Closing schools will save millions
By Carol McLeod
In an effort to address falling enrollment in Jefferson County schools and a major reduction in revenue, the school system’s superintendent, Carl Bethune, asked for an independent evaluation by Dr. Bill Barr of two options under discussion.
Barr has been involved in education since 1963 and is, according to Bethune, “the most knowledgeable person in the state with regard to QBE.”
QBE is the primary method of state funding for the county’s school system.
Barr provided the school board with the results of his evaluation in a meeting Thursday, Aug. 13.
Barr called the current situation a significant reduction in revenue and said, “We are now in a period of financial crisis in Jefferson County, in our state, across our nation and around the world.”
He said many people cannot pay their property tax.
“We have a picture of significant issues,” he said.
Barr told the board they have been excellent stewards of the school system’s fund balance.
A major issue, he said, is a significant loss of state funds and that situation is not likely to change.
“Almost $6 million in state funding has been lost since FY 2003,” he said.
“The governor announced on July 21 a 3-percent cut on formula and equalization, 5 percent on categorical grants and a three-day loss in salaries,” he said.
“It would take 3 mills to offset the loss of ARRA funds, another mill to restore cuts in programs and services,” Barr said.
Besides this, in the past 10 years, there has been a 17-percent reduction in enrollment, he said.
“(And) A loss of about 40 teachers over this period of time,” Barr said.
The first of two options he evaluated would be to close Louisville Middle School and Wrens Middle School, reassign sixth graders to the three elementary schools and open an additional wing to house seventh and eighth graders at Jefferson County High School while maintaining a separate identity for those two grades.
The second option is to close one middle school and assign all sixth, seventh and eighth graders to the other middle school.
According to Barr’s evaluation, option one will have an overall reduction of 24.5 staff positions for a savings of $1,026,490.
Option two will have an overall reduction of 11 staff positions for a savings of $601,929.
Savings in operational costs will be $1,012,709 for option one and $588,147 for option two.
Savings in the school nutrition program will be $1,116,379 and will include a loss of 5.5 positions.
Option two will cost 2.5 jobs and will save $635,677.
The implementation timeline recommended is for the board to act on the proposal in December of this year and a SPLOST referendum in November 2010 if the board selects option one.
Implementation of either option would not begin until August 2012.
Qualifying in city elections opens Aug. 31
By Carol McLeod
Although no Jefferson County commissioners or any county school board officials face re-election this year, council members and mayors do.
The election will be held Tuesday, Nov. 3, from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.
In Louisville, elections will be held for three council positions and the mayor.
The terms of Mayor Rita Culvern, Councilman Robert Dixon, Councilman Larry Morgan and Councilman Phil Polhill will expire Dec. 31.
The election will be held at Louisville City Hall at 21 East 7th St.
Qualifying will be from Monday, Aug. 31, through Thursday, Sept. 3, from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. The qualifying fee for mayor is $50. The fee to qualify for a council seat is $25. Interested persons should qualify at the city clerk’s office in city hall.
In Wrens, three council positions will be open.
The positions of council members Willie Huntley, Erskine Lane and Tomasenia Jackson will be expire Dec. 31. The qualifying fee for each is $72.
Qualifying starts Monday, Aug. 31, through Friday, Sept. 4, from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. at Wrens City Hall at 401 East Broad St.
In Bartow, the mayor and all five positions on the city council are available.
The qualifying fee is $35 for each position.
Qualifying will be held Monday, Aug. 31; Tuesday, Sept. 1; Thursday, Sept. 3; and Friday, Sept. 4; from 8:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. and from 3:30 p.m. until 4:30 p.m.
In Avera, the positions available are for mayor and three council members.
The terms of Mayor Tommy Sheppard, Councilman Ronnie Hadden, Councilman Lanier Padgett and Councilwoman Mary Mahoney expire Dec. 31.
Qualifying will be Monday, Aug. 31, through Wednesday, Sept. 2, from 9 a.m. until noon and from 1 p.m. until 4:30 p.m. The qualifying fee is $6 for mayor and $3 for council members.
