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Internet sales tax bill looks 'promising'
• Lawmakers plan to require most online retailers to collect state tax.

Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome, finance committee chairman

Georgia residents will likely be paying state sales tax on purchases made over the internet under a House bill expected to pass the General Assembly this session.

"It looks pretty positive at this point," said Sen. Chuck Hufstetler, R-Rome.

Hufstetler is the Senate sponsor of HB 61 and chairman of the finance committee that recommended approval of the legislation last week. It has already passed the House, 157 to 11, and is awaiting a vote by the full Senate.

Residents already are required to pay tax on their online purchases but few do, or even know how. The new legislation requires retailers to collect it on items delivered in the state.

"Currently, retailers need a physical presence in the state to be liable. With this, they've just got to have an economic nexus of $250,000 in sales," Hufstetler said. "Amazon is already voluntarily paying it."

Companies that conduct 200 or more sales in a year also are covered, even if the dollar-amount is lower.

Those that don't want to collect the tax could instead file forms telling each customer, and the Georgia Department of Revenue, how much tax they owe for the year.

As the number of internet transactions continues to rise, legislative action to recover the lost sales tax has become a priority for the Georgia Municipal Association and the Association County Commissioners of Georgia.

Hufstetler said it's also a threat to businesses. He noted that small brick-and-mortar shops, such as those operating in downtown Rome, are at a competitive disadvantage.

Adding insult to injury is the practice of customers coming in to try the merchandise, then leaving to buy it online.

"Our local retailers aren't getting the business. Our cities and counties aren't getting the revenue. It's bad for Georgia," Hufstetler said.

The move to levy tax on companies with an economic presence in the state remains controversial, since an old U.S. Supreme Court ruling appears to limit it to those with a physical presence. But the high court agreed last month to revisit the issue through a South Dakota case.

Hufstetler said Georgia wants to be ready for the ruling, expected before the fall.

"The real answer is for the federal government to take care of this, but Congress isn't doing it," he said.

His committee made a minor change to HB 61 — starting the collections Jan. 1, 2019, instead of this year. That means it will have to go back to the House for ratification before heading to the governor's desk.

House sponsors are a list of heavy-hitters: Rep. Jay Powell, R-Camilla, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee; Rep. Terry England, R-Auburn, appropriations chair; Rep. John Meadows, R-Calhoun, rules committee chair; Rep. Stacey Abrams, a Democrat who is running for governor; and Rep. Trey Kelley, R-Cedartown, who chaired an appropriations subcommittee looking into the sales tax issue.


5,000 pick up free food
• A Rome church shares groceries donated by IGA with families all around Northwest Georgia.

They kept coming.

A preliminary count of 5,034 families came through Pleasant Valley Baptist Church from noon to 7 p.m. Sunday to pick up free groceries donated by the now-defunct West Rome IGA.

"It was awesome," a tired but happy Senior Pastor Sidney Ford said. "Some people even cried, they were so glad to get the food."

The word went out on Facebook and from the pulpits of churches in surrounding communities. Ford said they logged people from Rome, Cedartown, Summerville, Cartersville and Calhoun. There was no means-test, he said. It was open to anyone.

"I met nurses, teachers, professional people, police officers. ... We realize that even the working man needs a helping hand," he said.

Volunteers spent much of the past week hauling more than $350,000 worth of food from the closed store on Shorter Avenue to the church on North Division Street. They tackled the baked goods and dairy on Wednesday, distributing it to about 2,000 people the same day.

The big push came Saturday, the deadline to clear the store.

"We basically got everything from aisles one through seven," said Ford's son, Music Minister Breon Ford. "It was all the nonperishable items; cans and boxes of food that will last. We started about 4 p.m. and finished up around 2 a.m."

While volunteers continued to unload U-Haul trucks from the store, Pastor Ford and his assistants handled crowd control inside. As they arrived, people filed into the pews, where they waited for space to open up in the room where the groceries were laid out.

Families were given two bags each, to fill as they pleased from piles of canned vegetables, cereal boxes, spices and seasonings, soft drinks, juices and more.

"But if they wanted to go around again, they could," Ford said. "We served everyone, some even twice or three times."

His wife, Hilda Ford, and "the Mothers of the Church" checked in the families and kept the flow moving smoothly.

