January 18, 2016

 
Mike Buckel, HCPOA board member, lead the program, a presentation on the Corps of Engineers recent rule change covering water withdrawals and irrigation permitting for private property owners.


Mike welcomed all attending and recognized the following special guests: 

U.S Representative Doug Collins,

Corps Operations Project Manager George Bramlette,

Ms. Sandy Campbell, Corps Natural Resources Program Manager,

Joel Katz, District Director at the Office of Congressman Collins;

Frank Redmond, representing U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson’s office;

Andrew Seaver, representing U.S. Senator David Perdue;

And Mr. Herb Burnham, Executive Director of the Lake Hartwell Association.

 

Sheriff Cleveland briefly addressed those attending suggesting a need to calmly exercise our right to appeal grievances through government channels before excusing himself as he was “on duty” that evening. 


Mike Buckel began by citing several facts employing power point slides:

1.  Effective January 1, 2016, the Corps has revoked lake water withdrawals by residential property owners for all reservoirs within the Corps South Atlantic Region as they are not “authorized” by Congress to do so.   A permitted owner may continue to irrigate until the expiration of their current permit.

2.  Lake Hartwell water belongs to the States of Georgia and South Carolina; not the federal  government.

3.  Currently there are approximately 2,660 irrigation permits on Lake Hartwell.

4.  The amount of water withdrawn by Hartwell permit holders is trivial as compared to Corps water releases. 

5.  There are no restrictions on withdrawals by municipal water systems; thus those with access to these systems could very well be withdrawing the same water.

6.  This was an arbitrary cancellation of permit holders’ right to irrigate. 

 

Concluding, Mike urged everyone to write their local, State, and national representatives to rectify the ruling.  He welcomed Corps Manager, George Bramlette, who gave a brief overview of management practices covering the 5 South Atlantic Districts.  He noted the Corps does not operate independently but is subject to congressional authorizations and regulations.  Primarily, these include river basin flood control, power generation, navigation, water quality, fish and wildlife, and recreation. Hartwell has the largest shoreline management program in the nation.  The Corps did allow certain privileges in the past years; but, recently during a review of issues brought about by the Tri State water dispute, it has been determined that current federal regulations do not allow them to permit or authorize lake withdrawals on any scale by residential property owners.  Only industrial and municipal entities are allowed allocation contracts.  Concluding, he noted Resource Program Manager, Sandy Campbell, has had 5 weeks at an Atlanta office task group studying the management consequences of this ruling. 

Ms. Campbell emphasized the retraction of residential permitting is “not a discretionary policy but an authority issue.”  She agreed the retraction is not about the quantity of water used by residential permitting and commented that this change was not something their Division requested. She referenced the Tri State litigation and their scrutiny of stake holders’ water usage as the States owned the water and each State’s specific entitlement. Further, she stated during the Tri State investigations they determined the Corps did not have the authority to allow residential permitting.  Congress gave the Corps a legal way to allow industrial and municipal users by reallocation of the original Congressional mandate through approved water contracts. Sandy concluded by answering a few audience questions and would address additional questions at meeting end.

Speaking next, Rep. Doug Collins stressed the good job our local Corps representatives do.  But there is and has been a problematic relation with the Corps throughout the United States resulting from ever changing Corps military governance.  He emphatically stated this was an arbitrary decision by the Corps.  He continued advising the 9th District covers most of the head waters of Corps jurisdiction but there are constantly changing and differing parameters for these lake regions.  Because of this he and other congressmen started the Corps of Engineer caucus to deal with the lack of honest and confusing responses by Corps officials to problems.  He stated Congress sets Corps policy and budgets and queried why Congress did not know the Corps was rescinding water withdrawal privileges.  He questioned

1. Why the Tri State water wars were instrumental now in this decision when they were 25 years old;

2. Why no one in the DC office contacted Congress to request an adjustment to their mandate;

3. Why the lack of public hearings;

4. Why other State government officials were not notified of this rescindment. 


Summing, Rep. Collins said the withdrawal change was a unilateral decision with no transparency and he promised to work for the 9th District and Georgia to reverse this ruling.

