Friday, March 12, 2010

12 MAR 10: Crime Lab Held Hostage

A couple of Fridays ago, people held picket signs outside the Government Center -- and certainly fooled me. The demonstrators were promoting the "Heart for Haiti" fund-raising drive. But for a second, I thought the Columbus Tea Party finally had taken a stand about the Crime Prevention Director.

It might be time for another fund-raising campaign at the Government Center, after hearing what the mayor said Thursday. Jim Wetherington revealed Columbus can keep its state crime lab open beyond the end of the month - but for a price. Don't be surprised if a secluded spot on the "rails for trails" path is the drop point....

Mayor Jim Wetherington and City Manager Isaiah Hugley went to Atlanta Wednesday, to lobby for the Columbus G.B.I. crime lab. The mayor told WLTZ Thursday the lab can remain open through July, if the city comes up with $66,000. That's less than 50 cents per resident - and if the city can sneak it onto water bills, most people probably would never know.

The $66,000 figure apparently was determined during a Wednesday meeting with Georgia Lieutenant Governor Casey Cagle. The mayor and city manager didn't say anything about lobbying Governor Sonny Perdue - perhaps fearing he would find state money to move the lab to Warner Robins instead.

Once the next fiscal year begins in July, Mayor Wetherington says the city would have to pay $200,000 in "administrative costs" for the G.B.I. crime lab. That cost probably was a lot lower before the C.S.I. dramas started.

While the price tag may sound large, this statement by Mayor Wetherington actually sounds like good news for crime lab supporters. It means there's a way to keep the lab operating -- and we've heard plenty of stories about people operating meth labs for much less money.

Keep in mind the city of Columbus used $7.5 million in reserve funds last summer, to build the NCR plant. Compared to that, a potential $266,000 investment in a crime lab is.... well, you know.... as microscopic as a blood sample.

Earlier in the week, Mayor Wetherington tied the G.B.I. crime lab to his pet issue of "public safety." So I won't be surprised if he suggests the city take $66,000 from the "streets and safety sales tax" to keep the lab operating through July. After all, lab technicians might stumble upon a way to fill all the Columbus potholes for a lot less money.

There's another way to keep the crime lab on Macon Road open beyond the end of March - but that's probably the "nuclear option" Mayor Wetherington doesn't want to discuss publicly. Surround the lab with those 100 new police officers, and threaten a Victoryland-style raid.

This cost-sharing idea for the Columbus crime lab reflects a tight Georgia state budget. Things are so bad that Governor Sonny Perdue called Thursday for an end to the "sales tax holiday" in early August. That might not be easy for state lawmakers to accept - especially the ones who realize it falls around President Obama's birthday.

Georgia's Governor admitted he's abandoned the idea for a "bed tax" on hospitals. It's just as well - since the most expensive Columbus hotel is probably still a better value for an overnight stay.

Let's see what else bubbled out of the test tube Thursday:

+ Columbus Fire officials announced last September's fire at River Road Pharmacy no longer is blamed on electrical problems, and now is considered arson. So why would someone want to burn down a pharmacy? If the prescription cough syrup doesn't work, you can always buy a pack of Hall's and save money.

+ The Columbus Trade Center hosted a show displaying the latest uses of robotic technology. But I noticed one area where humans still are necessary. One evening newscast showed a robot with an annoying squeak, like it badly needs oiling.

+ Alabama Attorney General Troy King announced a lengthy federal grand jury investigation of him is over. King left the impression he will NOT be indicted -- so it's apparently OK for Mississippi casinos to donate to his re-election campaign again.

+ Georgia Tech knocked out North Carolina in the Atlantic Coast Conference men's basketball tournament 62-58. Now I know WLTZ is biased in favor of North Carolina - because it refused to show the Yellowjackets win, and presented "Parks and Recreation" instead.

+ Georgia ousted Arkansas from the Southeastern Conference tournament 77-64. The SEC Network telecast spotted Bulldog Coach Mark Fox nibbling on a courtside "press row" cookie in the final minute. He truly has NOT enjoyed the sweet taste of victory much this season.

+ Instant Message to the University of Georgia: I didn't know you kept a "Bulldog 100," with fast-growing businesses operated by alumni. But when the top two businesses in Albany are law firms and one of them specializes in bankruptcies, is that really a good economic trend?

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