After seven hours of serving, the stockpiles were finally gone and the volunteers were heading home. But Ford said the connections they made through the food distribution initiative will be put to good use, as they plan more outreach projects in the community.

"It was really rewarding," he said. "But the good Lord gets all the glory."


TODAY'S YOUNG ARTIST

Today's artwork is by Blake Landrum, a sixth-grader at Lyerly Elementary School.


Tornado drill scheduled as part of Severe Weather Awareness Week

Tim Herrington

A statewide tornado safety drill is scheduled for Wednesday at 9 a.m. as part of the observation of Severe Weather Awareness week, said Floyd County Emergency Management Agency Director Tim Herrington.

As part of this week Herrington encourages families to discuss plans for dealing with a variety of emergencies from tornadoes to floods or fires.

"The biggest thing people can do is to get as much information about what normally happens in their particular area," Herrington said. "Severe Weather Week gives them an opportunity to get additional information that could help them make an emergency plan for their family."

Throughout the week emergency and weather agencies will focus on different types of potential disasters.

Monday focuses on family preparedness and NOAA weather radio day, followed Tuesday by thunderstorm safety. Thursday will focus on lightning safety drills and Friday on flood safety.

Herrington said large generators are not always a necessity, but if residents have specific emergency beds related to medical equipment, respirators or oxygen — smaller generators can almost be custom-purchased at pretty reasonable prices.

When it comes to an evacuation plan, Herrington said emergency kits to fit a family's specific needs should be ready to grab in a minute's notice.

"You're not always going to have a whole lot of time to evacuate. We saw that with the wildfires in California," Herrington said. "Bottled water should be available for several months."

Herrington cautioned that people should check expiration dates on any food items that may be kept as part of an emergency kit.

Northwest Georgia is still in a time of year where additional snowfall is possible, though not in any immediate forecast, and real preparation for such an event goes beyond the traditional break and milk rush.

"I have never understood the reason behind rushing to the store and getting the milk and bread whenever we get to the forecast of snow. I think it's a comfort thing," he said.

Herrington did say that emergency kits should be able to provide all immediate needs for a family for at least a 72-hour period.


FCS moving forward with Model High press box expansion
• Floyd County Schools is aiming to recommend a contractor's bid for school board members' approval Feb. 20.

John Jackson, Floyd County superintendent

If all goes according to plan, the Floyd County Board of Education is looking to approve a contractor for an expansion of the press box at the Model High football stadium during a called meeting Feb. 20.

Board members gathered Friday for a called meeting to discuss the project. The board put aside around $2 million last year for athletic facility improvements around the system. This resulted in work on the baseball field at Armuchee High, the football field at Coosa High and the Pepperell High track — the press box is the next step. The aim is to increase the size of the press box and make it more comfortable.

Floyd County Schools Superintendent John Jackson said requests for proposals are currently out for contractors to bid on, after architects designed plans for the expansion. The system is waiting to review those bids once they are submitted — they are due back Feb. 16. System officials will then sit down on Feb. 19 to review the bids and recommend a contractor for the board's approval Feb. 20.

Jackson said the system wants to get the "ball rolling" on the project as soon as possible, since football season will be right around the corner once the project is finished.

Also during Friday's called meeting, board members held a conference call with the system's bond broker to receive further information on what the current market conditions are for selling bonds. Board members are trying to determine the "optimal" closing date for bond sales, "to get the most bang for our buck," specifically whether to close in March or on May 1, Jackson said.

The system is looking at selling $30 million in bonds to jumpstart construction on two of its marquee ELOST projects in a new Pepperell Middle School and a modernized Armuchee High before collections from the extended 1-cent education local option sales tax begin to come in.

"Since we're borrowing money before collection, they're trying to minimize the amount of interest, obviously, and also ... they're trying to make it so that we can get the bonds at the lowest interest rate possible," Jackson said.

The modernization of Armuchee High is estimated to cost around $25 million. A new Pepperell Middle is expected to run the system approximately $20 million.

The board approved a resolution allowing for the request for a five-year renewal of the college and career academy charter to be sent to the state Department of Education for the approval. The charter expires this year.

"Our charter for the college and career academy is separate from the school system's charter," which is rooted in the idea of allowing schools greater "flexibility for results," Jackson said.

The Floyd County CCA's charter allows it to have more flexibility for its pathway programs and leeway from things like seat-time regulations for students.