for Clean Air
    Ogeechee Riverkeeper
    Sierra Club - Georgia Chapter
    Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper

March 14--  The partnership between the Sweet Onion Animal Society (SOAPS) in Vidalia and the Atlanta Humane Society paid off big time last weekend.

{mosimage} 

SOAPS has been taking small groups of cats and dogs from this area to Atlanta for some time, however, last Saturday Andrea Peacock and others from the Humane Society brought a trailer truck to Vidalia and picked up 65 dogs and 38 cats.

{mosimage} 

"We had gotten a phone call from Penny with SOAPS and they are strapped for foster homes and transport and we told her if they could get enough together to justify the trip we would come down.  Right away she was able to get a ton of animals together which needed our help so we came down and got them," Peacock reports.

Penny Rowe says the animals came from many sources and kept many from ending up in local shelters.

"We took in animals from the community to keep them from ever going into a shelter and we pulled multiple animals from shelters in Mount Vernon, Vidalia and Hazlehurst," she said.

{mosimage}Peacock says the animals from the Vidalia area will be offered up for adoption. "We have a lot of people who just walk in the doors.  We put every animal up on our website and about 70 to 80% of adopters see their pictures on line and come in," she notes.

Meanwhile, Penny Rowe hopes this will become a regular trip for the Humane Society since the need in this area is so great.

"We are just overwhelmed with the animal population in our area.  We have more than we have adopters and we just called on Atlanta Humane to help us out and they did so and we saved 103 animals in one day," she says.

 

March 14--  The Georgia House Democratic Caucus reports the State Senate is blocking efforts to make sure fees collected by the state are used for the purpose collected.

" Representative Al Williams spoke out against the gutting of House Bill 811, a bill aimed at addressing the redirection of dedicated fees, today on the House floor.
 
Introduced by Representative Jay Powell, House Bill 811 provides for automatic fee adjustments of 20% in cases where funds are not appropriated for the specified purposes as stated when the fee was created.
 
Representative Williams praised Rep. Powell for his bill and argued that a Senate subcommittee sought to stop the state from diverting those funds and added language that practically shredded the original intent of House Bill 811.
 
“When we do other than what we say we will do with the citizens’ money by way of fees, I believe that it is important we call attention to the fact that we have deceived our citizens,” said Rep. Williams. “If you want to add money to the general fund, I beg that you at least have the guts enough to call it what it is—a tax.”
 
When House Bill 811 passed in the House and moved onto the Senate, senators added a provision that the bill would only be in effect when the state’s reserves contain about $1 billion or more.
 
“In its original form, Powell’s bill gives us the opportunity to make it right,” said Rep. Williams. “There is no reason that the citizens of Georgia need to pay a fee for a service that is not being provided.”
 
Representative Williams added, “It is disgraceful how the General Assembly has deceived the citizens of Georgia.”
 

March 13--  The county manager in Toombs County has resigned.

County manager Doug Eaves tendered his letter of resignation Tuesday morning and told us it stated he wants to pursue other business opportunities and spend more time with his family.

Toombs Commission Chairman Buddy West noted Eaves' absence at the monthly meeting of the commissioners Tuesday evening and said county clerk Gail Widener will act as the interim manager.  

On advice of counsel, he said he could not say if the commissioners had sought Eaves' resignation,however, he did say he was surprised.

"It was sudden and it happened extremely fast this morning.  There's a lot of issues going on and I was kind of taken back the way it all came down," West said.

West credited Eaves with helping get the county back on sound financial footing since he came to the county in October, 2008.

In other actions, the commission tabled a bid to resurface nearly two miles of the Lyons-Center Road until the county engineer can do a cost analysis.  Sikes Brothers had earlier submitted an apparent low bid of $157,000 for the project.

It also agree to spend $6,000 to buy an acre of land on the New Normantown Road as a future location for a county convenience center.

 

 

March 13--  It doesn't change the outcome, but Toombs County Election Supervisor Carrie Alligood says voters in Vidalia should not have voted on the Toombs County school system bond referendum March 6.

