Stephens County scores above state average

New CRCT scores released last week show that Stephens County;s test scores are above the state averages. The Georgia Department of Education released system-level results for the CRCT, or Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests, last week. According to those numbers, each one of Stephens County's test scores finished above the state average.

DOT Officials Brief Local Officials On Highway 17

A top Department of Transportation official tells officials that the Highway 17 project in Stephens County continues to move forward.

DOT Director of Planning Todd Long and 10th District DOT Board Representative Don Grantham spoke to officials from Stephens and Franklin counties Wednesday at the Currahee Campus of North Georgia Technical College.

The construction of a four-lane Highway 17 was at the top of the agenda.

Long said that he has placed the first phase of Highway 17 construction in Stephens County, which goes from the Stephens/Franklin County line north to Scott Road across from Eastanollee Elementary School, in the proposed State Transportation Improvement Program for Fiscal Year 2013.

“The southernmost piece, which is about 6.5 miles, we are hoping to have that under construction sometime in Fiscal Year 2013 for us, which could be as early as next summer,” said Long.

Long said that must still be approved by the DOT Board and the Governor before that can take effect. Also, all of the rights-of-way would have to be bought for the first phase before construction could begin.

The first phase of construction would cost about $60 million, according to Long.

As for the second phase, a $20 to $30 million project that would build a four-lane Highway 17 from Scott Road to the Toccoa By-pass, Long said that he does not have a date for that yet.

“Because funding has to be balanced across the state, I do not have funding for it now, but I am trying to get it,” said Long. “This could be a good project for the regional transportation sales tax, Phase Two that is, but we will have to see what happens with that.”

Constructing a four-lane Highway 17 in Stephens County is part of a larger to make Highway 17 four lanes from Toccoa all the way south to the Augusta area.

Long said the DOT knows it is important, but adds that it is a big project.

“It is a long stretch from Lavonia to Washington and it is a big ticket to get that 17 done,” said Long. “I know it is a high priority for Elbert, Hart, Franklin, and Wilkes counties, but we are taking one bite at a time. We are starting at the north end, then going back to the south end at Wilkes County and hopefully meet in the middle at some point.”

New District DOT Board Member Don Grantham said he also knows how important the project is.

Grantham said he is a supporter of Highway 17.

“Highway 17 is one of the most important corridors that I know of,” said Grantham. “This is the direct shot to Savannah and the rest of Georgia that we need and it is a shot of economic development that you need in this area.”

Grantham said Highway 17 throughout the region is a project he checks on regularly with DOT staff.

Local May Unemployment Numbers

The latest figures show that the unemployment rate remains just under 10 percent in Stephens County.

According to statistics from the Georgia Department of Labor, the preliminary May unemployment rate was 9.9 percent in Stephens County. That is the same as the revised April unemployment rate for Stephens County. It is also one-tenth of a percent lower than the revised rate for May 2010, which was 10 percent.

In Stephens County, the labor force increased by 137 from April to May. 116 were added to the employment rolls, while 10 were added to the unemployment rolls. Meanwhile, Stephens County’s labor force, number of employed, and number of unemployed were all down this May compared to May of last year.

Neighboring counties saw mixed results in their May unemployment rates. Franklin County saw its unemployment rate go up three-tenths of a percent to 11.3 percent, Habersham County’s unemployment rate went down one-tenth of a percent to 9.5 percent, and Banks County’s unemployment rate stayed the same at 6.9 percent.

The Georgia Mountains region, which includes Stephens County, saw its unemployment rate go up one-tenth of a percent in May to 8.5 percent. That remains four-tenths of a percent below last May’s rate of 8.9 percent.

The state unemployment rate went up one-tenth of a percent, from 9.6 percent in April to 9.7 percent in May.

Northeast Georgia receives OneGeorgia Grant for Broadband Connectivity

The JDA of Franklin, Hart, and Stephens Counties was awarded $140,000 with Banks County, the Habersham Development Authority and the Rabun County Development Authority being co-applicants. That money will go to fund a broadband study. The total cost of that project is $175,000.
“The total amount of the funds will be used to do a study of the current status quo - what levels of broadband connectivity are in the community, who provides it - and then interview public safety, school officials, industry people and others, asking them what is the desired need and the desired state for broadband connectivity and then devise a way to address that gap,” said Tim Martin, Stephens County Development Authority executive director.The counties have provided $35,000 total in matching money for the grant, and the study should take about six months to complete, he said.

Broadband connectivity is vital from an economic perspective, Martin said, for the future Stephens County and the region.“This is a factor that if you do not address it adequately, you are not considered from the get-go (for growth),” he said.
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Jobless Rate Rises

Stephens County’s unemployment inched back into double digits in April.

According to the state Department of Labor, the county’s jobless rate rose to 10.0 percent in April, up from 9.9 percent in March. The county’s unemployment had drifted below 10 percent for the first time in almost a year.

Stephens was the only county in the eight-county northeast Georgia area to report an increase in unemployment during April.

There were 11,587 Stephens residents employed during April with 1,282 actively seeking work, according to labor department statistics. That compares to 11,707 employed during March with 1,285 looking for work.

Stephens County’s jobless rate for April, 2010 was 9.9 percent with 12,013 country residents employed with 1,326 looking for work.

Unemployment rates for other counties in the northeast Georgia area are;

• Banks, 7.0 percent, down from 7.2 percent in March.

• Elbert, 14.5 percent, down from 15.3 percent in March.

• Franklin, 11.1 percent in April, down from 11.4 percent in March.

• Habersham, 9.7 percent, down from 9.9 percent.

• Hart, 11.2 percent, down from 11.5 percent.

• Rabun, 12.2 percent, down from 14.8 percent in March.

• White, 9.6 percent, down from 10.3 percent.

Georgia’s jobless rate for April was 9.9 percent, according to the labor department. The national unemployment rate was 9.0 percent.
-Tom Law
The Toccoa Record