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June 30, 2011 Issue

Wadley owes almost $194,000
Drought stricken
Wadley man charged in double homicide

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Wadley owes almost $194,000

Correction: Last week, in this position on Page 1A The News and Farmer/The Jefferson Reporter erroneously reported that the City of Wadley owes four industries nearly $1 million in three-years’ worth of back Freeport Tax exemptions. The figures the paper reported were incorrect. The city actually owes these businesses around $200,000. The News and Farmer/The Jefferson Reporter apologizes to all parties involved for any confusion, embarrassment or inconvenience this may have caused.

By Carol McLeod
Staff Writer

An Augusta attorney said Monday he represents four Wadley businesses that state they are owed money from Wadley because of a Freeport tax exemption passed by referendum 10 years ago.

Bill Keogh said in a telephone interview that no action against the city has been filed at this time.

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“We’re at the initial point where we’ve asked the city to meet with us and discuss the matter,” Keogh said.

“The situation has come to our attention; and, we’re attempting to come to a resolution of it and we’re very hopeful that will happen,” he said, adding they are still waiting to hear from the city.

Representatives from the businesses, Battle Lumber, Cooper Machine, Fulghum Industries and Rachels Machine and Fabrication, have been asking the city for some months to work with them on the amount of overpayment the businesses have made, suggesting a credit towards future taxes or having the repayment made over time.

City records show the amounts owed to the companies to recompense three years of overpayments are $133,883.10 to Battle Lumber, $3,093.23 to Cooper Machine, $53,783.50 to Fulghum Industries and $3,210.85 to Rachels Machine and Fabrication. Keogh’s figures matched these amounts.

A representative from one company, who did not want to be named, said the amount owed his company might be less since the company did not pay its 2010 taxes.

A source close to the situation said it appears certain paperwork did not get properly forwarded by the city to the state when the exemption was passed.

Additionally, the businesses did not apply for the exemption. Although it has been about 10 years, the businesses can go back only three years for an adjustment. Keogh said that is in the statute.

Councilwoman Dorothy Strowbridge, who came on the council in January 2010, has insisted that the Freeport tax exemption was not implemented 10 years ago. She said they started to pass it but it was dropped somewhere between the referendum and the resolution. She said the resolution was never signed or sent to the state authorities.

Records from The News and Farmer/The Jefferson Reporter show that the Freeport Tax was placed on the ballot in November 2001. In an article in the Nov. 8 2001 edition, it was announced that the Freeport tax was passed in both Wadley and Wrens.

In a recent city council meeting, Wadley City Attorney John Murphy had a letter from the Department of Revenue that said it was properly passed by the referendum.

He said the resolution was passed and it was in the city minutes. He warned the council that the industries would most likely take legal action, considering the amount of money they are owed.

Strowbridge said if the industries can prove that the city has a resolution in place, then the city will pay them back. Strowbridge and Councilman Izell Mack questioned Murphy’s ability to represent the city if the issue goes to court, because of the difference in opinion. Murphy said if the industries choose to sue he will represent the city and put forth the council’s opinion, as long as they want him to.

“The city’s not bound to go with my opinion,” Murphy said.

As of Tuesday, June 28, the city had made no definite decision regarding the Freeport tax exemption or the money.

Murphy has said in a public meeting the companies would be entitled to interest.

In his interview, Keogh said they would like to talk with the city first.

“We would prefer to sit down and talk with the city before discussing additional costs that may apply,” he said.

In an interview Monday, Murphy said he did have a copy of a letter Keogh sent to the city.

“He sent a letter to the mayor and I got a copy of it as city attorney,” Murphy said. “And we’re dealing with it.”




Drought stricken

By Faye Ellison
Staff Writer

“Between a rock and a hard place.”

That may be the best way to describe where farmers stand in Jefferson and Glascock counties with the current drought. Though small storms have swept through the area recently, usually in the afternoon or at night, not enough rainfall has occurred to help the scorched crops.

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A lack of rain, or steady rain for that matter, plays a part in this, but for farmers it is not that cut and dry.

“Since the end of May, conditions in the southern two-thirds of the state have deteriorated from extreme to exceptional drought, the highest drought category,” wrote state climatologist David Stooksbury in his monthly update. “All counties in Georgia south of Harris, Talbot, Upson, Pike, Lamar, Monroe, Jasper, Putnam, Hancock, Warren, McDuffie and Lincoln counties, inclusive, are either in extreme or exceptional drought.”