 Frank Redmond and Andrew Seaver each pledged their offices’ support to repeal the Corps regulation.  A lively question and answer period followed the guests’ comments.



February 14, 2016


Garry opened the meeting by introducing Northern Judicial District Attorney, Parks White.  Parks advised attendees of his candidacy for re-election and gave a brief accounting of the accomplishments, prosecution rate, and resolution of open cases during the past three years.  He welcomed everyone to attend his official “kick-off event” on March 08 and responded to questions.

Board Member, Mike Buckel, reported on the Corps of Engineers official suspension of their January 01, 2016, regulation revoking residential water withdrawals by Lake Hartwell property owners.  He acknowledged the prompt response and work by by U.S. Representative Doug Collins pressuring the Corps to reverse this ruling.  Mike concluded his update with the introduction of our next speaker, Mr. Steve Zemaitis.

Mr. Zemaitis, parent of a Hart High School Junior, discussed points from his recent presentation before the Hart Board of Education.  As all parents want the best educational opportunities for their children, he shared his concerns on advancement placement classes offered to high performing students. 

His assessment is that advanced placement classes are not preparing Hart students to achieve sufficiently high SAT test scores and they are not prepared for education at major universities such as Georgia Tech or Clemson.  He feels Hart County High School AP classes are considered “as practice” for college.  Steve based his conclusions on a comparison of Hart students’ SAT scores on reading, math and writing against the higher Georgia average and those of students entering local Anderson and Emmanuel colleges as well as those entering Clemson, UGA and Georgia Tech.  The lower Hart student score of 1,338 indicates weakness in the high school college preparatory program and is a disservice to our students. He concluded his presentation by responding to member questions.

Our final speaker, Dwayne Dye, Director of Economic Development for the Hart County Industrial Building Authority, began by recapping the economic development of the last 10 years in the county.  The purpose of the Industrial Building Authority is to recruit advanced manufacturing jobs that require skilled labor and an educated work force with suitable employee skills and work ethics.  He advised the quality of industries coming to Hart County are raising the bar on employment opportunities and skills within the county.  This is reflected in an increase of average wages by 17%.  The Authority is continuing to recruit diversified industries and develop a desirable and growing base of career opportunities for Hart residents.  A lively question and answer period followed and Dwayne concluded by advising the last 10 years have been personally rewarding to him to help grow the Hart County industrial base.



 March 21, 2016
 
Board Member Mike Buckel addressed the gathering inviting everyone to attend a meeting with the Corps of Engineers, Lake Hartwell Association, and GA Congressman Doug Collins and SC Congressman Jeff Duncan on March 24, at the Clemson C Administration building on Tiger Blvd., beginning at 10:00 a.m.  Mike urged everyone to attend and support the efforts of Congressman Collins and our association to urge the Corps to understand and be responsive to the concerns of property owners on both sides of Lake Hartwell.


President Garry Hamilton next welcomed the evening’s speakers, District 4 County Commissioner, Ricky Carter, and Vice Chair Frankie Teasley, from District 2.  Ricky began with a brief history of earlier SPLOST funding and advised the County is nearing the end of SPLOST 4.  SPLOST 5 will be a 6 year SPLOST governed by new State regulations.  He stated in recent years the City and County have worked well together on SPLOST issues and explained the division of funding between cities in the county and Hart County itself. 


Key points made by Commissioners Carter and Teasley were:

a. Hart County runs on a pay as you go system and prefers not to borrow funds;

b. The State of Georgia collects the SPLOST dollars and sends it to the County each month for disbursement to the various city and county departments. 

c. Capital improvements are funded by SPLOST dollars; this includes new road projects, economic development, and other infrastructure projects. 

d. Currently, Commissioners are not receiving accountability reports on the SPLOST project expenses after allocating funding for them. 


A lively discussion ensued with the Commissioners concerning needed projects and purposing of SPLOST funds for them with those in attendance.  Expansion of the county water system was of particular interest to most.



  April 18, 2016

President Garry Hamilton introduced the evening’s guests, Richard Sutherland, Hart BOE member, and Jerry Cannady, of the Hart County Water Board, and surprise guest, Hart County Superintendent of Schools, Jay Floyd.

