Hopping down the bunny trail...
The Easter Bunny visits Helen Clark Memorial Park Saturday, April 3 during Louisville’s annual Easter Egg Hunt. Prizes were given for special eggs found. More than 60 children took part in the holiday event.
County prepares for SPLOST
By Carol McLeod
The current Special Projects Local Option Sales Tax for Jefferson County ends Dec. 31, unless the amount requested, $10.5 million, is reached first. Given the current economic situation and the amount of sales tax received in recent months that seems unlikely.
“Based on the current level of collections, it will not be (reached),” Jefferson County Administrator Paul Bryan said in an interview this week.
The county, cities and development authority have been working to put together information for a referendum to be held during the primary, which will be Tuesday, July 20. The referendum must be approved by the Justice Department, Bryan said last week.
“The ballot has been signed off by all the mayors and the development authority,” he said, adding it should take a couple of weeks to get approval from the Justice Department.
“Then, we’ll contact the election superintendent who will put it on the ballot,” he said.
The ballot as it has been submitted calls for a 1-percent sales and use tax in the county. The tax will be in place for not more than five years with the intent of raising no more than $9,720,000.
The SPLOST will expire when the amount is reached or the time has expired, whichever occurs first. However, if the amount has been reached during the last quarter of the SPLOST, the SPLOST continues until the time limit is reached.
The requests for funding in the proposed SPLOST will be $103,855 for Avera for the acquisition of land and buildings for governmental purposes; $150,279 for Bartow for improvements to the city’s water/sewer system and $1,297,952 for Louisville.
Louisville’s funds will be divided into five categories; $192,000 for the purchase of public safety vehicles, $424,000 for the purchase of equipment for solid waste management, $125,000 for the purchase of capital equipment for the water/sewer system, $219,360 for the purchase of vehicles and equipment for the street department and $337,592 for cultural and recreational facilities improvements.
Stapleton is requesting $152,193 for the acquisition of vehicles and equipment for the public safety, water/sewer and public works departments.
Wadley is asking for $997,872 with $300,872 for the expansion and improvement of the city’s water and sewer system and $697,000 for the acquisition and improvement of governmental buildings.
Wrens is asking for $1,117,521, which will be broken into six categories, with $250,000 for capital improvement to facilities of city parks, $450,000 for upgrading improvement and resurfacing of the city’s streets and roads and capital equipment for the street department, $120,000 for the purpose of purchasing public safety vehicles and equipment, $165,000 for purchase of equipment for solid waste management, $120,521 for purchase of equipment and improvements to the city’s water/sewer system and $12,000 for improvements of the library.
The county is asking for almost $6 million split among six categories with $1,369,013 for the purchase of equipment and vehicles for the road department, $460,143 for the purchase of public safety vehicles and upgrades to emergency management equipment and facilities, $1,930,565 for the purpose of resurfacing roads within the county, $132,607 for the purchase of vehicles for governmental, administrative, recreational and transit departments, $550,000 for the renovation and rehabilitation of government buildings and $1,458,000 for economic development of Jefferson County including purchase of land in the southern end of the county and for infrastructure and development of development authority properties, which brings the total for the county to $5,900,328.
county, $132,607 for the purchase of vehicles for governmental, administrative, recreational and transit departments, $550,000 for the renovation and rehabilitation of government buildings and $1,458,000 for economic development of Jefferson County including purchase of land in the southern end of the county and for infrastructure and development of development authority properties, which brings the total for the county to $5,900,328.
Bryan stressed the proposed SPLOST cannot be put on the ballot for voters to consider unless it receives approval from the Justice Department.
Bryan addressed the issue of what has been accomplished with funds from the current SPLOST.
“We have purchased two fire trucks or tankers for each fire station in the county; we have created two recreation parks, one in Wrens and one in Louisville; all other cities were able to enhance their existing facilities; an industrial park was purchased and is being developed in the northern end of the county. Without the funds from the current SPLOST these things could not have happened,” he said.
Tommy New leaves Forestry Comm. board of directors
Tommy New has been recognized recently by the Georgia Forestry Commission for his 10 years of service as a member of the commission’s board of directors.
The forestry commission presented him with an Outstanding Service Award for his tenure.
“Tommy New has provided invaluable leadership to the citizens of Georgia during his 10 years of dedicated service to our board,” said Robert Farris, the GFC’s director.
Farris presented New with a plaque of recognition.
New is a consulting forester and a member of the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners.
He said he felt honored to have represented Georgia landowners as a member of the GFC’s board of directors.
"My time on the GFC board has been the highlight of my professional career,” he said.
Although New has ended his time as a board member, Farris said the board looks forward to New’s continued participation in the commission’s activities promoting wise forest stewardship of Georgia’s 24 million acres of forestland.
In a press release, the GFC stated its function is to provide leadership, service and education in the protection and conservation of Georgia’s forest resources.
“Healthy, sustainable forests provide clean air, clean water and abundant products for present and future generations,” the statement read.
“People don’t realize how much the (GFC) means to the people of Georgia,” New said in an interview.
