Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Headlines for June 30, 2009

The Environmental Protection Agency has released a list of potentially hazardous coal ash ponds, and one of them is in Milledgeville. It is only one listed in Georgia. The agency says it will inspect each of the 44 sites across the country to make sure they are structurally sound. 'the ash ponds are similar to one in Tennessee that collapsed, sending ash and sludge into a neighborhood, damaging 40 homes and contaminating a river. The EPA says the sites are being listed as hazardous because they are near where people live, not because they have found any problems. Officials with Georgia Power say they inspect the coal ash pond at Plant Branch regularly and have not found any problems. Coal ash is a by product from burning coal to produce electricity.

The Bibb County Commissions has adopted its 2010 budget. It goes into effect Wednesday. The budget is just over 115-million dollars and includes a probable tax increase. That translates into an additional 13 dollars a year for a 100-thousand dollar home.

A new state law could make hundreds of Bibb County students eligible for transfers. According to the Telegraph, House Bill 251 allows parents to move their children to different schools if those schools have space. The law goes into effect Wednesday and requires school systems to notify parents about the option. The law does not allow students to transfer to newly built schools. Nineteen Bibb County schools are on the list of eligible schools. So far 50 parents have requested information about transfers.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Headlines for June 29, 2009

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to consider a last minute hearing this week for Georgia Death Row inmate Troy Davis. If the court does not decide by Tuesday to hear the case, Davis may have to wait until the fall. Davis is petitioning the court for a retrial in the 1991 murder case. He was convicted for murdering Savannah Police officer, Mark MacPhail. Since the trial, seven of nine witnesses in the case have recanted their testimony and some have indicated another man as the shooter. Today the NAACP is expected to deliver a petition with thousands of signatures to the Chatham County District Attorney. Davis is currently on death row in Jackson.

The Judicial Nominating Commission begins the task today of finding candidates to fill a vacancy on the State Supreme Court. The Commission, headed by former State Attorney General Michael Bowers will interview 38 candidates to replace Chief Justice Leah War Sears, who is stepping down. The commission expects to hold 20 minute interviews with each candidate and then make recommendations to Governor Sonny Perdue.

After two months of increases, gas prices in Georgia are expected to drop heading into the 4th of July weekend. In the last week the price for a gallon of gas has dropped 5 cents. Huge inventories and weak demand are the reasons for the decrease. Triple AAA has also predicted that 25-thousand fewer Georgians will take road trips over the holiday weekend.. More people are expected to fly, taking advantage of affordable plane tickets.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Headlines for June 25, 2009

State budget cuts will cause the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame to close Sundays and Mondays, beginning July 1st. The museum will also have to lay off six workers, leaving only five full-time employees. In March, local legislators attempted to pass a bill that would allow the museum to use money from the county’s hotel/motel tax for funding, but an agreement was never reached. In the upcoming fiscal year that begins on July 1st, the Sports Hall of Fame will receive about $512,000 from the state.

Macon City Council members met Wednesday to discuss changes to retiree health benefits. Changes such as withdrawing health insurance coverage for future retirees, charging retirees more for retirement health insurance and changing city policy for new hires, informing them at their time of hire that they won’t have city health insurance after they retire were proposed during the meeting. No action has been taken on any proposals because council members say they need more time. The changes will not affect current retirees but futures ones, which may cause workers to retire early. A change already made compels city employees to pay monthly premiums that will increase August 1st to about $113 per month. Next month, the council’s Employee Development and Compensation Committee meet.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Headlines for June 24, 2009

The Macon City Council has approved its 2010 budget. Despite the approval, officials know they may have to revisit the budget in coming months because of declining revenues. The 112-million dollar budget includes cuts to funds set aside to close Macon's landfill. Dollars were also cut from the city's vehicle maintenance budget and there will be less money to pay fuel costs. City employees will not get a raise, but they will also not face furloughs or unpaid vacations. However, the city council is still waiting for a report that could recommend cutting more than 100 jobs from city payrolls at a later date.

