2017-12-07 / Front Page

Hospital, rural broadband, RYDC draw concern from representatives

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Washington Mayor Ames Barnett and State Rep. Trey Rhodes get in the spirit as State Sen. Lee Anderson charges the crowd with “Go Dawgs!” chants during last week’s Legislative Breakfast. Washington Mayor Ames Barnett and State Rep. Trey Rhodes get in the spirit as State Sen. Lee Anderson charges the crowd with “Go Dawgs!” chants during last week’s Legislative Breakfast. The increasing seriousness of issues troubling rural Georgia was the main focus at last Thursday’s Legislative Breakfast meeting, but at the same time, local leaders and legislators pointed out that in many ways, there’s a lot of good going on in Wilkes County.

Speaking for himself and for State Rep. Tom McCall who was unable to attend because of illness, State Rep. Trey Rhodes commented that they, along with State Sen. Lee Anderson “are a good team” in Atlanta and work well together. “I can promise you that we are thinking about y’all and doing our best for you,” he said. He also pointed out that ¬≠Wilkes County Commission Chairman Sam Moore, Probate Judge Thomas Charping, and Washington Mayor Ames Barnett are frequently “in Atlanta fighting for you.”

State Rep. Trey Rhodes explains some of the steps he has been working on to help solve rural Georgia’ health care, and broadband woes. To his left are (l-r) Jessica Hayes for Congressman Jody Hice, Jennifer Hayes for U.S. Senator David Perdue, and State Senator Lee Anderson. State Rep. Trey Rhodes explains some of the steps he has been working on to help solve rural Georgia’ health care, and broadband woes. To his left are (l-r) Jessica Hayes for Congressman Jody Hice, Jennifer Hayes for U.S. Senator David Perdue, and State Senator Lee Anderson. Rhodes described the recently created Rural Development Council which meets regularly to address the problems of rural Georgia.

“Of the 10 million people in this state, five million live inside I-285 – and then there’s the rest of us,” he said. “Our problems are not their problems so we try to solve some of the problems we have in rural Georgia.” The group also visits communities all over the state, talking to leaders and citizens, finding out their concerns and feelings about the needs of rural Georgia.

“We are trying to figure out everything we can figure out about rural Georgia, and what we hear about are jobs, health care, and broadband,” Rhodes reported. He further explained that those three major problem areas are all very connected. “If we’re going to have industry [jobs], we have to have health care and broadband,” he said.

Pointing to the current critical state of Wills Memorial Hospital as well as many other rural hospitals in the state, Rhodes said he has already been at work trying to find a way that the state can help.

“We took some steps last year with the rural tax credit measure and we’re going to do some more,” he said although he was unclear and unsure what that might be. Specific to Wills Memorial, he also indicated that he has been trying to put together a plan that would subsidize the hospital.

Moore commented that the troubles of Wills Memorial also apply to all rural hospitals in Georgia. “The state needs to come up with some legislation that will help,” he said. “The rural hospital tax credit is something they did last year. Now we are hoping they can find other ways to help rural hospitals whether it is through a local sales tax or something else.”

“I’ve been to Atlanta three times already working on a sales tax plan for your hospital,” Rhodes said. “There are some more hoops we have to jump through to get it done, but we’re working on it,” he said. However, concerning the sales tax plan, he seemed something less than confident when he added, “I wish I could promise you it is going to happen, but I can’t.”

“We hear you loud and clear and we know something has got to happen,” Anderson interjected. “We have got to do something. We have got to take care of our people. My door is open for any suggestions or ideas.”

Concerning broadband in rural Georgia, Anderson said, “We are ready to move forward there,” but he offered no specific plan to do so.

Rhodes said that they are working on the broadband problem with some of the “big companies” but “you can’t mandate a private business to do this or do that. We just have to keep on and keep on until they finally give in and see things our way. They do realize that there is a problem in rural Georgia.”

Anderson added, “We’re seeing things happen, that’s why we’re confident.” He said some things being considered include equipment on cell towers to provide service for anybody within two miles, and light pole to light pole installations along I-20 by the DOT.

Turning to the recent completion and anticipated opening of the new Regional Youth Detention Center in Washington, Moore again thanked all those local and state officials who worked so hard for many years to bring the facility to fruition.

“They are saying it’s going to provide 100 jobs, so we are really glad that it’s finally opening,” he said.

“We are not only excited about the jobs the RYDC will provide but also turning a young person’s life around and getting them on the right track to be a productive citizen,” Anderson commented. “This is one of those things that will help us take steps to save somebody, before they completely fall off the ledge, and get them back to being a productive citizen.”

Barnett pointed out that the center is not set up for punishment but rather for rehabilitation and will include education and training for the 14-18-year-olds who will spend time there. “There’s a whole school system within that complex and those kids are going to leave there with a diploma or a GED, and they are going to leave with skills and a trade,” he said.

Rhodes added that, “What they’re doing out there is unbelievable. These kids need us and sometimes all it takes is just a little bit. It breaks my heart to know that there will be some kids out there who will have no one to come see them at Christmas.” He then challenged everyone to go out and visit with the kids as often as possible.

Moore was confident that the local community will more than adequately supplement the support offered to the RYDC population. “I feel sure that our community will [visit them frequently] because when the Pre-Release Center was open, our community was one of the most involved in the whole state. And I’m sure with the children out there, we will be even more involved.”

