Glascock woman murdered
• Estranged husband charged, being treated for slashed wrists
By Parish Howard
A Gibson-area man has been charged with the murder of his estranged wife less than 24 hours after the couple was involved in a minor incident which Glascock County Sheriff Dean Couch says seemed to end amicably.
"A call reporting an unresponsive person came in at 9:18 a.m. this morning," Couch said Tuesday. "I arrived at 9:25 a.m., went in the house and located the victim."
Right away, he said, he could tell it was a homicide.
"The neighbors said they believed the suspect responsible was still on the premises and so I backed out of the house and called for backup," Couch said.
Janet Burkett, 38, mother of two, was pronounced dead at the scene. While she had apparently suffered injuries consistent with blunt force trauma, Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) Agent in Charge Gary Nicholson said that her body has been taken to a crime lab to determine the cause of death. The sheriff said preliminary investigation puts the time of death sometime during the night.
The primary suspect, according to Sheriff Couch, was Julius Burkett, 37, of Bethel Church Road, the victim's ex-husband.
"This had been going on for some time," Couch said. "She had a TPO, temporary protective order, against him."
Around 8 a.m. Monday morning Couch says he spoke to Ms. Burkett about an incident which had occurred between the couple just that morning.
"They had seen each other and stopped to talk," Couch said. "At some point he backed into her vehicle. She said he'd agreed to pay the damages and that they left on good terms. She told me everything was okay."
After Ms. Burkett's body was found Tuesday, the Sheriff had Glascock County Consolidated School, where the estranged couple's children were in attendance, "locked down" in the event the suspect appeared there.
Couch called the local Department of Natural Resources' (DNR) K-9 unit to the crime scene.
"We used the dog to clear all of the houses in the area," DNR Agent Brian Adams said pointing around at the closely neighboring homes, mostly consisting of the suspect's family. "He picked up the trail along this tree line and we followed it for a while until he lost the trail at the edge of the woods."
Adams said that he and another agent saw a vehicle in a clearing under some power lines less than a mile from the house and when they approached it, a short time later, they saw the suspect standing at the edge of the woods. Adams said Mr. Burkett had slit both his wrists sometime earlier, but that neither wound was bleeding when they took him into custody.
Agent Nicholson said that Mr. Burkett was transported to McDuffie Regional Medical Center's emergency room where he was stabilized and placed under observation. A murder warrant has been issued for his arrest, Sheriff Couch said, and he is in custody.
"They had been married 12 years," the victim's closest neighbor and sister-in-law Janet Bragg said Tuesday while watching the investigators go in and out of Ms. Burkett's house. "She was a friendly person. She loved her children. She had been working in her yard and was planting trees. She never did drugs and she wasn't a drinker. She was just Janet. Unfortunately, she was married to my half brother."
Family members say Ms. Burkett was a member of Magnolia Baptist Church in Gibson and worked at a daycare center in Stapleton. She and her ex-husband have two children, Chacedie, age 12, and Skyler, age 6.
Agents and officers have said that a large percentage of murders involve some type of domestic situation.
"If anybody is having this kind of trouble with their spouse, they need to go to a safehouse, or somewhere where they will be safe," Couch said. "Stay in contact with local law enforcement to make sure they know what's going on. TPOs are a good thing. They let local law enforcement know that there is a problem there."
Couch said that he wished to thank officers from the DMVS, DNR, GBI, Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, Warren County Sheriff's Office, Wrens P.D. and the Georgia State Patrol for all of their assistance with the case.
County and cities agree on SPLOSTs
• If referendum passes, over $10 million will be nearly evenly split between fire departments, recreation and economic development
By Ben Roberts
If estimates for a renewed Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) are correct, Jefferson County could see revenues of $10.5 million from the one-cent sales tax over the next five years.
County administrator Paul Bryan met with county commissioners as well as representatives from the county's six municipalities to review the proposed projects those funds would be used for. The current budget for those projects - in the categories of fire, economic development and recreation - would use every estimated penny raised.
