Tuesday, June 22, 2021
Tifton, Georgia
Tifton City Council OK’s a new city budget and hears from residents about parking and street issues Monday night during the regular council meeting at City Hall. Council members seated from left are M.Jay Hall, Mayor Julie B. Smith, Johnny Terrell and Jack Folk. In the foreground from left are City Attorney Rob Wilmot, City Manager Pete Pyrzenski and City Clerk Jessica White.
Tifton Grapevine
Tifton City Council on Monday got an earful from business owners about parking issues and a proposal to convert Commerce Way to a one-way street.

Following the business-owner comments, Mayor Julie B. Smith directed that the city's dormant parking committee be reconstituted to address parking concerns and that another committee be created of business owners and Downtown Development Authority (DDA) members to review plans for Commerce Way.

The mayor had removed the Commerce Way proposal from the meeting's agenda.

B.J. Smith, owner of 41 & Main restaurant, and Lee Turner, owner of Bula's Antiques, both Main Street businesses, told council that downtown business owners need on-street parking in order to handle their deliveries and loading. Although businesses are barred from parking their vehicles on the street, they said some business owners do so without penalty while others are fined.

Turner said he recently patronized another downtown business and parked his vehicle, which has his store's logo on it, near that business while he was in there. He received a $50 fine for doing so.

"This is ridiculous that, as a business owner, we can’t go downtown and visit other stores without the fear of getting a ticket," Turner said.

He told council that allowing businesses to park on the street would not restrict customers form finding parking. "We’ve got plenty of parking downtown," Turner said.

He said that from the corner of First Street to U.S. Highway 82, there are 93 parking spots for 41 businesses; and that from along Third Street, there are 85 parking spots available for 21 businesses.

LaRae M. Moore with Lifehouse Ministries and its second-hand boutique "Redeemed" on Commerce Way spoke against a proposal making Commerce Way a one-way street as part of planned enhancements.

"This would negatively affect our business," she said, and that she was never contacted about the plan. She asked the city to "work with business owners rather than against them; keep us involved and informed."

Moore said it appeared that the city attempted to "slip in" the one-way street plan without a lot of discussion.

Mike Cooksey who is extensively renovating buildings on Commerce Way, also spoke forcefully against the one-way street proposal. He said 11 of 14 property owners on Commerce Way have signed a petition against converting the street to one-way and that more than 30 other downtown businesses are also against changing the street's traffic pattern.

"There needs to be a lot more discussion," Cooksey said. "This is a very controversial matter."

Mayor Smith took exception to any idea that City Council attempted to "slip in" a plan making Commerce Way a one-way street. "We do not slide things under the table," Smith said. "We don't conduct the business of the city this way."

She said the DDA has been extensively involved in Commerce Way proposals and that $40,000 has already been spent on design plans involving refurbishing the street.

"The good news is that these are growing pains," the mayor said. Many Georgia towns “don't have a parking problem, they have a business problem. Aren’t we fortunate that we live in a community like this; we have a viable downtown."
Tifton Grapevine
Nearly 200 neighborhoods in Tifton and Tift County have recently seen increases in their property tax values averaging 20%, says Hayward Becton, chief appraiser for the Tift County Board of Assessors.

"We had to do it to keep our ratios in line. This is a result of the current booming real estate market," Becton told the Tifton Grapevine.

“We’ve seen a couple of thousand property transfers in Tift County” in the past two years, he said, and the assessor’s office is required to revise the value of properties in a neighborhood when a number of its properties increase in value. 

“We run neighborhood studies” when homes sell, Becton said, and his office is mandated by the state to reflect the increase in the fair market value of these homes, even though they are not on the market. 

The value of homes had fallen or remained constant since the downturn in the economy in 2008, so there had not been an increase like this one since 2006, Becton explained. 

Asked what constitutes a neighborhood, Becton said it could be three blocks. “Quite a few have warranted an adjustment. We didn’t have any with a reduction in value,” he said. 

“Real estate is selling for lots more than it has in a long time. The market has changed. This is statewide.” 

Property owners are taxed at 40% of the property’s value, and when the property value increases, the tax increases, based upon the millage rate.

“If Tift County does a (tax millage) rollback, it won’t completely offset an increase in property values, due to the booming real estate market,” Becton said, but it will help.

County Commission Chairman Tony McBrayer has told the Tifton Grapevine that the county anticipates a "0.25 millage rate rollback, but we have to await the final numbers from the Tax Assessors Office before we can finalize the amount of the rollback."

Becton expects the county to adopt its millage rate in July. It is up to Tifton City Council and the Tift County Schools Board of Education to consider if they will also rollback millage rates, which would help offset the increase in tax values for their constituents. 

City Council noted at its meeting Monday night that it expects to get the final tax digest numbers next month in order to set the millage.

"No one’s (property) taxes have gone up until the millage is set," said Councilman Jack Folk.

