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November 3, 2011 Issue

Citizens express concerns
What will state cuts mean for local Pre-K
McCord is new chief
Investigation continues downstream from Wrens and mines

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Citizens express concerns

By Carol McLeod
Staff Writer

About 30 citizens attended a rezoning hearing Oct. 26 to express their concerns regarding a potential industrial prospect considering locating in the Wadley area.

The hearing initially was to decide a rezoning request by the county development authority for a parcel of land on Highway 319.

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The planning/zoning commission and development authority decided the initial request, which was to rezone the parcel from Agricultural-Rural to a commercial zone, would more properly fit an M1 and M2 light industrial zone. A hearing for that request is scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 15, at 4:30 p.m. in the grand jury room of the Jefferson County Courthouse in Louisville.

Larry Morgan, the planning commission chairman, told those present there would be time given for those in favor of the zoning change, then five minutes for each person opposed and then another opportunity for those in favor to speak.

A citizen said he did not see anyone from the development authority present.

Morgan said the development authority didn’t have anything to bring before the commission at the meeting.

Morgan said the change from the C3 request to M1 and M2 was for light industrial and was a change by the development authority. He explained the change was made because the C3 zone has too many things that don’t go together.

Citizens expressed concerns about the type of business or industry that would be allowed on the property. One citizen was concerned about the effects an industry might have on the water in the area. Other citizens were concerned about noise, land and air contamination and a loss of property values.

One citizen said the land is in a 700-acre flood plain.

“Y’all need to let us know what’s going on,” another citizen said. “Why didn’t y’all tell us before you bought the land?”

“The development authority was told by the county commission to buy land in the southern end of the county,” Morgan said.

“Our county seems to be the dumping ground,” a citizen said.

“I understand what you’re saying; but, that’s not our job,” Morgan said. “I don’t see the county commissioners doing anything detrimental to the county...We’re not here to speak for the development authority or the county commission. This board is sitting here representing the county.”

The committee was asked several times what business or industry would be coming to the area. He said he did not know.

He said the zoning has to be in place before an industry would open a plant in the area.

Dianna Wedincamp, an Ogeechee Riverkeeper, said it’s unusual to request a rezoning without an industry.

“I don’t think y’all have enough information,” she told the committee.

“We’re following what’s in the book,” Morgan said.

“We just had one of the biggest fish kills in the state of Georgia,” Wedincamp said. “The whole problem, we had to file suit because the citizens were not being heard. They did not listen to the people.”

Wedincamp said that now, because of that, the citizens are not going to trust their officials.

One citizen said the development authority knows the name of the company and asked why they won’t announce the name.

“This county right here has more cancer per capita than any other county in the state,” a citizen said.

Morgan said everything that had been said would be forwarded to the development authority and to the county commissioners.

Gonice Davis, a county commissioner whose district includes the area in question, said every piece of land has to be rezoned and pointed out the land has already been purchased.

He called on one businessman and said, “You had to have your land rezoned commercial.” Then he pointed out a business might never locate at the site.

“You’ve got to have something to offer (a business),” he said and pointed out that Kings Mill has been rezoned and no industry has located there.

Davis told the audience that most of them are retired.

“We still need jobs,” he said. “If people don’t have jobs, they leave. Kings Mill has been zoned five years. Nobody’s come.”

“I think people are frustrated because we don’t know,” a citizen said. “It might be good. It might be bad.”

One citizen said he has land next to the property.

“It doesn’t matter to me what you rezone it,” he said. “I just don’t want it rezoned.”

“I don’t want it rezoned either,” another citizen said. “It’s just like an invasion.”




What will state cuts mean for local Pre-K

By Faye Ellison
Staff Writer

At around 8,200 stores in Georgia, citizens line up to play their lucky numbers and contribute to educational funding for public schools. While the lines are not getting any shorter, funding it provides for Pre-K is.

The Georgia Lottery was created in November 1992 by the people of Georgia to enhance educational funding, and on June 29, 1993, the Georgia Lottery sold its first ticket. Since that time, the lottery has had sales exceeding $39 billion, with $12.7 billion going to the State Treasury’s Lottery for Education Account.

