A groundbreaking ceremony for the new Thomaston Fire Department will be held on-site Friday, March 12 at 11 a.m. at 615 N. Church Street. All are invited to attend, according to a release by Mayor J.D. Stallings and the Thomaston City Council.
Kahn Recovering at Home After Being Shot 6 Times
Published 2-25-2021 Upson County Sheriff Dan Kilgore said “it’s a miracle” that a 64-year-old local businessman shot six times in an attempted robbery earlier this month is alive. Ali Kahn, who owns convenience stores in Upson County and Columbus, is currently recovering at his Marlon Street residence following a lengthy stay at Macon Medical Center. Kahn was driving home Feb. 1 from Columbus when he noticed a vehicle passing him several times, according to Kilgore. When he arrived at home around 11 p.m., Kahn said a black man wearing a black hoodie and mask, carrying a large caliber handgun, approached him in his driveway and demanded money. When Kahn told the man he did not have any cash, the offender shot him six times in the body and fled the scene, Kilgore said. A deputy at Northcreek Shopping Center, Kahn’s daughter, other family members at the residence, and neighbors heard the shots, called 911, and responded to the scene, according to reports. Kahn was transported to Macon by emergency medical services, where he was treated for multiple gunshot wounds. Kilgore said the investigation remains active and ongoing, and urges anyone with information to contact the Upson County Sheriff’s Office at 706-647-7411.
TPD Investigating Stalking, Burglary With Shots Fired
Published 2-25-2021 Thomaston Police Department has not released the name of an individual believed to be involved in an aggravated stalking and first-degree burglary on South Bethel Street last week. After an “unwanted person” complaint two hours earlier, TPD officers were dispatched to the same address in reference to an “intruder in home” and shots fired. A female, with her son, had fired a handgun in the direction of the intruder’s voice, according to the report. The female said she and her son were watching television when they heard noise in the son’s bedroom, then both ran to her bedroom and locked the door. When she heard a man’s voice, she yelled for him to “get out” and fired her weapon at the wall, after which she heard a car drive away, the report stated. Officers discovered a broken window and multiple live rounds of ammunition, and retrieved the fired bullet from the wall of the residence. Officers conducted a thorough search of the residence and surrounding area to ensure the victim’s safety, according to the report. The victim said the suspect was waiting outside her house, armed with a weapon that he stole from her sister’s residence in Griffin, when she complained of an unwanted person two hours earlier. The victim’s mother signed a statement confirming her daughter’s account of the incidents. Two more felony burglary incidents were reported, one at West End Mini Storage on Crawley Street and one in the Doty Drive area. No arrests have been made in either case, according to reports. Other recent arrests and charges reported by TPD include the following: George Robert Hargrove, obstructing or hindering law enforcement; Ramonica Regina Lockhart, theft by shoplifting; and Jareem Youlman Harris, felony probation violation.
Culloden Man Charged with Vehicular Homicide
Published 2-25-2021 Robert Folks, 58, of Highway 74 in Culloden has been charged with homicide by vehicle in the first degree in the death of 49-year-old John Steve Talmadge of Thomaston, resulting from a head-on collision last week on Delray Road, according to reports obtained from Georgia State Patrol Post 26 and the Upson County Sheriff’s Office. According to the GSP report, Folks was traveling too fast for conditions on a wet roadway, crossed the center line, and struck the front left portion of Talmadge’s vehicle near the intersection of Delray and East Moore’s Crossing Roads. After impact, both vehicles came to rest on the shoulder of Delray Road, the report states. One witness stated that Folks’ vehicle “nearly ran him off the roadway” traveling “at a high rate of speed” and “was weaving back and forth across the roadway and driving in a reckless manner,” according to the report. A second witness traveling West on Delray said she saw Folks’ vehicle crest a hill at a high rate of speed, cross the center line, and strike Talmadge’s vehicle head on. In addition to the felony, Folks has been charged with driving under the influence (less safe) and failure to maintain lane, according to a UCSO report. The investigation was turned over to the Troop D Specialized Crash Reconstruction Team. In an unrelated incident, Jason Richard Childree was charged by GSP with illegal possession of a controlled substance, along with multiple misdemeanor traffic violations, according to the UCSO report. Other arrests and charges recently reported by UCSO include Ryan Robert Derienz, armed robbery and misdemeanor cruelty to children in the third degree; Quentin Arnell Lawyer, two counts of violation of the Georgia RICO Act; Christopher Wayne Ledford, possession of methamphetamine; and William Lamar King, driving while declared as a habitual violator, along with multiple misdemeanor traffic violations.
Broder Elected DA With 73% of Votes Thomaston Native Carries Upson 2,834 to 577
District Attorney Marie Broder
Published 2-18-2021 Republican Marie Broder drew 73 percent of the overall vote Feb. 9 to defeat Democrat Dexter Wimbish in a special election for district attorney of the Griffin Judicial Circuit. Broder picked up 83 percent of the vote in Upson County (2,834 to 577), 91 percent in Pike (2,923 to 281), almost 68 percent in Spalding (4,816 to 2,294), and slightly more than 69 percent in Fayette (10,722 to 4,714) over the Griffin attorney. “I am extremely grateful to the voters in Fayette, Spalding, Pike, and Upson Counties. Thank you for believing in me, my record, and my plan for the future,” Broder said. “Thank you to all of the volunteers who made calls, sent text messages, put up signs and door hangers, waved signs, and pushed friends to the polls to vote. “Thank you to those who believed in me enough to donate to this campaign,” she continued. “The money came from hard working people within Fayette, Spalding, Pike, and Upson Counties and for that, I am thankful.” Georgia Republican Party Chairman David Shafer called Broder's election a "resounding vote for law and order" by the people of the circuit. "This election was important, not just to the citizens of the Griffin Judicial Circuit but to all Georgia Republicans," Shafer said. Previously assistant to district attorney Ben Coker, Broder was named acting DA by Gov. Brian Kemp when Kemp appointed Coker to a superior court judgeship in the circuit early in 2020. Kemp appointed Broder DA in June 2020 to fill Coker’s unexpired term. The Georgia Supreme Court ruled that the governor did not have the statutory authority to extend the DA appointment for two years, necessitating a special election. “We have hard work ahead of us in my offices,” Broder said. “We have hundreds of cases that must be tried, and we stand ready to try them.” “I have an incredible staff ready to fight for victims across this circuit,” she concluded. “To the voters, with your voice, you have selected a proven prosecutor who is ready to work hard to keep this circuit safe. I will fight hard to make you proud.”
Chastain Reminds Upson Taxpayers of Exemptions for ‘21
Published 2-18-2021 Upson County Tax Commissioner Andy Chastain has released a list of the most common homestead exemptions which may benefit area residents on their property taxes for 2021: •Regular Homestead Exemption: Anyone who purchased a home prior to Jan. 1, 2021 in which they reside should apply. •L3 Exemption: Any homeowner who turned 62 years of age prior to Jan. 1, 2021 should apply. •L4 Exemption: Any homeowner who turned 65 years of age prior to Jan. 1, 2021 should apply. All applicants should contact the Upson County Tax Assessor’s Office to file for homestead exemptions. Important Qualification Notes: •Applicants must file before April 1, 2021. •Applicants must reside at the property. •L3 and L4 exemptions are subject to income limits for approval. Other Exemptions are available for veterans and disabled homeowners.
EMC Partnership to Expand Broadband in Rural Middle Georgia Central Georgia EMC, Southern Rivers Energy & Conexon Announce Expanding Broadband to 80,000 EMC Members Across 18 Counties
Published 2-11-2021 Efforts to provide broadband in unserved areas of Georgia took another leap forward when Gov. Brian Kemp, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, and Speaker David Ralston made a joint announcement at the State Capitol today. Gov. Kemp announced that Central Georgia EMC of Jackson and Southern Rivers Energy of Barnesville will form a new partnership with Conexon to provide high-speed internet to 80,000 homes and businesses in 18 Middle Georgia counties: Bibb, Butts, Clayton, Coweta, Crawford, Fayette, Henry, Jasper, Jones, Lamar, Meriwether, Monroe, Morgan, Newton, Pike, Putnam, Spalding, and Upson. The partnership includes a capital investment of more than $210 million overall. Central Georgia EMC will invest $135 million, Southern Rivers Energy will invest $53 million, and Conexon will contribute $21.5 million. Monroe County has also committed $1.3 million in local funds to incentivize the EMCs to start their projects in Monroe. Under terms of the agreement, the EMCs will partner with Conexon, a full-service fiber broadband provider, to design and build a 6,890-mile fiber network that will serve two strategic purposes: provide improved electric service and increased reliability through smart grid capabilities; and provide high-speed internet access to all 80,000 of the two EMCs’ members within the next four years, beginning as early as June 2021. Conexon works exclusively with electric cooperatives and is considered one of the pioneers in the electric cooperative broadband movement. The two EMCs will own the fiber and lease excess capacity to Conexon, which has agreed to serve every EMC member with fiber-to-the-home internet speeds up to one gigabit per second. The internet service will be powered by EMC fiber, but Conexon will provide the retail service to homes and businesses, managing account set-up, customer service, and billing. “The announcement we are making today will have a real impact on the lives of countless hardworking Georgians. With expanded broadband access comes new job opportunities, improved education tools, and access to telemedicine,” said Gov. Kemp. “This partnership is why I signed Senate Bill 2 in 2019 to allow EMCs the authority to provide broadband service. The legislation was intended to encourage what you see today - EMCs and community leaders, working together on creative solutions to close the gap between those with internet service and those without. “This is an important leap forward, but make no mistake: we are just getting started,” Kemp said. “I will continue working alongside Lt. Gov. Duncan, Speaker Ralston, and leaders in both chambers to expand access and opportunity for the people of rural Georgia.” “As we work together to move all of Georgia forward, our partners across the state understand that access to broadband, high-speed internet, is a fundamental component for continued growth,” said Lt. Gov. Duncan. “I want every Georgian to have access to reliable, quality internet and today we are taking a giant leap in that direction. “I applaud the commitment of local EMCs to partner and invest in this project,” Duncan continued. “This is a prime example of their continued dedication to the communities and members they serve. The expansion of rural broadband will remain a top priority for the Senate as we look for ways to close internet gaps across the state.” “The House has focused intently over the last several years to expand economic opportunity in rural Georgia,” said Speaker Ralston. “Thanks to our partners like Georgia’s EMCs, we are now seeing the fruits of that labor as high-speed broadband is being deployed in rural communities across our state. “I appreciate the efforts of all those involved and the members of the General Assembly who have worked on critical legislation, like Senate Bill 2, to make today’s announcement possible,” Ralston said. “We will continue to work with Gov. Kemp, Lt. Gov. Duncan, and our colleagues in the Senate to ensure that prosperity is accessible to every Georgian – regardless of your zip code.” “The need for rural broadband access is one of Georgia’s most pressing challenges,” said PSC Commissioner Tricia Pridemore. “As a utility regulator, I have seen that better connectivity helps Georgia ratepayers and allows our state to remain competitive." “EMC directors and staff live and work in the communities they serve,” said George Weaver, president and CEO of Central Georgia EMC. “We see firsthand the disadvantages associated with a lack of internet service. That’s why electric cooperatives throughout the state have been actively searching for partnerships with providers like Conexon and community leaders like Monroe County, negotiating to bring high-speed internet to rural Georgia so our members are afforded the opportunity to participate in today’s digital world.” “The majority of members in our service area have no access to the quality, high-speed internet service they so desperately need. That changes today," said Southern Rivers Energy president and CEO Michael McMillan. “We know electric cooperatives play a critical role in connecting underserved areas and we are proud to partner with Conexon to help bridge the digital divide for our communities. This partnership will enable thousands of rural Georgians to finally access the same online connections as those in more urban areas, while allowing us to maintain focus on our core mission – providing reliable, affordable electricity to our members.” “We have been impressed with the efforts of Georgia’s electric membership cooperatives in exploring ways to provide critical high-speed internet services to the rural Americans they serve,” said Conexon Partner Randy Klindt. “In keeping with the spirit of cooperatives across the country, the shared goals of our partnership with Central Georgia EMC and Southern Rivers Energy are to offer a quality, reliable, high-speed fiber broadband service to all locations they serve at a reasonable monthly price. Fiber is considered the gold standard of communications transmission technology and will serve customers far into the future.” In recent years, Georgia’s EMCs have been aggressively pursuing solutions to help expand broadband. Some, like Blue Ridge Mountain EMC and Habersham EMC, another Conexon client, have created affiliates and are already providing high-speed service to members, and many are exploring or have formed partnerships with broadband providers.