The proposals for each committee amounted to $3,067,254 for fire and rescue, $3,399,746 for economic development and $4,033,000 for recreation.
The county commission is expected to approve a special election for the voters of Jefferson County to renew the special one-cent sales tax for another five years or reject it. Currently that special election is set for June 21, 2005.
Bryan said the three committees were formed last year to assess the needs of the county in the areas of fire protection, economic development and recreation. Each committee was made up of at least one representative from the county and each of the six cities. The committee members were charged with creating a "needs" list based on priorities, not a "wants" list of desired projects.
Bryan said he also did not give estimates of the projected revenues in order to avoid the committees basing their requests on their possible portion of SPLOST monies.
Among the fire committee's requests were new fire engines for each of the county's eight fire stations and the necessary equipment to outfit each of those trucks. The committee is also asking for a 3,000-gallon tanker truck and equipment for the Avera, Bartow, Hillcrest, Matthews, and Stapleton fire departments; new rescue trucks for Louisville and Wadley; a 6,000PSI air compressor for Wadley; and a mobile emergency light and air truck for Wrens.
Tony Kelly, chief of Stapleton's fire department, presented the committee's requests noting that the new engines should help lower the county and cities' ISO ratings, resulting in lower insurance premiums for property owners.
"This is for the future, not today or yesterday, but the next 20 years," Kelly said. "There's nothing fancy about it, it's a needs list."
The economic development committee, which had representatives from both the Chamber of Commerce and the Development Authority in addition to their regular members, asked for between $2.9 and $4.4 million for work on industrial parks in Louisville, Wrens and Wadley. The long-term goal is to create industrial parks with utilities and infrastructure in Jefferson County's three major cities.
The funds would be used to purchase land in Wrens and Wadley and the construction of a "spec building" at the Louisville Airport Industrial Park. The "spec building" could be used to lure prospects to the area that are interested in moving into an existing facility.
"This is a marketing expense," explained Development Authority chairman Bill Easterlin, who presented the committee's requests. "We are saying to the world 'we are ready.' The state of Georgia is taking prospects to communities that have spent the money to show they want these industries.
Easterlin went on to explain that Jefferson County sits between what he called two "rural development juggernauts" in Washington and Burke counties, two communities known for spending high amounts of money to attract development.
The recreation committee requested between $7 and $9.3 million with included the construction of a new gymnasium and aquatic center in the city of Louisville. Bryan paired down the committee's requests to upgrading and repairing existing facilities for just over $4 million.
"I was presented with an awful high number," Bryan told the group, "so I made some recommendations to reduce the expenditure to keep it within the $10.5 million budget."
Bryan said he backed away from requests that he felt leaned more towards "leisure services" rather than recreation and that some of the requests would qualify for various grant requests.
County commission chairman William Rabun thanked all those who worked to put the projects together and charged those in attendance with selling the new SPLOST to the voters before June.
"It'll be up to us and y'all to promote it. This is the future of our county," he said.
"This is one of the few times that you vote to implement a tax that will actually result in a reduction in the taxpayer's pocketbook," Bryan told the commissioners near the end of the meeting.
If renewed in June, the new SPLOST collections would start without interruption of current collections, which are expected to reach their ceiling of $6.5 million this December.
SPLOST revenues must be divided equally among the three groups, so it will be up to the committees to prioritize which requests will be granted first.
Cities recommend landfill remain open, want better operations
• Discussions of a constructing a transfer station rejected
By Ben Roberts
After weeks of renewed speculation as to the future of the Jefferson County landfill, representatives from the county's six municipalities unanimously told county commissioners they want the facility to continue its current operations.
