The November surge in Covid cases in Jackson County — and across the country — continued over the last week as at least one school in the county closed and moved to online classes due to the outbreak.
West Jackson Elementary School will close Nov. 18 due to having over 20% of its students and staff under quarantine. The school plans to reopen Nov. 30 if the cases go back down.
School officials said the large number of virus cases "has greatly affected the daily operations of our schools."
Last week, the Jackson County School System had 5.3% (449) of its students and staff on quarantine due to the virus with 19 active positive cases.
Locally, the death total to date has been 46 in Jackson County with four other deaths suspected to be linked to Covid.
Some 232 people have been hospitalized since March with the virus and 2,800 people have been confirmed with Covid in the county.
A big worry are the trend lines in Jackson County. These are troubling in the three main areas where tracking of the virus is done:
• The number of cases per 100,000 people has now topped 400 over the last two weeks, a moderately high rate.
• The number of new cases per day over the last week hit 25.0, very close to the county's record of 26.1set on Sept. 4.
• The percentage of positive cases (out of all those tested) hit a new high on Nov. 12 at 17.2 based on a 7-day rolling average.
Last week, the Jefferson City School System had 4.8% of its students and 1.8% of its staff absent due to Covid exposure.
The Commerce City School System had 14 student or staff members on quarantine due to the virus.
No major problems were uncovered in Jackson County's audit of the Nov. 3 presidential election results, officials said this week.
A hand recount was done across the state starting Friday, Nov. 13.
The move was done due to the closeness of the race between Donald Trump and Joe Biden for president. Biden carried Georgia by around 14,000 votes, a surprising outcome given that the state had not voted for a Democratic presidential candidate since 1992.
In Jackson County, Trump dominated the vote count with 79% of the total.
That didn't change much with the hand recount, according to Jackson County elections director Jennifer Logan.
In the original count, Trump had 29,491 votes in the county. The hand count gave him 29,507 votes.
Biden had 7,641 original votes and 7,639 in the recount.
The original results are the state certified results and will remain the same.
Statewide, the hand recount isn't expected to affect the overall outcome of the results. Biden is expected to still carry the state and its 16 Electoral College votes.
But the state's results has created a firestorm within the state's Republican leadership. Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has come under fire from within his own party over the results. He said in media interviews this week that some Republicans have been pressuring him to find a way to change the results to favor Trump.
One of those who has been critical of Raffensperger is 9th District Congressman Doug Collins, an ally of Trump. Collins has verbally attacked Raffensperger's handling of the election, saying he was "incompetent."
Raffensperger fired back over the weekend, calling Collins a "liar."
Collins, who represents Jackson County in Congress, lost his bid for the U.S. Senate on Nov. 3 and has since become Trump's point man in Georgia in an effort to undermine Biden's win in the state.
Meanwhile, Jackson County election officials are gearing up for a Jan. 5 runoff for both U.S. Senate seats in the state. The outcome of those two races could determine the balance of power in the Senate and are attracting a lot of attention from around the nation and around the world.
The graduation rates for all four high schools in Jackson County were above 90% in 2020, far above the state average of 83.8%.
Jefferson High School led the local results with a graduation rate of 99.3%, followed by Commerce High School at 99%.
East Jackson Comprehensive High School had a rate of 94.6% and Jackson County Comprehensive High School had a rate of 92.6%
A major expansion of Jefferson Middle School could begin next year following preliminary discussions by the Jefferson Board of Education.
During its fall retreat last week, the board heard from engineer Craig Buckley about some basic ideas on how the schools could be expanded.
After considering three options, Buckley recommended that the system pursue building a two-story addition to the right of the school's front in the area currently used as an athletic field.
The next step in the process would be for school leaders to meet with Buckley to go over specifics of what kinds of classrooms and labs are needed for the school.
In addition to the addition, Buckley recommended an overhaul to the school's current administrative offices.
Work on an expansion cold begin as early as next August.
