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May 14, 2009 Issue

Plans for utility authority on hold
Boo-Boos for bears
Storm team reports on recent tornadoes

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Plans for utility authority on hold

By Carol McLeod
Staff Writer

Jefferson County Board of Commissioners had hoped to have a bill passed in the General Assembly allowing the county to establish a utility authority.

Rep. Mack Jackson (D-142) had introduced the bill in the House; however, Sen. J.B. Powell (D-23) would not introduce the bill in the Senate.

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Commissioners had said earlier this year creating the authority was not a certainty. Passing a bill allowing the creation of the authority would not require the commission to do so but they cannot create the authority without the bill.

The commissioners had discussed this bill late last year during its December work session.

Jefferson County Administrator Paul Bryan said at the time there had been discussion about development within the industrial park on Kings Mill Road.

“The best way to do that is to provide utilities for the park and the surrounding areas. The commission is trying to decide if a utility authority is the best way to handle this,” he said.

A consultant provided a 27-page document outlining what services such an authority might manage, such as sources of the county’s water supply, natural gas and electricity.

The authority, if established, could also oversee other utilities such as broadband or wireless service.

The authority would be authorized to acquire, construct, equip, operate, maintain, own and improve self-liquidating projects.

The board of commissioners would have to provide seed money, the consultant said during the work session, adding the county could qualify for zero- or low-interest loans and grants.

At that time, Jefferson County Board of Commissioners Chairman William Rabun said the utility authority would operate in the same way as the hospital authority.

The commissioners decided during their regular meeting to ask Jackson and Powell to introduce the bill allowing the creation of the authority.

Commissioner Tommy New said this was the first time since he’s been a county commissioner that local legislation was turned down.

New said Powell sent him a copy of a letter Gov. Sonny Perdue had written in 2007. The letter states the governor was not going to sign this type of legislation anymore, New said.

It will be another year before the commissioners can ask Jackson and Powell to reintroduce the bill.

In a recent telephone interview, Powell said there were several reasons he did not introduce the bill in the Senate.

“I called around throughout the community,” he said.

“I had a lot of people who said they didn’t know anything about it. I had some concerns with that,” he said.

Powell said the legislative council of the Senate said there were some issues regarding constitutionality.

“I have to go on what those lawyers up there tell me,” Powell said.

He also mentioned the letter from Perdue.

“The other thing I had was a letter from the governor to the speaker and the lieutenant governor that he’s not going to sign any more bills that are going to bypass the citizens for revenue bond funding,” Powell said.

“He said he was going to veto them and that’s where we were on that. I asked the county commission to give me some more public hearings and they didn’t act,” Powell said.

The senator said the commissioners could do anything the utility authority would be able to do.

“The only difference is the public involvement part,” he said. “The county commission can already do anything that the utility authority can do. If they want to develop an industrial site, they can do that.

“There’s also in this bill condemnation powers, which basically says if they want to come condemn your land they can do that. And they can do it under the authority powers rather than the county commission doing the condemnation. This bill is real broad. It’s real broad and it has the potential that it could be a major problem if it’s not done correctly and before I do it it’s going to be correct,” Powell said.

“It’s just something that we need to exercise a lot of caution on,” he said.

In another telephone interview later in the week, Powell said he had reviewed the bill again.

“I looked at that bill a little bit more,” he said.

“This bill authorizes an authority or franchise to provide the following services: distribution, sale and making contracts to users and customers on the following services: storm water, water and sewerage. Then this bill provides for distribution, sale and granting of franchises and making contracts to users and customers for the following services, cable vision, natural gas, internet, telecommunications, which is telephone, and wireless mobile phone.

“The state law used to be in favor of an authority over a county operation due to reserve required for bonded indebtedness. That was changed in the mid 1990s.”

Powell said the authority would be governed by a five-person board appointed by the commission.

“And what this does is add another layer of government that may not be as responsive to the citizens of Jefferson County,” he said.

“This bill authorizes this authority to provide services in counties and cities inside or outside the territorial boundaries of Jefferson County where it’s not in conflict with the public service commission. That’s a big issue, too. Also this bill essentially establishes a storm water utility potentially requiring citizens to pay a storm water fee like a water bill,” he said.

“The authority can finance projects with revenue bonds that do not require voter approval like general obligation bonds that they would have to use now. The debt would ultimately fall on the citizens and they wouldn’t have a say so in it. This bill would also set up an authority in competition with current service providers or would allow the authority to collect franchise fees and this is potentially increasing the cost of services to Jefferson County citizens. That’s why I asked to have some more public input on this,” Powell said. “So you see why I had some concerns. That’s why I had concerns and felt like we needed more public comment instead of just pushing this through.”

Rabun said the commission will probably try to have the bill introduced next year.

“But we’ll have a little more time to study all the concepts included in it and how it will effect the county and the county commission,” Rabun said.



