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Arrests made in connection with murder of Bethlehem woman

Three of the five primary suspects in the April killing of a Bethlehem woman whose body was found in Gilmer County were arrested in Mexico Saturday, May 15.

According to a Georgia Bureau of Investigation news release, the GBI, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) Atlanta, HIS Harlingen, Texas, and Attaché Matamoros, Mexico, coordinated the arrests of Megan Colone, 30, of Stone Mountain, and Oscar Manuel Garcia, 26, of Austell, and also arrested a previously unidentified fifth suspect, 25-year-old Juan Antonio Vega, who is a resident of Cobb County.

Colone, Garcia and Vega have been returned to U.S. and were at border-patrol facilities as of Monday, May 17, awaiting extradition to Georgia. Colone was traveling with her children, and they have been safely returned to the U.S., according to the GBI.

The three are charged with the murder of Rossana Delgado, whose body was found April 20 in a cabin in Gilmer County. Delgado, 37, worked for a taxi service company out of Gwinnett County and was working the night of April 16, when her husband last heard from her before she vanished, according to multiple media reports.

Two other suspects in the murder, 35-year-old Juan Ayala-Rodriguez of Gainesville, and 29-year-old Mario Alberto Barbosa-Juarez of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, remain at large.

Calvin Harvard, 28, of Covington, was also arrested in connection with the case and charged with tampering with evidence and theft by receiving stolen property after authorities recovered Delgado’s vehicle and two other vehicles belonging to two of the suspects.

Authorities have still not publicly commented on how Delgado was killed or a possible motive for the crime.

The GBI and the Gilmer County Sheriff’s Office are continuing to investigate. Anyone with information on the case is asked to contact the GBI. Tips can be submitted by calling 1-800-597-TIPS(8477), online at https://gbi.georgia.gov/submit-tips-online, or by downloading the “See Something, Send Something” mobile app.


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Design workshops held for downtown Winder, cemetery master plans

The City of Winder last week held a three-day design workshop for public input on the master plans the city is in the process of developing for the downtown area and Rose Hill Cemetery.

The city has contracted with Peachtree Corners-based engineering consulting firm Pond and Company to head up the master plans, and urban designers, landscape architects and planners were at the Winder Community Center from May 11-13 to gather public input on more specific elements that should be included in the final downtown master plan document to be voted on by the city council later this year.

“This plan will build on downtown Winder's current success by developing consensus on a common vision for the future that is aspirational yet realistic,” Maddison Dean, the city’s director of economic development, said. “It will also provide an implementation strategy with short, middle, and long-term action steps to ensure the downtown vision is realized over a 10- to 15-year plan horizon.”

Roughly 70 residents participated in a virtual meeting last month on the downtown master plan, and their feedback, as well as that from an online survey, have largely centered around continuing to grow the downtown restaurant scene, preserving historical elements of the area, and creating more opportunities for family activities, and improving pedestrian connectivity and traffic conditions, Pond and Company representatives told the city council during an April 29 work session.

There were a handful of interactive public activities at last week’s workshop, including segments where Pond and Company representatives produced “real-time” drawings and sketches to reflect what they heard from community members.

On the final day of the workshops, organizers displayed a “pin up” of graphics and concepts illustrating what they heard throughout the week. That content will be further refined in the next phase of the planning process and ultimately be incorporated into the final master plan document, which is tentatively scheduled to be voted on by the city council in August.

In addition to the downtown master plan, there were opportunities for the public to provide input into the concurrent master plan for the city-owned cemetery, including specific times to tour the cemetery and speak with members of the project team.

Pond and company representatives have said the aim is to make various improvements to the cemetery and tie it into the downtown area with a public park and greenspace component.

“The community’s participation in the downtown master planning process is important as this is ultimately the city’s plan to champion and implement with the support of residents, key stakeholders, private investors and other partners,” Dean said. “We thank those who were able to join us last week and hope you can join us at future input-gathering events throughout this exciting process to envision downtown Winder’s future.”

More information on the plans can be found at http://bit.ly/WinderDowntownPlan.


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Additional positions, performance-pay raises drive proposed increase in county budget

Seventeen full-time and two part-time new positions across multiple departments and merit-pay raises for most employees are the major drivers of a proposed $2 million General Fund increase that Barrow County officials pitched to county commissioners this week.

During a called board of commissioners meeting Monday, May 17, county manager Kevin Little and chief financial officer Rose Kisaalita presented commissioners with a proposed $45.1 million General Fund for the upcoming Fiscal Year 2022, which represents a 9.9-percent increase over the $40.6 million General Fund originally approved for FY2021 and a 4.5-percent increase over the revised $43 million budget that was bolstered by the addition of federal coronavirus pandemic-relief money and higher-than-anticipated sales-tax collections over the last year.

Kisaalita said county officials have budgeted conservatively for sales-tax revenues with the anticipation that, as vaccinations continue and pandemic conditions continue to improve, more people in the county will return to commuting out of the county for work and will be spending less locally.

