County budget slightly down from '07
By Jessica Newberry
Despite rising food and fuel costs, Jefferson County’s proposed budget shows a slight decrease for the 2008-2009 fiscal year.
At $12.346 million, the budget is nearly 0.9 percent or $110,000 less than last year’s $12.456 million budget.
In the County Buildings and Roads departments, the budget will decrease by $1.06 million with the conclusion of two major projects. “The work on the courthouse will hopefully be done by the end of June, and our grant-funded road striping is complete, which will reduce the budget,” said county administrator Paul Bryan.
The decrease in roads is also due to increasing costs for paving. The county will continue to do resurfacing and rehabilitation, but there are currently no plans for new paving projects.
A public safety grant appropriated by congress will provide $250,000 for new radio consoles and updated towers for E-911.
“This grant will allow us to increase the wattage and height of our towers to improve weak reception in areas like Bartow and Grange,” said Bryan.
Although the budget will lose revenue from out-of-county inmates at the Jefferson County Jail, revenue from housing federal inmates is set to increase.
“Bulloch County has completed construction of their jail, so the sheriff is actively looking for other counties’ inmates to house,” Bryan said. “The U.S. Marshal Service has told us to expect more federal inmates, so we will use the extra space to house them.”
Out-of-county inmate revenue will decrease by $116,000 to $274,000, but federal inmate revenue is expected to increase by more than $213,000 to $460,000.
The rising cost of living plays a significant role in the expenditure increases of this year’s budget. More than $143,000 will provide a 3-percent salary and benefits increase for county employees in light of increasing expenses.
Food and fuel prices have also added to this year’s budget in many areas. Budgeted expenses for gasoline increased by more than $86,000, and electricity will cost almost $45,000 more than last year. Food expenditures are also up $71,000.
“We’re dealing with higher prices for food products as well as transit costs for delivery, and fuel costs are increasing our utility expenditures,” said Bryan. “We are trying to operate more efficiently in terms of energy, making sure air conditioners and lights are turned off when not in use and that vehicles are used for essential use only.”
Group health insurance costs are set to increase by $227,000 to $1.092 million in this year’s budget.
“Insurance coverage is costing more, but we’re looking at issues such as deductibles, co-pays and drug plans to cut down on spending,” Bryan said.
A final reading and the adoption of the FY 2008-2009 budget will be held on Thursday, June 26, at 9 a.m. at the County Commissioners’ Office.
Artist will run gallery
By Jessica Newberry
Louisville’s Firehouse Gallery is known for change. Its brightly illuminated walls feature artists from across the country, bringing refreshing introductions of beauty and culture with each exhibit.
Tucked behind the glass counter, the gallery’s latest feature can be found sipping coffee and milk from a Mason jar. But don’t let his Southern choice of glassware fool you.
Dan Rekshan, 24, traveled from his hometown of Marquette, Mich., to take the gallery’s intern position several weeks ago.
He recently graduated from St. John’s College, a liberal arts school in Annapolis, Md.
“In January or February I said ‘I’ve got to do something with my life, something well-paying,” Rekshan said. “I didn’t find anything interesting, so I started looking in career services, keeping an eye on the ‘paid/unpaid’ column.”
He came upon the Firehouse Gallery’s intern position and submitted his resume.
“Within three hours, Helen (Aikman) called me back,” he said. “Everything seemed so interesting about the Firehouse job: the gallery, the town, even the website.”
He interviewed with Aikman in Annapolis and was soon on his way to Louisville to visit the gallery.
Rekshan arrived in Atlanta in March and was brought to his future home by former intern Maiben Beard.
“The first things I noticed on the drive down were the pine trees, the yellow-green grass growing underneath them and the red clay,” Rekshan said. “It was amazing. In town, I was impressed by the friendliness and how everyone seems to know one another. It was a different pace of life, pretty much everything I hoped for and needed.”
Rekshan accepted the job and came to Louisville in the last week of May to be trained by Beard before the switch.
“Maiben taught me where the post office was, how to keep books and she introduced me to lots of people,” he said.
“I thought I grew up in a small town,” Rekshan said of his 20,000-person hometown on the shores of Lake Superior, “but it’s a different world here. I’m already running into people I know on the street.”
