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Hardy, DuPree rewarded for efforts

Wed, 6/24/2015 12:14 AM

Former Greenbrier High School standouts Clint Hardy, Jr. (2013). and Taylor DuPree (2014) stood out in the college ranks in 2015 and were rewarded for their efforts.

Hardy, a sophomore outfielder on the Division II Georgia Regents University baseball team, was named to the 2015 Peach Belt All-Conference team, was a Daktronics All-Region choice and, topping the list, he was selected as a National Baseball Writers Association 2015 Third Team All-American.

“It means a lot to be named All-American,” said Hardy. “I take baseball seriously and put in a lot of hard work and it’s rewarding to see it pay off.”

DuPree made the most of her freshman season at Division I College of Charleston. After playing three positions – left field, third base and second base – during the season, DuPree was named to the Colonial Athletic Association All-Rookie Team, was All-CAA First Team and then was named National Fastpitch Coaches Association Mid-Atlantic Region Second Team.

“I didn’t expect it,” said DuPree of having as much success as she did in her rookie year. “I just go in to play where I’m needed and things fell into place.”

Hardy transferred from Division I Western Kentucky University and said he made the right choice coming back home. He finished leading the Peach Belt in batting (.455), while leading the Jaguars in slugging percentage (.740), on-base percentage (.494), scored runs (49), doubles (13), triples (three) and steals (11-for-11), He was second in homers (eight) and ended the season with 19 hits in his final 33 at bats.

The keys to his success?

“I had a better approach at the plate, better coaches who put me in a position to succeed, and there’s always a little bit of luck in there,” Hardy said.

For DuPree, adjusting to her new situation was the biggest obstacle.

“Here you’re a big fish in a little pond but there you’re a little fish in a big pond but everyone here expects you to do well,” DuPree said. “You now go to a place where no one knows your name and you have work just as hard to get back to where you were.”

People knew DuPree’s name by the time she finished her first year. She broke the school record for stolen bases in a season (25), finishing the year with a league-best 26 in 28 attempts. She was also in the top 10 in the CAA in batting (.364), on-base percentage (.437) and runs scored (34) and tied for team high with 18 walks.

College of Charleston head coach Linda Kalafatis liked what she saw from Dupree and is excited about her next three years.

“Taylor had an excellent freshman season and is such a hard worker who will only get better,” said Kalafatis. “Couple that with an intense passion for the game and Taylor has a very bright future ahead of her.”

Categories: Local

Government debt to become more transparent

Wed, 6/24/2015 12:13 AM

ATLANTA – Soon, taxpayers will get a truer picture of how much debt state and local governments have amassed as new, national accounting standards take effect.

Finance officials with school boards, city councils and county commissions across Georgia are getting documents from the state listing their share of the built-up costs of providing retirement checks one day for current workers. The local and state governments will be required, for the first time, to publically list the unfunded amounts as part of their debt.

“In the year of implementation, the pension liability will significantly reduce the net position of many governments, including school districts,” notes the Department of Education’s instructions to local districts. “A negative balance in net position essentially means that the school district does not currently have all of the resources needed to satisfy its liabilities.”

It’s likely to be surprising to some taxpayers and lead to uncomfortable conversations with voters questioning the amounts – especially if a tepid stock market makes the deficit grow.”

Governments have been hiding massive amounts of future financial liabilities for years, according to Certified Public Accountant Shelia Weinberg, founding and CEO of Truth in Accounting. In Georgia, where the state manages its own pension plans that many local governments also use, the amount of unfunded pension liability is $5.5 billion.

“Most people thought everything was fine because they were balancing the budgets,” she said. “…We totally believe you’re not balancing your budget if you’re not including pensions on your balance sheets.”

The new accounting rules require posting of unfunded pension liabilities for financial reports of the fiscal year that ends June 30. When the next year ends, governments will also have to report unfunded medical expenses for future retirees, which in Georgia total $7.4 billion.

Georgia has a 30-year plan to catch up, but the University System of Georgia only put one-fifth of what it should have in the current budget year – $120 million compared to the $410 million, actuaries figure is necessary. That makes for a bigger deficit and a steeper path to catch up.

Weinberg’s organization rates Georgia at the middle of the pack compared to other states. But it is one of just a handful that all three of the respected bond-rating agencies, Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s and Fitch, have awarded their highest grade of AAA. Last week, Georgia sold $1.25 billion in bonds, and the rating agencies renewed the state’s top rating for the 25th year, notes Sen. Jack Hill, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“Analysts cited Georgia’s conservative fiscal management, replenishment of reserves, moderate debt level and a diversified economy,” said Hill, R-Reidsville. “They noted the state was fully funding its retirement plans and had a history of rapidly amortizing debt.”

The rating agencies consider pensions fully funded if the current minimum contributions have been made.

Another plus, according to Hill, is that the state is wrapping up the current fiscal year with a $513 million surplus, which will go into reserves to bring that total above $1 billion.

For state officials, the AAA is the prized distinction that proves they’re doing a good job. “That’s my biggest health check,” said State Accounting Officer Alan Skelton.

There are three ways to manage benefit liabilities, adjust the input, the output or the financial assumptions.

Input adjustment means putting more money in, either through the employer or the employee contributions.

From that standpoint, Georgia leaders have an advantage over many states and large city governments in that its employee unions have no collective-bargaining rights.

Still, Weinberg, with the Chicago-based Truth In Accounting, says taxpayers need to understand the significance of Georgia’s unfunded employee liabilities. Paying the currently required minimums as figured by actuaries doesn’t mean there’s no deficit.

“Keep in mind, because I am paying my credit card’s minimum payment each month, doesn’t mean that I don’t have a credit card balance I should be concerned about,” she said.

Follow Walter Jones on Twitter @MorrisNews and Facebook or contact him at walter.jones@morris.com.

Categories: Local

Back-to-School Immunization Clinic

Wed, 6/24/2015 12:13 AM

The Columbia County Health Department is holding a Back-to-School Immunization Walk-in Clinic to make sure children are ready to begin school in August.

The clinic will be held from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. July 27-29, 31, and Aug. 3-7 at the health department at 1930 William Few Parkway near Grovetown.

