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County gets update on fight against West Nile virus

ALBANY, Ga. -- Officials with Environmental Control and Public Health offered sobering information about the area's fight against a deadly West Nile Virus outbreak during the Dougherty County Commission's work session Monday.

Southwest Health District Epidemiologist Jacqueline Jenkins told commissioners 11 of the 21 confirmed cases of human West Nile Virus in Georgia, including two deaths, had been reported in Dougherty County, and county Environmental Control Manager Donell Mathis said his department is prepared for an extended battle with the mosquito that carries the disease.

"For us this a heavy -- and, unfortunately, deadly -- West Nile season," Jenkins said. "There are 21 confirmed cases in Georgia, and unfortunately most of those cases are concentrated in Southwest Georgia."

In noting that the elderly are most susceptible to the virus, Jenkins said that the cases in Dougherty County involved people 50 and over and that the two local fatalities were in their 70s and 80s.

Mathis said the dry start to the summer kept the mosquito population down, but increased August rains have boosted the population of the insect.

"We started spraying on March 20," Mathis said, "and since then we've had around 125 complaints. During a wet season, we'd have gotten 300 to 400 complaints by now. But we're answering all complaints and trying to stay ahead with our spraying."

Mathis said Public Works employees had covered 93,535 acres of rights-of-way and alleys, and had sprayed 14,796 miles of roads in the county since starting the battle against mosquitoes. He also said the effort included extensive treatment of catch basins, holding ponds and drainage ditches.

"We've made four complete circuits of all areas in the county, more where there are the most complaints," he said. "If the warm weather continues, we'll continue our treatment."

Commissioners also heard from Thronateeska Heritage Center Executive Director Tommy Gregors Monday morning on special-purpose local-option sales tax-funded restoration projects. Gregors said $140,000 in SPLOST VI funds were being used to restore the Georgia Northern No. 107 that was built in 1911 and retired in 1957, while $500,000 is being used to stabilize and restore the historic Tift Depot built by Albany founder Nelson Tift in 1857.

"That depot is one of five brick depots left in Georgia, and there is not another site like it in South Georgia," Gregors said. "We've completed a structural analysis, and we're starting to stabilize the walls so that we can replace the crumbling bricks and mortar.

"The train restoration also includes a Georgia Northern No. 38 passenger car built in 1917 that takes us back to the Jim Crow era. Its sections are separated for 'white' and 'colored,' and that will offer school children insight into that era."

County Administrator Richard Crowdis said restoration of the train will offer a unique attraction for the community.

"When we get this completed, it will be an entire train," he said. "That will make Albany and Dougherty County unique."

Also at the meeting, County Extension Coordinator James Morgan introduced new Southwest District Extension Services Director Laura Perry Johnson, who in turn introduced newly hired County Extension Agent for 4H and Youth Development Randy West.

County Clerk/Procurement Manager Jawahn Ware updated commissioners on a sealed bid auction that will take place in the warehouse of the county's Northwest Library branch Sept. 8. The public will have an opportunity to bid on county-owned items such as furniture, appliances and tools from 8 a.m. until noon at the facility.

"We decided to sell these items using a sealed bid rather than using the govdeals.com website because it typically brings more money," Ware said.

Tax Director Denver Hooten, who serves as chair of the county's Retirement Committee, asked the commission to approve an IRS-sanctioned resolution that would amend language to the county's benefit retirement plan. The board approved the request at a special called meeting immediately after the work session.

Commission Chairman Jeff Sinyard summed up the resolution: "There's nothing pro or negative for our employees, and this doesn't affect our budget."