Solar farm, body bags and surplus vehicles on agenda at BOC Work Session
AMERICUS – At its monthly work session on Tuesday evening, December 8, the Sumter County Board of Commissioners (BOC) voted unanimously to approve a request from a company called Recurrent Energy (RE) Sumter LLC to rezone close to 2,900 acres of land along Bumphead Road and Lacross Road from Rural Residential District (RR) to Heavy Industrial status for the conditional use for a solar facility. To put it simply, the BOC has given its approval for RE Sumter LLC to build a solar farm in that area.
The prospect of building the solar farm in the area of Bumphead and Lacross Roads has been a topic of discussion for the BOC for over a month, but on Tuesday, December 8, the Commissioners finally gave their approval for the land to be conditionally used for the solar farm’s construction.
The land on which the solar farm will be built was divided up into 10 parcels. Six of the parcels are located along a stretch of Bumphead Road and four of them are located along a stretch of Lacross Road, including one parcel located at 696 Lacross Road in Americus.
Board Chairman Clay Jones asked for a motion of approval to grant the request from RE Sumter LLC to rezone this land from a Rural Residential District (RR) to Heavy Industrial status (I-2). Jones stated that this approval comes with the condition that if a solar farm permit is not issued by the Code Enforcement Department by November 30, 2025, the zoning of all the parcels will revert to their current destination, meaning that the parcels will revert from Heavy Industrial back to Rural Residential status. Commissioner George Torbert made a motion for approval. “I make a motion we approve it as the way it was approved by the Planning and Zoning Committee,” said Torbert. County Attorney Kimberly Reid replied to Torbert that his suggested approval is the same manner of approval that was expressed by Board Chairman Jones. Commissioner Mark Waddell seconded the motion. The BOC voted and the approval passed unanimously.
In a related topic, the BOC also voted unanimously to approve a conditional use permit for RE Sumter LLC, which is subject to all of the county’s ordinances governing solar farms. Commissioner Waddell made a motion for approval and Commissioner Scott Roberson seconded the motion. The BOC voted and the approval passed unanimously. With that, RE Sumter LLC will be allowed to construct the soar farm to be built along Bumphead Road and Lacross Road.
The BOC also heard from the county’s new Deputy Coroner, Rev. Mathis Wright.
Wright had a lengthy discussion with the BOC about the resources that both he and Coroner Elect Clifford Walton will need to fulfill their duties. Walton defeated incumbent Sumter County Coroner Greg Hancock in the election on Tuesday, November 3 of this year. Walton was at the virtual meeting, but Rev. Wright spoke on behalf of the Coroner’s Office.
Wright told the BOC that the Coroner’s Office needs both child and adult body bags, N-95 masks, gloves and other protective equipment, such coveralls and covers to go over the shoes when going to a death scene. Wright added that the Coroner’s Office also needs the necessary cleaning supplies, such as alcohol, bleach and sanitary wipes. “We are going to need to have some death certificates and death pronunciation sheets printed,” said Wright. “We would need a camera. There’s a gurney that is going to be needed. As far as office supplies, we will definitely need a scanner and a compact two-in-one fax machine and copy machine combined because we found out that some of the agencies are not set up to receive everything by email. Some of them are still set up to receive by fax and not by email.”
Wright continued to explain the department’s needs to the BOC by saying that they need paper, a desk and a secretary, as well as office space and file cabinets with locks. Wright stated to the BOC that the outgoing coroner, Greg Hancock, told him that the only thing that he had that he was going to be able to turn over on January 1, 2021, was a gurney and a van that was full of gas. “Whatever he (Hancock) may have had in stock or whatever it was, we have no way of knowing,” Wright told the BOC. “And unless you all kept some type of record about what was being spent, or what he may have had or should have had in inventory, we have no way of knowing.” Wright went on to tell the BOC that the list of things that the County Coroner needs was given to him by a trainer at a training session that he attended. He also stated that he has talked with other coroners about the need assessment. “We have just a minimal amount of time in order to get these different items that are going to be needed,” Wright told the BOC. “Remember that I said, “need”. It’s not something that we want. It is something that is needed because if it comes down to it and we don’t have somewhere to put the people, I mean, all we would do is direct them to you all and say, ‘Hey, you know, they have to see the Commissioners who control the funding for these items.” Wright also stated to the BOC that he had checked earlier that day on the COVID-19 statistics in Sumter County and the surrounding areas and discovered that the numbers have been increasing.
