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Al Lee Gator

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About Al Lee Gator

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  1. Paulding County Commission Chairman David Austin and several other county and state officials gave a press conference last weekend to announce the final signing of long sought 404 Permit, a milestone in the process to build the Richland Creek Reservoir and insure the county’s water supply for decades to come. The event took place at Veterans Park in Dallas. “It’s been 16 years and five minutes; 16 years to seek the permit and five minutes to sign it,” Austin told attendees on Saturday. “Is this it, you don’t need any blood? There are no bands playing? Austin quipped during his portion of the presentation last weekend regarding the actual document signing that occurred on October 9 concluding the 16-year process. According to Kelly Comstock, the project’s chief engineer, the facility can affect the tri-state water wars favorably, freeing more water for other locales. But apart from that ongoing dispute, Paulding and the region will have secured its water source, he said. “What this is, is a piece of the much larger puzzle that’s being worked out...that’s a part of the greater solution that will help,” Comstock said. Paulding County has an agreement that runs until 2032 with Cobb-Marietta Water Authority, an independent state-chartered agency, which receives water from Lake Allatoona, a USCOE-controlled reservoir. Lake Allatoona has been the subject of multi-state, decades-long disputes over access and allocations, leaving Paulding County vulnerable to supply restrictions. With the Richland Creek Reservoir project, says Comstock, the county can now build its own independent water supply and distribution system, with capacity modeled to serve residents for at least the next 50 years. Katherine Zitsch, manager of the Natural Resources Division of the Atlanta Regional Commission, agrees, noting that the project "will allow Paulding County to pull off of the Cobb-Marietta system, which in turn gives Cobb-Marietta more water for its other customers.” But Comstock said also that the connectivity between Cobb and Paulding will still be there in an emergency situation that could send water in either direction. The reservoir is designed to yield about 35 million gallons per day and will provide about 3.43 billion gallons of water storage to support Paulding County. Construction will likely begin sometime next year. The county will use state direct investment, low interest loans provided through GEFA and utility bonds to pay for the facility. Atlanta Regional Commission population projections show Paulding growing to 255,000 residents by 2040. Paulding County remains among the fastest-growing in the state. Among Georgia’s 159 counties, Paulding is the 14th largest.
  2. Hiram City Manager Robbie Rokovitz announced last week he will step down as city manager before the end of this month, while the city will add a special election to fill Council Post 3 being vacated by Teresa Philyaw, who has decided to run for mayor. Philyaw's candidacy required her to resign her council seat. A special election for her Post 3 council seat is set for Nov. 3, and qualifying for the seat is scheduled for Sept. 14 to 16. The Special Election will be held in conjunction with the November General Election for the purpose of filling the unexpired term of Philyaw, as required by Georgia election law and the city’s charter. Ms. Philyaw will challenge incumbent Mayor Doris Devey in the November election after both qualified for the position last week. Other candidates that qualified for the Hiram General Election include Incumbent Post 1 (At-large) Councilman Prather "Pep" Rollins who is challenged by Frank Moran and (Incumbent) Council Post 2 (At-large) Kathy Bookout will face qualifiers Terrance White, Jerry Duncan and Billy Grant. Robbie Rokovitz was named and introduced as the council’s selection for city manager in August of 2012 and has served since then. Prior to the selection of Rokovitz the council changed its charter to allow for the addition of a city manager and held several extra sessions as part of the process to select a candidate to take over the position permanently. Rokovitz, whose last day is the 25th of this month, has opted for an offer for a job in the private sector, he commented last week, and added that while a interim manager will take over, his permanent replacement would probably not start until after the election or early next year. But Rokovitz said the council-manager form of governing the city adopted in 2012 still needs work. “I think that over the last 36 months I’ve been there, they’re still struggling with the understanding of what the council-manager form of government is...and the lack of understanding of a council-manager form of government is not advantageous for operations; they’ve got to get that understood or they’re going to have a hard time keeping a city manager -- and it’s in the best interest of that city to have a long-term city manager and not have a revolving door,” Rokovitz said. Mayor Doris Devey said last week that the council would soon consider whether or not an interim manager is named from current staff. But that person would not be in the running among permanent candidates to replace Rokovitz, she said.
