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News
Braselton leaders to revisit rejected request

Braselton leaders will hold a hearing in December on a development request previously rejected by the town council.

In August, the Braselton Town Council voted to deny a master plan change for HECE, LLC, for 230 acres around the Publix shopping center on Hwy. 211.

Developers initially planned to construct a massive commercial development on the property, but those plans changed. HECE, LLC, requested a master plan change to allow 425 single-family homes, over 205,000 sq. ft. of retail/commercial space and five commercial outparcels.

On remand from the Superior Court of Jackson County, the council will hold another public hearing on the request on Dec. 9 at 7 p.m.


News
featured
Runoff election is Tuesday

A runoff election for a Braselton Town Council seat is coming up on Tuesday.

Incumbent Becky Richardson will face challenger Richard Mayberry in the Tuesday, Dec. 3, runoff election for the Braselton Town Council District 1 seat.

Voting will be open Dec. 3 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Braselton Police and Municipal Court Building, 5040 Hwy. 53, Braselton. See results from the Dec. 3 election in next week's paper and online at BraseltonNewsTODAY.com.

Richardson, Mayberry and challenger Joy Basham faced off in the Nov. 5 election. No candidate earned 50-percent of the vote, forcing a runoff between the top two vote-getters, Richardson and Mayberry.

In the Nov. 5 election, Richardson got 86 votes (44.5 percent), followed by challengers Mayberry with 58 votes (30 percent) and Basham with 49 votes (25.4 percent.)

This isn't the first time Richardson and Mayberry have faced off in an election. In 2015, Richardson ousted Mayberry, who was the District 1 incumbent at that time.


News
Hoschton moving forward on trash/recycling bid

Hoschton is one step closer to securing a trash/recycling pickup contract following action taken last week.

The Hoschton City Council approved Nov. 21 allowing city administrator Dale Hall to move forward with negotiations for a trash and recycling contract. Hoschton residents have been serviced by an interim pickup company for months and there have been multiple attempts to get a contract in place throughout the year.

The city issued a request for proposals in October and ultimately received four responses. The names of the bidding companies remained anonymous during the special called city council meeting on Nov. 21.

“(To) minimize any biases in the city council, instead of giving the names of the firms, I actually lettered each firm,” said Hall.

The council voted to move forward with negotiations on proposal "D," which offered a fee of $13.16. An alternate — option "A" which offered a $13.50 fee — was also chosen. (The vendor fees differ from the fee ultimately charged to the citizens since service fees will be added.)

Hall said he will proceed with negotiations with the top choice, discussing topics from bin color to pickup date.

All of the proposals include two 96-gallon bins — one for trash, the other for recycling.

Hall said the vendor's latest start date is in January, with an anticipated start date in December.

Council members also had some discussion about the senior citizens' discounted rate. New council member Shantwon Astin argued it's not fair to have the (non-senior) citizens subsidize that discounted rate. Additional discussion on the topic could continue during future talks to set the fee schedule.


Hoschton pondering $1.6 million budget for 2020

Hoschton's general fund budget for 2020 is expected to grow around $600,000 over the current year's budget.

A tentative budget of $1.6 million is being considered by the town, up from its initial $1 million budget in 2019.

The Hoschton City Council held a hearing on the proposed budget Nov. 21. Budget adoption is slated for Dec. 9.

Five new positions are expected to be in the budget, but two current positions are also being eliminated. Among the positions are a full-time city clerk, a public services coordinator and permits clerk, a part-time receptionist, a public development director and a public works director.

A new facilities department is also being added.

The proposed budget is making some changes in how funds are allocated for 2020, a move that makes year-over-year comparisons difficult. Department reorganizations are also included in the budget proposal.

Planning and zoning is the town's largest department with expenses expected to be $639,500 in 2020.

Among other items, the budget anticipates a significant increase in the town's planning and development fee income in 2020; an increased cost for professional services, including legal expenses; funds to complete work on a renovation of city hall; funds to pay for security officers at city council meetings; a digital billboard to display city news and events; and $5,000 to plan for a city bike/hike trail.

WATER/SEWER FUND

In the town's water and sewer fund, Hoschton officials anticipate a large increase in expenses due to $5.3 million in planned capital projects. Much of that is being offset by using $1.8 million from reserves and a $1.9 million contribution from developers.

Among the projects on the agenda are an upgrade to the town's waste water treatment plant ($1.6 million), an expansion of sewer at the industrial park ($1 million), and sewer upgrades at Panther Court ($855,000).


News
Jackson public safety communications lacking

Jackson County is considering ways to modernize its public safety communications system, but the price tag won't be cheap.

A communications consulting firm hired by the Jackson County Board of Commissioners that has studied the county's emergency radio needs estimates the cost of upgrading to a modern radio communications system will cost between $13-$21 million, depending on the exact configuration.

The county's radio communications network includes all public safety agencies and some other non-emergency agencies, such as public schools.

The consulting firm gave a brief presentation of its findings to the BOC at its Nov. 18 meeting. No action was taken by the board.

FINDINGS: The findings outlined in a 120-page needs assessment report from TUSA Consulting Services were largely critical of the county's existing public safety communications system.

"The DMR system used in Jackson County lacks many features that modern radio system have," the report said.

Among the specific problems found were:

• The county's current system is reaching the end of its life cycle and will soon need to be replaced. The current system is also outdated compared to other systems now available.

• The current system has inadequate radio coverage in some areas of the county, including some spots along I-85 and around the fast-growing Braselton area. That is especially true with the county's portable radios, the report said.

• The current system is unable to easily talk with surrounding counties or state emergency agencies because it isn't compatible with other area communities. TUSA said that although Braselton covers four counties, "Communicating with neighbors is nearly non-existent." Gwinnett, Hall, Barrow and Athens-Clarke counties all have modern 800 Mhz P25 systems while Banks and Madison use proprietary systems, all incompatible with Jackson County's existing system.

