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GRP, budget cuts and medical marijuana topics on the table at annual ‘Eggs and Issues’

Expected state budget cuts, medical marijuana and the Georgia Renewable Power (GRP) plant, were on the minds of legislators and audience members at the Madison County Chamber of Commerce’s annual Eggs and Issues legislative breakfast this week at the Ila Restaurant.

House Representative Tom McCall, who is retiring at the end of the year and State Senator Frank Ginn made remarks on the upcoming legislative session and Ginn took some questions from the audience afterwards. McCall had a prior engagement in Elberton and had to leave early.

Rep. Alan Powell, who also regularly appears at Eggs and Issues, had committee meetings in Atlanta and could not attend.

Representative Tom McCall

Rep. McCall thanked Chamber members and others for allowing him to work with them and for being his friend over the past 25-plus years that he has been serving the constituents from the 33rd District, which includes Madison County. McCall will complete his 26th year on Dec. 31.

“One of the hardest things we have to deal with this year is that the governor has called for across the board cuts in the budget,” McCall said. “When you look at across the board budget cuts instead of looking at what’s working and what’s not, that’s a different thing.”

McCall said he didn’t mean to criticize the governor but would prefer to look at what is actually working and what is not.

He said he hoped to see more progress on medical marijuana this year as well. McCall reminded the audience that he had a son who passed away in 2000 and that if he knew that cannabis or CBD oil would have helped him, he would have been “growing it in the backyard.”

“I don’t know why we would be backing up on something that helps kids, that helps anybody,” he said.

Finally, McCall said that 99 percent of the calls he is getting right now from Madison County concern the GRP plant in Colbert.

And most of those calls are not from those wanting to see the plant shut down, rather they are from folks worried about the crossties being burned there, he told the audience.

McCall said he did know that crossties should make up no more than 20 percent of the material burned at the plant for fuel.

“The EPD (Environmental Protection Division) is on top of it,” McCall said, adding that he had spoken with officials there the previous day to make sure he was up to speed on everything.

“They (GRP) can’t burn crossties at start up or shut down because the temperature is not hot enough,” McCall said.

“And they have a water discharge problem that they have to fix as well.”

He said that GRP is a “top priority” for the EPD and that they have taken enforcement action and will continue to take enforcement action until everything is fixed.

“I think it will be beneficial for the county when the issues get fixed and it is up and running,” McCall added. “And I hope there can be a resolution with the people that live around it. I don’t want people to think that there is nothing being done about it – there is.”

He ended by saying his office — number 228 — is “y’all’s office for the rest of this year, anyway.”

McCall plans to run for Georgia Farm Bureau President this year.

Senator Frank Ginn

Senator Frank Ginn, who is beginning his 10th year as state senator and also currently serves as the executive director of the county’s industrial authority, spoke next.

He said it was a sad day for him to know that McCall will be leaving at the end of the year.

“That’s 26 years of experience we’re losing in the Georgia House,” he said, adding that tenure and experience means something and that one lawmaker can’t get anything done by themselves.

“Everything we do is done by majority,” he said. “You have to have friends, you have to have connections to get something done.”

Ginn brought up GRP at the end of his talk and said he has spoken with Dr. Rodney Webber, a PhD professor at Georgia Tech and an expert on the operation of burning crossties as a fuel source. He said Webber advised him that the plant should not be allowed to use the crossties at start up and shut down of its furnace, since the temperature is not high enough to obliterate the toxins in the ties.

He said the Colbert plant has some sound suppression equipment coming and that it should be installed this month, which he hopes will help with the noise issues encountered by neighboring property owners. He said he was at GRP last week during the rain and that wet fuel has an impact on their operation as well.

Conolus Scott asked Ginn during a question-and-answer session about whether he had discussed the plant ceasing to burn crossties all together and if so, were they open to that.

Ginn said he had discussed this with officials at the plant and that they told him they could operate without using them, if it came to that, but that it is a financial decision for them.

He said it was hard, particularly at this time of year to get virgin wood sources to burn so they turn to alternate sources for wood chips instead of paying premium prices for wood.

Ginn added that he was glad that the EPD came in and had prohibited the plant from using the crossties at start up and at shut down. He said Dr. Webber had assured him that at 1,400 degrees (full furnace operation) the crossties “were no issue at all.”

Another person in the audience asked about who to turn to for complaints or to get more information about the plant. Ginn told him that Veolia, a worldwide company that manages everything from power plants to water treatment facilities, had been contracted to manage the plant. He said the contact person for Veolia is David Groves and offered to provide his contact information to whomever needed it. He said Groves has been very responsive and helpful in answering questions, giving tours and on other questions about the plant here in the county and the one in Franklin County.

