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County Commission to put Sunday alcohol sales to vote in March

By MICHAEL MURRAY
michael.murray@americustimesrecorder.com
www.americustimesrecorder.com

AMERICUS — The Sumter County Board of Commissioners held its monthly work session on Nov. 10, followed by their monthly regular meeting on Nov. 17 at the Sumter County Courthouse.
Duringt the commission’s regular meeting, the board approved a measure that will put a vote on county-wide Sunday alcohol sales on the March ballot for the primary election.
The work session began with the CEO of the ED Southwest Georgia Children’s Alliance, Maggie McGruther, leading the board in a discussion of the alliance’s progress. McGruther discussed a proposed Juvenile Justice Delinquency and Treatment Grant that will be used to help support at-risk juveniles in the community.
McGruther stated that the agency received the grant last year as well and that the funds provided funding for an evidence-based, positive-reinforcement program aimed at correcting errant behavior in these youths. The grant was approved at the regular meeting.
McGruther went on to detail how the agency is working alongside Juvenile Court Judge, Lisa Rambo, to benefit the community’s youth, and discussed the implementation of a new online searchable database with the help of information technology students n the University of Georgia masters program. The database serves as a community resource guide and will detail the types of services offered to the community. McGruther also discussed the implementation of a Sexual Abuse Nursing Exam (SANE) program aimed at better serving victims of sexual abuse in the community.
On the department’s expansion in terms of the number of children served, McGruther said, “We like to see the numbers increase because we know that that means that everyone that needs services is receiving them. At the same time, we hate to see that that many people [in our community] need our services.”
She then updated the board on other activities that the alliance has planned, including a “Secret Santa” program for the agency’s clients, in which community volunteers will help to provide gift donations for the children.
Board chairman, Randy Howard, thanked McGruther for her hard work.
Charles Burgamy, of Triangle Energy Concepts, addressed the board, saying that the County could save money by retrofitting the County Jail and Correctional Institute with LED lighting. Burgamy provided a demonstration of how the lights work and answered questions from commissioners about how the lights are installed and maintained. The board decided to leave the topic up for discussion at a later date.
Chief of Sumter County Fire and Emergency Services, John Ekaitis, asked the board to cancel a previously-approved sole source request for the repair of Fire Engine 62. He said the repairs would amount to much more than was originally speculated and would exceed the value of the truck. The request was approved.
Other items on the agenda were as follows:
County administrator, Bill Twomey, asked the board to approve New Year’s Eve (Dec. 31) as a holiday for County employees.
County attorney, Kimberly Reid, led the commission in a discussion of a newly-enacted ordinance requiring government credit card usage for County employees who are issued a card for county-funded expenditures. She suggested that a spending cap be set at around $3,000 per month. At the board’s regular meeting the next week, they resumed the discussion of the ordinance. Reid advised the board that the ordinance must be in effect by the beginning of January. She stated that each County employee who is issued a County credit card will be required to sign a user agreement.
Sumter County Correctional Institute Deputy Warden, James Murphy, asked the board to approve a sole-source request for the purchase of a Cellsense Contraband Detection System in the amount of $10, 995. The system is a state-of-the-art metal detector that Murphy said will drastically cut the number of contraband items, particularly cell phones, that get into the correctional institute. County financial director, Janis Jarvis, advised the board that the purchase could be made using SPLOST funds.
The board approved an easement for drainage from Michael Sweatt, pending the completion of the appropriate paperwork.
The board approved and accepted a quitclaim deed for the local National Guard Armory.
Sumter County Public Works Director, Frank Whitaker, asked the board to consider purchasing a product called “Bionic Soil Solution,” which, when spread across dirt roads, will harden and prevent the road from eroding.
On Nov. 17, the board met for their regular meeting.
Todd Reeves, from the Public Works Department, asked the board to approve a temporary construction and easement license to be used when the department needs to access private land in emergency situations, such as removal of a fallen tree that is blocking a road.
“This is just for temporary work only,” Reeves assured the board.
Reid, who had previously drafted the license, stated, “This is just for getting on the property. It’s not for any disturbance of ground or anything like that.”
The motion was approved.
Ekaitis addressed the board to discuss an ordinance for mitigation of hazardous materials spills.
“The ordinance … is something to protect the county,” Ekaitis said. “When [the Fire and Emergency Services] responds to a hazardous materials incident … and our personal protective equipment is contaminated, who’s going to replace it … ?”
Ekaitis stated that the proposed ordinance would give the department the ability to recoup the cost of replacing contaminated gear.
