Jasper considers 2.125 mill increase in early budgeting process

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JASPER, Ga. – The City of Jasper is holding meetings with citizens to discuss plans to move forward with a major increase of its Millage Rate.

The increase being considered is a 45.6 percent increase over the 4.655 mills that the city has held for three years now. In 2017, the rate was set at 4.655 mills from 2016’s 4.683 mills.

The proposed Millage Rate for 2020 is 6.78 mills. An increase of 2.125 mills.

Millage Rate

A comparison sheet shown by City Manager Brandon Douglas in the September 24, 2020, public hearing for the millage rate.

The last time the rate was raised was 2001 when it went from 4.630 mills to 4.710 mills. The last time the millage rate was over 6 mills was 1996 when it was set at 6.850 mills.

According to City Manager Brandon Douglas, he met with the finance department and department heads, they found that normal operating costs produced a preliminary 2021 budget held a deficit of roughly $551,000. He also noted that indications pointed to a two to two-and-half percent increase in revenues while expenditures increase at three to five-and-a-half percent per year.

Douglas said, “That is not a sustainable financial model.”

He went on to say that the city needs corrective action for the finances. The gap between revenue and expenditures that the city is seeing has come from not correcting these issues sooner.

Douglas also noted the importance of property taxes as they make up 30 percent of the total revenue budget for the city. Many of the sources of revenue that make up the other 70 percent are unknown or not directly controlled by officials and the city. This puts the point of the property tax as something directly controlled by these elected officials.

There will be another meeting of the city at 5:30 p.m. on October 5, 2020, to hear more from the public on the proposed millage rate as Douglas stated, “It is staff’s goal to work with the elected officials through this public hearing process to recommend and adopt a millage rate that is reflective of providing a balanced budget. It is not our goal to just simply adopt a 6.78 millage rate.”

He noted that by the October 5 meeting of the Jasper City Council, he hopes to have gotten with officials through their committees to identify “ways to reduce certain preliminary department budgets.”

As a part of the budget process, the millage rate is adopted before the budget is adopted. The plan for the 2021 budget, according to Douglas, is adoption on December 7, 2020. Working towards that  goal. This process is way to see what the budget could look like in order to have the budget in mind while adopting the millage rate which must be adopted first before the actual budget is adopted.

Black Lives Matter rally comes to Jasper

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JASPER, Ga. – Protesting continues across many North Georgia counties as demonstrators rally in the wake of media reports on the death of George Floyd and other protests.

Tonight saw another of these rallies in the city of Jasper, Georgia, as police blocked off parking spaces and sections of side streets around the Pickens County Courthouse downtown. While some showed early and stood on the sidewalk with signs, it appeared like it would be a small turnout even after 4:00 p.m. passed.

However, less than twenty minutes later, a large group marched onto the lawn of the courthouse from the east, on Court Street. The march rallied into those already present swelling the numbers over a hundred strong.

Chants rang out of “Black Lives Matter,” “I Can’t Breathe,” and “No Justice No Peace” repeatedly as demonstrators held signs and cheered on as supporters would drive by honking.

Calling attention to a central point, protesters took a knee as they said it was to respect those present and to fight the “injustice” they were opposing. One of the first to speak, Jeff Samuel said, “What matters today is those of us standing here for equal rights and justice for all.”

Samuel said he was proud of Jasper and of those present at the protest standing for their beliefs.

Samuel led the push for more people to speak saying that all voices need to be heard. One by one, protesters stepped forward, taking the megaphone to speak to those gathered. Some spoke to counterprotesters as well.

Black Lives Matter protesters rally in Jasper, Georgia, on June 7, 2020.

Most of those speaking spoke specifically about the Black Lives Matter movement, George Floyd, and racism in America. Others spoke about race in general and the importance of equality in the nation. Some spoke thanks to officers present that were protecting them and their right to gather and speak. Nearly an hour and a half continued with speakers stepping forward.

