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Jury trials remain on hold

Jury trials remain on hold.

Georgia Chief Justice Harold Melton issued his 10th statewide judicial emergency last week as COVID-19 cases continue to rise. Melton’s order extends the statewide judicial emergency to Feb. 7 at 11:59 p.m.

Melton’s first emergency order came on March 14 in response to the start of the coronavirus pandemic. At the time, he ordered the suspension of grand jury sessions and jury trials.

That order was lifted in November.

The county has not held a jury trial since March, according to Douglas County Chief Superior Court Judge David Emerson.

Grand juries resumed meeting in October, and Douglas County had a combed 60 indictments on two separate days in December.

The 43 indictments on Dec. 10 included a Nov. 6 murder case at the Ravenswood Apartment complex on James D. Simpson Ave., on Nov. 6.

Emerson said in an email to the Sentinel that 2,075 civil cases had been disposed while 2,073 new cases have been filed. In all, he said there are 1,193 pending cases now.

Last year, the courts disposed of 1,595 criminal cases from misdemeanor crimes to capital offenses.

Emerson said they have reduced pending criminal cases down to 1,394 from 1,832 cases.

“That said, we anticipate a large surge in cases because we were not able to bring in the grand jury for many months due to the Emergency Order from the Chief Justice,” Emerson wrote in the email. “I do not know how many ‘undrawn’ cases there are in the District Attorney’s Office.”

The order also reminded courts that any in-person proceedings “must be conducted in full compliance with public health guidance.”

Emerson said the courts have a plan for when in-person proceedings can resume. He said a team effort of judges, prosecutors, public defenders, Sheriff’s Office courthouse team and the previous Clerk of Court have developed guidelines.

The plan, according to Emerson, will use social distancing and a lot of plexiglass barriers, sneeze-guards, masks, and hand sanitizer.

“We will also reduce the number of jurors we have reporting at any give time,” he said.

Chamber helps with partnership of Douglas Jobs Campaign

The Douglas County Chamber of Commerce is helping bridge the gap between employers and job-seekers.

It is an effort being led by United Way and Douglas County Education Foundation with the support of the Douglas County Economic Development Authority, Douglas County Libraries and the Chamber.

Local companies are a part of a website that is seeking employees, and the Chamber is encouraging county residents to apply.

Chamber President and CEO Sara Ray said it will help local residents “work in the community that they live” and continue to recycle money within the community.

“We are so proud of the strong business community that exists with opportunities for employment ranging from entry-level to executive positions,” Ray said. “Our partnerships with these organizations allow us to not only ensure sustainable income for families, but also stimulate our local economy. Local talent development has always been a priority of the Chamber, and in promoting job opportunities, we are creating a win-win for everyone — our businesses and the residents that make our community truly thrive.”

Through the Douglas County Education Foundation, students in the county will be given information to forward to their parents or guardians that are in seeking employment.

Calling it the one of the “backbones of any community,” the Douglasville-Douglas County Water and Sewer Authority has joined the partnership.

“The Douglasville-Douglas County Water and Sewer Authority takes its commitment and responsibility to Douglas County very seriously which is why we put a lot of time and resource into hiring the next generation of water professionals,” DDCWSA Executive Director Gil Shearouse said. “We are always looking for people to not just take a job in the water industry but to develop a lifelong career as a water professional. We also want people to know that these kind of career opportunities exist right in their own communities and offer positions for all skill and education levels.”

Angelia O’Neal, executive director of Douglas County Education Foundation, said the partnership helps the foundation expand its mission of helping in the community.

“I am very excited about the Douglas Jobs campaign,” she said. “The collaboration creates an opportunity for the foundation to expand its mission of not only being a resource for students and teachers, but also being a resource to enhance the economic and workforce opportunities for parents. In doing this, we are supporting families of the Douglas County School System as a whole.”

Helping stabilize the community is one of the reasons that the United Way joined the Douglas Jobs Campaign.