If the child is new to the clinic, it is helpful to drop a copy of the child’s medical records by the clinic before the child’s visit so they can be entered into the State Immunization Registry System.

“If they want to bring in the records ahead of time,” registered nurse Jonell Dalis, the head of Clinic and Clinical Services,
said. “It does expedite the process somewhat.”

Categories: Local

Hospitals lay out claims to Columbia County

Wed, 6/24/2015 12:13 AM

ATLANTA – Attorneys for the two hospitals that the state denied permission to build a Columbia County facility took turns Thursday attacking the winning application submitted by Georgia Regents University Medical Center.

Doctors Hospital and University Hospital are appealing their denials last year by the Georgia Department of Community Health.

A hearing officer, Ellwood F. Oakley III, started the proceedings by pointing to eight, three-ring binders on the table beside him, each containing hundreds of pages of evidence.

“This is a very daunting set of documents to get into the record,” he said.

As each of the 12 lawyers for the various groups took their turns speaking, another notebook was added to the stack.

“I think there is going to be substantial detail over the course of the hearing,” said Lawrence Meyers, attorney for University Hospital.

The hearing is expected to last until June 30.

Meyers said he’ll be challenging Georgia Regents’ financial projections.

“We say from a financial feasibility standpoint these numbers simply don’t work,” he said.

Georgia Regents’ is ready to defend those projections, said attorney Robert Threlkeld.

Doctors Hospital argued that the department used the wrong logic in making its decision.

“Our view is the department must consider the impact on the health care-delivery system overall,” said Doctors’ attorney Steve Ecenia.

The first witness was a retired ophthalmologist, Dr. Al Scott, who served on a short-lived committee the county commission assembled to evaluate proposals from the three
hospitals.

He testified that, after several private meetings among the committee and the chance to hear presentations from each hospital, the group cast secret ballots that turned out “strongly in favor of University.”

However, the committee’s vice chairman, Barry Paschal, didn’t testify but offered a different account.

“There was never anything like a straw vote,” he said.

After The Augusta Chronicle protested the closed-door meetings, the committee met in public and voted not to endorse any proposal. Scott said that was because some members had business relations with the hospitals that they did not want to endanger with a public vote.

With the second witness and more notebooks, the hearing began to grind down in a showdown of competing experts and statistics, starting with quality ratings.

Reporter Tom Corwin contributed to this story.

Categories: Local

Police Blotter, June 24, 2015

Wed, 6/24/2015 12:12 AM

The following accounts were taken from Columbia County Sheriff’s Office incident reports:

Stranger seen in sister’s home

A woman told deputies Friday that she saw a stranger in her sister’s house.

The woman said she spent the night at her sister’s Martinez home Thursday.The woman said when she woke up at about 6:30 a.m. Friday, she saw a tall, slender man inside the home. At first she thought she was dreaming, but the man appeared real.

She said he then walked into the bathroom and flushed the toilet. She said he then opened the refrigerator.

The woman said she kept her eyes closed for about 20 minutes after seeing the man. When she walked into the living room, the door was closed and locked.

She never heard or saw anyone come into or leave the home, she said.

Scam involves utility charges

The president of a Martinez auto dealership called authorities Thursday and said someone was trying to scam an electric bill payment from him.

The Gerald Jones Honda president said he received a call at about 3:30 p.m. about the Georgia Power bill for the dealership. The caller, who identified himself as Michael Wilkins, told the owner to go to a Martinez Food Lion store and put $1,500 on a cash card three times. If he did this, the caller said the bill would be paid in full and power would not be disconnected to the business. He immediately called authorities.

A deputy used the number the dealership president provided for Wilkins and called him. He told the deputy he worked for Georgia Power. The caller immediately got hostile with the deputy and hung up. He didn’t answer when the deputy tried to call back.

The owner called Georgia Power and confirmed that the bill for the dealership is not past due and he told a company representative about the scam.

Family reports mail threaten

An Evans woman said Thursday that someone put a threatening letter in her mailbox.

The 42-year-old woman said someone put an envelope in her mailbox the previous afternoon. The envelope was addressed to her daughter in handwriting she didn’t recognize. It was not postmarked or stamped.

Inside the envelope was a blank application for membership to the Ku Klux Klan.

The woman and her daughter were concerned that application was meant as a threat because her family is interracial. She said there’s been previous incidents of racism in her neighborhood.

Woman reports telephone threat

A Martinez woman told deputies Saturday that a man threatened her over the phone.

The 28-year-old woman said she’d been talking to a man who was going to help her find new tires for her vehicle. She said she got a strange feeling about him and asked him not contact her any more. The man began sending her hostile messages and she felt threatened. The woman told the man she was calling authorities because he wouldn’t leave her alone.

The woman received a phone call and the caller ID displayed the non-emergency phone number for the Columbia County 911 Dispatch Center. The male caller left a message stating he was a deputy and asked for her to call him back at the number shown. When she called the number and got dispatch, the woman said she began receiving more calls from that number. When she answered, the woman said the same man who left the previous message claimed to be a deputy, but refused to give his name.

The caller told her there was no need for names and he was a friend of the man she’d dealt with about the tires. The woman continued to demand the caller’s name and said she believed he was impersonating an officer. The caller got irate and threatened her, “I’ll cut you like a fish!” and cursed as her.

Categories: Local

Mother, boyfriend charged in baby's death

Wed, 6/24/2015 12:11 AM

Columbia County authorities charged a Martinez couple with murder Friday in the death of the woman’s 5½-month-old son, two days after he was found lifeless by emergency crews.

Investigators suspect Bentley Reeves was smothered to death by his mother’s boyfriend in the mobile home he shared with the couple and a 2-year-old sibling, Columbia County sheriff’s Capt. Steve Morris said.

Investigators obtained warrants Friday afternoon charging Jacob Drew Harris, 26, with malice murder in the boy’s death. The child was the son of Lexis Fay Russell, 23, who was charged with felony murder, Morris said.

Morris said the murder charges resulted from new evidence obtained in the days since the child’s death and the subsequent arrest of Russell and Harris on numerous drug charges, including the manufacture of methamphetamine in the presence of a child.

According to the warrant, Harris “placed the body of Bent­ley Reeves face down on a mattress because Bentley would not stop crying.