Meanwhile, Fort Hawkins is getting a new visitors center. An empty service station on Emery Highway will also house an office, and classroom. Marty Willett is with the all volunteer Fort Hawkins Commission. He says the center will educate visitors and let them know of the fort's future plans. "How we want to keep archaeology going on in Middle Georgia forever. How we have plans to rebuild the fort. How we have plans to practice living history every day here." Willett says the commission will raise the money needed to renovate the new facility. The building was made available through a land swap involving the city, Mercer University, and a donation from the Peyton Anderson Foundation.

Agricultural experts say South Georgia's blueberry crop is in good shape. Originally they thought it would be a bad year, but yields are turning out higher than expected.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Headlines for June 23, 2009

Mercer University has received a 5-million dollar grant to help revitalize the neighborhood near its Macon campus. The Knight Foundation is giving the College Hill Corridor Commission the money to implement a master plan to fix up parks, bring in businesses and enhance the local arts scene. Mercer President, Bill Underwood says the money will help increase public and private investment in the 1.5 mile stretch. "It can provide a catalyst to generating the resources necessary to make the College Hill Corridor an even more attractive, livable, lively, and sustainable residential commercial and recreational district in the heart of our historic neighborhoods." The grant could help bring even more money to the area. Congressman Jim Marshall has included close to 6-million dollars in transportation funding for the project in a bill now before Congress. Mercer says it will match a portion of those funds if the bill is approved.

A soldier with Georgia's 48th Brigade has died in Afghanistan. Sgt. John Blair of Calhoun died over the weekend after a grenade struck his vehicle. He was assigned to the brigade's 1st Battalion, 121st Infantry base in Lawrenceville. He's the fourth member of the 48th killed since soldiers began arriving in Afghanistan in May. More than 2-thousand members of the 48th based in Macon have been deployed to Afghanistan to help train the country's police and security forces.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Headlines for June 22, 2009

Convicted Perry physician, Spurgeon Green is being sentenced this week. According to the Telegraph, he faces up to 20 years in prison. Back in November a federal jury convicted him of wrongfully prescribing medications that led to the death of a patient. He was also convicted for postdating prescriptions. Prosecutors referred to his medical practice as a "pill mill". Green also dismissed his first attorney and was assigned court-appointed counsel. He later asked the judge to remove that lawyer. The judge denied his request and told him to either accept that counsel or represent himself.

A judge has sided with Macon-based Security Bank in a lawsuit. Former CEO Rhett Walker filed the suit alleging breach of contract after the bank failed to pay him more than 800-thousand dollars in severance pay. The bank claimed they could not pay him because the Federal Reserve deemed the money a "Golden Parachute" payment. The term is used to describe payments to executives of troubled banks. Walker claims the money was supposed to be paid months before the bank was deemed to be in troubled condition. Security Bank is currently under a cease and desist order from the FDIC and under federal regulation.

Federal regulators have shut down another Georgia bank. Southern Community Bank in Fayetteville will now be run by United Community Bank of Blairsville. The Federal deposit Insurance Corporation estimates that Southern Community bank's failure will cost the insurance fund 114-million dollars.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Headlines for June 19, 2009

Dozens of employees from the Medical Center in Macon showed up at the Bibb County Commission meeting on Thursday to protest cuts to the hospital. The county's proposed 2010 budget removes nearly 75-percent of funding for indigent care. That amounts to nearly 3-million dollars. Officials with the Medical Center claim indigent care will cost them about 17-million dollars next year. Last year the Medical Center laid off more than 200 employees and they warn more layoffs could come if they do not get more funding. Some commissioners suggested the Medical Center dip into their reserves of 3-400 million dollars to cover any shortfalls.

Officials say a federal cease and desist order against Colonial Bank will have no effect on day-to-day operations. The FDIC order imposes more federal oversight and management and requires the bank to take steps to increase capital and decrease problem loans. Colonial Bank has three branches in Macon and one in Warner Robins. Macon-based Security Bank has been under a similar order since April.