The county's five commissioners, county administrator Paul Bryan, and the mayors, city administrators or representatives from Louisville, Wrens, Wadley, Bartow, Avera and Stapleton all met last Friday, Feb. 25, along with engineers from Chasman & Associates, L.L.C., to discuss whether the county should continue to keep the landfill open and accepting garbage from throughout the county. If closed, the county would then need to construct a transfer station to load the county's waste onto trucks and haul it to another facility outside the county.
The decision has come to a head since the landfill's current cell is expected to reach capacity within the next six to nine months. Engineers say it would take just over six months to build a new cell and have it ready to receive waste while the construction of a transfer station would most likely take longer.
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Hauling the county's waste to another site would also not release the county from any liability should a site ever be found to be contaminated.
Robin Chasman and Walter Sanders, consulting engineers from Chasman & Associates, were on hand to present information comparing the two alternatives, as well as answer questions from those in attendance.
Chasman & Associates estimates that with the landfill taking in anywhere from 14,000 to 20,000 tons of solid waste a year, it would cost the county $9.5 million to operate the landfill for another 10 years. Based on those same collection figures, a transfer station would cost $13.8 million over the same amount of time.
Engineers estimate the remaining life on the landfill to be another 49 years, based on last year's collection of 14,000 tons. Should that figure increase to 20,000, which is what they estimate is the total annual production of solid waste in the county, the landfill would last 36 more years.
While the cost is lower to continue current operations, this choice would obviously have a greater environmental impact than closing the site now. At this point, however, officials say the landfill is being operated as it should be, receiving a grade of 95 out of 100 in its last Environmental Protection Division (EPD) inspection. Chasman said the grade indicated "substantial compliance" with EPD requirements and that there was virtually no detection of methane gas production and water quality at the sight was excellent.
"All contaminants are below safe levels," Chasman told the group.
Sanders did point out that the current cell did not last as long as originally estimated for a number of reasons. One of those was an increased amount of waste going into the cell. Another was less than efficient operation, particularly with proper compaction and the use of cover soil. Sanders said tremendous improvements had been made in those areas and he did not expect the same issues to arise with the second cell.
Chasman also recommended the formation of a commission comprised of county representatives and officials from each of the cities to find ways to make the landfill's operations more efficient, financially as well as in its day-to-day maintenance. One option such a commission might consider is for the cities and the county to operate their own waste collections instead of paying private haulers as they do now.
Bryan said the first of those meetings with county and city officials will be at 9 a.m. Thursday, March 3, at the County Commissioners' Office.
In other landfill business, the county commission voted unanimously 4-0 at a special 10:30 a.m. called meeting this past Monday, Feb. 28, to request that Rep. Jimmy Lord and state Sen. J.B. Powell introduce local legislation that would require any sale or lease of the county's landfill to be approved by the board of commissioners and two consecutive Grand Juries of the Jefferson County Superior Court. Commissioner Sidney Norton was absent from the called meeting.
Commissioners say the legislation would be an impediment for the possibility of any future sale.
In late January, the Jefferson County Board of Education requested that Sen. Powell introduce statewide legislation that would prohibit the location of a regional landfill within a two-mile radius of any public school.
In a phone interview on Friday, Feb. 25, Powell told The News and Farmer/The Jefferson Reporter there was not sufficient support to pass the statewide legislation, but that he would work with Rep. Lord to see that the local legislation was introduced.
Commissioners are also expected to approve new versions of two resolutions that were originally approved by a former commission in February and March of 1996 at their regular meeting on Tuesday night, March 8, at 7 p.m.
Resolution 004-96 is an agreement with the residents of Mennonite Church Road that states that, among other things, the landfill would not accept out of county or out of state waste. Resolution 005-96 states the agreement between the county and the citizens committee concerning the operation of the landfill.
The resolutions are being brought up for renewed approval as an act of good faith on the part of the current members of the county commission. Resolutions passed by previous commissions have no legal binding over the current commission. As Commissioner Tommy New has said on more than one occasion, the commission is under no legal obligation to the resolutions, but there is a moral obligation to the residents of Jefferson County.