Whether extreme or exceptional, farms, as well as residential gardens and fields, are paying the price for the heat, often with a string of days staying at a steady 100 degrees or greater.

“We are in the extreme drought area,” Extension Agent Jim Crawford said. “Down below, probably from Dublin south, is in the exceptional drought area.”

While those who plant smaller gardens beside their homes, may miss the sweet summer melon and corn, or lip smacking butter beans, to farmers it means a lot of lost income.

“It’s the first time I can remember in any county I’ve been in, that I remember so many unplanted acres,” Crawford lamented. “The ground is so hard and dry, some fields will not get planted at all. We are still trying to get stands on some dry fields, nearly a month late at June 23, and here we are trying to get things planted. But in all honesty, it is not as bad as south Georgia.”

From skimpy wheat stands, to using much needed irrigation just to finish the corn crop, or having to replant cotton and soybeans for the second or third time, farmers in Georgia and those in the peanut industry are in fear of what might happen within the next 10 to 45 days.

“A little under half the county is irrigated,” Crawford explained. “Corn takes a big chunk of that. Cotton and peanuts are about two-thirds in dry land. We have some real skimpy wheat stands.”

The biggest difference this year than in past years, was the state went into the planting season with water deficit.

“We were already low on subsurface moisture, that the small showers and half inch of irrigation is disappearing within 36 hours,” Crawford said. “In the past, we could water a half inch after we planted the crops in dry dirt and get them up. Now we have to water three times as much just to get a seedling.”

Irrigation has helped tremendously with the irrigated corn crop that will be harvested soon, but all dry land corn has been gone for weeks. Also only about half of the farmed acres in Jefferson County are irrigated, leaving the other half in the dust.

“A lot of pivots take a full day to make a round,” Crawford said. “By the time it gets back to where it was, the water is already gone. That is what these spot showers are doing. And if we are going to get them, we need them almost daily.”

Crawford explained that the subsurface dryness states like Georgia and Texas are facing is acting like a siphon and sucks the water down below. Farmers are seeing a lot of the soil get “crusty,” which makes it dry.

“When the ground gets wet, it dries and gets hard on top,” Crawford said. “It is hard for peanuts or other crops to penetrate and make a pod.”

Though many can see peanut blossoms across the county Crawford said not to let the greenery fool you, farmers planting peanuts are not out of the woods yet.

“We can still make a crop, but we can’t have any more hiccups along the way,” Crawford said. “We have to have ideal conditions. If we have another three week or two and a half week drought, the crops won’t be able to stand it anymore. “

Crops usually take about 140 days or almost five months of tender loving care from farmers and Mother Nature. Crawford is expecting that to support the late planting or replanting, the state will have to stay warm up through third the week of October.

“We are pushing the envelope on the back end of the crops,” Crawford said. “From what I have seen and in other places, as much as 20 percent of acres are unplanted in the state, which could mean a loss overall of about $9 million in gross income.”

Ron Dozier of Producers Peanut, in Bartow, runs a buying point for peanuts in the county.

“We buy peanuts from the farm, we condition them and prepare them for storage,” he explained.

He said peanuts are usually planted between April and May and sometimes in early June, but just last week, farmers were still trying to get the fields ready for a peanut crop.

“Actually on peanuts, most have gotten a good stand for those that were planted early,” Dozier said. “But with the lack of moisture, many dry land peanuts didn’t get planted or were planted late.”

While looking at acreage for peanuts, it was already down because many farmers opted to plant cotton instead because of its shortage, but with the acres going to cotton and now the drier weather, peanut farmers and the industry as a whole may be in trouble.

Dozier explained that peanuts are not traded on in the stock market, making prices based on supply and demand. Last year, many peanut growers battled with a disease that cost much of its supply.

“Georgia is the largest peanut producer in the country,” Dozier said.

After talking with Crawford, he said that the gross revenue for peanuts in Jefferson County is around $9 million, with an expected loss of around 20 percent, farmers look to lose around $1.8 million this year.

“Right now we are in the first third of the crop life, heading into a transitional period,” Dozier said.

The first peanut crops are moving into pegging and blooming, but they may not get enough moisture in the peg formation or there may not be enough canopy to shade the soil, Dozier said, adding that there are a lot of unknowns coming in the next stage for peanuts. The hot, dry weather also causes a potential for white mold and insects.