“We certainly can’t be going to these different homes and different locations without the proper equipment to make sure that we stay safe and keep the other people that are on the scene safe and the people who are at these particular residents and locations,” said Wright. “We are before you tonight to ask you to speed up the process. December 31 is approaching rapidly. We are 23 days or so away. These things just need to be in place and not some other time in January or February.”
Wright reiterated to the BOC that the need assessment has increased due to the fact that the outgoing coroner (Greg Hancock) had only a van full of gas and a gurney to give to the Coroner Elect (Walton). “With that, that means all of the other stuff has to be gotten,” said Wright.
Jones told County Operations Administrator Rayetta Volley that he was under the impression that she was working with Coroner Elect Walton on helping him obtain the items that he needs to fulfill his duties as County Coroner. Volley replied that a good bit of those items are office supplies and infield service items. “I will let the Board know that Greg (Hancock) did have to purchase some more body bags this week,” said Volley. “In Sumter County, we had three deaths, all in a weekend, so he did have to purchase some more body bags.” Volley went on to say that due to COVID-19, some of the bodies that wouldn’t normally be put in body bags are having to be put in body bags and because of that, Hancock had to purchase more body bags. “I don’t have a current listing of all the items that are owned by that department, but I will say that a good bit of those items are already owned by the department, as well as the N-95 masks. Nigel Poole with the EMA, he can provide those N-95 masks,” continued Volley.
Commissioner Waddell stated that, in his opinion, most of the items that Coroner Elect Walton needs are easy to gather and to submit the expenses back to the Coroner’s Office. “The cooler is probably the larger item that’s there,” said Waddell. “My question back to Mr. Walton is, ‘Have you guys checked prices?’ I know Rayetta has mentioned in previous meetings, but these responsibilities fall back to you guys to find what is required for you to have when it comes to prices and so forth.”
Wright responded by saying that he has seen prices for coolers ranging from $4,000 to $8,000. “It just depends on how much money you want to spend,” said Wright.
Waddell replied to Wright that it is not up to the BOC as to how much money it wants to spend, but what is required, as far as supplies are concerned, in order for the Coroner’s Office to fulfill its service to the county. “That’s what we’re putting before you,” Wright told the BOC. “You buy us a cooler that will hold a minimum of three bodies and whatever it costs, then fine, but that is what we are bringing to you tonight is to buy us a cooler that will hold three bodies.”
Wright added that the Coroner’s Office doesn’t do the research to find the best and most affordable cooler and that the responsibility to do that research falls upon Volley and County Financial Director Janice Jarvis. Waddell strongly disagreed with Wright and said that doing the research is not the responsibility of the BOC. “It is not our responsibility to do your research,” Waddell told Wright. “We don’t do research for any other elected official. It is that elected official’s responsibility to go out and do the research on what is needed to fulfill the responsibilities of whoever that elected official is.” Wright replied that he would turn in a request to the BOC for a three-body cooler this week.
