Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for May 3, 2023

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for May 3, 2023

May 3d is National Widow’s Day.

Georgia delegates convened in Augusta on May 4, 1789 to approve a new state Constitution and consider amendments.

General Nathan Bedford Forrest led troops who captured raiders near Rome, Georgia who were intent on disrupting the Western & Atlantic Railroad on May 3, 1863.

General William Tecumseh Sherman began the Atlanta Campaign on May 3, 1864 with troops marching from Tennessee toward Catoosa Springs, Georgia.

One year and one day after General Sherman began the Atlanta campaign, on May 4, 1865, Atlanta surrendered. On the same day, the Army of the Potomac crossed the Rapidan River in Virginia and into the Wilderness.

One year after that, on May 4, 1865, the last meeting of the Confederate cabinet convened in the old Georgia State Bank Building, which was located at the site of the present-day Wilkes County Courthouse in Washington, Georgia.

Margaret Mitchell was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Gone With the Wind on May 3, 1937.

On May 4, 1965, the Rolling Stones played a show at Georgia Southern.

The British band played in Hanner Fieldhouse to an overflow crowd of more than 3,500 people, according to a retrospective by Jim Hilliard in the Statesboro Herald. The gym’s capacity was about 1,500.

Hilliard said organizers figured they could sell 1,800 tickets at $2.50 each, which would be enough to pay the band and have some money left over for expenses.

The Stones had played on “The Ed Sullivan Show” on Sunday, May 2, and advance ticket sales were brisk the Monday and during lunch Tuesday, the day of the concert.

Hilliard said he signed the contract booking the Stones on behalf of Sigma Epsilon Chi fraternity. The contract called for the new fraternity to pay the band $3,000 for the appearance. Hilliard said he got a $1,500 loan from First Bulloch Bank to make the deal happen.

The Stones were expected to take the stage at 8:30 p.m. and play for at least an hour, but Hilliard had lined up three front bands, and “it proved to be a fatal flaw in plans for the concert,” he said in his retrospective.

The noise was deafening as the original Stones lineup — Mick Jagger, Brian Jones, Keith Richards, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts — hit the stage nearly an hour late.

Jagger and the other band members were “openly hostile” at having to wait so long to play.

On May 4, 1970, National Guard members shot into a crowd of protesting students, killing four and wounding nine others on the campus of Kent State University in Kent, Ohio.

On May 4, 2003, I had the fortune of marrying the first Mrs. GaPundit. Happy Anniversary.

For tomorrow, Happy Star Wars Day! May the Fourth Be With You! I’ll be taking the day off unless something earth-shattering happens. Like, say, the Supreme Court overruling a nearly-50-year old precedent.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis (D) says her summer announcement will be YUGE historical, according to Atlanta News First via WALB.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is planning to make a “historical decision” this summer following a letter she sent to Fulton County officials regarding an investigation into former president Donald Trump.

“That decision may displease people,” Willis said at an event Tuesday at Atlanta City Hall honoring volunteers of the Court Watch Program. “No matter what they feel about it, I support 100 percent, 1,000 percent, their right to protest. I do not support the ability to destroy property or to harm anyone, including laws enforcement, my staff and my family.”

Governor Brian Kemp signed a number of healthcare bills, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Ledger-Enquirer.

A law granting welfare benefits to pregnant women was among a package of a dozen health-related bills signed into law in Georgia Tuesday.

“We’re taking important steps to improve access to and quality of health care,” Gov. Brian Kemp said during a signing ceremony inside the Georgia Capitol.

Federal law currently allows low-income pregnant women to receive cash aid through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, but Georgia law does not. The General Assembly overwhelmingly passed House Bill 129 to rectify that.

Kemp pledged in his State of the State address in January to push for legislation extending TANF benefits to pregnant women. The bill was introduced by freshman state Rep. Soo Hong, R-Lawrenceville, one of the governor’s floor leaders in the House.

• House Bill 85, which requires insurance companies to cover biomarker testing if supported by medical and scientific evidence.

• House Bill 383, increasing penalties for assaulting a health-care worker.

• House Bill 295, beefing up consumer protections against surprise billing.

