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June 14, 2012 Issue

Pilot killed in gyroplane crash
Wadley votes to send Sunday alcohol sales to ballot
County reviews figures for budget
Board at end of stimulus funds

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Pilot killed in gyroplane crash

By Parish Howard

A Bluffton man died Friday afternoon when his gyroplane crashed at the edge of a field in Wrens less than a mile from the city’s airport.

Christopher William Bowen, 55, was attending the Wrens –O.B. Brown Memorial Fly-In and had not been long signed into the event when the incident occurred just minutes after 4 p.m.


The Fly-In, hosted by the Experimental Aircraft Association’s Chapter 172, attracts small planes, ultralights, paraplanes and other aircraft like the gyroplane. Also known as gyrocopters, gyroplanes are small aircraft that use an unpowered rotor for lift and a propeller for thrust.

Pilot Barry Kroeplin, 52, of Charlotte, NC, was flying his own gyro-plane, when he saw Bowen’s plane go down and then burst into flames.

“When I got here today Chris already had his rotor on,” Kroeplin said. “We talked for a little bit and then he took off.”

Kroeplin was not far behind him.

“He flew around the airport 10 or 15 times and then flew out over the fields,” Kroeplin said. “I wasn’t more than a mile or half mile behind him. I saw him make a turn and then he just kept going down.”

Kroeplin said that while he didn’t know Bowen well, he talked to him on several occasions and has been seeing him at fly-ins all across the southeast for about three years.

“I didn’t see anything fall off the plane or it do anything odd or anything,” Kroeplin said. “He just made that turn and went down….I know he had good training. I’ve seen him fly a lot of times. He was a good pilot.”

Kroeplin said he also knew Bowen from his posts on www.rotaryforum.com, an online forum for gyroplane enthusiasts.

“I know he built this plane himself,” Kroeplin said. “It was Gyro B single-seater with a Rotex 503 engine and he had a 23-foot rotor on it. It also had an N-number and so that means it had been inspected by a professional and was found airworthy.”

According to a FAA online registry, Bowen was issued his student pilot’s license May 7, 2010 and his gyro was registered Sept. 2, 2010.

John Magnan, the secretary of the EAA Chapter 172, said Wrens has been hosting these fly-ins twice a year since the mid 1990s.

“In the fall we sometimes get 15 or 20 gyroplanes,” Magnan said. “We only had a couple here today.”

The fly-in is a weekend long event that sees most of its activity on Saturday.

“We’ve had incidents before where people have gone down hard, but this is the first time we’ve had an accident,” Magnan said.

His chapter of the EAA has pilot members from across the CSRA and is based out of Blythe’s Pea Patch Aerodrome. Magnan said he has been interested in gyroplanes for many years.

“They look a lot like a helicopter, but they take off like an airplane,” he said. “They can land straight down like a helicopter though. They’re a lot cheaper to fly than a helicopter and are normally very safe aircraft.”

“I still believe these things are safer than regular planes,” Kroeplin said, pointing to his own gyro. “I fly both kinds and even after seeing that, I’m still much more comfortable in this.”

A spokesman for the Jefferson County Sheriff’s office said they were turning the investigation over to the National Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration.

“As a pilot, you know the risks,” said Sid Brown, Vice President of the local EAA chapter. “It’s like you know that if you’re going to drive to Augusta, you could have a wreck. But, being a pilot, you also know that if something happens you can’t pull over to the shoulder of the road.”

The final report on the accident was not available at press time.

Wadley votes to send Sunday alcohol sales to ballot

By Carol McLeod
Staff Writer

In a 3-1-1 vote Monday night, Wadley City Council passed a motion to allow its citizens to decide if they want to allow package sales on Sunday.

Wadley voters will be able to vote on this issue by referendum in July.


Three council members voted for the measure while Councilman John Maye abstained and Councilwoman Dorothy Strowbridge voted against.

“You’re talking about package sales, not pouring,” said John Murphy, the city’s attorney.

Councilman Albert Samples, the council member who brought up the issue, agreed.

There was some discussion about other cities having allowed Sunday sales after church.

“Grovetown was the first in the state, I think,” Murphy said.

“We just want to put it on the referendum,” Samples said.

“You might have time,” Murphy said. “It’d be a city specific ballot. I think the timeframe would be the same for other referendums.”

Samples made the motion, which was seconded by Councilman Izell Mack.

During the subsequent discussion prior to the vote, Strowbridge voiced her objections.

“I disapprove of this,” she said. “You got six days for drinking.”

Samples pointed out that currently people who want to drink on Sundays are able to get alcohol illegally.

“People are people everywhere you go,” he added.

“I feel like six days is enough,” Strowbridge said. “Leave Sunday alone.”

Strowbridge said Sunday sales will increase DUIs and people walking while intoxicated.

“Put it before the people,” Samples said.

The council voted; and, the measure passed.

Sallie Adams, the city’s clerk and elections superintendent, said Tuesday she was unsure of the next step as the city does not have any elections scheduled for July.

