Puts rocks into clothing, walks into Lake Oconee
By Patrick Yost
A Douglasville, Ga. man apparently drowned himself in Lake Oconee Saturday.
According to Putnam County Sheriff Howard Sills, Putnam County deputies pulled the body of Julius Cornelius Banks, 41, from approximately 10 feet of water near the Parks Mill Road bridge over Lake Oconee.
Sills said bass fisherman participating in a bass tournament that had launched from Sugar Creek Marina told authorities that they observed Banks walk into the lake, fall backwards and disappear.
“It was a case of suicide by drowning,” Sills said. “He disappeared and didn’t come back up.” Banks entered the water at approximately 10:30 a.m.
After Banks’ body was retrieved, deputies found approximately 30 pounds of rocks stuffed in Banks clothing, including a large rock in the hood of Banks sweatshirt. Sills said there was no identification on Banks’ body but authorities sent post mortem fingerprints to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and received positive identification at approximately 10 p.m. Saturday.
Sills said Banks had been released from a Georgia Department of Corrections half–way house on Monday, had met with a parole officer on Wednesday and missed another meeting with a parole officer on Friday. An ankle bracelet placed on Banks had been removed. According to the Georgia Department of Corrections, Banks was convicted in 2004 in Hall County on robbery charges. He received a six–year sentence.
Deputies located a vehicle with a drive–out tag near the scene that they believe Banks drove to the location.
By Tara DeRock Mahoney
Senior Staff Writer
County officials hope to roll back the 2008 millage rate from 8.43 mills to 8.35 mills this year. Accordingly, at a work session last week, commissioners took their first look at some preliminary budget figures presented by County Manager Michael Lamar.
“This is only a projection,” said County Commission Chairman Mack Bohlen. “It's too early to lock it in.”
Officials reviewed numbers for four particular areas of the budget: salary increases, at $300,000; capital expenditures, at $398,000; appropriations to non-county entities, at $7,600; and non-personnel line item increases, at $164,000.
The salary increase figures include both new-hires in the sheriff's department for the new jail (expected to be operational in the next calendar year), as well as another deputy and cost-of-living (three percent) and merit increases (two percent, where appropriate) for county staff.
Capital expenditures in the coming year could include $16,000 for new computers; $6,000 for a new damper for the courthouse; $25,000 for paint and exterior repairs to the newly-acquired county “Creamery;” $130,000 for cars, video cameras and stab vests for the sheriff's department; $63,000 for equipment for the roads and bridges department; $47,000 for equipment for the parks and recreation department; $78,000 for a truck, cameras, and dump-site security systems for the code enforcement officer; and $20,000 for the planning department.
By Ramsey Harris
Two employees dragged their boss out of his smoky office right before flames engulfed the small white building that housed Larkin’s Used Cars in Madison last Thursday afternoon. By the time Rodney Solomon and Angel Swain carried their employer, Lark Bargo, to safety, it was too late for Swain to fetch her two dogs, who perished in the fire.
The Madison Fire Department responded to Swain’s 911 call at 4:31 p.m. last Thursday afternoon and arrived at the scene at 1331 Highway 278 East eight minutes later. By that time, the small structure was consumed in smoke, and flames leapt out of the southeastern side of the building.
The Morgan County Fire Department sent reinforcements to help control the fire. City Fire Marshall Gene Porter investigated the incident and ruled the fire an accident with an unknown ignition source. According to the fire department’s official report, the fire appeared to originate in Bargo’s front office on the southeastern side of the building, where excessive paper materials fueled the rapid spread of fire. Standing just outside the burning building, Solomon comforted Swain as she waited in hopes that firefighters might rescue her two dogs.
“We got Mr. Lark out just in time,” said Solomon. Bargo sat in the safety of a pickup truck, as he watched firefighters hose down his burning building. “I really don’t know what happened,” said Bargo, who sustained no injuries.