In addition to the need for additional classrooms at the middle schools, system leaders are also looking at another expansion of Jefferson High School, perhaps starting in 2022.
Buckley said that while he hasn't done a specific plan, he said the system "has a lot of options" for an expansion on that campus.
One of those options would be to build a new addition where the current ROTC metal building is located.
In BOE action at a meeting preceding its retreat, the board approved the system purchasing a yellow activity bus. The bus could be used like a regular school bus for picking up and dropping off students, but does not have the larger capacity of a full-sized bus and can be driven by a driver who does not have a CDL license.
The Jackson County Board of Commissioners approved a rezoning for three residential tracts on 15 acres near Maysville on Nov. 16, but with a stipulation the landowners didn't want.
The board approved rezoning 15 acres in three tracts at 1246 Bob Mann Rd., Maysville, from A-2 to M-H, but with the stipulation that only "stick-built" homes could be put on the property.
Francisco Oviedo said that he and two other family members wanted to put mobile homes on the property, one each on 5-acre tracts, until they could afford to build houses. In his application, Oviedo said he had owned the property for 15 years and is now ready to live at the site.
But commissioner Chas Hardy said other homeowners in the area had contacted him opposed to having mobile homes on the tracts.
"(People) have expressed concerns of moving in that direction of adding three more mobile homes, especially in that density in that area," Hardy said.
Hardy said that since the property owners eventually want to build stick-built homes, he wanted to make that a stipulation now.
"I would feel more comfortable that we went (in that direction) in the first place, so moving forward I'd like to approve this to make a condition that it's a stick-built home," he said.
Oviedo said that it would be difficult to pay for a stick-built home right now.
"At this moment it's difficult to get the cash; right now we have the cash to buy the mobile home," he said. "To build a home it's going to take years."
Hardy suggested that the county might not be willing to approve additional mobile homes anywhere in the county.
"The direction we're trying to head to in Jackson County with our development guidelines and information we've received from our citizens about development moving forward, I felt like we need to add a condition that it needs to be a stick-built home," he said.
Oviedo was opposed to the condition, but eventually agreed that it would be better than Hardy making a motion to deny the rezoning.
The Jackson County Planning Commission had recommended approval of the rezoning with no conditions.
In other zoning related action, the board approved:
• a map amendment for 10.5 acres at 4285 Deadwyler Rd, Maysville, from agricultural to rural to divide the property into seven tracts for residential development.
• a rezoning of 10.1 acres on Ed Bennett Rd., Nicholson, from A-2 to R-1 to divide into five tracts for residential development.
In other action, the BOC approved:
• a quitclaim deed to transfer a small sliver of land to the City of Commerce.
• a contract with Correct Health Jackson to provide medical services to the county jail and correctional institute.
• the sale of surplus property.
• an intergovernmental agreement with the City of Hoschton to provide municipal court services through the Jackson County Magistrate Court.
• a grant application for the county's transit system.
Two large-scale projects within Jefferson are reportedly still moving along.
City administrator Priscilla Murphy said construction work on a mixed-use re-development of the city’s old mill should begin by early spring, while work on a retail center at the intersection of the Hwy. 129 and Old Pendergrass Rd. should start up by early 2021.
Murphy said some of the financing for the mill redevelopment has been more difficult than normal as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The development will have multiple uses, including retail and residential spaces. Jefferson Church also plans to relocate there. Work on the church portion of the project and apartments will likely begin first.
As for the retail center, Murphy said those plans “are already in and in process.”
Murphy checked into both projects at the direction of the council after a citizen asked about them during the council’s Nov. 9 work session.
In other business, the council:
•approved an annexation and zoning request for 5.06 acres on Martin Luther King Dr. as a medium density residential district for the construction of a single-family home. A condition was placed on the property restricting the amount of homes the applicant, or future property owners, could build on the property.
•approved a conditional use permit for applicant Ira Studivant to operate a cosmetology business from her home on Isaiah Dr. The in-home business will be limited to 10 clients a week.