The bond issue was mistakenly included on the ballots at the four Vidalia voting precincts.  However, when you back out those votes, the referendum still passed 929 to 552, Alligood reports.  "It was an error on my part," she says.

By Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler

March 13 -- Georgia faces a crisis that, if ignored, has the potential to cause long-term, severe financial distress to our residents, our businesses and our stretched-thin state budget.

The issue? Georgia’s Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund, the fund the state uses to pay unemployment insurance claims, is broke. But it’s not just broke, it’s in debt to the federal government, and the debt and interest are piling up. We must address this issue now or face massive interest payments to Washington.

The Georgia Department of Labor had been borrowing from the federal government for years before I was sworn in as your Labor Commissioner. This borrowing continues today and is required by state law. I have developed a plan that will get us out of debt, pay back the interest, and prevent Georgia from being in debt to federal government again. I cannot do this alone. The General Assembly must approve these changes for our Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund to become fiscally sound once again.

How did we get into this much debt? In short, the “trust” was taken out of the trust fund. In an attempt to curry favor with Georgia businesses, Gov. Roy Barnes declared a “tax holiday” before Barnes’ failed 2002 re-election campaign. Businesses stopped paying into the trust fund. By the time we hit the Great Recession – and many, many Georgians became unemployed through no fault of their own – the $2 billion Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund had been reduced by $1.3 billion.

Plainly speaking, Georgia had not saved for that rainy day.

The math is simple. Unemployment spiked and we paid out the trust fund’s remaining $700 million on unemployment benefits. Then, we had to borrow $721 million as more people filed for unemployment benefits. We’re still borrowing. Had we been fiscally conservative, we would have sustained our $2 billion in reserves, rather than using it as a political kitty to buy votes. Georgia would never have borrowed federal dollars and would be “in the black” today.

Now we have a three-tiered problem: a large loan hanging over our heads, interest payments on that loan, and a trust fund that’s broke. If the General Assembly does nothing, Georgia law will force us to continue borrowing money from the Obama Administration – compounding our financial problems and putting them off for another day.

As long as our loan remains outstanding, both federal and state fees will increase. Last year, businesses paid $42 per employee, per year for federal unemployment insurance. In January, the federal government increased that annual fee by $21, raising the total cost to $63 per employee. An additional $21 will be added each year until employers are paying $105 per employee in federal charges. In addition to these federal fees, state unemployment premiums will double if we do not take legislative action this year. These extra costs are certain to make Georgia employers think twice before hiring new employees.

By contrast, our neighbors in South Carolina – who borrowed more than we did – have already begun to repay their debt. Should they eliminate their debt before we do, South Carolina could win an advantage when recruiting new industries. Georgia must remain competitive. That means making debt repayment a priority. If we buckle down and pay off the loan, we can avoid many of the automatically-generated federal and state fees.

The Georgia Chamber of Commerce and the state wing of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, agree that something must be done now. These business leaders are willing to pay their share to end the federal re-payment plan early.

To pay back our loan quickly, we must provide a balanced sharing of costs between employers, state government and future benefit recipients. Nothing in my plan will affect those who are currently receiving benefits. I want to ensure that Georgia stays fiscally conservative so you can put your “trust” back in our trust fund.

Unfortunately, the State House did not introduce legislation that would address the loan payback. On the other hand, the State Senate did pass a bill, but some are already questioning its constitutionality. Legislation to raise or reduce revenue must originate in the House, per our state Constitution. If we try to correct our trust fund problem with a Senate bill, it could be challenged in court and thrown out. We would be back at square one.

Constitutional questions could be eliminated if the Senate amends an existing House Bill to include comprehensive solutions, pay down our debt, pay the interest and take our trust fund back to solvency. With the willingness shown by Senate leadership and interested members of both House and Senate, I know we can accomplish this.

With the help of Governor Deal and the General Assembly, Georgia can make our workforce strong again. Without taking real action in the closing days of this legislative session, we will repeat our predecessors’ failed policies. I promised you when elected that, as a Conservative, I would do better. With everyone’s help, we will.

