• Sometime between Christmas Eve and early Monday morning burglars broke into Jefferson County Courthouse, stole money
By Ben Nelms
Crime never takes a holiday. The evidence of that fact was made plain when Louisville Police making their rounds early Monday discovered a Christmas break-in at the Jefferson County Courthouse.
Investigators from Jefferson County Sheriff's Office and Georgia Bureau of Investigation were at the scene Monday morning to assess the extent of the burglary. Thieves made off with an undisclosed sum of money and little else, leaving their search to rummaging through drawers in the offices of the Tax Commissioner, Clerk of Superior court and the recently vacated Sheriff's Office, investigators said. Computers and other items were left untouched.
Entry was gained by breaking a window in the Tax Commissioner's office on the southwest side of the building. The Christmas holiday break-in occurred some time between Christmas Eve and early Monday morning, said investigators.
Clerk of Superior Court Mickey Jones said Monday that the courthouse could benefit from having some type of security system installed and perhaps the addition of metal detectors for the courtroom.
The investigation into the burglary is continuing. Anyone with information relating to the burglary should contact Louisville Police at (478) 625-8897 or Jefferson County Sheriff's Office at (478) 625-7538.
Marshal's office to be dissolved
• Commission votes 3-2 to abolish the county Marshal's Department and transfer duties as of Jan. 3
By Ben Nelms
Jefferson County commissioners voted by a 3-2 margin at the December regular session to abolish the county Marshal's Department and transfer those duties Jan. 3 into a new civil division of the sheriff's office. Later in the Dec. 14 meeting commissioners voted 4-1 to accept Marshal Alan Wasden's resignation.
The impetus for the move came at Wasden's suggestion and Sheriff Gary Hutchins agreement at a candidate's forum held prior to the July primary election when both men were running for sheriff. Wasden has maintained that the department's absorption into a new civil division could be beneficial provided other deputies were cross-trained to assist when needed.
Prior to voting, commissioners confirmed with County Administrator Paul Bryan that he had spoken with both Wasden and Hutchins subsequent to the Dec. 6 work session to ensure that the marshal's duties were consistent with what could be provided if the department was absorbed by the sheriff.
The job responsibilities of the marshal's department include working with the magistrate court, tax assessor, tax commissioner and the county government. Examples of departmental duties included the verification of current manufactured home decals and assistance with collections, issuing timber harvest permits and verifying compliance, environmental inspections, alcohol license checks, moving permits for manufactured homes, serving civil papers for magistrate court and providing a physical presence in magistrate court and at county commission meetings.
Bryan told commissioners that the county's personnel policy had a provision for current marshal's employees to make the transition to the new civil division with tenure and benefits intact using an intergovernmental transfer. Bryan added that Hutchins might have additional requirements for the officers.
After the brief discussion, commissioners Tommy New, Gonice Davis and Chairman Gardner Hobbs voted to create the new civil division. Commissioners Isaiah Thomas and Sydney Norton voted against the measure.
Though they discussed funding for the new division but never voted on the matter, commissioners will likely transfer the remaining balance of the marshal's budget to the new civil division in January, Bryan said.
During the Dec. 14 meeting, Wasden provided commissioners a letter of resignation effective Jan. 3. Commissioners voted 4-1 to accept the resignation. Only Commissioner New voted against the motion.
"It has been an honor, a pleasure and a privilege to serve the county," Wasden told commissioners. "I appreciate the opportunity that I have had."
Though its longevity extended for only seven years, the marshal's office saw a varied and growing set of responsibilities. The department was formed by commissioners in 1998 to enforce county ordinances, zoning regulations, littering regulations, business license regulations and to assist in the promotion of the health, safety and welfare of residents. In 1999, the marshal's office absorbed all the civil and criminal process responsibilities for the magistrate court. Also in 1999 and continuing through 2001, the department received $150,000 in state monies through a grant from Georgia Environmental Protection Division to add a full-time deputy marshal and purchase equipment needed to meet the obligations relating to enforcement of state environmental laws and regulations.