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That money has allowed more than 1.3 million students to continue their education by going to college in Georgia on HOPE Scholarships, and more than 1.1 million 4-year-olds to get a head start on education in Pre-K programs.

During last year’s legislative session, portions of HOPE and Pre-K were cut because the money the lottery generated to support the two programs was dwindling.

The state claims the cuts were made to continue a program that is meant to supplement not supplant educational funding.

Locally, the Jefferson County and Glascock County school systems were left wondering what it would mean for its students who would enter class this fall. Originally, state plans were to shorten the day for Pre-K. But after examining the plan at the local level, it was found that it would add more costs, such as transportation, to school systems that are already struggling financially.

Instead the state legislature approved allowing Pre-K students to attend school 160 days for the year, with teachers and other staff being cut to 169 days. Money given from the lottery program only covers those days.

“We have 180 days for school,” Jefferson County Assistant Superintendent Dr. Donnie Hodges explained. “This would cut the number of instructional days for our children and cut the salaries for staff. The board looked at what it would cost to restore the 20 days to children, because it is so important in their formative years and also to keep teachers for a full year.”

Another problem, which has yet to be resolved, is the cut in salaries for teachers who have master’s degrees, or other specialist degrees that teach in Pre-K.

“If a teacher has worked here for many years, a doctorate or specialist degree, they cost more money,” Hodges said. “We want to be able to keep those teachers, so they get to earn money on experience and degrees.”

But after the cuts, only a base salary for Pre-K teachers is left.

“Experienced teachers wouldn’t want to stay in that position,” Dr. Hodges said.

The reasoning behind the cuts is that the lottery funds are beginning to dry up after more and more students are taking advantage of the HOPE Scholarship to fund their future educational endeavors. At the college level to meet budget, tuition costs have continued to rise and that has been passed on to all students, even those attending on HOPE.

“The costs with HOPE keep going up every time there is a tuition increase,” Dr. Hodges said. “The Governor just realized that we would go into reserves, because the lottery could not sustain what HOPE was committing, so a significant cut was made to HOPE and Pre-K as well. Students benefit from both HOPE and from Pre-K.”

For Pre-K that meant cutting the number of days funded by the lottery and adding to classroom numbers, but for HOPE it meant only paying a portion of the tuition.

“HOPE will pay about 90 percent of tuition, but no fees or books,” Dr. Hodges added.

The new changes in HOPE and Pre-K began with the 2011-2012 school year and have already worried parents about the quality of education young students may receive, as well as whether their child can afford to go to college. Hodges said she expects the state legislature to come under pressure from parents.

But both school boards voted to allow Pre-K students and teachers to attend school the same amount of days as their K-12 counterparts.

In Jefferson County, the school system lost two classes, one at Louisville Academy and one at Carver Elementary, while the number of students in each class was increased from 20 to 22.

“Our board voted this spring to pay locally for children to go 180 days and restore money for staff this year to work 187 days,” Dr. Hodges said. “That’s a real act of faith by the board to help out these families with this service for children.”

Dr. Hodges said in Jefferson County, while the board restored these days this year, it will continue to be very expensive, expecting to cost the school system around $70,000. Current Pre-K teachers will keep their current salary, but anyone new would receive a base salary.

“The only increase would be a cost of living,” she said. “And we have not had one in a long time from the state.”

Currently all Jefferson County School System Pre-K programs are full except at Wrens Elementary, where there are four spots available. Hodges encourages parents to register as soon as possible when it begins after Christmas for the 2012-2013 school year. Spots will be filled first come, first serve.

In Glascock County, School Superintendent Jim Holton said the school board also voted to allow Pre-K students and teachers the same amount of days as K-12.

“The Glascock County School System administration toiled over this issue,” Holton said. “We acquired approval to use Title I funds to offset the amount of state funding for faculty and staff salaries which was cut from our Pre-K program. It didn’t cost the county taxpayers anything.”

Holton said that students from Pre-K and K-12 would follow the same number of days as last year, because of the school board’s vote.