 

March 12--  Four people are under arrest in connection with the shooting and robbery of a farm worker last week on the Bo Herndon Onion Farm south of Lyons.

Toombs County Sheriff Junior Kight identifies those arrested as Arreon Lashun Jackson and Lorenzo Devonte Bennett, both 19 of Lyons, 25-year-old Krista Sagaon of Uvalda and a juvenile.  They are charged with armed robbery and aggravated assault and more charges are pending, according to the sheriff.

A 27-year-old Vidalia man, Antonio Mayweather was investigated in connection with the incident but cleared, Sheriff Kight reports.  He's still facing charges of cocaine possession and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

The worker, 36-year-old Juan Ortega, was shot twice and is hospitalized in stable condition.  

 

March 12--  Dr. Kendall Brantley has been with the Toombs County school system for the past 30 years and has spent the last 20 years as school superintendent.

Last week he announced his retirement.  "Well actually my wife was experiencing some health problems and she retired and I'm at the point in my life where I'm eligible for social security," he says.

Dr. Brantley is remaining at interim superintendent until the school board can find a replacement.  "I wanted to work a bit more in terms of getting a new superintendent transitioned into the appointment by not only a new board but by a board that had been serving quite a while so they could lend their hand in the appointment process because two or three of them will be stepping down in the near future," he noted.

"I certainly have always enjoyed it and it has been a true pleasure serving the people of Toombs County.  Being associated with the children and the many graduates who have come through the system has been a joy," he said.

Dr. Brantley has seen a lot of changes in public education during his career and says many problems now facing schools are a reflection of today's society.

"Almost half of our children come from single parent homes and of course we have several nationalties in our schools with students with limited English speaking abilities, so we have a lot of things to deal with that weren't on the table 50 years ago, I'm sure," he said.

March 9--  The longtime school superintendent of the Toombs County school system is resigning.

Dr. Kendall Brantley announced his decison at Thursday night's meeting of the county school board.  The resignation is effective Tuesday, March 13, however, Dr. Brantley will remain as interim superintendent until a replacement is found.  He's also agreed to mentor his replacement if needed to assure a smooth transition of leadership.

Dr. Brantley has been with the Toombs County school system since 1981 when he started as a teacher and coach and later served as principal of Toombs Central.

School board member Duane Tomlin has been on the board during Dr. Brantley's entire tenure.  "He has always worked above and beyond the call of duty in trying to meet the needs of children.  He has great strength in budget and legal issues and was a master at matching state, local and federal money so the money could go as far as it could go," Tomlin notes.

Tomlin also credits Dr. Brantley with providing needed facilities.  "He was instrumental in making a lot of upgrades in our schools.  We've made improvements in our older schools and built a new upper elementary and new middle school and are in the planning stages with the approval of the SPLOST and bond issue of going ahead and initiating the new high school and new Toombs Central Elementary School.  He is going to be greatly missed," Tomlin said. 

The school board plans to ask the Georgia School Board Association to assist in the board's search for a new superintendent. 

March 9--  A Swainsboro attorney will mediate the sharing of Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) revenue among Toombs County and Vidalia, Lyons and Santa Claus.

Leaders in the governments have been unable to reach an agreement on how the revenue will be shared when the current agreement expires the end of this year.  Toombs County commissioners want to increase the county's share by nearly 20 percent and have met opposition from the town mayors.

As a result, the parties have engaged Franklin Edenfield to try to mediate an agreement with the first mediation session set for Thursday, March 29th at nine a.m. at the Toombs County courthouse.

"We'll present our side and they'll present their side to the mediator and he will come back independently and say I feel this is your weak point or this is your strong point and hopefully we'll try to reach a consensus," says Toombs County manager Doug Eaves.

The cities have already told the county they want to keep the revenue sharing the same as it is now.  If the mediator can't convince them otherwise, the issue will be decided in court.  

Eaves says they'd like to avoid a court fight, but says "we want tax equity for all citizens in the county and are prepared to work to protect that principle."

