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July 10, 2003 Issue

A Star-spangled spectacular...

Hundreds gathered for the Louisville Lions Club fireworks show Friday. For more pictures see page 10A of this weeks edition.

Tornadoes wreck house, tear down trees

• Local people watched tornadoes emerge from storms and begin to tear across landscape

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

Jefferson County residents west of Louisville played host to a couple of unexpected guests on the afternoon of July 1. Elusive by nature, two tornados made a quick entrance and exit, leaving no injuries and relatively minor damage in their wake.

Tornadic winds traveling from the south caused significant damage to a portion of a residence on Grange Road near the intersection with Waldo Smith Road.

The funnel cloud caused the roof over the garage at the rear of the house to collapse. Other minor damage was done to the house by the winds but there were no injuries, as the house was vacant at the time the tornado hit.

Trees immediately across the street on Grange Road were felled, as were others in the back yard of another residence approximately one-third mile away on Waldo Smith Road, due north of the Grange Road residence. The residence and a shop in the backyard were spared somehow and there were no injuries, yet only feet away from the path of the tornado several very large trees on one side of the backyard lay uprooted.

Happening simultaneously less than one-quarter mile to the west, Tracy Walden watched as a tornado approached from the west.

Thankfully diminutive compared to many tornados, the whirlwind was approximately 10-15 feet wide and traveled 60-75 feet above the ground, staying above the tops of the trees, he said.

His attention was drawn to the spectacle after hearing a loud, roaring sound coming from the same direction. The sound lasted upwards of one and one-half minutes before the twister came into view. As it reached his property the tornado turned north, debris such as limbs and paper following the twister on its journey.

The funnel cloud continued north, essentially parallel to the one that had just crossed Grange Road several hundred yards to the east. As he watched overhead, he tried to call out to the others close by, but he could not get the words out of his mouth.

"It just leaves you speechless to see limbs and paper twirling around that funnel," said Walden. "I was just amazed as I watched it happen."

He watched as the tornado continued to travel north for as much as 1,000 yards before disappearing from view. Several hundred yards behind the exiting twister he saw a large black object that appeared to drift down to the ground from inside the storm clouds.

Only minutes earlier and due south of where the tornado hit on Grange Road, Kay Deriso, her daughter Brooke and friend Chase Smith witnessed the development of the tornado near her home on SR 221 about one mile south of SR 24, four miles west of Louisville.

Deriso said the three were standing in the kitchen shortly after 5 p.m. Her husband Gary had just called from Swainsboro to let her know about the threatening weather. What they soon saw from the kitchen left an indelible impression, the type of event a person will never forget.

"I was amazed. I had seen tornados on TV but I had never seen anything like this," said Deriso, still excited, even awestruck, from the experience. "There was no sound and the rain had stopped. The black clouds began rolling and the wind began blowing around in every direction. They were the biggest, blackest clouds I've sever seen."

What the three saw next was nothing short of a true marvel of nature. They saw the developing tornado centered approximately 75 yards from their home and 50-75 feet off the ground. In the excitement of the moment they could not resist running outside for a better look at the storm that had developed a life of its own. They felt no fear because the storm had been moving away from the house.

"We saw it forming. A little tail was hanging down from the clouds," said Deriso, animated as she relived the event. "As the tail came down further, the winds started whirling faster and faster but the tail stayed stationery for about a minute as it formed, spinning faster and faster until the winds took it away. I was amazed. I'll probably never see anything like it again."

Within minutes, the tornado had crossed SR 24 traveling due north, crossed the Ogeechee River, touching down on Grange Road near Waldo Smith Road. Though unknown if it caused any damage on its course through woods and river bottoms, the tornado did make its presence felt on Grange Road.

In all, there were no injuries sustained and the overall damage to the one residence was minor compared to what could have been devastation. To the ones who witnessed the tornados firsthand, the experience was one of a kind.

Agricultural property will be revalued again

• New property taxes will show up on this year's tax bills

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

The trend of higher and higher sale prices for property in Jefferson County has been a fact since the mid-1990s.