He placed a blanket and a pillow on top of Bentley and pressed down until Bentley stopped crying.”

Russell was charged with felony murder because the death happened during the commission of a felony – her use of illegal drugs in the home, police said. She is also charged with cruelty to children in the second degree.

The child’s grandmother, Lill Reeves, said her son Jeremy Reeves had an on-and-off relationship with Russell and was the father of two of her children, including Bentley. She said her son was out of town working when they learned of Bentley’s death.

She was stunned at the new charges.

“That baby was the most beautiful, happy, healthy little baby,” Lill Reeves said Friday. “I had him all last weekend and he was just starting to roll. He was rolling all over my floor.

“He was so precious, I just don’t know how anybody could hurt him,” she said. “I just can’t believe it.”

The charges come a day after sheriff’s investigators spent the afternoon searching the couple’s residence in M&M Mobile Home Park at 4222 Wheeler Road.

Russell and Harris called 911 June 17 after Russell woke about 4:35 a.m. and found her son unresponsive and not breathing, they said. They moved the baby to the living room and began CPR, a sheriff’s report said. The coroner pronounced the child dead at 5:21 a.m.
Columbia County Coroner Vernon Collins said results of an autopsy performed Thursday in Atlanta were inconclusive, and it could be weeks before toxicology results are ready and an official cause of death is announced.

Russell is also charged with possession of synthetic marijuana, also known as spice. Harris is also charged with possession of marijuana and methamphetamine. Both were being held Monday at the Columbia County Detention Center without bond.

Categories: Local

Amateur Radio Field Day this weekend

Wed, 6/24/2015 12:10 AM

A weekend event is offering a chance to learn about Ham radio.

Amateur Radio Field Day will be held in Columbia County from 2 p.m. Saturday to 10 a.m. Sunday at Cabin No. 8 at Pointes West Army Resort at 6703 Washington Road in Appling.

The event is free and open to the public.

The field day is an annual event among amateur radio operators across North America. Operators set up temporary Ham radio stations in public locations to showcase the science and skill of amateur radio and allow the opportunity for members of the community to learn more about amateur radio.

The objective is to test preparedness skills including deployment and operations of equipment and to contact as many other amateur radio stations around the world as possible.

Amateur radio operators provide a critical public service for the community. During times of disaster, they are able to provide reliable communications when normal infrastructure is offline or overwhelmed. Ham radio operators are licensed by the Federal Communications Commission and are trained in the art and science of radio communications as well as basic electronics theory. They own and maintain their own equipment and are prohibited by federal law from receiving payment for services.

Categories: Local

S.C. Supreme Court: Project Jackson upheld, open-meeting laws violated by city officials

Tue, 6/23/2015 10:36 AM

The South Carolina Supreme Court on June 17 upheld the validity of a North Augusta ordinance being used to finance a new stadium for the Augusta GreenJackets.

The court determined, however, that North Augusta officials violated open-meetings laws by failing to announce the specific purpose of closed-door meetings they held to discuss the development.

The 5-0 ruling in effect ends 18 months of litigation challenging North Augusta’s $183 million Project Jackson near the Hammond’s Ferry neighborhood with a baseball park overlooking the Savannah River, a hotel, conference center, and retail, living and office space.

“Project Jackson can move forward and will move forward,” said Belton Zeigler, a Columbia attorney who represented North Augusta during the litigation. “The obstacles are cleared out of the way.”

Jeff Eiseman, president of the Green-Jackets and team owner Agon Sports and Entertainment, said the ruling allows the team to open its 2017 season in the North Augusta stadium. The stadium was planned for the 2015 season when the city announced plans in late 2012.

“I’ve been waiting for this day for a while,” Eiseman said. “We have bigger days ahead of us. There’s still a lot more to do.”

North Augusta Administrator Todd Glover said work will begin to finalize contracts with groups that will occupy the development but were reluctant to sign agreements with litigation pending. Construction groundbreaking isn’t scheduled but the stadium is on track for the 2017 season, he said.

North Augusta homeowner Stephen Donohue sued the city in December 2013, claiming the development area did not have blighted property required to amend a Tax Increment Financing District created in 1996. He also said the North Augusta City Council violated the Freedom of Information Act by holding executive sessions without disclosing to taxpayers that council members were discussing Project
Jackson.

“The court said the city did exactly what the statute required to amend the TIF plan,” Zeigler said. “There were no defects in that process at all.”

The Supreme Court’s opinion affirmed the August 2014 ruling by South Carolina Circuit Court Judge Ernest Kinard on the TIF District but reversed his decision that North Augusta complied with FOIA. Donohue appealed Kinard’s ruling, and the Supreme Court agreed to bypass the Court of Appeals to hear the case May 5.

In an e-mail, Donohue applauded the court’s decision to advance government transparency regarding closed door meetings but said upholding the TIF district allows Project Jackson to disturb the riverfront and city’s quality-of-life.

“While we were disappointed in the decision on TIF and thought it merited a more thorough analysis than a few pages, suffice it to say that many people and organizations are committed to fighting this ill-conceived idea of a stadium in the midst of one of the most beautiful ecological areas in the CSRA,” he said.

“This transfer of taxes to a corporate developer constitutes crony capitalism at its worst, which will significantly degrade the quality of life of all those who chose to invest their hard-earned money in riverside neighborhoods.”

In 11 executive sessions challenged by Donohue, the city council announced they were entering to discuss a “contractual matter,” according to the opinion.

Contractual matters are defined as a “specific purpose” that municipalities can use to hold closed meetings but the statue requires more description when the subject involves location, expansion or services for businesses or industries that will serve the public, the opinion says.

Zeigler said North Augusta followed the FOIA as the city and some other municipalities interpret the law. The court’s opinion called for more specific descriptions that could change how governments conduct business, although it’s not clear how much disclosure must be given, he said.

“FOIA is always a balance between abilities of governments to operate with a certain amount of privacy for specific areas and transparency for the public. The court is saying they want to push that balance more toward transparency,” he said.

The FOIA violation does not invalidate the funding ordinance because the executive sessions applied to contract negotiations with Augusta GreenJackets owners and project developers, Zeigler said.