Warren says county millage rate may drop
By Tara DeRock Mahoney
Senior Staff Writer
Morgan County Commissioner Ellen Warren told about three dozen citizens gathered at a town hall meeting Monday night that the 2009 county millage rate may drop in coming months, as County Manager Michael Lamar continues to move through the budget process.
“[Lamar] feels that we can reduce it even further this year, so there will be another rollback on the millage,” said Warren.
Lamar confirmed that he hopes to recommend a further rollback to 8.35, from this year’s 8.43. The preliminary total budget figure for fiscal year 2009 is a projected $14.6 million, said Lamar. After the county-wide re-evaluation last year, tax revenues for 2008 are not expected to increase significantly, said Lamar.
County officials expect budgets for the next few years to be tighter than ever, as shake-ups in the Georgia Department of Transportation mean that very little state money will be available to supplement the county’s roads and bridges program.
“The DOT had 9,000 approved projects across the state [for this year], and only money for about 2,000 of those,” said Warren. “The bottom line is—we’re not looking to receive any state money from DOT while they’re getting their house in order. Those burdens are going to fall on the county.”
Total expenses in the county spiked slightly in 2007, as the renovations to the county courthouse were completed and the final bills paid. In fiscal year 2007, total county expenses were $16.4 million, according to audited statements, up from $13.3 million in fiscal year 2006. Final figures from 2008 are not yet available.
By Kathryn Purcell
After an estimated five or six years since the last increase in the town's water rates, the Buckhead Town Council decided to end that dry spell by unanimously passing a motion to increase the water rates.
At their meeting last Monday, the town council voted to increase the base rate $3 to $13 per first 2,000 gallons per month, and the rate thereafter 20 cents to $3 per each 1,000 gallons. Currently, the base rate is $10 for the first 2,000 gallons and $2.80 per gallon thereafter.
Concerned about funding the purchase of a new chlorinator for Buckhead's water system, which would cost several thousand dollars, according to the council, it was estimated that the new rates would bring in about $500 more per month.
"The chlorinator we're using now is the back-up from the old pump," Mayor Ricky Walker said. "Who knows when it's going to go out?"
The new rates go will go into effect with the town's April billing.
In other news, Morgan County Senior Planner Allison Moon was in attendance at the start of the meeting to discuss plans for future changes to the town's zoning ordinances.
In showing the council an aerial map of the town, Moon pointed out the abundance of green space, noting that they couldn't expect that much longer.
"One thing you can see right off the bat is that Buckhead is largely undeveloped," Moon said. "That's probably not going to last."
By Matthew Burgoyne
Lance Pailer presented the Morgan County School Board with a proposal exempting seniors over the age of 65 from paying the annual school tax. The proposed exemption would not go to the Georgia General Assembly for a vote until 2009 because the deadline for this year has already passed. Pailer’s proposal would exempt seniors over the age of 65 from paying any school taxes. In 2007, there were 11,003 seniors over 65 living in Morgan County and they paid $876,636 in school taxes. “Some seniors are on a fixed income and cannot pay their taxes on time,” Pailer said. “There is a problem in this county that needs to be dealt with.”
One question Pailer has had to answer is who will be taking on the burden of this new exemption. Pailer assured the Board that there are alternatives to this issue.
The annual revenue growth of Morgan County will offset the tax burden caused by this new exemption, Pailer said. “I have faith that Morgan County will grow and revenue will continue to come,” he said. Pailer examined the growth in Morgan County offering the example of building new homes. In 2006, 203 new homes were built creating $3,335,977 in revenue.
This trend increased in 2007 – 193 new homes were built generating $5.8 million. Pailer said this would easily cover the tax exemption for seniors. Pailer offered a second alternative. In 2007, the Board of Education set the Millage Rate at 12.735. This rate is what generates the annual school budget.
Pailer said by increasing the Millage Rate to 13.671, the tax relief on seniors would not greatly affect the rest of the tax payers. “We feel the seniors have paid their fair share in school taxes over the years,” Pailer said.