County officer at work
Code enforcement officer monitors manufactured home decals, county permits and dumpster sites
By Ben Roberts
Like a lot of law enforcement, Jimmy Kitchens works hard to fight the stereotype of an officer out to harass the public.
Since becoming the new code enforcement officer for Jefferson County about two months ago, though, Kitchens admits he may be even more aware of public perception.
Late last year, commissioners voted to create a code enforcement division and hire one officer to monitor a number of ordinances, including the purchasing of manufactured home decals, timber harvest permits and illegal dumping at county dumpster sites.
Those duties once fell under the county's Marshall's office, but commissioners voted to do away with that department in December of 2004, creating instead a civil division in the Sheriff's Office.
Towards the end of last year, Sheriff Gary Hutchins admitted that his civil division was simply outmanned and over-worked and that code enforcement in the county was suffering as a result. Commissioners realized this lack of enforcement was leading to a loss of county revenue.
"This department was created because a focus had to be taken on environmental issues in the county and the loss of revenue through timber harvest permits and manufactured home decals," said Jefferson County Administrator Paul Bryan. "I'm very pleased with the work so far and there has been positive feedback from the citizens, as well."
Bryan said Kitchens will give his first presentation to commissioners detailing his work at their regular meeting next Tuesday, April 11
For his part, Kitchens says he sees his job as largely being to educate the public about ordinances.
Citations and criminal charges, he says, are a "last resort."
"I'm giving out a lot of warning tickets right now," Kitchens said. "I'm not out there to make it hard on people, but to point out which direction to do things according to the law."
According to Kitchens, he spends the majority of his time checking for up-to-date manufactured home decals and timber permits, as well as monitoring dumpster sites and private lands for illegal dumping.
Last month, Kitchens issued his second actual citation, a warrant against a McDuffie County resident for illegally dumping over one and a half tons of trash on private land off of Butcher Pin Road.
Kitchens says one of the most widespread issues he sees though is the illegal dumping of items in county dumpsters.
"They're for household garbage only," he stresses; "trash that you generate in your home, in the kitchen or bathroom, the garbage that comes out of your cans."
All other waste items should be taken to the county landfill, Kitchens said, so they can be disposed of properly.
Kitchens is keeping plenty busy checking for mobile home decals. In March alone, he issued 90 "door hangers" - reminders left on front doors of manufactured houses for owners to update their decals.
Jefferson County Tax Commissioner Jenny Weeks Gordy says the door hangers are a friendly reminder for home owners to pay their taxes and get their decals or to at least hang them properly.
"Sometimes folks just don't display them," she said.
Either way, Kitchens then passes his information on to Gordy's office for the homes to be followed up on.
Gordy says that residents are starting to realize that the county is now actively checking for up-to-date decals and that is incentive for people to pay their taxes on time and get their decals.
While neither Gordy nor Bryan could give any sort of estimate, both say the county is beginning to recoup lost monies because of Kitchens' work.
"I have no idea what kind of money we're looking at right now," Bryan said; "but we do know he's finding a number of homes without decals."
"We're trying to talk to people instead of locking them up. That doesn't help the county get their money," Kitchens said. "We're giving them a fair chance to get their business straight. The biggest portion of them just need a little bump to get things straightened out."
Bryan agreed. "He's issuing a lot of warnings to educate people about state law and county ordinances and he's monitoring certain things more closely, which should result in increased county revenues," he said. "We needed stronger enforcement and that's exactly what we're getting."
The county's code enforcement office is located in the Jefferson County Courthouse, in the same office as the county building inspector. For questions, or to report violations, call 478-625-4009 or 911 dispatch in case of an emergency.
Commission receives second largest SPLOST check ever
First installment on '05 SPLOST referendum money to be split amongst recreation, fire departments and DAJC projects
By Ben Roberts
Jefferson County's new Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST), which began Jan. 1, got off to a good start.
Jefferson County Administrator Paul Bryan said that the first collection check from the renewed referendum - in the amount of $216,085 - was the second largest since Jefferson County voters first approved a SPLOST in a September 2001 referendum.
A SPLOST check in the amount of $221,360 in October of last year remains the largest payment the county has ever received.
"Naturally, we're pleased with the collection," Bryan said.
He can't, however, explain why the check is so much larger, nor, he says, can Department of Revenue officials on the state level.
"It fluctuates, that's about all they can tell you," Bryan said, although he speculates it could be the result of late payments from the Christmas shopping season in December.
During their work session on Monday morning, Bryan told commissioners that upon each check's arrival, the total amount would be split between the three areas of fire and rescue, economic development and recreation, according to the percentage each should be receiving.
Of this first check, $63,122.62 went to fire and rescue; $69,965.16 to economic development; and $82,997.20 to recreation.
The recreation funds were then split among the five cities and Jefferson County/Louisville, which share their portions, according to each group's allotted percentage as well.
Bryan said the economic development portion of the money would be held by the county until the Development Authority of Jefferson County approved a piece of property for purchase.
