• Only 500 permits will be issued statewide; applications due July 31
By Ben Roberts
Alligators in the waters of Jefferson County are no longer at the top of the food chain.
The Georgia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Wildlife Resources Division (WRD) recently announced it has expanded the state's third-annual alligator hunting season to include 74 Georgia counties this fall, including Jefferson. It will also increase the number of alligator permits issued to hunters to 500, up from 300 last season.
Applications for one of those 500 permits are due by July 31.
According to WRD officials, over 3,100 applications were received last year for the 300 permits awarded in the lottery style process. Applicants were from as far away as Alaska and Maine. Of those 300 permits, 99 Georgia alligators were harvested.
Jefferson County is part of Zone Eight with 14 other counties including neighboring Richmond, Burke, Emanuel, Johnson and Washington counties. Permits will be zone specific and Zone Eight has 100 available, the largest number of the eight zones.
While the number of allotted permits is limited and not restricted to Georgia hunters alone, additional hunters may assist a permit holder; however, each of those hunters must possess a $50 alligator-hunting license and be with the permit holder at all times.
Vic VanSant, Regional Supervisor of Game Management for the WRD's Region III, encourages interested hunters to study the alligator regulations to be sure they comply with the law as well as knowing what they're getting into.
Georgia's alligator hunting may not be what some might think of in that the alligators cannot be "hunted" or shot at from a distance with a large firearm. Instead, hunters must use snares, harpoons or snatch hooks to capture the alligator alive and bring it to their boat or the shoreline. The animal - which must be a minimum of four-feet in length from snout to tail - must then be dispatched with either a handgun, bangstick or by severing the spine.
VanSant said these regulations were formed with hunter-safety in mind, as well as the ethical treatment of the alligators. The state will offer four seminars in August to hunters chosen for the permits to provide information on hunting safety, capture and handling techniques.
Jeff Shepard, a licensed trapper from Dublin who has been removing nuisance alligators in this area for the last 15 years, agrees that hunters should be well informed about what they're doing.
Shepard estimates he has probably captured over 500 alligators and had a few close calls in the process, including having a nine-footer bite and sink his boat and a much smaller one latching down on his arm while carrying it.
Regardless of the gator's size, Shepard has a rule of thumb that he recommends all hunters follow: tape the mouth before moving any alligator of any size.
"You've got to be very careful when you go to kill the gator, they have extremely hard heads," he said. "And always tape the mouth, no matter how dead you think that gator might be. That's just safety."
Shepard also works as a guide for alligator hunts and points out that he and a number of qualified and licensed trappers can assist permit holders in their hunt of a quality animal - for a cost. One night's hunt with boat and equipment provided will average about $600, and $400 for each additional day or night. This doesn't include skinning and boning-out the meat, which can run about $15 per foot.
Shepard says hunters can also expect the price to rise if you insist on hunting a trophy gator of ten feet or more because of the difficulty in locating an animal of that size and the increased risk involved.
"Setting your mind to the idea that you're going to go out and find yourself a big 10-foot gator is about the same as you saying you're going to walk into the woods and kill a 156-class whitetail," Shepard said. "The odds are about the same."
Shepard recommends hunters not overlook six, seven or eight foot alligators in their hunt.
"A lot of folks will pass on a gator that size, but the meat's better on a six or seven footer and there's plenty of it."
Shepard also says hunters wanting a large hide for making something should consider that it's difficult to make much of anything from the skin of a 10-foot alligator because of the large size of the animal's scales.
The American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) was hunted to drastically low numbers in the early 1900's and was listed as an endangered species in 1967. That protected status was downlisted in 1987 and WRD officials estimate Georgia's population to be more than 200,000.
The alligator's range includes the coastal and low-country regions from eastern Texas to North Carolina. In Georgia, alligators are typically found below the fall line that runs roughly from Columbus to Macon to Augusta.
Currently, only Texas, Louisiana, Georgia and Florida have alligator seasons, although South Carolina is apparently studying the idea also.
Georgia's alligator season will run from Sept. 10 through Oct. 2. Applications for permits must be received by July 31. For more information or applications visit the WRD website at www.gohuntgeorgia.com or contact a WRD Game Management Office.
To contact Jeff Shepard for information on guided hunts or to remove a nuisance alligator, call (478) 272-7886.
Magistrate to get full-time pay
• Glascock commission chair calls the vote a "reluctant unanimous decision" made to avoid court costs associated with a pending suit
By Faye Ellison
In what Commission Chairman Anthony Griswell has called a "reluctant unanimous decision," the Glascock County Commission voted last Tuesday to pay Magistrate Judge Misty May a full-time salary to avoid court costs associated with a pending suit.
Her state-mandated salary of $32,000 per year for a full 40-hour-week position, will double her current $16,000 part-time salary.
The county's only stipulation was that she provide a timesheet showing her hours worked.
After the vote, Griswell asked that it be noted in the meeting's minutes that it was a "unanimous vote although it was under pressure, due to the fact that it will be cheaper on the taxpayers' pocketbooks."
Griswell argues that she was being paid for a part-time position because her qualifying fee reflected a part-time job. May claims her duties have increased since taking office. Griswell, however, feels the county's chief's magistrate does not need a full-time position.
At past commission meetings, May has said that she offered to pay the full-time qualifying fee, but was told by commissioners it would not be necessary.
"I was told that they have to base qualifying fees on the current status of the office, not what it will be in the future," May said. "I do not have a problem paying the qualifying fees for full-time."
May filed a suit against the commissioners in late June asking that she be paid for the full-time position. She claims that over the years the duties of the Magistrate Judge have nearly doubled.
May said that her office's budget has included contingency figures for a full-time position since 2001, "just in case" she needed to go to full time. However, the money was only there for a part-time judge.
