Greene County Commission approves proposal for 5-mil increase in ad valorem property tax for hospital and other agencies

At its regular monthly meeting on January 13, 2020, the Greene County Commission approved a proposal to request a 5-mil increase in the ad valorem property tax rate for Greene County.
The 5 mil increase would support six specific agencies and programs of Greene County that would be designated in the proposal, as follows:
• 3 mils for the Greene County Health System, for support of the hospital, emergency room, nursing home, physicians clinic and other health services
• 1 mil for the Greene County Commission General Fund
• .25 mil for Greene County Parks and Recreation Board
• .25 mil for Senior Citizens nutrition and other programs
• .25 mil for storm shelters
• .25 for Greene County Public Works Department
The proposal as passed contains approval of a one-cent sales tax for support of public housing activities in the county. The sales tax increase is independent of the 5 mils for a property tax increase.
The 5-mil property tax increase will have to be translated into a piece of local legislation, advertised for four consecutive weeks in the newspaper and passed by the Alabama Legislature. Once passed by the Legislature and signed by the Governor, the proposed increase will be voted on in a county-wide referendum, probably as part of the November 3, 2020 General Election.
“We are pleased to see this tax increase proposal passed by the Commission. This is a beneficial first step toward generating new revenues, from Greene County residents, to support keeping our hospital operating and able to respond to community needs. We will work in a unified way with other agencies to secure passage of local legislation and the referendum to make these funds a reality for the future,” said Dr. Marcia Pugh, CEO and Administrator of the Greene County Health System.
Currently Greene County residents are paying 40.5 mils toward the ad valorem property tax rate. The 5 mils would represent a modest 12% increase in the overall rate for county services including schools. This will be the first increase in over five years when the millage rate was increased to build the new high school.
According to the Revenue Commission, one mil of property tax, in Greene County, generates $160,000 or more in new revenues. The amount of tax is based on the total value of property, less exemptions and abatements. For the Greene County Health System this will mean $480,000 or more annually for operation and improvement of the hospital and related health services.
Paula Byrd, CFO for Greene County Commission presented the Financial Report for the county showing, as of December 2019, $2,680,817 in various accounts at Citizens Trust Bank, $4,462,859 in Merchants and Farmers Bank, as well as $1,055,048 and $617,239 in the Bank of New York investment bond sinking funds. She also reported that Greene County Commission had paid $ 740,686 in direct claims and $74,620 in electronic claims for the month of December 2019.
Byrd reported that all agencies were operating within budget and had spent about 25% of their fiscal year allowances (based on a fiscal year that began October 1, 2019 and had run for three months) with the exception of the Sheriff’s Department at 38% and the Jail at 34%. Ms. Byrd indicated she used contingency funds to cover the Sheriff and Jail overages but that the contingency funds were now totally committed and used for those purposes.
The Sheriff and the Jail receive 51% of the county’s total General Fund Budget and have agreed to supplement county funds, from bingo funds received by the Sheriff, for additional staffing, beyond the county’s budget.
Commissioner Lester Brown raised the question of whether the Sheriff had paid any of the funds he agreed to send to cover his staff and jail expenses. Byrd and Commission Chair Allen Turner said the Sheriff had not as yet paid any of the additional monies that he promised.
Brown said, “Things are getting out of hand. The Sheriff cannot buy a toothpick anymore until he pays us. We need to make plans to layoff additional staff, unless he pays the Commission what he owes us, before we go further in the hole on this.”
Commission attorney, Hank Sanders of Selma, explained that he and Commission Chair Allen Turner had negotiated an agreement with the Sheriff to pay $240,000 owed to cover budget overages for the past three months and a monthly amount to cover the budget shortfall. “This final agreement did not have a specific date, so technically the Sheriff has until the end of the month to pay the Commission,” said Sanders.
Commissioner Brown also pointed out that the Sheriff has negotiated an agreement with the pay telephone company providing phone service to the jail. The County Commission used to administer this contract and received $900 to $1,200 in monthly revenues from this contract. “Since June 2017, we have not seen the contract or the funds from the phone at the jail, “ said Brown. Commissioner Tennyson Smith reminded the commissioners that he had brought this to their attention when he was Chair of the Commission.
Since September 2019, Sheriff Benison has also withheld $72,000 a month in electronic bingo funds, previously allocated to the Greene County Commission, from the bingo machine fee.
The Sheriff said that the County Commission was not using the funds properly, under his rules, and that he was withholding them until the Commission can demonstrate that they were using the funds to benefit Greene County.
Many political observers of Greene County feel the rift between the Sheriff and the County Commission must be healed or there will be serious negative consequences for the benefits of electronic bingo to Greene County residents.
In other business, the Greene County Commission:
• approved a resolution in support of the 2020 Census and making sure that everyone in Greene County is counted;
• approved an ABC license for the Escape Lounge in Boligee;
• approved extending the deadline for garbage fee waiver from February 3 to 14, 2020;
• approved modifications in the Right-of-Way policies:
• approved sale of dump trucks to Jeff Martin;
• approved $17,417.61 for guardrails on three bridges, as
a match for Federal funds to repair these bridges;
• approved advertising and hiring temporary workers from the County Road Department; and
• approved travel for employees for training.

