Radar slows speeders
• County fines range from $162 to $1,080 for speeding
By Ben Nelms
Saturday was a bright, balmy autumn day in Jefferson County. But the otherwise pleasant drive along county highways came to an abrupt halt for those high-speed drivers who veered into the path of Sgt. Mike Patton's radar unit. Now nine months since beginning the use of radar in the county, Sheriff Gary Hutchins said the traffic enforcement tool is proving beneficial.
Hutchins said Jefferson County began running radar in response to residents' complaints about speeders, especially in school zones, and with the continuing completion of the Fall Line Freeway in north Jefferson. Traffic flow data obtained from Georgia Dept. of Transportation verify what anyone driving in Jefferson County in recent years already knows. That data shows a 50-75 percent increase in traffic along U.S. Highway 1 between 1998 and 2002. Also difficult to miss have been the increasing speeds at which vehicles travel.
"There is an increasing amount of traffic passing through the county and that trend will continue into the future," Hutchins said. "The majority of the citations are issued to people out of county traveling at unsafe speeds, especially on our four-lane highways. And now that we've been running radar for a while we are seeing that traffic in general is running noticeably slower."
Traveling the Fall Line Freeway Saturday morning, Patton said the main factor with running radar is the use of common sense. An officer who clearly loves his job and clearly intends to be correct when issuing a citation, Patton cited the example of several vehicles traveling in close proximity, with one exceeding the speed limit. It is the responsibility of the officer to use that common sense in concert with the information provided by the radar unit, he said.
"If any doubt exists whatsoever, I won't make the stop to issue a citation," Patton said. "An officer must be 100 percent sure if a stop is made and a citation is issued."
Used as a tool to assist officers, Patton said the overriding idea behind using radar is to reinforce the understanding that driving at high rates of speed can result in a greater risk of accidents, injuries and death.
"Our main concern is preventing accidents and preserving the safety and welfare of the traveling public," he said.
Worth noting, said Patton, is the additional time that drivers might consider allowing when traveling to and from work, since there are more people speeding between 6 a.m.-9 a.m. and between 3 p.m.-6 p.m. on weekdays. The cost to speeders is something else worth noting, said Hutchins. The fines attached to being caught traveling at higher and higher rates of speed can be costly. The fine for rates of speed up to 78 miles per hour in a 55-mile per hour area is $162. Driving 79-88 miles per hour brings a fine of $540 while 89-99 miles per hour jumps to $810 and 100 miles per hour and above generates a fine of $1,080. Fine rates are structured according to Georgia statutory guidelines, Hutchins said. Additionally, the state court judge has discretion with all fines.
Another facet of speeding in Georgia involves the stiff penalties for drivers under age 21 with Class D licenses. If caught driving 24 miles per hour or more over the speed limit the license is automatically suspended.
Yet what is at stake beyond any revenue generated, said Hutchins, is the knowledge that people are much more likely to be seriously injured when involved in accidents where higher rates of speed are involved.
"We're not here to raise money and hurt citizens financially," he said. "We're here to save lives and make people aware that Jefferson County is no place to speed."
The Glascock vote
Seats open on development authority
• County looking for candidates to serve on authority
By Ben Nelms
Jefferson County commissioners voted Nov. 9 to make potential appointments to the county's development authority board more accessible to residents. The discussion and vote followed a November 2003 request to consider opening the appointment process to county residents that might be interested in serving on the seven-member board of directors of the Development Authority of Jefferson County (DAJC). The motion passed on a 3-2 vote.
In December 2003, the commission decided to open up the appointment process and to stagger the terms of DAJC board members. Questioned about the status of their 2003 decision two weeks ago at the November work session, commissioners approved the measure at the Nov. 9 regular session. The terms of two of the board's seven members are set to expire Dec. 31.
At the Nov. 9 meeting, county administrator Paul Bryan recommended that appointments for positions on any board other than routine appointments might be announced to the public to provide a venue for residents to express their desire to serve.
During the discussion phase, Commissioner Tommy New asked if diversity on the board could include having representatives from each of the county's four districts. Chairman Gardner Hobbs responded, stating that while the diversity considered for appointments would include factors such as geographical representation and ethnicity, a significant determination would result from the actual number of residents expressing an interest. Hobbs reminded commissioners that appointments to some boards, such as the Tax Assessor's Board, can be difficult to fill given the complexity of issues involved and substantial training required. Hobbs maintained that the ultimate objective was to appoint development authority board members that would best serve the economic development future of the county.
Commissioner Isaiah Thomas asked if the new appointment procedure varied from the commission's past procedure regarding board openings. The response to Thomas' question was identical to the same question posed one year earlier by other commissioners. At that time and again this year, county attorney Mickey Moses told commissioners that the practice of attempting to appoint representatives from each district was a courtesy, not a legal requirement. Moses referenced the difficulty in finding residents willing to serve on boards such as the Tax Assessors. Moses serves as counsel for both the commission and DAJC.
Bryan said Friday that the advertisement to solicit the names of residents interested in serving on the DAJC board will run in the local newspaper for two weeks. Interested citizens will be asked to provide written documentation of education, knowledge, experience and the ability to attend formal training if appointed.
Appointments to the DAJC and other boards with expiring terms will be made at the first meeting of the commission in January. Commissioners may decide to reappoint the outgoing members or consider others that meet the qualifications. Taking office that time will be Chairman-elect William Rabun and District 2 Commissioner-elect Johnny Davis.
Currently serving as DAJC board members with terms expiring Dec. 31 are Wadley resident and First National Bank executive Edith Pundt and Wrens State Farm insurance agent Lee Woods. The terms of Louisville resident and First National board member Jim Horton and Georgia Power supervisor Ray Barrentine, also of Louisville, expire at the end of 2005. Expiring in December 2006 are the terms of Louisville resident and Jefferson Hospital CEO Rita Culvern and First National Bank President Bill Easterlin. And expiring in December 2007 is the term of Wrens resident and First State Bank Board Chairman Ted Johnson.
DAJC is a quasi-governmental entity, receiving .75 mills of property tax funds each year.