By Stephanie Johns
More than $18,000 could be saved during a presidential election year if a proposed precinct consolidation takes place.
Members of the Morgan County Board of Elections and Registration discussed details of going from 11 precincts to five at their December meeting.
Elections Supervisor Bobby Howington noted that the change could save more than $18,000 in personnel costs during a presidential election year. Added benefits include an estimated $910 reduction in costs associated with printing ballots.
During mid-term election years, they could experience a possible savings of $13,194, he said.
Board Member David Moore added that the costs associated with delivering, picking up and paying mileage to have voting machines at 11 precincts would be reduced.
Costs associated with the changes would include about $3,956.16 in postage to mail out new voter cards, $200 for two public hearings and $91 for two newspaper ads.
Howington said the price for postage will increase by a penny at the end of January so if they wait until after then, it would cost a bit more in postage.
He noted that 2013 would be the year to make these changes.
Deputy Registrar Sue DoorenBos later explained that because 2013 is neither a presidential election year nor a state election year, it would be better to make any changes during 2013 than in 2014, which would be a state election year.
“Odd-numbered years, when the cities hold their elections, are the best time to make changes to precinct boundaries,” she said.
Howington said that eight other counties – Butts, Dawson, Habersham, Lumpkin, Muscogee, Polk, Rabun, and Stephens – already have reduced or are in the process of reducing the number of precincts in their counties.
Morgan Memorial’s net assets up $550,000-plus for FY12
By Stephanie Johns
Morgan Memorial Hospital (MMH) had its first positive bottom line in three years when fiscal year (FY) 2012, which ended June 30, 2012, showed a $552,000 change in net assets.
Terry Evans, chairman of the Morgan County Hospital Authority, voiced his appreciation for that outcome.
“Thank you to everyone at the hospital for a great year,” he said.
Vice Chairman Sarah Burbach thanked the Morgan County Commission for its financial support. In FY2012, the county contributed $600,000 to MMH.
“We wouldn’t have had good numbers without you,” she said.
Jimmie Richter Jr., CPA with Draffin & Tucker, an auditing firm out of Atlanta, provided details of the hospital’s audit.
He noted that the hospital showed a 4 percent increase in net revenues from FY2011 and a 3 percent decrease in total expenses, a $472,000 decrease from FY2011.
Total revenues for FY2012 are at $13.5 million. The hospital had to write off about $11 million, or 48 percent, of its gross revenue due to contractual adjustments and bad debts. Richter explained that “contractual adjustments” are the difference between what the hospital charges its patients and what it is actually paid.
He provided a comparison of three similar critical access hospitals, identified as A, B and C, in the report. He noted that MMH was “right in line” with the other three hospitals when it came to the number of patients, or “average daily census.”
Well over half – 59 percent – of the patients at MMH are covered by Medicare, which he said was consistent with the other hospitals.
One thing that varied among the hospitals, though: MMH has lower Medicare costs per day than the others, he said.
By Stephanie Johns
Last Friday a gunman killed 20 students as well as six teachers and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
Dr. Ralph Bennett, superintendent of Morgan County Charter School System, said via e-mail that “our School Resource Officers (SROs) were making even more of a presence in each of the schools than ever before.”
He added that “our administrators, teachers and staff were helping our students to continue to feel safe and secure at school.”
In the wake of that tragedy, parents visited local schools asking about safety procedures, according to Sarah Burbach, assistant superintendent for Student Support and Community Relations with the system.
She noted that state law has a zero-tolerance policy regarding weapons on school campuses. “Zero tolerance,” she said, means neither students nor faculty and staff may have weapons on school grounds. She added that “weapons” include firearms, knives and anything else that can be construed as a weapon.
Students at CrossRoads are checked daily with a wand as a precautionary measure, she said. Also, they have to empty their pockets and bookbags.
Burbach said that all of the schools in the system have safety plans reviewed on a consistent basis.
In fact, their more recent review occurred last Wednesday during a principals’ meeting. The recent carbon monoxide scare in Atlanta schools prompted that review.
“Each principal went over their safety plans and were told to review them with faculty and staff,” she said.
One advantage to the discussion: each principal was able to hear – and learn from – the other principals and their plans.
Burbach added that the schools practice lockdown, tornado, and fire drills.
By Kathryn Schiliro
The push for a tax exemption from the school board for county seniors has been called off.
Johnny Youngblood, a representative of the local group JOLT (Job Opportunities and Lower Taxes), approached the Morgan County Board of Education (BOE) in the spring with a request to implement a measure, in phases, that would exempt local seniors from paying school taxes. He followed up that request Monday, Dec. 10 at the BOE’s meeting after doing more research on the BOE's budget and speaking to BOE members over the past months.
“I know everything’s tight...and it’s going to be tighter next year,” Youngblood said. “I know y’all are not going to vote for it (the senior tax exemption).”
In the spring, Youngblood also called for an external audit of the school system to ensure “you have the right people in the right place money-wise.”
“We try to be extremely careful and cognizant with funds,” BOE Chairman Nelson Hale said. “We don't feel like we have any excess [to pay for an external audit].”
Hale added that the system is audited by the state each year and that the BOE has taken steps to reduce spending where possible, like not filling about 30 positions when teachers have retired or left the system.
He continued to say that at last month's meeting, several county seniors spoke to the board opposing senior tax exemptions.
BOE member Keith Howard added that there are two bankers on the board – both are on financially related committees – and that the board did hire a former state auditor, Libby Whitaker, as internal auditor.
By Stephanie Johns
Madison Councilman Michael Naples said Mayor Bruce Gilbert should have intervened during the council’s last meeting in which a member of the public offered a “personal attack” on Naples.
At that meeting Kathy Whiteside, who gives tours of her home on Dixie Avenue, addressed Naples at one point and accused him of bullying and being ungentlemanly.
She said that Naples should have gone to her with any concerns about her business license.
Naples had responded that he followed protocol by taking his concerns to the city manager.
“For any one of us to be attacked, it should have been cut off,” he said. “I do not appreciate the attack.”
Councilman Whitey Hunt said he agreed.
“He could have apprised her that was not appropriate,” he said.
Naples added that he was trying to do the right thing by the ordinances.
Naples said he would speak with Gilbert, who was absent from the work session Friday.
Printed in the December 20, 2012 edition
By Kathryn Schiliro
School system administration received word from the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) on Tuesday, Dec. 11, that the system would not be receiving the much-anticipated Race to the Top-District grant.
Morgan County’s grant, submitted to the DOE in October, requested more than $9.7 million – Race to the Top stipulates funding amounts based on system size; Morgan could request between $5 and $10 million – to personalize learning by providing each student with their own individual laptop or iPad. The funding would’ve also gone to training and support for these technologies.
Applications, each reviewed by three independent evaluators, were scored on a scale of up to 210 points; Morgan County’s three scores ranged from 172 out of 210 points to 182 out of 210. Those scores were averaged and then ranked by the DOE.
Across the three reviews, evaluators pointed out the need for additional budget details in regard to personnel salaries and non-personnel expenditures, as well as funding sustainability; an increase in “access and exposure to diverse cultures, contexts, and perspectives that motivate and deepen individual student learning;” and the need for more teacher participation in the grant.
“Even though the applicant received support from 70 [percent] of the educators, it appears that the applicant did not involve the educators in the initial design discussions or revisions. It appears that the educators were only brought in at the end and asked to approve the plan rather than to help design the plan,” one review states.
The inclusion of optional postsecondary data, like college enrollment, might have increased scores as well.