The Supreme Court required North Augusta to pay attorney fees and costs for the portion of litigation relating to FOIA violations only.

Zeigler said the amount has not been determined but the case centered more on the TIF district than FOIA.

North Augusta has spent about $250,000 on legal fees for the case, Glover said. Additionally, construction costs increased during the lengthy litigation likely costing the city more to complete the project, he said.

The GreenJackets have not signed a contract with North Augusta, Eiseman said. Still, the team is committed to the project and eager to play in the riverfront stadium, he said.

North Augusta Mayor Lark Jones maintains the development isn’t a done deal and naysayers of the project hold strong to their disdain for the plans.

“In order for this to work financially, the private sector is going to have to build $125 million worth of improvements,” Jones said.

Jones said groundbreaking has not been scheduled, and the city won’t proceed until it’s assured that private developers can come through on their portion of the deal.

“The city council is going to have a comfort level it will all work,” Jones said.

Glover said the private investment includes $125 million for a hotel, shops, restaurants and living space. The city will cover $58 million for a stadium, conference center, parking decks, infrastructure and riverfront park between the Hammond’s Ferry and River Club neighborhoods.

The city amended a Tax Incre­ment Financing District created in 1996 to repay bonds it plans to issue for Project Jackson. The model allows North Augusta to collect tax revenue on the incremental difference between the district’s rising property values and values for Aiken County, which would remain frozen at 1996 levels for 30 years.

Scott Slatton, a legislative and public policy advocate for the Municipal Association of South Carolina, said residents have no additional tax burden if they are outside the TIF district. Commercial properties within the district pay more in property taxes as the area grows, but they benefit from the increase in business, he said.

“Rather than having to raise taxes to generate new revenue, the new development is raising the new revenue,” Slatton said.

Other sources of revenue for the project include hospitality tax money, lease payments from the team and parking revenue.

Scott Gudith, who like Donahue lives in the upscale, riverfront River Club neighborhood, has opposed the project since it was announced in late 2012. He thinks a baseball stadium will destroy the quiet life he and his wife, Regina Reddy, sought when they moved to North Augusta fromAtlanta.

Gudith already moved once when Augusta considered building a Green­Jackets stadium on the former Georgia Golf Hall of Fame Botanical Gardens, which was directly across the Savannah River from his house. When that fell through, they settled on the River Club golf course.

Gudith has shown his house to six potential buyers in the past three years. He wants to move but fears the development has turned people away from the area and driven down home values.

City leaders say those who oppose Project Jackson are vocal but few and do not represent the majority of city residents excited about new restaurants, shops and ball games.

“I’ve been surprised by the number of e-mails I’ve gotten and people on the street that have gotten so excited,” Jones said.

City Councilman Fletcher Dickert said the residents he represents are eager for North Augusta’s growth.

“The overwhelming majority of the community is for and behind it. From the people I interact with, it’s easily 9-to-1,” he said.

When Curtis Holmes and his family moved to Hammond’s Ferry four years ago, he didn’t expect a baseball stadium would be built. He doesn’t mind it if the neighborhood develops more amenities surrounding it.

“The whole vision of Hammond’s Ferry was to have a wide range of development around single-family homes, town homes, shops and restaurants,” Holmes said. “As long as they do it right, I’m OK with it.”

Categories: Local

Attracting pollinators is important part of gardening

Sun, 6/21/2015 12:09 AM

Attracting butterflies and bees to your yard is as simple as knowing what types of plants to include in your garden. Doing so is important to the pollination of plants and vegetables.

Local gardener Ginny Allen explains that “native pollen and nectar bearing plants are great. Butterflies need host plants for both caterpillar and butterfly stages. Plants are species-specific and you can get lists for plants for each species.”

Allen notes that milkweed, dill, fennel and parsley are good for caterpillars, while butterflies like flat flowers such as zinnias, black-eyed susans, single cone flowers and yarrow.

Butterflies can be a welcome addition to the garden, not only for their beauty, but also because of their usefulness in pollinating flowers, notes the National Wildlife Federation.

“Attracting butterflies involves incorporating plants that serve the needs of all life stages of the butterfly,” explains an article on its Web site. “The insects need places to lay eggs, food plants for their caterpillars, places to form chrysalides and nectar for adults.”

Those who create pollinator gardens can certify them with the National Wildlife Federation and they will count toward the Million Garden Challenge for Pollinators, which focuses on pollinator conservation.

Bees pollinate the blooms of vegetable plants. When a bee is perched on a flower, it is looking for pollen and nectar. Pollen provides protein and fats for the bee while the nectar is loaded with sugar and is the bee’s main source of energy.

The Web site veggiegardener.com notes that “bees are equipped with very tiny hairs on their bodies and legs. When the bee lands on a flower, pollen will stick to these hairs. When the bee moves to another flower, he transfers the pollen from the previous flower to the next one, pollinating the bloom. This pollination is required for many garden vegetables such as okra, beans, squash, cucumbers and many more. Without this pollination, most vegetables will never set fruit, and that can be bad news for your garden.”

Bees are attracted to white, blue, purple, violet or yellow flowers.

“Bees like sage, particularly the light-blue variety, bee balm, cone flowers, black-eyed susans, goldenrod, Queen Anne’s Lace, lantana, white clover, zinnias, sedum and yarrow,” said Allen.

Categories: Local

Columbia County task force wants all contractors checked with proper permits and licenses observed

Sun, 6/21/2015 12:05 AM

A task force formed to rid Columbia County of unlicensed contractors proposed a cleansing process Wednesday that starts with building inspectors visiting job sites to confirm all construction companies and trade businesses operating locally are properly permitted.

During a 90-minute roundtable discussion, the three-person study committee said the sweep would start with electrical, mechanical, plumbing and general contracting businesses before moving to painters, roofers and house framers, each of which is not required to be licensed under Georgia law.

The panel, which consists of licensed electrician Rob Zapata and residential and commercial builders Mark Ivey and Steve Clifton, described the effort as a way to get “back to the basics” and ensure contractors don’t fall victim to insurance fraud.
“We are not going to catch everybody, but we need to enforce our occupational tax certificates better by requiring contractors to have a copy with them at all times on job sites,” said County Administrator Scott Johnson. “It’s our first line of defense.”