“Access to quality jobs is a key aspect to economic stability, impacts child well-being, and the overall health of a community,” said Nicole Lawson, United Way Region Director- Northwest. “United Way of Greater Atlanta is excited to partner with these great organizations on the Douglas Jobs Campaign.”

Since mid-March when the pandemic started, the Chamber has been active in helping small businesses in the county generate revenue.

With the help of the city of Douglasville, Google, Switch and the Douglas County Economic Development Authority and the Chamber, a $250,000 grant was divided among 58 local business in November to help them keep their doors open.

Visit https://business.douglascountygeorgia.com/jobs to see jobs available.

Council seats on the ballot in 2021
  • Updated

The 2020 elections are finally in the rearview mirror with last week’s contentious Senate runoffs settled.

While 2021 will provide voters with a little bit of break, there are still a few local elected offices up this year. Some voters in the three municipalities with boundaries fully or partially in Douglas County will have a chance to choose their city representatives.

Four seats are up on the Douglasville City Council this year, including, Ward 1 where Terry Miller is the incumbent, Ward 2, Post 1 where Nycole Miller is the incumbent, Ward 3, Post 1 where LaShun Burr Danley is the incumbent and Ward 3, Post 2 where Sam Davis is the incumbent.

Terry Miller was reelected mayor pro tem at Thursday’s meeting by a unanimous vote from the council.

Voters on the west side of the county who live within the city of Villa Rica will choose their representatives. Two seats that include portions of Douglas County will be on the ballot this year including Ward 4 where Michael Young is the incumbent and Ward 5 where Danny Carter is the incumbent.

On the far east side of the county, residents who live in Douglas County within the Austell city limits will choose their representative on the council with the Ward 1 seat held by Marlin Lamar up this year.

Municipal elections are held in odd-numbered years. All city council seats are nonpartisan and hence there are no party primaries. City elections will be held Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2021. Qualifying will take place later this summer.

County at 95.2% property tax collection rate
  • Updated

Douglas County has collected $12.7 million more in property taxes at the beginning of the new year compared to January 2020, the tax commissioner said Monday morning.

Greg Baker said his office is at a 95.2% collection rate on property taxes. Baker, who just started his second term as the county’s tax commissioner, said his office has collected $57.6 million in property taxes so far. Tax bills were due Nov. 15, 2020.

This time last year, the county had collected $44.9 million in property taxes, according to Baker.

Baker acknowledged that at least part of the reason for the jump in revenue was as a result of the 27.8% property tax rate hike the Board of Commissioners passed back in August.

“Our goal is to hit 98% for the year,” Baker said. “This is huge because most people didn’t think we could get to this point. We are ahead of the game right now.”

Because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic that has left many people unemployed, county officials were a little worried about the collection rate as many people have struggled.

Baker said his office has been working non-stop collecting taxes, which is the county’s biggest revenue source.

“There is a lot that rests on our shoulders at the tax office,” Baker said. “My people understand that and they have really worked hard. Overall, the people in this county do a good job of paying their taxes.”

Because of the economic situation, Baker said his office has been working with property owners.

“Some people have paid a little here, and have made some arrangements,” Baker said.

Last month, the BOC passed a $98.7 million 2021 budget by a 3-2 vote that was based on a collection rate of 94%.

State lawmakers opened their General Assembly on Monday also with good news.

State tax collections rose by 7.7% last month compared to December of 2019, the Georgia Department of Revenue reported last week.

The strong December capped off a better than expected revenue outlook for the first half of fiscal year 2021.

State tax receipts for the first six months of the fiscal year were up 6.1% over the first half of fiscal 2020, despite the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on Georgia businesses and workers, according statistics released by the state.

Amid the strong state collection rate, lawmakers will look to build back the state’s rainy day fund, which it dipped into last year to makeup for shortfalls in the economy because of the pandemic.