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Nigel Poole talks about “Mask Up Sumter” and the COVID-19 situation at Board of Commissioners Work Session

AMERICUS – Sumter County Emergency Management Agency (SCEMA) Director Nigel Poole discussed the “Mask Up Sumter” campaign at the Sumter County Board of Commissioners’ (BOC) monthly Work Session on Tuesday, July 14. The campaign has been launched to encourage the citizens of the county to wear masks in public to combat the spread of the COVID-19 Coronavirus.

The Work Session was conducted via Zoom conference call due to concerns over the COVID-19 Coronavirus.

“We started a facebook page in June and we’ve got over 1,300 members,” said Poole. “We’ve been picked up by WALB, WRVL, the Americus Times-Recorder and the ACCG Magazine for Georgia, so that’s a feather in your cap,” Poole told the BOC.

Poole went on to discuss the COVID-19 situation in the county by stating that the SCEMA is seeing numbers similar to what they saw in April and that 57 people have tested positive for the Coronavirus this week. “I know a lot of the thinking is we’re doing frequent testing, rapid testing, we’re getting back better results, but needless to say, these results are still coming back positive, no matter how quickly they come back,” said Poole. He went on to say that more preventative actions might need to be taken to stop the spread of the virus. Poole also told the BOC that he had sent a link to them about other counties in Georgia implementing the mandatory wearing of masks. “I’m not saying for us to do that, but I’m also not saying that we shouldn’t do that,” said Poole.

According to statistics compiled by the Georgia Department of Public Health (GDPH), as of Wednesday, July 15, there have been a total of 637 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Sumter County, 155 hospitalizations and 51 COVID-related deaths.

In other news from the BOC’s Work Session, the BOC approved a request to apply for the Phase 1 grant funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. The U.S. Congress passed this legislation back on March 27 of this year to help and aid businesses and individuals who have been adversely affected by COVID-19. Sumter County Financial Director Janice Jarvis told the BOC that there was direct funding to five local governments in the states. “Those five local governments had populations in excess of 500,000 people,” said Jarvis. “At that time, no funding was provided to any local government, city or county with a population less than 500,00 people.” Jarvis went on to say that Phase 1 of the CARES Act is to release 30 percent of the funds for local governments with a population of less than 500,000. “They basically have made the first 30 percent of the funding available. You do have to apply for it,” Jarvis told the BOC. “I would like for the Board to approve of me going ahead and making an application for this 30 percent total for Sumter County, which is $203,135.00.”

Jarvis went on to say that as of June 30 of this year, the county had COVID-related expenses totaling $104,000.00. “I’m hoping that the majority or all of these expenses will be reimbursed by the funding,” said Jarvis.

She went on to say that if the county is granted Phase 1 funding, they have up until Wednesday, September 30 to spend the first 30 percent and if they don’t spend it by then, the county will probably have to send it back so that those funds can be reallocated.

“I think it would help a great deal to have available resources for masks or hand sanitizer. I would very much like to apply for these funds,” said Jarvis.

Commissioner Mark Waddell made a motion to approve Jarvis’s request and Commissioner Scott Roberson seconded the motion. The BOC voted and the approval passed unanimously.

There was also a Public Hearing during the Work Session to consider a request for the abandoning and closure of a portion of Renecker Road from McLittle Bridge Road at its northerly end to its southern end at US Highway 19 South. That stretch of road is approximately 1.40 miles.

Sumter County Department of Public Works Director Jim Littlefield told the BOC that Adam Graft, the owner of Leatherbrook Holsteins, LLC, approached him last year about running a pipeline and wanted to know about the process to get a permit to run it along Renecker Road. “Renecker Road is one of these roads we have on the books to maintain that nobody lives on,” Littlefield told the BOC. “There’s basically no purpose of it and y’all closed the Renecker Road extension two years ago.”

Littlefield went on to say that he had gone through the records and discovered that there is nothing historical or architecturally significant about this road and that the only adjacent landowner, other than Graft, is the Norfolk Southern Railroad Company. Littlefield continued by saying that nobody uses the road and that the BOC should close it or make it a private road so that the county won’t have to maintain it. Littlefield added that all of the land adjacent to Renecker Road was at one time made up of orchards, pasture and crops and that Graft would like to return the property to that state.

Graft, who was at the Work Session, spoke on behalf of closing Renecker Road and stated that it would be great to close the road and because it basically serves no purpose. “We’re the only adjoining landowner other than the railroad and it would be beneficial to our operation,” said Graft.

Nobody spoke out against the closure of the road and Commissioner George Torbert made a motion to approve the abandonment and closure of the 1.40-mile stretch of Renecker Road from McLittle Bridge Road to US Highway 19 South. Commissioner Waddell seconded the motion. The BOC voted and the approval passed unanimously.

Another Public Hearing was held to discuss the request for an alcoholic beverage license made by Narjis Bhatti, the owner of Huma Interprese LLC d/b/a N&K Food Mart located at 114 Georgia Highway 45 North in Plains. County Clerk Rayetta Volley stated that Bhatti has a few violations that need to be corrected before he can be eligible for the license. Volley told the BOC that because of those violations, the business is not ready to be approved at this time. “They informed me that they will have all of it done and the fire chief went out today (Tuesday, July 14) and inspected it and it wasn’t completed,” said Volley. The BOC decided to have another Public Hearing on the matter at next Tuesday’s BOC meeting.