2017-04-20 / Front Page

RYDC will offer 104 jobs; moratorium still in force

By JANE ELLYN AARON and SPARKY NEWSOME

“There will be 104 jobs coming to this county,” the DJJ’s Harold Cooper told the Wilkes County Commissioners, and he estimated that would translate to something over $3 million in payroll.

Some of those jobs will begin to be filled as early as next month when the Department of Juvenile Justice conducts the first of several job fairs to staff the new Regional Youth Detention Center currently under construction at the site of the former Pre-Release Center on Industrial Park Road just south of Washington. That job fair is set for Thursday, May 4, at The Pope Center from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

Efforts to bring the facility to life again have been underway since the Pre-Release Center was closed by the state in 2011 and many government officials have contributed. “It took a long time for this to happen, it wasn’t just overnight,” Wilkes County Commission Chairman Sam Moore said. “It took years and a lot of effort from our senators and representatives.” He specifically mentioned the work of Mickey Channel and Bill Jackson who have since retired from the Georgia legislature.

“It’s amazing what they have done out there and how they have transformed the facility,” Moore continued. “They have built a 12,000-square-foot gymnasium, and the housing is completely different.

“They claim it’s going to be a state-of-the-art juvenile facility, as far a rehabilitation and getting them ready to get back in the community. This is going to be a facility that the state is going to want to show.”

Cooper, who is Deputy Director of the DJJ’s Office of Human Resources, said, “We want to provide an opportunity for citizens in this county to be a part of this movement. We hope that it brings economic growth and development here and we hope it brings that by way of job opportunities for the citizens in this community.

“We’re looking for educators,” Cooper continued. “We’re looking for people to work in human services, in the medical profession, in counseling. There is going to be a plethora of jobs over the whole gamut of job categories.”

Cooper went on to explain that the reason this facility is a “Regional Youth Detention Center” is because that designation means it is a shortterm security facility. “That means for the young people who will be housed here, while their crimes are serious enough for them to be detained, their stop here is more of a rehabilitation stop to get them acclimated back to society,” he said. He pointed out that those who have committed crimes of a “more heinous” or felony nature are held at separate facilities.

The facility in Wilkes County is designed to house about 40 males and eight females, typically ages 13-18, and is scheduled to open in December of this year.

While job fairs will take place beginning May 4, actual hiring is not expected until September. The first job fair will focus on correction officers; a schedule for general job fairs has not yet been announced.

“House bill 242 for juvenile rehabilitation reform speaks more to the rehabilitation of youth, especially the targeted youth that we have for Wilkes County,” Cooper said. “They have made a wrong turn but they are salvageable and have redeemable quality. That’s why we have the state-of-the-art options that we are putting in place. That’s why we have the different training initiatives so that these young people can be equipped with skill sets to make them productive in society and lessens the chance of recidivism.”

When questions about drug abuse within the facility were expressed, Cooper said there will be trained, licensed counselors in place to deal with those issues. Also, he said, “In terms of smuggling drugs into a facility, we have a stiff, stiff, stiff, and stringent contraband policy; and in addition to that, we also have our own investigative team with arrest powers. There are safeguards in place.” Among those safeguards, he mentioned daily checks for contraband.

Commissioners heard again from a group of visitors concerned with the number of chicken houses in and proposed for Wilkes County. In previous meetings, groups have asked for various limitations on poultry house operations and have even presented their own draft of an ordinance governing those operations. A 60-day moratorium on building poultry houses was imposed by the Commission in February and was due to expire.

The original moratorium was imposed in order to allow the Planning Commission time to investigate and study the effects of multiple poultry houses on water quality and other environmental concerns. The next meeting of the Planning Commission is set for May 16, at which public comments and suggestions will be heard. A second meeting, according to County Attorney Charles LeGette, will be held on May 23 for commission members to discuss possible actions to be taken. Both meetings will be advertised in this newspaper at the appropriate time. Members of the Planning Commission are Kyle Brown, Cindy Bounds, Marshall Garrett, Roger Harper, Marvin McAvoy, Clay Walker, and Randolph Wilkinson.

The Wilkes County Board of Commissioners will then consider action on the recommendation of the Planning Commission – most likely at the June meeting.

Susan Abramson, who had previously raised concerns about the moratorium running out, asked that it be extended until both boards act. She also asked for continued consideration of her proposed orachievement dinance which was modeled after a Greene County ordinance already in existence.

Craig Jones suggested that it would be “a good idea to tie the moratorium to events rather than a particular time.”