“It’s a protection on our equipment and personnel,” he said.
The ordinance was approved.
The board reviewed an ordinance to amend chapter 58, governing residential, commercial, and industrial developments. Reid advised the board that the changes would make clearer the right-of-way requirements for new roads.
“This will only apply to new roads … that are built after the adoption of this ordinance,” she said. “This does not require anyone to change any existing streets or roads.”
The proposal was pushed until the next meeting.
The board approved a measure to put up a vote on Sunday alcohol sales on the March primary election ballot. The vote will be for the sale of alcoholic beverages by the package or by the drink (for consumption on premises) and all residents of the county will be eligible to vote.
Jarvis led the discussion of a proposal to distribute legal fees among the different county departments.
“We’ve set up line-items in this year’s budget in all the departments to account for the departmental legal fees,” she said.
Jarvis advised the board that departments are currently having legal fees expensed against their budget and that this measure will help to straighten out their budgets. She also advised the board that implementation of the distribution will likely take some time to perfect. She voiced her approval for the proposed idea, saying that it will help keep different departments accountable for their legal expenditures. County CAO, Bill Twomey, advised the board that the measure will not change the bottom line of the budget at all and that the budget’s legal expenses have been tracked by department all along.
Audience member, Paul Johnson, asked the board, “What’s going to happen when one of the departments exceeds their budget?”
“That depends on whether or not they have exceeded their budget in other line items within that department,” Twomey responded.
“Well, that’s not a legitimate answer … ” Johnson replied, to which Twomey exclaimed, “That’s not a legitimate answer, or that’s not the answer that you want?”
“It’s not a legitimate answer,” Johnson repeated. “Are they allowed to take other funds out of their budget and apply it to the legal fees?”
Commissioner Mark Waddell chimed in, “As long as they don’t go over their total budget, they can move … ” before Johnson interrupted, “If they’re on their total budget … If a legal problem comes up that they have to … Are they just going to not have legal representation?”
“Paul, what they’re doing is, they’re getting a budget for a certain amount of money,” Howard answered. “Some folks will probably never use it … [If something serious happens], we aren’t going to say, ‘Well, you can’t have the money for representation.’”
“But you’ve been unreasonable about several things, “ Johnson retorted. “This is um … I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
Howard informed Johnson that this is how the budget has been managed in the past.
“These legal fees … Are they like the legal fees that our, uh, elections officials were threatened with here recently?” Johnson asked. “Are these legal fees that put attorney charges to each individual department? That may be the whole problem there, you know … Because the election officials were threatened with multimillion dollar legal fees if they followed through with their deal.”
“Are you talking about elected officials or the elections board?” Commissioner George Torbert inquired.
“Elections board. Whoever’s over there,” Johnson answered. “Is that the type of legal fees that we’re talking about? Or is that the legal fees that the County attorney charges for whatever she  … ”
“… We’ve got to have some way to set the budget and we’re trying to use this so we can track it and know what’s going where,” Torbert informed him. “Just like how you can’t plan for a disaster. If a disaster happens, you’ve got to do whatever you’ve gotta do … But you’ve got to … start at a base level, and that’s what this is designed for … ”
Waddell said, “Just like Janis (Jarvis) said, it’s not perfect. This is the first time we’re starting it so we’ve got to have a starting point somewhere. It’s a way to keep track and identify [problems] … to go back and say, ‘Year after year going forward, are you spending more than you should? Are you not spending more?’”
“Now, all of the departments are spending as little as they have to in legal fees,” Johnson said. “Like you said, there’s some instances where it comes up where they have to.”
Torbert replied, “Mrs. Reid’s been very good about working with people on [these things]. If the same issue comes up multiple times, she’ll show them what they need to do so that, [for example], every time there’s an easement agreement like the one we just did, she’s not getting a separate easement agreement every time there’s an issue. [She’s] trying to help educate the departments and the groups so that they can minimize the legal expenses. In my mind, the only way to minimize it is to keep track of it.”
“It’s better to have it individualized than to have it in, say, one lump sum in a general fund,” Waddell added … “It’s a line item, just like office supplies … To be fair to every department, it needs to be divided out … ”
Johnson asked, again, what happens if a department runs over budget due to legal expenses?
Howard told him that, in that circumstance, the matter would come back to the board, who would look for a reasonable solution.
The board moved on to the next item on the agenda, approving the acceptance of a Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) grant award to be used for victim assistance in the community.
The board approved deeds to secure debt, promissory notes and rent regulatory agreements for two properties of the CDBG Rent Rehab Project located on Africana Drive in Plains.