  3. Paulding’s Board of Commissioner’s green-lighted an opportunity to establish a felony drug court program during their June session at the Watson Government complex in Dallas. A state grant will pave the way for the start-up of the program by January of next year, if not before, said Paulding Court Administrator Frank Baker at the Board’s morning session. Since addressing the Paulding commissioners last month regarding the submission of an application for state funds, Baker reported on June 23 that the state approved the county’s application for a grant in the amount of $121,350 to help start a felony drug court. Paulding commissioners met in the afternoon and voted to accept the grant, adding Paulding to the growing list of court systems throughout the state now pursuing similar programs as an alternative to incarceration for some drug offenders who can successfully meet the requirements of the program. This is the first program of its type to be launched in the county. With funding now secured court officials will next focus on choosing a coordinator and building a local team with the goal to launch Paulding’s court by the end of this year, Baker said. Not a new notion, but a growing trend in the criminal justice system, these programs involve more intensive sentencing alternatives for offenders in the system that allow for intensive treatment and responsibility for the offenders to take on, Baker told the Board previously. Governor Nathan Deal has said he’d like to see these types of courts established statewide. And, according to Paulding Superior Court Judge Dean Bucci, Paulding had been among the few in the state still without such a court. Paulding’s program may resemble one in Whitfield County, which has a very successful program that could serve as model. That program began in 2002 under the supervision of the Conasauga Circuit Superior Court and is intended to reduce repeat drug-related offenses by creating the opportunity for recovery from chemical addiction. According to Bucci studies show that for people who are just locked up and then turned lose the recidivism rate is around 50 percent, but for those who successfully complete drug court; it’s down to below 10 percent. Bucci told the Board last month that other types of funding for drug and alcohol treatment could be available in addition to the start-up grant and their intent is to establish the program through at least its first year without help from the county. “Cost [of the program] is an understandable concern. I don’t expect to have to ask the county for anything, at least for the first year, hopefully beyond that,” he said. According to Baker some additional funding may well be available through The Drug Abuse Education and Treatment (DATE) fund, which is generated by a 50 percent surcharge that certain offenders have to pay as a part of their fine. This surcharge is added to the base fine and collected by the superior, state, magistrate, probate and municipal court clerks and a clerk of any other lower court. It must be paid to the county governing authority of the county where the crime was committed. For example, if a criminal fine is $500, the DATE surcharge will be $250. Baker said that the DATE fund option will be something the team will look at to provide funding beyond the start-up grant from the state. The DATE fund can only be used for drug abuse treatment and education programs or a Drug/DUI court. The eligible programs funded with the DATE fund are at the discretion of the county governing authority, but many counties have by resolution created a DATE fund board or committee to make the decisions regarding funding requests and expenditure of funds.
  4. After months of talks, the largest metro Atlanta health systems, WellStar and Emory University, opted not to merge WellStar announced last week. WellStar has five hospitals in northwest metro Atlanta, including WellStar Paulding and Kennestone Regional Medical Center in Marietta. Emory operates six hospitals and both employ hundreds of doctors at various locations around the metro area. Earlier this year the two had announced plans to combine assets, which would have resulted in a nonprofit health system that would have been the largest of its kind in Georgia and one of the largest in the nation. Talks came at a time when health systems are increasingly consolidating hospitals and physician practices in an effort to save money and gain more leverage in dealings with insurers. A spokesperson for Paulding WellStar, contacted by phone after the announcement, had no comment. According to a press release issued last week by WellStar, “After a few months of discussion and review with Emory University, the WellStar Board of Trustees has determined a new strategic direction,” said Gary Miller, chair of WellStar Board of Trustees. “WellStar has declined to enter the next stage of discussions with Emory University. We respect Emory University as a leading, international academic medical center.” With ever-changing government regulations and reimbursements, health systems are looking for new efficiencies that will allow for higher quality, improved access to healthcare and the ability to maintain a competitive cost structure, the release stated. Miller also announced last week that Candice Saunders will take over as president and CEO of the health system starting July 1, as part of a succession plan set in place 18 months ago. Current CEO, Reynold Jennings, will become chief strategy officer for the system. Saunders will be focused on building partnerships that will emphasize WellStar’s role in all the communities WellStar serves while maintaining its not-for-profit status. As an example, WellStar Health System recently announced that West Georgia Health in LaGrange is set to join the system.