Public reaction in 1998 and 1999 to the newly formed marshal's office was initially mixed, given that enforcement of environmental violations had not been previously targeted by a county department. Public perception altered in succeeding years as residents saw that the marshal made no distinction between violators. Through the marshal's office, Wasden insisted that businesses and county government maintain the same level of accountability as required of individuals regarding environmental regulations and compliance.
Wasden's actions sometimes put him at odds with commissioners, specifically on occasion where the county's action relating to environmental regulations resulted in violations that were not remediated until Wasden made them public. The marshal's controversial actions were not limited to addressing governmental violations. At a meeting in early 2002 with representatives of the county commission and Development Authority of Jefferson County, Wasden said he was instructed by former County Administrator James Rogers not to go back to the old Forstmann textile property near Louisville. Wasden, EPD investigators and others had documented several environmental violations at the facility. Wasden later raised his concerns about that meeting at a regular session of the county commission, calling into question the legitimacy of the instruction by county officials to stay away from the site.
Plan for growth approved
• Plan addresses the future of housing, natural and historic resources, community facilities, economic development, land use and intergovernmental communication
By Ben Nelms
The template for Jefferson County's future has gained final approval by city councils, the county commission and Georgia Dept. of Community Affairs (DCA). Now approved, it is up to Jefferson County to begin forging the path to its future.
The goals and objectives of the joint comprehensive plan, Jefferson County 2025: Planning a Better Tomorrow, were established in May, forwarded to DCA in August and approved by the agency for formal adoption earlier this month. An intact plan is required for cities and counties in Georgia to be eligible for state and federal grants.
The plan was devised by a group of representatives from county government, city governments and interested residents following a 2003 public hearing on the plan. The goals established in the plan were based largely on issues that surfaced at that public hearing and one in June. The group solicited the plan's vision statement in May 2003 from students at Jefferson County High School. The vision statement reads: "In 2025, we want a caring, safe, fun, clean environment for our kids with community involvement and awareness. We believe that our community in 2025 should utilize current resources to become a self-sufficient, family-oriented community who strives for better education, job opportunities, housing facilities, medical facilities and recreational opportunities. We want to maintain the small town country feel of Jefferson County by keeping our downtowns intact while enhancing and attracting tourism."
The broad-based goals devised by the study group and adopted by local and state authorities were targeted for the areas of housing, natural and historic resources, community facilities, economic development, land use and intergovernmental coordination. Objectives for meeting those goals were included in the plan.
Addressing housing, the adopted goals include reducing substandard housing, increasing homeownership and encouraging the development of subdivisions.
Natural and historic resources
The objectives identified for reducing substandard housing included taking advantage of state and federal programs designed to help homeowners upgrade their homes, adopting and enforcing ordinances designed to eliminate dilapidated structures and exploring urban redevelopment options. Objectives for increasing home ownership included holding information workshops for first-time homebuyers and educating the public about the existence of financial assistance programs. Objectives identified for encouraging the development of subdivisions included encouraging water tap and sewer tap loans and developing the infrastructure needed for housing growth and development countywide, specifically including expansion of existing water and sewer systems.
The goals adopted to address the county's natural and historic resources included protection of streams, rivers and creeks, protection of groundwater quality and protection of the county's historic sites.
The objectives for protecting streams, rivers and creeks included adopting the necessary ordinances to ensure that bodies of water are protected, the prohibition of landfills near or adjacent to rivers and creeks, identifying nonpoint source polluters and the adoption and enforcement of state regulations pertaining to protection of waters of the United States.
Objectives identified for protection of groundwater quality included adopting and enforcing ordinances geared to protecting groundwater and following state guidelines for watershed assessment. Objectives relating to protecting historic resources included participating in the national register where applicable, applying for available funding designated for historic structures and places and promoting community awareness of the importance of historic preservation.