The county manager says the old formula, based solely on population, has been ruled illegal by the Georgia Supreme Court and that other criteria have to be considered.  He admits the change could be painful to city residents who could end up paying more in city property taxes.

 

March 8-- Georgia’s net tax collections for February 2012 totaled $765 million, an increase of nearly $50 million or 7 percent compared to February 2011. With eight months of FY2012 now completed, net revenue collections totaled almost $10.6 billion year-to-date, an increase of $471 million or 4.7 percent compared to the same period last year.

“February’s numbers saw positive trends, as we continue to move in the right direction,” Deal said. “With revenues up and unemployment down, Georgians have to like what they’re seeing, even though there’s still much work to do.”

Despite a very busy start to the Income Tax refund season, Georgia’s net tax revenues held strong. Gross tax revenues, totaling $1.75 billion, were up $151 million compared to last year. Additionally, the Sales Tax revenue continued to see steady growth and Individual Income Tax withholding also showed strength for the month.

The following changes within the various tax categories contributed to the net revenue increase in February:
 

Individual Income Tax: Individual Income Tax collections for February 2012 totaled $235.75 million, up from $184.5 million in February 2011, for an increase of $51.25 million or 27.8 percent.

The following notable components within Individual Income Tax account for the increase:

•      Individual Income Tax refunds issued (net of voided checks) were up $37 million or 6.9 percent
•      Individual Withholding payments were up $97 million or 14.4 percent over last year
•      Individual Tax Return payments were up $13 million compared to last February
•      All other Individual Income Tax categories, including Estimated Tax payments were down a combined total of $(21.75) million compared to last year

Sales and Use Tax: Net Sales and Use Tax collections for February 2012 totaled $412 million, up from $374.5 million in February 2011, for an overall increase of $37.5 million or 10 percent. Gross Sales Tax collections were up $51.25 million over the previous year with a total of $777 million for the month. The monthly Sales Tax Distribution to local governments totaled $354.5 million, an increase of $9.25 million or 2.7 percent.

Corporate Income Tax: A number of large Corporate Income Tax refunds resulted in very low net Corporate Tax revenue as February 2012 declined $(47) million or -346 percent, down from $13.75 million in February 2011. 

The following notable components within Corporate Income Tax make up the decrease:
•      Corporate Tax refunds issued (net of voided checks) were up $46 million over last year

•      Corporate Estimated payments were down $(2.5) million or -18.5 percent compared to last February

•      Corporate Income Tax and S-Corp Tax payments were up a combined $1.5 million for the month

March 7--  A tag violation in Vidalia Tuesday resulted in two drug arrests.

Toombs County Sheriff Junior Kight reports marijuana packaged for distribution was found on 20-year-old Christopher Tyrone Kinsey, Jr. and 20-year-old Preston Alexander Coleman, both of Vidalia.

They are charged with possession with intent to distribute.

March 7--  A farm worker was robbed and shot early Tuesday morning on Bo Herndon's farm south of Lyons.

Toombs County Sheriff Junior Kight says a large amount of cash was taken from Juan Ortega in a pre-dawn shooting at the house he occupied on the farm.  Ortega was shot in the chest and groin and is in serious condition at Memorial Medical Center in Savannah.

{mosimage}Sheriff Kight believes 22-year-old Krista Dyann Sagaon may have alerted Ortega's two alleged assailants that he had the money.

Tuesday night lawmen arrested 27-year-old Antonio Mayweather of 406 Adams Street in Vidalia and charged him with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and possession of cocaine.{mosimage}  

Sheriff Kight says Mayweather is also being investigated in connection with the shooting and that the woman is wanted in connection with the robbery.  A second unidentified black male is also being sought in the case. 

If you have information on the whereabouts of Krista Sagaon your asked to contact the Toombs County Sheriff's office at 526-6778.

March 7--  A one-car wreck killed one young man and seriously injured another in Toombs County Tuesday night.

