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December 26, 2013 Issue

Legislators listen and share their agendas
Fugitive sex offender caught in the Louisville area
Chlorine plant looking at Wadley

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Legislators listen and share their agendas

By Parish Howard
Editor/Publisher

Last week, over a full country breakfast, three area legislators shared their takes on the biggest issues coming through their branches of government.

During the Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce’s annual legislative breakfast hosted by Jefferson Energy, area officials and business leaders were able to bend the ears of State Sen. Jesse Stone, Rep. Mack Jackson and recently elected Rep. Brian Prince.

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“I always look forward to driving through Jefferson County,” Stone said. “It’s such a beautiful area and y’all have done so much hard work to make it that way: all the streetscape projects, the Bartow community is a treasure, the new municipal building in Wadley. Y’all are on the move and moving in the right direction.”

Stone went on to talk about the legislature’s recent work to make Georgia an inviting place to do business. He reported that this month’s edition of Site Selection magazine has rated Georgia as the number one state in the country to do business.

Rep. Jackson went on to talk about the different major manufacturing plants that have located in the state in recent years as well as the plans to deepen the Savannah harbor.

“This type of thing doesn’t just happen overnight,” Stone said. “It’s the work of conscious, steady progress and good policy decisions along the way. I think we’ll see more industry coming down in our part of the state.”

He said he would love to see more projects like Pyramax in Jefferson County.

Stone said that he expects the legislature to have a relatively short session as they are working to bring the state election cycle in line with the federal cycle.

In the first half of the session, he said a lot of bills were passed.

“Going into this next session we’re probably going to do some tweaking,” Stone said, of the bills already introduced.

Between sessions, study committees have been looking into other areas. Stone has himself served on three of those committees, one on mental health accessibility, another on expungement of criminal records for time served and the final involved listening to educators on how to imrpove public education in Georgia.

“What we’re hearing from the teachers is that we need to stay the course and not make any major changes anytime soon as to how we set our standards in the public system,” Stone said. “We’re hearing teachers want to give the Common Core a chance, maybe later we can go back to the drawing board. But what they don’t want to do is change in the middle of the stream.”

“Funding for education is critical,” Stone said. “Education takes up about half of our budget….It takes all of our income tax to support public education. Georgia has had huge budget cuts in the last five years because of the recession. There was no way to avoid these. Our state revenues today are about the same as they were before 2007, but at the same time Georgia’s population has grown by half a million.”

He said that with growing revenues this year, there is a lot of pressure to better fund education and he thinks we will see that.

“A number of the rural schools in my area are telling us that they may not be able to hang on much longer and so we are looking closely at the needs of the smaller systems,” Stone said.

“The number one thing I heard from the speaker is that the budget will be number one,” Jackson said. “It’s going to be the budget, the budget, the budget that we’ll be working on. Fortunately revenues have been up, but that doesn’t mean there’s going to be a lot of spending. There’ll be more cuts.”

Jackson said he also expects an expansion on the concealed weapons bill that it probably will not have the college carry portion in it.

He also knows of a bill to see that landowners are repaid for stolen timber.

The car tag tax will be reviewed again as well as discussions regarding telecommunications towers inside of the cities.

Jackson said he served on a listening committee focusing on how government regulations may be hindering small business growth in Georgia.

“There’s nothing we can do about federal regulations, but if they are the state’s, we want to be able to decrease those because small businesses are the backbone of our economy and we want them to be able to grow,” Jackson said.

Rep. Prince, who was just elected in a runoff earlier this month, will take office in January.

He said that he plans to work on making the economy better by focusing on brining more business to the area, partly by supporting education here.

“My focus will be on workforce development,” Prince said. “To bring more businesses here we have to have a workforce ready to take those jobs.”

At the end of the program area residents took directed questions to the legislators that dealt directly with local issues.

Jefferson County Commissioner Tommy New asked for help funding the prison work camp.