With permits for some 48 chicken houses already issued, dating as far back as April 2016, Moore indicated that he doesn’t think as many will be built as originally planned.

“I can’t help but think that there are some people who are waiting for this moratorium to expire and possibly come to you for permits before the Planning Commission can give their views and their ideas and their recommendation,” Sharon Liggett of Rayle said.

“If they know that legislation is afoot and y’all are eventually going to do something and that it just may take some time to do it; and the moratorium runs out in the meantime, you may have a big rush on building these things,” Jones said. “Anybody who wants to build a chicken house in the next couple of years might go ahead and do it in the next couple of months. So it just makes sense to keep the status quo until you have the rules.”

Commissioner Clem Slaton made the motion to extend the moratorium another 60 days, which would keep it in place until after the June commissioners meeting – time enough for the Planning Commission and Board of Commissioner to act. The motion received unanimous approval.

Wilkes County Jail and 911 Administrator Jerry Hackney reported that the 911 building project behind the jail is nearing completion. He said he has been through the “punch list” and the next phase is the acquisition of equipment.

Moore pointed out that funding has been arranged by putting money back for a number of years so it would be available when the system is installed and “it looks like it is going to be enough,” He said. “It’s really going to make a big difference for us.”

“We realize that 911 systems are evolving as technology evolves and those mandates are being pushed down from the federal level and from other agencies such as ISO. They want reports showing times of response and all so that’s a mandate that we have to have in order to show them that our times are accurate.”

The new system will be able to locate the point of a cell phone call, for example. The current system can’t do that on its own and assistance from cellular companies is time consuming and not always reliable, according to Hackney.

Both Moore and Hackney spoke highly of the prison detail which has worked on the construction of the center providing essentially “free labor.” Hackney pointed out that the workers have built the Athens Tech Career Center, the animal shelter, restrooms at Holliday Park, the 911 Center, a pavillion at Holliday Park, a concession stand at W-WPRD, a roof on the GSP station, and have worked numerous times on the jail.

“They have worked here for years and saved us millions of dollars by having the relationship that we’ve had with the Department of Corrections,” Moore said. “We really appreciate them and they have been a big help to us.”

All of the commissioners, Esper Lee, Ed Geddings, Charles Jackson, Slaton, and Moore, were in attendance at the meeting held Thursday, April 13. Also attending were County Clerk Karen Burton, LeGette, EMA Director Blake Thompson, and a large number of visitors.

In other business:

. Family Connection and Communities in Schools Executive Director Amethyst Wynn expressed her thanks to the county for the annual funding her programs receive for dealing with the problems of substance abuse, anti-bullying, and violence prevention. “We do things in the schools, in summer camp settings, and we actually do programming using research- and evidence-based system called ‘Too Good For Drugs,’” she said.

. Moore reported that Congressman Jody Hice visited earlier in the day and toured various places in the county including industrial properties and the hospital. He thanked Hice for coming and for his help on certain projects.

. The intergovernmental agreement between the county and the City of Washington providing for law enforcement coverage inside the city limits was approved for another year. Slaton pointed out that 70 percent of calls answered are in the city limits of Washington.

“Out where I live on the other side of Tignall, I might not see a patrol car for three days, and they [city residents] want to see it every ten minutes.” Slaton said the city’s police department budget had been as high as $1.2 million and they are paying the county only $500,000 for Sheriff’s Office coverage. “If they want this higher level of service, they should pay for it,” he said.

The agreement passed with Slaton in dissent.

. Another intergovernmental agreement, providing for Building Inspections and Code Enforcement for 2018 between the county and the City of Washington, was approved.

. Thompson reported that a bad wreck Monday morning in which two vehicles hit head-on near Rayle involved six people. Some of them were taken to the hospital in Athens, and one was airlifted.

“The biggest thing was our First Responders here in Wilkes County keeping those kids alive until EMS or the fire department arrived,” Thompson said. “It’s unreal what you get here in our county. I want to personally thank the First Responders, 911, Rayle Fire Department, and EMS. I think all of [the injured] are going to make it and the biggest thing is that all those people did such a great job.”

Thompson also reported on grant funds he expects to receive in the coming weeks.

Commissioners thanked him for his continued outstanding service and said, “We are really lucky to have Blake.”

The next regular meeting of the Wilkes County Board of Commissioners will be held on Thursday, May 11, at 6 p.m. in the Wilkes County courthouse with a work session in the chairman’s office immediately prior beginning at 5 p.m.

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