• Senate Bill 46, requiring testing of all pregnant women for HIV and syphilis.

• Senate Bill 106, creating a three-year pilot program providing coverage for remote maternal clinical health services.

• Senate Bill 223, requiring reimbursements of expenses incurred by patients participating in cancer clinical trials.

The Rome News-Tribune had a couple of local additions to the Capitol Beat Story:

Gov. Brian Kemp signed a package of a dozen bills related to health care Tuesday, including legislation sponsored by Floyd County delegates Sen. Chuck Hufstetler and Rep. Eddie Lumsden.

The RN-T story then notes which of the bills signed yesterday were sponsored by Sen. Hufstetler or Rep. Lumsden.

From the AJC on HB 129:

“It will be another promise kept,” Kemp said Tuesday at a bill signing event.

Lawrenceville Republican state Rep. Soo Hong filed House Bill 129 on Kemp’s behalf.

In recent years, the Legislature approved bills that aim to improve the state’s dismal maternal mortality rate. For example, the state extended the amount of time low-income Georgia mothers can receive benefits under Medicaid, the public health program that provides care to the poor and disabled, from two months to one year after the birth of a child.

Under HB 129, low-income women will soon be able to apply to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program while pregnant. Currently, those women are only eligible for TANF, commonly known as welfare, once a child is born.

To qualify now for welfare, a child must be in a home with one parent, or if two parents are in the home, one must be physically or mentally incapacitated. School-age children must be immunized and have an acceptable school attendance record. There also are income requirements. For example, a family of three must have a gross income below $784 a month.

WALB has a more complete list of legislation signed by Gov. Kemp as does State Affairs.

From StateAffairs:

Gov. Brian Kemp on Tuesday signed into law nearly three dozen bills, many of them related to health care. Tuesday’s signings were the first of two bill events scheduled for this week, with the governor expected to sign more on Friday.

“I want to thank Gov. Brian Kemp for all of his support during my first session in this office,” Lt. Gov. Burt Jones said. “As of May 2, the governor has signed nine of my legislative priorities into law. I ran on three important issues: boosting Georgia’s workforce, standing with our law enforcement to strengthen public safety, and supporting Georgia’s children and families across our state. That is exactly what we delivered this past session.”

“Governor Kemp has been a strong partner working with the General Assembly over the last five years to enact prudent legislation and pass conservative, balanced budgets,” said Kaleb  McMichen, deputy chief of staff for House Speaker Jon Burns. “This legislative session reflects that team approach. We look forward to concluding the bill signing period and beginning work over the interim on House priorities including early childhood education and public safety.”

Governor Kemp issued an unusual signing statement with Senate Bill 115:

Senate Bill 115 seeks to ensure sportsman have use of Georgia’s navigable rivers. My office has received many calls both in support of and some in opposition to this piece of legislation. After careful analysis, I have signed Senate Bill 115 for the following reasons.

One, the state has invested millions of dollars collected through license fees to establish fisheries and boat ramps and to manage recreational fishing populations in our rivers. Two, this legislation does not affect non-navigable rivers or streams or change the definition of navigability. The definition of navigability is codified in a different subsection of this statute: O.C.G.A. § 44-8-5(a). Three, this legislation does not impact the use of water by adjacent landowners in navigable rivers. Four, this statute does not create a private right of action. Any implied private right of action is abrogated by statute. See O.C.G.A. § 9-2-8.

This bill allows for the public to hunt, fish, and transit the navigable waters of this state – an embodiment of the principle of sic vos non vobis and a privilege that has been assured Georgians for generations. To the extent some believe it stands for more, House Resolution 519 establishes the House Study Committee on Fishing Access to Freshwater Resources. This study committee will meet between legislative sessions this summer and is the appropriate venue to receive suggested amendments to the language in Senate Bill 115.

From the Capitol Beat News Service via the Rome News Tribune:

Senate Bill 115, which the governor inked late Monday, guarantees Georgians’ right to fish in navigable portions of the state’s rivers and streams.

Fishing rights didn’t become an issue until a property owner along a portion of the Flint River asserted its exclusive right to control fishing from the bank on its side of the river to the center of the stream and banned fishing there.