Becton noted that it has been “a very long time, since 2006,” since real estate property values have increased. “Sales held true to our value of the properties,” Becton said.

Any improvement in property, such as adding a garage, an outside building or a house renovation would also increase a property's taxable value. 

Becton said he was at a required training recently with tax assessors from across Georgia. “Every county represented in that class experienced property value increases; it’s statewide,” he said. 
Photos by Frank Sayles Jr.
Tifton City Hall becomes a Canadian hotel during a scene for the film 'Bandit' starring Josh Duhamel and Mel Gibson. The movie wrapped up this past weekend after filming in Tifton, Valdosta and Thomasville.
Tifton Grapevine
The fourth Hollywood movie to be filmed in Tifton during the past two years – the third one this year alone – just wrapped up production, and the movie's writer/executive producer says Tifton is a great place in which to film.

"We like Tifton; it’s the people," Kraig Wenman told the Tifton Grapevine.

"Tifton people are most accommodating. The local people are your biggest asset."

Wenman was in town with the cast and crew filming "Bandit," a true story based on a book about Gilbert Galvan, known as the notorious Canadian "Flying Bandit" who successfully got away with approximately 60 bank and jewelry heists during the 1980s.

Galvan would fly into a town dressed in a three-piece suit and carrying a briefcase as any other businessman. There, he would put on disguises and wear old work clothes over his suit, rob a bank, dispose of his outer clothes in a dumpster, and then walk away, heading to the airport and back to his home city – until he eventually got caught.

Actor Josh Duhamel is portraying the Bandit; Mel Gibson is a gangster who offers him a loan; and Nestor Carbonell plays the detective leading the chase. Elisha Cuthbert portrays the Bandit's wife.

The movie has been filmed in Thomasville, Valdosta and finally in Tifton, which doubles for London, Ontario, and Alberta.
While growing up in Canada, Wenman heard stories about the Flying Bandit. "I thought it it was an urban legend," he said. When he discovered it was true, "I bought the rights to the book; I kicked off the project on my own.

"It's been a passion project since 2017. It’s a story of a lifetime."

He has gotten to know Galvan, the real bandit, who once showed him how he would go about robbing a bank in Chicago – "if I wanted to." Galvan even does a cameo in the film.

"The movie is "like 'Catch Me If You Can;' it has a lighthearted tone. It's kind of a cat-and-mouse game," Wenman said. "And it’s a love story: He's looking for stability."

"Every scene that we do in the movie happened in real life. Everything happened; you wouldn’t belive it. He robbed one bank and then paid off his credit card at another bank across the street while they we were responding to the robbery."

This is Wenman's 27th film project. His most successful has been Netflix's “Secret Obsessions." He expects "Bandit" will initially hit 100 theaters sometime in 2022, But "that can always change."

Wenman said the cast and crew have enjoyed being in Tifton and visiting local restaurants and live music venues. He said when they left California, everything was still locked down.

"I grew up in Canada, and Canadians have a reputation for being nice, but they have nothing on you Georgians," Wenman said.

"It’s the people that will keep productions coming back to Georgia. Keep being yourselves, and we'll keep coming back."
Can you spot the Tiftonites who are among the extras in the 'Bandit' film? Portraying Shriners are, from left, John Carey, Vince Macy, David Nelson, Davy Davis and Dr. Joe West.
Tifton Grapevine
Tift County now has the lowest daily average of new COVID-19 cases since the virus has been tracked beginning last year.

As of June 20, Tift showed a daily average of 1.4 new cases per 100,000 population, according to data from Emory University. When COVID-19 tracking began in Tift County on April 1, 2020, there were 6.4 average daily cases in the county, according to the data.

Tift has reported 6 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 during the past two weeks with no new related deaths, the Ga. Department of Public Health (DPH) said Tuesday.

Within the past two weeks, Tift's new cases represent 15 per 100,000 population, the DPH reported. Also during that period, Tift had a testing positivity rate of 1.3%.

Since the pandemic began, Tift County has had 3,480 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 101 related deaths, the DPH said.

Georgia reported 325 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday with additional deaths and 73 new hospitalizations. The state has reported a total of 901,472 confirmed cases and 18,407 related COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic began.


Saturday's storm snapped a tree in Tifton's Fulwood Park, damaging the fence in the dog park. One can spot the tree that snapped at left in the photograph.

Tifton's ESG Operations regional manager said it is the only storm damage that his workers found in the city. The tree was removed Monday, and the fence was repaired.

Photo by Frank Sayles Jr.
Tifton Grapevine
The National Weather Service reports that an EF-1 tornado touched down Saturday in Southwest Georgia in Early County, which borders Alabama.

The NWS said the tornado struck at about 1:31 p.m. in Blakely and lifted at 2:44 p.m. in Randolph County with an estimated wind speed of 100 mph.