•heard that there were few difference between Jefferson’s incentives for downtown businesses and that of Monroe and Winder. At the request of the city council, city staff had looked into those cities’ incentive plans due to their recent success in attracting restaurants to their downtown districts. The main difference between Jefferson and Monroe’s downtowns was Monroe’s allowance for a entertainment district.
•heard two “guesstimate” quotes — one for $90,250 and the other for $174,197 — to build an exit road from a city parking lot located south of the downtown square. The lower price, submitted by a company that did not make a site visit, could range from 30 percent cheaper to 50 percent more expensive than the estimated price. The council expects to receive more definitive quotes during its December work session. The council is considering two route options for the road. One would run to the north side of Regions Bank on Gordon Street and the other to the south of it.
•heard that the state department of transportation hasn’t yet reached a decision on a permit request to place two city gateway signs on the Hwy. 129 Bypass right-of-way.
The Commerce Police Department has obtained state certification through the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police.
Lavonia Police Chief Bruce Carlisle presented the award to Commerce chief Zach Ardis during the Nov. 16 meeting of the Commerce City Council.
Out of approximately 700 law enforcement agencies in the state, there are only 140 agencies that are state certified.
“State certification is more important now than it ever has been,” said Carlisle. “To say we live in difficult times in the law enforcement community is an understatement. All the mandates that you see coming about are covered by 95% of the state certification and we are addressing all the other issues to make sure we are covering everything in Georgia that needs to be covered.”
State certification is a progressive way to help law enforcement agencies improve their overall performance. The benefits include confirmation that agency practices are consistent with professional standards, greater operational and administrative effectiveness, enhanced understanding of agency policy and practices and promoting greater public confidence and community support in the agency.
Officer Adam King was also recognized for his efforts in helping to move the department towards state certification.
Commerce will have a virtual Christmas event this year with a drive-through with Santa visits and candy.
Like some other area towns, Commerce has canceled its annual Christmas Parade and its Commerce by Candlelight events.
Instead, the city will be hosting a virtual tree lighting event in Spencer Park on December 5.
Mayor Clark Hill will welcome the community and light the tree. The event will be live streamed through Facebook.
Following lighting of the tree, Santa Claus will be at Spencer Park for drive-through visits and candy and crafts will be handed out to the children.
Stores in the downtown area will be open later than usual to give visitors the opportunity to dine and shop for gifts.
“I’m hoping that with all the things we are doing downtown this year, when we bring the parade back we will continue to be able to build on all this as well so this will become a bigger celebration next year,” Mayor Clark Hill said during a meeting on November 16.
Little Street, Oak Street and Pine Street will be closed from 5:00 p.m. until 9:00 p.m. on December 5 to facilitate the planned holiday activities in the park.
In other business at its Nov. 16 meeting, the council:
• agreed to accept a request from Mike Malerba to withdraw an application to reduce lot sizes from 25 feet to 10 feet for lots within a residential development located on Mt. Olive Road.
• agreed to accept a request from Aaron Veal to withdraw a request to reduce the required lot size from 1.50 acres to 1.08 for a proposed automobile sales lot at 697 South Elm Street.
• approved a speed zone ordinance. This ordinance will lay out where the city can enforce speed regulations.
• approved an agreement to allow outdoor storage at a business located along Harris Street to be surrounded by Leyland cypress trees as substitute for the required fencing.
• denied a request from Sara Golden to place a mobile home at 198 Old Harden Orchard Road. The property does not meet the definition of a conditional use since it has been vacant for a number of years.
• approved an agreement to allow TruVista to attach fiber to city utility poles.
• approved appointment of Tre Spear to a 60-month term on the Commerce Housing Authority board.
• heard finance director James Elrod report the city was victim of check fraud in the amount of $6,000 earlier this year. The incident was discovered at the beginning of the current fiscal year. The check was intercepted from one of the city’s regular vendors.