Among the other questions were requests for explanations of bills designed to reform patient compensation, support of downtown development programs, limiting of cell towers in downtown areas, Fair Collection of Tax legislation and unfunded mandates among other issues.

There were also questions regarding how the state tends to address the new healthcare laws and the governor’s decision not to expand the Medicaid rolls.

“We’re talking about Georgia saying no to billions of dollars. It’s our tax money but it’s going to other states. The immediate impact is on our hospitals,” Stone said. “They’ve taken away most of the programs that predated the Affordable Care Act that helped rural hospitals cover indigent care.”

He expects a second look at that, but does not expect a blanket expansion.




Fugitive sex offender caught in the Louisville area

By Carol McLeod
Staff Writer

A fugitive from Toombs County was captured outside Louisville Thursday, Dec. 19, Louisville Police Chief Jimmy Miller said.

Miller said Benny Albert Murray, a registered sex offender, was arrested about 9:30 a.m. Murray was convicted in June 2002 of aggravated child molestation, which is a felony. He served time and was released this year on Sept. 4.

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Toombs County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Barry Brown said Murray was required to wear an ankle locator, but, somehow was able to remove it and left Toombs County.

Miller said Murray was on Highway 24 West just outside Louisville city limits walking towards the city.

“He was tracked and found to be in our area earlier this week by the US Marshals Service Southeast Regional Fugitive Task Force,” Miller said. “Local law enforcement was notified by the task force that he was in our area and surveillance was set up by the task force in Louisville for several days.”

The chief said Murray was located by Louisville police officers.

“Jointly US Marshals, Louisville PD and the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department were able to arrest Murray without incident,” he said.

Brown said Murray was picked up by Toombs County deputies on his day of arrest and taken back to Toombs County.




Chlorine plant looking at Wadley

By Carol McLeod
Staff Writer

Michael Ross, CEO of ChloroChem, met with members of the Development Authority of the City of Wadley to continue discussion about his interest in building a chlorine plant in the city. Council members, members of Jefferson County’s development authority and members of the public also attended. The meeting was held Thursday, Dec. 12, at city hall.

“This is a special called meeting,” Edie Pundt said when she opened the meeting. “We have no business to discuss at this meeting, so no votes.”

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Ross said his plant, once up and running, will bring 11 jobs to the area.

The jobs will not require workers to have a college degree, he said, adding he is a chemist. His plan is to have a railway spur come into his plant. Chemicals being delivered are therefore not exposed to the air while being unloaded.

Ross said the process uses a vacuum to withdraw the chemical from the railway car and into the machine that will make the end product, chlorine. The process prevents the accidental release of chlorine gas into the atmosphere, he said.

A main concern of city officials was the safety of the community.

Ross explained the process will be in an area that is enclosed but agreed possible exposure could be an issue.

“It’s a serious issue we have to address. That’s where your major concern is, when it’s traveling on the rail,” he said.

Ross said there will be monitoring devices that can detect one part in a million.

“If there’s a problem, it’s going to happen before it gets here,” he said.

“What can you do to assure us as the citizens of Wadley of safety?” Councilman Izell Mack asked Ross.

Ross said he is required to submit a risk management plan to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for approval and the plan is updated as needed.

He said in addition to this plan, there is also a process safety management plan for employees and an emergency action plan.

Ross was asked who would be responsible for any specialized equipment that might be required for the city’s firefighters in case of a release.

“We can help with that,” he said.

Ross said he had not yet determined if the area he is considering for his plant is in wetlands or talked with the railroad to see if they will put a switch there.

He said the company will be a wholesaler for the most part.

“We’re looking to raise $7.5 million,” he said.

Ross said he would have to produce about $3.3 million of chlorine annually to break even.

“Ultimately, we still have to get the permit to build from Wadley,” he said.

Mack said the council is willing to do whatever is necessary to bring jobs to the city.

As the meeting was for discussion only, there was no vote. It was agreed, however, to move forward and have the city’s attorney meet with Ross’ attorney.










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