SRE Announces Partnership to Build Broadband Network
Published 2-11-2021 Southern Rivers Energy has announced a formal partnership with Conexon, a full-service broadband consulting firm, that will provide high-speed internet to every SRE member across its nine-county service territory. The announcement was made alongside Central Georgia EMC at the State Capitol today. Both electric membership cooperatives will partner with Conexon to design and build a fiber network that will strategically serve two purposes: provide smart-grid capabilities to improve electric service and reliability; and provide fiber-to-the-home high-speed internet to every EMC member through Conexon’s newly formed internet service provider, Connect. This partnership allows SRE to build a future-proof electric network that will help their communities thrive for decades to come, while indirectly filling the need of providing fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) for SRE members. “The majority of the areas we serve have no access to quality, reliable internet service. That changes today," says Michael McMillan, the cooperative's CEO. “We know a fiber infrastructure is a significant investment, but we also know our communities are worth that investment - in the infrastructure and resources necessary to encourage growth. Electric cooperatives brought rural areas electricity in the 1930s and early ‘40s when no other company would. The current internet crisis is the 21st century version of that.” The cooperative, headquartered in Barnesville, serves more than 20,000 billed accounts in parts of nine counties, including Bibb, Coweta, Crawford, Lamar, Monroe, Meriwether, Spalding, Pike, and Upson counties. The project will provide new broadband service to more than 15,000 unserved locations where, currently, there are no options for connectivity. Southern Rivers Energy will invest approximately $53 million to construct more than 2,100 miles of fiber that will strengthen their electric grid and improve reliability. Conexon will invest a total of $6.5 million in electronics to provide broadband service to all of SRE’s members. SRE will own the fiber and lease excess capacity to Conexon, which has agreed to serve every SRE member with fiber-to-the-home internet speeds up to one gigabit per second. The internet service will be powered by EMC fiber, but Conexon Connect will provide the retail service to homes and businesses, managing account set-up, customer service, and billing. “We are confident that we found the best partner in Conexon and the best business model that will allow us to continue focusing on our core mission of providing reliable, affordable electric service while Conexon uses its expertise to provide quality high-speed internet to all of our members at a cost they can afford,” said McMillan. Details are still being finalized, including a construction timeline, but coordination and planning for the network is already underway. Visit southernriversenergy.com or follow them on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram for the latest broadband news.
McRae Receives ‘Special Recognition’ from State Council of Probate Judges
Judge Danielle McRae is shown with her
Special Recognition award from the
Council of Probate Judges of Georgia.
Published 2-4-2021 The Council of Probate Court Judges of Georgia honored Upson County Probate Judge Danielle McRae as one of its 2020 Special Recognition award winners, according to a recent press release from the state council. The council’s Special Recognition award is voted on by probate judges across the state of Georgia and the goal of the award is to recognize a judge or individual who has made a unique contribution to Georgia’s probate courts. McRae’s colleagues noted her significant contributions in the creation of the traffic certification program for probate judges. Recently, the first class of 78 judges completed the program. “It is a true honor to be recognized by my colleagues,” said McRae. “In truth, in working to create our traffic certification program, I did not have in the front of my mind receiving any recognition for it. I, along with the other judges who helped with creating the program, felt it was something necessary to provide our traffic judges with the best training.” Along with her duties in Upson County, McRae also serves as the chair of the council’s Traffic and Criminal Jurisdiction Committee.
City to Break Ground on New FD Next Week
Rendering of the southeast view of the
proposed new fire department.
Published 1-28-2021 Groundbreaking should take place next week for the new $2.38 million Thomaston Fire Department, according to City Manager Russell Thompson. Thompson told council members last week that he held a pre-construction meeting with contractor McWright, LLC, who estimated completion of the project will take approximately 290 days. The facility will be located on North Church Street, between West Central Georgia Bank and Tidal Wave Auto Spa. After months of planning, council voted unanimously during its first meeting of 2021 to authorize Mayor J.D. Stallings to execute contracts moving forward with the project. Council also unanimously accepted the low bid of $174,420 from Helix Group construction company of Fairburn for headwall improvements for drainage at Davis Street and West Walker Street. The project will be funded by proceeds from sales tax, according to Thompson. In other business, council approved $75,000 for the purchase of property on the corner of East Gordon and South Hightower streets, to be used for vendors and overflow parking, and approved payment of $6,500 to Drennan Dobbs for placement of a support pole on North Church Street. Council members unanimously appointed Tempy Hoyal to the Historic Preservation Commission, Jane Burdette and Levi Long to the Thomaston Tree Board, and Richard Hollstrom to the Thomaston Zoning Commission.
‘Top Ten’ Taxpayers Reported
Published 1-28-2021 Upson County Tax Commissioner Andy Chastain has announced the top 10 taxpayers in both Upson County and the City of Thomaston for the 2020 tax year. Upson County: •Southern Natural Gas ($22,612,128 assessment; $316,690 bill amount; 3.86 percent of total levy for county) •Quad Graphics ($17,309,793; $236,179; 2.88 percent) •West Georgia Generating ($25,512,209; $219,405; 2.67 percent) •Solo Cup ($16,877,451; $214,029; 2.61 percent) •Georgia Power ($14,429,756; $182,893; 2.23 percent) •Southern Mills ($15,327,435; $96,632; 1.18 percent) •Interfor ($6,835,481; $86,625; 1.06 percent) •Walmart ($5,582,317; $49,515; 0.60 percent) •Upson EMC ($3,179,988; $43,336; 0.53 percent) •Home Depot ($4,046,545; $34,800; 0.42 percent) Thomaston: •West Georgia Generating ($25,512,209 assessment; $207,465 bill amount; 10.8 percent of total levy for city) •Walmart ($5,582,317; $46,821; 2.45 percent) •Standard Textiles ($5,172,007; $39,311; 2.05 percent) •Georgia Power ($14,429,756; 38,146; 1.99 percent) •Home Depot ($4,046,545; $32,907; 1.72 percent) •Ingles ($2,245,516; 18,138; 0.94 percent) •Pacific Management (Northcreek Shopping Center - $2,080,000; $16,915; 0.88 percent) •Thomaston Property Holdings (Providence Healthcare - $1,991,662; $16,197; 0.85 percent) •Harborview (Golden Living Center - $1,963,377; $15,966; 0.83 percent) •Advantage Relocation, Inc. (Lakeside Plant - $1,812,374; $14,738; 0.77 percent) *West Georgia Generating, Georgia Power, Walmart, and Home Depot appear on both lists.
Grella Agrees to Extended Service at No Extra Cost Development Firm to Add 6 Months
Published 1-21-2021 By Bridge Turner, Managing Editor Grella Partnership Strategies, a New York-based economic development firm, has agreed to double the length of its original contract with Upson County for no additional fee, according to commission chairman Norman Allen and county manager Jason Tinsley. Commissioners voted unanimously in late August 2020 to retain the group for six months at $7,500 per month plus expenses to assist with business attraction and recruitment, analysis of industrial park design, grant-writing services, and general consultation. To date, Grella’s effectiveness has been limited. “The situation with Grella has not taken off like we hoped it would,” Allen said at last week’s commission meeting. “We were excited about the opportunity to apply for some grant funding, and that fell by the wayside. The CARES Act dried up quickly.” In a pitch to local officials, a Grella representative suggested the pursuit of federal funds through the EDA CARES Act for a then proposed $4.3 million site development of the Central Georgia Business & Development Park. Plans for the park have since changed. “Now he’s working on packaging what we have, focusing on the park because it’s an easy sell,” Allen said of Mike Grella. “That land’s ready to go. Once we finalize these infrastructure issues and the broadband thing, it will be huge.” Discussion followed a presentation by Thomaston-Upson Industrial Development Authority Executive Director Kyle Fletcher, and a question from commissioner James Ellington. “How are you using Grella to enhance our situation?” Ellington asked Fletcher. “What is he providing to you? I just want an update on the relationship.” Fletcher told Ellington that Grella’s “biggest asset” is his extensive list of contacts. Among those contacts is Amazon, with which Grella has been closely affiliated. Fletcher’s presentation included a list of IDA successes, including issuance of more than $209 million in revenue bonds. Among business successes during the last 10 years, she listed Advantage, Metal Works, Golden Star, Solutions Pest & Lawn, Crown Technology, Super Moss, Ranew, United Teleport, Planet Fitness, Dunkin’, Chick-fil-A, and a proposed Holiday Inn Express at Northside. She added that Interfor is hiring starting at $15 per hour, more for forklift drivers, and that Solutions is continuing to hire as it has throughout the pandemic. Resulting from a recent IDA board retreat, Fletcher said focal points for 2021 are wastewater capacity, communication and education, fiber infrastructure for the industrial park, Brownfield land development, workforce development, and continued recruitment. In other business, commissioners voted unanimously to deny a special exception request from Custom Hunt Club Land Group, LLC for a 14-space deer camp on 20.34 acres at 2060 Waymanville Road near New Harmony Church Road. Multiple residents expressed opposition to the deer camp, citing safety of children in nearby neighborhoods, privacy, trespassing, wildlife conservation, eyesore, and effect on property values as reasons. One caller, who said he represented four members of the club, spoke against allowing the exception. Allen said he had seen a petition with 35 to 40 signatures opposing the deer camp. An application for a beer and wine package sales license from Linden Ault on behalf of 6456 Crest Inc., located at 6456 Crest Highway, died for lack of a motion. Commissioners voted unanimously to re-appoint Jessica Jones as county clerk, English Law Group as county attorney, Driver Adams + Sharpe CPAs as county auditor, and board member Paul Jones as vice chair of the commission. Allen and Ellington closed the meeting with passionate pleas for litter control throughout the county. “If you’re not seeing it, you’re not looking for it,” Ellington said. “It’s disgusting.” Allen added, “Our roads are horrible.” Commissioners discussed the possibility of increasing fines for littering, and “making an example” of those caught doing so.
