Officers arrest 17
By Regina Reagan
A recent multi-agency road check September 24 spanning Jefferson County resulted in 17 arrests, 37 charges and 37 warnings.
"This road check was conducted to try to cut down on DUI and seatbelt violations," said Wrens Police Chief David Hannah.
According to Hannah, the road check was held in conjunction with Operation Zero Tolerance and the Click It or Ticket Program.
The road check began early Friday night along U.S. Highway 1 on the Wadley bypass. A total of 442 vehicles traveled the bypass from 6:45-9:20 p.m. The Wadley Police Department issued 14 charges, including four marijuana-related, two possession of cocaine, one open container, two expired tags, one no tag, one tail light requirement, two no license and one no license on person. Charges resulted in seven total arrests.
The road check moved north on U.S. Hwy. 1 to Louisville. A slightly smaller total of 428 vehicles traveled through from 9:30-11:35 p.m. Officers from the Louisville Police Department made four charges including one marijuana-related, one open container and two seat belt violations. Charges resulted in one arrest.
Next the road check progressed to Stapleton at S.R. 296 and S.R. 102. Officers stayed at this location from 11:50 p.m.-12:10 a.m. Only seven vehicles passed through and no charges or citations were made.
The road check made its last stop in Wrens at U.S. Hwy. 1 and S.R. 221 at 12:30 a.m. One-hundred ninety-eight vehicles passed through the road check set up at that location. Wrens Police Department made 11 charges including one DUI, two marijuana-related, eight misdemeanors for tag violations, one suspended license, one open container and one inoperative equipment. Charges issued by the Wrens Police Department resulted in the arrests of three persons.
Georgia State Patrol made arrests and issued charges and warnings throughout the evening. Charges issued by the Georgia State Patrol included two DUI, one felony drug, three misdemeanor drug and one suspended license. Charges resulted in six arrests. The Georgia State Patrol also issued 29 warnings.
The Department of Motor Vehicles also issued charges and warnings throughout the entire evening. The Department of Motor Vehicles issued one tractor/trailer charge and eight warnings.
Officers from the Wadley Police Department, Louisville Police Department, Wrens Police Department, the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department, Department of Motor Vehicles, Stapleton Police Department, Burke County Police Department, Tennille Police Department and the Georgia State Patrol were involved in the road check.
"The main idea here is to help keep the roads safe for the traveling public and for our families," said Jefferson County Sheriff Gary Hutchins. "All agencies are working together to make this happen."
Officers brought the road check to a close at 2:30 a.m. after seeing a grand total of 1075 vehicles, making 17 arrests, 37 charges and issuing 37 warnings.
According to Andy Carrier, Post Commander of the Georgia State Patrol, the road check was funded through the Governor's Office of Highway Safety.
Carrier offered these invaluable words of advice for everyone, "If you're going to drink stay at home or get someone to drive you."
Wrens 35 percent tax increase explained
• Tax money will go toward needed equipment, not construction projects, city administrator said
By Parish Howard
Within the next year residents of Wrens will see a number of construction projects begin to take shape: a new recreation park, an aesthetically improved downtown, a new water treatment facility.
None of these projects are the cause of the city's recent vote to raise property taxes by boosting the city millage rate from 8 to 11 mills, City Administrator Donna Scott Johnson said Monday.
"I know it seems like a lot, but it really couldn't have been avoided this year," Johnson said. "We haven't gone up since 2000. If we didn't desperately need it now, we wouldn't be doing it. We all have to pay it too."
The city would have brought in $346,222.60 at 8 mills, Johnson said. The 35 percent increase in property taxes this year is expected to bring in an additional $123,490 in revenue to pay for several general fund expenses.
The city held three public hearings on the increase last week. Questions raised at these hearings led Johnson to issue a statement because she feels there is a lot of misinformation out there.
"One resident asked why we couldn't have gone up on taxes a little each year," Johnson said. "One councilman told him that hindsight is 20-20. In past years, our thought has been that if we could avoid raising taxes, we would. We just haven't had the need we do right now. We can't avoid it this year."
The necessity for the additional tax revenue this year comes from a number of different areas.
"There were several pieces of necessary equipment that had to be bought this year," Johnson said. "Each item individually doesn't seem like that much, but together they add up. All of these items are necessary equipment. None of them are luxury items."
For one, the city recently purchased a $95,000 rescue vehicle for the fire department. The city's previous vehicle was totaled while parked in front of city hall.
"The wreck was caused by a passing motorist and was no fault of any city employee," Johnson said. "This new rescue vehicle will have a nice long lifespan."