Four Chimneys LLLP, which owns a stretch of the Flint along Yellow Jacket Shoals, sued the state alleging failure to enforce the ban and won an agreement from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources in late March promising to enforce the ban.

Senate Bill 115 cleared the Senate overwhelmingly minutes after midnight on March 30. The bill had passed the House on the night of the 29th — the 40th and final day of the 2023 session — but not without dozens of “no” votes from lawmakers apparently unhappy with the 11th-hour process used to pass it.

The governor also acknowledged there seems to be some uncertainty about the bill’s language. He said the upcoming House Study Committee on Fishing Access to Freshwater Resources will provide an opportunity for clarity.

On a busy day for bill signing, the governor also inked legislation to:

• guarantee Georgia public school teachers a daily planning period.
• apply the state sales tax to digital downloads.
• ban TikTok from devices owned by the state government.
• do away with the sunset provision on a law prohibiting the state and local governments from requiring Georgians to show proof of COVID vaccination in order to receive government services.

Gov. Kemp also signed Senate Bill 56 to extend the state’s sales tax to digital downloads. From the AJC:

According to state estimates, the digital download tax provisions in Senate Bill 56 are expected to bring in $80 million in state and local sales taxes in the upcoming fiscal year, $172 million the following year and more than $200 million a year by fiscal 2028.

The bill passed on the 40th and final day of the legislative session. The digital download portion of the bill will take effect Jan. 1.

The digital download measure took a long and winding road through the General Assembly. For years, House members have proposed taxes on digital products, such as Netflix subscriptions and downloads of songs. The bills have usually stalled well before the finish line.

This year, a bill proposed by Rep. Kasey Carpenter, R-Dalton, was the latest bid to bring digital sales in line with taxes paid when Georgians buy similar products from local stores.

Carpenter’s bill included downloads of things such as books, video games and music that a buyer retains possession of. It didn’t call for taxing streaming services — such as Netflix — or subscription-based products.

“I know when the House sends something over with this many measures it’s hard to keep up with them,” Hufstetler told colleagues on the 40th day. “It’s fair to say whichever way you sell something, it should be taxed equally.”

From 11Alive:

You’ll have to pay state and local sales taxes on anything you buy and download to keep, beginning in January.

As it is, book buyers in Georgia, for example, know that when they buy the digital version of a book and download it, right now they don’t have to pay any sales taxes on it.

But customers who buy printed books, either in person or online, know that they have to pay state and local sales taxes.

Starting in January in Georgia, whatever people buy and download — such as eBooks, music, knitting patterns, video games, you name it — will have Georgia state and local sales taxes added to the purchase price.

The new digital download sales tax will not apply to everything people download.

It will not apply, for example, to online subscriptions; so newspapers that people download as part of their subscriptions will still be tax free.

But the author of the new law tells 11Alive that next year he will work to tax online subscriptions, as well, as part of the state’s long-range plan of taxing in-person and online sales the same.

Governor Kemp is considered likely to sign House Bill 221 today, giving the Insurance Commissioner greater authority over some auto insurance rates, according to the AJC.

“What are you going to do about auto insurance rates?” King told a House committee, recalling those conversations on the campaign trail. “And when I told them I had no authority to at least negotiate with companies, they couldn’t believe that.”

King hopes House Bill 221, which Gov. Brian Kemp is expected to sign into law Wednesday, will give him a little more authority to review auto insurance rate hikes before they take effect.

Auto insurance rates in Georgia have skyrocketed since the General Assembly in 2008 changed state law to let new rates take effect immediately once a company filed them with the insurance commissioner’s office. Previously, companies needed prior approval from the commissioner, and insurers fought to change the law for years, saying then-Commissioner John Oxendine’s decisions were sometimes made based on politics, not actuarially sound decisions.

Under HB 221, rate hikes on most coverage could not take effect for at least 60 days unless approved by the commissioner, giving the office more time to review them.

“We’re committed to maintaining and sustaining the market. I don’t want any insurance company to leave this state,” he told members of the House Insurance Committee. “I want to be able to have the authority to negotiate with the companies about how they impact Georgia consumers.”