City OKs Contract For $2.38 Million New Fire Station ‘Revitalization’ Consultant Approved
Rendering of the southeast view of the
proposed new fire department.
Published 1-14-2021 Thomaston City Council members voted unanimously last week to authorize Mayor J.D. Stallings to execute contractual documents with McWright, LLC for the construction of a new $2,382,110 fire station. Cost includes an added fifth bay for the new home of Thomaston Fire Department, which will be located on North Church Street between West Central Georgia Bank and Tidal Wave Auto Spa. Council members also approved selection of ELA Studios, the firm which designed the Greatest Generation Park memorial, as consultant on a local downtown revitalization plan. The revitalization plan is a step toward Thomaston applying for a rural zone application through the Department of Community Affairs, according to City Manager Russell Thompson. The application is contingent upon a feasibility study which is tied to revitalization strategy, he explained. Six companies responded and four were interviewed for the consulting position, and Downtown Development Authority members participated in the process, Thompson said prior to recommending ELA Studios. He reminded council members that $30,000 had been budgeted for the project. In other business, council voted unanimously to re-appoint City Attorney DeAnn Wheeler, City Clerk Gail Hammock, and City Auditor Driver, Adams + Sharpe, CPAs for annual terms. The following individuals were appointed to city committees: Harold Payne (reappointed), Board of Zoning Appeals; Sharon King, City Ethics Committee; Angeline McGill and Doug Head (both reappointed), Downtown Development Authority; Lila W. Bryan, Tempy Hoyal, and Jerome Stallings, Historic Preservation Commission; Danny Tate, Jane Burdette, and Faye Bridges, Thomaston Tree Board; Robert Chatman (reappointed District 2) and Richard Hollstrom (District 4), Thomaston Zoning Commission; Dr. Barbara Worthy (reappointed), Archives-Records Advisory Board; Chase Fallin (reappointed) and Finance Director Lonnie Joyce (to fill unexpired term of resigned chair Carson Gleaton, Thomaston-Upson Industrial Development Authority; Steve Duke and council member Ryan Tucker (both reappointed, T-U Office Building Authority; and John Brodnax (reappointed), T-U Planning Commission. Mayor Pro-Tem Doug Head closed the meeting with a reminder for residents to continue exercising care in the local fight against COVID-19. “It’s a lot worse than it ever was at our peak in the spring,” Head warned. “From the hospital’s perspective, it’s about 30 percent worse now. Hospital officials have described the situation as ‘intense’.”
Special Election Scheduled Feb. 9 for DA
Published 1-14-2021 A special election will be held Tuesday, Feb. 9 for district attorney of the Griffin Judicial Circuit, which includes Upson County. Early voting will be held at the Thomaston-Upson Civic Center, 101 Civic Center Drive, Tuesday through Friday, Jan. 19-22, Monday through Friday, Jan. 25-29, and Monday through Friday, Feb. 1-5. The last day to mail ballots is Feb. 5, and the last day to return ballots is Feb. 9.
Tag Renewal Unavailable Jan. 13-19
Published 12-31-2020 Because of an upgrade to Georgia’s motor vehicle program system, the local tax office will be unable to process tag and title transactions from 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 12 to 8 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 19, according to Upson County Tax Commissioner Andy Chastain. Anyone with a renewal which falls between the designated dates is required to complete the transaction by Jan. 12. The tax commissioner’s office will remain open for property tax matters. The outage, which involves conversion to the DRIVES system, will include all motor vehicle offices throughout the state of Georgia, E-services, and kiosks. “We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause our citizens,” Chastain said.
Upson Occupation Tax Deadline Near
Published 12-24-2020 Paperwork and tax payments for all registered businesses in unincorporated areas of Upson County are due Friday, Jan. 1, 2021, according to a press release from the building and zoning department. The department has completed mailing the 2021 occupation tax renewal notices to all registered businesses in the unincorporated area of the county. Anyone with a business located in unincorporated Upson who has not previously applied for a tax certificate must come to the building and zoning department to pick up the paperwork, deputy clerk Tammy Buchanan explained. Currently registered businesses are requested to provide updated information, where necessary. Proof of up-to-date professional licenses, permits, bonds, and other regulatory documents must also be provided. Receipts showing that the business location property taxes and equipment and inventory taxes have been paid for 2020 are required to be submitted. Every renewing business must report its E-Verify status on the declaration form included in the mailing. The Upson County Building and Zoning Department is located at 305 South Hightower Street, Suite D-100 in the Drake Building in Thomaston. The office can be contacted at 706-647-1297. State of Georgia-required immigration-related affidavits must be submitted by new businesses. The completed and notarized affidavits and identification copies, as well as occupation taxes, may be submitted by mail or in person. New business affidavits may be notarized by any Georgia-licensed notary. A notary public will be available in the department from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 2-5:00 p.m. to assist owners completing paperwork. Business owners are encouraged to submit paperwork and tax payments as soon as possible by the Jan. 1, 2021 deadline; however, no late fees or interest will be charged until after March 31, 2021. The completed 2021 occupation tax certificates will be provided immediately, or they may be mailed by the department, if requested.
Broder Announces Candidacy for Feb. 9 DA Special Election
Published 12-17-2020 District Attorney Marie Greene Broder is proud to announce her candidacy for election as district attorney of the Griffin Judicial Circuit in a special election to be held Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2021. Appointed in March 2020 to fill the vacancy left when the former district attorney was sworn in as Superior Court judge, Broder is recognized as a fierce advocate for justice. She has represented the State of Georgia since 2011 when shortly after her graduation from the University of Georgia School of Law, Broder trained as a prosecutor in the Alcovy Judicial Circuit. In 2012, Broder returned to her native circuit to serve her community. Living for several years in Fayette County, she moved to Griffin in 2017 where she lives with her husband and daughter. A Thomaston native, Broder grew up as the daughter of a cattle farmer and a special education teacher and learned early that things worth doing are worth doing right. It is with that frame of mind that Broder chose her path, earning her stripes as a trial lawyer and working her way through the ranks to become the Griffin Judicial Circuit’s first female district attorney. Broder has tried cases of every kind ranging from traffic citations to capital murder as an assistant district attorney and then as chief assistant district attorney. In the brief time since her appointment as DA, she has steered the four-county offices through the pandemic with an eye toward safeguarding the health of her employees, while remaining available to the public that she serves. Once approved by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia, she orchestrated the reopening of grand jury proceedings in all four counties and is eagerly awaiting the green light to resume jury trials. Known for her determination and passion, Broder is an advocate for the people she serves. She states, “This job is a calling; it is not a path to travel lightly. When victimized by crime, people feel as if they are robbed of their voice. It is the honor of my life to lend them mine.” The Georgia Supreme Court recently ruled that the term of district attorney could not be extended by the governor for two years as initially thought, so Gov. Brian Kemp has called for the Feb. 9 special election.
Ellington: ‘People Here Must Have the Cleanest Cars’ Commissioners Talk Trash
Published 12-10-2020 By Bridge Turner, Managing Editor Commissioner James Ellington told other members of the board last week that roadside litter in Upson County has become an eyesore which is difficult to overlook. “We’ve got to do something about litter control,” Ellington stated. “All you have to do is ride up and down the road [for proof]. It’s terrible.” The District 2 commissioner said he compares local roads to roads in other counties when traveling. “I don’t want to beat up on Upson County. I love this place,” Ellington declared, then added jokingly, “but people around here have to have the cleanest cars… because it is all on the side of the road.” The county’s current contract through the Georgia Department of Transportation provides for simultaneous mowing and litter pickup six times per year, according to County Manager Jason Tinsley. He said additional pickup service would range from $110 to $170 per mile. Inmate details provided through Sheriff Dan Kilgore’s office collect and bag garbage, but that “service” occurs less frequently than in years past, according to County Attorney Paschal English. There are more options from which to choose when sentences include hours of community service, English said. Ellington admitted litter had become more visible with grass dying and less mowing in fall. “I don’t know the answer,” he said, “but what we’re doing now isn’t working.” There are 420 miles of roadway in Upson County. In other business during the work session, commissioners discussed the removal of a water tank in the western portion of the county. Bids indicate that removal and cleanup will cost approximately $15,000. EMC Engineering updated the commission on progress of Phase II of the county’s road resurfacing project, and reported that change orders had resulted in delays in reconstruction of the county vehicle shop building, which was damaged by fire almost one year ago.
Tag Renewal Unavailable January 13-19
Published 12-10-2020 Because of an upgrade to Georgia’s motor vehicle program system, the local tax office will be unable to process tag and title transactions from 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 12 to 8 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 19, according to Upson County Tax Commissioner Andy Chastain. Anyone with a renewal which falls between the designated dates is required to complete the transaction by Jan. 12. The tax commissioner’s office will remain open for property tax matters. The outage, which involves conversion to the DRIVES system, will include all motor vehicle offices throughout the state of Georgia, E-services, and kiosks. “We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause our citizens,” Chastain said.
Early Voting Starts Monday for Jan. 5 Senate Runoff Race
The last day for absentee ballots to be mailed out is Dec. 20. Last day to return absentee ballots is Jan. 5, 2021.
Published 12-10-2020 The Georgia runoff election for United States Senate will be held Jan. 5, 2021. Early voting will begin Monday, Dec. 14 at the Thomaston-Upson Civic Center from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Dates for early voting will be Dec. 14-18, Dec. 21-23, and Dec. 28-30, according to Election Supervisor Pam Releford. Runoffs include: United States Senate •David A. Perdue (I) (Rep) •Jon Ossoff (Dem) United States Senate (To Fill the Unexpired Term of Johnny Isakson, Resigned) •Kelly Loeffler (I) (Rep) •Raphael Warnock (Dem) Public Service Commissioner (To Succeed Lauren Bubba McDonald, Jr.) •Lauren Bubba McDonald, Jr. (I) (Rep) •Daniel Blackman (Dem)
City-County Sewage Service Delivery Plan ‘In Holding Pattern’
Published 12-3-2020 By Bridge Turner, Managing Editor Upson County Commission Chairman Norman Allen told board members last week that based on Mayor J.D. Stallings’ comments during a recent Industrial Development Authority meeting, the county is “in a holding pattern” regarding wastewater service delivery. At the IDA meeting, Stallings told Allen that the City of Thomaston “is not interested” in participating in the pursuit of an EDA CARES Act Grant to offset costs associated with development of Central Georgia Business and Technology Park. City and county officials are negotiating updates to a 25-year-old agreement for sewage provision. “[County Manager] Jason [Tinsley] has a draft of an updated service delivery strategy that the city attorney has sent to us, and we’re just in a holding pattern right now,” Allen told commissioners. “Right now, it’s business as usual when it comes to wastewater.” Sewage service capacity at the industrial park is an ongoing discussion among the city, county, and IDA since treatment of wastewater directly affects the ability to recruit certain types of industry to the area. The commission voted unanimously near the end of August to hire Grella Partnership Strategies, a New York-based economic development firm, to provide multiple services including grant-writing assistance. “The bottom line,” Allen said, “that portion of Grella’s work is on hold.” The county is midway through a six-month agreement to pay Grella $7,500 per month “plus out-of-pocket expenses.” Allen says the firm is focused on other areas of development while grant acquisition is in question. “At this point, it behooves us for Jason and I to get with [City Manager] Russell [Thompson] and the mayor and have a conversation… in the near future,” Allen told commissioners. “The IDA has a strategic planning session scheduled for Dec. 9-10 and I hope that maybe we can get some more direction from our counterparts before that,” he continued, “because the main point is development of the [industrial] park.” Both Allen and Stallings sit on the IDA board.