Eventually, the protest heard from the three organizers of the event, Mack Thomas, Kat Phillips, and Maxie Woodall.

Offerings thanks for those attending, Thomas said it was everyone’s support that helped make the day what it was. He pointed out Kat Phillips saying that she was the one who went to Sherrif Craig to make sure the protest was safe.

Woodall spoke saying that she expected a handful of people to show up and to have a small group of mostly teenagers present for the protest, but never could have expected the number and variety of people saying it was “awesome.” She spoke about the names of victims, the names of black people who have died from police brutality.

Phillips offered one statement saying, “We are going to make a change.”

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Black Lives Matter protesters rally in Jasper, Georgia, on June 7, 2020.

Some protesters split into a separate group playing music and dancing on Depot Street and offering more chants for the rally, moving to another end of the courthouse lawn.

Counter-protesters also came to the event, chanting and waving American Flags, Trump Flags, and one man playing the bugle in opposition to those speaking. However, the few that remained after the rally declined to speak directly on camera to address the counter-protests and their message.

Speaking after the rally, organizers Mack Thomas, Kat Phillips, and Maxie Woodall offered a few extra words to FYN about organizing the event and their interactions with police leading up to it.

Phillips said her experience with organizing with the police was a positive one saying, “They were so nice about it and the way he organized everything as our right was really nice. Craig actually did a wonderful job helping me with this.”

A sentiment echoed by Sheriff Donnie Craig who said he was pleased with the crowd and the way things unfolded at the event. Addressing online comments about needing permission, Craig said that the county and the city do not have a permit process, but that the opportunity to touch base with protesters about the event and their desires allowed him to better coordinate and work with demonstrators and their rally.

From left to right, Mack Thomas, Kat Phillips, and Maxie Woodall speak about organizing the protest and the turnout in Jasper, Georgia.

When asked about protesters thanking local law enforcement during the rally, Craig said, “That was a strong message to our local law enforcement.”

Handing out fliers and continuing along, the final moments of the protest were spent dancing with music played from one protester’s truck before dispersing peacefully for the night.

However, organizers said this would not be the end. Thomas said that the next step is continued talks with Craig and with officers, “We can’t do anything about racism unless something happens with the law.”

Thomas said that speaking to those with hiring abilities in these departments will express the people’s desires in their police force.

All three agreed that more protests could come until they are heard and a change comes.

Pickens County Chief Magistrate Judge Wigington arrested Theft and Violation of Oath of Office

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Judge Allen Wigington

PICKENS COUNTY, GA – At approximately 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 29, 2020, Pickens County Chief Magistrate Judge Allen Wigington was arrested for multiple incidents of Theft and Violation of Oath of Office.

The Sheriff’s Office began a review of financial documents for Pickens County in mid-December 2019. During the review of these documents, investigators identified questionable spending activity on the Pickens County credit card issued to Wigington. After an initial review, Sheriff Craig reached out to the Appalachian Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office to discuss the findings. Following the sharing of information with the district attorney’s office, the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) was requested to assist with further investigation.

Investigators further learned of an additional situation involving a local nonprofit organization, where Wigington served as the Treasurer. In this case, it was found that Wigington had taken funds from the nonprofit organization to pay personal debts. It was determined that Wigington then attempted to remedy this action by taking funds from the Magistrate Office to reimburse the nonprofit organization.

Following an investigation that has been ongoing for more than a month, on Wednesday, Jan. 29, at approximately 3:30 p.m., GBI executed a search warrant at Judge Wigington’s office to gather further evidence for the case.