According to Toombs County Sheriff Junior Kight, an SUV travelling south on Grays Landing Road near Benton Lee's crossed the northbound lane, hit a ditch, rolled on its side and struck several trees.

{mosimage}Toombs County coroner Ron Hall said the vehicle was so damaged it was hard to tell it was an SUV.  

Georgia State Patrolman Humberto Marin reports the driver, 21-year-old Nicholas Leseueur of 221 Miles Road, Uvalda was thrown from the car and killed.  His passenger, 20-year-old Brandon Morris of 224 Foskey Road, Uvalda, was airlifted from the scene to Memorial Medical Center in Savannah in critical condition.

March 6--  Voters in two counties gave their school systems votes of confidence in Tuesday's voting.

In Vidalia and Toombs County, voters approved continuation of a one percent local option sales tax for education with 68% of the voters voting yes.  

Vidalia schools will collect an estimated $14.1 million over a five-year period.  "It just shows that the voters are with us and what we are trying to do in education," according to Vidalia School Superintendent Dr. Tim Smith.

An estimated $15.3 million of the sales tax will be allocated to Toombs schools, and the voters also okayed a $13.4 million dollar bond issue for Toombs County schools to build a new Toombs County high school building and a new building for Toombs Central Elementary.  Sixty-two percent of the voters approved the bond issue.

In Treutlen County, 74% of the voters approved continuation of a sales tax to pay off bonds which are financing construction of a new K-12 school in the county.

In the Presidential Primary, former Georgia congressman and House Speaker Newt Gingrich won statewide in Georgia and locally.  He won 53% of the vote in Toombs County, 55% in Montgomery and 59% in Treutlen.

State Senator Tommie Williams of Lyons endorsed Gingrich.  "We've still got a number of southern states with primaries and over half of the delegates are still out there for the taking.  We're not in first place but hopefully from here on out he can do well," Williams said.

Senator Williams says whomever gets the nomination will have the support of Republicans against President Obama and he says it could come down to a brokered convention in Tampa before anyone knows whato that candidate will be. 

Among the other candidates, Santorum got nearly 21 percent and Romney 20% in Toombs County with Ron Paul just under five percent.

In Montgomery County, Santorum got 23%, Romney 16% and Paul 5%.  In Treutlen, Santorum got nearly 20%, Romney 18% and Paul just over 3%.

March 5--  Today, President Pro Tempore Tommie Williams (R – Lyons) passed SB 410 which adopts indicators such as quality of learning by students, financial efficiency and school climate for individual schools and school systems. The legislation requires a numerical score rating for individual schools and school systems based on student achievement, achievement gap closure and student progress. It also requires that a letter grade be assigned to each school and school system and included on each school and school system’s annual report card. The grade is derived from the numerical score, with a majority of the grade based on student achievement. SB 410 passed with a vote of 38 to 13.

 

"AYP is a pass/fail system, which did not provide a way to track progress or improvements," said Sen. Williams. "This bill implements new criteria based on DOE's waiver request. The end result will allow us to reward schools for improving and incentivizes them to make progress."

 

The proposed letter grade law creates a open, transparent A-F letter grade rating system which allows parents and the public to easily compare the relative performance of schools in their district and throughout the state. Letter grades assigned to each school and/or school system will reflect the student's academic performance as well as other important factors which include improvement in student achievement, graduation rates and closing the achievement gap of historically underperforming groups.

 

March 5--  Voters in Treutlen County can avoid a property tax increase by approving continuation of a one percent local option sales tax for education when they go to vote Tuesday.

School Superintendent Chuck Ellington reminds voters the sales tax money is needed to repay a local bond issue which voters approved back in 2007 to build a new K-12 school.

"The ESPLOST vote is actually for a continuation of the current ESPLOST so we can make the bond payments without a tax increase for property owners," Ellington says.

The Superintendent says a property tax increase of over four mils would be needed if the ESPLOST is not approved.

The new $18 million school is under construction on Hiigway 29 north of Soperton.  Nearly $8 milliion of the cost is being paid for by locally financed school construction bonds.