Right now, between peanuts, corn, cotton and soybeans, farmers are trying to water their crops 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“There are already surface water folks that are out,” Dozier said. “There is the possibility that there will be a lack of water. There are a lot of funds going into irrigation and that means this corn crop is going to be costly, but will there be enough surface water left to irrigate peanuts and cotton?”

Crawford said since his time as a farmer, he has seen only one drought to compare with this year.

“The only one I can relate to is the drought of 1999,” he said. “Around here, I hear a lot of people talk about 1988 being real dry. It’s been a long time and a farmer doesn’t want to have one of these but once in their career.”

South Georgia is not fairing well at all. Crawford said a big farmer from Colquitt has been able to plant only 3,500 acres of cotton out of more than 5,000 acres.

“They have acres and acres without a hill of cotton on them,” he said. “They’ve planted three times and still have no stands. This man is probably about 60 years old.”

While the drought is hurting Georgia and other states, Crawford believes that the area may still have a chance.

“It’s not all doomsday yet,” he sighed. “If you have a stand, a uniform stand of cotton, soybeans or peanuts by July 1, then you’ve got a chance, but we can’t have anymore glitches, has to be perfect.”

With chemicals not soaking into the ground to properly protect the crops from pigweed, which has become resistant to many herbicides, adds another factor taking up space and time with farmers in their fields. The pigweed can grow up to 10 feet tall, towering over the low growing plants.

“Another aspect is weed control,” Crawford said. “We can kill the weed seed in the ground, but the chemicals have to be activated by moisture. If you spray on top, the sun will wear the chemicals out and they are not affective anymore. We have a very limited toolbox of chemicals, to control pigweed once it’s up.

“The whole strategy this year is once one wears out, put another one out, but that depends on activation and we’re not getting it. When it does start raining, we are liable to see a flush of weeds. And pigweed grows, so fast. Once it is over three inches nothing will kill it. If it’s past three inches, it is pretty iffy if we can get them or not. So it’s a bad situation. The drought came at a bad time, and if had started off planting in moist ground, we could have handled it.”

Extra water, extra chemicals, several plantings and so much more add expense for each farmer. Those expenses, along with a shortage of whichever crop will eventually find its way into every Americans’ pockets. They will have to pay more at stores for produce and other commodities.

Crawford said if the temperatures would reach the low 90s, it would help.

“Texas and Georgia supply half of the nation’s cotton,” Crawford explained. “Texas is burning up and Georgia. We could see cotton clothing going up considerably. We were already in a tight spot and counting on this new crop.

“Soon they will be screaming for cotton. We have some peanuts in stock that we can dig into, kind of like mad money, and then it’s a year to year. Supply and demand have to match up every year. The worst case scenario if this continues, you could see Wal-Mart blue jeans at $65 a pair. Not right now, but once it works its way through the mills, and clothing companies.”

In south Georgia some farmers are already buying out their contracts, because they know they will be unable to meet the terms with what they produce.

One big farmer in south Georgia told Crawford he had to write a check for $69,000 to buy out a contract. Buying out means big bucks when commodity prices were already high at the beginning of the year, when crops were contracted.

“Farmers deal in large numbers,” Crawford said. “And he said he may have to write out some more. Some of them can do that, and some it will break. This thing could get financially very tenuous for some of these guys. And it is so sad, because they are doing everything they know to do and doing it right, but we can’t control the weather.”

One way to help get some money from the crops is farm insurance.

“You can insure your crop,” Crawford said, adding that most serious farmers do. “It pays a premium, but it doesn’t pay 100 percent of their costs. It is a safety net to not lose as much.”

With soybeans, Crawford advised to just leave them in the bag.

“Everybody has a different situation, at this late date, and with the dryness we have and the fact that all climatologists say it will be hotter and drier through August, soybeans are hard to keep over from one year to the next,” he said. “If you don’t plant them you are just out of the money. But you can get preventive planting, for when conditions dictate that they could not be planted; farmers could get a partial payment just like a partial crop.”

Even cattle are suffering. There is not enough grass to bail for hay and water holes are getting low, with farmers worried that they will run out of water. Some may have to sell their herds and those herds are hard to replace, Crawford said.

“We will see some cow liquidation if we don’t see some rain,” he said.