A recent survey of large tract agricultural property, parcels of 25 acres or more, has prompted a revaluation that will show up on tax bills later this year.

"I feel comfortable with the residential, commercial and industrial ratios," said Tax Assessor George Rachels. "But the agricultural sales ratio is too low. If I don't do something, I'll be flirting with a mandatory penalty on property owners if the sales ratio drops below 36 percent."

Property is assessed at 40 percent of the fair market value. What is occurring in the county is that higher prices paid for agricultural property results in an eventual drop in the overall percentage of the assessed value of property within the county, which leads to an overall drop in the property taxes generated.

When the overall sales ratio drops below 36 percent it can trigger action from state departments that monitor property sales across the state. All property sales are recorded not only in the county where the sale occurred, but also in Atlanta.

Current ratios in the three remaining property categories in Jefferson County are closer in line with the desired 40 percent of fair market value, said Rachels.

Residential property is at 39.90 percent while both commercial and industrial property is positioned at 40.22 percent.

The overall ratio for the county is 37.48 percent due to the lower ratio for agricultural property, now positioned at 32.21 percent, according to a recent survey by Georgia Department of Audits.

Rachels said auditors surveyed 174 samples from the four property categories.

Rachels said agricultural property continues to sell for increasingly high prices in the county.

In the current market the formula is simple: sellers ask a higher price and buyers are willing to pay it.

Two recent examples from south Jefferson included a 688-acre parcel that sold for $1,700 per acre and a 400-acre parcel that sold for $1,750 per acre.

Also accounting for need to revalue residential property in recent years is the lower interest seen when financing a purchase.

Houses built in Jefferson County tend to be more expensive and those being sold are bringing higher prices due to the low interest rates, he said.

The state Department of Audit reviews all property sales annually. Additionally, the Georgia Department of Revenue audits property sales within counties every three years to determine if property tax bills reflect the required 36-44 percent of fair market value.

Emergency room architect hired

• Construction of new 8,000 square foot ER should begin in August and be completed in the spring of 2004

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

Final plans for another of Jefferson County's upcoming construction projects came one step closer to reality in late June with the confirmation of the architect and contractor to build Jefferson Hospital's new emergency room.

Macon architect McTier & Associates and Augusta contractor R.W. Allen & Associates, Inc. will handle the $2.5 million project. Construction should begin sometime in August after the final drawings by architects are received and approval by the state is formalized.

Once completed in late spring 2004, the community will have access to an 8,000 square foot emergency room. The advantage for the community will be immediately evident, said hospital CEO Rita Culvern.

"The most critical advantage a rural hospital can provide its community is an emergency room," she said. "The expansion of the emergency room will provide Jefferson County residents with a state-of-the-art facility. This will allow us to provide patient care in private treatment rooms with updated equipment that enhances the quality of that care."

Included in the facility will be three trauma/cardiac treatment rooms, a triage room and four minor trauma rooms.

Located at the rear of the hospital on what is currently the emergency room's traffic circle, the new facility will have separate entrances for ambulance stretchers and walk-in patients and will be equipped with enhanced security. Emergency room registrations, outpatient registrations and hospital admissions will be conducted in private sign-in cubicles. Maximum observation of treatment areas will be possible through a centralized nurse's station.

Along with the opening of the new emergency room will come the need to employ another five to ten personnel, Culvern said. The new positions will add to the existing 161 people employed at the hospital.

Funding for the project was arranged by a contractual agreement with Wadley, Wrens, Louisville and Jefferson County governments. All agreed to continue their financial participation to fund the bond indebtedness.

Culvern said the hospital was able to receive a low 3.97 percent interest rate on the financing due to the hospital's good financial standing.

Culvern said the need to provide additional space for emergency services is not new. The emergency room stood at 976 square feet in 1974 and expanded to 1,366 square feet in 1997.

Recommendations for the upcoming expansion were gleaned from nurses, physicians and administrators.

Staff considered conditions such as outdated treatment areas, limited space for rendering efficient treatment, inadequate patient privacy, the need of a separate entrance for walk-in and stretcher patients, a cramped family waiting area and outdated décor to be relevant for the board's consideration in the expansion.

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