Savannah Morning News on the cost for a Georgia county after Hurricane Dorian stayed out at sea and passed harmlessly up the coast:
Chatham County residents considered themselves fortunate when Hurricane Dorian stayed out to sea and passed harmlessly up our coast.
Three months later, any lingering lucky feelings are fading fast with word that the storm will cost taxpayers a fortune.
The federal and state governments have stuck Chatham County with $1.6 million worth of hurricane evacuation bills. The storm didn’t cause enough damage to warrant a federal disaster declaration — and money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency — and state officials have yet to respond to a request for funds.
The Chatham County Commission voted Friday (Dec. 6) to cover the costs, which are largely tied to bus charters and sheltering for area residents unable to evacuate on their own. The county chartered 56 buses and moved hundreds of residents to Augusta-area shelters ahead of the storm.
The state’s silence is disappointing. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp issued a mandatory evacuation and did so three days ahead of Dorian’s projected landfall. While it is unfair to fault Kemp for taking decisive action, he should be in open communication with county officials on this matter.
Instead, the county has waited more than two months for a response to a special consideration request. The director of the Chatham Emergency Management Agency, Dennis Jones, has tried to put a positive spin on the governor’s perceived apathy, saying “no news is good news,” but the reality is bills have come due. Vendors must be paid.
With those invoices before them last Friday, Chatham County commissioners approved plans to move money around to cover the costs. They tapped multiple sources, drawing from funds used to manage the 911, sewer, solid waste, building safety and health systems.
Commissioners also agreed to draw down $97,485 from the Special Services District Fund, paid into by unincorporated Chatham County residents and usually reserved to pay for services that would otherwise be provided by a municipality, such as governance, police, administration and roads and bridges.
The unbudgeted $1.6 million hit comes at a time when the county is searching under the couch cushions for funds. The commissioners recently approved much-needed additional dollars for the District Attorney and Public Defender offices.
Projecting ahead to the next budget cycle, they will now need to consider allocating more money for storm contingency funds. Balancing that budget — in a commission election year — will be a challenge.
The state has its own revenue issues, of course. The governor has asked most government agencies to reduce their budgets as a result.
Still, we encourage Gov. Kemp’s office to follow up with Chatham County on its special consideration request. We’re thankful that Dorian skirted our coast but would be even more grateful if the state could provide some relief from the high costs.
Daily Citizen-News on steps to take to prevent the flu:
While the holiday season of gifts, parties and cheer is here, there's another season that has arrived bringing fever, nausea and body aches — flu season.
Flu activity in the U.S. is "elevated and rising," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). For the period ending Nov. 30, the CDC reported that levels of influenza-like illness were widespread — which is the highest measurable — in Georgia and Tennessee.
In Chattanooga, Erlanger hospital officials reported "a significant spike in flu-like illnesses" the first week of December compared to the same time in 2018. During that time, the hospital reported 74 cases to the Hamilton County Health Department compared to 15 cases during the same week in 2018.
"Ten weeks into the flu season, Erlanger has reported 396 influenza-like illnesses to the health department compared to 245 during the same period last year," according to Erlanger. "This represents a 61% increase in flu activity over the same 10-week period last year."
With the flu season in the area in full swing, this is a good time to remind people of everyday steps they can take to help prevent getting the flu.
Health officials recommend that everyone six months and older get a flu shot, especially those who are in the high risk category (those 65 and older, pregnant women, young children, those with certain diseases and others).
The flu vaccine is still available locally. Since August, public health staff in the North Georgia Health District have given more than 7,440 flu vaccinations. You can receive a flu shot at the Murray County Health Department (709 Old Dalton-Ellijay Road), the Whitfield County Health Department (800 Professional Blvd.) and many doctors offices.
Here are other tips from the CDC to help prevent you from contracting the flu:
— Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
— While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.
— If you are sick with flu symptoms, the CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. Your fever should be gone for 24 hours without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.
— Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
— Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
— Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.
— Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu.
The Augusta Chronicle on a law enforcement agency in Georgia that has been awarded a federal grant which has recently been criticized:
Of course, it’s just a coincidence.
But for a community still stinging over the recent death of a local law enforcement officer in the line of duty, it’s appropriate that Augusta/Richmond County has received a federal law enforcement grant honoring the name of another fallen officer.
On Nov. 19, Richmond County Sheriff’s Office Investigator Cecil Ridley died from gunfire delivered by a criminal who, by all rights, should be under the jail instead of merely in it. Gun violence took the life of a veteran officer whose last night on duty was spent as part of a 10-officer task force formed to help curb gun violence here in Augusta.
On Wednesday (Dec. 4), officials announced the awarding of U.S. Department of Justice grants intended to help law enforcement agencies - including in Augusta/Richmond County - fight crime across the DOJ’s Southern District of Georgia.
Augusta received portions of two grants: a $31,826 Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant to support “a broad range of activities to prevent and control crime based on local needs and conditions,” according to a news release; and a $19,400 grant from the Bureau of Justice Statistics to “assist in transitioning crime statistic reporting to the FBI’s National Incident-Based Reporting System.”
The man for whom the Byrne grant was named was called Eddie by his fellow officers. He was a 22-year-old New York Police Department officer who was fatally shot in 1988 while guarding the home of a witness in a drug case. While one lowlife tapped on the passenger’s side window of his cruiser to distract him, another lowlife shot Byrne five times in the head.
State and local law enforcement agencies across the country have been applying for Byrne grants for years now. With all the resources purchased by these grants, there’s no way to quantify precisely how many lives have been saved.
Despite that, some government watchdogs have unwisely called for the Byrne program’s termination.
Citizens Against Government Waste, normally a stand-up group regarding how the government spends our tax dollars, said in its October summary that the Byrne program “gives away money with too much flexibility and no effective targeting strategy, along with weak oversight and few consequences for mismanagement of the funds. ”
So that’s the best solution the group can come up with? Scrap the whole thing?
There are pages and pages detailing how these funds can be applied - and more importantly how they can’t. Excepting police cruisers, boats and helicopters, the grants can’t be used to purchase vehicles. Funds also can’t be frittered away on luxury items, real estate or construction projects - or, for that matter, pretty much anything the Justice Department chooses.
If watchdogs want to be responsible fiscal stewards of government spending, advocate for treating the symptoms instead of killing the patient. Make the focus of the grants more clearly defined. Draft meaningful goals that are more specific. Figure out a way to measure performance, as proof of how these grants are doing good. Maybe the recipient agencies themselves can report progress back to the feds.
Authorities haven’t yet disclosed precisely how these new Byrne funds will be applied to law enforcement here, but surely taxpayers would like to know how their cash is being spent.