Although he studied a unique curriculum of philosophy, history, math and science at St. John’s, Rekshan’s art experience stretches from photography to charcoal sketches to painting.
“I’ve flirted with art since I was a kid,” he said. “I started painting two years ago and found it a nice counterpoint to studying philosophy. It allowed me to articulate myself in a non-semantic way. It’s very powerful and good for me.”
Rekshan’s work is currently focused on Jefferson County’s landscape. Since arriving in Louisville, he has painted flowers, an old mill, a pecan orchard and various downtown scenes. He could even be seen painting around town last week with visiting artist Brett Busang.
Although he can’t name a favorite color and has too many favorite authors to count, Rekshan’s favorite subjects to paint are people.
“Portraits are a very unique mode of interacting with people,” he said. “It’s intimate in how vulnerable each person is.”
When he’s not painting, Rekshan enjoys running, doing yoga and going to the Pal Theater.
“It’s been very quiet without Maiben here; the days last longer, but there is still so much to discover,” he said.
Rekshan has a year of finding out what Jefferson County has to offer before his time as gallery intern is up and he moves on to graduate school. Until then, he’ll be finding his way around and adjusting to the Southern way of life.
“I don’t like the heat and gnats too much, and I’m slowly getting used to the sweet tea,” he said.
He might still be drinking his beverage of choice from up North, but with Mason jar in hand, Rekshan seems to be well on his to way to conversion.
Are we being gouged?
By Faye Ellison
As Jefferson and Glascock counties’ citizens pull up to the pumps at local gasoline stations, most are beginning to feel the money draining from their pockets as does the fuel from their tanks.
In an uncertain time, as gas prices double, unemployment steadily rises and the value of a dollar plummets, many people are wondering if and when the economy will settle down, and return to the booming business of the late 1990s and early 2000s.
But history always repeats itself, with some officials comparing this energy crisis to what America was going through in the late 1970s. Though drivers are not lining the blocks to put fuel in their tanks, with the uneasiness the country is currently in, many wonder if it isn't that far off in the future.
A University of Georgia Distinguished Economics Professor recently shed some light on the current situation.
“Part of this is the huge demand from China and India and other emerging nations,” Professor Dr. David Kamerschen explained. “Also the element of speculation has made it rise more than what is the supply and demand fundamentals. People are really panicking and they will go higher and the oil companies say, ‘Let’s take advantage of them.’”
Dr. Kamerschen pointed out that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and the big refineries in the United States, which continually report record profits, are the ones getting more bang with the consumers’ bucks at the pump.
“At the retail level they are not making anything,” he said. “OPEC is the big driver for most of the world’s oil, while prices are high for crude oil, the United States is making their money too by refining it. Everyone wants to make their money, but the little guys are not making it.”
“At the retail level they are not making anything,” Kamerschen said. “OPEC is the big driver for most of the world’s oil, while prices are high for crude oil, the United States is making their money too by refining it. Everyone wants to make their money, but the little guys are not making it.”
OPEC is an organization that coordinates and unifies the petroleum policies of member countries and ensures the stabilization of oil markets in order to secure an efficient, economic and regular supply of petroleum to consumers, a steady income to producers and a fair return on capital to those investing in the petroleum industry.
Many have been wondering if OPEC and the refineries are the ones to blame, but consumers need for black gold has not waned, sending scholars to publish books and give speeches about the impact of going green.
“The government could make good incentives for companies to find alternative sources of energy,” Dr. Kamerschen suggested.
Some, he said, are suggesting opening environmentally protected regions for oil extraction.
“Then you have to wonder, what is more important, inflation or the environment,” he added.
Currently Saudi Arabia, an OPEC kingpin, has said that they would raise the production of oil, but many doubt the rise in the amount of petroleum available will dent the price that has risen from speculation and supply and demand.
Dr. Kamerschen said the price of $3 to $3.50 is the inflated price oil should be near, because the cost in the 1980s is similar to the inflated cost now.
“It just came so quickly in a short period, when it hadn’t risen for so many years,” he said.
The rise has still hurt businesses all around and it has been passed on to the consumers whether in fuel surcharges on services or higher prices in the grocery stores. It seems there will be no break until consumers may be broke.