Newswire: Ghana’s ‘Year of Return’ brings call to broaden scope

Celebration in Ghana


Jan. 13, 2020 (GIN) – When Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo pronounced 2019 as the Year of Return, his words resounded with warmth and joy to all people of African descent.
So began a year-long calendar of events including concerts, art shows, visits to heritage sites, fashion shows, movie premieres and creative economy and trade conferences, organized on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of the arrival of African slaves in America.
Thus far, Akufo-Addo’s call has been a great success, observed Ghanaian author and journalist Kwabena Agyare Yeboah in a recent online issue of African Arguments.
Americans arriving in Ghana increased by 26% to their highest ever rate between January and September 2019.
Similarly, the numbers of visitors grew from the UK (24%), Germany (22%), South Africa (10%) and Liberia (14%). All told, Ghana reportedly issued 800,000 visas this year and this week announced that all nationalities will be eligible to receive a visa on arrival for the next month or so due to the heavy demand.
It was exhaustive, writes Agyare Yeboah, but could they have done more? Was the exclusive focus on the transatlantic slave trade, with the US at the center, a pardonable weakness? Or did it erase other crucially important aspects and legacies of Ghana’s history of slavery?
Missing, he maintains, is the trans-Saharan slave trade in which an estimated 6-7 million people, including from the Sokoto Caliphate and Borno, were forcibly transported to North Africa, Europe and the Middle East, a period ranging over 1,250 years,” he says.
“The legacy of this trade is still palpable in Mauritania where slavery is still a present-day reality,”Agyare Yeboah says. “The country only formally abolished slavery in 1981 and local activists estimate that 20% of the population – all black – are still enslaved.
“Where are the calls for these descendants to return? Where are the African descendants outside of the US, the Jamaicans, Cubans and Brazilians?” he asks rhetorically.
The failure to fully engage with the history of slavery and the focus on just a select portion of African descendants compromises its credibility, he charges.
“The Year of Return campaign had the opportunity, and a whole year, to critically engage with the history of Africans and people of African descent in its entirety. On this, it must do more.”

Newswire: NAACP lawsuit claims Census Bureau is unprepared for count

By Mike Schneider, Associated Press


ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Calling preparations for the 2020 Census “conspicuously deficient,” the NAACP is suing the U.S. Census Bureau, demanding that the agency send more workers into the field and spend more money on encouraging people to participate in the once-a-decade head count.
The civil rights group and Prince George’s County, a majority African American county in Maryland, filed the lawsuit last Friday in federal court in Maryland. It claims the Census Bureau wasn’t planning to put enough workers in the field and hadn’t opened up a sufficient number of field offices.
The lawsuit also faulted the bureau for conducting limited testing, particularly when, for the first time, it is encouraging most respondents to answer the questionnaire online.
The 2020 census will help determine the distribution of $1.5 trillion in federal spending and how many congressional seats each state gets. It starts for a few residents next week in a remote part of Alaska, but most people won’t be able to begin answering the questionnaire until mid-March.
“These deficiencies will result in a massive and differential undercount of communities of color,” the lawsuit said. “Such a dramatic undercount will especially dilute the votes of racial and ethnic minorities, deprive their communities of critical federal funds, and undervalue their voices and interests in the political arena.”
The Census Bureau didn’t immediately respond to an email for comment on Monday. The bureau plans to hire as many as 500,000 temporary workers, mostly to help knock on the doors of homes where people haven’t yet responded to the census. Although that is less than in 2010, the agency has said it doesn’t need as many workers this year because of technological advances, such as the ability of workers to collect information on their mobile devices.
An earlier version of the lawsuit was first filed in 2018, but it was dismissed by the district court. An appellate court last month ruled some of the claims could be raised again in the amended complaint filed Friday. In previous court papers, the Census Bureau has called the lawsuit “meritless.””