Most contractors are required by law to obtain a license and general liability insurance for their company.

Roofers, painters and house framers, however, are not – creating a gap in the industry that officials say puts some construction firms and trade professionals at risk because if an uninsured subcontractor gets hurt while working on a house, whoever hired them might have to pay the bill.

A recent incident cast light on the issue. Ricardo R. Aguas, an illegal immigrant from Mexico, died May 16 after falling from the second story of a single-family home under construction in Evan’s Bartram Trail neighborhood. Aguas and his three brothers were working for an unlicensed Martinez subcontractor hired by Ashworth Homes to frame the house.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Admini­stration is investigating the fall to determine whether safety regulations were violated.

In the meantime, Colum­bia County is searching for ways to stop contractors who are violating licensing laws or intentionally cutting corners.

On first offense, unlicensed contracting is a misdemeanor, punishable by up to a $1,000 fine. Second and subsequent offenses are felonies.

“The biggest issue is insurance,” Ivey said.

Ivey said larger builders are not allowed to have anyone on a job site not covered under general liability insurance, but firms with fewer than four employees can skirt the law because they are not required to have workers compensation policies.

If a company has fewer than 11 employees, Zapata said, they do not have to participate in E-verify, an online system for determining the eligibility of employees to work in the U.S.

Erin Hall, Columbia County’s licensing and permits manager, said the majority of local contractors have fewer than six employees.

“We have to get out there and police it,” said Zapata.

Enforcement of the new proposal is still being ironed out, but the committee described a system where code enforcement officers would investigate sites after receiving complaints from 311 operators or building inspectors.

The study committee is expected to report its findings to Columbia County Development Advisory Board next month for eventual overall
approval.

Categories: Local

Columbia County approves new housing district, keeps moratorium

Sun, 6/21/2015 12:05 AM

Columbia County leaders unanimously approved the creation of a new residential zoning district for compact neighborhoods on Tuesday, but a six-month moratorium on
high-density housing likely will remain in effect until it expires in August.

The Columbia County
Com­mission passed the final reading for a Planned Residential De­vel­op­ment district that will replace townhome and cluster housing zones with guidelines aimed at creating “more coherent and coordinated” communities.

Under the new standard, side setbacks will be doubled to 10 feet, at least 10 percent of a development must be preserved as open space, townhomes are required to have garages and all streets must interconnect, with cul-de-sacs reserved for “exceptional situations.”

The improvements, which were OK’d by the planning commission in May, were expected to resolve a six-month moratorium the commission placed on rezoning applications for high-density housing on Feb. 17, but county Administrator Scott Johnson said the measure will likely go until Aug. 4.

“The moratorium is still in effect,” said Andrew Strickland, Col­umbia County director of planning services. “The commission will need to adopt a separate resolution to lift it.”

Leaders applauded the passage of the new district, saying it provides builders with more flexible design standards in exchange for their promotion of “innovative and creative development styles.”

Jim Cox, the planning commission chairman, said before the county passed the moratorium, developers could cram up to 200 homes within 5 feet of each other – preventing small slivers of land on the side of properties from draining and utility crews from getting repair equipment between units.

Strickland said the plan to double side setback requirements was “a significant upgrade” and should help the county better accommodate the 3,700 cyber defense workers coming to Fort Gordon by 2019.

“This marks the culmination of a lot of hard work from the development community and the county,” he said.

“It will definitely spread things
out a bit and go a long way toward fixing the problems we faced in the past by providing long-term upgrades for the community’s building standards.”

Ron Cross, the county commission chairman, agreed and said he was glad to see green space requirements and side setbacks increased from original proposals of 10 percent and 7½ feet, respectively.

“I know some developers want to build as many units as they can, but it was time for us to take a good hard look at our standards and make the necessary changes,” he said. “Supporting community growth is important, but only if it is done in a controlled manner.”

Categories: Local

School board plans to roll back tax rate

Sun, 6/21/2015 12:04 AM

Columbia County school officials plan to roll back property taxes next month, but the impact on individual tax bills is expected to be small.

Schools Superintendent Sandra Carraway said school board members agreed last week while at their retreat in Savannah to set the school tax millage at 18.3 mills for the next year. The current rate is 18.59 mills, which was set in July 2013 when board members voted to raise the rate a full mill to compensate deep cuts in state funding to local school districts.

The planned reduction for this year will result in about a $12 decrease in property taxes on a house valued at $100,000. The school board will officially set the mill rate at a meeting in July.

School officials said the rollback is not as much as they wanted, but still represents a good start.

“We wanted to roll our millage rate back because we were able to do it this year,” school board Vice-Chairwoman Roxanne Whitaker said. “The community has been more than accepting to the fact that we had to move it up a couple of years in a row to meet our educational needs, and now that we have the money this is just a small ‘thank you’ for bearing with us through the lean times.”

Last week, the school board unanimously approved a $199.8 million budget for the 2015-16 school year, which included raises for all school employees, additional teaching positions and bigger pay supplements for coaches. The budget represents a $12.3 million increase in expenditures over the current year’s budget. Carraway said the expenditures will be offset by a 3 percent increase in the county’s tax digest and another $6 million hike in funding from the state to restore some austerity cuts that the system has experienced.

“They were a little more generous than what we anticipated and we appreciate that,” Whitaker said of the boost in state funding. “Then of course with our community, which is just booming in growth, that helps us some, too. And the fact that we have been frugal during those years with the money that we needed, we did have some savings that we could use toward this.”

The budget also dips into the county’s reserves to fund some of the additional expenditures, but officials were still able to maintain about a 17 percent reserve overall.

Whitaker said the state requires school boards to maintain a 15 percent reserve, but frowns on systems keeping much more than that.

Trustee Mike Sleeper believes keeping a healthy reserve is necessary. Had it not been for a robust reserve fund in recent years, the school system would have been in trouble.

“We’ve spent the last several years cutting to the bone and surviving and not having to do some of the severe cutbacks other systems have simply because we had the reserve,” he said. “I feel much better when we have a larger reserve. We are just over 17 percent with this budget. We have a commitment as the years go of putting a little bit more in there.”

