Bank expands downtown
• New 19,000 square foot processing center being added to bank's central headquarters
By Ben Roberts
A physical expansion at the headquarters of Queensborough National Bank & Trust Company is altering the look of downtown Louisville.
Bill Easterlin, president and CEO, explained that the bank began construction on an over 19,000 square foot central processing center in March. He anticipates employees being at work in the new building by November.
"This will centralize the operation of processing the paperwork that is currently generated at our 20 branch locations," Easterlin said.
Currently, the bulk of that work is handled out of an office located on the bypass in Louisville, as well as other branches. According to Easterlin, this construction is an effort to bring the work of those various areas under one roof.
Easterlin said the bank reviewed a number of possible alternatives to expanding the central campus, including the possibility of moving the processing center to a larger market area, such as Augusta.
"The bank's board of directors analyzed the situation closely, but in the end decided that moving such a central core of operations to Augusta would no longer make us a Louisville-based bank," he said. "It was a unanimous decision."
Easterlin said the bank has worked hard to balance its growth with the appeal of the type of customer service one associates with a small-town bank.
"While it's not unusual for a bank to participate in the economy of a larger market close by, we have worked to maintain our headquarters in a small town," Easterlin explained. "We've chosen to have branches in the Augusta area instead of moving our headquarters."
Easterlin said that choice creates some problems for the company at times; high-speed communication lines can be more difficult to get, and the pool of qualified applicants is smaller when filling positions.
"It puts some pressure on us, running this large a bank from this size community," Easterlin said, pointing out that Queensborough has branches in 12 counties and services the large market areas of Augusta, Savannah and Statesboro. According to Easterlin, Queensborough is the 33rd largest bank in the state, out of 350.
While the construction of the new processing center is not expected to create any new jobs right away, Easterlin said some employees from other branches will move to the new office when it opens as those job functions are moved to Louisville.
Easterlin said the one-story building, which is being built directly behind the bank's main office on Peachtree Street, will match in both design and architecture.
He is also pleased to note that while Queensborough is using a construction management firm out of Atlanta, much of the actual construction is being done by current customers of the bank, either in the Jefferson County markets or close by.
Easterlin says the bank has always had a commitment to its local roots and he would like to see Queensborough's growth matched by growth in Louisville and Jefferson County.
"We want to have a positive effect on this community. This company's growth and the growth of this community go hand in hand," he said.
Phil Polhill, Chief Financial Officer for Queensborough, explained that the bank saw what he would describe as "moderate growth" in 2005.
According to Polhill, Queensborough has reported year-end assets of $583 million, an increase of 7.6 percent over 2004. Year-end deposits were up 6 percent to $462 million.
Polhill said the 360, mostly local stockholders saw net earnings of $4.61 per share, an increase of 8 percent since 2004.
"New branches drive our growth," Easterlin said, "and we didn't open any in 2005. But we opened one in the Augusta market back in February and we expect another by year's end."
South end now getting twice the protection
• Fire departments working together
By Ben Roberts
Citizens of Wadley and Bartow and the surrounding areas are now getting twice the protection from their fire fighters.
Last month, the cities' two fire departments signed an Automatic Aid agreement that stipulates both departments will be called out for structure and large area fires in either city.
Wadley Fire Chief Bruce Logue said the agreement came at the recommendation of the Georgia Firefighters Standards and Training Council, as well as ISO (International Organization for Standardization) evaluators.
Both departments hope the agreement - which results in more manpower at the scenes of fires - will help to lower each city's ISO rating, resulting in lower insurance costs for its residents.
Logue explained that in the past the two cities have had a "mutual aid" agreement, meaning if either department was needed by the other, they would respond if called. Automatic aid is just that: automatic. Both departments are called out at the same time by the county's 911 dispatch center, regardless of in which city the fire is located.
"This puts more people, more water, more equipment on the scene faster. The idea being we can save more by putting out fires quicker," said Bartow Fire Chief Billy Neal.
"With volunteer departments, you never know who's in town to answer the call. Two departments responding ensures more manpower on the scene," Logue said.
