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June 28, 2012 Issue

DOT to take down campaign signs
Quick Stop armed robber caught
Hospital reports dropping revenues
New law will effect scrap metal sales and purchases

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DOT to take down campaign signs

By Faye Ellison
Staff writer

With the heat of political season in full swing, the Georgia Department of Transportation is cautioning political candidates and campaigns to not place signs on the rights of way.

“Signs that are found on rights of way will be removed by Georgia DOT maintenance crews,” GDOT District 2 Communications Officer Cissy McNure said. “Georgia DOT removes signs as part of routine and shoulder maintenance. This is an ongoing concern with signs for yard sales, real estate, business advertisements, etc., but it escalates close to elections with the addition of the political signs.”


McNure said that Georgia law stipulates that Georgia DOT is required to maintain a safe roadway for the traveling public, which includes the immediate removal of any obstruction or hazard that may pose a threat to the traveling public.

“Any sign along Georgia’s state routes and interstates must meet safety standards and be permitted by Georgia DOT to be in our right of way,” McNure said. “Typically we find signs that advertise yard sales, real estate for sale and/or political candidates on department land adjacent to our roads. None of those types of signs are allowed and will be removed by our personnel.”

McNure added that Georgia Code 32-6-51 states that “It shall be unlawful for any person to erect, place or maintain within the right of way of any public road any sign, signal or other device except as authorized by subsection (d) of this Code section.” Any person who violates the advertising restrictions of Georgia Code 32 “shall be guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction thereof, shall be punished as provided in Code Section 32-6-91.”

“In the midst of this political season, Georgia DOT would like to clarify the laws that deal with signs along state routes and interstates,” she said. “As part of our routine maintenance work; the department will remove any and all signs from our right of way. Right of way is defined as the strip of land over which facilities such as highways, railroads or power lines are built and maintained.”

McNure said that Georgia DOT has received comments and complaints of obstructions from not only political signs, with removal of all signs in violation ongoing.

“A non-permitted sign on the right of way of a state route or interstate is an obstruction,” McNure added. “Any sign along Georgia’s state routes and interstates must meet safety standards and be permitted by Georgia DOT to be in our right of way.”

If there are any questions about the safety of a sign, citizens can contact the local Georgia DOT Area Office in Louisville to start the permitting process.

Quick Stop armed robber caught

By Carol McLeod
Staff Writer

Wadley police have arrested one of the two men suspected in the armed robbery last week of the EZ Quick Stop.

The store, located on North Main Street in Wadley, was robbed by two armed men Monday, June 18. Wadley Police Chief Wesley Lewis said at the time that, although the suspects fired a shot into the ceiling, no one had been hurt. The two were armed with shotguns, Lewis said.


The men, who were seen on the store’s video cameras, took money from two of the registers in the store but took no other items, Lewis said at the time.

Capt. Anthony Dixon, of the Wadley PD, said Monday, June 25, one of the men, identified as Micheal Middleton, a 23-year-old from Waynesboro, was arrested Wednesday, June 20.

“He’s going to be one of the suspects from the armed robbery that took place at the EZ Quick Stop,” Dixon said.

The officer said the arrest was the result of a thorough investigation.

“A few eyewitnesses were able to collaborate the information we already had,” he said, adding they received good video from the store’s surveillance cameras.

“He was apprehended in Waynesboro with the assistance of the Waynesboro Police Department. Myself and Chief Lewis went to Waynesboro based on the findings from the investigation,” Dixon said.

Dixon said he charged Middleton with armed robbery, terroristic threats and acts, discharging a firearm on property of another, aggravated assault, misdemeanor possession of marijuana and possession of firearm or knife while trying to commit crimes.

“The investigation is ongoing,” Dixon said. “We are trying to apprehend the second suspect.”

Anyone with information should contact Dixon or Lewis at the Wadley Police Department at 478-252-5214, Dixon said.

Hospital reports dropping revenues

By Parish Howard

We’ve had some bleak times this past couple of years,” Jefferson Hospital CEO Ralph Randall said during the opening of his annual community benefit report before a room of civic leaders and elected officials. “We’re going to get into that for you.”

Randall went on to discuss the financial hardships the hospital faces, how it is addressing a loss of revenue and higher expenses, as well as how it continues to serve the community throughout these lean times.


He explained that between 2010 and 2011, the hospital’s average daily census dropped from 9.3 patients to 6.1.

“A lot of that is because our admissions have been way off,” Randall said. “Admissions in 2010 were 967. In 2011 we were down to 671. What you see there is that observations have really increased. What has happened is that the criteria for admission to a hospital has gotten so much tighter from Medicare and Medicaid that it’s very difficult to get a patient in a bed as an inpatient. So we are seeing a lot more observations, what we used to call 23-hour stays.”