The vehicle is used by firemen who respond to possible medical calls like car accidents where extrication is necessary.
The city also spent $38,000 on 18 new air packs for its firefighters.
"We can't let our firemen go into a fire with faulty equipment," Johnson said. "These packs were needed for them to do their jobs safely and effectively."
The city has also purchased two used police cars for $2,500 and will be buying a new one for around $25,000 in the coming months.
"The department's newest vehicle has 45,000 miles on it," Johnson said. "The others all have more than 135,000, most have over 175,000."
The city also had to purchase a new $15,000 telephone system when its crashed several weeks ago.
"It had to be replaced immediately," Johnson said. "That's the phone system we use for answering fire, police and emergency calls."
In addition to these items, the city has also had to replace three air conditioning units at the medical complex next door to the city hall, which it owns, rents out and maintains.
Johnson said the city has also seen a one-year jump of $38,000 to $90,000 in liability insurance premiums and an increase in city employee health insurance. The city has also lost a fair amount of tax revenue from the Freeport exemption voted in by citizens a couple of years ago, Johnson said.
"Freeport is a great thing," she said. "It is a tool economic developers can use to attract new industry to an area, but the truth is, it costs us to provide this incentive."
Johnson said fliers were available at the recent public hearings illustrating the difference the tax increase could make to the average citizen.
At 8 mills, a $100,000 home would receive a $40,000 valuation and owe $320 in city taxes. The same home, at 11 mills, will now owe $440.
"We know some residents will see this as quite an increase," Johnson said. "For that reason where we usually allow residents 60 days to pay their property taxes, this year we will be allowing them 90 days."
School funding sought in suit against state
• Jefferson County one of 51 school systems seeking to address funding cuts
By Ben Nelms
The attempt to challenge the way Georgia distributes funds for public education moved closer to its day of reckoning Sept. 14 when the Consortium for Adequate School Funding in Georgia (CASFG) filed suit against the state in Fulton Superior Court. The lawsuit is based on the state's obligation to the Georgia Constitution to provide an adequate education for children, a move endorsed by the Jefferson County school board Nov. 20 when they voted unanimously to join has become an initiative involving 51 school systems throughout Georgia.
Superintendent Carl Bethune said the board joined the consortium as a way of adding strength to the move to address state funding cuts that have a significant negative impact on poorer school systems.
"We are one of 51 school systems across Georgia that support the effort to encourage the state to fulfill their constitutional responsibility," Bethune said. "Low wealth school systems have difficulty replacing state dollars that have been cut with the recent austerity reductions in funding. Our local taxpayers can't continue to replace those dollars and shouldn't have to."
Bethune said mandates such as class size, where the addition of only one student to a class beyond the mandated number requires that a school system hire an additional teacher, can have a costly financial impact on poorer school systems. Citing other changes in funding over the past decade, Bethune said requirements relating to textbooks and transportation are woefully under-funded by the General Assembly.
"Funding for both budget areas was provided at 100 percent of the cost 10-15 years ago. Today, school systems are responsible for nearly 50 percent of those costs," said Bethune. "This represents a significant shift in the burden for local tax payers both here and across Georgia."
Though not a member of the consortium, Glascock County school board members are also struggling with state funding cuts. Like their neighbors in Jefferson, the Glascock school board continues to search for ways to meet state and federal guidelines while operating on fewer state dollars. These realities, and the subsequent impact on public education, were the driving force behind the formation of the consortium and the lawsuit that was filed.
"The under-funding of Georgia's school have become so severe, and the prospects for a legislative solution are so remote, that the consortium had no choice but to take this action," said consortium Executive Director Joe Martin.
Georgia is one of a number of states nationwide seeking court action to resolve the funding issue. And in Georgia, current state funding cuts amount to $270 per student and $6,000 per classroom, said Martin. Though perhaps unknown to many local taxpayers across Georgia, a significant portion of the property taxes raised locally cannot be spent locally. The education formula, known as Quality Based Education (QBE) requires that local school systems send the equivalent of five mills of property taxes to Atlanta, Martin said. Additionally, each school system contributes funds not only to supplement the basic program through higher salaries and expanded programs but also to cover deficits in the funding of basic programs, he added.
The local impact of current requirements and the nature of ongoing austerity cuts places an increasingly heavy burden on poorer school systems, said Jefferson County school board Chairman Jimmy Fleming.
"The low-wealth school systems have the least ability to makeup the shortfall with local dollars. Jefferson County is one of those," he said. "Many of those same systems also have the greatest demand placed on them for remediation issues and for gains in student achievement. Again, Jefferson County is one of those."