State closes crime labs because of budget woes
Three of the seven Georgia Bureau of Investigation crime labs will close this year; but the lab in Augusta, which is the one used most by local law enforcement agencies, will stay open, said John Bankhead, a public affairs officer with the GBI.
Two of the labs, one in Moultrie, the other in Summerville, closed Thursday, April 1. The third, in Columbus, will stay open through June 30, he said.
“The local governments down there came up with the money to keep it open,” Bankhead said.
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“It is actually a budget proposal. The legislature last year provided for the three labs to stay open for nine months, which is today,” he said Wednesday, March 31.
Bankhead said the legislature would have to fund the Columbus office beyond the June date in order to keep it open after that.
“Most of the state relies on the GBI to provide forensics service. These three labs only provided a couple of services so the rest of the evidence goes to Atlanta anyway,” he said.
All of the staff members from the closing labs were offered transfers to other labs.
“Half of them have accepted the transfer,” he said.
“There may be some (backlog) but we don’t feel that it’s going to be significant,” he said.
Lt. Robert Chalker, an investigator with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, said in an interview that the closings will probably have little if any effect on the JCSO.
“I really don’t think it will impact us,” he said. “We carry our stuff to Augusta. If they don’t have anyone there with a particular expertise, they just ship it (to another state lab).”
The investigator said the time it takes for the lab to process evidence depends on the type of evidence. As an example, he said it takes about six months for the lab to complete processing fingerprints.
“The last ones I sent in, it took six months to get a report. When they process an item for fingerprints, first they have to do the item to see if it’s AFIS quality,” he said. AFIS is the Automated Fingerprint Identification System used by law enforcement agencies as a means to identify individuals by the fingerprints.
Chalker said if the fingerprint sent to the crime lab to be identified is not already in the database, fingerprints of suspects have to be submitted to the lab for comparison and for elimination purposes.
“I sent some DNA in September, the end of September last year, and (the report) was completed March of this year,” he said, adding that was for a rape case.
Chalker said evidence from more serious crimes is always given precedence by the lab. Only 5 percent or less of his cases have evidence he sends to the crime lab, he said.
“It’s sad that the state is placing budget cuts on services that are so badly needed for the citizens,” Lt. David McVey, an investigator with the Wadley Police Department, said this week. “It’s going to affect the whole state.”
McVey said he couldn’t say for sure how many of his cases have evidence he sends to the GBI crime lab in Augusta for processing.
“I don’t think it’s half; but, it’s more than 10 percent,” he said.
“Every case you have that involves cocaine or what you might suspect is cocaine, has to be sent to the crime lab for identification purposes. If we’ve got a burglary, if we recover fingerprints, the fingerprints have got to be sent to the crime lab. On a rape or a sexual assault you would have DNA evidence that needs to be examined. The crime lab is essentially used for identification of DNA.
“Anything that you can think of can be tested. Any drug that we have or that we come in contact with, we would send to the crime lab with the exception of marijuana due to there being other testing procedures,” McVey said.
The investigator said high priority cases usually take precedence over lower priority cases.
“That’s just the way it is and we understand that. We expect that. Generally, as a rule of thumb, it may be at least six months before your evidence is processed. But as I said, in the case of a violent crime, they’re probably going to jump on that pretty quick,” McVey said.
“Right now, we’ll have to wait and see how these closures will affect us and affect our cases. Essentially, we know that this may negatively impact us but we’re just hoping for the best,” he said.
“It’s going to cause a backlog on cases for everybody in this state,” said Louisville Police Chief Jimmy Miller. How that will affect LPD specifically, he is not sure, he said.
Miller said the closures will mean processing evidence will take longer and this means the disposition of cases will take more time, as well.
“We haven’t gotten any guidelines from the GBI regarding how they will process cases in the future or what cases may be effected or how the closing of the labs will impact us,” he said.
David Leonard, an investigator with the Wrens Police Department and a retired special agent with the GBI, said cases have always been prioritized.
“I have very little evidence that makes it to the lab,” he said. “Most of what I have is either drug identification evidence or latent fingerprint identification evidence. Last year, when we had some of our alcohol raids, we sent some of the alcohol to be tested.”
“I’m kind of in a wait and see mode. But it can go one of two ways. I’m not sure if they’re going to get a firearms expert up there. If they get more scientists with different disciplines then we’ll be able to get a broader spectrum of evidence processed locally. That would be beneficial to us. In some cases, we would be able to be there when they’re doing some identifications to answer questions.
“We’ll have more people to do our work. The other side of the coin is more evidence from outside this area will be coming to the lab. The bottom line is I don’t know how this will affect us as far as timeliness is concerned but it could help us as far as building a rapport with examiners,” he said.
Bankhead said the labs will continue to process any evidence needed by local law enforcement agencies or district attorneys.
“Obviously if you have a high profile crime, it’s going to receive prompt attention,” he said.
“Buildings don’t work cases,” he said. “And where they’re located don’t work cases. We don’t have enough staff to work seven branch labs. We should have full staff and we don’t.”
The Augusta lab will be getting one of the transfers, a toxicologist from Moultrie, Bankhead said, adding the scientist should be working there within 30 days.