After consulting County Attorney Sammy Fowler in December, May sent the commissioners a notice of her intention for an increase of pay.
"I decided that I was not going to go full-time in January, but start on Feb. 1," May explained. "The work load required full, whether or not I got paid."
In her suit she claims she worked 178 hours in February of 2005 and 180 hours in March.
May said the office is open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday 8 a.m.-5 p.m. and Wednesday 8 a.m.-12 p.m.
Griswell and commissioner Jay Dixon voiced concern about the strain of not only the salary increase, but what a legal battle would cost taxpayers.
"I even talked to our [representative] about it," Griswell noted. "We felt like it was the cheapest way to come out.
"We have done some research through the Association of County Commissioners and have talked to the county attorney and found that if we fight this it may take six months to one year in battle."
Griswell said that the decision for the county came down to whether to increase the salary or fight it in court.
"I think we should go ahead and pay it and look at other options down the road," Dixon told the rest of the commissioners in the meeting.
One option commissioners discussed at their January meeting involves combining the Magistrate and Probate courts before the next election, effectively doing away with May's elected position all together.
May feels that would be detrimental to the county's future.
"When you start to downsize government, the state may want to adjoin you with another county," May said. "If they abolish this office, that is what they are doing and it will hurt our county in the long run."
Griswell conveyed his worry that this would be yet another burden on the county's budget, which is currently proposing a 2 mill increase.
"Another problem that is facing us right now is that it was not budgeted," Griswell said. "Legislatures have said that this statute was never intended to be a tax burden on small counties.
"The legislation says that the magistrate can call for their own hours, even though it is not budgeted. Whether she is working that, I don't know."
Griswell said commissioners were open to a compromise before May filed the lawsuit.
"I have tried to keep open the lines of communication," Griswell said. "Maybe we could come to some compromise. That is the way all team players work.
"Everybody needs to find a compromise. After the suit, that kind of ends the communication between us, so you have to let your attorneys handle it. It is a sad situation, to me, that we couldn't work something out."
May said that she sent commissioners several demand letters and they replied that they had no intentions of paying the full-time salary.
"My attorney then sent an actual complaint to Sammy Fowler and after about two weeks we decided to serve it (the lawsuit)," May said.
At January's meeting, May contested that being a Magistrate Judge is a 24-hour-a day job, that requires her to travel to McDuffie County, sometimes at night, to set bonds. She also stated that she drove her own vehicle and did not receive reimbursement for mileage.
"I have always thought I can't give 110 percent as a magistrate with no clerk," May said. "At least being full-time I can put in the 110 percent I promised. I don't work just office hours, call anytime I am there. It is just a part of being an elected official, being there 24/7."
May fears that the commissioners are looking at the Magistrate court to earn money for the county.
"Many are looking at the money coming into the court, but I am not here to generate revenue, I am here to serve justice," May said. "I feel like I need to be here to serve people of the county not generate revenue. It would be great to get revenue, if it comes, it comes."
She also said she hoped filing a lawsuit would not be necessary and she did not want to cost the taxpayers any additional money, but claimed the commissioners left her no other choice.
Griswell believes that this is the hardest issue commissioners have had to face.
"This is probably the toughest call I've had to make in the six months of being a commissioner," he said. "I wish there was an area where we all could have made a compromise, but we weren't able to."
A 12.22 percent increase in property taxes proposed in Glascock County
By Faye Ellison
Property owners in Glascock County may face an increase in the millage rate this year to help the cash strapped county.
Last year's budget saw a millage rate increase of .87 mills, but the budget actually decreased from $984,841 to $971,515.
With this year's proposed increase of 2 mills, the budget would increase to $1,112,400. County clerk Tracy Hutcheson said the proposal will add about an extra $100,000.
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With the millage increase will come a 12.22 percent increase in property taxes for the year. All concerned citizens are invited to attend the public hearings on the millage rate and property tax at the Glascock County Commissioners conference room on July 21 at 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. and July 28 at 6 p.m.
The extra cash will cover much needed road work in the county. One road in particular has been closed because of a washed out section. Hutcheson said that the state will help pay for some of the costs.
During Tuesday night's monthly meeting, commission Chairman Anthony "Ant" Griswell said that the county has not had a newly paved road since the early 80s.
"Naturally we have some road work that has to be done," Griswell said.
Griswell also mentioned giving raises to county employees.
"It has been a while since we raised the salaries of the county employees," Griswell said.
Another problem Griswell said the county is facing is hidden costs in some of the county projects and other unexpected, costly developments throughout the year.
"We are having to run thin right now," he said. "We've got the senior citizens center, the Peebles House and the courthouse projects. Anytime you have a project going on, there are some hidden costs. Due to this, some of the projects have eaten into our cushion."
One costly project for next year will be the assessment needed for the landfill. Though adding the county on the Hazardous Site Inventory List will give a promise of reimbursement of funds used for the assessment, the county has to have the money in the beginning.
"We are having to do some work on the landfill also," Griswell said. "We have a good possibility to be reimbursed, but we have to be able to front that money at first."
Some of the downsizing of the budget in the county's past is beginning to catch up with them, according to Griswell.
"They have, in the past, trimmed the budget and we had to layoff two employees," he said. "Eventually it catches back up to you. Next year will still be a thin year."
One lesson has been learned by Griswell as a commissioner, sometimes minimal improvements can mean more in the future.
"I've learned a real good lesson from the past six months," Griswell noted. "For the size of the county that we are, we definitely need to have one project going on instead of several. Work on one project and see about another one after you complete it."
With the help of county officials, Griswell hopes that the millage rate raise will not last more than this year.
"Hopefully after this year we will be able to drop one of those mills off," he said. "That is what I am hoping."