Sleeper said there were a few times in recent years when the board thought it would have to get a loan to make payroll because tax revenues were not coming in as projected. He said the reserve fund saved them from that decision.

“Having this reserve is a necessity, it’s not just sitting there doing nothing,” he said.

This year, Sleeper is happy they were able to grow the reserves.

“Since we have a little bit more money it is only fair that we give it back to the people it really belongs to, the taxpayers,” he said. “It was a great solution all the way around.”

Categories: Local

Couple charged with murder in child's death

Sun, 6/21/2015 12:04 AM

Columbia County sheriff’s investigators combed through a Martinez mobile home Thursday where they suspect drugs were being manufactured and a 5 1/2-month-old boy died.

Investigators obtained a search warrant for the home of Lexis Fay Russell, 23, and Jacob Drew Harris, 26, in M&M Mobile Home Park at 4222 Wheeler Road on Thursday afternoon, according to sheriff’s Capt. Steve Morris.

Deputies arrived at the residence about 4 p.m. and went through the residence inside and out, including a search of the trash bin in the back yard.

Russell and Harris were charged with manufacturing methamphetamine in the presence of a child and other drug possession charges Wednesday afternoon, several hours after emergency authorities responded to their home in an attempt to revive Russell’s infant son, Bentley Reeves.

Russell told police that she and her boyfriend went to bed about 9:30 p.m. Tuesday with the infant sleeping between them. She awoke about 4:35 a.m. and found the child was not breathing. Russell and Harris moved the baby to the living room, called 911 and began CPR, the report said.

Columbia County Deputy Coroner Bonnie King pronounced the child dead at 5:21 a.m.

Morris said an autopsy was performed at the state crime lab in Atlanta today, but said results would be made available later.

Morris said a 2-year-old child that belonged to Russell was removed from the home Wednesday and placed in the custody of relatives.

Russell also is charged with possession of synthetic marijuana, and was being held at the Columbia County Detention Center on bonds totalling $17,700, according to jailers. Harris also was charged with possession of marijuana and methamphetamine. He was being held on bonds of $16,300, jailers said.

Morris said Russell has several previous arrests in Columbia County on drug charges, forgery and a probation violation. Harris also has previous arrests for drug possession, criminal trespassing and simple battery, he said.

Categories: Local

Police Blotter, June 21, 2015

Sun, 6/21/2015 12:03 AM

The following accounts were taken from Columbia County Sheriff’s Office incident reports:

Woman says bullet hit home

A woman said Tuesday that someone shot her Grovetown mobile home.

The woman said she and her son were outside in the backyard of the home at about 1:10 p.m. when she heard a loud sharp sound like a gun going off. She felt something go past them and hit the home. The woman found a strange hole in the mobile home just above an air conditioning unit on the side of the home.

Deputies found the hole that looked new about an inch high and a half inch wide in the mobile home’s aluminum siding. The hole appeared to be slanted indicating a projectile came from the left side of the woods behind the home. The projectile did not appear to puncture the siding and go inside the home.

Deputies did not find a projectile or any activity indicating someone in the thick woods.

For Rent yard sign set on fire

A man called authorities Monday after discovering someone burned his yard sign.

The man said between 1 and 8:45 a.m., someone burned the For Rent sign in the front yard of his Evans home. Nothing else in the yard was damaged.

Woman believes car’s gas stolen

A Martinez woman told deputies Monday that she suspects someone has been stealing gasoline from her vehicle.

The 47-year-old woman said she’s had trouble with the Check Engine light in her vehicle. When she took it to a dealership, the woman was told the issue is her gas cap. She replaced the gas cap at the dealership and reset the light.

At about 11 a.m., the woman said she noticed the light back on and about a quarter of a tank of gas missing since the last time she drove. When she checked the gas cap, it was loose. She found no indications it had leaked. The woman said no one in her household had driven the vehicle since she drove it last.

A tarp covering the woman’s boat was pulled back recently and a cooler inside had been moved, but nothing appeared to be damaged or stolen. She believes someone has been taking gas from her vehicle at night.

Categories: Local

ServSafe food safety class registration open

Sun, 6/21/2015 12:03 AM

The University of Georgia Cooperative Extension Service is accepting registrations for ServSafe classes in the fall and spring.

Classes will be held Sept. 16-17, Feb. 24-25 and May 25-16. Classes are limited to 25 and are filled on a first-come, first-served basis.

The course is a recognized food-safety sanitation course developed by the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation. A certificate of completion from the two-day course is recognized by most federal, state and local health jurisdictions as meeting their requirements.

The two-day classes include information about developing a food safety plan, the flow of food and maintaining sanitary facilities and equipment.

The class costs $140, with $60 as a retest fee. The registration deadline is Thursday.

For more information, visit http://www.fcs.uga.edu/ext/servsafe or contact Betty English at benglish@uga.edu or (706) 821-2350.

Categories: Local

Fire destroys backyard Harlem shop

Sun, 6/21/2015 12:03 AM

Firefighters battled a blaze at a backyard shop near Harlem for about three hours Wednesday.

The resident at 6103 Old Union Road called authorities at about 2:30 p.m. stating he’d was cutting metal in his large backyard shop and sparks started a fire, according to Columbia County Fire Rescue Administrative Chief Jeremy Wallen said. He said the building contained antiques and multiple vehicles and motorcycles.

No one was injured.

Firefighters spent about three hours extinguishing the fire, which heavily damaged the shop, Wallen said. Personnel from Grovetown and Harlem fire departments were called in to assist and a tanker truck for water was brought in from Grovetown.

Categories: Local

Property Transfers, June 21, 2015

Sun, 6/21/2015 12:01 AM

Bill Beazley Homes Inc. to Luis Zricardo Machadotorres; 1326 Royal Oak St.; $191,900.

Bill Beazley Homes Inc. to Kenneth Morton; 717 Neville St.; $191,850.

Stacey L. Altman to Wagma Barekzay; 446 Flowing Creek Drive; $87,000.

Alan Brosious to Marcos Leal De Almeida; 1018 Barrett Drive; $219,000.

Darlene L. McKinnon to Melisa Raechele Wilson-Hall; 349 Washington St.; $145,000.

James R. Weatch to Michael C. Carideo and Melissa A. Carideo; 714 Harrison Drive; $220,000.

