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County finalizes $3 million loan for new gym at Roper Park

Plans for the news gym at Roper Park as presented by Commissioner Jones.

At a called meeting last Thursday, Commissioner Robert Jones signed a resolution entering Pickens County into a $3 million loan for the Pickens County Community Center now under construction at Roper Park.

When completed, the community center will be 30,650 sq. ft. and will house two high school regulation sized gyms with basketball courts capable of seating up to 200, an indoor walking track, a large meeting room that can seat 150 when eating or 250 when not, two classrooms and a covered outdoor area.

The facility will also be used as a shelter in the event of an emergency.

The county secured a building loan with the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG) for an eight-year term at 3.25 percent interest, according to Pickens County Finance Director Mechelle Champion. Payments on the $3 million loan will be $35,645 per month.

Farm family relies on Great Pyrenees dogs


The gang’s all here––a herd of the Great Pyrenees breed, other canine pals, and proud owners during the autumn meeting of the Metro Atlanta Great Pyrenees Club held at the Hottinger Farm just south of Waleska.
Say you were interested in moving from the city onto a small North Georgia farm. You wouldn't be long in discovering wild animals loose in the woods. And should you want to make your farm the working kind, the kind for raising goats, fowl, or cattle, you'd be quick to meet some woods creatures up close. Coyotes particularly might view your spread as a fine fattening pen for the live kills they most enjoy.
What then?
On 40 acres south of Waleska, Don Hottinger has discovered the Great Pyrenees breed of dog to be the godsend of coyote control. Hottinger once raised cattle and had a problem with coyotes killing calves, he said. Today he keeps goats, probably even more vulnerable. But with his Great Pyrenees dogs (three) ranging the farm and some donkeys ranging the pastures, no coyote inside the fence stands much chance of getting out again alive.
One of Hottinger's donkeys stomped a coyote flat after the predator found its way into a barn stall where a baby goat was sheltered. His three Great Pyrenees recently killed a coyote nearer the house, Hottinger said. These strong dogs are aggressive when they need to be but are gentle with humans, Hottinger said.
As I arrived at his farm to interview for this story, Hottinger's three guard dogs made the welcoming committee. They never barked as I stepped from the van, just gently stole close with an air of cautious investigation.
How did Hottinger and his wife Marcie happen onto these gentle giants? "We actually took a test on line to find out what kind of dog was best for our circumstances," Hottinger said. Marcie did most of the research.
The Internet will tell you the Great Pyrenees breed originated in central Asia but was present in the high mountain region between Spain and France by the middle ages. Mostly used as shepherd dogs in those Pyrenees Mountains, by the late 1600s, the breed became popular with French noblemen and has remained widely popular since.
These dogs are large, predominantly white and thickly furred. Their fur piles in two dense layers. A sort of lion's mane round the dog's neck provides a regal look and defensive armor. An attacking animal finds a weighty obstacle when trying a neck grab on a Great Pyrenees.
"They're very, very docile as far as temperament is concerned," Hottinger said. "These are true working dogs. Those dogs will run this fence, this property line, all night long," he said. "They're letting the world know they're guarding this place."
"They sleep in the daytime and bark at night," said Hottinger's daughter Elizabeth. "They are just constantly on patrol at night."
Don said the night-prowling nature of Great Pyrenees discourages some would-be owners, because night patrols usually involve barking. "It can be constant," Hottinger said. You may hear 15 minutes of barking, he said, followed by ten minutes of quiet before barking restarts.
Coyotes seem to know the drill, Hottinger said, harassing his dogs ("Peers" he calls them––his abbreviation for Pyrenees) from just off of the property. "It's almost like they know the Peers can't get to them outside the fence," he said. "There were coyotes within 100 yards singing last night."
Elizabeth recalled a time the Great Pyrenees defended the fence line from an invading stray, a German shepherd. They fought the intruder through a fence gate, Hottinger said. The fight at the gate left the intruder mauled, he said. The Great Pyrenees in the thick of the fight suffered little hurt, thanks to the thick mane about its neck.
First Great Pyrenees for the Hottingers was a dog called Moses about 12 years ago.
"Moses was our patriarch," Hottinger said. "Moses, he was a true gentleman. When we got Moses, Marcie and I got him for Christmas, and he was one year old. It was love at first sight, I think, both ways."
Moses came from an animal rescue group, Hottinger said.