The GBI obtained warrants for Judge Wigington’s arrest, which include the following:
• 3 counts of Unauthorized Use of Financial Transaction Card (O.C.G.A. 16-9-37(b))
• 6 counts of Theft by Taking (O.C.G.A. 16-8-2)
• 1 count of Violation of Oath by Public Officer (O.C.G.A 16-10-1)

Wigington reportedly made several questionable purchases for instance he made three separate transactions of $923, $848.31, and $317 from Pickens County Magistrate Court to give to aforementioned nonprofit with the “intention of depriving owner of said property.” He also allegedly charged $96.27, $137.82, and $343.84 on Pickens County government card for personal expenses at Hampton Inn in Kingsland, Ga, Doubletree by Hilton at Atlanta Airport, and Hilton Bonnet Creek Hotel in Orlando, Fla.

Judge Wigington turned himself into the Pickens County Adult Detention Center at 7:30 p.m. and is currently on a $50,000 bond.

This case is being actively investigated at this time.

*UPDATED* School Closings Due to Severe Weather Conditions

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  • Union County Schools will be CLOSED Monday, September 11th and Tuesday, September 12th due to Gov. Nathan Deal declaring a state of emergency for all 159 counties in Georgia. Please continue to monitor here for further updates.
  •  Fannin County Schools will be closed for students and all personnel on Monday, September 11 and Tuesday, September 12, for students, as well as all faculty and staff, except for 12-month personnel, district directors, and principals. As long as it is safe to do so, all 12-month personnel, as well as district directors and principals, should anticipate reporting by 9:00 a.m. on September 12.  These personnel should note, though, that this expectation may be revised, depending on the weather conditions overnight; nonetheless, if you ever believe it is unsafe to report, please notify your immediate supervisor. In addition, the Board of Education work session meeting that was scheduled for 8:00 a.m. on Tuesday, September 12, has been cancelled.  Please continue to stay safe!
  • Pickens County Schools closed Monday, September 11th – TWELVE MONTH EMPLOYEES REPORT AT NORMAL TIME. Schools will also be closed on Tuesday, September 12.  Twelve month employees will be contacted late Monday as to whether they will be required to come to work on Tuesday. All school activities, including athletic events and after-school programs, will be canceled.
  • Gilmer County Schools  will be closed Monday, September 11th and Sepember 12th due to Hurricane Irma. We have made this decision after consultation with local emergency management authorities and careful consideration of safety factors, such as the probability of severe winds especially at higher elevations, debris, dangerous road conditions and downed power lines left in its wake. Only 12 month staff should report if safe to do so.
  • Dawson County Schools  will be closed on Monday, September 11, and Tuesday, September 12, 2017. Twelve month employees will operate on a 2 hour delay.
  • Lumpkin County Schools closed due to the weather forecast for our area, Lumpkin County Schools will be closed on Monday, September 11, and Tuesday, September 12, 2017. The anticipated high winds pose a significant threat to our students and staff. We understand that weather predictions are not always accurate, but we cannot ignore the potentially dangerous situation that this storm poses. Our number one priority is to keep our students and staff safe! Wednesday will still be a early release day as planned so that teachers will be available for parent conferences. 12 month employees should report if it is safe to do so. 
  • Towns County Schools closed Monday, September 11th and Tuesday, September 12th for all students. All employees should report at 10:00 AM on Tuesday, September 12th if safe to do so.
  • White County Schools due to the severe weather forecast, White County Schools are closed for students and staff Monday, September 11, and Tuesday, September 12, 2017. Please be safe!
  • Murray County Schools closed Monday September 11 and Tuesday September 12, due to the possible impact of Hurricane Irma.   We have made this decision after consultation with local emergency management authorities and careful consideration of safety factors, such as the probability of severe winds, debris, dangerous road conditions, and downed power lines.  We understand that weather predictions are often incorrect, but the size of this storm cannot be ignored. It is our hope that Murray County is spared from any of this storm’s impact, but we will always choose to error on the side of caution.  All events planned for Monday and Tuesday evenings are also cancelled.  This includes the September 11 MCPS Board meeting.  This meeting will be rescheduled for Thursday, September 14 at 6:15 p.m.  All maintenance, grounds crew, and transportation employees will meet at the transportation office.

