Worker's widow will get health insurance

Barry Paschal
Columbia County Probate Judge Pat Hardaway administers the oath of office to new District 4 Commissioner Bill Morris. He was sworn in Tuesday afternoon. His wife, Lillie, holds the Bible.

Columbia County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to continue providing health insurance to the family of a slain water utility employee.

Raymond Lee, 38, a wastewater utility manager and 14-year county employee, was shot and killed April 1 after an argument at Reed Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant with private truck driver Thomas Eugene Bradford, who is being held without bond while awaiting trial on a murder charge.

The decision will allow Lee's widow, Karin, to continue to purchase health insurance at an employee rate for herself and her three children until at least 2013, when the agreement can be renewed, County Administrator Steve Szablewski said.

"This has never happened before," Szablewski said. "We've never had an employee murdered on the job before."

Tuesday's meeting was the first since Feb. 1 with all commission seats filled, as newly elected District 4 Commissioner Bill Morris was sworn in at the Evans Government Center before the meeting.

In what officials have called the closest election in nearly 30 years, Morris defeated Vernon Thomas Sr. by just 23 votes in the special election runoff April 12.

Thomas asked for a recount, but the results still showed Morris winning 1,077 votes to 1,054. Six votes failed to register because of voter error.

Morris will complete the term of Scott Dean, who won a second term in November but resigned Feb. 2 after his indictment that day on child molestation charges.

A court date has not been set for Dean, who has pleaded innocent to the charges involving one of the daughters he and his wife adopted from Guatemala.

Several commissioners noted that this was their first session with all five members in nearly three months.

"We've been off-balance," District 3 Commissioner Charles Allen said. "Now we're balanced."

During the meeting, commissioners allocated about $1.1 million in leftover 1 percent sales tax dollars. The money is what remained in unspent sales taxes from 2006 to 2010. Commissioners will spend:

- $100,000 on a kennel for the sheriff's office canine unit

- $300,000 on renovations to the three Health Department locations in Evans, Appling and Grovetown for use as office spaces

- $25,000 for office space renovations at Savannah Rapids Pavilion

- $25,000 for warehouse security cameras

- $90,000 for a Riverside Recycling Center

- $60,000 on software to manage building contracts and bids.

The rest of the money -- about $500,000 -- will be placed into discretionary funds for commissioners to allocate for capital improvement projects of their choosing with full commission approval.

Commissioners also approved the commercial rezoning of nearly two acres on Blanchard Road to allow construction of a Kendrick Paint and Body shop near Washington Road.

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