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October 15, 2009 Issue

County receives 900 tax appeals, 165 heard
EMS council opens zone status for Jefferson
Group speaks to women about breast cancer

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County receives 900 tax appeals, 165 heard

By Carol McLeod
Staff Writer

More than 900 property owners have filed appeals with the Jefferson County Board of Equalization over property taxes, Thomas Watkins said Tuesday.

“That’s probably not that many individuals because some people may own five or six parcels,” he said.

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Watkins, the chairman of the county’s Board of Equalization, said this is the most appeals he’s seen in a given year. He has been a member of the board for 13 years, he said.

“In the past we usually have less than 50, probably less than 25 most of the time,” Watkins said. “It’s an awfully big load.”

As of Tuesday, Watkins said the board has heard approximately 165.

“We’ve had about 18 withdrawals. We’ve had 16 no shows. We’ve always had a few,” he said.

Watkins said each appeal has taken longer than usual so the board will be hearing appeals three days a week beginning in two weeks.

The taxpayer has to be given a 21-day notice for the hearing date, he said.

The board is also trying to allow more time for each appeal.

“There’s a procedure to go through,” he said, referring to filing appeals.

“You have a meeting with the Board of Assessors. Ideally, that should be the first step. If you’re not able to reconcile with the Board of Assessors then you resort to the Board of Equalization,” he said.

Watkins said the step after that is to file an appeal with Superior Court.

“When you go to Superior Court, you have to have an attorney. That’s my understanding,” he said, adding attorneys, although not prohibited, are not required for the appeals with either the Board of Assessors or the Board of Equalization.

Watkins said property owners do not need to bring their property deed to the appeal.

“It would be nice if you had plans,” he said. “There may be some errors made.”

Watkins said improvements affect the appraised value.

Value is the most common reason people file an appeal, he said.

“That’s really not valid in most cases,” he said.

“The worst problem that I’ve seen is people come in and they’re already upset. The first thing they say is, ‘My taxes are too high.’ We can all agree with that.

“You can’t just say my taxes are too high. Give us a reason and give us a value also. Give us some reason that you think it’s too high. We’re supposed to listen to the information the taxpayer presents. And we listen to the information the tax assessor presents. There are mistakes that are made that can be easily corrected. Is the assessor’s information correct? The assessor has to present a preponderance of evidence for us to rule in his favor.”

Watkins said when a property owner compares his property to someone else’s the property has to be similar.

Even the neighborhood where the property is affects its value, he said.

Watkins said notices are sent to property owners who file appeals. The notice gives the owner a date and time for the appeal hearing.

The notices also include a list of 12 things to bring that would help the process.

“Ask the people to read their letter and follow the suggestions and that will help us speed everything up,” Watkins said.

“We are all certified,” he said of the board members.

“We have to take a 40-hour course and we have to take an 8-hour course every year to be updated.



EMS council opens zone status for Jefferson

By Carol McLeod
Staff Writer

In a move to help Jefferson County terminate its contract with Rural Metro, the county commissioners voted in a monthly meeting to allow County Administrator Paul Bryan to request a change in the county’s zone provider.

Currently, Rural Metro is the county’s zone provider, a designation that allows only EMS agencies named by the provider to operate inside the county.

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The commissioners had voted to give Rural Metro a 90-day notice to end the contract stating Rural Metro had not fulfilled its obligation to the county to provide new ambulances.

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.

Mickey Moses, the county attorney, sent a letter to Rural Metro advising them that 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.

During the meeting, commissioners determined the contract did not specify the model or make of the ambulances and that the contract offers either side to terminate the contract, with or without cause, by issuing a 90-day notice to the other party.

The county’s request, if approved, will allow the county to name the ambulance service or services that will be able to operate in the county.

As long as Rural Metro is the zone provider, it can allow or refuse to allow another service to operate in the county.