• The current county radios were designed for commercial markets, not public safety agencies which need more durable and robust units.

• Many of the county's nine communications link sites are lacking. Most have obsolete cooling and backup power systems and many are too small to expand to house a modern system. Some of the sites had not been well-maintained by the county. "Almost all of the existing buildings, and the compounds they reside in, cannot support the space needed for a modern public safety radio system without substantial cost...." the report said.

PROPOSALS: TUSA outlined two possible options for the county in upgrading its system to an 800 Mhz P25 system. One would be a stand alone system where the county upgrades all its radios and connecting systems on its own. The cost of doing that would be $16.3 to $21.3 million upfront with an estimated total cost over 15 years of $24 million.

The second proposal would have the county upgrading and working with Hall County for some joint operating, especially the ability to use existing Hall County towers that would negate the need for Jackson County to upgrade several of its existing nine tower sites. The cost of that plan would be $13-$17 million initially with a 15-year life cycle cost estimated at $19.3 million.

BACKGROUND: TUSA was initially brought in by the county to review a proposal from Motorola for upgrading the county's radio system. But TUSA said that Motorola's proposal fell short of what Jackson County needs.

"There are many items within this proposal that TUSA find concerning and would drastically increase the costs Jackson County would be responsible for, in addition to the price of the proposal," said TUSA's report.


School
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‘A little scary’ and ‘a blessing’
‘A little scary’ and ‘a blessing’ — WJMS teacher and student share impact of classroom experience

The “three Rs” of education today – rigor, relevance and relationships – had a real impact on a local family and a Jackson County School System teacher.

Mason Saldana, an eighth-grader at West Jackson Middle School, and Brenton Ruark, his healthcare science connections teacher, recently learned more about the importance of both teaching and learning, and Mason’s mom explained it best in a letter she recently sent to school officials.

Leah Saldana said she and her husband believe the skills their son learned from Ruark saved her life after a scary incident the evening of Oct. 20 when she experienced a seizure, followed by vomiting and unconsciousness.

“My husband had no phone reception inside our home and had to go outside to call 911,” she wrote. Her son “jumped right in, holding my head to the side, and ensuring I had a pulse and I was in a position as to not aspirate while I was having a seizure and in and out of consciousness/vomiting.

“Mason was calm and knew exactly what to do in the situation, even though he was watching this happen to his mother. He kept me safe, (using) his knowledge from the Healthcare Science class, until EMS arrived to take me to the hospital. Though he wasn’t able to get much sleep that evening, he went to school the next day as usual.”

Mason was calm and matter-of-fact in explaining his role when he and Ruark recently created a “JC Success Story” video, a feature of the school system’s website that celebrates student accomplishments based on classroom experiences.

The young man admitted that the situation was “a little scary,” but he said the fact that Ruark had taught his students about basic lifesaving and first aid made it possible for him to help his mother, putting her in “the recovery position” he’d learned about in class.

There was no question that what Mason learned in school had relevance in his real life.

“I think teachers sometimes wonder if what they’re doing makes a difference,” Ruark said, acknowledging that the Saldana family’s experience brought that home for him.

Hearing about Mason’s experience “made my heart happy,” Ruark said. “I know it was a blessing.”

Ruark is in his first year at WJMS, teaching healthcare science to sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders, as well as a high-school-level introductory class in the allied health and medicine and Honors pathway for advanced students.

He taught previously at Jackson County Comprehensive High School, where he is in his third year as a baseball and football coach.

A 2018 graduate of the University of North Georgia with a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology, he’s working on a master’s degree in physical education at Georgia State University, both of which have involved “a lot of health science classes,” he said with a smile.

His mother, who retired as a counselor at West Hall Middle School Nov. 22, taught elementary school for 20 years, was a factor in his career choice.

“Her background and her encouragement and the fact that I love being around kids” led him into education, he said, as did work as a lifeguard and aquatics director for the YMCA in Gainesville.

His students’ work in learning about CPR provided a pathway to Mason’s success, he said.

Even though it wasn't a specific part of the curriculum, “we had some conversations about the recovery position and first aid” and talked about seizure protocols, he explained, and he said he was surprised when he got an email about a post Mrs. Saldana made on her Facebook page about her experience.

“Mason is very intelligent,” Ruark said. “In class, it’s clear he wants to learn, and he heard what I had to say.”

But hearing the words and learning the techniques are just part of the lesson. Putting those elements together and into action are another.

“I’ve trained a lot of lifeguards,” Ruark said, “but I don’t know if they’ve ever used the training.

“Having a student who is able to take what he learned in school and apply it in a real-life situation is amazing. To be able to stay calm in that situation is awesome.”

He praised Melissa Conway, WJMS principal, and his colleagues for the support he's received in his first year at the school, and he offered special praise for Deenene Chandler, healthcare pathways teacher at JCCHS, who helped ensure CPR “dummies” were available for the middle school classes.

“Relationships make all the difference, and we have some really great staff and great kids in Jackson County,” he said.

Mason’s mom agreed with those reflections.

“Had it not been for the Healthcare Science class and the detailed teaching provided by Mr. Ruark, Mason would not have known how to react or what to do in this situation,” Mrs. Saldana wrote.

“The content that is being taught and to the extent of detail it is being taught is nothing short of amazing.”

She said she and the medical professionals she is working with believe the care provided by Mason that evening “saved my life (and prevented) further injury, thanks to the teachings of this class and Mason’s use of the content he has been magnificently taught by Mr. Ruark.”

The Jackson County Board of Education is expected to recognize the impact of the teaching-and-learning experience at its monthly meeting Dec. 10 at East Jackson Middle School.