  5. WellStar Paulding President Mark Haney announced at the June Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Dallas that the expansion of Paulding’s hospital complex will move forward with two additional floors. And, later that same day, the WellStar Board approved the plan. The addition to the new hospital, which opened its doors just over a year ago, comes sooner than had been originally anticipated. Haney said that the existing 265,000 square-foot campus had originally been thought to be adequate for at least another year before expansion plans would be considered. But that has proven to not be the case. “We’re already often exceeding 90 percent of our capacity,” Haney said. “These floors will add 56 beds bringing us to 112 beds total.” Construction of the new hospital complex began during the fall of 2012 and as the project got underway, planners applied for and received a height variance that has already played into the hospital’s future. Paulding WellStar has a height variance from Hiram to go three more floors, which allows the new hospital to exceed the number of stories in its original design and better aligns with growth projections for the site. “[And] we can also build outward on that campus,” Haney said. But Haney feels that the expansion should put the facility where it needs to be unless growth to the Paulding area spikes beyond current expectations. “I think this will carry us for five to ten years. [but] if the economy gets robust and people start moving to the area, you never know,” he said. Haney said the timeline on the new construction starts now and goes through next year. This latest phase should be completed and open for business in late 2016 or early 2017. “Technically we’ve started the planning with the architects, I think construction will start this fall sometime,” he said.
  6. Paulding County Airport Authority (PCAA) met last week and considered a proposal from Post 2 Commissioner Todd Pownall that would remake an intergovernmental agreement and stop requiring county payments for operation of Paulding’s airport. Pownall, whose commission district includes Silver Comet Field, initially introduced his proposal during the Board of Commissioner’s first regularly scheduled meeting last month. Commissioners voted 3-2 during the Board’s April 28 meeting in support of a proposed second Intergovernmental contract between the county and the Airport Authority, but in order to take effect the Airport Authority needed to also approve the changes. The previous Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 in September to approve the original agreement, which transformed the airport to a self-supporting agency, but included $3 million in guaranteed county funding paid twice-annually over 10 years. Pownall’s requested changes included allowing commissioners to consider payment to the county airport authority rather than requiring payment; and requiring that the airport be available only for general aviation uses unless approved by the county commission and city of Atlanta, which owns adjacent land. As of the first of this year, the majority of the Paulding commission has opposed commercialization efforts. Airport Board member Matt Buzzelli asked Pownall during last week’s meeting if he and his constituents would approve of a Fed-X, or UPS-type operation coming into Paulding’s airport, and if so, added that he was unclear as to what made that okay and why adding limited commercial service was not. Pownall responded that anything that did not require a Part ‘139’ permit would be permissible. Compliance with Part 139 is mandatory for an operator of a U.S. airport that chooses to serve air carrier operations covered by the regulation. Specifically, Part 139 applies to operators of airports in any state, District of Columbia, or any territory or possession of the U.S. serving passenger-carrying operations of a certificated air carrier, if scheduled passenger-carrying operations are conducted in aircraft designed for more than 9 passenger seats, and unscheduled passenger-carrying operations are conducted in aircraft designed for at least 31 passenger seats. Pownall was offering the PCAA four options to his proposal that included accepting the changes as presented, accepting it with further changes, doing nothing, or voting in opposition. After engaging in a lengthy discussion, the PCAA Board ultimately voted in favor of not accepting Pownall’s changes to the IGA. Pownall responded to the Airport Board’s action following the conclusion of last week’s meeting, “I’m not surprised that they didn’t accept it. However, I am surprised that they didn’t send something back to us to show that they would want to work with it; because they had the option to send back what they would want to do, and I wish that they’d have done that,” Pownall said. “But it is what it is and we move on.”
  7. Paulding County officials recently made their third in a series of off-site visits to research a proposed alternate program to incarceration of some drug offenders. Court Administrator Frank Baker and Paulding Superior Court Judge Dean Bucci addressed the Paulding Board of Commissioners during their May 12 morning session concerning the continuing off-site trips. The program stems from a growing trend in the criminal justice system, and would allow for intensive treatment and responsibility for the offenders to take on, Baker initially told the Board back in March. Baker and Bucci are hopeful that the grant will be approved in the next 30 to 45 days. Meanwhile, says Baker, more research and site visits will continue. Post 1 Commissioner Carmichael has already visited a court in another county since the Paulding Board first discussed the idea in March. Bucci told the Board the next visit was planned later in the week to Whitfield County, which has a very successful program and could serve as model for Paulding County. Court officials would like to build a local team and launch Paulding’s drug court by next year, Judge Bucci told Paulding commissioners last week. For people who are just locked up and then turned lose the recidivism rate is around 50 percent, according to Bucci, who added that for those who successfully complete drug court it’s down below 10 percent. “Long term it saves money, but it also saves lives, which you can never measure,” Bucci said. On their return, should the grant become available, more information would be provided the Board as to long-term costs to the county to run the program, Baker told Chairman Austin. Bucci told the Board that he is hopeful that other types of state funding for drug and alcohol treatment will be available in addition to the start-up grant. “Cost [of the program] is an understandable concern. I don’t expect to have to ask the county for anything, at least for the first year, hopefully beyond that,” Bucci said.