Amanda Nicole Douglas to Bradford T. Lyerly; 3930 Griese Lane; $163,000.

Saral A. Tenpenny to Angel Sepulveda Camacho III; 1969 Toccoa Falls; $195,000.

Melinda Thompson to Roy Everett Guinto and Elizabeth S. Guinto; 7212 Krista Lane; $192,000.

Warren Elam to Tilak Verma and Sarita Verma; 603 High Hampton Drive; $550,000.

J. Lynn Brown to T. Chastin Grace; parcel ID 083051A; $97,000.

Augusta Property Group LLC to Mark A. Field and Denise S. Field; 4049 Raintree Drive; $140,000.

Blackstone Development Co. LLC to B.E.C. Custom Homes and Development Inc.; parcel ID 081446; $325,000.

Carol M. Boutwell to Ravon Knight; 3533 West Lake Drive; $600,000.

Diane Griffin McCall to John P. Brittain; 746 N. Belair Road; $284,400.

D.R. Horton-Crown LLC to Christopher N. Hart and Renee Hart; parcel ID 060882; $241,402.

Kenneth C. Stokes to Richard S. Blair; parcel ID 081F089; $364,000.

D.R. Horton-Crown LLC to Kevin Kim; parcel ID 0601015; $298,906.

Matthew A. Bogart to Julio C. Rodriguez; 2057 Dundee Way; $154,000.

Golzap LLC to Crawford Creek Homebuilders LLC; 3039 Margot Lane; $33,000.

Ryan M. Smith to Whitney B. Quattlebaum and Matthew K. Quattlebaum; 3817 Berkshire Way; $213,500.

Euchee Forest LLC to Ivey Residential LLC; 807 Williford Run Drive; $41,000.

Euchee Forest LLC to Ivey Residential LLC; 746 Coventry Ave.; $44,000.

Park Ridge Builders Inc. to Owen C. Fletcher and Jessie K. Fletcher; parcel ID 0681097; $241,500.

Ethel Virginia Jones as trustee of the Ethel Virginia Jones Trust dated Oct. 31, 2011, to K & N Construction Co. Inc.; a portion of parcel ID 043028; $46,900.

Paul D. Rushton to Mark A. Spencer and Tracy S. Spencer; 402 Lakestone Way; $745,000.

South Georgia Custom Homes LLC to Edward W. Kinard; parcel ID 059238; $260,000.

Timothy Geisler to Ryan M. Smith; 538 S. Old Belair Road; $213,000.

Ivey Residential Joyce P. Newman; 4604 Amberley Drive; $243,785.

Blackstone Development Co. LLC to Ivey Residential LLC; 757 Marsh Point Road; $135,000.

Ivey Residential LLC to Garth Richardson; 519 Brantley Cove Circle; $151,825.

Blackstone Development Co. LLC to Ivey Residential LLC; 753 Marsh Point Road; $121,500.

Garry Boozer to Jordan G. Collier and Meagan E. Collier; 855 Willow Lake; $281,500.

Southern Homesites LLC to IDK Homes Inc.; parcel ID 0601069; $69,000.

Shirley B. Gillikin to Sunil K. Lal and Sandar Kyaw; parcel ID 077526; $148,000.

Marjorie Dian Hendricks to Wayne Raisner and Kimberly D. Raisner; parcel ID 067A025; $210,000.

Alice M. Franklin to David Lee Wheatley Jr.; parcel ID 073E323; $149,900.

Southeastern Family Homes Inc. to James B. Payne and Melissa S. Payne; parcel ID 081306; $333,500.

Lee Davis Henry to Heather Marie Swanson; parcel ID 061988; $121,400.

Michael B. Busby to Robert Peel; parcel ID 066497; $79,000.

Brett Phillip Hilton to Daniel E. Oehrlein; parcel ID 077C192; $104,000.

Whitney E. Blackburn nka Whitney Blackburn Quattlebaum to Michael G. Rodman; 3737 Tailboard Way; $122,500.

Baldwin Hamptons LLC to Glynn S. Bruker dba Baldwin Land Co.; parcel ID 0681093; $29,000.

Amy Woodfield to Clifford Watts; parcel ID 065969; $271,000.

Oconee Capital Investments LLC to Ramin Shariati and Ekmini Wijesinghe; parcel ID 078857; $226,750.

Elana S. McElroy to Rhasmi Karanth; 6519 River Bluff Trail; $615,000.

Wilson Parker Homes of Sunbury at Bartram Trail Inc. to Jessica N. Berg and Brandon L. Berg; 5609 Sunbury Loop; $307,745.

Christopher M. Bland to Derek R. Mallett and Tasha R. Wyatt; parcel ID 071G166; $257,400.

Crawford Creek Homebuilders LLC to Quintin Davis; 434 Riley Lane; $185,500.

James E. Mathews to Joshua C. Merchant and Amanda Erin Merchant; 1004 Macks Road; $200,000.

Andrew M. Stein to James Castleberry and Juanita A. Castleberry; parcel ID 039A058; $208,000.

Oconee Capital Investments LLC to Mary C. Howell; parcel ID 0611806; $249,900.

Michael R. Blessing to Michael S. Lilly; parcel ID 0611317; $224,500.

The estate of Dorothy Annette Hobbs aka Dorothy A. Hobbs to Anthony J. Mayberry and Karen J. Evans; parcel ID 073E160; $125,900.

Randal L. McNeil to Juana D. Matias; parcel ID 071004K; $284,900.

Bartles Farm LLC to Paul T. Anderson III and Marsh McCarty Anderson; parcel ID 051047; $53,000.

Bayview Laon Servicing LLC to Coastal and Lake Properties LLC; parcel ID 053006G; $39,000.

Sanjeev Dalela to Jie Chen and Ke Xia; parcel ID 081B431; $427,500.

Bryan McGowan and Margaret E. Hughes nka Margaret H. McGowan to Kimberly F. Henson; parcel ID 065184; $194,000.

James M. Calder to Eric Campbell Wanner and Jana Wanner; parcel ID 052271; $141,500.

Baldwin Lakes LLC to Heather Judge Abdelnur and Abdelkhalig E. Abdelnur; parcel ID 068470; $45,000.