Ginn also spoke at length about the Seagraves Lake Dam issue and the public hearing scheduled for later that day. He said the dam was considered a Category 1 dam or a “high risk dam,” meaning that a breech could cause loss of life. He said he hoped to introduce legislation this year to treat hazardous property below dams like hurricane zones and put in some requirements for upgrades to housing and structures that people have to comply with if they choose to live in such an area.

Ginn also touched on topics such as healthcare and prescription drug costs and the so called “voucher bill” for public schools.

Superintendent Michael Williams asked if this issue, in which public funds are used to educate children who are moved to private schools, was likely to come back up in this legislative session.

Ginn said he didn’t think that would be coming up this year, but was likely to come around again. He said the Lt. Governor was trying to provide some alternatives for children where public school was not always the best place for them. He said the issue had been narrowed to special needs children with very limited issues to allow them to be able to go to a specialized school and take that state funding with them.

He said it costs approximately $8,000 per child per year to educate a child in the public school system and that in most counties in Georgia the voucher system might actually work out well, since it would be removing a higher cost student from the system and putting them into a private school and he thinks that would be the case in the counties he serves, but that in some counties, particularly those in school districts in south Georgia it could be really devastating.

Hull council member Veronica Davenport asked Ginn about possible cuts to social services, like foster care and the Department of Family and Children Services (DFACS).

Ginn said he didn’t have an answer for her as they don’t know where the cuts will be until the legislative session is underway.

Attorney Victor Johnson asked if he had an opinion on decriminalizing marijuana. Ginn answered that he was in favor of decriminalizing it for medical use. He added that former Gov. Deal had expressed remorse about not working harder on the medical marijuana issue while he was in office.

And finally, like McCall, he said the biggest thing lawmakers will be dealing with this session is the budget.

“We’ve done a good job of cutting your taxes,” he said, but added that working on things like that can also lead to not having enough money to fund the budget.

He promised to be accessible and urged those with questions to give him a call.

“You’ll get an answer or a call back,” Ginn said.

Chamber board president Jill Fortson told the audience that the annual Chamber of Commerce meeting will be held Feb. 27 at 6:30 p.m. at the culinary arts center at the high school.


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2020 full of election-year activity

All eyes will be on the 2020 elections this year.

Here are some key dates:

•March 24 — Presidential preference primary

•April 21 — Special election runoff

•May 19 — General primary and non-partisan elections

•July 21 — General primary and non-partisan runoffs

•Nov. 3 — General election

•Dec. 1 — General election runoffs

•Jan. 5, 2021 — General election runoffs for federal races.

QUALIFYING SET FOR MARCH 2-6

Qualifying begins at 9 a.m., Monday, March 2, and will end at noon Friday, March 6. Primaries and non partisan elections will be held May 19.

All candidates who wish to qualify for all races will qualify at the Board of Elections and Registration Office, 94 Spring Lake Drive, Danielsville.

For information, contact Tracy Dean at the Board of Elections and Registration Office at 706-795-6335.

Qualifying fees are as follows: Sheriff, $1,943.28; Clerk of Superior Court, $1,591.05; Tax Commissioner, $1,591.05; Probate Judge, $1,591.05; Chairman, BOC, $1,943.28; BOC, District 1 and 2 Commissioners, $216; Board of Education, $94.62; and Coroner, $351.81.

UPCOMING VOTER REGISTRATION DEADLINE

The voter registration deadline for the March 24 Presidential Preference Primary will be Feb. 24. Voter registration applications are available at the Board of Elections and Registration office at 94 Spring Lake Drive from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Applications are also available at the Madison County Library, and can be downloaded from the Georgia Secretary of State Website at www.sos.ga.us or the BOER office website, www.mcelections.net.

Those who have applied for voter registration at the Department of Drivers Services and have not received a precinct identification card in the mail are encouraged to inquire about the status of their application with the Board of Elections and Registration at 706-795-6335 or through the MVP option at www.sos.ga.us. If anyone has any questions regarding their voting status, they may call the elections office for that information.

February 24 is the last day for a voter to change their name or address if he/she has moved within the county to an address different from the address shown on the voter’s registration card. It is the duty of the voter to notify the Board of Elections and Registration by this date in order for the voter to be placed in the correct precinct and for the voters name to be placed on the correct list of voters.

EARLY VOTING FOR PRESIDENTIAL PREFERENCE PRIMARY

Early voting for the Presidential Preference Primary will begin Monday March 2 and end Friday, March 20. Hours will be 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. each day at the Board of Elections and Registration office. Saturday voting will be held March 14 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the elections office.

For more information, contact the elections office at 706-795-6335 or email tdean@madisonco.us.