He cited a large house fire in Wadley last Thursday afternoon as an example.
"It was a two-story structure fire, fully involved, when we arrived," Logue said. "We had 18 from both departments and it took all of us. It would have been difficult with just one department."
Logue went on to say the two departments not only benefit from the extra men on the scene, but from the extra experience a number of these firefighters bring as well.
Neal says the agreement was copied from a similar automatic aid agreement used by departments on the north end of the county. He also noted that both city councils had supported the effort unanimously.
"We're burning a little bit more fuel, but that's part of it," Neal said. "We're getting more hands-on training and getting better at what we're doing. We're happy with it so far."
"The two departments are working well together. We consider this a big asset," Logue said.
Councilman moves to abolish Wrens Historic Preservation Commission
• Council votes 3-2 to keep HPC in place as an educational program; Members recognize community's skepticism towards preservation
By Parish Howard
Four days after a slide show documenting more than 300 historic structures was shared with the area residents, the Wrens City Council had to consider the possibility of completely abolishing the board charged with the city's historic preservation.
After some discussion of the slide show and the in-process inventory of historic sites, Councilman Lester Hadden made a motion to not only do away with city's Historic Preservation Commission (HPC), but with the ordinance that created it and which helped the city receive its "designated local government" status. The motion was seconded by Willie Huntley but failed, two to three.
The Earlier Discussion
Discussion of the HPC began with the commission's chair reporting on Monday's slide show.
"It was surprising," Judy Bostic, chair of the city's HPC, told council. "I didn't know we have what we have."
She went on to ask that the commission be able to continue to operate as an educational body only, offering help for property owners with advice, grant applications and information.
"And only if they want it," Bostic said. "We want this to be a voluntary, educational program."
Board member Heather Mahaffey told the council that the changes in the HPC's direction are a direct response to the community's requests for a less regulatory body and for more information. The community spoke out at a February public hearing, showing overwhelming opposition to the commission's then proposed historic district, which would have required HPC approval before significant changes were made to buildings therein.
Based on the public's input, the commission has changed its regular meeting hours to make it more available to citizens, and has decided to focus more on completely voluntary and educational opportunities for area property owners.
The commission was established when the city's historic preservation ordinance was passed March 18, 2004, and it has already received grant money and begun work inventorying the city's historic properties.
"I would hate to see it ended now," she said.
Board member Fred McCants told the council that even after teaching Georgia History in Wrens for 38 years, it was only after seeing the initial finding of the survey that he realized how much the city had to offer in the way of historic sites.
According to Mayor Dollye Ward, the "designated local government" status, which would be compromised if the city's Historic Preservation Ordinance was rescinded, gives the city access to a number of grant opportunities that would otherwise be unavailable.
"It would really be a shame to take a giant step backwards," she said.
Councilman Huntley said that he felt it would really help the commission to get the word out, because in his opinion, the public's sentiment did not favor supporting the HPC.
"People in the community feel the wool is trying to be pulled over their eyes on this," he said.
Councilwoman Sydney McGahee admitted that up until last week, she herself was skeptical of the HPC's aims. The slide show, she said, changed her mind.
"I now feel it's something I'd like to have shown again, and maybe we can make an extreme effort to get the citizens out," McGahee said. "Until Monday night, I was not aware of the historical value of some of the things we do have. I guess I didn't know I was that old."
She went on to say she thinks a more educational goal would serve a good purpose.
Councilman Erskine Lane said he didn't see any problem with the HPC.
"Once people see the slides I think they will see how this could effect them," said Councilwoman Ceola Hannah.
Hadden spoke last, just before making his motion.
He said that he serves on council to represent the interests of the citizens and businesses in town and everyone he has spoken with want it abolished.
"They're afraid you're just going to water it down, reorganize and then it will get started later," Hadden said. "I'd like to see it abolished myself."
Since the motion failed, the HPC will continue to meet on the first Tuesday of every month at 3:30 p.m. at City Hall.
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Plans to show the ongoing results of the historic resources survey are in the works, and commission members said they hope to do more to promote the meeting in hopes of drawing a bigger crowd of citizens.