• Louisville hosts close to 150 state and local officials for OneGeorgia announcements
By Ben Roberts
Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue made a short but important visit to Louisville last week - to give out money.
Perdue, as well as close to 150 state and local officials, was in town to attend a board meeting for the OneGeorgia Authority, last Friday morning at the old National Guard Armory. The purpose of the meeting was to award over $4 million in OneGeorgia grant funds to rural communities for development.
While no Jefferson or Glascock county community received any funds this year, the city of Louisville did receive a $500,000 OneGeorgia grant last year for the construction of the new terminal at the city's airport.
The OneGeorgia Authority was created to oversee the distribution of one third of the state's tobacco settlement money to Georgia's most economically impoverished areas.
Perdue told those in attendance that the OneGeorgia grants were vital in giving rural areas of the state the needed financial boost to compete for industry and economic development. The Governor said the funds were a way to close the gap between the state's rural and urban areas and promote economic diversity outside of Atlanta.
"I don't want us to be a state capital of innovation, but a state of innovation," he said.
As part of that plan, the board unanimously voted to establish a grant program known as BRIDGE (Broadband Rural Initiative to Develop Georgia's Economy) to help rural communities gain access to broadband internet service. Perdue's 2007 budget proposal includes $5million as initial funding for the BRIDGE program.
"I call broadband the new dial tone," Perdue said. "We could not imagine any business, much less an entire community, operating without access to reliable telephone service. Today broadband internet access is just as important for our 21st century communications infrastructure."
In an interview after the meeting, Perdue stressed his appreciation of rural communities, citing his own "rural roots" and a deep appreciation for small-town life.
"The OneGeorgia Authority has done a great job recognizing the needs of small communities. The government can't create jobs, but it can give capital to provide for infrastructure and industrial parks," the Governor said. "We want to erase those lines between two Georgia's."
Since its creation in October of 2000, the authority has awarded more than $143.2 million in grants and loans and has supported the creation and retention of 29,998 jobs in 110 of Georgia's most economically depressed counties. The OneGeorgia Authority is expected to receive about $1.6 billion over the 25-year term of the tobacco settlement.
Residents have left Pine Valley
• Area HUD representative Bob Young scheduled to visit Wrens Friday to discuss housing issues
By Parish Howard
Scrawled in chalk on the sidewalk in the midst of the empty apartments are the words "Pine Valley is going down." This weekend abandoned furniture and trash littered the grounds, and according to city officials, it appears all of the residents who were listed on the apartment complex's lease agreements have moved out.
Wednesday, March 8, was the deadline the property's owners had given residents back in February to find new homes as the property was being foreclosed on and was without official owners or managers. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) subsidies ran out Jan. 31 and with it ended the lease agreements, owners said.
That afternoon pickup trucks and cars were backed to several apartments and loaded with belongings while a number of residents packed up in a final move out of the place some of them had called home for nearly 30 years.
The City and Services
"It's like one big family being separated," Sharee Jackson said Wednesday afternoon. "We're real close knit. It's aggravating and frustrating."
Jackson said she had called Pine Valley home nearly her entire life.
Burene Brown said that she and her sister had lived only a few apartments away from each other for years.
"She's a diabetic and I was never very far from her, I could always walk over and see that she was OK," Brown said. "It has been a tough day. It has been hard saying goodbye to family and friends."
Both Brown and Jackson said that there were still some of the complex's near 40 families who had not found permanent housing and were still looking.
"We've been turned down here and there and we keep being told that people don't take vouchers or that they don't have any more space available," Jackson said. "And now some people's vouchers are expiring and they haven't found anywhere to use them."
In the fall of last year, when it became apparent that the complex was going into foreclosure and the HUD subsidies which allowed for the income based housing at Pine Valley was expiring, the Department of Community Affairs (DCA) came in and provided most families with housing choice vouchers. These vouchers, good for 120 days, could provide free or income-based housing to residents, however a number of residents were under impression that they would be able to use their vouchers at Pine Valley.
In letters taped to their doors and dated Feb. 6, residents were notified that the owners had elected not to accept vouchers and were given 30 days to find new homes. The letters also warned residents that all services would be turned off by 5 p.m. on March 8.
City officials said they did not turn off services March 8, but that they had previously turned off some services to individual gas customers who had failed to pay their bills.
In the past the property's owners had been responsible for the city's water, sewage and garbage pick up bills, but in the last couple of years the individual tenants had taken over responsibility for their own natural gas bills from the city.
The city received a letter from TAMCO, LLC, Pine Valley Apartment's owners last week regarding city services and claiming that the Georgia Legal Services Program had notified them that "residents have certain rights and the utilities could not be turned off."