  8. Paulding County BOC Approve FY2014 Budget Paulding County Board of Commissioners convened on Tuesday, August 13, for the first of two regular monthly meetings and passed several FY2014 budget resolutions and voted to adopt the budget for FY2014. The BOC passed a balanced budget adopting Resolution 13-21 through 13-26, setting millage rates for the County, which reflected a decrease in the Maintenance and Operations (M&O) rate of .05, 13-22 set millage rates for the Fire District, which remained the same from last year, 13-23 set millage rates for the County Bond, 13-24 set the millage rates for the Paulding County School District, which reflected a decrease from 18.909 to 18.879, 13-25 set the millage rates for the State of Georgia, which is reducing annually andbeing phased out by the state, and 13-26 authorized the Tax Commissioner to retain a 2.5 percent fee for collecting school tax. According to Finance Director Tabitha Pollard, who addressed the BOC's Tuesday morning session, revenues over the last fiscal year were said to have exceeded expenditures, resulting in a surplus totaling about $2 million. Commission Chairman Austin attributed the county's relative fiscal health to taking belt-tightening measures at the right time. And the Board voted in favor of authorizing the Chairman to enter into a Professional Service Contract in the amount of $115,000 with Comprehensive Program Services for programming, design, and construction management services for the planned Sheriff Training Facility to be located off of West Memorial Drive. A 49-acre track purchased with SPLOST funds through the IBA that is being developed primarily as an industrial park. The Board also passed one DOT item to adopt a resolution agreeing to accept for title and ownership the properties of Ragsdale Road, Old Mill Road, and Old Atlanta Road that will be constructed, realigned or widened as part of Georgia Department of Transportation project. The Board of Commissioners is scheduled to meet again on the second Tuesday in August.
  9. Hiram council held second public hearing, approve FY2014 budget, final July work session tonight Hiram City Council will meet Thursday evening for a final July work session in preparation for the regular August meeting, and plan to discuss several topics including the joint redevelopment plan/opportunity zones, a sign variance application submitted by Bojangles, the municipal court fines/fee schedule, the live scan fees, appointment of ethics board members, the requirement for a soil, erosion, and pollution control ordinance, and review of editing to an amendment to the city's sign ordinance. The council also met last Thursday for a work session, followed by a second public budget hearing and a special session for the purpose of voting on the adoption of Resolution 2013-10, to approve the FY2014 Operating Budget. Prior to the public hearing and work session, the council withdrew for an executive session and following their return, Mayor Doris Devey opened the public hearing during which, the council received no public comment. The council then used their work session last week to discuss the proposed FY2014 Operating Budget. Mayor Devey then called the special session to order and the council voted to approve the resolution to adopt the FY2014 Operating Budget. In their previous July meeting council members voted to adopt Resolution 2013-11, which set the 2013 Millage Rate and rolled the rate to 0.0 percent. And, at the same meeting, the council also adopted Resolution 2013-12, which set the Tiered Water Rates for FY2014, which will go into effect on September 1, 2013. The council return next week for their regular August meeting.