Observations went up from 41 in 2010 to 222 last year. The reimbursement for observations versus admissions is a lot different as well, Randall said.

“They are paid on an out-patient basis so that directly affects our revenue,” Randall said.

Emergency Room visits have also decreased from 8,203 in 2010 to 7,514 in 2011. Randall said the local, state and national economy seem to be a factor in this.

“People aren’t seeking healthcare,” Randall said. “I’ve spoken to our colleagues in other rural health settings and they are experiencing a lot of the same thing. Visits are down. Admissions are down.”

While visits to the hospital’s Physicians’ Health Group rural clinics are down overall, certain clinics, like specialty encounters, the Wrens clinic and Wadley pediatric services, have seen some slight increases.

"Specialty has actually done a little bit better,” Randall said. “Wrens is showing an increase for 2011. So overall the clinics are kind of holding their own and actually for 2012 so far this year through April we’ve seen an uptake in Louisville and obviously in Wadley having a provider down there. Our clinics are our strength of the hospital.We’re very pleased with the providers and the quality of care they provide to our citizens.”

Randall said the hospital was lucky to get resident Nancy Cox to join their staff at the Wadley clinic this year, adding her internal medicine and pediatric services to that clinic. Joseph Crosby has joined the Louisville clinic.

Overall, the hospital’s gross revenue was down $2,164,377 from the previous year, with net revenues down $850,679.

“Most of the numbers are down to previous years,” Randall said. “Most of this is accountable to volume. If volume is off gross revenue is off, the inpatient revenue is off. Outpatient actually up-ticked a little bit, and that is more than likely due to the increase in observation beds.”

Despite the decreases in revenue, and after numerous cuts and some layoffs, the hospital’s overall expenses actually increased $118,092.

“We’ve had to dip into our cash reserves in order to meet operating needs,” Randall said.

In 2010 the hospital had $2,157,124 in cash reserves, which amounted to 70 days of cash on hand. By the end of 2011 the hospital had $1,774,122 in reserve, an 18 percent decrease or 61 days of cash on hand.

“We have reduced the number of employee hours,” Randall said. “With the census being down we haven’t had the need for as many staff as we normally would so we’ve also had to eliminate some positions. We went through at the end of last year and took a hard look at all our positions and looked at what we could do to reduce expenses. HR expenses are 60 percent of our budget and that’s one of the places where we could make a meaningful dent in those expenses.”

Between the 2010 and 2011 the hospital reduced its overall personnel by 12 employees, which with the addition of two physicians and a CEO, only cut its six-month average FTEs by four. And despite these cuts, with the addition of the two doctors and CEO, the hospital’s overall salaries and wages paid out went up $157,826. Employee benefits also went up $29,144.

“One of the biggest strengths that we have is our staff,” Randall said. “You couldn’t find a more caring bunch of people than what work at Jefferson Hospital. And this has been tough on them. With the cutbacks, with the reductions we’ve lost some good employees. Unfortunately it couldn’t be helped.”

Randall said that in many cases the hospital has reduced employee hours in an effort to maintain jobs.

Other major expenses included $63,957 to replace a failed air conditioning unit for the emergency room and the first investment into the Electronic Health Record Project, which is expected to cost around $800,000, but bring with it $3,743,509 in government incentive revenues over the next four years.

“This was brought on by the health reform and American Recovery Act,” Randall said. “The federal government sees the benefit in seeing things in real time, advantage of being able to get to data quicker and to share data between providers. They put their money where their mouth is for a change and put incentives out there for us to adopt this new software.”

This year, in 2012, the hospital should receive $1.4 million in incentive payments as long as it proves that it is putting the new technology to use.

Overall, the hospital’s net audited income dropped from a loss of $471,888 in 2010 to a loss of $1,410,813 in 2011.

Randall said it was the worst financial year the hospital has ever had. The last year it was in turned a positive profit, was 2009 when the bottom line was around $4,000. In 2008, it had been a little better than $250,000.

Despite its financial down turn the last few years and it’s significant losses this year, Randall said that Jefferson Hospital continues to look for new ways to better serve the citizens of its community.

“We still provided $1.5 million in indigent care to our citizens in Jefferson County,” Randall said. “We can’t stress that how important it is to us as a hospital to continue to serve our county and the citizens of our county. We continue to take care of our citizens regardless of their ability to pay.”

Randall went on to say that he believes the administration has cut just about all it can cut, but continues to look for ways to reduce expenses without negatively impacting services.

“Obviously that’s kind of bleak,” Randall told those gathered for the meeting. “We certainly want to survive and thrive in this environment. We are looking at ways we can continue to provide services to Jefferson County. We are going to have to change the way we operate. We’re going to have to get more streamlined and improve our processes. We’re working on those things as we speak.”