"On behalf of the owners, we too realize the residents have rights and the owners as well," TAMCO's letter goes on to say. "There has been no income since the 31st of January and none will be received. The owners will not instruct your company to disconnect the utility service to Pine Valley Apartments, however, the owners herewith notify you that there are no funds to pay for the utilities and they will not be responsible for any further utility service as of the end of March 8."
As of last week the city is owed $3,641.43 in back water/sewer/garbage bills by the owner, $7,978.45 in back gas bills by residents, and $60,394.98 in past due taxes with penalties and interest.
Mayor Dollye Ward and Councilmember Ceola Hannah visited the property last week after the residents' deadline.
"There were a few apartments unlocked and we looked inside," Ward said. "They were in really bad shape. There were holes in the walls, glass was broken out of several windows and there were big holes torn in the linoleum. I don't know how they were living there. There was furniture sitting in piles by the road and I don't know if people were coming to get it or not. It just looked sad."
Over the weekend the city had police officers go door to door looking for any residents listed on the leases who may still be staying there. Four were found Friday, but as the weekend wore on, it appeared all of the official residents had moved out.
"Our officers found a few people hanging out and sleeping on floors," Chief David Hannah said. "But, they weren't the people who had been listed on the leases. We told them they needed to hang out somewhere else."
In the last several weeks city and school system officials, along with at least one local minister, have been working to find answers to how residents could only be given a months' notice, to help them find alternate housing and address other area housing issues.
In that time the mayor has called the city's housing issue "an emergency" and the situation has been brought to the attention of legislators and state officials.
Bob Young, regional director for HUD, is scheduled to meet with city officials on Friday at 1 p.m. at city hall to talk about housing issues in Wrens.
The property, including the 52 unit apartment buildings, is scheduled to be sold on the Jefferson County Courthouse steps at noon on March 28. According to legal documents regarding the foreclosure, the complex sits on six acres along Kings Mill Road, and includes seven buildings, built in 1973, 32 two-bedroom and 20 three-bedroom units.
A $314,541 letter of credit (LOC) is required at closing to insure completion of repairs and a $100,000 Earnest Money Deposit will be required for bidding at the foreclosure sale.
Mayor Ward said that she had spoken to at least three different individuals who were interested in the sale of the property and who she expected to bid on it; however, she said she could not be sure as to what purpose they would put the property if purchased.
"They say they want to buy it and renovate it," Ward said. "But I'm not sure if they would use them for low-income housing or not."
Several weeks ago a HUD representative said that the Section 8 housing subsidy that Pine Valley had operated under for years is no longer issued. However, the property, if brought up to meet DCA's requirements, could choose, at the owner's prerogative, to accept housing choice vouchers.
School SPLOST to appear on Tuesday's ballot
• Sales Tax extension would be used to fund capital improvements
By Ben Roberts
Jefferson County voters will head to the polls next Tuesday, March 21, to decide whether or not to extend the current one-percent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) for education.
County-wide polling stations will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday and absentee ballots must be received in the county's Voter Registrar office by 5 p.m. the same day. Voters can cast ballots in advance through this Friday, March 17, at the Registrar's office located at 302 East Broad Street in Louisville. Hours for advanced voting are from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
In December, the Jefferson County Board of Education (BOE) voted to approve Tuesday's referendum in the hopes of raising $12 million for capital outlay and maintenance projects at the county's six schools. Those projects include the replacement of heating and air conditioning units at all schools, roof repairs and general facility improvements at each of the campuses.
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If passed, the current one-cent sales tax will simply continue for up to five more years or until the $12 million ceiling is reached.
"These are necessities to provide our kids with the quality of education they deserve," Jefferson County School Superintendent Carl Bethune said. "We've got to have roofs and heating and air. That's where the bulk of these funds are going."
Assistant Superintendent, Dr. Donnie Hodges, explained that a committee of volunteers had undertaken what she described as a "grass-roots" effort to solicit support for the continued SPLOST.
"We haven't seen a lot of opposition, but we can't be complacent," she said.
Hodges also reiterated Bethune's point that these projects are vital to students' well being.
"This is for infrastructure," she said. "All of it's not pretty or improvements you would even notice. Some of them are things that keep us warm and dry."
The proposed projects were originally submitted by individual schools and those projects were then approved by the central office staff. At that point, a committee made up of parents and citizens reviewed the list of projects and prioritized them according to need. That list was approved by the BOE in December.
The current education SPLOST was passed in September of 2001 by 92-percent of county voters. It was estimated to raise $10 million over its five-year period. The $10 million ceiling is expected to be met sometime this year, so passage of this new referendum will ensure that SPLOST funds continue to be collected without interruption.