County Imposes Moratorium for List of Businesses
Published 12-3-2020 By Bridge Turner, Managing Editor County commissioners voted last week to approve a six-month moratorium on acceptance of permits, licenses, or inspections related to development of convenience stores and numerous other businesses. The decision follows similar action taken recently by the City of Thomaston. In addition to convenience stores, included on the moratorium list are tattoo parlors and piercing studios, thrift stores, vape shops, tobacco shops, dollar stores, car wash facilities, pawn shops, used car lots, self-serve storage facilities, and package stores, according to County Manager Jason Tinsley. “Unintended consequences of [the city’s] actions could spill into the unincorporated areas,” Tinsley said. The hiatus will allow for a six-month study and revision of the county’s land use ordinances, according to Tinsley. As with the city’s ordinance, there is an appeal process through the county manager’s office which could allow exceptions with the commission’s approval. Commissioner James Ellington asked if acquisition of permits would be affected for new owners who may purchase one of the listed businesses during the moratorium. County attorney Heath English said the intent of the ordinance is not to adversely affect property sales, and individual cases could be considered by the board. Duration of the moratorium is “until the county adopts revision of the code,” or until the order expires in May 2021, Tinsley said. The moratorium may be extended by a vote of the commission.
Courthouse Sans Cupola
Workers have completed removal of the clock tower atop Upson County’s Courthouse, shortening downtown Thomaston’s skyline until a historically accurate replica can be installed to replace the damaged unit. Campbellsville Industries, Inc. of Campbellsville, Ky. is fabricating the new cupola, which should be ready sometime during Summer 2021, according to County Manager Jason Tinsley. Roof replacement will continue in the interim. Photo by Luke Haney.
City, County OK $2.3 Million Joint Projects Budget
Published 11-12-2020 Thomaston’s City Council and Upson County’s Board of Commissioners together voted unanimously last week to approve a $2,279,910 joint projects budget for 2021. The budget includes 10 “projects” which are jointly funded by both governments at rates of 64.6 percent from the county and 35.4 percent from the city. The county responsibility totals $1,473,404 and the city input will be $806,506. Topping the list at more than $1 million ($682,951 county, $374,248 city) is recreation, followed by Emergency-911 service at $324,619 ($209,704 county, $114,915 city). The senior center budget is third highest at $299,590 ($193,535 county, $106,055 city). The Industrial Development Authority is fourth at $205,195 ($132,556 county, $72,639 city), the library budget is $185,117 ($120,167 county, $64,950 city), the archives is $150,074 ($96,948 county, $53,126 city), and the emergency management agency is seventh at $58,116 ($37,543 county, $20,573 city). The Gilmore Center receives no funding from the city or county, the landfill is self-sufficient, and the Thomaston-Upson Airport estimates a net profit of slightly more than $27,000, requiring no contribution from either governing body.
Property Tax Due Monday
Published 11-12-2020 Property tax payments are due Monday, Nov. 16, according to a reminder from Upson County Tax Commissioner Andy Chastain. To avoid the possibility of waiting in a long line at the tax office, Chastain said taxpayers may pay by phone or use the online property tax payment under the tax commissioner link on Upson County’s website.
Council Expands List of Businesses For Moratorium 5th Bay Added to New FD Plan
Published 11-12-2020 By Bridge Turner, Managing Editor Thomaston City Council members voted unanimously last week to expand the list of businesses affected by a recently imposed, six-month moratorium focused on examining zoning ordinances. Added to convenience stores will be tattoo parlors and piercing studios, thrift shops, vape and tobacco shops, dollar stores, car wash facilities, pawn shops, used car lots, self-serve storage facilities, and package stores, according to the order. The hiatus on convenience stores will be in effect for the entire city, but the remainder of businesses on the list will only be affected within the downtown development area. Thomaston’s Historic District is contained within the DDA. During the moratorium, the city will not accept applications for permits, licenses or inspections related to the development of businesses listed in the respective areas. The “pause” will not affect businesses previously approved, and an appeal process is available. “This is not a banishment or prohibition,” City Manager Russell Thompson said at a previous meeting, “just a six-month pause” to examine regulations and streamline zoning. Council also opted to add a fifth bay to plans for a new Thomaston Fire Department facility to be built on North Church Street. The addition will add approximately $64,000 to the project and push it $250,000 over budget, according to Thompson. Council member Don Greathouse said it will be “cheaper to do it now” than later. In other business, council approved a contract not to exceed $55,000 with the Thomaston Housing Authority for police services in the housing district. THA Executive Director Patricia Allen told Thompson a police presence between the hours of 5 p.m. and 1 a.m. daily would improve safety in the area. TPD Chief Mike Richardson submitted a proposal for an off-duty officer to patrol the area with the understanding that the officer can respond to another emergency within the city if needed, Thompson said. Officers likely would work four to six hour shifts and will be paid $25 per hour directly from the THA. The THA previously contracted with the Upson County Sheriff’s Office for similar service. Council members also approved renewal of an intergovernmental agreement with the county for information technology services. The city’s portion is $16,000 quarterly.
Coxton Charged with Aggravated Sodomy, Burglary Ard Charged with Aggravated Child Molestation
Published 11-5-2020 Michael Coxton, Jr., 36, was arrested and charged with aggravated sodomy and burglary following a Saturday-morning attack of a woman in her home on Jeff Davis Road in Thomaston, according to Upson County Sheriff Dan Kilgore. Coxton, who broke into the residence, was picked up by deputies shortly after the incident, Kilgore said. Christopher Blake Ard, 21, of Hood Road in Concord, was arrested Tuesday and charged with aggravated child molestation of a 14-year-old female victim. Ard was picked up by UCSO deputies and investigators, and is being held without bond at the Upson County Jail, according to Kilgore.
Man Charged With Aggravated Assault
Published 10-22-2020 Jamontay Q. Mack was charged with aggravated assault last week after throwing a brick and striking his neighbor in the arm, according to a report from the Thomaston Police Department. A disturbance was reported at Parkway Drive, where a TPD officer found Mack, a 26-year-old male, “acting in an irate manner,” the report stated. Mack said he was attacked by several juveniles that were throwing rocks and bricks at him. During interrogation, Mack began to argue with a next-door neighbor sitting on his porch, who told the officer that Mack often acted irately. The neighbor added that Mack came to his home and asked his girlfriend if she wanted to [have sex] with him earlier that day, according to the report. The neighbor said he asked Mack to leave, and Mack threw a brick at him, striking him in the upper portion of his left arm. The neighbor said he later observed Mack, with a pitchfork in hand, throwing objects at a group of juveniles, the report continued. The group of juveniles was uncooperative, according to the officer, but the neighbor pressed charges against Mack. Upson County Jail staff refused to take Mack into custody because of a cut on his left elbow, the report stated, and Mack requested emergency medical services examine his injury. Mack then refused to leave with EMS and said he would “walk home.”
Man Charged With Reckless Conduct for Discharging Firearm
Published 10-22-2020 Jaborris A. McMillan of Tom McKinley Road in Thomaston was charged with reckless conduct last week for allegedly discharging a firearm near the five-way stop at the intersection of Barnesville and East Main Streets, according to a report from the Thomaston Police Department. An officer “observed a female and male running” away from two stopped vehicles and toward his patrol car, the report stated. The female said another male, later identified as 27-year-old McMillan, “had a gun and was shooting at her.” The officer called for backup and two other officers arrived at the scene, at which time the suspect was detained. The female said McMillan’s car rolled back into her vehicle at the stop sign and she asked him to move it from the roadway, saying she “was not going to call the cops about the accident.” She said McMillan then became violent and she heard gunfire, according to the report. The passenger in McMillan’s car confirmed the female’s account, adding that McMillan asked him to drive. When he refused, the passenger said McMillan “became violent” and asked him to exit the vehicle, at which time he fired a weapon at him and the female, the report stated. The firearm, a .22-caliber revolver, was located on the roof of McMillan’s vehicle, according to the report. McMillan was transported to Upson County Jail, and the weapon and McMillan’s car were placed into evidence. The case remains under investigation.
Food Distributed 3 Wednesdays at Local Civic Center
Published 10-8-2020 The Upson County Sheriff’s Office is partnering with F.A.T. Ministries of Bolingbroke, the Farmer’s to Families Food Box Program, and the Rescue Mission of Middle Georgia to sponsor a food distribution program locally. Distribution will take place beginning at 11 a.m. on consecutive Wednesdays, Oct. 14, 21 and 28, behind the Thomaston-Upson Civic Center, located at 101 Civic Center Drive. Each week, 800 boxes of food weighing 25-30 pounds per box will be handed out on a first come, first served basis. The boxes will contain meat, fruit, vegetables, and milk. Participants should drive to the rear of the civic center and follow the signs to the distribution point located at the soccer field concession stand. Volunteers from local churches will load the boxes into vehicles in a drive-thru format. “We are honored to participate in this much needed event in our community,” said Sheriff Dan Kilgore.
Sheriff’s Office Nets Multiple Arrests in Hunting Camp Theft
Published 10-8-2020 Upson County Sheriff Dan Kilgore announced last week that seven arrests have been made in connection with a burglary of approximately $15,000 worth of property at a hunting camp on New Harmony Road. Deputies investigated an incident that reportedly occurred at the camp site between April and August. Among items reported stolen were hunting gear, a Suzuki four-wheeler, and a Yamaha Rhino side by side utility vehicle, according to Kilgore. The investigation resulted in the arrest of seven subjects, including Justin William Blankenship, 23, of Thomaston; Chelsea Elizabeth Walthall, 27, of Yatesville; Cynthia Ann Ard, 27, of Thomaston; Rickey Keith Verhine, 33, address unknown (arrested in Alabama); James Vincent Harris, 30, of Thomaston; Chadwick Ryan Campbell Sr., 33, of Thomaston; and Michael James Thompson Jr., 31, of Yatesville. All were charged with burglary. Most of the property reported stolen has been recovered, Kilgore stated. The victims in the case all live in Florida. The investigation remains active and is ongoing.