Newswire: Senator Doug Jones emphasizes the importance of the 2020 Black Voter Turnout in exclusive fireside chat with NNPA President Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

Sen. Doug Jones shaking hands with NNPA’s Ben Chavis;


Jones makes a point to Chavis during interview


The importance of Black voter turnout, the Reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act, bipartisan politics, the Futures Act and environmental justice, counted among the topics candidly tackled during a historic fireside chat between National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) President and CEO Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., and Alabama’s Senator Doug Jones, a Democrat.
Held inside the Hart Building at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., the engaging hour-long conversation marked the first time that a sitting U.S. Senator sat down for a live-streamed video with the Black Press of America.
During the discussion, Jones said that voter turnout – particularly that of African Americans – was crucial to his stunning upset of Republican Roy Moore in the 2017 Alabama Special Election.
“The right to vote was hard fought for African Americans in this country, and I think too many people take that for granted. I think we proved that in the special election in 2017, that every vote counts,” said Jones.
Jones said voting rights had been under attack since the 2013 Shelby V. Holder decision, which eliminated a lot of voter protections. “It’s not the same as the old Jim Crow laws, but there’s still efforts out there to suppress votes and keep people from having that free access to the booths,” he stated.
Jones noted that he’s working to restore “teeth” in the Voting Rights Act, but doubts that the current GOP-led Senate and President Trump’s administration would approve. “I don’t see it happening, so it’s all the more important to get out and vote in the 2020 elections,” Jones stated.
Chavis asked Jones about the role Black women played in his winning election to the Senate. “It was critical. We focused on making sure that we got the African American vote out,” Jones stated.
“We did get more African Americans as a percentage out than even when President Obama did in his first race, a fact that I was very proud. The Black community came out and worked hard. It’s community engagement; it’s a 365-days a year job. And, that’s why the Black Press is so important because it keeps the community engaged,” he stated.
Late last year, Trump signed the Futures Act, a bipartisan measure that would put more funding into Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and other minority-serving institutions.
“It was incredibly important. When it comes to federal dollars, there are two pots of money HBCUs get: Mandatory funding and discretionary funding,” said Jones.
“The mandatory funding is absolutely critical so they can plan each year. There’s a lot of budgetary tugs that fought us, it wasn’t easy, but we were just persistent, and that’s the key in legislation in Washington, to be persistent,” he noted.
Jones continued: “So we were able to get that mandatory funding so that a base amount of money would go to HBCUs. In my two years in Washington, we have been able to get about a 30 percent increase in discretionary funding for HBCUs and other minority-serving institutions.
“Providing that base is important to them and the economy of states like Alabama and North Carolina, and others.”
Chavis spoke to Jones about race relations and asked about the senator’s forecast for the South and whether he sees a more inclusive and diverse South rising. “So many of the divisions we see in the country started in the South. It can also be a place of healing and bringing people back together, and I see tremendous opportunity in the South,” Jones stated.
“I think my election was something that people looked at and said the South was changing. The demographics are changing to some extent, but I think people’s hearts and minds are changing,” he added.
“We went from a one-party state in Alabama with Democrats, to a one-party state with Republicans. There was never anything in between. When you get competitive political parties, you get people who have to talk to each other, and that’s what you need.
“These young people coming up don’t have the same kind of biases and prejudices you saw when I was growing up. They also are beginning to see that the state is better off when everybody in that state benefits from it. I think the South can lead the nation in healing.”
Jones also spoke of the importance of closing the achievement gap, although he said it’s a complicated issue. He said education and getting broadband into rural communities are keys to helping close the gap.
The senator also noted that he’s a proponent of raising the federal minimum wage, but conceded it couldn’t be done overnight. He stated that Trump’s 2017 tax cuts have helped to provide businesses with the needed resources to make a minimum wage hike possible.
With climate change a serious and growing issue, Jones stated the importance of the Black Press to continue to cover topics of environmental justice.“A lot of work needs to be done,” he stated. “But, I don’t have much confidence in the Environmental Protection Agency under this administration, which is why the 2020 election is very important.”
Jones concluded the chat by noting the critical role of the Black Press, his disappointment in mainstream media, and his message to veterans in the wake of the new conflict with Iran.
“I think the press, in general, is critical. Overall, I’m a little disappointed in mainstream media, and I think the Black Press has a unique role, so the Black Press must stay focused on the issues,” Jones stated.