The request to change the zone provider must be approved initially by the Region 6 EMS Council. The council met Oct. 7 and voted to open zoning in the county, said Rich Bias, the council’s chairman.

Bias said the current zone provider, Rural Metro, is in place until the process is finished.

“There is no change in Rural Metro’s status as zone provider,” Bias said Tuesday.

“They’ve assured the council that they intend to serve as zone provider until the process is complete,” he said.

Bias said the next step in that process has already been started.

“We have to send a letter out to open zoning,” he said, adding there is then a period of 45 calendar days before ambulance services can apply to be the zone provider. This period ends Monday, Nov. 23.

“There are 10 business days when applications can be submitted,” he said. That period ends Wednesday, Dec. 9. The council must then take action within 10 business days, Bias said.

There is a council meeting scheduled for Thursday, Dec. 17.

Bias said the county, if it wants to be considered as zone provider, must also submit an application during the specified time frame.

“The county is absolutely an eligible candidate,” Bias said. “There are criteria that would rule out a provider.”

The council will evaluate each applicant’s qualifications, he said.

“At the regional level we are empowered and expected to act on behalf of the state to ensure that emergency medical services are provided efficiently, effectively and safely, in this case, to the citizens of Jefferson County,” Bias said.

“We are continuing to fulfill our contract to pay Rural Metro,” Bryan said. “Our contract is over on Nov. 11, which is the end of the 90-day period.”

Kristofer Schleicher, an attorney for Rural Metro, said Tuesday the company has no plans to submit an application to continue as the county’s zone provider.

“That’s not the company’s intent,” he said.

“The company has enjoyed serving the citizens all this time and will continue to serve the community until the statutory process has run its course,” Schleicher said.

Rural Metro has been contracted with Jefferson County to provide emergency medical and ambulance service since 1995.



Group speaks to women about breast cancer

By Carol McLeod
Staff Writer

A group of breast cancer survivors go to different churches in the area to speak about breast cancer and breast health.

In conjunction with a member of the American Cancer Society and the Jefferson County Health Department, the women talk with any group who invites them.

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Vernell Thompson, the family planning coordinator for the county’s health department and a lab technician, said the group, a sort of witness program, began in August of 2002.

The program was started in Arkansas. Some members of the group there came to Jefferson County to provide training here, Thompson said.

“We have ladies that are breast cancer survivors who give their testimonies of how they found their lump and how they felt,” she said.

“It’s very touching, really. They encourage the women to check themselves and if they feel something to have it checked out,” she said.

Recently, Thompson and Lisa Bryant of the ACS in Augusta spoke with a group of women at Harts Grove Baptist Church near Stapleton.

“We do encourage you to get your mammogram every year,” Thompson told the women, members of Walker Baptist Association Women’s Convention who were having their annual meeting.

Bryant pointed out that although breast cancer in men is rare it does occur.

“In 2008, about 450 men died from breast cancer,” she said. “Other than skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common (form of cancer) in women in the United States.”

Bryant said it is not known what causes most breast cancers but there are factors that increase a person’s risk for it.

“It’s not a simple issue. It’s a very complex issue,” she said.

Anyone with a mother or sister who had breast cancer has twice the risk as others. Having two such family members with the disease increases a person’s risk by five times, she said.

“Race is, unfortunately, another risk factor,” Bryant said.

Bryant said white women have a higher risk than other races but African American women have a higher risk of dying from it.

“African American women’s cancers seem to be found at a later stage and they don’t know why that is,” she said.

Factors that can be controlled include exercise, being overweight and drinking alcohol.

Bryant said preventive surgery, where a woman has a mastectomy without having cancer, reduces her risk by 90 percent. Having the ovaries removed can reduce breast cancer risk by 50 percent, she said.

Thompson pointed out that not all lumps are round.

Anyone interested in having the group talk should call the Jefferson County Health Department at 478-625-3716.

“If you are over the age of 40 and you haven’t gotten your mammogram, shame on you because it can save your life,” Bryant said.




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