Voter Registration Deadline is Oct. 5 Early Voting Starts Oct. 12
Published 9-24-2020 and 10-1-2020 Deadline to register for voting in the Nov. 3 General Election is Monday, Oct. 5 and early voting starts Monday, Oct. 12 at the Thomaston-Upson County Civic Center, according to local election officials. “We like to keep our citizens informed and make your voting experience as easy as possible, as well as to ensure you that we are doing everything to make sure that we conduct safe, secure, and fair elections,” Election Supervisor Pam Releford said in a recent press release. Early voting will be open at the civic center Oct. 12 through Oct. 30 from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, with a Saturday session from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 24. All polling locations will open at 7 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 3, the day of the General Election. Voters may register or update address information at the Upson County Board of Elections & Registration office or online at sos.ga.gov, and absentee by mail ballots may be requested online at ballotrequest.sos.ga.gov. There are drop boxes located on the office door inside the government building and at the City of Thomaston utility payment drive-thru. New instructions will appear on absentee by mail ballots: Do not cut your ballot; Do not make any stray marks on your ballot; Do not make check marks; Do not use felt tip markers; Do not use red ink; Fill in the oval completely. For questions or concerns, contact the local office from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at 706-647-6259. Following is the list of candidates which will appear on the general ballot: President of the United States •Donald J. Trump (I) (Rep) •Joseph R. Biden (Dem) •Jo Jorgensen (Lib) US Senate (Perdue) •David A. Perdue (I) (Rep) •Jon Ossoff (Dem) •Shane Hazel (Lib) US Senate (Loeffler) Special Election •Al Bartell (Ind) •Allen Buckley (Ind) •Doug Collins (Rep) •John Fortuin (Grn) •Derrick E. Grayson (Rep) •Michael Todd Greene (Ind) •Annette Davis Jackson (Rep) •Deborah Jackson (Dem) •Jamesia James (Dem) •A. Wayne Johnson (Rep) •Tamara Johnson-Shealey (Dem) •Matt Lieberman (Dem) •Kelly Loeffler (I) (Rep) •Joy Felicia Slade (Dem) •Brian Slowinski (Lib) •Valencia Stovall (Ind) •Ed Tarver (Dem) •Kandiss Taylor (Rep) •Raphael Warnock (Dem) •Richael Dien Winfield (Dem) Public Service Commission District 1 •Jason Shaw (I) (Rep) •Robert G. Bryant (Dem) •Elizabeth Melton (Lib) Public Service Commission District 4 •Lauren Bubba McDonald, Jr. (I) (Rep) •Daniel Blackman (Dem) •Nathan Wilson (Lib) US House District 3 •Drew Ferguson (I) (Rep) •Val Almonord (Dem) State Senate District 18 •John F. Kennedy (I) (Rep) State House District 131 •Beth Camp (Rep) •Chris Benton (Dem) Clerk of Superior Court •Teresa S. Harper (I) (Rep) Sheriff •Dan Kilgore (I) (Rep) Tax Commissioner •David “Andy” Chastain (I) (Rep) Coroner •James M. George (I) (Rep) •Jerry Meadows, Jr. (Dem) County Commission Chair •Norman Allen (I) (Rep) •Dehundra Caldwell (Dem) County Commission District 1 •Christopher Biggs (Rep) •Lorenzo Wilder (I) (Dem) County Commission District 2 •James G. Ellington (I) (Rep) Soil and Water – Towaliga •Sidney L. Beach (I) Proposed Amendments Authorizes dedication of fees & taxes to their intended purposes by general state law. House Resolution 164 Act. No. 597 Waves state & local sovereign immunity for violation of state laws, state & federal constitutions. House Resolution 1023 Act. No. 596 Statewide Referendum (A) Establishes a tax exemption for certain real property owned by charities. House Bill 344 Act. No. 149
Chastain’s Public Comments Tie Taxes to County Success
Published 9-17-2020 Upson County Tax Commissioner Andy Chastain submitted a prepared statement to be read at last week’s county commission meeting. Chastain recently filed civil action against commission chairman Norman Allen, the Board of Tax Assessors, and Upson County regarding suppression of his personal information on a public website after alleging threats were made against him by a “disgruntled” taxpayer. Following is Chastain’s statement, part of which was read during the “public comments” portion of the commission meeting: “I understand from recent public comments made by a board member that he was bothered by the negative talk earlier this year about the county’s general fund balance and that some of the comments were not factual. So, I’d like to take this opportunity to expound on these comments from a taxpayer’s point of view and present some facts and truths about taxes and the general fund balance that has grown substantially over the last three years, mostly due to property tax revenue. “It seems the picture being painted by this board member for the public to hear is filled with half-truths and not all the facts when it comes to taxation and fund revenue growth. “It’s my opinion that the comments made earlier this year were not made to be negative, but in order to shed some light on the amount of excess taxes that our citizens are being charged while this fund continues to grow. So let’s start with some facts and truths: “It’s a truth that Upson County, for two years in a row, has once again been declared to be in the best shape financially that it’s been in for almost 40 years, which has put the county in a great position to not have to borrow money to operate any longer. And it’s a fact that the board has made some wise decisions to benefit our community, such as the TSPLOST to pave roads and saving money in expenditures where it could. “It’s also true that the board does not set the value of property, but it’s a fact that they do set the millage rate that ultimately determines the amount of taxes paid by our citizens. So yes, the amount of county taxes that are billed lie solely at the feet of the county board because the board does have the ability to roll the rate back or increase it at will, based on budget needs or to provide tax relief such as what was done in 2012. “It’s also a fact that just because a governing authority rolls back millage rates to meet the standards required by the state of not having a tax increase does not mean an individual’s taxes will not go up, especially in a year where there is a big revaluation in property such as this year. What bothers me is that some board members comment in a way that attributes a tax increase due to this revaluation when, in essence, taxes are ultimately controlled by the millage rate the board chooses to set. “Another fact concerning the county no longer borrowing money to operate on and fund growth: It’s a fact the year-end balance for 2018 was $8.3 million; of course this was after the majority of property tax revenue came in, and that was after a year-end balance of $6.6 million in 2017, which reflects a growth of $1.7 million. “So we move to 2019, when there was no money borrowed to operate during the year and the year-end balance, according to documents provided, exceeded $10.8 million. By doing simple math, the fund grew over $2.5 million by the end of 2019 or first part of 2020. Again, this growth occurred in a year when we borrowed no money to operate. “My question here is: What was that growth due to? Did the board save that much in expenditures or was it due to taxpayer revenue? My guess is tax revenue made up the biggest portion of that growth. So we have board members that are bothered by all the facts not being told when someone addresses an issue of concern that involves our taxpaying citizens? “What bothers me is that we have board members not relaying all the facts properly when they make public statements or dealingin half-truths in order to deflect the spotlight when it comes to taxation. “What else bothers me is that with all this growth in revenue, clearly due to taxpayer revenue, the board has not looked into the idea of givingour taxpayers some real tax relief, such as higher homestead exemptions on county taxes or maybe some type of tax relief in rollbacks as was done in 2012. “Upson County has one of the lowest homestead exemptions for homeowners in the state. The $2,000 homestead exemption provided now by the county was actually put in place in the early 1960s by the state and then adopted by the county later. Many, many other counties have moved on and increased their exemptions for homeowners far above what is offered by Upson. “For example, an additional $5,000 in homestead exemption for each homeowner would result in approximately $220,000 in county tax revenue loss each year. Surely, with the county bringing in an excess of $5.6 million in [maintenance and operation] tax revenue each year, we can afford to help our taxpayers in some way. “This year would have been an excellent year to help those that may be struggling due to COVID-19 or other financial issues. “Admittedly from the county, we’ve seen a substantial increase in general funds during the last 10 years. And it’s a fact that we need to have a reserve fund amount set aside for emergencies, bond ratings, and repairs. But how much is enough? Why can’t a board member have the vision to find a way to accomplish the county’s financial goals and at the same time share the wealth with our hard-working taxpayers? “After all, it’s [taxpayers’] money that’s played a major part in this substantial growth. “Finally, instead of paying tribute to the accomplishments of this board and other officials that have played a role in the county’s great financial status at this time, how about recognizing who this accomplishment really belongs to: The Upson County taxpayers who sacrifice, despite the hardships some of them face on a daily basis. “It may be wise to remember the days when we needed $50 or $100 to make ends meet, or to come sit in my office during tax season and talk with those that have lost a spouse or had a serious health issue and seen their income decrease from these events, and tell them that they still have to pay their taxes or face a tax foreclosure. “It’s all about perspective and doing what’s right for those in need.”
Board Questions Use of Sprewell Bluff Park $560k Bid Awarded to Repair ‘Shop’
Published 9-10-2020 Bridge Turner, Managing Editor Upson County Commissioners discussed the future of Sprewell Bluff Park in a work session last week, including the park’s voluntary advisory committee and a lease with the Department of Natural Resources which hinders certain aspects of development. Commissioner James Ellington said the board “needs a vision for the park sooner than later.” “We, as a board, have to determine what we want that park to be, a community park or an attraction,” Ellington stated. “That’s what it boils down to, and it’s not an easy decision to make.” There is a shelf life for special purpose local option sales tax proceeds, and the clock is ticking on $400,000 in SPLOST funds which must be spent at the park or reallocated elsewhere, according to county officials. “We’ve improved operations, maintenance, and customer service at the bluff. It’s running better now than it ever has,” County Manager Jason Tinsley told commissioners. “If we like it as is, we can rock along for another five years with minimal budget changes and have $400,000 to use somewhere else.” Ellington said under the current configuration, the bluff advisory committee’s relationship with the commission is doing more harm than good. “That group has become very frustrated, and I understand that,” Ellington commented. “They feel like they suggest things, they come to us, and they get swatted down. If we’re not going to use their ideas, we need to abolish it, because it’s creating friction.” Commissioner Benjamin Watson suggested transitioning the advisory committee into “what we want it to be” and limiting the number of members to five, and Tinsley floated the possibility of disbanding the group and reconstituting it as the “bluff programming committee.” Ellington outlined his main areas of concern: Deciding whether the park will be a community getaway or a tourist attraction; re-establishing the role of the advisory committee; and addressing portions of the county’s lease with DNR which limit improvements such as restrooms. “If the lease agreement doesn’t work for us,” Ellington asked, “do we want to give [the park] back to the state?” Commissioners agreed to dedicate a future work session to addressing questions and concerns surrounding Sprewell Bluff. Chairman Norman Allen updated commissioners on the county’s newly formed relationship with Grella Partnership Strategies, an economic development firm approved by a unanimous vote to assist with industrial recruitment, grant writing, and general consulting. Allen said he has discussed Grella’s role with officials from the city and industrial development authority. “I want Mike Grella to be [IDA Executive Director] Kyle Fletcher’s best friend,” Allen stated. “We’re on this path. We’re going to bring this resource to Upson County. My hope is that others will join in this partnership. If you want a seat at the table, pay to play.” Watson said he and other members of the board are pro-development, and agreed with Allen that the group should remain proactive rather than reactive. Allen used an automotive analogy to express his point. “The IDA is a car we bought in 1964 and rebuilt in 1982,” Allen said. “Is it the car we should be driving today, or is there a better car out there? Would we be better served by some type of economic development commission?” The only official action taken during the work session was a 4-1 vote to award a $559,800 low bid to Pro Construction of Macon to refurbish the county’s vehicle maintenance “shop” building, which was damaged by fire. Ellington cast the dissenting vote, citing concerns with the bidding process. In other action, commissioners discussed: •A low bid of just under $5 million from C W Matthews for Phase II of the county’s road resurfacing project. Matthews’ bid was approximately 12 percent lower than engineers’ estimates, and considerably under the high bid of $6.5 million, according to officials. The project will be funded with TSPLOST proceeds. •An estimate of $1.2 to $1.5 million to replace the Hannah’s Mill Road bridge, which is steadily degrading, according to engineers’ reports. Rehabilitation cost was estimated between $750,000 and $1.5 million, so engineers considered it “cheaper to build a new one.” The county continues to seek funding assistance for the project from the Georgia Department of Transportation. •The possibility of consolidating all county general funds in one banking institution to maximize investment and efficiency. Commissioners asked Davenport & Co., the county’s financial advisor, to expand the search for “the most bang for our buck.” Currently the county has deposits in multiple local banks. “We have a duty to manage taxpayer dollars correctly,” Ellington said. •A potential new retirement plan for county employees which could be based on employee contributions and matching funds from the county. One possibility would be the county contributing four percent for the first two percent of employee contribution, then matching one-for-one up to a determined maximum.