Newswire: Pope Francis names Deontay Wilder Boxing Ambassador for Peace

Pope Francis speaks with Deontay Wilder


Urban News Service – Pope Francis named Deontay Wilder, a current heavyweight champion, the Boxers’ Representative and Ambassador for Peace through Sport in a private ceremony in Vatican City.
Wilder, a native of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, met the pontiff earlier this week while on a tour of Rome and the city’s surrounding areas.
“He’s truly a remarkable man that represents true love, happiness, and world peace for all human race. He also enjoys pizza and is a huge boxing fan. And you know he’s a part of the BombZquad family baby,” Wilder later said about the meeting on Twitter.
“BombZquad” refers to the Deontay Wilder’s fans base. The fighter was nicknamed the “Bronze Bomber” after winning a Bronze Medal at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. When Wilder won his World Boxing Council (WBC) heavyweight title in 2015. In doing so he became the first American heavyweight champion in nine years — the longest stretch without an American champion in the sport’s modern history. While soccer is the most popular sport in Pope Francis’s native Argentina, boxing is also quite popular and the country has produced several world champions.
Wilder met the pontiff inside Vatican City. The heavyweight champion made the stop while touring the greater area of Rome. The tour was planned and sponsored by the Italian Boxing Federation and WBC as part of an effort to increase international cultural diplomacy through boxing.
The award Deontay received was recommended to Pope Francis by Scholas Occurentes, the non-religious social awareness organization he founded as an archbishop in Argentina.
“Since its inception, Pope Francis dreamed of Scholas as the possibility of giving a concrete response to the call of this era, conferring on him the task of educating in the openness to the other, upon hearing that gathering the pieces of an atomized and empty of meaning world, and start creating a new culture: the Culture of Encounter,” according to a statement posted on the website of Scholas.
The organization focuses on giving children from impoverished areas opportunities to commit themselves to sports — the group particularly pushes the sports of soccer and boxing, which they believe can teach children discipline and other important values.
“Through the teaching of various boxing techniques, learning experiences are generated linked to values that are at stake: overcoming, effort, respect, companionship.”
Scholas’s goal is not simply getting children off the streets. They aim to use sports as a means of teaching morality and life lessons.
“By means of these two experiences, and through several disciplines and sports techniques, the purpose is to generate learning spaces and time to develop values such as resilience, team work, respect, honesty, effort and spirit of solidarity.”
Wilder’s own story reflects the values promoted by Scholas. As a youth Wilder was a high school football star who dreamed of playing for the University of Alabama’s Crimson Tide and later a promising college basketball player. All of that changed when he became a father in 2005 at age 19. His eldest daughter was born with a life-threatening spina bifida. He put education aside to make money for his family and her treatments. He worked a variety of jobs from an IHOP to a Red Lobster. He also worked as the driver of a Budweiser truck while taking up boxing, a path which eventually lead him to great success.
Wilder was extremely vocal in his respect for Pope Francis, who he can be seen shaking hands with in several photos of the event.
Known for his bombastic attitude in the ring, Wilder has a humble persona outside of the squared circle. He has not posted any non-Vatican related content since the meeting.
“Much love from me Pope Francis and I’m wishing you many many blessings your way,” said Wilder after the event on Twitter.“What [an] honor it was to meet the #Pope @franciscus today,” Wilder later posted on social media.
In February of next year, Wilder will be fighting another big fan of Pope Francis — British heavyweight Tyson Fury.
The pair fought once before in a 2018 match. Contested in Los Angeles, Fury recovered from two knockdowns and the fight was scored a draw. The two are scheduled to meet in a rematch in February 2020. Neither fighter has suffered a defeat as a professional.