"Peer puppies look just like a little polar bear," he said. "Six months later, the dog weighs 120 pounds, and they [overwhelmed owners] just can't cope. That's why they end up in pounds and everywhere else."
The Hottingers were so impressed with Moses they began rescuing other Great Pyrenees dogs. But Moses remains a stand-out.
"When that dog died, I cried for two days, and I don't mind admitting it," Hottinger said. "I loved that dog. He was so good. If there ever was a perfect dog, it was Moses. He was a special dog."
In the past 12 years, Don and Marcie Hottinger have owned about seven or eight Great Pyrenees, Don said. More like 15 to 18 if you count all the ones they cared for before sending them along to newfound owners, he said. "We have a tough time saying no when it comes to Peers," Hottinger admitted.
"We ended up participating in the Metro Atlanta Great Pyrenees Club," he said. The club has four meetings each year, one yearly at the Hottinger Farm. "We've had as many as 30 dogs here," Hottinger said.
I asked Hottinger to tell me about the three "Peers" I met on arrival. Bo, Davis, and Holly, he said.
"Holly I originally rescued and found her a home," Hottinger said. "Eighteen months they kept her." Her then-owners could not stand up to the nights, he explained. "I ended up with Holly back."
“Bo was an abused animal,” Hottinger said. “He was just not cared for by the family that had him. Davis we got in a divorce situation. Three's enough,” he added. “We've had four.”
Davis is completely deaf yet still effective, Hottinger said. "The only thing that I can figure is that God compensated Davis with a sense of smell, because more than once Davis has sounded the alarm to notify the others."
"He's a bull," Hottinger said. "He's just so muscular. It's like he's been lifting weights. He is the one who did the fighting [with the stray] over the gate. We had him in for shots in the past month, and he was right at 148 pounds," Hottinger said. "It's basically 148 pounds of muscle."
Tallest of the three, Bo is the one out front meeting new humans. When I arrived at the farm, he nosed up first. "He is craving love. He really and truly is," Hottinger said. "Davis is the same way. He wants to be right against you to have that human contact. Holly is just the opposite."
Hottinger leaves the property to walk on a regular basis, he told me. On his return, his dogs all receive an edible treat. "Davis always gets the first cookie," Hottinger said. "Bo gets the second cookie. Holly gets hers on the couch."
Each of the three Peers gets to lounge on its own sofa inside the Hottinger garage. Couches come thrift-store-direct, their master told me.
Holly waits on the couch for her cookie, Hottinger said. "She wants it on her terms," he explained. "She expects her cookie to be delivered to her, and it works. She has me well trained," he smiled.
"There is something about the personality of Peers that is unbelievable," he said. "People think they lay around, but they've been working all night long. They have to have some rest sometime."
Their guard is not exactly down even in daytime. "When you came up the driveway, they let me know," Hottinger told me.
He said he returned to his property late one night, dropped at the head of his long driveway to test his guard dogs as he approached home. "When I lifted the bolt on the gate, I'm tellin' you, all hell broke loose," Hottinger said, "and all three of them were right there."
"Davis is five. Bo is three," Hottinger said. "Holly is nine years old, realistically only a year or so left." Great Pyrenees just live about a decade, he said.
Large dogs don't survive as long as standard-sized ones, he explained, though they cost more to feed and maintain. Due to the size of his Great Pyrenees dogs, each requires a double shot of the standard dose for monthly heart worm protection. Their dose would treat two standard-sized dogs, Hottinger explained, and it’s not cheap.
He figures it's worth it, haviing loved dogs all of his life. "I honestly and truly can never remember not having a dog," Hottinger said. As a boy growing up in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, it was beagles, he said. "Rabbit beagles because I used to hunt," Hottinger said. "I can tell you their names," he went on. "I just always had a dog."
Surely a special dynamic exists between dogs and humans. What other animal so seeks to interact with a human or to serve as asked? What other animal so desires human interest or approval? In exchange, a person only has to take care of the dog to keep the bargain. Somehow it is almost impossible to do that without coming to care about the dog, too.
It just works that way, as if someone designed it to be so, designed it so humans would have dominion over the animals that serve them and would relate to those animals by taking responsibility for them.
"When it comes to animals, if you're gonna have 'em, take care of 'em," Hottinger admonished. "I fed two horses one winter 'cause I knew where they were, and they were starving, and I couldn't stand it," he said. "If you're gonna have 'em, take care of 'em." 