’20 Property Tax Bills to be Mailed Early September
Published 9-10-2020 Upson County’s 2020 tax digest has been approved by the Georgia Department of Revenue and property tax bills will be mailed in early September with a due date of Nov. 16, 2020, according to Upson Tax Commissioner Andy Chastain. Upson’s net tax digest increased by $40 million in 2020, with approximately $14 million in “real” growth and $26 million in “inflationary” growth, Chastain reports. Real growth represents construction, purchase and new development; inflationary growth is generated by increased value of existing property. All governing authorities – Upson County, City of Thomaston, and Thomaston-Upson School System - chose to approve their respective millage rollback rates for the seventh consecutive year. Also, the county and city chose to lower the joint projects millage rate from 4.89 to 4.72 and the county lowered the unincorporated mill rate from 2.44 to 1.16. Even with rollbacks, some taxpayers may see an increase in taxes because of an increase in property values this year, unless they appealed the assessed value and were granted a lower assessment. Chastain expressed appreciation to each governing authority - in particular the county and city managers, the financial officers, and clerks for each authority - for working with the tax office to provide all the necessary documents in a timely manner for our approval deadline of Sept. 1 And of course, the most appreciation to our taxpayers for supporting local governments and the local school system, Chastain concluded.
City OKs Firm For Memorial At GGM Park
Published 9-10-2020 By Bridge Turner, Managing Editor Thomaston City Council members voted unanimously last week to retain WLA Studio landscape architects to design a World War II memorial at Greatest Generation Memorial Park with funds provided by local group Community Enterprises. The environmental design firm provides landscape architectural services throughout the Southeast, specializing in historic preservation and “green build” projects. WLA will consult with local officials throughout the planning process. Council also voted unanimously to table discussion of developing property at 325 Goodrich Avenue. City Manager Russell Thompson told council members a modular steel manufacturing company has shown interest in the property, with plans to invest $3 million to $5 million and create 40 jobs, 28 of which would be welding. The Industrial Development Authority declined to offer incentives to the company during a previous meeting, questioning whether the venture would be “best use of the property.” Cost to clean the site, existing liens, and bonds also have been cited as concerns surrounding the potential acquisition. Council agreed to discuss the issue at a future meeting after additional information can be provided. Thompson also told council that 23 interested parties attended a pre-construction meeting related to creation of a new Thomaston Fire Department. Bidding for construction of the new facility will take place later this year.
County Hires Economic Development Firm Group to be Paid $45,000-Plus During Initial 6-Month Agreement
Published 9-3-2020 By Bridge Turner, Managing Editor Upson County Commissioners voted unanimously last week to retain Grella Partnership Strategies, a New York-based economic development firm, to assist local officials with industrial recruitment, grant writing, and general consulting services. Mike Adams, managing director of the firm, met with commissioners during a work session in early August. Mayor Pro Tem Doug Head also attended the meeting to hear Adams’ presentation. According to County Manager Jason Tinsley, Grella will offer the following: •Assistance with business attraction and recruitment efforts including, but not limited to, facilitating meetings and events with commercial industrial development capitals. •Analysis of industrial park design and buildout, and identification of target industry sectors for business development. •Assistance with grant-writing services to apply for public works infrastructure and/or planning, technical assistance including preparing, reviewing and submitting applications, and communicating feedback. •Support with policy and media strategy, and management of social media and messaging. •General advice on issues related to development. The unanimous vote authorized commission chairman Norman Allen to execute an agreement with Grella for $7,500 per month plus out-of-pocket expenses, most of which will be travel-related and require pre-approval, according to Tinsley. The initial term will be six months from signing. “I’d like to see a ‘not to exceed…’ right there,” said commissioner Benjamin Watson, pointing to monthly out-of-pocket expenses. Tinsley told commissioners that funding for the endeavor is available in the “travel and training” portion of the county budget, which has not been used during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. The unused funds could be allocated for the six-month agreement, which can be terminated by either party with 30-day written notice. “For the almost four years that I’ve been on this board, what we’re currently doing is not getting much traction,” Commissioner James Ellington commented. “It’s good to see we’re going in a direction to try something new and maybe get new results. “I’m pretty excited about this,” Ellington continued. “I hope our community is excited about it, and that they understand [the need for] it.” In other business, commissioners voted to table the award of a $560,000 bid to refurbish the county’s vehicle maintenance shop, which was damaged by fire, until the Sept. 2 work session.
CPA: Audit Shows County’s Finances ‘Best in 39 Years’ Ellington: ‘Something to be Proud of’
Published 9-3-2020 By Bridge Turner, Managing Editor Following an audit, a local certified public accountant told county commissioners last week that Upson’s financial position is “the best it’s been in 39 years.” Sydney Sharpe, partner with Driver, Adams & Sharpe, CPAs, showed commissioners a 20-year graph reflecting a steady, substantial increase in general funds during the last 10 years. According to documents provided by County Manager Jason Tinsley, the fund currently reflects a balance exceeding $10.8 million. “We’ve heard a lot of talk about [having too much money in] this fund balance,” commissioner James Ellington stated. “People just didn’t have all the facts. The fact is we’re not borrowing money. We’re right where we need to be. “We’re in the best financial shape we’ve been in for 39 years. That’s something to be proud of,” Ellington continued. “We’re paving more roads than we have in probably the last 60 years. We’re rolling the millage rate back. It was disappointing to hear [negative comments] in our community a few months ago.” Earlier during the meeting, the commission voted unanimously to roll back the 2020 millage rate to 8.66 from the 2019 rate of 8.99 for maintenance and operation, to roll back the “unincorporated services” rate from 2.44 to 1.16, and to roll back the “joint projects” rate from 4.89 to 4.72. Total millage for 2020 is 14.48, a 1.84 mill reduction from 16.32 in 2019. Unincorporated services, which benefit county residents only, accounted for the largest portion of the rollback. “We’ve achieved a certain level, so we’re no longer in a position where we need to add to that,” Tinsley explained. “In fact, the language of our fund balance policy says to maintain, not grow [the amount], if there is no budgeted reason for a need to increase.” Tinsley presented two examples of potential savings from the rollback: taxes on a $100,000 home would be reduced almost 13 percent; and tax savings on a $300,000 home would be more than $220 annually, he said. These savings would be realized only if the assessed value of the example home did not increase. “We don’t control the value of homes or property, we control the millage rate,” Ellington commented. “So I’m confused when I hear discontent in our community about why we do things.” Commissioner Lorenzo Wilder emphasized that “better efficiency means less borrowing, not having to pay interest,” and ultimately less burden on taxpayers. “I want to brag on this board and our staff,” Ellington concluded. “We had some groundwork laid, so we shouldn’t take all the credit. We just took the ball and moved it forward. We have a lot of good things happening. Let’s be thankful.” Chairman Norman Allen added, “We’re investing in our community so future governments will have something to work with.”
Summer Intern Meg Hicks Ends Term with Building and Zoning Director Doug Currier: She was ‘Right Person at the Right Time’
Published 8-27-2020 Upson County did not have to look far for its first planning intern. Meg Hicks, a native of Warm Springs and the daughter of Angela and Deron Hicks, is a May 2020 graduate of Macon’s Mercer University. Her newly minted bachelor’s degrees are in anthropology and international affairs. While not pursuing a formal education in planning or public administration, Meg’s general interest in urban planning was the reason for pursuing the Upson County internship with the goal of having a better understanding of how local government works. One of Meg’s academic projects at Mercer was developing a park plan for an existing location in the City of Macon. Prior to her internship, Meg’s knowledge of Upson County had been limited to what she learned driving through it to get to Mercer and dining at Slices, one of her Meemaw’s favorites. Since mid-June, Meg has been busy assisting Doug Currier II, director of building and zoning, on ordinance drafting, Census 2020 promotion and handling rezoning, special exception and variance cases. She has served as staff to both the Upson Planning Commission and Board of Commissioner at their meetings. Meg says the most eye-opening part of her experience has been working with the public. An Association of County Commissioners of Georgia grant paid a large portion of Meg’s salary. Her required projects for the grant were drafting tiny homes and gateway overlay ordinances. Before her research, Meg was unaware of what gateway overlays are and she was surprised at the lack of current regulations for tiny homes in Georgia. According to Currier, her internship coordinator, “Meg has been the right person at the right time with the right abilities for Upson County this summer. She easily slipped into the workload flow and got her assignments done. I hope she has benefitted as much as Upson County has.” After completing her internship at the end of August, Meg will be in Athens for a while, eventually traveling to Mongolia in Central Asia to teach English on a Fulbright Scholarship. She plans to continue her education in anthropology, pursuing a master’s degree and eventually a doctorate, both hopefully at Cambridge in England. “It’s amazing to have a young, energetic, and intelligent intern to be part of our team,” said local official Tammy Buchanan. Meg’s last day with Upson County was Aug. 26.
‘Save R.E. Lee’ Petition Nears 800 Signatures Online Group Demands Name Be Removed
Published 8-6-2020 Drive-through events last Saturday and Monday netted between 750 and 800 signatures to preserve the name R.E. Lee on the local Government Complex, once home to R.E. Lee Institute, according to a social media post Tuesday morning by organizer Lori Lindsey. Lindsey initiated the “paper” petition after creating a Facebook petition to “Save R.E. Lee Institute” which garnered more than 2,700 electronic signatures as of Tuesday. Lindsey also has submitted letters to Thomaston City Council and Upson County Commissioners to support the cause. The Facebook page “Keep R.E. Lee Institute As Is,” started July 20, features more than 1,300 members posting memories of their years attending school there. The petition reads as follows: “We, the people of Upson County, DO NOT want to see the name of the R.E. Lee Institute building changed, nor the removal of the paintings inside its walls. We are not requesting this because we celebrate slavery nor endorse it. We are requesting no change because we are graduates (or supporters) of R.E. Lee and are PROUD of our high school and being known as the Rebels. “R.E. Lee started as Thomaston High School in 1875 and became R.E. Lee in 1882. It got its name after John Means, editor for the Herald, wrote in support of the name and reasoning for the name: ‘He was always the same kind, noble Robert E. Lee. His conduct always challenged the conduct of his friends and foes. He was indeed the grandest, the noblest specimen of a Christian gentleman, and we want to do all in our power to perpetuate this memory of the man.’ (From ‘Proud to be from R.E. Lee’ by Edwin L. Cliburn) “From 1875 to 1992, 9,280 people graduated as proud Rebels and another 485 from 1993-1996 who would have graduated from there had the city and county [school systems] not combined. Everyone who signs this petition is standing up for their memories of their high school years, whether as a student of Lee or friends of these students who support these precious memories.” David Baxter of Chicago, formerly from The Rock, started a Facebook Change.org petition for those who oppose the name R.E. Lee on the Government Complex. The site had 868 electronic signatures as of Tuesday, along with numerous comments from local residents who oppose keeping the name. Baxter’s petition reads as follows: “We, the people of Upson County, demand the R.E. Lee name be removed from the Thomaston-Upson Government Complex building, along with the paintings of R.E. Lee and John B. Gordon. Robert E. Lee commanded hundreds of thousands of Americans to die in a war fought to keep millions of black people enslaved. Not only did he enslave hundreds of people himself, but he is noted by historians as being a particularly brutal and torturous enslaver. The R.E. Lee Institute building is a cultural and civic hub used by ALL Thomastonians and should, therefore, reflect our values and the dignity of everyone in our community. “The building was originally named the Thomaston High School when it was first chartered in 1875. In 1882, there was a push for it to be renamed R.E. Lee by John Means, editor for the Herald. In 1970, black community leaders fought to have the name changed back to Thomaston High School after the closing of the all-black Drake School. “In 2020, we, the people of Thomaston and Upson County, are pushing for another renaming. This beautiful building did not always glorify a Confederate general from Virginia, and it does not have to continue to do so. The signatories of this petition do not support what Robert E. Lee represents and believe this important building should not continue to uphold his legacy and cause by bearing his name.” Thomaston and Upson County residents voted and passed a special local option sales tax in 1995 to preserve and renovate R.E. Lee Institute for the purpose of housing the administrative offices of city and county governments. Upon completion of the renovations in 1999, the Georgia House of Representatives adopted a resolution recognizing its historical significance and future use as a government complex.
