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January 15, 2009 Issue

Two trapped when tree crushes trailer
Report clears four gas stations of price gouging
Deficits call for cutbacks and layoffs in Wrens

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Two trapped when tree crushes trailer

By Faye Ellison
Staff writer

“Don’t worry, baby, that big, bad tree won’t bother you anymore,” Ronnie Anderson said to Kaden Jenkins with tears in his eyes. Kissing the boy's Popsicle-stained cheek, he added, “We don’t live there anymore.”

Anderson and his girlfriend, Jane Bolton, suffered a loss Wednesday afternoon that so many Americans are facing right now. The loss was their home, not to foreclosure, but to the whipping winds of Mother Nature.

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Around 2 p.m. on Jan. 7, Anderson, Bolton and Jenkins were watching television in their single-wide trailer on Railroad Avenue in Gibson. Anderson said he was lying on the couch in the living room, while Bolton had her 3-year-old nephew, Jenkins, in her lap in a recliner.

“There was this loud boom and the ceiling and everything came in on top of us,” Anderson explained.

The tree that had lived for many years in their backyard toppled over onto their trailer trapping Bolton and Jenkins in the recliner with the large limbs and branches of the tree and tin from roof pinning them down.

Anderson said he was scared and immediately began trying to lift the limbs and roof off of his girlfriend and her nephew.

“When I saw the limb, I knew they were hurt, but I couldn’t get it off of them,” he said. “It was too big and too heavy. I was scared to death. I was really scared that the baby was hurt, but both of them told me they were okay.”

Anderson ran to the Glascock County Sheriff’s Office located around the corner from their home where he told Sheriff Dean Couch and Chief Deputy Lamar Baxley of the ordeal.

“We had just walked back into the office and he ran in yelling that a tree had fell on Janie,” Couch said. “I went to my house and got a chainsaw.”

Also responding were the Glascock First Responders and Fire and Rescue, along with Deputy Jeremy Kelly and Ranger Brian Adams.

“The limb had pushed the roof and the ceiling of the home down on top of the two,” Adams said. “Around the back of the home a neighbor was already cutting the limb that had the two trapped with his chainsaw. The neighbor, Chief Deputy Baxley and myself were able to get the cut section of the limb out of the house.

“The only thing keeping the tree from falling the rest of the way to the ground was the block underpinning of the home. Some of the blocks were already busted from the weight of the tree. We were concerned that if the underpinning gave way that the rest of the weight of the tree would be put on the woman and child.

“At this time I climbed into the house. Chief Deputy Baxley and I had to move numerous other limbs and furniture to get to the trapped pair. During this time we were continuously talking to the mother. She was advising us that they could breath, but that they could not move and that she knew her leg was broken.

“All we could see of the two were the mother’s feet hanging out from under the tin roof and broken rafters. Chief Deputy Baxley and I were able to lift the roof up enough to get our backs under it. We then lifted the roof and ceiling off of the two trapped in the recliner.

“While holding the roof up with our backs we quickly assessed the child’s condition and determined that he had no injuries. Chief Deputy Baxley took the child and climbed back out of the house. I stayed with the woman and held the roof off of her. Two firefighters and Deputy Jeremy Kelly then entered the home. The two firefighters held the roof up so that Deputy Kelly and I could carry the woman out of the house.”

Bolton was taken to the Medical College of Georgia by the McDuffie County EMS for multiple abrasions and a broken hip. She had surgery over the weekend.

Anderson said that the wind, which begun overnight, had knocked some limbs off of the tree onto the trailer earlier.

“We weren’t expecting this,” he said shaking his head. “But we can rebuild or something, just as long as everyone is okay.”

Unaware of his own injuries, Anderson said that the felled tree had knocked his glasses and hat off. Anderson did have several scratches on his hands and face.

“I am so thankful for the Sheriff’s Office and First Responders for they way they handled this,” Anderson said appreciatively. “I thank God for them.”

Sheriff Couch said that the First Responders and Fire and Rescue responded in a matter of minutes.

“We have some of the best First Responders in the world,” Couch said, adding that the trailer was a complete loss for the family.

“You see that commercial, where it says, ‘you’re in good hands with Allstate,’” Couch asked. “Well they were in hands that were a lot bigger; they were in God’s hands.”

As Anderson held tightly to Jenkins, while family and friends helped them move their belongings from their demolished home, he continually thanked everyone who helped and gave his praises to God.

“We will be fine,” he said in amazement. “The baby is fine. Before the tree fell he was eating a Popsicle and you know when he came out he still had it in his hand.”



Report clears four gas stations of price gouging

By Carol McLeod
Staff writer

Five Jefferson County stores that sell gasoline were under investigation by the Governor’s Office of Consumer Affairs for price gouging during the state of emergency Gov. Sonny Perdue declared on Sept. 12, 2008. Perdue extended this status for another 30 days beginning Oct. 10.

The complaints began after the state of emergency was declared and the agency received between 1,500 and 1,600 complaints statewide, Bill Cloud said in October. Cloud, a spokesman with the agency, said stations under investigation have to answer subpoenas within 30 days of receiving them.