“The rising cost of gas is causing inflation all around,” Dr. Kamerschen said. “The rise of minimum wage hasn’t helped any either, now payouts and gasoline are costing more for businesses. It may have been changed for social reasons, but for economic reasons, businesses wonder, ‘If you are not worth $7, why should I pay you that?”
Dr. Kamerschen suggested that wind and solar energy, the two that seem to be cost effective, should be studied more and made affordable to transition for the public.
“If we depend on ethanol, it raises corn prices,” he added.
For now it seems efforts to lower the cost of energy and gasoline will not happen until supply and demand adjusts.
Officials monitor energy expenses
By Faye Ellison
Average citizens are not the only ones facing higher fuel prices, so have the local governments and school boards. Each week prices climb, with many offices wondering what else can be cut out of their already slim budgets.
Many are looking at alternatives in saving energy and fuel to save the counties and cities some much needed cash.
While the city of Louisville has not cut back on any of their services, they have tried to cut back on the amount of fuel they are using, according to City Administrator Don Rhodes.
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“Of course, it is something we have to look at if this continues and it looks like it will,” he said. “But we haven’t made any decisions to cut down on any of our services.”
Jefferson County government offices face the same ordeal.
“The rising gas prices are really hurting us,” County Administrator Paul Bryan said. “We can take a hit that is short term or minor, but the cost of energy through electricity, water, gas and food is having a tremendous impact on us as a county as it is the individual family.”
Bryan said the county has tried alternatives including adjusting work schedules, limiting traveling in vehicles and limiting heating and cooling of county buildings.
“We are evaluating all possibilities, anything we can do to reduce the negative impact of energy consumption,” he added.
Bryan said for the last month, the county has changed the road department. Instead of five 12-hour days, they have gone to four 10-hour days.
“It is actually doing quite well,” he said, adding, “We can get a lot more done and cut down on travel.”
The county still has one crew available on Fridays. Some buildings will be shut down with no air conditioning for the road crew that day.
With the county currently working on a budget, Bryan said there is a definite increase in cash needed for energy and fuel as opposed to last year.
“We are looking at everything and are not going to include or exclude anything besides the road department right now.”
As the school year ended with gasoline nearly $4 a gallon, school officials are looking at the rising costs this summer to prepare for the high cost of energy, fuel and food when children enter their halls this fall.
“We’re looking at the entire budget to make cuts,” Jefferson County Superintendent Carl Bethune said. “We are limited in what we can do on our bus routes because of safety issues. Fuel has become a major issue and we are going to have to consider extreme measures to offset some of the costs.”
Bethune said he did not forsee a cut in the bus routes or the number of buses currently, but to aid in keeping costs down, he said the custodial and maintenance staff have been monitoring the use of power in the school buildings.
Glascock County Commissioner Anthony Griswell is urging citizens to cut down on fuel and energy usage to help save themselves money as well.
“We haven’t cut anything yet, but we are asking all departments to save as much as they can,” he said. “It’s hard to figure a budget when you don’t know what is going to happen. How can you figure a budget when you don’t know about costs for fuel and heating? This is putting a hurt on all citizens.”
Griswell said he encourages every citizen to contact their congressman and say something has to be done.
“There is a lot more we can do to change,” he said. “More people are riding now than they ever had before.”
Griswell said this is not something new to him or many of the citizens here locally and the rest of America.
“I have lived through this one time before in the late '70s and early '80s,” he said. “It was the same situation, gas prices doubled, but then it leveled off as soon as everyone started conserving and stayed level for a long time. It takes the American people to decide we are going to stop this. Everybody will have to work together to change this.
“The old saying is, ‘You’re going to have to slice the meat thinner and hit the mule in the side harder,’ which means we are going to have to get by on a whole lot less than what we are doing. I think we are in for some serious financial times.”
Griswell said during the '70s and '80s many Americans got rid of their luxury vehicles and began to buy smaller compact cars.
“What it amounts to is that the public is the only people that can change this,” he said. “Governments can’t do this alone. Citizens will have to stop this. Share rides, pick a day not to buy gas. When you make a trip to town do all your stops and combine as many trips as possible.
“But it teaches us a valuable lesson of how to stretch a dollar. More people are at home cooking with their family and maybe that is what we should be doing anyhow. The country has survived a whole lot worse than this. It is still the best place in the world.”