- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Recent editorials from Georgia newspapers:


July 21

The Telegraph of Macon on the Georgia Lottery:

When Georgia sold its first lottery ticket to then Gov. Zell Miller on June 29, 1993, there were many predictions - some good, some bad and some dire. Twenty-three years later, the program that provides for the state’s pre-kindergarten program and HOPE scholarships for college students is still going strong. Wednesday, Gov. Nathan Deal announced the lottery raised about $1.1 billion on ticket sales of $4.55 billion and exceeded the profits of 2015 by more than $117 million.

When Miller first proposed the lottery and before the constitutional amendment allowing it was sent to voters in November 1992, the direction of the proceeds, according to the book, “Signed, Sealed, and Delivered: Highlights of the Miller Record,” were already clear. The lottery would be on a separate funding track with expenditures only going to pre-K, technology capital outlays and scholarships.

There were already 35 state lotteries and most had seen a drop in ticket sales after the initial year. Lottery money in those states was tossed in with the general fund and many times just supplanted existing education funding. Miller did not want to see a repeat of that error. Ticket sales in Georgia grew in its second year and have continued to grow.

When asked what was Georgia lottery’s secret, Rebecca Paul, then Georgia Lottery president, said, “You can’t really go anywhere in Georgia and not see what the lottery has done. You live in a neighborhood where children are in prekindergarten classes or on HOPE scholarships at colleges and technical institutes. You go to your child’s school and see new computers bought by the lottery. So when a Georgia parent goes into a convenience store and puts down a $20 bill for $18 worth of gas, they more than likely will take that extra $2 and buy lottery tickets to support these programs.”

Though there was a hitch in 2007 with adjustments, the lottery has continued to grow. In just the past five years, the lottery’s profits have grown from $901.3 million to $1.1 billion. The lottery’s president is Debbie Alford and, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution report, Gov. Deal challenged her in 2012 when she took the job to break the $1 billion in profit mark. The Georgia Lottery started online and instant games, plus there were huge national lotteries.

Now that the $1 billion mark has been broken, will this embolden lawmakers to consider opening up the state to more gaming? The issue was briefly discussed last session for Atlanta and Savannah and most likely will come up in the 2017 session. The gaming industry has already pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into campaign coffers. But there are other considerations that should stay top-of-mind as lawmakers decide if casinos should be allowed anywhere in the state.

The lottery is a known commodity. How much of the profits are they willing to risk by allowing competition. Certainly the proposed 20 percent tax rate on casino profits would mitigate some of the losses - but certainly there would be lottery losses. With the General Assembly’s habit of attacking education at every turn it’s almost a certainty that any loss of lottery proceeds would not be made up by gaming profits, even though the original proposal had an education spin to it.

For Middle Georgians another question comes to mind. While Savannah and Atlanta are obvious locations for casinos, one of the original proposals kicked around in 2015 would have divided the state into five zones, but no more than six casinos total allowed in the state. The question: Should Middle Georgia raise its hand for one?




July 26

The Valdosta Daily Times on funding a crime lab in South Georgia:

City and county government and all law enforcement agencies in the region should fully support the Valdosta-Lowndes Regional Crime Lab.

Lowndes County Sheriff Chris Prine is on the record.

Challenger Ashley Paulk is on the record.

Both have pledged their support for, and the need to fully fund, the nationally accredited Valdosta-Lowndes Regional Crime Lab.

Any talk from county officials about defunding this important tool for solving crime in South Georgia is irresponsible.

We agree with Sheriff Prine when he said, “The crime lab is nationally accredited and the return for Lowndes County’s investment is far greater than expected.”

There was no equivocation in the sheriff’s support.

In no uncertain terms the county’s top law enforcement official said, “The Valdosta-Lowndes Regional Crime Lab has had the unwavering support of the Sheriff’s Office since I became sheriff in 2009. Since it was opened, the Sheriff’s Office has ensured some level of personnel or financial support.

“Further, the Sheriff’s Office has intentionally worked with the City of Valdosta to budget annually, according to the memorandum of agreement. For additional support, the Sheriff’s Office signs on for collaborative federal and state grants.”

He was even more clear when he said, “…not only will a commitment to funding continue, but as needed, the Sheriff’s Office will continue to invest in this valuable asset for the citizens of Lowndes County.”

We agree with Sheriff Prine’s assessment.

If there is any doubt about Paulk’s view of the importance of the crime lab if he were to win the election, he said flatly, “I will continue to fund the crime lab.”

Paulk said the crime lab “has worked very well and is a valuable asset to fighting crime.”

County leaders should not be posturing about using other crime labs, delaying results in criminal cases and destabilizing this important resource for our region.

The value and importance of having a local crime lab should be assessed by law enforcement and the criminal justice system, not by politicians and policy makers.