The hospital has created a Cost Reduction Task Force, composed of department managers, which meets regularly to investigate new and innovative savings ideas.

“We continue to look for ways to provide outreach to our communities,” Randall said.

The hospital recently organized a safe sitter class to teach teenagers and young adults life safety techniques, like basic CPR and first aid. The hospital continues to do blood pressure screenings at area events and added smoking cessation classes.

The Hospital Foundation continues to raise money to refurbish patient rooms in the older parts of the building and the Pink Ladies continue to contribute through fundraisers and their daily volunteering.

“We’re going to continue to do the best we can for the citizens of Jefferson County,” Randall said. “That’s why we’re here. We encourage people to use us.”

New law will effect scrap metal sales and purchases

By Faye Ellison
Staff Writer

Scrappers, as well as recycling centers face new legislation that goes into effect July 1 aimed to curb sales of stolen metals.

Georgia House Bill 872 or the Metal Theft Bill was co-sponsored by State Senator Jesse Stone, who said he is eager to see the impact of the new law across the area. The bill was sponsored by Representative Jason Shaw. Stone said he became an advocate for stricter laws when he was contacted by Farm Bureau Insurance because so many farm irrigation systems were being stripped of their metal, a problem that has cursed the Jefferson County area in the past few years.


Stripping the copper wire from irrigation systems can cripple a farmer for days and lead to unexpected expenses reaching into thousands of dollars in repair, not including the potential loss of the unirrigated crop.

Farmers have not been the only ones facing the theft of different metals, churches, schools and citizens across the area have seen metal taken from air conditioning units or other items that are in thieves’ sights.

“All these people came together demanding that something be done,” he said.

Stone said he pushed for the requirement that a seller sign a sworn affidavit ensuring the metal was obtained legally. Recycling centers that are not in compliance with the law could face misdemeanor charges, especially if the necessary forms and requirements are not met for each sale.

The changes include the requirement for every recycler, regardless of size, to register with the local sheriff and to report all materials brought to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation nightly.

“It will be a lot more paperwork,” said Chip Koplin, the president of the Georgia Recyclers Association. “But if law enforcement thinks it will be helpful, we’re on board.”

A representative of one local recycling center said that scrappers will now need a permit to sale scrap metal.

“So far I don’t know a lot about the law,” he said. “We are just taking it as it comes. I believe you have to get the permit from law enforcement.”

The employee said that recycling centers cannot buy a vehicle that is 12 years old or newer without a title. Most scrap vehicle srequire a bill of sale, picture identification and a cancelation of title form from the Georgia Department of Transportation.

“Personally, I think this will affect the scrapping business,” he said. “But so far as a company, I don’t know. I heard that we may be adding new camera systems, too. It is sad when a bad apple spoils the whole bunch.”

Changes to the current law include:

• Digital photos of sellers and drivers, if different, are required to stay on file for a minimum of two years.

• Sellers may be required to provide work orders, police reports or other documentation depending on the transaction.

• Sellers must sign a sworn affidavit that the metal was not obtained illegally.

• A secondary metals recycler must obtain a permit from the sheriff’s office. Unlicensed out-of-town core buyers are no longer allowed without a permit.

• Any tools or vehicles used in the commission of the metal theft can be seized by law enforcement.

• Restrictions and documentation required to sell cemetery brass, bronze and other burial objects.

• Sale of trailers, motor vehicles and motor vehicle parts will require a bill of sale or other documentation.

• Recyclers will be forbidden to cash their own checks on premises or use ATMs for instant cash redemption.

• Additional penalties for convicted metal thieves, including restitution and forfeiture.

Law makers said the bill is complicated, but it was becoming a matter of public safety. Theft of items such as manhole covers and copper wire from walls was creating safety issues.

“Metal recycling is such a viable industry,” Georgia Recyclers Association President Koplin said.

According to Koplin the business brings in nearly $4 billion to the state each year.

“We listened to all the different sides and came up with a solution everyone seems to be happy with.”

Koplin said one issue still looms for recyclers, they will be paid with a check or voucher for cash redeemable in three days. Before the law was changed, cash could be used to pay the recycler. The only exemption will be for aluminum cans or batteries. Law enforcement encourages citizens to mark their batteries for identification purposes, since battery thefts may climb with the law change.

Koplin said the association does not think this part of the bill will help with metal thefts.

“A thief is a thief,” he said. “There is no proof this kind of thing has worked for other states. I just don’t think it will help.”

He also noted there are ways around the rule, such as check cashing businesses that will give cash for checks immediately.

“It is a good bit more record keeping,” he said. “But we think it will be helpful to law enforcement and will help with metal thefts, so we will do our part.”

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