“The Pre-K program will follow the same schedule and calendar as the Glascock County Consolidated School and will provide the same high level of service that our parents and students have come to expect,” Holton added.

Holton said Glascock County has two Pre-K classes, which it has had for about the past 10 years, with about 40 students enrolled in the program.

“Right now, if the Department of Education doesn’t see fit to fund Pre-K, I hope Title I will be available to offset the cost,” Holton said.

As for now, both systems said they realize how important it is to have a full year of Pre-K for students to have them ready for school.

“We are hoping to sustain it,” Dr. Hodges said. “We just have to take it a year at a time right now, until we know what changes can and will be done.”







McCord is new chief

By Carol McLeod
Staff Writer

Wrens City Council voted unanimously to hire Garry McCord as the city’s police chief, Tuesday evening.

McCord fills the position vacated by former chief, David Hannah.

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Hannah resigned Sept. 22, citing personal and health reasons. He had been with the city for 18 years, 12 as chief.

McCord, a lieutenant, is an investigator with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office. Prior to becoming an investigator, McCord provided training for the sheriff’s staff.

He has been volunteering, along with different officers, to provide training to Jefferson County citizens in gun safety since 2008.

McCord, a former Marine, graduated from the police academy in Richmond County in March 1994.

After an executive session to discuss personnel, the city council voted unanimously to hire McCord.

Councilman Jack Templeton made a motion to offer the job to McCord at a city employee grade of 10, step 14.

“We also give him two weeks vacation after the first year,” the councilman said. McCord will have a six-month probationary term and will earn $41,849.60 a year.

After the meeting was adjourned, Wrens City Administrator Arty Thrift called McCord to offer the position. McCord accepted.







Investigation continues downstream from Wrens and mines

From Staff Reports

About 100 residents and politicians gathered in Keysville Sunday after a Riverkeeper flyover aimed at tracing the source cause of an incident that left thousands of fish dead along 10-miles of Brier Creek.

The Georgia Environmental Protection Division has reported that the cause of the fish kill was related to a drop in pH. According to the Savannah Riverkeeper, characteristics of the fish kill indicated poisoning by aluminum sulfate, which is used as a coagulant in kaolin mining and sewage treatment.

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The area most affected by the incident is from Keysville south to Storey Mill Road.

Fish kills typically are caused when something in the water depletes dissolved oxygen levels; or when something toxic or dangerous is added to the water.

Elevated levels of alum were also detected at the city of Waynesboro’s drinking water filtration plant, which has been closed.

Savannah Riverkeeper has performed tests on the water in the surrounding area hoping to determine the origin of the incident that caused the kill.

EPD spokesman Kevin Chambers has said that his agency has been walking the creek, taking water samples and it appears that the Keysville area in Burke County appears to be the most heavily impacted.

Authorities have ruled out an Oct. 9 vehicle accident in which some liquid nitrogen was spilled near Sandy Run Creek, which flows into Brier Creek.

“We know about the truck wreck, but it is not related,” Chambers said. “The spilled materials never reached the waterway and it’s too far away from the fish kill area.”

According to Chambers, the investigation includes scrutiny of several industrial mining operations that discharge material into the creek—or its tributaries—under permits administered by the state.

“Yes, the kaolin facilities are part of our investigation,” he said. “But it’s too early to speculate on enforcement action.”

According to EPD records, four kaolin operations have state permits to discharge into the creek, along with municipal wastewater treatment facilities in Wrens and Thomson.

Savannah Riverkeeper Tonya Bonitatibus said the most disturbing thing she discovered was that the creek was impacted 25 miles south of where the fish kill ended. She also said she hopes to find who is responsible for the apparent dump and she expects legal action from both residents and the Riverkeeper.

EPD recently completed an investigation into a May fish kill in which 38,634 fish died along the Ogeechee River.

The case yielded a consent order with a Screven County industry—King America Finishing—that was found to be illegally dumping toxic waste into the river. The company agreed to spend $1 million in “supplemental environmental projects.”

The reporting of Morris News Service staff members Summer Moore and Rob Pavey were used in this article




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