Dairy cows are affected by the heat by not producing as much milk. Crawford said it is hard to think about giving milk when you are just trying to stay cool.

Though it may be hot to us, we will be a lot hotter as a struggling economy tries to handle rising prices at the stores.

“The next 10 days will pretty much tell the tale,” Crawford said for farming. “The days on the calendar are just not there. We barely have four months. It is barely enough time to grow a crop, if you don’t already have a stand. While we won’t make a dent in the national crop, we count big time for cotton and peanuts. What we make on cotton and peanuts, is a big thing for national price on supply.”

But for now farmers are going to continue with their normal production practices, not waiting to see if it rains. They will carry on until they see if the slow growth continues. Which means the crops may not be able to catch up in size before the first frost, and that is when the game is over.

“Even then to fill a contract, we would gladly take two-thirds of a crop than none at all,” Crawford said.




Wadley man charged in double homicide

By Carol McLeod
Staff Writer

Willie James Kitchens, 30, of Barbara Street in Wadley, was taken into custody Friday, June 24, about 2:50 p.m. in connection to the deaths of two Wadley citizens. With the arrest of a suspect, GBI Special Agent in Charge Mike Ayers identified the victims as Melanie Troupe, 22, and Corey Kemp, 33.

Ayers put the time of death near midnight Thursday, June 23.

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“That’s when the fire was reported,” Ayers said, referring to a fire that had been set at the home, which is also on Barbara Street in Wadley, where the bodies were discovered. The house belongs to Troupe’s grandmother, Frankie May Oglesby.

Ayers did not immediately give a cause of death pending autopsy results.

The GBI gave the cause of death for both people as sharp, forced wounds in an interview Tuesday, June 28.

A motive in the case has not been announced.

Ayers said the agencies participating in the investigation besides the Thomson post of the GBI were the Wadley Police Department, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, K-9 units from the Columbia County and Richmond County sheriff’s offices as well as members of the Middle Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s office.

In a first appearance hearing held in Jefferson County Superior Court Tuesday, June 28, Superior Court Judge Kathy Palmer informed Kitchens of his rights and read the charges against him. Those charges are two counts of malice murder, one against each victim. Additionally, there had been an outstanding warrant against Kitchens for battery.

Lt. Robert Chalker, an investigator with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office who is working on the case, said Tuesday the battery charge stems from an incident that occurred in Wadley in March 2010. In that matter, Kitchens has been charged with hitting a woman. The case is unrelated, Chalker said.

Chalker said the warrant had been outstanding and had not been served until now.

"The fire was reported,” Chalker said. “When they gained entry, that’s when they found one of the bodies. It appeared to be foul play and it became a crime scene.”

In an interview Monday, District Attorney Hayward Altman said there still was no motive.

“There will be additional charges,” he said. “We’re waiting for the initial investigation stage to be completed; and, we’re waiting for certain preliminary reports from the crime lab.”

The GBI has stated the two victims were acquaintances, Kitchens and Troupe were neighbors and Kitchens and Kemp were acquaintances.

Pat Morgan, assistant special agent in charge with the GBI post in Thomson, said the fire had caused a lot of smoke damage.

“The structure was still standing; but, there was heavy smoke damage in the house,” he said in an interview Tuesday.

Morgan said the investigation is ongoing and, besides the GBI, involves the Wadley Police Department and the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office.

“We have someone in custody; but, if there is anyone with information they want us to know, we surely want them to call us,” Morgan said.

The agent said anyone with information in this matter should contact the GBI at 706-595-2575 and ask for Agent Wendell Goodman, Assistant Special Agent in Charge Pat Morgan or Special Agent in Charge Mike Ayers; Wadley Police Department at 478-252-5214 and ask for Lt. David McVey or Chief Wesley Lewis; or Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office at 478-625-7538 and ask for Lt. Robert Chalker.

District Attorney Altman said they have several theories as to motive.

“There will be other charges forthcoming,” Altman said Tuesday.

During his hearing Tuesday, Palmer told Kitchens he could potentially face two life sentences and said the court could set a bond if he has not been indicted within 90 days.

The grand jury is scheduled to meet Tuesday, July 19, to hear charges in another murder case, Altman said, but the Kitchens case will not be presented at that time. Altman said he would not have all the reports he needs from the GBI crime lab in time but the case will be presented to the grand jury within the deadline.

“He was bound over for Superior Court. He will be indicted within 90 days,” Altman said.




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