The new positions across multiple departments are projected to have a $785,949 impact on the General Fund, while the performance-based pay raises, which will range from 0-5 percent, are projected to cost $155,738. The merit raises do not apply to constitutional officers and elected officials nor employees in the sheriff’s office and detention center, but sheriff’s office and detention center employees would receive a 1.8-percent pay raise ($191,326 impact) and a combined total of $105,722 in additional pay adjustments to guard against salary compression.

Other projected hikes in the General Fund included a 3-percent increase in health-insurance costs ($317,154 over the current fiscal year), 7-percent increase in general liability coverage premiums ($236,691) and 10-percent increase in required ACCG retirement contributions ($257,259), according to the figures presented Monday.

Along with the General Fund, county officials have proposed a $9.9 million water and sewerage fund, $7.8 million fire fund, $1.9 million planning and community development fund, $1.8 million E-911 fund and a $1.4 million stormwater fund.

Officials are expected to make tweaks to the proposed budget that were recommended by commissioners Monday and present a revised balanced budget at the board’s work session scheduled for May 25. From there, a public hearing on the budget and a vote on final adoption would be held next month ahead of the start of the new fiscal year, July 1.

BOC COMMENTS

While chairman Pat Graham said she had concerns about adding 17 new full-time positions, there were no proposals from the board to eliminate any specific ones, and the staffing levels are likely to be approved as presented.

Putting more money into improving the county’s network of roads was a huge talking point among commissioners with Graham recommending that the county move $2.5 million from reserves to bulk up the county’s spending on road work.

“We’ve tried every year to resurface an appropriate number of roads to get caught up, but we haven’t really gotten caught up and maybe we’ve slipped further behind,” Graham said. “The longer (some of the roads in the county) are neglected, the higher the cost to the taxpayers. If we don’t start on this, we’ll never get there.”

The county is slated to receive $16 million over the next couple of years through the latest round of federal stimulus money from the American Rescue Plan, which officials have said would likely be targeted at addressing infrastructure costs, though specific parameters for how the money can and can’t be spent haven’t been released yet.

Also Monday, commissioners discussed the need to balance what is currently projected as an $884,000 deficit in the Fire Fund. The fund is getting a large increase due to a proposed agreement that would transition ambulance-transport service around the county from Barrow County Emergency Services to Northeast Georgia Health System. County officials have proposed retaining the more than 40 EMS employees and transferring them under the Fire Fund while reassigning them to fire shifts.

Commissioners agreed that BCES officials would need to reevaluate their list of proposed capital-improvement projects for FY2022 and that the county may need to increase the fire millage rate. But even if a fire millage hike occurred, projected drops in the economic development and general obligation bond repayment millage rates would largely negate the impact on taxpayers, Graham said.

Commissioners agreed they would prefer to “roll back” the maintenance and operations millage rates, which would mean the county would need only one required public hearing on the budget.

Kisaalita said the public hearing will be scheduled for June 8 and the board will likely vote to approve a final budget June 22.


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Statham council OKs final plat for long-planned subdivision

The Statham City Council gave approval Tuesday, May 18, has cleared the way for Ellington Farms, a residential subdivision that has been in the works for about 15 years, to be built.

In a 3-2 vote during its monthly voting session Tuesday, the council approved the final plat for the 50-home subdivision planned to be situated on just under 17 acres at Sunset Drive and Lillian Way. The vote was 3-2, as councilmen Gary Venable and Dwight McCormic were joined in favor by Mayor Joe Piper, who broke a tie after councilwomen Betty Lyle and Hattie Thrasher voted against the request. Councilwoman Tammy Crawley was absent.

The council’s approval comes with the condition that the mayor receive and sign off on three performance and maintenance bonds for the subdivision totaling over $100,000. City attorney Jody Campbell said there was a COVID-related delay with the applicants’ surety company not being able to deliver the bonds in time for Tuesday’s meeting. But he said the bonds were expected to be received next week and, by the council granting conditional approval Tuesday, that would save the applicant from having to wait another month to come back before the council in June.

The project had been bogged down after a preliminary plat was approved in 2007, but council earlier this year granted developer Abe Abouhamdan three variance requests for the property relating to city curb-and-gutter, buffer and open-space requirements.

Several residents have expressed concerns about the potential impact 50 homes could add to heavy rainwater runoff issues at the property and the subdivision’s potential impact on traffic congestion around Atlanta Highway. City officials have said the performance and maintenance bonds should at least alleviate some of the infrastructure concerns.

The three required bonds that are being secured by the developer are a two-year, $24,945 bond for roadway maintenance and infrastructure improvements, a four-year, $45,120 bond for sidewalks in the subdivision and a four-year, $41,340 bond for required cart paths.

In other business during Tuesday’s voting session, the council met in closed session for about 10 minutes to discuss a personnel matter. No action resulted from the session.


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