Governor Brian Kemp announced that Shawanda Reynolds-Cobb was confirmed as Commissioner of the Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) by the DJJ Board, according to a press release.

She had been serving as Interim Commissioner since December, 2022.

“Shawanda Reynolds-Cobb has demonstrated excellent leadership and proactively worked to keep the Department of Juvenile Justice operating efficiently since taking over as Interim Commissioner,” said Governor Brian Kemp. “I have the utmost confidence she will build on the work of the past few months in the days ahead to ensure DJJ helps youth involved in the justice process grow into productive citizens.”

Shawanda Reynolds-Cobb was appointed Interim Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice in 2022 by Governor Brian Kemp. She is responsible for the daily operation of more than 3,400 employees that hold justice-involved youth accountable.

Prior to her appointment, Interim Commissioner Reynolds-Cobb served as Assistant Commissioner and Chief of Staff, overseeing the operational aspects of the department, including the Division of Administrative Services, Division of Community Services, Division of Secure Facilities, Division of Treatment and Care, and Office of Professional Development and Standards.

Interim Commissioner Reynolds-Cobb has 30 years of experience in government service, beginning with the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council in 1993 where she managed the daily operations of the Georgia Crime Victims Compensation Program, including the DUI Sign Program, Restitution Program, and the Training and Outreach Program. She also oversaw the Division budget and was the Legislative Liaison for the Council. In 2011, she joined the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice as Deputy Commissioner of Administrative Services.

Mrs. Reynolds-Cobb earned a bachelor’s degree in Psychology with a minor in Criminal Justice from Georgia State University in 1994 and a master’s degree in Administration from Central Michigan University.

Governor Kemp also signed Senate Bill 65 to allow the state to stand up an alternative to the federal healthcare marketplace website, according to the Associated Press via the Statesboro Herald.

The Republican governor said during a ceremony at the state Capitol that the law would create a better way of people “knowing and comparing their health care insurance options” and bring “further competition to the field.”

“Georgians know their needs and those of their families best,” he said.

Senate Bill 65, allowing the state marketplace, took effect with Kemp’s signature. It reverses an earlier law which blocked the state from establishing its own health care exchange. That law was part of an effort to blockade Georgia from participating in the Affordable Care Act under then-President Barack Obama. However, the federal government has been providing coverage through the Healthcare.gov website, and nearly 900,000 Georgians signed up for individual coverage during the yearly enrollment period that ended Jan. 15.

Insurance Department spokesperson Weston Burleson said Georgia officials hope to launch the state marketplace as early as this November. However, federal officials could push back Georgia’s launch date until 2024. Federal rules usually require states to spend at least 15 months constructing their own marketplace.

Kemp administration officials say they’re prepared to launch the marketplace quickly because of all the work they did on the earlier proposal, on which they spent at least $31 million.

Details of the merger of Augusta University Health into Wellstar are becoming public, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

The office of Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr received the notice on Friday, kicking off a legal review followed by a public hearing. This also means that the agreement is finalized and can be released to the public for the first time.

The 89 documents included in the notice to the attorney general’s office offers in detail what the transfer will mean, including a cover letter outlining the highlights of the agreement.

The cover letter notes that the transaction is not a sale; Wellstar will become the “sole corporate member” of AU Health. The agreement comes with a hefty financial commitment from Wellstar − $797 million spent over 10 years. This includes:

• Construction of the Columbia County Hospital and moving the Surgery Center of Columbia County;
• Implementing the Epic Electronic Health Record System (which the state contributed $105 million to earlier this year);
• $31 million a year for the first two years of the agreement spent at the AU Medical Center Campus; and,
• $139 million spent on capital projects at the AU Medical Center in Augusta in years three through 10 of the agreement.

About a quarter of the spending is subject to performance, meaning Wellstar can defer $201 million of the spending if the AU Health System is not operating with a 2% operating margin.

Wellstar and AU Health will work to establish a regional medical campus for Medical College of Georgia students at Wellstar Kennestone Regional Medical Center in Marietta.