"The bonds have been sold and we need the ESPLOST to continue making the bond payments," Ellington says.

The Superintendent says construction of the school is a bit ahead of schedule and he expects it to open this Fall.

March 5-- The Toombs County school system is trying to build two new schools and needs voter approval in Tuesday's Presidential Primary.

Toombs School Superintendent Dr. Kendall Brantley is asking voters to approve continuation of a one percent local option sales tax for education and to okay a bond issue.

"A continuation of the current ESPLOST will raise enough money for the project at Toombs County High School and to build a new building at the Toombs Central site," he says.

Officials expect the ESPLOST will raise $15.3 million over five years for Toombs County schools.  Much of that revenue will be used to finance $13.4 million in bonds which the school system plans to issue as soon as possible to get the projects started and to take advantage of favorable construction costs in today's economy.

Both the ESPLOST and the bond issue are on Tuesday's ballot.

"We ask voters to vote YES twice.  Once so we can continue the current ESLOST and once so we can issue bonds to do the project as soon as possible.  We've got a struggling economy and lots of people need work in the area and it will help stimulate the local economy and help us build the projects immediately," Dr. Brantley said. 

March 2--  Toombs County voters are being asked to approve continuation of a one percent local option sales tax for education when they vote in Tuesday's Presidential Primary Election.

If approved, the sales tax would raise $29.5 million over a five year period with the money divided between Toombs County schools and Vidalia City Schools.

Vidalia's school system would get just over $14 million.  "Of course we'll maintain the roofs on our buildings and our parking lots and do the general maintenance on our buildings.  We're in the process now under the current SPLOST of completely renovating all of our facilities, so most of our brick and mortar work is done," says Vidlaia School Superintendent Dr. Tim Smith.

"What we've got to do now is move into electronic education and let our students use computers and technology a lot more than we have in the past.  This is not something we need to do, it's something we have to do to make our students competitive in the world market," he says.  "We need to completely upgrade our servers and storage capacity because if we go into textbooks on computers as opposed to paper textbooks, we've got to have tremendous amount of storage space to give our students access," Dr. Smith points out.

Dr. Smith points out that sales tax revenue is restricted on how it can be spent, but at the same time it frees up property tax revenue to offer a better curriculum at the schools.

"The SPLOST money can only be spent for large dollar capital projects which last over an extended number of years.  The more of those kind of projects we can pay for with SPLOST money, the more local money we can transfer into our instructional program and those are like the art, music, computer labs and those kinds of things," Dr. Smith notes.

March 1--  State Labor Commissioner Mark Butler announced today that Georgia’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate declined in January to 9.2 percent, the lowest rate since March of 2009 when it was 9.1 percent. That is a decline of two-tenths of a percentage point from a revised 9.4 percent in December. The jobless rate was 10.1 percent in January a year ago.

The rate went down because about 13,000 more Georgians were employed in January than in December.

Also, newly revised numbers show that Georgia gained 83,700 jobs in the last 12 months. This is the largest January to January job growth since 2006.

“This job growth shows that Georgia is headed in the right direction,” Commissioner Butler said. “The business services sector, which includes temporary employment agencies, showed the most growth. Economists consider this to be a leading indicator that businesses are gaining confidence in the economy and are beginning to grow their businesses.”

Among the sectors showing growth over the year, professional and businesses services gained 37,000 jobs, retail trade gained 15,100, health care and social assistance grew by 11,100, and manufacturing gained 7,300.

While Georgia lost 45,300 jobs between December and January, most of the loss was expected in temporary seasonal employment. This is the smallest December to January job loss since 1987.

In January, the number of first-time claims for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits rose to 77,756, up 14,042, or 22 percent, from 63,714 in December. Most of the increase is attributed to seasonal layoffs in retail trade and construction. However, on a positive note, the number of initial claims decreased 11,903, or 13.3 percent, from 89,659 claims filed in January of last year.

Also, the number of long-term unemployed workers decreased 900, to 244,200 from December to January, the fewest number since October of 2010.