However, Waddell stated that he had heard from Wright in his request for supplies a need for a secretary, to which Wright stated, “yes”. Waddell then told Wright that to his knowledge, as long as he has been a Commissioner, the Coroner’s position has never had the need for a secretary. “I’m not sure where that’s coming from,” Waddell told Wright. Wright replied that it is coming from other coroners in the state of Georgia that have secretaries because there is a lot of information and work that has to be filed with the state, such as medical records. “If I’m not mistaken. I’m not sure how Greg (Hancock) had it set up, whether she was full-time or part-time, but it’s my understanding that he had one (a secretary),” said Wright. On that note, Waddell asked Janice Jarvis if Hancock, the outgoing coroner, had an assistant in the Coroner’s Office that the county was paying. Jarvis replied that he did not have one. Waddell then asked Volley if there has ever been a paid assistant in the Sumter County Coroner’s Office. Volley replied that there has never been one. Waddell went on to say that the guidelines for the county, as far as adding an employee is concerned, comes back to the BOC and that the level of activity in the Coroner’s Office has never required the need for a secretary. “The duties and responsibilities that come along with that fall directly back to the coroner to process paper work and to do that job,” said Waddell. Wright replied to Waddell that Georgia House of Representatives Bill 1099, which in Wright’s opinion, will be passed by the majority republican assembly, states that coroners will have to go to nursing homes and private care facilities to pick up bodies. “Presently, coroners don’t have to go to these nursing homes and these private care facilities because REN’s have been doing it, but that is about to come to an end,” said Wright. Wright further explained that if this bill passes in the Georgia General Assembly, which he believes it will, all coroners in the state will be required to go to nursing homes and private care facilities to pick up bodies. Wright said that if that bill passes, the workload for coroners will increase tremendously. Wright added that his instructor, who was leading a coroner’s training session that he was a part of, said that coroners would need to be aware of this strong possibility. Wright also added that there are some county coroners in Georgia that do have secretaries and that it will be something that the BOC will have to seriously consider if Georgia House Bill 1099 is passed.
Waddell replied that the Commissioners would have to read the bill, but that at the moment, a secretarial position in the Coroner’s Office was not in the budget. “At the moment, unless there is a need that is proven, it’s probably not one that we’re going to allow,” said Waddell. “I’m not speaking for the whole Board, I’m speaking from experience and what we’ve seen in the past.”
Wright replied that he has seen the BOC spend quite a bit of money on things that it doesn’t need. “You know I know that for a fact,” said Wright. “All I’m telling you is that we are coroners. We went to the class (Training Session). I’m bringing back to you what they say according to what is already in the OCGA 45 (Official Code of Georgia Annotated Title 45, which can be found at https://law.justia.com/codes/georgia/2010/title-45/chapter-10/article-2/part-1/45-10-20). Now whether you all do it or not, that’s up to you all. All I can do is tell you what we got from the class,” Wright continued.
Volley asked Board Chairman Clay Jones if whether or not the BOC can transfer everything over to the new elected official before December 31 so a situation, like the transition of Coroner Elect Walton and Deputy Coroner Wright, can be avoided. “It makes it very difficult when you transfer everything on December 31 for them to operate January 1,” Volley explained to the BOC. “I’m not sure if the Board can put in place, like, maybe give them two days ahead of time or some type of transitional period because it makes it very difficult to transfer on the 31st and be ready to operate on January 1.”
Volley further explained that it would be better to have a transition period that was two days before so that the BOC can figure out what it has or doesn’t have, or what it needs or doesn’t need so that the transition from the outgoing elected official to the newly-elected official can be a smooth one. County Attorney Kimberly Reid told Volley that, according to the law, the elected officials cannot be required to relinquish equipment or supplies earlier than they have to unless they agree to do so. “You can always ask them to coordinate between each other and to try to work out this transition,” said Reid. Reid went on to say that the BOC can have a policy of asking elected officials to work on the transition in advance, but reiterated that, according to the law, elected officials cannot be required to do that in advance.
Board Chairman Jones expressed to Volley his concern that all Hancock had to give to Coroner Elect Walton was a van full of gas and a gurney and that Walton was going to have to get everything else he needed. Volley replied that she believed Hancock had other items, but didn’t know exactly what he had. “I would have to go out and do an inspection and do an inventory of what he currently has because I’m not sure exactly what he has,” said Volley. “But I do know that he does have some of these items from when I met with him.” Volley went on to say that Hancock has the required gloves and the proper suits that must be warn at the death scene.