HOW TO RECEIVE AN ABSENTEE BALLOT

In order to receive an Absentee Ballot by mail, a voter must submit his/her completed and signed application for official absentee ballot to one of the following: Madison County Board of Elections and Registration, P.O. Box 328, Danielsville, GA 30633. Fax to 706-795-2233 or email to tdean@madisonco.us. An application for an official absentee ballot can be obtained in one of the following ways: visit www.mcelections.net, visit www.mvp.sos.ga.gov or call the elections offce at 706-795-6335

POLL WORKERS SOUGHT

Madison County is in need of poll workers for the 2020 elections.

“If you are a citizen of the United States, if you are at least 16 years old, if you are a resident of Madison County, if you are able to read, write and speak the English language, if you are not a convicted felon, if you possess a sense of dedication and pride in your work, if you are patient and enjoy working with people, if you take direction well and pay attention to detail, you may be just the person we are looking for!” elections officials said.

Those interested can visit mcelections.net and complete the application for poll workers. Once completed, a potential poll worker may either return it by mail or fax to 706-795-2233, email to tdean@madisonco.us or drop it off at the elections office. For more information, call 706-795-6335.


Public_safety
Hull man sentenced to jail time for drug trafficking

A Hull man was sentenced to jail time on drug trafficking charges in Madison County Superior Court recently.

Michael Jason Massey was sentenced by Judge Lauren Watson to serve 10 years, with the first five to be served in confinement and the remainder on probation on a charge of possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute (trafficking in methamphetamine). Charges of possession of hydrocodone, possession of a Schedule III Controlled Substance and possession of marijuana were dismissed.

In another case, Joshua Eugene Alexander, of Lavonia, was sentenced by Judge Jeff Malcom to serve five years in confinement on charges of fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer, theft by receiving stolen property and driving while license suspended. Charges of reckless driving, failure to stop at a stop sign, driving without headlights and improper passing were dismissed.

Other recent action in superior court included:

•Stacie Jo Plyler, of Comer, had her charge of exploit/inflict pain to deprive essential services moved to the dead docket by Judge Watson pursuant to an agreement between the state and the defendants.

•Joanne Weaver, of Comer, had her charge of exploit/inflict pain to deprive essential services moved to the dead docket by Judge Watson pursuant to an agreement between the state and defendants.

•Mark William Carithers, of Winterville, was sentenced by Judge Watson to serve five years of probation on a charge of aggravated battery (reduced from aggravated battery-family violence).

•Xiampeer Izedeth Silva, of Colbert, was sentenced by Judge Watson to serve five years of probation on a charge of interference with government property. Charges of violation of street gang terrorism and prevention act and criminal trespass were dismissed.

•Sergio Ruiz Perez, of Athens, was sentenced by Judge Watson to serve five years of probation and pay a $500 fine on a charge of possession of marijuana (reduced from possession of marijuana with intent to distribute). Charges of DUI (less safe/drugs), possession of drug-related objects and two counts of speeding were dismissed.

•Randy Joe Evans, of Comer, was sentenced by Judge Watson to serve five years, with the first year to be served in confinement and the remainder on probation and pay a $500 fine on charges of entering an automobile and simple battery.

•Randal Lee Daniel, of Colbert, was sentenced by Judge Watson to serve ten years with the first two years suspended upon payment of $5,000 within 90 days, and the remainder on probation on charges of possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute and fleeing or attempting to elude a police officer. Charges of possession of marijuana, possession of drug-related objects, possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, no tag, reckless driving, failure to maintain lane, failure to stop for a stop sign, no proof of insurance and improper tires were dismissed.

•Adrianna Lee Booth, of Dewy Rose, was sentenced by Judge Watson to serve three years of probation on a charge of possession of methamphetamine, possession of drug-related objects, drugs not in original container, driving while license suspended and failure to maintain lane.

•Ronnie Eugene Wilson, of Athens, was sentenced by Judge Watson to serve two years of probation on charges of obstruction and possession of drug-related objects. A charge of possession of methamphetamine was dismissed.

•Gerald Bruce Strickland, of Colbert, was sentenced by Judge Watson to serve three years of probation and pay $1,500 in fines on charges of criminal trespass, disorderly conduct (reduced from aggravated battery) and battery (reduced from aggravated battery).

•Joey Michael Bruce Bishop, of Colbert, was sentenced by Judge Watson to serve three years of probation and pay $1,250 in fines on charges of disorderly conduct (reduced from aggravated battery), battery (reduced from aggravated battery) and criminal trespass.

•Melissa Lashan Butulan, of Colbert, was sentenced by Judge Jeff Malcom to serve three years of probation and pay a $500 fine on a charge of crossing a guard line with drugs.