Study: Revenue Will Not Justify Expense at Bluff
Published 7-23-2020 By Bridge Turner, Managing Editor A group which conducted an economic impact study told Upson County commissioners during a recent work session that revenue from extensive improvements at Sprewell Bluff Park would not justify a large capital investment or associated maintenance and operational increases. The board authorized the study by Sports Strategies, a division of Tourism Strategies, LLC, last February to determine whether Upson would pursue a Georgia Outdoor Sponsorship Program grant of up to $1.3 million. The county’s matching portion could have been as much as $325,000 from special purpose local option sales tax proceeds. SPLOST funds were used to pay for the $9,600 study. Potential improvements included a 500-seat amphitheater, zip lines, outdoor classrooms, new restrooms, upgraded roads and parking, and an overhead suspension bridge across Flint River connecting Upson and Meriwether counties. According to Sports Strategies representatives, the study showed that completion of all enhancements would not be cost effective. Representatives said return on investment would be long term, particularly considering the impact of COVID-19 on social interaction and overall economy. But the study suggested that the county utilize existing amenities at the park to generate more overnight stays from out-of-town guests. Commissioner James Ellington, who has expressed his constituents’ opposition to excessive development of the park, said he wants to “keep the bluff natural,” but would not object to expanding overnight camping capabilities. Discussion included the possible addition of concrete pads for recreational vehicles. New camping areas and upgraded trails and signage were part of the original, overall improvement plan, which could be reduced to include as many changes as commissioners deem appropriate. Sports Strategies representatives called Sprewell Bluff “an amazing asset.”
Allen Issues Challenge for Common Goal
Published 7-2-2020 In a prepared statement to end last week’s meeting, Upson County Commission Chairman Norman Allen touted recent growth locally and challenged all government officials to continue working together toward a common goal of success. Allen’s statement read as follows: “Last week we experienced another win for our community as Chick-fil-A opened its business. They currently employ more than 90 people, a large number our young adults and students. The work experience these people are gaining is invaluable. So not only have we gained a new partner in workforce development but, as we can tell by the lines outside the restaurant, what proves to be another example of positive economic growth for Thomaston and Upson County. “Chick-fil-A and the other businesses that opened their doors in the past year, including Ranew Industries, are prime examples of the positive growth we can experience when we as a community work together and don’t allow stove-piped mentality to stand in the way of what’s needed to make projects happen. “It doesn’t matter to me who makes it happen, nor should it matter who takes the credit for success. What matters is that we are working together as one community. County, City of Thomaston, Industrial Development Authority and private investors and groups are all needed to ensure our sustained positive growth. Everyone and every government entity should share in the goals and successes. “Looking forward, I’m challenging this board and our counterparts with the city and our development authority to dig in our heals and lean forward as we tackle lingering issues that impede or simply slow us down. “I stated in 2016 I would remain committed to building a brighter future and foster the building of positive relationships. That was my message again in 2020, and I reaffirm this commitment. “I appreciate every member of this board and staff, as well as the others I serve alongside. I want to challenge everyone to continue to work together with a positive spirit and commit to a common goal. I know you all join me in looking forward to getting things done.”
City Waives Permit Requirement for Peaceful Protest and March
Published 6-25-2020 Members of the Thomaston City Council voted last week to waive an “internal policy” requiring a permit to hold any event that necessitates street closure, allowing a peaceful protest and march for unity to move forward Saturday morning. The vote for exception followed a recommendation by City Manager Russell Thompson. “Part of the permit is to require liability insurance with the city named as second insured, but the carrier denied the request for liability insurance,” Thompson explained. “After a conversation with [TPD] chief [Mike Richardson], our attorney [DeAnn Wheeler] and carrier, my recommendation, in light of what’s going on nationally and at the state level, is that we waive the insurance requirement for this particular protest,” Thompson continued. “The city will still be covered through our regular policy.” Richardson supported Thompson’s request for the one-time event. “I have met on two separate occasions with the organizers. Their intent is peaceful, and the main message is unity,” Richardson told councilmembers. “Of course, they want to have a voice about what happened to George Floyd. I don’t have any objection to that.” “The sheriff [Dan Kilgore] and I are both very comfortable with the situation. We have security plans in place, and I think the event will go well,” Richardson continued. “Similar events in Griffin, Barnesville and Zebulon went well, so I don’t have any reservations about it. In fact, I’m very supportive of it.” Richardson also informed council that three TPD officers are graduating from the police academy. Councilmember Ryan Tucker commended area law enforcement for the way in which a recent standoff with gunfire was handled locally. Personnel from TPD and the Upson County Sheriff’s Office were involved in a 30-minute incident with a gunman on Springdale Drive Monday, June 15. “You’d never know that it’s two different agencies,” Richardson said. “They work together beautifully.”
Published 6-11-2020 Upson County reported 290 confirmed COVID-19 cases with 35 deaths and 43 hospitalized at noon Tuesday, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health website, an increase of seven from the 283 confirmed cases, an increase of one death, and no increase from 43 hospitalized at noon Tuesday one week earlier. Upson’s infection rate is 110.4 per 10,000 residents, an increase of 2.7 from 107.7 per 10k for the same period. Georgia grew to 52,497 cases (4,598 increase from same time last week/prior week’s increase was 4,313) as of noon Tuesday, with 8,746 hospitalized (up 444/prior week’s increase was 791) and 2,208 deaths (up 119/prior week’s increase was 236). Confirmed cases for counties bordering Upson were Monroe with 123 (44.4 per 10k) and 11 deaths, 26 hospitalized; Meriwether with 109 (51.9 per 10k) and two deaths, 18 hospitalized; Lamar, 76 (39.3 per 10k) and three deaths, 12 hospitalized; Pike, 62 (32.9 per 10k) with three deaths and 11 hospitalized; Talbot, 41 (66.6 per 10k) with two deaths and 13 hospitalized; Crawford, 29 (23.7 per 10k) with no deaths and four hospitalized; and Taylor, 23 (28.9 per 10k) with two deaths and 10 hospitalized. Riverside Health and Rehabilitation (63 residents) appeared for the first time on the long-term care list with one positive case among staff members, raising the total local number of positive cases among residents and staff (including Harborview and Providence) from 150 to 153 during the same one-week period, with no new resident deaths totaling 31, according to Georgia’s Long-Term Care Facility COVID-19 Report from the Georgia Department of Community Health. The report shows Harborview (92 residents) with 32 resident cases (up one/34.8 percent infection rate), 27 resident recoveries, 28 staff cases (no increase), and 16 resident deaths (up one). Providence (75 residents) reports 64 resident cases (up one/85.3 percent infection rate), 47 resident recoveries, 28 staff cases (no increase), and 15 resident deaths (no increase) from last week. The Centers for Disease Control now recommends the use of face masks to help slow the spread of COVID-19, especially where social distancing is difficult to maintain such as in grocery stores or pharmacies. The CDC stresses the use of masks in areas of significant community-based transmission. For accurate and reliable information about COVID-19, log on to https://dph.georgia.gov/novelcoronavirus or https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html.
Commission Split 3-2 to OK Beer & Wine License
Published 6-4-2020 By Bridge Turner Amid community opposition, the Upson County Commission voted 3-2 in favor of approving a beer and wine package sales license for Sunnyside Beverage at 3087 Crest Highway last week. The property, located on the corner of Sunnyside Road and Highway 74 West across from Dollar General, was previously home to Sunnyside Café. Applicant Jared Huckaby addressed concerns aired by community residents during a public hearing to open the meeting. “I respect people’s personal opinions [regarding alcohol consumption, but this will be a store like any other store,” Huckaby told commissioners. “I’ve never gone by a store where people were drinking out in their cars in the parking lot. That won’t be allowed.” Along with beer and wine, the location will offer pizza, wings, snacks and soft drinks among other typical convenience store items. Georgia Lottery tickets will be available for purchase, but there will be no gaming machines, according to Huckaby. “Alcohol is across the street at Dollar General, so I’m not bringing it to the community,” he said. “What I’m bringing is a locally owned business by a person who owns property and whose family has run businesses here for [decades]. I grew up in Sunnyside myself, so I want this to be a positive addition to the community.” Huckaby added that he plans to incorporate a drive-through option at the store, with entrance access from Sunnyside Road. He said he had spoken with Georgia Department of Transportation officials who recommended a driveway located away from Highway 74 would be safer for patrons. In the absence of Planning Director Doug Currier, County Manager Jason Tinsley told commissioners that staff members had measured proximity to the nearest church facility, and the distance “meets or exceeds” that component of requirements. He added that Huckaby’s background check was clean. Commissioner Paul Jones moved to approve and Commissioner Lorenzo Wilder seconded the motion, with Commissioner Benjamin Watson casting the third vote for approval. Commissioner James Ellington and Chairman Norman Allen cast the two opposing votes. “I’ve received several calls about this, most being in opposition,” Ellington explained. “…I represent the people in my district, so I can’t vote my personal opinion tonight. I just want that to be on the record.” “What made up my mind is when I found out Dollar General sells beer,” Jones commented. “Their door is closer to the church than this store’s door will be.” “Several of us have had outreach from the community,” said Allen, who holds an at-large seat as chairman of the commission. “Voting against a local business is something I don’t take lightly. I appreciate the effort Mr. Huckaby has put into this project. I appreciate both sides of the issue.” Commissioners voted unanimously to approve a similar beer and wine package sales license for Nishaben Patel on behalf of Sai Food Mart, located at 2235 Barnesville Highway. In other business, the commission approved renewal of an adjusted employee health insurance plan which offers a “buy up” option for county workers. The initial renewal estimate reflected a $216,600 increase, an approximate 11.2 percent hike from the previous year. A broker presented options which would increase out-of-pocket expense or increase contributions from employees, and commissioners voted for a compromise. Tinsley told commissioners the April distribution which reflects March collection of special purpose local option sales tax was the highest ever for a month of April in Upson County. The collection, which he speculated could have been attributed to “stay home” orders related to COVID-19, was one of the highest overall for any month in Upson’s history, he added.