Baker Place Development LLC to Faircloth Homes Inc.; parcel ID 051882; $42,000.

Baker Place Development LLC to Faircloth Homes Inc.; a portion of parcel ID 051882; $42,000.

Baker Place Development LLC to Faircloth Homes Inc.; a portion of parcel ID 051882; $126,000.

Baker Place Development LLC to Faircloth Homes Inc.; a portion of parcel ID 051882; $126,000.

Donald E. Thompson to Stone Financing LLC; 307 Forest Glen Court; $112,300.

Ivey Residential LLC to Rolando Castro and Dilia E. Castro; 2646 Waites Drive; $236,310.

Ivey Residential LLC to Gary D. Krabbe Jr.; 2638 Waites Drive; $217,920.

Keystone Homes Inc. to Jennifer W. Contant; parcel ID 0611949; $164,200.

Keystone Homes Inc. to Benjamin R. Burks; parcel ID 0611945; $165,700.

Keystone Homes Inc. to Mike O. Agyare to Loretha Agyare; parcel ID 0611944; $165,400.

Jennifer Hydrick Evans to Mary G. Comer; 3829 Forest Creek Way; $149,500.

Winchester Homes of GA Inc. to Phillip A. Beaufort; 2442 Newbury Ave.; $187,560.

Tiger Inc. to Christopher L. Townsend; 628 Byrd Drive; $28,900.

Categories: Local

Marriage Licenses, June 21, 2015

Sun, 6/21/2015 12:00 AM

Walter Dean Thomas and Karin Pardo Seagraves applied for a marriage license on May 29, 2015, and were married June 4, 2015, in Augusta.

Derek Edward Dyches and Taylor Ann Sutton applied for a marriage license on April 24, 2015, and were married May 23, 2015, in Appling.

Antonio Garcia Contreras and Rosa Cabrera applied for a marriage license on May 13, 2015, and were married May 15, 2015, in Evans.

Michael Earl Plemmons and Jennifer Lynn Palmer applied for a marriage license on May 28, 2015, and were married June 6, 2015, in Appling.

Jonie Donald Wayne Sullivan and Leslis Yelienny Perez Cruz applied for a marriage license on June 8, 2015, and were married June 8, 2015, in Evans.

Anthony Jamel Bing and Brittany Monique McClendon applied for a marriage license on May 1, 2015, and were married May 30, 2015, in Augusta.

James Lee Tucker and Kristin Channing Stevens applied for a marriage license on June 6, 2015, and were married June 6, 2015, in Martinez.

Steven Medlock and Dorothy Elizabeth Simmons applied for a marriage license on June 3, 2015, and were married June 5, 2015, in Evans.

Matthew Jason Meade and Amber Lee Anderson applied for a marriage license on May 26, 2015, and were married May 30, 2015, in Martinez.

Terry Oliver Childers Jr. and Misti Lu Hardy applied for a marriage license on April 29, 2015, and were married May 30, 2015, in Augusta.

Christopher Ryan Braswell and Kaycee Nicole Miller applied for a marriage license on Feb. 27, 2015, and were married May 30, 2015, in Thomson.

Jeffery Kevin Dickerson and Susan Lynn Erickson applied for a marriage license on June 2, 2015, and were married June 6, 2015, in Grovetown.

Frederick Mathias Wintrich and Kimberly Lewis applied for a marriage license on May 7, 2015, and were married June 6, 2015, in Grovetown.

Robert Gregory Rouse and Lori Suzanne Williams applied for a marriage license on May 13, 2015, and were married May 30, 2015, in Appling.

Arthur Hartwell Taylor Jr. and Betty Jo Powell applied for a marriage license on April 30, 2015, and were married June 6, 2015, in Martinez.

Andrew Wilson Adkins and Chelsea Catherine Banks applied for a marriage license on April 21, 2015, and were married May 2, 2015, in Evans.

Joel David Carnow and Mary Kristen Fitzgerald applied for a marriage license on July 11, 2014, and were married July 11, 2014, in Evans.

Samuel Allen Hobbs Jr. and Tara Michelle Newsome applied for a marriage license on May 21, 2015, and were married May 22, 2015, in Augusta.

Jeremy Steven Hudson and Jennifer Renee Williams Hudson applied for a marriage license on May 29, 2015, and were married June 6, 2015, in Savannah.

Shane Michael Davis and Shelby Ruth Froyen applied for a marriage license on June 9, 2015, and were married June 9, 2015, in Evans.

David Cole Williamson and Sarah Elizabeth Hawley applied for a marriage license on Sept. 17, 2014, and were married Sept. 26, 2014, in Appling.

Albert Gerard Ingle and Sarah McCauley Usry applied for a marriage license on June 5, 2015, and were married June 7, 2015, in Evans.

George Michael Lenz and Mary Helen Skinner applied for a marriage license on May 27, 2015, and were married June 5, 2015, in Augusta.

Jair Alexander Grant and Rachel Kathryn Adams applied for a marriage license on April 6, 2015, and were married June 6, 2015, in St. Simons Island, Ga.

George Scott Taylor and Tracey Elaine Ingalls applied for a marriage license on June 8, 2015, and were married June 8, 2015, in Appling.

Benjamin David Noffsinger and Brooke Danielle Poffenbarger applied for a marriage license on May 29, 2015, and were married June 5, 2015, in Evans.

Joshia Caleb Meeks and Macie Louise Thompson applied for a marriage license on May 15, 2015, and were married May 30, 2015, in Appling.

Mark Anthony Davison and Pamela Pappas Duncan applied for a marriage license on June 5, 2015, and were married June 6, 2015, in Appling.

Glenn Anderson Cassedy and Ashley Ann Frankenfield applied for a marriage license on June 1, 2015, and were married June 7, 2015, in Augusta.

Ted Allen Sprouse and Tammy Diane Sprouse applied for a marriage license on June 10, 2015, and were married June 11, 2015, in Evans.

John Derrick Benton and Alessandra Robitille applied for a marriage license on June 10, 2015, and were married June 11, 2015, in Evans.

Tuan Minh Tran and Thanh Thile Phung applied for a marriage license on Feb. 11, 2014, and were married June 11, 2015.

Categories: Local
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