Boo-Boos for bears

By Kate Agel
Staff Writer

On March 4 around 40 children involved with the Headstart programs in Jefferson County lined up at the Louisville branch of Sandersville Technical College to participate in a day of fun at the Teddy Bear Clinic. The Teddy Bear Clinic takes place each spring, and there are many from around Jefferson County who are involved with making the event enjoyable and, at the same time, edifying.

“The Teddy Bear Clinic’s purpose is to desensitize children from being so fearful of going to the doctor’s office. It just gets them used to the instruments,” said the event organizer, Peggy Hattaway. The program involves each child bringing his or her teddy bear and letting nurses perform routine medical procedures on the teddy bear, such as taking a pulse, taking blood pressure and taking the stuffed animal’s temperature, in hopes of easing the child into not being scared of having the same procedures done to them.

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“Also, on the teddy-bear, we bandage any boo-boos they have,” said Hattaway. “Jefferson Hospital donated the bandages and dressings we used, and the doctor’s offices around the county gave us little toys and trinkets and informational pamphlets to put in the goody bags the children took home with them. The entire county participated.”

Hattaway said there was also a Rural-Metro Ambulance on site so the children could experience the inside of an ambulance.

Fire safety was another topic of discussion for the day. The Forestry Department’s Reggie Morgan came with Smokey the Bear to talk to the Headstart children about how to prevent forest fires and what to do in case of one. Also, Chester Johnson and Roy Norton from the Louisville Fire Department and George Amos of the Wrens Fire Department brought fire trucks for the children to tour.

“All of the nursing students from Sandersville Tech on the Louisville campus participated, and the Headstart children came with their teachers. We had lunch and everything. It was a big day, and we had a lot of fun. It was a very informative program for the children,” said Hattaway.



Storm team reports on recent tornadoes

By Faye Ellison
Staff Writer

The National Weather Service in Peachtree City recently released a final report for the tornadoes that occurred on April 10-11 in Glascock and Jefferson counties. The weather activity was confirmed to be tornadoes by the National Weather Service a week after the incident, but details of the storms’ strength was not available.

Steve Nelson, a science and operations officer with The National Weather Service, said a team from the National Weather Service would conduct a brief survey of the area on Wednesday, April 22 to update the its initial report from the area.

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“We come anytime, especially if the media is interested or the emergency manager contacts us,” Nelson said. “We usually wait until daylight so we can make an assessment.”

Looking at the trees that have been uprooted or blown over, structural damage and other factors play a role in deciding if a tornado did in fact touch down. Nelson said they use photos of examples of the damage to determine the speed, path and time frame.

“We then can assign a rating,” he explained. “We can tell the difference between a tornado and anything else. Damage is damage; it doesn’t matter what causes it.”

The first tornado activity reported in the two-county area was at 10:56 p.m. on April 10 with a EF0 tornado lasting 1,000 yards and was 150 yards in width with maximum winds of 100 mph touching down a quarter mile southeast of Gibson. It was the ninth tornado that has been confirmed for the National Weather Service Peachtree coverage area from April 10-11.

“Numerous pine trees were uprooted or snapped along the approximate half mile long eastward path of the tornado,” the report states. “No significant structural damage was noted in this area.”

The second tornado for Glascock and Jefferson counties and the 13th for the Peachtree Weather Service coverage area, was an EF1 lasting five miles and a width of 200 yards with 110 mph winds was reported at 12:02 a.m. on April 11.

“The tornado touched down about four and a half miles east of Gibson in far eastern Glascock County,” the report states. “Then it continued on an almost due eastward track for five miles across far northern Jefferson County. The tornado ended about three miles east-northeast of Stapleton.

“The most significant damage was to a church near U.S. Highway 80 and Georgia Highway 296 at the Harts Grove Baptist Church. Part of the roof and brick siding, as well as the chimney were removed from the structure. Several granite headstones were tipped over in the adjacent cemetery. There were numerous trees down, especially along a three-quarter mile long track east of the church.”

Also with the help of reports made by the two counties’ emergency directors, the National Weather Service were able to confirm the twisters, but not their magnitude in mid-April. Nelson also said that at the time the radar did show rotations in the area.

Counting on officials and emergency management agencies and even citizens to report sightings of tornadoes and other aggressive weather is key to solving some of nature’s mysteries.

“People can call the sheriff’s offices or a 911 center,” Nelson said. “If there is damage to property, we usually hear about it, but sometimes it doesn’t get through.”

The National Weather Service asks citizens to call 1-866-763-4466 to report severe weather.

“This line is only for severe weather reports,” Nelson said. “This line is recorded, like a monitored voice mail type system. We listen to the reports when they come in. If urgent, then we will pick up the phone and talk to the person. It could be anything, damage, hail or even strong winds enough to blow tree limbs down. If people are out in the country, we want every report.”

The reports made by citizens and officials help to issue warnings and the use of the radars as well.

The normal tornado season continues through the winter and spring months and begins to taper off around the end of May, Nelson said.




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