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September 20, 2007 Issue

Student killed in wreck
Corny in all the right ways
County setting millage rate at 12 mills, BOE at 14 mills

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Student killed in wreck

• Memorial service for Joyce Warnock will be held Saturday, Sept. 22, at 10:30 a.m. at JCHS

By Faye Ellison
Staff Writer

Along the side of Mennonite Church Road signs of life are printed in the red clay where the tracks of deer have weighed down the soft earth. Along that same road Monday afternoon the belongings of three Jefferson County High School students were scattered after a wreck in a 1998 Ford Explorer.

Joyce Warnock, was partially ejected from the vehicle, but officers were unsure as of Tuesday whether Hannah Sheppard, 16, and Brittany Williford, 16, were also ejected during the wreck.

Joyce Warnock


A family member consoles Brittany Williford, one of the three students involved in Monday's wreck, as rescue workers take her to an ambulance bound to MCG.

Sheppard was airlifted to the Medical College of Georgia, while Williford was transported by ambulance to MCG.

Their friend, Warnock, was not as lucky, she died at the scene.

The accident occurred on Monday, Sept. 17 around 3: 10 p.m. just past the Sandersville Technical College’s commercial truck driving campus located off of Highway 296 on Mennonite Church Road.

The maroon 1998 Ford Explorer's roof is crumpled where it rolled during the accident that killed one JCHS student and sent two others to the emergency room.

In a report from the Swainsboro State Patrol Office, the driver, who is said to have been Sheppard, overcorrected the vehicle after traveling off of the roadway. This caused the vehicle to flip over onto its side, partially ejecting Warnock, 15. The vehicle came to rest on top of her. The report also stated that none of the girls were wearing seatbelts.

Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office’s Gary McCord was the first deputy to respond to the wreck. When he came upon the site, he saw many people trying to help the three girls.

“When I got there I saw several folks, about seven, trying to help,” McCord said. “The two girls (Hannah and Williford) were being cared for by a nurse that was going by.” Also arriving on the scene soon after the wreck were several school personnel who worked to comfort students and parents who were already at the scene and contact Warnock’s grandparents.

Jefferson County High School Principal Dr. Molly Howard said that both Sheppard and Williford have since been released from MCG and seemed to be doing okay with only minor injuries and abrasions.

“We had grief counselors here this morning,” Dr. Howard said early Tuesday afternoon. “About 150 students utilized their services this morning and have since gone back to class. They know if they feel like they need more counseling, the teachers are ready to allow them to come back to the office. “The students are certainly hurt and grieving and clinging to one another. That is how young people get a lot of their support, from each other. They are visibly shaken and mournful, but very orderly in their grief. I asked them that in the spirit of their grief to join me in silence over the loss in our school family.” Dr. Howard stressed that the school talks to the student body several times a year, once already this year, about being safe while driving.

“We have talked to them over the intercom and we talk to them about being careful,” she said. “We all see it when other students are injured, but that is the nature of youth, they don’t understand that this truly can happen to me. The human body is fragile, but the human spirit is strong. We need to understand how fragile life is. In a moment, everybody’s world is changed and it will never be the same again.”

James Funeral Home of Wrens is in charge of the funeral arrangements for Warnock. Coroner Edward James said a memorial service will be held Saturday, Sept. 22, at 10:30 a.m. in the Jefferson County High School gymnasium, with visitation afterwards.

Warnock’s survivors include her father, Robert Warnock of Bartow, mother, Ritsuko Warnock of California, maternal grandmother Takao Wakamatsu of Japan, paternal grandparents, Ronald and Eleanor Warnock, and her brother, Quinn Warnock.

Corny in all the right ways

By Faye Ellison
Staff Writer

Mitch and Lisa Vaughn live down an old country road in Jefferson County. Behind their home is a plot of land that stretches out to the woods on Verdree Road, but before you make it to the woods, there is a field of corn. Their long stalks as green as emeralds reach to the sky for the sun and have misty droplets of precipitation from the morning dew.

There are two ways to enter the field and a few routes out, but you better ask the Vaughns which is the best route through their corn maze.


They have called an area just east of Louisville home for two and a half years now, but even when they moved here, Mitch said he and his wife had ideas of creating something educational for children on their property.

It is no wonder they wanted something educational, Mitch has been teaching in Jefferson County for five years, while Lisa will receive a bachelors in early childhood education from Augusta State University in December. She is currently student teaching at Blakeney Elementary in Waynesboro. Between the two of them, they have five children, ages 13, 12, 9, 8 and four months.

“We heard about corn mazes in the Midwest states,” he explained. “One of our children visited a corn maze in north Georgia and was telling us how fun it was. We began to think that it might be fun to create one on our property.”