In Stapleton, positions for the mayor and two council members will be available.
Mayor Harold Smith, Councilman Jason Irby and Councilwoman Kay Leigh Sheppard will expire Dec. 31.
Qualifying will be Monday, Aug. 31; Tuesday, Sept. 1; and Thursday, Sept. 3; from 9 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. and from 1:30 p.m. until 4:30 p.m.
The qualifying fee for mayor is $35 and $27 for a council seat.
In Wadley, the positions available will be for mayor and three council members.
Mayor Herman Baker, Councilman Randall Jones, Councilman John Maye and Councilwoman Elizabeth Moore have terms that expire Dec. 31.
Qualifying will be at city hall Monday, Aug. 31, through Friday, Sept. 4, from 8:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. The qualifying fee is $144 for mayor and $72 for council member.
The last day a person may register and be eligible to vote in these elections is Monday, Oct. 5.
Man running from law wrecks, dies
A late night car chase beginning in Wrens ended in a fiery crash in Glascock County just outside of Gibson on Sunday, shortly after 1 a.m.
Wrens Police Chief David Hannah said that around 1 a.m. on Sunday morning an officer with the Wrens Police Department witnessed an S-10 Blazer weaving across the road on Ramsgate Drive. The officer proceeded to stop the vehicle in that general vicinity.
“The officer exited his vehicle and began walking up to the Blazer,” Hannah said. “But then the vehicle took off at a high rate of speed and a chase ensued. It (the chase) went through several subdivisions in town before the driver (of the Blazer) pulled out on Broad Street and ran up the wrong side or left hand side driving toward Stapleton.”
At this point two Wrens cars were involved. Hannah said that a Jefferson County Sheriff’s Deputy was waiting in Stapleton or Avera and joined the chase.
A car with the Glascock County’s Sheriff’s Office waited and joined in at the county line.
“My officers called me and backed off, but continued to follow from a safe distance,” Hannah said. “Somewhere along there they lost sight of the suspect.”
Glascock County Sheriff Dean Couch said that all officers lost sight of the suspect, passing his crashed Blazer after he crashed into a barn located right outside of Gibson on Highway 171.
“We had lost sight of him and didn’t know he hit the barn,” Couch said. “There was no fire or anything at the time. We thought we had lost him.”
After entering Gibson, law enforcement thought the driver had eluded them, only to be called by 9-1-1 to a fire at the barn, which began after the vehicle crashed.
“It got real hot,” Couch said. “That fire was kicking, but it got put out.”
Assisting in the fire were fire departments from Avera, Warren County, Stapleton and Glascock County.
“They had to bring him out under a sheet,” Couch said of the removal of the suspect’s body. “This is a tragedy,” Couch said. “It is something I wouldn’t wish on anyone.”
As of press time, the cause of death and the identity of the suspect was not known.
“We are still trying to determine who the person driving is,” Sheriff Couch said.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigations Crime Lab is assisting in the autopsy of the suspect and items have been sent to be tested for DNA to determine exactly who he was. The Georgia State Patrol accident reenactment team is working to determine how the crash happened.
The barn that was destroyed in the wreck belonged to Andy Chalker of Glascock County and before that his father, Crib Chalker. It was known as Crib’s Barn and after his death in 1986, it was then known as Andy’s Barn.
At the time of the accident, Chalker said he was asleep, but his daughter called him after she was contacted by neighbors who live beside the barn.
“She called me about 1:30 a.m.,” Chalker said. “I immediately went down there. I didn’t know if someone had set it on fire or what, so I went right on down.
“It was blazing and several fire departments were there when I got there, fighting the fire. The shop had shingles on it and asphalt that kept the blaze up until they finally got it subdued.”
Chalker said it was about 6:30 a.m. when the body of the suspect was removed.
“They couldn’t do anything until the people got there and got the body out,” he said. “They had to get the tow cars out of there too. His car was on top of mine. Usry Auto got his car out and then pulled mine out the other side to see if anyone else was in there.”