•Adam Benjamin Henderson, of Bogart, was sentenced by Judge Chris Phelps to serve three years of probation and pay $750 in fines on charges of possession of methamphetamine and possession of marijuana. Charges of possession of drug-related objects (two counts) were dismissed.

•Marquies Javante Newton, of Colbert, was sentenced by Judge Phelps to serve three years of probation and pay a $500 fine on a charge of possession of methamphetamine.

•Fantashia Lambert, of Augusta, was sentenced by Judge Malcom to serve 10 years of probation and pay $2,000 in fines on charges of possession of cocaine (reduced from intent to distribute) and possession of marijuana (reduced from intent to distribute). Charges of possession of Schedule IV Controlled Substance with intent to distribute and possession of drug-related objects were dismissed.

•Joseph Roberts, of Jefferson, was sentenced by Judge Phelps to serve 10 years, with the first 80 days in confinement and the remainder on probation and pay a $1,000 fine on a charge of theft by taking. A second charge of theft by taking was dismissed.

•Chase Logan Mattox, of Comer, was sentenced by Judge Phelps to serve three years of probation and pay a $500 fine on a charge of possession of methamphetamine.

•Maurice Dunn, of Colbert, was sentenced by Judge Phelps to serve 12 months of probation and pay a $250 fine on a charge of battery. Dunn was also sentenced by Judge Dunn to serve 10 years, with the first 120 days to be served in confinement and pay a $1,000 fine on a charge of first degree burglary.

•Valerie Diane Smith, of Ila, was sentenced by Judge Malcom to serve three years of probation and pay a $1,000 fine on charges of possession of methamphetamine and possession of drug-related objects. A charge of failure to wear a seatbelt was dismissed.

•Brandi Michelle Giddens, of Danielsville, was sentenced by Judge Watson to serve 12 months of probation and pay a $250 fine on a charge of obstruction (reduced from felony to misdemeanor).

•George Gemmell, of Hull, was sentenced by Judge Watson to serve 12 months of probation and pay a $500 fine on a charge of reckless driving (reduced from DUI/alcohol).

•David Shamar Burgess, of Athens, was sentenced by Judge Watson to serve three years of probation, with the first 60 days to be served in confinement and the remainder on probation and to pay a $400 fine on a charges of fleeing/attempting to elude, suspended license and failure to maintain lane.

•Stephen Adam Turner, of Bowman, had his charges of felony theft by taking and misdemeanor theft by taking and two counts of second degree burglary dismissed by Judge Watson because he entered a guilty plea on those charges in another case.

•Johnny William Sorrow, of Colbert, had his charges of two counts of unlawful dumping dismissed by Judge Watson because the defendant is deceased.

•Orlanda Arellano-Rodriguez, of Commerce, had a charge of interference with custody moved to the dead docket by Judge Watson until May 26, 2020. If the defendant complies with terms and conditions of the bond and is not arrested for any other criminal offenses, the case will be dismissed at that time, according to court records.

•Spencer Levar Howard, of Comer, was sentenced by Judge Watson to serve two years of probation on charges of forgery in the fourth degree and possession of drug-related objects. A charge of unlawful use of license was dismissed.

•David Loton Langford, of Hull, was sentenced by Judge Watson to serve 12 months of probation and pay $200 in fines on charges of two counts of unlawful conduct during a 911 call.


Kyle Funderburk / Photo by Kyle Funderburk 

Kayla McPherson drives inside for a layup Tuesday night in Madison County's win over North Oconee.


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Tax break for seniors? Voters to decide

Do citizens over 70 deserve a little break on their property tax bills?

That’s a question that Madison County voters will decide during the May 19 primary elections. Madison County commissioners voted 5-0 Monday to present county voters with a referendum on some tax relief for senior citizens on property taxes. The board will soon ask the Georgia General Assembly to give the go-ahead for the referendum.

If approved in May, the exemption will take effect Jan. 1, 2021. All county property owners over 70 would receive an exemption of $8,000 off the assessed value of the value of their homestead. That does not equal an $8,000 tax break. It means the taxable value of the senior citizen’s property will be reduced by that much.

Tax commissioner Lamar Dalton proposed the measure, saying that giving senior citizens some relief on their taxes is personally meaningful to him. He spoke of seeing seniors really struggling, some getting by on just $400 or $500 a month.

He also said it’s an exemption that all citizens might eventually be able to enjoy.

“Eventually everyone in the county, God willing, will be 70 years old,” he said.

Madison County’s total property value was $692 million in 2019. The exemption would subtract an estimated $400,000 off of the county’s overall property value. Those under 70 would carry the burden of the exemption for the senior citizens.

Commissioner Lee Allen said it is a good move, an effort to provide support to senior citizens in need.

Dalton also said he would help fund the exemption by moving the tax bill deadline up from December to November.