The sheriff is on the record understanding the importance of and fully supporting the funding for the state-of-the-art crime lab. Valdosta Chief of Police Brian Childress is the most passionate advocate of a fully functioning and fully funded crime lab.

The crime lab should in no way be viewed as a city versus county debating point.

It benefits all law enforcement agencies and the entire local criminal justice system.

Data indicates that county criminal investigations account for about 35 percent of all cases processed at the lab.

Recently, county investigations have accounted for almost half of cases being processed at the lab.

Funding should more closely approximate use.

Incremental increases in the amount of funding by agencies using the crime lab are reasonable, as the number of cases and the cost of processing each case increases.

The crime lab is simply about exonerating innocent people, some of whom are sitting in jail at taxpayer’s expense, and convicting criminals - getting them off the streets, keeping us all more safe.




July 23

The Savannah Morning News on flood maps for coastal counties:

Last week’s release of new, updated flood maps for Chatham County offered some good news for a lot of people, including the owners of property in low-lying areas, and homebuilders and developers.

It also provided good news for the community’s economy, as it means the county’s tax base still has room to grow without being subject to arbitrary and unfair rules about new construction.

About 200 people attended an open house held at Savannah Tech on Tuesday to look at the new maps, which were prepared through a partnership among the county, local municipalities, the state Department of Natural Resources and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. The maps outline the risk of flooding for all several counties in Coastal Georgia, and government officials rely on them to make rules regarding new construction, like whether builders can add fill dirt to a particular lot to raise the elevation, and to price the cost of flood insurance, which is mandatory for many property owners. Premium costs can vary widely. For example, flood insurance coverage obtained through the National Flood Insurance Program can run under $300 a year for a home worth less than $100,000 that’s not located in a flood zone. But the annual premium for that same house in an area subject to flooding can zoom to more than $10,000.

County engineers had prematurely developed stricter construction rules based on old flood maps that predicted extensive flooding of many low-lying areas in case of a major storm or hurricane. That decision rendered many parcels of undeveloped property in the county’s unincorporated area virtually worthless. It also threatened to grind much of the new construction in the county’s unincorporated area to a standstill.

County Commissioner Pat Farrell has been working to force county officials to adopt rules that were more reasonable and more accurately reflect the risk of flooding. The new flood maps released Tuesday should strengthen his case.

“Generally speaking we’re seeing that flood zones within the community have been decreasing,” said Michael Blakely, Chatham County floodplain administrator.

“Where builders were previously required to build at an elevation of 12 feet, we found that on maps there have been decreases of as much as 3 feet, so they can build a slab on grade at 9 feet. Consequently, there have been a lot of areas throughout the county and all the municipalities where the special flood hazard area has been reduced.”

He added that, “It’s gonna be good news for a lot of people” when these maps are finalized next year.

But it won’t be good news for everyone who lives near the ocean, a marsh, a tidal creek or a river.

That’s because some parts of the county still have low elevations, something the maps don’t change. In addition, recent developments have affected flood risks, and those aren’t going to change either.

“The Home Depots, the IKEA warehouses, all those have impacts on floodwaters because where floodwaters used to be able to soak into the ground it’s now running off on hard surfaces, and they run rapidly,” Mr. Blakely said. “They accumulate in the streets and you get massive flows in a short time period.”

The new maps also are available for Bryan, Liberty and McIntosh counties, and it’s a good idea for property owners in those counties to check them to see if their property has been affected.

Some changes are substantial. For example, on Tybee Island, about 20 percent of the island has been taken out of the flood zone altogether, said George Shaw, Tybee’s zoning administrator. That’s an early Christmas present for many Tybee property owners who had been paying higher premiums for their flood insurance. One reason for Tybee’s good fortune is the island’s growing dune system, which helps shield the island’s interior. Thus these dunes, which are rightly protected from development or removal, have proven their worth.

This is one of those rare times when local, state and federal government officials should be applauded for their deliberate process in achieving new flood maps for coastal Georgia that appear to be accurate, fair and based on sound science.

Previously, county engineers had based their decisions about the rules for new construction on the desire to be more strict than what FEMA required, largely based on the old flood maps, which were drawn without the benefit of updated modeling data.

About 200 people attended the open house, an enormously better turnout than the last time the maps were updated in 2008 when about a dozen people showed up, most of them surveyors.

Mr. Blakely credits the uptick in local interest about the new flood maps to the 2012 federal Biggert-Waters Act, which extended the National Flood Insurance Program for five years, while requiring significant program reform.

This act raised both awareness of flooding along with flood insurance premiums for some. Plus, the changes with the new maps appear substantial, meaning there’s an opportunity for some property owners for substantial savings in premium costs.

Tuesday’s session was billed as a chance to “learn how and why the local risk of flooding has changed,” but most attendees, unsurprisingly, seemed to have just one question: What’s happening to my property?

The answers, more often than not, contained good news. Credit officials who hosted this constructive session for being the bearers of good news for a change.



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