The barn was a landmark in Glascock County, even more so in the past few years, since Chalker and Rev. Bill Seaman painted the American flag atop its tin roof.
“It was built in 1952,” Chalker reminisced. “Mr. Roger Bales laid the bricks. This just leaves you sort of let down. I was about 10 when it was built. I was running around up there playing when they began.”
From a service station with pumps to a garage to a barbecue joint, the barn has meant a lot to Chalker and his family as well as many in the community.
“A lot of things have taken place in there,” Chalker sighed. “It has left me depressed. We had family dinners there and the Masonic Lodge would have suppers there. It meant a lot to the community and the family and Mr. Seaman and people who had a hand in it.”
Chalker said many from the community have stopped to look at the burned hull left from the crash, though his painting partner Rev. Seaman has yet to make it.
“He is real sad about it,” Chalker said. “But he is coming. We were going to put a Georgia flag on the other side, but we didn’t make that.”
Also destroyed in the crash and blaze was a brand new tractor, tools, antiques and a 1955 Buick Chalker was currently restoring.
“It had a brand new engine and transmission,” he said. “I had the chrome sent off. All of it is just destroyed. I can replace the tractor, but not the Buick. It is gone.”
Right now, Chalker said he is unsure of what the plot will hold if anything in the future.
“I haven’t gotten that far along,” he said. “At this point I don’t know what I will do. I am sure I will flatten it off and clean it up, but from there I don’t know at this point. I am undecided.”
But Chalker did say if a building was erected in the same spot, it was a possibility that the flag may return.
Ambulance service given 90 days notice
By Carol McLeod
During its monthly meeting, the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners voted Tuesday, Aug. 11, to provide Rural Metro with a 90-day notice to end its contract.
Rural Metro has been contracted with Jefferson County to provide emergency medical and ambulance service since 1995.
At issue is the company’s obligation by contract to provide the county with new ambulances.
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The contract, which was extended in March, stated Rural Metro would add three new ambulances to its line of vehicles operating in Jefferson County within 120 days of the contract being signed.
The new ambulances would replace the three oldest currently in use.
Each of the five ambulances in use in Jefferson County has been driven more than 250,000 miles. The ambulance with the fewest miles has 267,554. The ambulance with the most miles has 371,865.
Mickey Moses, the county attorney, sent a letter to Rural Metro. In that letter, the attorney advised Rural Metro the time specified in the contract for the ambulances to be added had passed.
Rural Metro’s written response stated the company had not been able to acquire new vehicles through General Motors and therefore the delay was beyond Rural Metro’s control.
“We have old ambulances now and we need new ambulances or better ambulances,” Jefferson County Administrator Paul Bryan told the commissioners.
“And we’ve overpaid,” Moses said, referring to an extra $1,000 paid to Rural Metro each month since the renewal. The extra amount was in consideration for the new ambulances.
Commissioner Tommy New asked if the county stopped paying the extra amount would that violate the contract.
Moses responded by saying Rural Metro had already violated the contract.
“They lied to us,” he said.
Commissioner Johnny Davis asked about a clause in the contract that specified the company was liable for only what was within its control.
Commission Chairman William Rabun said either side could give the other a 90-day notice to end the contract.
“With or without cause,” Moses said, adding the contract did not specify the vehicles had to be from General Motors.
“It could be a Mercedes,” he said. “It could be a Toyota if they wanted.”
“I don’t care if it’s a billy goat as long as it’s certified,” Commissioner Wayne Davis said.
“Mr. Wagster, are we having trouble getting our ambulances on the road?” Wayne Davis asked the EMS director.
“We are having trouble,” Wagster said.
“If we are going to be making a decision, now is the time,” Commissioner Gonice Davis said.
“Are we sure we have somebody to take their place?” Commissioner Tommy New asked.
Rabun and Bryan both said yes.
Gonice Davis asked if the company coming in would have good equipment.
“Or are we going to be in the same place?” he asked.
Moses reminded the commissioners a motion had been made to terminate the contract.
The motion passed.