Jones asked Volley if Walton has been provided office space and Volley replied that the BOC did not approve that at its last meeting, but instead stated that it wanted to see what is exactly needed for the coroner’s position before it approved any changes. “The only thing we left opened was the information about the cooler,” said Volley. Jones asked Volley if she had found any office space available. She replied that there was plenty of available office space at the Tog Shop, but she wanted to wait to see what the BOC would determine as far as whether or not office space was needed. Commissioner Waddell stated that his concern was not providing office space for the Coroner, but whether or not a cooler could be put there along with the proper hookups and whether or not it would continue to operate if the electricity were to go out.
Wright told the BOC that Sumter County Buildings and Grounds Director Larry Chitwood gave him a tour of the office space at the Tog Shop, which, according to Wright, was acceptable for office space. Wright also stated that Chitwood also showed him the office space at the old National Guard Armory, which houses a generator. Wright added that the facility had a roll-up door where there is enough space for a cooler to be placed inside. “It was decided, with your approval, that that was the proper and best location to put the cooler,” Wright told the BOC.
Commissioner George Torbert said that the BOC needs to know what the cost of the cooler will be and what model type of cooler is needed. “We need the specs and where to get it from,” said Torbert. Jarvis added that she will be glad to get with both Coroner Elect Walton and Deputy Coroner Wright in getting price quotes for the cooler.
In other news from the Work Session, the BOC approved Lease Amendment No. 5 (USDA Sumter County Service Center) between the BOC and the United States of America for property located at 127 William Bowen Pointe for annual rent in the amount of $39,078.00.
Volley explained to the BOC that this amendment is for the USDA building that is located off of Highway 19 that sits in the same facility that the county’s 4H headquarters is located. “This lease incorporates an increase of $1 per square foot,” said Volley. “The dates of the amendment are January 1, 2021 to December 31, 2023.” Volley went on to thank Larry Chitwood, Janice Jarvis and others for helping her finalize this amendment. “Virtually, we met so that we could look at an increase for this particular lease,” said Volley. “We asked and they did accept so they did increase us.” Volley went on to say that the last amendment, which was Amendment 4, was $2,894.66 per month and that the new rental monthly rate is $3,256.50. “We are grateful to have this increase,” said Volley. Commissioner Waddell made a motion to approve Lease Amendment No. 5 and Commissioner Scott Roberson seconded the motion. The BOC voted and the approval passed unanimously.
The BOC also discussed with newly elected Sumter County Sheriff, Col. Eric Bryant, the disposing of surplus vehicles. Sheriff Bryant told the BOC that the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office is in the process of cleaning some unused property, including removing some of the older vehicles that are no longer needed. “We didn’t want to bombard you all with 30 or 40 items at one time, so we’re breaking it up in pieces so that we can get some of this stuff disposed of properly,” Bryant told the BOC.
Bryant recommended to the BOC a list of these vehicles to be designated as surplus and to be disposed of:
- 2011 Ford Crown Victoria that has a bad engine and has 246,315 miles on it.
- 2001 Ford Crown Victoria that has been used as a DARE car, but is warn out and has 125,638 miles on it.
- 2007 Ford Crown Victoria – transmission will not shift into gear and has 199,943 miles on it.
- 1993 AMC Humvee that is not being used and has 2,468 miles on it.
Volley told Sheriff Bryant and the BOC that before these vehicles are disposed of or sold off, she would like to check with Sumter County Fire and Rescue (SCFR) to see if they could use these vehicles. SCFR Chief Jerry Harmon, who was at the virtual meeting, stated that his department will take any vehicle to use for various Vehicle Extrication classes that are taught by the SCFR. “We have several of those classes every year,” said Harmon. “ We just took possession, I think, of four or five that we got form the Sheriff’s Department.”
Board Chairman Jones asked for a motion to approve the disposal of the vehicles listed above that have been owned by the Sheriff’s Office. Commissioner Waddell made a motion for approval and Commissioner Torbert seconded the motion. The BOC voted and the approval passed unanimously.