36th Annual Marble Festival 2016 in the Marble Capital ~ Pickens County Georgia

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Did you know: Most of Pickens County’s early industry revolved around the marble industry.  Polycor Georgia Marble is located in Marble Hill near Tate.  For decades Georgia Marble has been mined and used to create historic architecture around the world, including the Archives Building in Atlanta, the New York Stock Exchange, the Supreme Court, the Lincoln Memorial and our local Tate Elementary School.  The marble is also used for tombstones for the United States Military at Arlington National Cemetery.  Most of the marble is white, but there is also very rare pink marble.  It is one of the few places in the world where pink marble is found.

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Updated: Pickens County High School Teacher Arrested for Inappropriate Contact with Students

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Mr. Daniel Culbreth, a math teacher at Pickens High School, was arrested on Thursday night (October 6, 2016) for Computer Exploitation of Children and Sexual Assault by Persons with Supervisory Authority.  Culbreth, also a PCHS running back coach was arrested for DUI of alcohol in 2015. (see arrest/booking report below).  The arrest came during an investigation into inappropriate communications with a student. Led by Detective Steven Holmes of the Pickens Sheriff’s Office, who also serves as an agent for the Georgia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (ICAC) with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, detectives began following up on a tip that Mr. Culbreth had been using the popular teen social media app Snapchat to communicate with female students. According to the information received by detectives, the content of some of his communication was highly inappropriate. After receiving and verifying this information, Pickens Sheriff’s Office Detectives executed a search warrant on Mr. Culbreth’s Snapchat account and found this information to be true.

 

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Numerous Pickens High school students were identified in the content of Mr. Culbreth’s Snapchat account. The content indicates that Culbreth had engaged in inappropriate conversations with several students. As a result, search warrants were obtained which led to additional information being gathered. This information together with multiple interviews with students verified Mr. Culbreth had multiple cyber relationships with students and had a physical relationship with at least one student.

Once verified, Mr. Culbreth was arrested without incident and is currently being held at the Pickens County Adult Detention Center. He is awaiting a First Appearance Hearing before a Judge to determine if bond will be set.

Detectives are also examining all evidence, and additional charges may be forthcoming.

Sheriff Donnie Craig stated, “In cases like this, nobody wins.” He went on to explain, “Yes, we may have made a good arrest, but a number of teenage girls have been made victims by someone that we, as parents, have entrusted to care for them.”

The Pickens Sheriff’s Office is urging parents to be very proactive in knowing how their kids are using social media. Detective Steven Holmes urges parents to “know who your kids are talking to and what they are sending over these sites.” If you believe that your child may have been a victim of inappropriate communication with Mr. Daniel Culbreth, you can contact the Criminal Investigation Division of the Pickens Sheriff’s Office at 706-253-8935.

If you would like to learn more about what you can do to prevent your child from becoming a victim of internet crimes, please visit http://www.gaicactaskforcecom.

Gabe Northern 6/3/16

GMFTO

BKP talks with former NFL Player Gabe Northern about his experiences and his new venture in Jasper, “Zoology.”

Judge Weaver Resigns as Chair of JQC

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Appalachian Judicial Circuit Chief Superior Court Judge Brenda Weaver has resigned as Chairperson and member of the Judicial Qualifications Commission.  Judge Weaver gave her resignation today August 12, 2016.  She expressed her gratitude for the opportunity to serve and thanked the other members saying,

I sincerely appreciate the opportunity I was given  to serve as a member and as the Chairperson of this commission.  The work of this  commission is extremely  important and nothing and no one should distract from its duties and responsibilities.  As a member,  each of you spend  a lot of time each month, reading  materials and preparing for each meeting.  Thank you.
Weaver presides in the Adult Felony Drug Court and the Veterans Court in her circuit.  Last night, August the 11th, there was a total of 10 participants who graduated from the two courts.   She says she plans to use the additional time she now will have to continue to expand and improve the services that these courts provide for the citizens of her circuit.
                               2015 Drug Court Graduation

 

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