Officer talks about challenges of responding to domestic abuse calls


Pickens County Sgt. Kris Stancil says officers respond to domestic abuse calls more than any other type.  
To date, the local law enforcement agency has been dispatched on 833 calls, which he says is equivalent to two every 12-hour shift.  
At the November Pickens County Domestic Violence Task Force meeting Stancil spoke candidly about the challenges of training and the complications officers face when entering strangers’ homes as “their worlds are falling apart.”
“That’s why we harp on safety when we teach,” Stancil said. “Relationships are falling apart, jobs are being lost and that’s why you’re on the way to their house. People aren’t thinking clearly, so the badge and the uniform may not mean a thing to them.”
  But Stancil said despite domestic abuse being top of the heap when it comes to call volume, officers in-training receive just a four-hour block of instruction for domestic abuse at the 12-week police academy training session new recruits are put through. 
He said other topics covered in the academy training program do pull in elements of family and domestic violence, but he says the limited amount of domestic abuse training can pose a problem for green-behind-the-ears officers. 
“If you only get four hours of training specifically related to family violence and you get a new officer that comes in, you find out quickly when we’re training here that they really don’t know,” he said. “They have to learn this hands on. It’s up to field training officer here to recognize those strengths and weaknesses when we do our annual training to help teach and understand what the law says.” 
So Stancil said he and other officers from the local agency spend a great deal of time training to ensure deputies have the proper tools and knowledge they need to keep all parties involved safe, to pay attention and evaluate the scene and the evidence properly, and to write a thorough report, which can make or break a case once it’s in court. 
“You’ve got to pay attention while you’re on the scene,” Stancil said. “What does the law say? Ask questions. That’s probably deputies’ and law enforcement’s worst trait. We talk and don’t like to listen. You have to take into account the evidence and figure out which story the evidence supports.”
This means deputies are charged with making judgment calls while they’re on the scene, relying on their powers of observation and instinct to get things right.  
But Stancil said the victims’, witnesses’ and suspects’ stories are almost never in sync with one another during the initial investigation, which makes sifting out the truth a difficult task. 
“It’s never really a black and white situation when you walk in,” Stancil said. “The stories never match up. Then 95-percent of the time the victim of a family abuse situation is going to recant because the husband is bringing home the bacon. He’s making the money. If he’s in jail he can’t support the family.” 
Deputies are also warned about prepared statements that parents sometimes coach their children to tell officers.
“Sometimes you watch a kid give their statement and you can tell the mom has coached the kid on how to give the statement,” Stancil said. “But if you ask, most the time kids will tell, you, ‘Yup, that’s what momma told us to tell you so daddy would get out of her and leave us alone.’” 
The tendency for victims to cover up for a family member or roommate is one reason Stancil says the Family Violence Act is so important to Georgia families. 
“It takes the burden off the victim and throws it on the officer that responds to the scene,” Stancil said. “Under the Family Violence Act [officers] have got to act. It takes away some of that discretion.”
Stancil even said new recruits are taught that if they fail to make an arrest in a family violence case that they themselves can be arrested for a misdemeanor.  
Beyond being sure deputies know the law, Stancil said trainers are focusing on teaching them how to write a quality incident report that will stand up in court. 
  “If it met the criteria for a family violence call, you are required to write a family violence report,” Stancil said. ‘This is in the law. You don’t have a choice.
 “So we start with in-service training with all our deputies,” he said. “We also work very aggressively with our field training program. When someone’s going to be a deputy they’re not going to get let loose until they can write the reports and put it in a chronological order where it makes sense. 
“What good is it if you go and spend hours and hours and hours on a scene and then you go and do a sloppy report and the person goes free because they can’t prosecute it?” Stancil asked. “You’re going to be the beginning of the case, and if you blow the case right at the beginning then you’re just wasting your time.”
Stancil noted that deputies are only required to have a GED or high school equivalency, which can create issues with writing the quality reports that are needed.  
“If you have high school training or a GED you’ve probably not had a lot of training on how to write,” he said. “That’s just the reality. We’ve got to show that we can train and teach them how to do what they need to do. 
At the monthly DVTF meeting the sergeant also touched on issues that are more specific to Pickens, including the difficulties of responding to a call in rural landscape as well as training deputies that have grown up with domestic violence in their own family. 
“One thing we encounter with new recruits that were born and raised in Pickens County,” Stancil said, “there are a lot of people who have grown up in that [abusive] culture and that’s just the way it’s always been. Daddy’s always been mean to mommy, or mommy’s always been mean to daddy. They try to look through that filter, but we have to take away that filter and look at what the law says.”
Pickens’ rural landscape also creates issues for deputies who are discreetly trying to approach homes. In domestic abuse calls Stancil said officers are instructed to park a block away and observe the home before entering. 
“That was easy to do when I worked in Valdosta and all the driveways were close together and everything was well lit and marked,” Stancil said.  “But some of the driveways we go to here are a block themselves and you are going to have to use a flashlight. You don’t know if you’re going to walk up on a Rottweiler or a pit bull or what else. Knowing your county can help you know what you’re getting into.”
Angela Reinhardt can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Only $557k in back taxes collected during county’s tax lien sales