Last night strong storms moved through some parts of middle Georgia bringing high winds. In Washington County some people lost power after winds took down trees and power lines. Damage was also reported in Johnson, Peach, Monroe, and Bibb counties. Power has been restored to most customers.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Headlines for June 18, 2009

Engineers with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers were in Macon Wednesday inspecting the levee. More than a year ago they contacted the City of Macon and told them they had to remove trees and make repairs or risk losing certification. Losing that certification could make it hard to get flood insurance and federal assistance in the event of a flood. Phil Smith is with the Corps and headed up the inspection. "We just kind of walk along at a slow pace just looking for any visual signs that there's any like animal burrow's or erosion or trees getting too close to the toe of the levee." The City in partnership with the Macon Water Authority spent months and hundreds of thousands of dollars removing trees and making repairs. They are hoping for a good report from the Corps in the coming weeks.

The Macon Water Authority is celebrating an award from the American Water Works Association. The group named Macon as having the best tasting water in the nation. Macon Mayor, Robert Reichert says he's proud of their achievement. "I'm delighted for the Macon Water Authority that they have achieved this level of distinction where they are recognized nationwide as having the best tasting water in the country." Macon competed against other regional winners from across the country. Macon's water comes from the Ocmulgee River.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Headlines for June 17, 2009

Bibb County officials are planning to get together in July to consider an additional penny on sale tax. According to the Telegraph a vote on the Special Purpose Local option Sales Tax could not take place until November, but could raise the millions of dollars needed to fund a new courthouse. If voters approve the tax it would probably raise enough money to fund additional projects. County officials say they'll look at other eligible projects such as storm water improvements.

In Houston County, officials have approved their 2010 budget. The nearly 108-million dollar's includes an increase in the general fund, meaning property taxes will go up. The new budget also includes several road improvement projects.

The Perry City council has adopted its new budget as well. Officials cut funds for a drug prevention program but ended up keeping a school officer originally scheduled to be cut. The cost of their new budget is just over 10-million dollars.

Mothers Against Drunk Drivers is no longer operating in Middle Georgia. The mover comes after local MADD volunteers spoke out against Bibb County Sheriff, Jerry Modena, who testified on behalf of a friend convicted of driving drunk. The volunteers believe the state MADD office did not do enough to support their position. The work that used to be done in Macon will now be handled out of Atlanta.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Headlines for June 16, 2009

The Warner Robins City council is looking at raising the mayor's salary. The ordinance would raise the mayor's pay from 100 to 125-thousand dollars a year. The move would also raise city council pay by more than 2-thousand dollars. The increase would not go into effect until January of next year. Current Mayor Donald Walker says he is against raising the mayoral salary during these trying times. The proposal would affect the new mayor who will take office in January. City elections will be held in November and Walkers says he is planning on running. Tax payers will have a chance to comment on the proposal before any vote is taken.

Some City council members in Macon want to shrink the size of that political body. Erick Erickson and Nancy White say 15 council members are too many. They prefer 11. They submitted a resolution to the council's ordinances and resolution committee. Their idea is to remove all but one of the citywide Post One seats. This would save 40-thousand dollars in salaries. Prior attempts to cut the size of city council have failed. In a separate resolution they're also asking that the city end partisan elections. Macon is the only city in the state that still holds them.

A new car dealership has opened in Macon. Kia Motors will replace the Saturn dealership at Hutchison Auto Mall. This is the second Kia dealership to open in Middle Georgia in the last few months. In October, Riverside Ford sold its Kia dealership to Jeff Smith Chrysler in Perry. The Korean Kia is currently building a new plant in the Columbus area.

Just one year ago, researchers at the University of Georgia predicted blueberries would emerge as a profitable fruit crop in Georgia. This year, high-gusting winds, cold temperatures, and flooding rains ruined nearly fifty percent of the harvest. In an already struggling economy, market demand for blueberries has also decreased, farmers are getting less money for the crop and quality is low. Despite these challenges, growers in Georgia’s southeastern blueberry belt remain optimistic. They’re already planning next year’s crop.