Richard Sutherland began by expressing his belief that Board members should be “listeners” and acknowledged building trust in the Board of Education is a major problem he is working to resolve.  He stated honesty and integrity is important in all aspects of educational administration and he personally feels “that if I can’t trust you, I will fire you.” 

Main Points addressed by Mr. Sutherland included:

1. Budget is under preparation; trying to close the gap between what is needed & what is allocated.

2. Stressed importance of mentoring children at all levels of Hart schools.  Many of our children need a one-on-one relationship with a caring adult; offered his personal cell number, if anyone would like to volunteer.

3. There are no plans at present to support establishment of the 4H at the AG Center; as the 4H nor has the State been an active participant or offered financial support towards AG Center.

4. Academic scores are trending up; he feels teachers are saddled with too many tasks and academics suffer.

5. Bus drivers, custodians, and cafeteria play a positive role in students’ learning temperament.  School housekeeping is improved.

6. 3% State Budget increase will be spread across the board of classified workers especially those who have not had a wage increase in 10 years. Hart County has lowest classified worker pay scale in our District of 19 school systems.

7.  Promised to post better descriptions of the BOE agendas on their website.  Procurement process is to be re-evaluated with policy defining what needs Board approval.

Concluding, Mr. Sutherland took questions from attendees.  Main points discussed were: 

a. The training for the mentor program is insuffient;

b. New budget includes input from teachers and staff;

c. A replacement schedule has been developed to minimize equipment breakdown and retention of obsolete equipment.
 

Our next speakers, Jerry Cannady and Pat Goran, of the Hart County Water and Sewer Authority were introduced by Garry.

Jerry began by defining where water lines are currently in the County.  He explained the Water Authority is funded by SPLOST dollars for capital expenditures only and government programs at the State level.  They also can apply for grants which have strict guidelines for their use. 

Main discussion points centered on:

Water line construction is progressing further down the Reed Creek Highway;

Need and system requirements primarily govern construction of new water lines. 

Community water systems are insufficient to provide proper firefighting capability. 

Average cost to put pipe in the ground on a major artery is $175,000 - $200,000 per mile.

Current customer base is 1500 customers; 

Customer cost for hookup is payment of:  $1,275.00 before construction; and current policy states that there must be 50% participation to hookup on any one street.

Franklin and Stephens Counties allocate much more of their SPLOST funds to water line building. 

In conclusion Jerry and Pat asked all attending to urge their County Commissioners to allocate a higher percentage of SPLOST funds to the Water Authority.



 

May 16, 2016


Mike Buckel, gave a brief synopsis of Hart County School Board activities:

a. Tentative budget for fiscal year 2017 which begins July 01;
b. Current cash reserve is $13 million; they are operating 14% under budget.
c. Asking for a local tax increase of $1 million, from 12 ½ to 13 ½ million dollars.
d. State of GA is increasing their funding by nearly an extra million to a total of $16.7 million;
e. Total budget is $31.7 million; current spending is $20,000,000. on the wellness/gym center; $2.5 million on the AG Center, plus additional costs for upgrades such as the turf, and new scoreboards.

The tentative budget includes an increase in sports supplemental pay and nearly $95,000.00 for an athletic director.

Mike noted our Hart County School board has a “rainy day fund” to operate the school system for 6 months which is a significant contrast to the City of Atlanta which has a 30 day supplemental operating fund.
 
He also advised the Corps of Engineers is no longer issuing new permits for personal irrigation.  Current permits holders will be “grandfathered in.”  This development has been brought to Rep. Doug Collins’ attention to address.

 
Mr. Bill Chafin, Hartwell Housing Authority Chairman, familiarized everyone with subsidized housing in Hartwell and their operating guidelines.

Bill advised they are an independent body operating public housing under authority by the Board of Commissioners per federal and state guidelines.  Now, Policy must be approved by the U.S. government.  The Housing Board is comprised of 5 volunteer members who serve 5 year terms supervising 174 units.  Residents are charged rent based on their annual income.  Rent fees are reduced by certain age, disability, unusual medical complications, major medical bills and children.  They primarily serve low income, elderly and disabled in agreement with the City of Hartwell. 