Newswire: Senator Cory Booker suspends his presidential campaign

by BlackmansStreet.Today

Sen. Cory Booker

What was once a diverse group of candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for the president became less so Monday when U.S. Senator Cory Booker suspended his campaign for the Democratic nomination for president, citing difficulty raising enough money.
“It’s with a full heart that I share this news — I’ve made the decision to suspend my campaign for president,” Booker wrote supporters in an email. “It was a difficult decision to make, but I got in this race to win, and I’ve always said I wouldn’t continue if there was no longer a path to victory.”
“Our campaign has reached the point where we need more money to scale up and continue building a campaign that can win — money we don’t have, and money that is harder to raise because I won’t be on the next debate stage and because the urgent business of impeachment will rightly be keeping me in Washington. So, I’ve chosen to suspend my campaign now, take care of my wonderful staff, and give you time to consider the other strong choices in the field.”
The 59-year-old Booker has represented New Jersey in the U.S. Senate since 2013. His departure follows those of U.S. Senator of Kamala Harris of California and Julian Castro, former Housing and Urban Development Secretary under President Obama.
Former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick remains the only African American candidate in the 12-candidate field, and Andrew Yang is the only Asian. U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii is a native of Leloaloa, American Samoa.

Greene County man charged in murder in Sumter Co. nightclub shooting

Gregory L. Williams

The Sumter County Sheriff’s Office has charged a man with murder after a fatal shooting at a nightclub on New Year’s Eve.
Gregory L. Williams, 26, of Greene County has been charged with murder for the death of 24-year-old Donnell Ireland, as well as two counts of attempted murder and second-degree criminal mischief. He is being held in Sumter County Jail on a $68,000 cash bond.
Deputies say they received a call early Jan. 1 about a shooting at the Miller Hill nightclub. Arriving deputies found one victim dead and learned two other victims had been transported to different hospitals by personal vehicles.
The victim was identified as 24-year old Donnell Ireland of Emelle.
Witnesses told deputies a verbal argument started inside the nightclub and eventually spilled outside to the parking lot, where the shooting happened.
Deputies say more arrests are expected.

Four bingo facilities distribute $359,660 for month of November

Bingo Clerk Emma Jackson, Officer E. Carpenter, Forkland Mayor  Charlie McAlpine, Dr. Marcia Pugh Greene County Health System CEO, Greene County Sheriff Jonathan Benison, Ruthie Thomas representing the City of Eutaw, Boligee City Councilwoman Earnestine Wade and Union Mayor James Gaines.

The Greene County Sheriff’s Department reported a total distribution of $359,660 for the month of November 2019 from four licensed bingo gaming operations in the county. The bingo distributions for November are contributed by Greenetrack, Inc., Frontier, River’s Edge and Palace. The recipients of the monthly distributions from bingo gaming designated by Sheriff Benison in his Bingo Rules and Regulations include the Greene County Sheriff’s Department, the cities of Eutaw, Forkland, Union, Boligee, the Greene County Board of Education and the Greene County Hospital (Health System).
Greenetrack, Inc. gave a total of $67,500 to the following: Greene County Commission, $-0-no distribution; Greene County Sheriff’s Department, $9,000; City of Eutaw, $4,500; and the Towns of Forkland, Union and Boligee each, $3,000; Greene County Board of Education, $13,500, the Greene County Health System, $7,500. Included in Greenetrack’s November contribution is $24,000 for undesignated recipient.
Frontier (Dream, Inc.) gave a total of $67,500 to the following: Greene County Commission, $-0-no distribution); Greene County Sheriff’s Department, $9,000; City of Eutaw, $4,500; and the Towns of Forkland, Union and Boligee each, $3,000; Greene County Board of Education, $13,500, Greene County Health System, $7,500. Included in Frontier’s November contribution is $24,000 for undesignated recipient.
River’s Edge (Next Level Leaders and Tishabee Community Center Tutorial Program) gave a total of $73,300 to the following: Greene County Commission, $-0-no distribution); Greene County Sheriff’s Department, $9,000; City of Eutaw, $4,500; and the Towns of Forkland, Union and Boligee each, $3,000; Greene County Board of Education, $13,500, and the Greene County Health System, $13,300. Included in River’s Edge November contribution is $24,000 for undesignated recipient.
Palace (TS Police Support League) gave a total of $151,360 to the following: Greene County Commission, $-0- (no distribution); Greene County Sheriff’s Department, $80,960; City of Eutaw, $24,640; and the Towns of Forkland, Union and Boligee each, $7,040; Greene County Board of Education, $7,040 and the Greene County Health System, $17,600. There was no amount reported for an undesignated recipient.