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A state of emergency allows stations to continue to earn a profit, but only at the retailers’ current profit margin, Cloud said. Retailers are not supposed to raise the price of gasoline already in the ground at their store once the state of emergency begins, he said.

Cloud said the office accepts complaints and then subpoenas the records of those stations where a violation seems likely.

Stations that meet the criteria for price gouging are asked to go to the agency’s office. If the station is found to have been price gouging, Cloud said they try to negotiate with the owners to repay any overpayment to consumers and may assess a fine against the owner.

Cloud said fines depend on the situation. Factors taken into consideration include the length of time the gouging occurred and if the owner has more than one station with similar complaints.

“You just have to look at each one individually. There is no fixed formula,” he said. “Stations keep pretty strong records of their transactions.”

The names of the stations were withheld during the investigations and will be released if action is taken.

Four of the five Jefferson County stations were found to have no violations, said Shawn Conroy on Thursday, Jan. 8. Conroy, also a spokesman with the GOCA, said the fifth station is still under investigation.

None of the stations have been named. The fifth station will be named only if it has been found to have engaged in price gouging, Conroy said.

The office opened 196 investigations because of these complaints. As of Dec. 31, 21 had been resolved, he said. Of those, only nine were found to have engaged in price gouging.

Current figures state more than 2,000 complaints or inquiries about price gouging or gas shortages were filed with the agency, according to information posted on its website.

The nine stations found to have gouged consumers includes one in Atlanta, Executive Park Chevron at 2911 Buford Highway. That station was required to make restitution plus pay a fine of $5,000. So far, that is the highest fine assessed.

Three stations were required to pay only restitution. The others must pay restitution and fines ranging from $500 to $3,000, according to the website.

Cloud and Conroy both said no complaints had been filed against any business in Glascock County.

The remaining investigation may not be complete for at least another month or so, Conroy said.



Deficits call for cutbacks and layoffs in Wrens

By Leila Borders
Staff Writer

While families across Jefferson and Glascock counties pinch pennies, the city of Wrens is struggling to find pennies to pinch.

Facing possible deficits reaching into the hundreds of thousands, city officials are considering a budget that includes layoffs and cutbacks for city departments and tax and utility rate increases for citizens. Shrinking revenues and increased city expenditures are making it impossible to make up past years’ deficits and are forcing city officials to get creative in money management.

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“It’s a tough situation,” said Arty Thrift, city administrator. Over the course of several months of work sessions and council meetings, Thrift, Mayor Lester Hadden and the city council have pared down the almost $2 million operating budget, but still face possible major deficits.

Plant closings in the area along with the conservation effort during recent droughts have taken a toll on the city’s utility revenue. That decrease in revenue coupled with previous years’ deficits has provided the city with fewer resources than are needed.

While revenues steadily decreased, expenditures recently increased for the city. The new gym and recreation department require more than $200,000 to operate yearly. However, the department is projected to generate less than $50,000 of revenue in the upcoming year. The city is considering a partnership with the Family Y that could provide a significant change in the monies earned by and needed to operate the gym and its programs. If the gym remains entirely in the city’s hands, citizens could be expected to make up the difference via an increased millage rate—from the current 11.5 mills to 14.5 at the end of the year.

“The city is working diligently with the Family Y looking for a way to manage the recreation department to its fullest potential,” said Thrift. “We have a tremendous opportunity out there.”

The city itself is facing cutbacks and layoffs across its departments. Several departments could be operating on 32-hour weeks this year. Five positions that have been previously vacated will not be filled, and four layoffs are expected. This nine-position loss means the city will be operating in 2009 with a 20 percent loss of workforce.

“It’s going to be a tough challenge for the city. Nobody likes to lay folks off,” said Thrift.

Even with a partnership for the recreation department, an increased millage rate, and cutback and layoffs across departments, the city still faces possible deficits of more than $200,000 dollars. Citizens can expect up to a 20 percent increase in water and sewer rates in the upcoming months to compensate for that deficit.

However, a 25 to 30 percent decrease in gas rates will be seen on citizens’ next utility bills. This decrease does not affect the overall budget as the difference in revenue is offset by an outside gas buyer.

“The city elected me to manage their money. These decisions are for the city. We’re going to do everything we can to run a tight ship, and we are fortunate to have Arty,” said Mayor Hadden. Thrift, who was appointed just last year, has spearheaded budget talks throughout the process.

At a called council meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 21, at 4:30 p.m., the council is expected to have the first reading of the budget ordinance. At that time, the proposed budget will be available to all citizens at Wrens City Hall. That budget will be updated should the council make further amendments. The council expects to vote on the proposed budget on Feb. 20. All council meetings and work sessions are open to the public.

Changes are expected to the current proposed budget and amendments will most likely be seen after the final passage. Facing monetary shortcomings and difficult decisions, this year will certainly allow the citizens of Wrens an opportunity to see just how much thrift their city has.




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