  10. Paulding County Board of Commissioners holds budget hearing, approves several agenda items Paulding County Board of Commissioners convened on Tuesday, July 23rd for the last of two regular meetings for July, passed several resolutions, and during their morning session, held a public hearing regarding the upcoming FY2014 budget approval. The budget hearing lasted about 30 minutes with some public comment and some comment from the Board itself. Tommie Graham cautioned that some expenditures coming back into the county's budget after the impact of a sagging economy should be questioned as to their relative priority over other things. Following the close of the public hearing, the Board voted to approve a contract with the city of Dallas for the November elections, a housekeeping measure in connection with the upcoming municipal elections. Three post seats open in both Dallas and Hiram and Dallas will also vote on retail sales of alcohol. A similar alcohol ordinance was already passed in both Hiram and in Paulding County. The Board approved a Bid Award to construct a runway extension at the PCNA airport site to Plateau Excavation in the amount of $1,055,134.93 The project is funded to 90 percent through an FAA grant not to exceed $2 million and is intended to add some 600 feet to the runway at Paulding Northwest Atlanta airport. Later the Board also approved acceptance of Grant funds from the Georgia Department of Transportation (a pass through from the FAA) to fund the Runway 31 Safety Overrun Project at the Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport. Two Richland Creek agenda items passed. Resolution 13-16 adopts a Reservoir Management Plan for the Richland Creek Reservoir Project as required by Georgia EPD in support of the water withdrawal permits associated with the project and Resolution 13-17 adopts the Watershed Protection Plan for the Richland Creek Reservoir Project as required by Georgia EPD. Completion of that project is at the mercy of the long process to obtain a permit through the Army Corp of Engineers. Chairman Austin characterized it last Tuesday by saying "We're getting very, very close." Several state and local DOT projects on the agenda were passed including, action to authorize the Chairman to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with Georgia DOT to install railroad crossing warning devices at McPherson Church Road/C.R. 94. Paulding DOT Director Scott Greene told the Board that this is the last unsignaled railway crossing in the county. Three items are tied to completion of the East Hiram Parkway including an allotment request in the amount of $484,799.22, Supplemental Agreement #2 in the amount of $59,613.09 and Supplement Agreement #3, addition of a right turn lane, in the amount of $60,739.14 were approved by the Board. And the Board voted in favor of authorizing the Chairman to execute an Intergovernmental Agreement on behalf of the county with the Paulding County School District regarding the implementation and ongoing operation of video recording system to capture recorded images of motor vehicles unlawfully passing school buses. County Attorney Jason Phillips explained that this is a civil fine and is set at $300 for a first offense, $750 for the second and $1,000 for a third. Finally the Board also approved the bid and contract terms for the Cooperative Agreement with the Paulding County School Board. The Board of Commissioners is scheduled to meet next on the second Tuesday in August.
  11. Paulding Northwest Atlanta Airport Authority and the Industrial Building Authority convened at the airport Wednesday morning for their July meeting. Primarily, the Board discussed updates to the airport apron expansion project. While the current runway meets FAA requirements, the expansion, from 5,500 to 6,000 feet is considered more ideal. According to Airport Director Blake Swafford, bids will be taken this week and the work isexpected to begin next month. The project is eligible for an FAA reimbursementof up to 90 percent, Swafford said. Also a study done by LPA Group for the airport was approved for anamount not to exceed $75,000. The study was related to environmental impact connected with the runway approach area of the site and is an FAA requirement. The Board also approved a contract in the amount of $16,200 with Prime Contracting for a revision to construction plans for the corporate hangar. That project has suffered a series of setbacks since its initial construction began in early 2012, but is felt to be back on track, and may becompleted by the end of year. Also a widening of the taxiway project will take bids through the end of this month and begin construction on September 1, and continue through the end of the year. The Board also approved the start-up of a tech committee to assume the Website content and operations of the airport's Website. Jason Summerour,will chair the tech committee with airport board member Jim Underwood and one additional appointee. Summerour, a Dallas resident, is a software engineer withThe Weather Channel. Plans for Fire Station #12 intended to serve both West Dallasand the airport are about 90 percent completed, Swafford said. The building design is done and the overall site design is due in two to three weeks. Bidding willbegin soon on that project, he said. The 9-1-1 center will also move to this location once completed. IBA Industrial Building Authority met at the airport siteimmediately following the airport authority. Biggest IBA news for July is that several Industrial parks are reaching completion. Among them, the Dallas Industrial Park, the airport Technology Park, and Paulding Commerce Park, to serve as the home base for Interroll. A fourth site, the Macland Road Industrial Park, will be withdrawn and re-evaluated atthe county's request, according to Blake Swafford, executive director, IBA. Swafford said that the Atlanta Film studio in Hiram is waiting for word from AMC on the possible filming a TV series at the Hiram soundstage. He said that otherwise film projects over the remaining summer are at a "lull" and that studio managers may seek commercials and/or other green-screen work to fill in. IBA Vice Chairman Alan Shipp reported that an alarming statistic shows that only about 12 out of hundred graduates statewide would qualify for technology jobs, leading tech companies to seek more employees outside the state. Mayor Boyd Austin noted also that about 50 percent of all new hires quit in their first year. Austin said a program calling itself Georgia's Best will offer guidance in this area and seek to impact that situation. PANAA and IBA usually meet on the third Wednesday of each month.
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