Wellstar will take on some of AU Health’s debt, and commits in the meantime on working to avoid violating the terms of the debt.

Other documents outlined in the cover letter include an agreement to allow AUMC to continue as the primary teaching hospital for the Medical College of Georgia, an agreement to allow MCG faculty to provide medical services through Wellstar, the leases and the development agreement for the Columbia County Hospital. The attached development agreement; however, is unfinished and consists of one page reading “to be provided upon completion.”

Some election check-in tablets were stolen from DeKalb County, according to the AJC.

Police are investigating the theft of 19 voter check-in tablets from a DeKalb County warehouse, but Georgia election officials say the crime didn’t put voters’ information at risk.

The new devices hadn’t been loaded with any voter data, and they don’t generate ballots or count votes, said Mike Hassinger, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office.

The tablets, called PollPads, went missing from a former Sam’s Club store in Stonecrest that the county uses as an equipment warehouse, Hassinger said. An exit door had fresh pry marks where thieves might have gained entry between Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning.

Savannah might have a spicy race for City Council district three, according to the Savannah Morning News.

In the Savannah City Council District 3 election race, two candidates have previous charges from Savannah Police, according to records acquired by Savannah Morning News.

An open records request for Savannah police narrative reports involving each of the four District 3 candidates revealed these arrests and other incidents of note. The public records query was prompted by reports of disorderly conduct charge against one of the candidates, Malik Jones, and allegations from community members that another of the challengers, Todd Rhodes, had an arrest record.

Jones, who works as a motivational speaker, was charged with disorderly conduct earlier this year after he attempted to retrieve his improperly placed campaign signs from the back of a city code compliance truck.

Following the publishing of reports about Jones’ incident, accusations emerged about Rhodes and a 2015 dispute with his wife. The altercation led to two domestic violence charges: one for simple battery and one for cruelty to children.

The incumbent, Alderwoman Linda Wilder-Bryan, has no charges with Savannah Police, though she was listed in a report from an incident in February. Officers responded to a complaint that involved her blocking entry to a business’s parking lot with her car, preventing another driver from making a delivery.

Clinton Cowart has no charges with Savannah Police, only calls for service, most of which involve reports of larceny.

For municipal elections, the city clerk, Mark Massey, serves as the elections supervisor and will hear any challenges to the eligibility of candidates. In 2020, a resident called for a challenge to Chatham County Commission candidate Tony Riley, who had been convicted of a felony and served time in prison. Ultimately, the challenge to Riley’s eligibility was heard by the Chatham Board of Elections, the body that serves as the election supervisor for county races. The board voted to disqualify Riley.

“If a similar challenge [to the 2020 Riley challenge] is made at the City, as the elections superintendent I will receive the challenge. If a challenge warrants the need for a hearing, the person making the challenge will be heard. Whoever is named in the challenge will also have the opportunity to be heard,” Massey said via email.

It’s not clear whether Clinton Cowart’s favorite band is The Cure or Flock of Seagulls, but he’s clearly a member in good standing of Generation X. [P.S. – looking for tickets to The Cure in Atlanta if anyone bought and cannot attend:-)]

Augusta City Commissioners voted to remove the name of convicted former Commissioner Sammie Sias from a local street, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

The Augusta Commission on Tuesday voted to rename Sammie Sias Way to Jamestown Lane, effective immediately.

Sias was accused by a former employee of sexual misconduct, pocketing $10,000 of SPLOST funds, and mistreating children at the Jamestown Community Center – a center he was been long criticized for managing while serving as a commissioner.

Sias was found guilty in July 2022 after a four-day trial of destroying records in a federal investigation and then lying about it to federal investigators researching the case.

COVID is still affecting services for homeless and food-insecure people, according to the Albany Herald.

Food banks across the country also are dealing with higher demand and less food available for distribution, said Frank Sheppard, president and CEO of the Columbus-based Feeding the Valley Food Bank.

“It’s a perfect storm of a number of issues, from the supply chain to the inflation to the pandemic,” he said of the current situation. “Oddly, canned goods are very difficult to acquire. Canned goods go into every one of the 12,000 boxes we supply to families every month. It’s one of those situations we’ve never imagined in 40 years of food banking.”