When telling others in the area of their "amaizing" idea, the looks on those citizens’ faces were enough to make some go straight to the drawing board.

“Many people were baffled by our idea,” Mitch said. “Some had never even heard of a corn maze before.”

With many of the corn mazes scattered throughout the United States, Georgia was already home to only seven mazes. The planning for the Louisville area maze, which would be called Cypress Hollow Farm, began in February.

“We started by doing research and discovering what would be required to have a maze on our property,” Mitch said. “Since only a small portion of our land was cleared, we began by having land clearing done on over seven acres. We have worked most every weekday after work and nearly every weekend since April to bring this idea to reality.

Mitch and Lisa Vaughn have turned a field behind their family home into a corn maze they hope will draw crowds from across the CSRA this fall.

“Especially since the corn was planted so late, we had to have a watering system. We dug a well and installed a drip system irrigation across the six acre maze. We decided on a maze pattern and contacted The MAiZE Company from Utah to design and cut our maze.”

Starting in 1996, The MAiZE Company began with just three corny creations across Utah and Idaho. Now 12 years later, The MAiZE has grown into the world’s largest cornfield maze company.

They have helped launch more than 1,200 mazes and this year there are more than 190 mazes planted in five countries including Canada, Italy, Poland and the United Kingdom.

“The MAiZE Company in Utah has been a wonderful help,” Mitch said. “We would also like to thank our sponsors for partnering with us and believing in our endeavors. We would like to give Robert and Daniel Newberry a special thank you for all of their help. County Agent Jim Crawford’s knowledge and expertise has guided us through the planting and growing process. We also thank our community, friends and family for their support and help.”

The maze has two phases, a shorter section and a longer section. According to Mitch, each section has five checkpoints to aid in navigation.

“Visitors receive a ‘passport,’ which is a paper that has questions. If the questions are answered correctly, it will tell which way to turn.”

But Mitch adds that people should not be afraid to try to find their way through, even if they do not know the answers to the questions which appear on cards with themes like tiny tots, history or sports. The answers are already on them.

But if children or adults are not tempted to try the maze, there are other activities available such as the cow train, hay ride, Kiddie Korral play area, hay jump, duck race, corn cannon, corn box, and the horseshoe and picnic areas, fire site area and concessions. Mitch said these will be available in October.

In the petting zoo, there is the most famous goat in Jefferson County. Mitch said at the ribbon cutting held on Friday, Sept. 14, that Billy, the family's pet goat, thinks that it is a dog.

“Billy is our goat and a member of our family,” Mitch said. “He is able to escape from his pen and welcomes us home each day. It is not uncommon for him to run along side the children as they play outside. He loves to be petted and is a huge Georgia fan. He’s even famous; he was on NBC News last weekend.”

Questions have arisen as to what the Vaughns will use the corn for, well they have chosen to use some for the corn cannon, for educational purposes on field trips and if possible, it will be harvested. At the end of the maze season, Mitch said the corn will be cut down and they will begin making preparations for their educational hamburger farm field trips in the spring.

“We plan to make this an annual fall event,” Mitch said.

The grand opening will be Saturday, Sept. 22, at 10 a.m. There will be a live broadcast from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. with 102.3 The Bull radio station. Next weekend will be the Make Kids Count with the Mayfield Ice Cream Van on hand to give away free ice cream on that Saturday.

Hours of operation are Fridays from 6 p.m.-11 p.m. for the corn maze. The maze and other activities will be open to the public on Saturday from 10 a.m. until 11 p.m. and on Sunday from 2 p.m. until 8 p.m. Wednesday nights will be reserved for youth groups only.

Cost for ages 12 and up is $7.50, ages 4-11 is $5.50 and free for kids under 4. Other attractions are free or available for a small fee. Wrist bands are available to cover all attractions.

To make reservations or for more information, call (478) 625-8668 or visit www.cypresshollowfarm.com.

“We truly hope that everyone who visits finds as much enjoyment as we have had making our dream a reality,” Mitch said. “Ya’ll come get lost, ya hear?”

County setting millage rate at 12 mills, BOE at 14 mills
• Public hearings scheduled for Sept. 20, 25, 27 and 28

By Carol McLeod
Staff Writer

Jefferson County is expected to set the 2007 county millage rate at 12 mills, with the county’s Board of Education planning to set their millage rate at 14 mills, according to information released last week.

Public hearings on this matter have been set. The first hearing on the county’s tentative millage rate is scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 20, at 9 a.m., with the second hearing planned for Tuesday, Sept. 25, at 6:30 p.m. The third hearing is set for Friday, Sept. 28, at 8:15 a.m. The commission will hold a called meeting after the third hearing at 8:30 a.m. All of these meetings will be held at the Jefferson County Commission office, 217 East Broad Street in Louisville.