“Those kids are coming in on December 20, right before Christmas, and to show them the love of Washington Wilkes would be awesome,” Barnett added.

On behalf of the Washington-­Wilkes Chamber of Commerce, President Ruthie Clements welcomed the crowd of about 100 to the breakfast and called on Rev. Adam Denny of the Tignall Baptist Church for the invocation. She also thanked Connie Danner for providing the buffet breakfast.

Carolyn Reynolds, vice chairman of the Wilkes County Community Partnership, which joined with the Chamber in sponsoring the event, also welcomed the crowd and outlined her organization’s role in the community.

“Our Family Connection Partnership continues to make a huge impact on the lives of families and children in this county,” she said. “We began this journey in the early 1990s and we have seen our children steadily progress and prosper through their participation in our various initiatives. Challenging and nurturing our kids to become productive, successful adult citizens means progress and growth for our entire community. Sometimes it hasn’t been easy but it has always been worth it. Encouraging one youth toward a lifetime of success is a victory.”

Marcell Johnson of the Georgia Family Connection Partnership said that the GFCP has been working with children and families for over 25 years to insure that children are born healthy, are ready for school, succeed in school when they get there, live in families that are economically self-sufficient, and live in thriving communities. She further spoke of a strategy meeting the day before at which programs for comprehensive “out-of-school time” programs were discussed and evaluated for possible implementation in Wilkes County.

“We had city government, county government, the rec department, the faith community, the partnership, the school system, community volunteers, the housing authority, and all kinds of partners at the table,” she reported. “That’s what it’s going to take if we want to make long-term systemic changes in our community.”

Others on the program who addressed the crowd included:

Jessica Hayes, Deputy Chief of Staff for Congressman Jody Hice – “One of the major things that we do here in our district offices is to help people with a variety of issues dealing with the federal government. We help people navigate through the bureaucracy and through the red tape of the VA. People may need help dealing with Medicare, Social Security, the IRS. If it has to do with a federal agency or a federal program we can act as an advocate.”

She also mentioned help with vacations to Washington D.C., flag requests, and tours, etc. One of her favorite things that the office does is to nominate young men and women for admission to the United States service academies. “We love this part of our job,” she said. “These scholarships can be worth upwards to half a million dollars.”

Hayes reported that an office in Thomson is open once a week in the city/county administration building on the second floor.

She further reported that just before Thanksgiving, the U.S House passed its tax reform bill and Congressman Hice is very pleased with it although he thinks “it could go a little further but it’s a step in the right direction, as far as bringing relief to middle class families.”

Jennifer Hayes, Director of Constituent Services for U.S. Senator David Perdue, also serves as a liaison between constituents and anything under the umbrella of federal government. She complimented Wilkes County on its outstanding hospitality and was planning on doing some shopping before returning to her office.

In other comments, Barnett reported on the status of the City of Washington and said that people can get a good idea just from looking around at The Square and at the different projects going on. “I just think that the town looks beautiful especially at this time of year. Your government and the way we conduct business for the city is the same way.”

He pointed to recent improvements to The Square and to the Christmas tree with ornaments made by school children making it a hub of activity and events. “We want the center of this town, the center of The Square, to be full of life and to show anybody who comes through that this town is full of life,” he said. “No matter what goes on out there, we always have somewhere to come back to. That’s the reason we started at The Square. There are some great days ahead for Washington.”

The mayor also complimented and thanked City Administrator Sherri Bailey for doing “an awesome job of running everything like it was her own.”

The mayor reported that the work being done on the south side or West Robert Toombs Avenue from Red Rabbit to The News-Reporter is the result of a DOT grant from two years ago. “What you see going on is none of your dollars,” he said. “It’s all state and sales tax dollars.” He further said that there have been complaints about the sidewalk area around Wings ’n’ Things “and we’re going to fix that area with the same crew that has worked on the Robert Toombs project.”

Moore reported that the county is currently working on the construction of fire departments in the Broad and Ficklen communities. Upon completion, the whole county will be ISO 6, he projected. “We really appreciate the citizens who gave the land to make that possible.”

The chairman also reported that Southern H Forest Products opened this year providing about 20 jobs and “they are doing a lot out there.” He said the county is also working with two other forest-related industries “so we have a lot going on and we hope it will help bring a lot more jobs to Wilkes County.”

Rhodes commented on the Georgia Chamber of Commerce 2030 Study which he said “will scare you.” The report says that “rural Georgia is dying,” according to Rhodes, who added, “We all know that. Over the next 12 years, they are projecting that rural Georgia is going to die by another 14-26 percent depending on where you are. We’ve got to stop that.”

Rhodes also said that on two different occasions he had stood at the traffic light intersection outside his office in Greene County counting how many drivers had their cell phones out while travelling through. There were seven out of 10, he said. “There may be something coming up with cell phones [in the 2018 session of the General Assembly],” he said. “It scares me to death seeing people in their cars on their cell phones. Something’s got to be done.”

W-W Chamber of Commerce Executive Director John Singleton closed the breakfast meeting saying, “We know that Mayor Barnett and the City Council, Chairman Moore and the County Commissioners are working for us every day. It’s great that, at least once a year, we are reminded not only of how hard y’all work but of the great relationship you have with our other representatives.”

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