IDA Commits to $4.3 Million Development Moves One Step Closer to Industrial Park Project
Published 5-28-2020 By Bridge Turner Members of the Thomaston-Upson Industrial Development Authority voted unanimously last week to move forward with a $4.3 million industrial park project which will provide nine “build ready” sites for recruitment. The price includes grading, curb and gutter roads, all utilities, concrete pads of varying sizes, and grassing to stabilize soil, according to IDA member Steve Rush, who secured the bid. Initially, engineers estimated the development would cost $4.9 million, $600,000 more than the current plan. Savings were realized by completing the project in one, rather than multiple, phases. “Phases would cost considerably more because we’d have to handle the material (dirt) twice,” Rush explained. Development of speculative sites is crucial to the process of attracting new industry, according to the IDA, which also is negotiating with city and county officials for increased wastewater capacity at the park. Members of the IDA and county commission have agreed that both projects should be completed simultaneously to maximize recruitment potential. City Manager Russell Thompson said the city is upgrading Bell Creek and Town Branch facilities, and completed plans for a sewage transfer pipe are on his desk. The pipe would be crucial to accommodate effluent needs at the park, but an agreement among the city, county and IDA is necessary for work on the multi-million-dollar project to begin. The IDA vote included a commitment to participate in the sewer upgrade, along with park site development, with a condition that the city and county continue joint funding of the IDA. Executive Director Kyle Fletcher said a five-year extension of the current agreement would be preferred. With approximately $2.3 million on hand, the IDA would require a bond to participate in both park development and sewer system improvements. Because the authority does not generate revenue for operation, any loan would have to be guaranteed by the county, city, or both. Commissioners adopted a resolution to dedicate the county’s portion of an approximate $1 million joint fund balance from 2014 to 2018 to the sewer project. Mayor J.D. Stallings said despite the absence of a formal vote or document, the city’s intention is also to donate its portion from the recent audit to the project. Funding for the remainder of both projects has not been determined. In other business, the county agreed to pay $80,000 for railroad crossing repairs on Duplainville Road at the entrance of Quad, the community’s largest industrial employer. The one-time payment will be funneled through the IDA, after which the railroad company will be responsible for maintenance. “We’ve been going back and forth about this for a year,” commission chairman Norman Allen said about the private property issue. “It has been complicated, and we could have been tied up for a long time with legal discussions. It’s a big number, but it’s better to do this and move on.”
Council Approves Camera System for School Zones
Published 5-28-2020 By Bridge Turner Thomaston City Council members voted unanimously last week to approve an agreement with RedSpeed for installation of cameras to monitor school zones, opting for safety over concern for government overreach, according to one councilman. A company representative told members during a presentation at a previous meeting that he had documented more than 2,000 violations, one exceeding 65 miles per hour in a 25 zone. “I have some concerns with the Big Brother aspect of cameras recording activity around the clock, but they are outweighed by safety for students and other children in the school zones,” Councilman Ryan Tucker said. Thomaston Police Chief Mike Richardson said speed monitoring will be enforced from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. only, but “tag readers” will be used full time for additional violations and footage will be available for accident details. Richardson added that he had received unanimous support among Board of Education members for the program. City Attorney DeAnn Wheeler was tasked with adjusting RedSpeed’s proposed agreement to meet local needs. Among her concerns was a five-year contract that likely will be adjusted for annual renewal. Discussion continued regarding the proposed new fire station, cost of which has twice been adjusted from the original $3 million estimate. If council opts for a $2 million version, the city may be able to avoid assessing an extra one mill of tax for construction. Council agreed to explore favorable interest rates for the city’s cash assets estimated at more than $10 million and disbursed among four local banking institutions – Colony Bank, SouthCrest Bank, United Bank, and West Central Georgia Bank. Tucker is division president of United and Mayor Pro-Tem Doug Head is a senior vice president with SouthCrest. Members voted 3-0 to allow City Manager Russell Thompson to use his discretion in allowing sewer credits for resident customers wishing to fill privately-owned swimming pools with city water. Members Head and Tucker abstained from the vote. Council voted unanimously to approve a water plant filter upgrade.
City, County Offices Open Conditionally
Published 5-21-2020 The City of Thomaston and Upson County simultaneously re-opened government offices to the general public last week with COVID-19 safety guidelines in place. “Citizens and customers will be asked to observe the posted safety guidelines throughout [City Hall],” according to City Manager Russell Thompson. “[Anyone entering the building] is urged to wear a mask or safety cover and must abide by social distancing recommendations.” Effective Friday, May 15, the city began assessing late fees and penalties on unpaid balances for utility customers. In addition, after May 15 the city ceased absorbing the transaction fee associated with online utility and citation payments. City parks are currently open with certain restrictions: Playgrounds, the interactive splash fountain, and the walking area in the pine thicket at Greatest Generation Memorial Park all remain closed. Currently the city is not taking reservations for pavilion rentals. During the next two weeks city officials will announce a plan for reopening the balance of services, according to Thompson. County offices range from fully open to “limited access” and “call for appointment,” but “social distancing guidelines must be followed at all times,” according to a press release from County Manager Jason Tinsley, who asks that patrons look for signage in common areas at each office for details. Community parks are open, but the civic center and public pool remain closed until further notice. County commissioners recently extended Upson’s public health state of emergency through Friday, June 12 and terminated the declaration of local emergency related to damage from the April 13 tornado. Local and state Emergency Management Agencies recommended termination of the weather-related status following notification that Upson did not qualify for federal assistance. For more detailed information regarding procedures for individual county offices, visit the government website at upsoncountyga.org or call 706-647-7012.
Allen Recognized by ACCG Tinsley, Jones Named Officers of State Associations
Published 5-21-2020 Upson County Commission Chairman Norman Allen recently was honored for successfully completing the requirements for the Economic and Community Development track in the Lifelong Learning Academy, according to a release from the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia. “County officials are faced with many challenges and ever-evolving circumstances under which they must govern Georgia’s local communities,” said Dave Wills, ACCG’s executive director. “The Lifelong Learning Academy was created to help them navigate those challenges. I commend county leaders such as Norman Allen who take full advantage of educational opportunities to further their knowledge on how to better serve their communities.” Upson County Manager Jason Tinsley was named vice president of the Georgia Association of County Managers and Administrators. He is in line to become president of the organization next year. The purpose of the association is to facilitate the following: •Sharing of information, knowledge and experience among its members to improve efficiency within the local governments; •Development of a networking system for use by all members as a resource bank for information and assistance; •Provision of encouragement for personal development in cooperation with ACCG, the Carl Vinson Institute of Government and other institutions of higher education; •Creation of the forum for members to discuss matters of common interest for the operation of county government; •Development and maintenance of the atmosphere to encourage ethical conduct in all aspects of the member’s personal and professional life; •Promotion of interest in encouraging the development and education of future county administrators and managers. County Clerk Jessica Jones was named treasurer of the Georgia County Clerks Association, the goal of which is to: •Educate county clerks of Georgia by offering professional development opportunities, promoting better understanding of functions and responsibilities; •Assemble and disseminate information to improve the procedures and professionalism of county clerks; •Promote cooperation through the exchange of ideas, information and experiences; •Sponsor, support or oppose legislation of importance to county clerks; •Actively support the Municipal and County Clerk Certification Program jointly sponsored multiple state associations and the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, University of Georgia; •Develop a networking system for use by all members as a resource bank for information and assistance.
County Voices Commitment to IDA Park Project Employee Insurance Up $216k
Published 5-14-2020 By Bridge Turner The consensus among Upson County commissioners during a work session last week was to support moving forward with industrial park development to coincide with ongoing improvement of local wastewater infrastructure. “It doesn’t make sense to do one without the other,” said commission Chairman Norman Allen, who also sits on the board of the Thomaston-Upson Industrial Development Authority. At a recent IDA meeting, board member Steve Rush said recent estimates for park development were less than initially projected, but still likely would exceed $4 million. IDA members discussed developing the park in phases, but agreed that completing the upgrade in a single endeavor would be more efficient, based on grading higher elevations and filling lower sites. Revenue from joint projects with the City of Thomaston will be involved, but all three governmental entities have yet to reach a detailed agreement. County Manager Jason Tinsley told commissioners that a recent renewal quote for employee health insurance reflected a $216,000 increase, pushing the total for county employee coverage to $2.1 million annually. Tinsley said the county could offset a portion of the increase by opting for employee participation. Commissioners agreed to postpone further discussion until a future meeting. Allen closed the work session with comments stemming from his involvement in weekly conference calls with numerous area officials regarding the COVID-19 health crisis. “The hospital struggles daily, if not hourly, with critical care beds. This stuff is real,” Allen said. “We’re trying to get back to some sense of normalcy, but there is no normalcy right now. People are still getting sick, people are still dying.” Allen said the civic center staff assisted with set-up of a Department of Public Health testing site, and that local law enforcement was helping with traffic control for the drive-thru process Tuesdays and Thursdays. He added that increased testing would lead to increased positive cases. “Our numbers are going to go up. If you look for it, you will find it,” he said. “Remind people that we need to maintain social distancing, good hygiene, etc. Identifying, tracing and isolating will help, but we don’t know yet what long-term consequences will be. Take it seriously.” Allen stated that all current COVID-19 patients in Upson Regional Medical Center are from the hospital’s five-county service area. There are no transfers here, he said, but some of our residents have been taken to other facilities.
Wheeler Named City Attorney
Deann Wheeler and Joel Bentley
Published 5-14-2020 By Bridge Turner DeAnn Wheeler of Connell & Wheeler Law Offices in Thomaston has become the area’s first female city attorney after a unanimous vote for appointment by the city council last week. Wheeler replaces Joel Bentley, who is retiring after serving as city attorney since 2006. “I am honored and grateful to be chosen,” Wheeler said following the vote. “The mayor and city council work hard for the betterment of this community, and I’m thankful for the opportunity to work alongside you all.” Wheeler is a graduate of John Marshall Law School in Atlanta and has been a member of the Georgia State Bar since 1999. “I would like to thank the mayor and council for taking a chance on me,” Bentley said. “I leave with a certain amount of sadness, but a lot of hope for Thomaston. I love this community, and see great things coming for this town in the next 10 years. I will always be grateful.” He also thanked City Clerk Gail Hammock for her support during his tenure. “I could not have done [my job as efficiently] without Gail. She is so valuable,” Bentley said. “Gail is the heart and soul of this city, and a tremendous asset.” In other business, the council heard a presentation from RedSpeed School Safety Camera Program, which monitors school zones for speeders and other possible threats to student welfare. The RedSpeed representative said he documented more than 2,000 speeding violations in city school zones during test monitoring, one of which exceeded 65 miles per hour in a 25 limit zone. Cameras also feature license plate recognition, which can expose stolen cars and other potential dangers. Despite positive feedback from Thomaston Police Chief Mike Richardson, Bentley told council members he is “not a fan” of the program. City Manager Russell Thompson said council would be tasked with weighing safety of children against the “Big Brother” aspect of residents being under constant surveillance in the areas. RedSpeed would be compensated with a 35 percent of speeding citation revenues, according to the representative, but Bentley warned that other fees are reflected in the proposed agreement. Council members agreed to revisit the proposal at a future meeting. During the meeting, Chief Richardson announced the promotion of K-9 handler Officer Jared Fordham to corporal with TPD.
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