The plan committee gained approval for the goals associated with community facilities. These goals included improving fire protection and equipment, enhancing parks and passive recreation, expansion and improvement of water systems, expanding programs for youth and identifying and addressing child abuse issues.
The objectives for improving fire protection and equipment included having commissioners put a one-percent sales tax referendum on the ballot prior to the ending of the current one-percent and continuing the cooperation between the eight fire departments across the county. The objective for enhancing parks and passive recreation was identified as continuing to apply for appropriate funding in that area. Currently up for consideration by commissioners is that inclusion of recreation on the proposed continuation of the current one-percent sales tax.
The committee identified two overall objectives for improving and expanding the county's water systems. These included developing a countywide water authority and acquiring any and all available state or federal funds for expansion and improvement.
Objectives identified for expanding programs for youth included developing an increased number of recreational opportunities and developing youth leadership and mentoring programs. The committee developed two objectives designed to identify and address child abuse. These included securing funding for a domestic violence and child abuse center and affiliated programs and, in general, developing ways to protect those who cannot protect themselves.
The countywide economic development portion of the plan cited goals for reducing unemployment, attracting new businesses, retaining and expanding existing businesses and promoting overall improvement of the transportation system.
Five objectives were established for the goal of reducing unemployment. These included improving the county's educational standing, reducing the dropout rate, bringing outside industry into the county, attracting retirees and enhancing adult literacy.
Objectives identified for the goal of retaining and expanding existing businesses included enhancing the interaction of the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce with new businesses, developing approaches to show appreciation to existing businesses, devising methods to welcome new businesses and residents to the community, encouraging large and small businesses to locate within the county and developing a business retention team of interested individuals. Economic development is one of three areas up for consideration by commissioners for inclusion in a proposed continuation of the county's current one-percent sales tax.
Numerous objectives were identified for the goal of attracting new business to the county. These included increasing the county's water/sewer/natural gas infrastructure and capacity, securing a more highly trained workforce, expanding the airport in Wrens, securing and promoting the availability of training opportunities countywide and promoting the county's tier status to acquire increased funding opportunities.
Objectives for the goal of promoting the overall improvement of the county's transportation system included expanding the airport in Wrens, exploring additional facility upgrades for the recently expanded airport in Louisville and promoting the expansion of the U.S. 1/SR 17 Corridor and the completion of the Fall Line Freeway.
Goals for the land use component of the 20-year plan included encouraging positive development, encouraging conservation and addressing and cleaning up Brownfield areas located at former industrial sites.
Objectives for encouraging positive development included reviewing zoning ordinances and ensuring they are up to date and meet existing needs, providing training for city or county personnel so that inappropriate development requests will not be approved and reviewing the 20-year comprehensive plan annually.
Objectives for encouraging conservation included green space development and protecting groundwater, rivers and streams. The objective for addressing and cleaning up Brownfield areas was accessing any available state or federal funding.
Considerations relating to the various solid waste issues are being addressed in the county's Solid Waste Management Plan, now being reviewed by Georgia Environmental Protection Division.
The final area cited by the 20-year Comprehensive Plan dealt with the successful interaction and participation of governmental entities within Jefferson County.
Goals established for intergovernmental coordination included reviewing consolidation of parks and recreation departments throughout the county, reviewing consolidation of police department and the sheriff's office, reviewing E911 efforts, coordinating land use decisions between the county, cities, school board and the Development Authority of Jefferson County.
Objectives for the first three goals were the same. The objective for each was to identify the current resources and study the methods of service delivery being utilized. No objective was established for the coordination of land use decisions between the various governmental entities. The committee did establish that holding semi-annual meeting between those entities would be beneficial to ensure that each was conducting its affairs effectively.
The path to the formulation of Jefferson County's plan for the next two decades involved the work of a group of city and county representatives and private citizens. What remains are the many actions needed to bring the plan and its goals and objectives into reality.