While the fire funds have been divided among each of the six cities and the county, the money is actually being held by the county, which will act as the sole purchasing agent for all the fire equipment.
Bryan and Tony Kelley, Chief of the Jefferson County Fireman's Association, both said they felt the county could get a much better price on the equipment by buying the vehicles at one time.
Bryan also recommended the commissioners give him approval to begin the bid process for the eight new engines each department would receive. Kelley said it was the recommendation of the fireman's group that the eight engines were the bigger priority of the equipment to be purchased. The delivery of the engines should reduce the county's overall ISO rating, according to Kelley.
Bryan explained that the county faced a dilemma in finding the better deal: paying interest on the financed equipment or paying the cost of inflation as the purchase price rose over time.
Bryan said he believed the county would come out better bidding out the engines now and financing the purchases while postponing actual delivery until January of 2007. At that time, the county should have a large portion of the fire funds set aside for the purchase.
"We'd like to go ahead and start the bid process to study our options," Bryan said.
Commissioners are also expected to give final approval to allowing the state's Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) to rent office space at the former county jail at next Tuesday's regular meeting.
DJJ officials, however, say they can only afford a rent payment of $350, including utilities.
Commissioner Tommy New expressed concern over the county losing money and questioned whether they were required to provide office space.
"I would imagine there is a benefit to the people of this county to have a juvenile probation office here," county attorney Mickey Moses told New.
"It's a state program and [Legislators have] cut the budget and passed it down to the counties," New said. "I won't vote against it, but I don't like it."
Commissioners will also discuss changes to the county's $100 solid waste fee for mobile home parks and rental contracts for both the Senior Center and the Jefferson County Multipurpose Complex, formally known as the old Armory building.
Accident staged to save lives
By Parish Howard
The day before their prom, Glascock County students watched one of their classmates die, two others cut from a mangled car and carried off in ambulances and a fourth arrested, handcuffed and placed in the back of a patrol car.
The event was staged, but the message was real. Accidents happen to teenagers every day, and according to national statistics, every 33 minutes, a person is killed in alcohol related wrecks.
"We want every child to stop and think," said Wanda Davis of Glascock Action Partners just minutes after watching paramedics zip her oldest son into a black body bag, tears still marking her face. "It takes a lot to get these children's attention. For a lot of them, this is their first real date and they need to think about consequences. Things like this are crucial. And it being someone they know, their classmates and peers they see going through this, hopefully it will get their attention."
A number of area agencies and emergency personnel worked together to organize the event.
"We do this about every two years," explained Tim Edwards, Director of McDuffie County EMS. "We're trying to make a visual impact to go along with what they've been told their whole lives. We want them to see what can happen when you act irresponsibly."
The mini-drama lets students see everything that happens at the scene of a serious accident in real time.
"Today some of your classmates are out joy riding, drinking beer and drag racing," Pastor Tim Ferrell told those gathered. "These things don't go together."
He then proceeded to tell them about Holli Wood, a sophomore, and 18-year-old Shaventa Jenkins, classmates of students deciding to race their cars at a favorite local drag strip and the wreck that ensues.
He describes Jenkins' accident in crushing detail, the collapsing metal and flailing bodies of her and her passengers 16-year-old Nick Simpson and 17-year-old Thomas Davis, as well as the injuries they sustain while bouncing around inside the tumbling vehicle-their limbs snapped at knees and elbows, feet ripped from shoes, punctured lungs and damaged organs.
EMTs arrive and begin providing immediate first aid while local firefighters physically cut the bodies from the car. They move the seemingly lifeless body of Davis from the hood where he was thrown to the ground at the crowd's feet, where he is later bagged and loaded into a hurse.
Sheriff's officers give Wood a field sobriety test, cuff her, read her rights and load her into a cruiser.
Only the students are actors. The McDuffie County paramedics, firefighters and other officials are all the actual people who respond to wrecks like this one. They are the people these students would see at the scene of real accident.
"It was pretty scary to me," Jenkins said later, after the audience had left and she stood there beside the destroyed vehicle. "Being there in the vehicle and knowing that this could happen to you or someone you know
Some kids don't think it could ever happen to them, but it can. I just kept thinking, please, get me out."
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She believes the Ghost Out will definitely have an effect on some of her fellow students.
Davis, the student who died in the scenario, said he was a lot more nervous during the presentation than he thought he would be.
"Hopefully, people will look and see what can happen and think about it," he said. "I didn't expect it to be like it was. I'm glad they didn't zip it [the bodybag] up all the way."
Davis's mother, Wanda Davis and her Glascock Action Partners, helped sponsor the event. Despite knowing everything that was going to happen, seeing her son even playing the victim of a tragic accident brought tears to her eyes.
"It was sickening, scary, seeing my baby lying there like that and having that helpless feeling like there was nothing I could do," she said. "It's the most dreadful thing every parent fears. Hopefully, this will get through to some of his classmates. Hopefully they'll stop and think."