By Christie Pool
staff writer
Hoping to collect on hundreds of thousands of dollars in back taxes, the county tax office conducted a series of tax lien sales during the past three months to dismal results, with investors only purchasing liens on 22 of the 90 properties offered up. 
According to Tax Commissioner Sharon Troglin, the county collected a total $557,717 from the October, November and December sales. During tax lien sales, the winning bidder doesn’t purchase the land or home, rather the tax debt. The purchaser’s money pays the delinquent taxes to the county on behalf of the delinquent property owner. Troglin said investors at tax lien sales purchase the right to collect past due taxes from the property owner. 
Once a lien is sold at auction, the property owner has one year to pay the back taxes to the new lien holder plus 20 percent of the purchase price. Tax lien sales differ from tax deed sales because the purchaser does not acquire the deed or land ownership of the property.
If the owner can’t pay the investor back within one year plus the 20 percent interest, the investor may then work through an attorney to get title to the property. In exchange for purchasing the tax debt, the winning bidder at auction is given first lien position on title, ahead of mortgages, deeds of trust and judgments.
During the October sale, the county took 25 properties to auction, selling just three liens. Similarly, in November, 23 were taken to auction with just nine liens selling. In December, 10 out of 42 sold, Troglin said. 
“Naturally we were hoping that they would all sell,” she said. “It just depends on the individuals that are there to bid. But it’s about average. We usually end up with about this many during a tax sale.”
The largest sale was $165,000 for back taxes owed on the old shoe plant on Hood Road. Troglin said the majority of taxes collected were on property, not homes. The tax commissioner also said several property owners came in to pay up prior to their parcels going to the sale. In December, she said, 11 paid prior to the sale.
“We were fortunate to have quite a few come in to pay before it went to sale,” she said. “The ones that didn’t sell will remain on the tax rolls, and next year we’ll try to take those back and see if they’ll sell. They do remain on the books and keep accruing taxes each year.”
Under the terms of the sale, Troglin said the debt must be paid within one year with 20 percent interest. If not paid, the purchaser of the tax lien may foreclose on the property, and all other liens are dissolved and do not transfer to the purchaser. 
“The original owner has a year to redeem it back,” she said. “If they don’t during that year, then it becomes the property of the purchaser at the tax sale.”
If there’s a lien against the property from a bank or mortgage company, and the owner doesn’t redeem the property back, then that lien is dissolved. The tax lien purchaser may then work through an attorney to acquire the title on the property.
Troglin said her office is required to notify all interested parties, such as a bank or mortgage company, prior to any property going to sale. 
Christie Pool may be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

County “holding the line” for 2011 budget

“It’s actually within pennies of what we had last year,” Commissioner Robert Jones said of 2011’s budget, approved at Thursday’s commissioner’s meeting following a vacant public hearing. 

Working with county department heads, Commissioner Jones and Pickens County Chief Finance Officer Mechelle Champion hammered out a $21,866,771 budget for 2011. That’s up over $2.8 million from the $18,999,692 budgeted for 2010.
Before you start scratching your head, Champion and Jones say the 2.8 percent increase is tied almost entirely to the SPLOST-funded Pickens County Community Center at Roper Park, budgeted at $2,644,242 for 2011.