During the pandemic, the U.S. Department of Agriculture increased its supply of food for organizations like Feeding the Valley, but that has been reduced. In November, Sheppard said that food supplies were 40% below pre-pandemic levels, and the need has been increasing due to inflation.

Eventually the supply chain issues will be worked out, but there are other challenges for the food bank, which began operation in Dougherty County serving it and three additional counties in June 2019. Calhoun, Clay, Dougherty, Quitman, Randolph and Terrell counties are among the most poverty-stricken in the state, Sheppard said.

“In some of those counties, child food insecurity is 40%,” he said. “(For the elderly) it’s sheer numbers, with the Baby Boomer generation getting up there. Ten thousand people a day are turning 65, and some of them don’t have the resources to make it alone.”

The Coastal Health District said some Georgians should still be careful of COVID, according to The Brunswick News.

“COVID has not disappeared and some people are at higher risk of getting really sick if they get COVID-19,” warns Ginger Heidel, public information officer for the eight-county Coastal Health District.

“The CDC’s new recommendations give health care providers more flexibility to administer another (vaccine) dose to individuals over 65 and to folks with immune system concerns. If these individuals received an updated booster shot when the bivalent vaccine was first introduced last year, then 6 months or more may have passed since they were vaccinated and their immunity may be waning.”

The Coastal Health District includes Glynn, Camden, McIntosh, Liberty, Long, Bryan, Chatham and Effingham counties.

“If you fall into the high-risk age group and you’re not sure if you should get another booster dose, then I encourage you to talk with your health care provider for advice,” Heidel said.

Savannah’s federal courthouse collapse was caused by insufficient support, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Federal officials have shared what they believe caused a collapse at the Tomochichi Federal Courthouse in downtown Savannah last month.

According to a General Services Administration (GSA) spokesperson, the support holding up a section of the third floor was “insufficient.”

Three construction workers were injured when part of the third floor collapsed onto the second floor on April 11.

Some Savannah State University students rallied for more funding, according to the Savannah Morning News.

With news of being in an $11 million deficit, they are pleading with the public to help get the proper funding because they fear the school might close.

Officials have had to cut its operating budget by 10% and its travel budget by 50% because of declining enrollment.

State Representative Carl Gilliard tells News 3 that this is not just a Savannah State issue and that a lot of HBCUs are struggling to get proper funding. He and his team from the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus are committed to helping Savannah State keep its doors open.

“Savannah State might come and ask for $3 to $5 million and that might be their cap window but the other universities because of the formula that can ask for 33 and 43. That’s a double standard somewhere. Our formula is really off. Savannah State has an 11 million dollar deficit, and it’s not by their own fault, it’s just that the way the formula are given to black universities. They have not been given their fair share of the money needed to be appropriate for survival,” Gilliard said.

[Savannah State student Natori] Milner said, “the point that Georgia is underfunding us, is really kinda sad because although we were first here more people like even though it’s like Atlanta and other communities, they’re getting more money than we are. We’re an HBCU, other HBCUs like as we saw with Fort Valley they have a higher amount of money that they’re getting paid. We’re only getting funded 89 point something mil for the whole next year that’s not enough to run a community.”

The Dalton Board of Education set two public hearings ahead of its consideration of the FY 2024 budget proposal, according to the Dalton Daily Citizen News.

The Bulloch County Board of Education is working on their FY 2024 budget, which includes considerable state and federal funding, according to the Statesboro Herald.

The Bulloch County Board of Education is looking at a proposed $140.2 million fiscal year 2024 general fund budget as the school system begins spending down a massive $59 million fund balance from special federal cash received during the COVID years.

As part of this, Bulloch County Schools will continue delivering on previously awarded raises for all employees. These include a $2,500 boost in local supplement for teachers and other certified educators and a locally funded $3-an-hour raise for non-certified school employees, which Superintendent Charles Wilson proposed in January and board members agreed to make retroactive to the beginning of the calendar year. In addition, the school system’s budget shows the pass-through effect of the $2,000 state raise for certified educators Gov. Brian Kemp proposed in January.