The county’s Board of Education hearings are scheduled at the school board office at 1001 Peachtree Street in Louisville. That board will meet Thursday, Sept. 20, at 7:30 a.m., Tuesday, Sept. 25, at 6 p.m. and on Thursday, Sept. 27, at 7:30 a.m. Additionally, the school board will meet after the third meeting in a called session at 8 a.m. to approve the final millage rate.

Jefferson County millage

The Jefferson County Board of Commissioners, while working to keep Jefferson County’s millage rate as low as possible while providing the necessary services to the citizens of the county, announced a tentative property tax increase of .75 percent over the roll back millage rate of 11.696, requiring a 2007 millage rate of 12 mills, according to Jefferson County Administrator Paul Bryan. This figure includes .75 mills or 3/4 of a mill that is dedicated to the Economic Development Authority, he said.

“Each year, the Jefferson County Board of Assessors is required by Georgia law to review the assessed value of each taxable property in the county. When price trends of recently sold properties indicate there has been an increase in fair market values, the Board of Tax Assessors is required by Georgia law to determine the current values of property and adjust the assessed value. This process is called a reevaluation,” he said.

Once the total digest of taxable property is prepared, Georgia further requires that a rollback millage rate be computed that will produce the same total revenue on the 2007 digest that the 2006 millage rate would have produced had no reevaluation occurred, he said.

“The budget adopted by the Board of Commissioners requires a millage rate higher than the roll back millage rate. Therefore, before the setting of the final millage rate, three public hearings must be held to allow for citizen comment,” he said.

Bryan said the 12 millage rate compares to 12.62 last year with the value of the mill currently being set for $415,306. Last year, a mill was valued at $400,206. “That was the reason we did the rollback,” he said. “Because the value of a mill went up.”

Bryan said the county estimates collection for this year at $4,983,666, compared with last year’s collection of $5,050,601.

“This is $66,935 less than last year,” he said, adding the collection this year will be about the same as what was collected three years ago.

“The reason it appears in some notices that there is a tax increase is because the state-mandated rollback rate does not match the increase in the value of the mill,” he said.

Bryan said the main thing everyone should remember is the net tax levy is $66,935 less than last year.

“The millage rate went down,” he said. “The commissioners continue to review the budget and alternative sources of income.”

Board of Education millage

The Jefferson County Board of Education announced its intention to increase the property taxes it will levy this year by 14.08 percent over the rollback millage rate. The required reassessment of taxable property in this county is accountable for 7.97 percent of this increase, according to Jefferson County School Board Superintendent Carl Bethune.

“The Board of Education is levying 14 mils for FY08 as opposed to the 13.25 levy for FY07 due in part to the Georgia State Department’s Office of Planning and Budget cut in state revenues available to local boards of education, as has been the case for the last five years,” he said.

“The austerity reduction to Jefferson County for the 07-08 school year is $280,510, bringing the total amount of state funds withheld since the first austerity cuts were made in FY03 to $2,735,708. Most of the board’s budget consists of salaries for personnel. Teachers have already been hired for this school year based on the number of students expected and by state mandated maximum class sizes,” Bethune said.

Bethune said the school system continues to feel the effects of high fuel costs and the cost of heating and cooling, adding those costs are not expected to drop during the next school year.

“In fact, Georgia Power has a rate increase request before the Public Service Commission. Approval of their request could mean another 7 percent increase in power bills effective January 2008,” he said.

“Federal funding sources continue to shrink. Our Title I grant was cut nearly 8.5 percent over last year’s grant. This equates to a $103,000 reduction to revenue. Other federal grants are being similarly cut,” he said.

Bethune said the county’s two middle schools met the requirements to make Adequate Yearly Progress in the No Child Left Behind Act. “However, their success means the loss of school improvement grant money which totaled $239,500 in FY07,” he said.

The superintendent said the school board recognizes how important quality education is to the present and future economic health of Jefferson County and its citizens.

“The business of education is a service industry with more than 90 percent of its budget designated to salary and benefits,” he said. “We believe that the $30 increase in property taxes on a $100,000 home is worth it when weighed against the ability to produce post-secondary ready graduates who are prepared to continue their education or to join the workforce and contribute positively to Jefferson County’s economy.”

Bethune said the county school system lost right at $200,000 last year.

“Our year runs July 1 to June 30, so we’re in a new year already. So last year, we had $200,000 that we don’t have this year. Then the state cut an additional $170,000 from our budget while still mandating salaries and class sizes,” he said.

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