A lively discussion ensued with Mr. Chafin answering many topics such as: Payment policies, maintenance and security of housing units, tenant complaints, tenant privately owned vehicle policy, and defining of tenant income for reduced rent.  He concluded, saying the hardest thing about following the operating regulations is that they do not include one word about “compassion.”  Regulations must be followed without exception.



  June 20, 2016

 
Our guest speaker, Garrick Chidester, VP of AnMed Patient Services & Health emphasized AnMed’s long term commitment to Hartwell and that his job was to listen to our concerns for health needs and activities.

He said AnMed was established in 1908 and currently has 5 hospitals in the system. They employ 3,700 and enjoy an excellent managing, stable Board.  They are a not-for-profit organization and are privately, independently operated; one of a few hospitals with such a distinction. They manage Elbert Memorial Hospital and are upgrading services there.  He urged that attendees ask their Georgia insurance payers to add AnMed as a GA certified health provider.

Next was an update on the Highway 29 property purchase and the proposed 23,000 sq. ft. facility expected to be built beginning this August.  It will include an urgent care center, and relocation of the current Hartwell AnMed medical practice to this site, and provide some diagnostic and CT scanning services here. It will not include a senior care facility at this time.

Garrick opened the meeting for discussion and audience input.  Interesting topics discussed were: the certificate of need process for an emergency room; construction of a helipad for our EMS providers to meet the AnMed helicopter for transport to the AnMed Anderson hospital or another.

He discussed how health care is in a transitional basis; and a big issue is Medicare funding.  He stated when GA and SC legislators gave up the funds associated with Obamacare, the States are now forced to make up those funds.  He concluded his remarks by advising AnMed wants to do what they can to develop not only residents’ personal health but the economic health of Hart County.



August 15, 2016


Board member, Mike Buckel introduced the evening’s topic, Hart County Financing, by explaining that there are three taxing authorities within the county: the county (represented by the County Commissioners), the school system, and the City of Hartwell.

The school system gets the largest share.

Key points made regarding the school system were:

     1.  The school system currently has a large reserve fund built up by overbudgeting.

     2.  Projects underway at this time include a new Health and Wellness Center

          (gymnasium), a College and Career Academy, and an Agricultural Center.

     3.  Money from the large reserve fund is being transferred for enhancements to some

          of the building projects as well as to the football field and scoreboards, resulting in

          significant amounts being spent on non-academic purposes.

     4.  Based on test scores from the GA Dept. of Education data for 2016, Hart County  

          students did not meet State averages in some areas.




The County has been very frugal with their budgeting in an effort to avoid raising 
property taxes, however, it is reaching the point of significant distress in meeting its obligations due to its lack of reserve funds and underfunded budget.

HCPOA believes there needs to be cooperation between the County and the Board of Education, as too many county needs are not being met.  Needs must be taken care of before ‘wish lists’  Highlights of Meeting on September 19, 2016


President, Garry Hamilton introduced the first speaker of the evening, Ron Osburn, Commander of the Golden Corner Lakes Power Squadron which is a unit of the United States Power Squadron.  The national organization was founded in 1914 and now has 54,000 members in 33 districts across the country.

Commander Osburn gave a power point presentation with information on the three main categories which comprise the functions and activities of the organization:  1) Civic Service Contributions (public boating courses; vessel safety checks; learning guides for GPS, radar, and charting; skipper safety program; boating for kids.  2) Fraternal Activities (rendezvous and raft trips, piloting contests, sailboat races, cruises to other states.  3) Self Education of Members (includes five advanced courses for members, and seven elective courses).

Garry introduced the second speaker, Tony Bell, from the organization of International Optimist Clubs.  At one time Hartwell had one of the largest Optimist Clubs in Georgia and Mr. Bell is interested in revitalizing that club or starting a new club in the area. 

A main focus of Optimist Clubs involves helping children and teens by raising funds for childhood cancer research, mentoring, providing scholarships, and sponsoring Little League teams and a Junior golf program.  Optimist Clubs also partner with other community service organizations to help with blood drives, food pantries, and other volunteer staffed activities throughout the community.

Both speakers welcomed inquiries about membership in their respective organizations.