Besides covering the raises, the budget proposal also shifts some payroll and other expenses back to the general fund that three years ago were transferred to special budgets for federal funding received under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act of 2020, and similar legislation.

The $140.2 million in general-fund spending proposed for fiscal 2024 amounts to a $22.7 million, or 19.3%, increase over the school system’s actual spending in the 2023 fiscal year, ending June 30. But since expenditures in the current fiscal year had already increased from the originally budgeted $107.4 million to a revised estimate of $117.5 million, the proposed $140.2 million spending for fiscal 2024 reflects an increase of about 30% over the current year’s original general-fund budget.

The $3 raise for non-certified employees is projected to cost $1.1 million more for the year; the $2,500 local supplement boost for certified educators, $1.3 million; and the pass-through state teacher raise $1.54 million. But salaries transferred back from the special CARES-related funds add almost $4.9 million spending back to the general fund.

Tybee Island City Manager Shawn Gillen said higher attendance at Orange Crush was too much and left the city unprepared, according to WTOC.

Tybee Island’s city manager called Orange Crush in particular, “unprecedented” and the city’s mayor called some of the issues around the event “horrifying.”

“This event was twice the size of any Orange Crush event in history,” Gillen said. “…We could have and should have been better prepared. Had we known the level of attendance that was going to be here, we could have called the DOJ and said this is not going to work, because we’re expecting 50,000 people. Not 20,000 or 30,000. We had no evidence to show that, other than social media chatter. Now that we know it, a failure would be not to be ready for the next one.”

Gillen says a few years ago, they’ve been accused of profiling for having a heavy police presence on the island ahead of the beach bash which resulted in an agreement with the Department of Justice.

“We were limited on what we could do for various reasons,” Gillen said. “Now we’re freed up from that.”

Mayor Shirley Sessions says they do not have the authority to call a state of emergency. She says they will start looking at creating a plan for unpermitted events and a crisis plan for when an unexpected amount of people are on the beach.

“It is not a race thing,” Sessions said. “It’s not a religious thing. It’s not a political thing. It is a behavioral thing.”

She also mentioned asking universities in Georgia to discourage their students from coming to Orange Crush.

Gillen says the conversation will go beyond this room and continue with state legislators.

“We need to come up with some sort of regional plan for how to handle that level or traffic, especially what’s the limits on Tybee Island and what do we do at that point.”

Milledgeville’s fire department is contending with rising salaries, according to 13WMAZ.

Milledgeville’s Fire Department says they need higher pay or they’ll keep losing staff.

They say that their situation is critical and explain why they need the money.

Battalion Chief David Ussery says 13 people have left the fire station since last year. He says now more than half the staff has less than two years of experience, and that could be dangerous for both them and the community.
“We cannot neglect it this year,” he says. “We have to address the salaries.”

Ussery says the city has failed to address their salary problems for years. He says they’re now at a critical point with staff leaving.

“It wasn’t just our young firefighters, it was our middle management that left,” Ussery says. “The risk drastically increase by not having experienced firefighters.”

He says they’ve asked the city for a $400,000 total pay raise and it’s being wasted in other ways.

“Every time we hire a firefighter, it costs the city of Milledgeville $26,900.”

He says once trained, those firefighters often leave after a year for better pay somewhere else.

He says it usually takes at least two years of experience to promote someone to their sergeant and company officer positions. However, their staff shortages have them promoting folks sooner.

[Sergeant Courtney] Butts says she made $31,000 as a starting firefighter, but even with a promotion she works two jobs.

“To make it day by day, we have to find something else to do. If I could, I wouldn’t have to work a second job. Just getting off and going to another job while I’m working four to five days straight,” she explains. “Just being 23 years old, it’s tough.”

“Surrounding counties are paying more,” she says. “Everybody has other obligations other than being a firefighter. They have things they have to do at home, families to take care of, bills.”

She says if the pay doesn’t increase she may have to leave too.

“This is my hometown, this is my community and I would hate to have to go, but at the end of the day I got to make the best decision that’s for myself. That’s a loss because if we’re losing all of our people, then who’s gonna be here to protect all the people,” Butts asks.

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