Stephens Co. Unemployment Figures Show Mixed Results in May

Unemployment figures released Wednesday from the Georgia Department of Labor delivered mixed news for Stephens County.  The preliminary unemployment rate for the month of May jumped to 8.2 percent which is six-tenths of a percentage point increase from the revised April unemployment rate of 7.6 percent.  However, while the number of unemployed rose from April to May in Stephens County, so did the number employed as the county’s total labor force grew in May.   Meanwhile, this May’s preliminary unemployment rate is seven-tenths of a percentage point lower than the revised May 2012 rate of 8.9 percent. 

Area Broadband Project Making Progress

Stephens County Development Authority Executive Director Tim Martin said that crews have finished building out the first couple of phases of a regional high-speed broadband loop.  “18 miles of fiber has already been built that connects Toccoa to Habersham County,” said Martin. “The 70 miles from Toccoa down through Stephens County, into Franklin County, over into Hart County has been built. The North Georgia Network is leasing that fiber from Hart EMC.”  The project is building what eventually would be a 150-mile high-speed broadband fiber loop through Stephens, Franklin, Hart, Banks, Habersham, and Rabun counties.  According to Martin, the first phases that have been completed are now in the process of becoming operational.   

Movies Returning to Schaefer Center This Summer

Toccoa’s Main Street program has plans for a busy summer at the Schaefer Center in downtown Toccoa.

A number of activities are planned for the facility at the corner of Broad and Doyle streets over the coming weeks.

First, Toccoa Main Street has announced the return of movies to the Schaefer Center for four dates this summer.

The first movie is scheduled for this Saturday at 3 p.m.

Toccoa Main Street Events Coordinator Sharon Crosby said the city is excited to bring the big screen back to the Schaefer Center this summer.

“One of the ways the Schaefer Center was used in the past, of course, was as a movie theater,” said Crosby. “In fact, some people in town, some of their earliest memories of going to movies was the Schaefer Center for their matinees. So this summer, we are having three matinees, one in June and two in July, and then we have an evening (movie) in August.

This Saturday, the movie will be “The Lorax.”

Other movies are the 2009 “Star Trek” on July 13 at 3 p.m.; 1939’s “The Wizard of Oz” on July 27 at 3 p.m.; and the 1960 version of “Ocean’s 11” on August 17 at 7 p.m.

Admission to all of the movies is $3 for those over the age of 12 and free for those under 12. Children under 12 must be accompanied by an adult.

Crosby said people heading to the movies, especially the matinees, are encouraged to make a night of it downtown Toccoa.

“Those three (matinees), there will be Ida Cox afterwards,” said Crosby. “People can come down, see a moive, go to one of our downtown restaurants, and then go to enjoy Ida Cox in the evening.”

In addition to the movies, Main Street Toccoa is partnering with the Toccoa-Stephens County Community Theatre to sponsor a Children’s Drama Camp at the Schaefer Center the week of July 27 through August 2.

There will be two classes offered; one from 9 a.m. to noon for children going into first grade and can read through third grade and the second will be from 1 to 5 p.m. for children in 4th through 9th grade.

Each class will be limited to 30 students. The registration fee is $65 per child with a $10 discount per additional sibling.

Charlie Bauder

Work Moves Ahead on Wound Care Center in Toccoa

Stephens County Hospital’s planned wound care center continues to move forward.

According to Stephens County Hospital Administrator Ed Gambrell, crews have finished pouring the concrete foundation to the building and are beginning to put some up some steel beams.

Gambrell said finishing the foundation marks a major milestone in the construction of the building.

“Now the actual construction of the building can begin and it will not be so dependent on weather as it has been,” said Gambrell. “The project has been slow in getting started, just because of all of the rain we have had since Christmas.”

The hospital is building its wound care center on Falls Road.

Site work on the project started in February and hospital officials had hoped to open the facility around Labor Day.

However, Gambrell said the weather has caused some fairly significant delays.

“The rain has really slowed us up about a month to six weeks probably through this whole process so far,” said Gambrell. “But it is just one of these things that you cannot control and you cannot help and you just have to work around it.”

Bowen and Watson is handling construction of the wound care center for Stephens County Hospital.

Gambrell said the new goal is to have the facility ready to open around October.

“It will be a fast construction job,” said Gambrell. “The building is relatively small, for Bowen and Watson anyway. It is about 4,200 square feet. They feel confident they will be through by sometime in October.”

The wound care center is costing Stephens County Hospital approximately $840,000.

Stephens County Hospital is also working with Diversified Clinical Services out of Jacksonville, Florida, on the wound care center.

Charlie Bauder

Gasaway in Toccoa Tuesday for Meet and Greet

Stephens County residents will have an opportunity to talk directly with their local state representative at an event Tuesday. 28th District State Representative Dan Gasaway will be at the X-Factor Grill/ Cornerstone Restaurant for a “meet and greet” Tuesday, starting at 5:30 p.m. The X-Factor Grill/Cornerstone Restaurant is located on Doyle Street in downtown Toccoa. Gasaway is in his first term representing the 28th District in the State House. The 28th District includes Stephens, Banks, and part of Habersham counties. 
Charlie Bouder