Tifton and Tift County escaped major storms. Slightly less than an inch of rain was recorded in Tifton during the weekend, and local wind speeds peaked at 29 mph, according to the University of Georgia's weather station at the Coastal Plain Experiment Station.

The only storm damage reported within the City of Tifton was a tree down in Fulwood Park that crashed at the fence at the dog park, said Jeff West, regional manager
of ESG Operations, the city's public works contractor.

The tornado that roared across Early, Clay, and Randolph counties downed numerous trees and caused structural damage to several residences and other buildings, the National Weather Service reported.
Matthew Williams has been selected as the head baseball coach at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College.

ABAC Athletics Director Alan Kramer said Williams’ experience at the collegiate level makes him a great fit for the job.

Matthew has a solid background with both Young Harris College and Valdosta State University,” Kramer said. “Everyone at ABAC looks forward to seeing him on the field with the Golden Stallions.”

Williams served as the assistant coach for the Young Harris Mountain Lions and the Valdosta State Blazers, both strong NCAA Division II programs. Young Harris won the Peach Belt Conference title in 2019 for the first time and made the regional tournament. Valdosta State participated in the regional tournament in 2017.

Williams also has head coaching experience as the diamond boss for the Waynesboro (Va.) Generals of the Valley League. The Generals won the South Division title under his leadership in 2016 when he was named Manager of the Year.

A second baseman, shortstop, and third baseman for the Blazers during his playing days, Williams received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business education at Valdosta State. He spent two years playing for Middle Georgia before beginning his career with VSU. During that time, he played against the Golden Stallions in conference play. 

“It’s an exciting journey for me,” said Williams, a 2006 graduate of Loganville High School. “We were in Valdosta for quite some time before we moved to Young Harris. Looking forward to getting back to South Georgia.

Williams will also serve as ABAC's assistant women’s soccer coach.


Sporadic rain showers didn't dampen the spirts of folks celebrating Juneteenth in Tifton on Saturday.

In the photo, Trenton, age 2, the youngest grandson of Sherin and Larry Nixon of Tifton, celebrates on the Tift County Courthouse lawn where a parade culminated in speeches and celebration.

Fenika Miller, the event's keynote speaker and coordinator of Black Vote Matters, snapped the photograph.

Miller of Houston County was one of Georgia's 16 presidential electors who cast the state's votes in the Electoral College.
Proud new member of the Tifton-Tift County Chamber of Commerce
The Exchange Club of Tifton recently presented more than $13,000 in grants to area programs and organizations that are on the front lines of fighting and treating child abuse.

The funds were raised by the club's recent "Bids for Kids" virtual auction.

Grants were presented to representatives of: The Patticake House, Kids Advocacy Coalition, Called to Care, Mims Kids, Peanut Butter & Jesus, Union Church H3 Dream Center, Tift County Commission on Children & Youth, PLIGHT, South Georgia Ministires/LIFEhouse, and CASA.
Only a few spaces remain in ABAC Place and ABAC Lakeside for students to live on campus during the fall semester, which begins Aug. 10.
With almost every room filled at ABAC Lakeside and ABAC Place campus housing, Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College expects a “full house” when fall semester classes begin on Aug. 10.

Dr. Chris Kinsey, college residence life director, anticipates 1,320 students living on campus this fall.

“We had about 1,200 students on campus last fall because of limited space during the pandemic,” Kinsey said. “I anticipate a full house this fall. We still have a few rooms available, so any student who wants to live on campus needs to apply immediately. We always have a few cancellations for a variety of reasons.”

ABAC President David Bridges said said he is excited about the college "returning to normal this fall.”

“Our students can expect the full college experience. They will be living in on-campus housing, going to club meetings, playing sports, and eating in the dining hall. Our students deserve the total college experience, and they will get it here at ABAC,” Bridges said.

A year ago during the pandemic-tightened 2020 fall term, ABAC students took a mix of online classes and in-person classes. In the spring semester, students took mostly in-person classes with some online classes.

“I want students taking in-person instruction in a safe environment this fall,” Bridges said. “We will make available a limited number of online classes for those students who still may not feel comfortable sitting in a lecture hall.”
"Miley," a six-week-old female tortoiseshell kitten, needs a home and is available for adoption at the Tift County Animal Shelter. To adopt your next pet, visit the Animal Shelter from 1-6 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, or call 229-382-PETS (7387).
Pets of the Week are sponsored by:
Branch's Veterinary Clinic
205 Belmont Ave., Tifton, 229-382-6055
– JUNE 19, 1916
The H.H. Tift Sawmill, to which Tifton owes its birth, closed permanently on Monday, June 19, 1916, after reopening briefly following a long shutdown for extensive repairs. The mill along Second Street between Tift and Chesnutt avenues was established in 1872 when there wasn't even a rail stop in this area along the Brunswick & Albany Railroad. The mill was badly burned in 1887 and was rebuilt.
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