“I am checking with the registrar. If I need to check with the secretary of state; then, I will do that,” she said Tuesday. “But I will start with the registrar’s office and then go forward from there.”

County reviews figures for budget

By Carol Mcleod
Staff Writer

Jefferson County Administrator Adam Mestres said in an interview Tuesday the county has received $639,328.31 in revenue so far for the month.

“This is just from June 1 through June 12,” he said.


“That puts us at 94 percent of the projected revenues that were set last year,” he said.

“We are currently at 93.25 percent in expenditures for this fiscal year; and, our available appropriations are $718,965.31. Simply put, these are the funds that were authorized based on the expectations of revenue when the budget was set,” Mestres said.

The administrator said he hopes the county will spend less than what was appropriated, or authorized, at the beginning of this fiscal year, which ends June 30.

“Where we sit right now, we are expected to accomplish that goal,” he said.

“Appropriations are based on expected revenues for the entire fiscal year,” Mestres said. “The estimated revenues that were set in the beginning of the fiscal year, or July 2011, have come in at a figure that is less than what we expected.”

Factors that have affected the county’s expected revenue include shortfalls in sales tax and housing of other counties’ inmates, the administrator said.

“Also, because our census figures declined, the monies we get based on those figures have been reduced and will remain at that lower level for the next 10 years,” he said.

“We’ve received all of our ad valorem tax monies from the tax commissioner for this fiscal year; but, we’re still expecting our monthly revenue from the sheriff’s office, sales tax revenue and funds from the clerk of court.

“Those are the sources of the largest portion of our revenue; and we typically receive those at the end of the month,” Mestres said.

Mestres said another revenue source the county receives at the end of the month is for the correctional officer contract with the state.

“As we move forward to fiscal year 2013, declining property values will continue to be a factor in our budget as well as the recent tax reform legislation. This will affect sales tax revenues and ad valorem taxes in particular.

“On the sales tax side, the tax is being eliminated from the energy used by industries. On the ad valorem tax side, motor vehicle taxes paid at the time of tag renewal are being phased out. At this time, we don’t know how much either of these changes will impact the county,” Mestres said.

Board at end of stimulus funds

By Carol Mcleod
Staff Writer

During a recent monthly meeting, Dr. Molly Howard, Jefferson County’s school board superintendent, told the board of education the stimulus money the school system received three years ago had ended.

“This is the year we fall off the cliff,” she told the board.


“We are carrying the same deficit as we were last year,” Howard said.

The superintendent said the state is also withholding austerity funds as it did last year. Howard asked the board to approve reducing the school calendar by three days for teachers, a continuance from the current school year that ends June 30.

The school board approved the calendar.

Federal stimulus money had been provided to school districts three years ago, when Carl Bethune, Howard’s predecessor, was the superintendent. Bethune and the board at that time determined a way to stretch the funds over three years.

“Primarily, it’s like everybody else. We’re in a shortfall; and, we’re going to have to adjust the calendar,” Howard said in an interview last week.

The superintendent said there are nine and a half positions, including teachers, paraprofessionals and central office staff, that have been left vacant.

Howard said these positions are ones where people retired, moved or left. The school system is not replacing those staff.

“That was set up to work that way in the beginning,” she said.

“When we got it, which was the year before I came in, it was designed to stretch it out as long as we legally could; and, we stretched it out for three years,” Howard said.

“Personnel is approximately between 85 and 90 percent of our budget,” she said. “When you have to cut costs, the main way you have to do that is through personnel.

“A lot of school systems used their stimulus money in one or two years. They’re still experiencing problems. The money a mill is bringing in is less. The state is still holding some money.

“The state has $2 million. They say, ‘It’s y’all’s but we’re not going to send it to you,’” she said.

Howard said the school calendar has been cut three days for teachers and all other staff, with a five-day cut for administrators.

“We haven’t changed the number of days for students, yet. So it hasn’t affected bus drivers,” she said, adding teachers and other staff generally work over the time the students attend school.

“Your contract is 190 days; so, you get paid for 190 days. But now they’re working 187 days; so, they’re getting paid for 187 days,” she said.

“It’s a lot to a teacher. It’s a lot to be cut three days. But for $2 million dollars, how do you make up the money the state’s withholding from us? If we could make up the money they’re withholding from us, we would not have a problem,” Howard said.

“It’s proportionate. It’s a percentage. A larger county would have a higher austerity cut than we do. Usually, they have a higher millage rate. We still assess a lower millage than a lot of places do. We’re below 14 mills. The cap the state puts on us is 21 mills,” she said.

Howard said the school board has not approved the budget for the upcoming fiscal year yet.

The tentative budget will be set in June, with a final budget scheduled to be approved in July, she said.

She said increasing the millage rate is the last thing anyone wants to do.

“We’re going to see larger class sizes when we cut staff; and, we’ve asked the state for a waiver so we could increase the class size, if we need to,” she said.

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