Grants Being Sought for Sewer Expansion Project

Potential grant funds could help Toccoa and Stephens County push forward on the expansion of sewer on Big A Road and the Toccoa By-pass.
Monday, Toccoa City Commissioners approved entering into an agreement with the Georgia Mountains Regional Commission to apply for two grants to help pay for the project.
According to Stephens County Development Authority Executive Director Tim Martin, they would apply for two $300,000 grants, one from the Appalachian Regional Commission and one from the Economic Development Administration.
If Toccoa and Stephens County receives the $300,000 ARC grant, Martin said they have identified improvements at an existing part of the infrastructure as the top priority.
“We are looking specifically up front at the Meadowbrook lift station, since that is such a choke point,” said Martin. “Everything south of the community flows through that lift station.”
Martin said that project would cost about $860,000, with the rest of the funds coming from the $2 million pot of money created by the city and county through SPLOST V.
Currently, $1.8 million remains out of those SPLOST funds.
Martin said that staff continues to work to identify which part of the project would benefit most from the EDA grant if it is received.
According to officials, it will take about $5.5 million to build the proposed water and sewer improvements on Big A Road between Rose Lane and the Toccoa By-pass, as well as the By-pass between Big A Road and a location near the intersection of the By-pass and Highway 106.
Engineers have said that while the $5.5 million would not completely build the project, it would provide the ability for the city to get sewer service to a property along those corridors quickly as needed for potential development.
Martin said the plan is to build the project over a number of years in order to best leverage local money to obtain funding from grants and other sources.
“The genius in splitting up this project into multiple years is to afford us the opportunity to apply in multiple funding years (for grants) from state and federal entities,” said Martin.
Martin said word on whether the grants are received should come in late summer or early fall.
If the grants are received, the city and county would have to pay the Georgia Mountains Regional Commission a fee of up to $15,000.
City commissioners approved the agreement contingent on splitting any fees equally between the city and the county out of the remaining SPLOST funds set aside for this project.
(Charlie Bauder)

SCDA Seeks Enterprise Zone Status for Hayestone-Brady Business Park

The Stephens County Development Authority is pursuing a special status for the Hayestone-Brady Business Park in order to try to make it more attractive to potential industries.
Last week, Stephens County Commissioners approved the Development Authority’s application to the state to make the business park on Highway 17 and an adjacent property an enterprise zone.
The Development Authority has previously pursued this for a number of other properties in the county.
Stephens County Development Authority Executive Director Tim Martin said an enterprise zone status would give tax credits to anyone creating jobs at Hayestone-Brady.
“What that means is that if a company creates two or more jobs, (though) it cannot be husband and wife, they would gain $3500 tax credit against their Georgia income tax liability each year for five years if they maintain those jobs,” said Martin.
If a company has no state income tax liability, the tax credit can go towards their payroll withholding tax, said Martin.
According to Martin, the enterprise zone tax credits are similar to those that are available in counties the state considers the most economically distressed.
During a public hearing on the budget last week, Martin told county commissioners that because Stephens County as a whole is not in that economic category, it does not have full access to the same state tax credits that neighboring counties do.
Martin said the enterprise zone status levels that playing field for properties that receive the designation.
The Development Authority’s application will now go to the state Department of Community Affairs for its approval. There is no timeline for receiving word on that approval.

Tom Hanks Makes Donation To Camp Toccoa at Currahee

The Camp Toccoa at Currahee board announced this week that it received a $25,000 donation for the restoration of the camp from actor Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, through the actor’s foundation.  Hanks had served as one of the executive producers on the “Band of Brothers” mini-series, which depicted the story of “Easy” company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, which trained at Camp Toccoa before fighting in World War II.  In an e-mail to Camp Toccoa at Currahee Board President Robin Sink McClelland, Hanks stated that he cannot imagine a more fitting site to recreate and honor as would a refurbished Currahee. He called it a stop for all history students no matter the age.  Hanks also offered the use of his name in any and all efforts to raise funds.

KTSCB Announces Cleanup Challenge Winners

Keep Toccoa-Stephens County Beautiful announced the winners of the annual competitive cleanup event at a party held Tuesday at the Stephens County Courthouse Annex in downtown Toccoa.  This year’s Cleanup Challenge took place during the months of March, April, and May.  KTSCB Executive Director Linda Scofield said this year’s challenge went very well.  “Everybody is so proud of what they have done,” said Scofield. “The numbers show for themselves.”  According to statistics presented by KTSCB, 101 volunteers put in more than 3,000 hours of time to pick up nearly 700,000 pounds of debris.  Volunteers cleaned up more than 1,300 tires, 14 cars, three boats, and a motor home, along with beautifying numerous properties around the city and county.  The winning team, a group of citizens called the Toccoa Roto League that was captained by Mark Marsteller, collected more than 480,000 pounds of debris and hauled off nearly 600 tires.  “Everybody is just joining in. It’s so great,” said Scofield. “It is bringing the community together for beautification.”  

Anniversary Marked at Camp Toccoa

Stephens County hosted the 70th anniversary celebration for the 511th and 517th Parachute Infantry Regiments Saturday on the Camp Toccoa site on Currahee Mountain.  Camp Toccoa at Currahee Steering Committee Chairperson Cynthia Brown said it was an amazing day.  “We had two 517th ‘Toccoa men’ with us today, which is an unusual thing because so many of them are no longer with us,” said Brown. “We celebrate their accomplishments during the war and as men afterwards. The only thing that comes to mind as I look at these people is the bright, shining light in their eyes when they talk about their experiences here and how tough it was.”   Prior to the late morning program, the 2nd annual Camp Toccoa at Currahee D-Day run took place.   All proceeds from the run will benefit the restoration of the Camp Toccoa at Currahee property.   The “Camp Toccoa at Currahee” project is an effort to preserve and develop the original site of Camp Toccoa on Currahee Mountain, where paratroopers trained during World War II.