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FIlm Staff Brings Money to Hotels, Restaurants

As Savannah begins drawing new feature-films to town, the movies’ casts and crews are likely to seek lodging throughout the area, giving more hotels and inns an opportunity to benefit.
The securing of accommodations has become far more decentralized, with movie companies preferring to give stipends instead of booking blocks of hotel rooms for actors and workers, said Jay Self, director of the Savannah Tourism & Film Services Department.
Production companies customarily have someone who helps scout out lodging opportunities but the selections are now much more dispersed, Self said,
Likewise, a wider range of restaurants are expected to draw film participants who will be more spread out than in the past and looking for convenient places to dine. The new arrangement “floats all ships,” Self said. “They aren’t going to go to just one restaurant.”
Accommodations have been secured for cast and crew of “The Conspirator,” a Robert Redford historical drama about the trial of Lincoln assassination plot defendant Mary Surratt that is to begin filming here in mid October. The film’s travel representative “seems to be happy with what she found,” Self said.
Catering services have also already been arranged, according to Self, who said Hollywood relies on catering companies that specialize in servicing film sets. “You have to feed 200 people at least two meals a day under a very tight schedule.”
But local food vendors and kitchen equipment suppliers will enjoy sizable business, he said.
Self projects the four months of filming of “The Conspirator” will give a direct economic injection of from $6 million to $8 million, much like the four months of the just-concluded filming of Disney’s “The Last Song” on Tybee.
As a period film, ”The Conspirator” will require a good bit of specialized construction. Along with carpenters, they’ll be a demand for transport workers, grip personnel and electricians, according to Self.
The production company’s art department will be especially busy hiring people for wardrobe preparation, makeup, hair styling and props. “Because it’s a period film, you have to do a lot more on the set than you do for modern-day settings,” Self said. “They’ll be some significant local hiring on the film.”
Like the accommodations for cast and crew, the settings will be spread out across Savannah, Self said. While much of the shooting will be done in the Historic District to help reflect the film’s setting of Washington, D.C., in the days just before  the slaying of President Lincoln, shooting will be spread throughout the area, including perhaps Fort Pulaski and Effingham County, said Self.
He said many of the scenes will be shot indoors, including “in a courtroom they are building.”
The emphasis on interior shooting means a production that is much less invasive than some others shot here, including 1989’s Civil War saga “Glory,” Self said.
Some streets will have to be converted to dirt but there probably won’t be any outside scenes like “Glory’s” portrayal of River Street as a cobblestone avenue in Boston on which a parade takes place. .
“We probably won’t see anything as large as that,” he said.
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Georgia Continues its Slide in the Business Tax Competition Sweepstakes

Georgia has lost ground again as a state in which to do business, dropping down two places in the Tax Foundation's 2010 Business Tax Climate Index that compares a number of taxes that impact businesses in all U.S. states.
The Tax Foundation is a respected nonpartisan tax research group based in Washington, D.C.
Georgia has dropped from 27th to 29th for the 2010 tax year, continuing its slide from 2007 when Georgia was one of the top 20 states in the business tax competitiveness game.
Rankings for other nearby states show that Florida has held its ranking #5, with South Carolina receiving a 23 and North Carolina a 39. 
The report, which has been published for the last seven years, measures five indexes of a state’s business tax competitiveness including property tax rates, sales tax, individual tax, corporate tax and unemployment insurance taxes.
The Tax Foundation believes the report is a tool for lawmakers, businesses and individuals to gauge how their state’s tax systems compare; the full report is available at www.taxfoundation.org .
State lawmakers are always mindful of their state’s business tax climates, but they are often tempted to lure business with lucrative tax incentives and subsidies instead of broad-based tax reform, which can be a dangerous proposition, according to The Tax Foundation.
Beyond the five taxes used in its comparison, the group acknowledges that “there are many non-tax factors that affect a state’s overall business climate: its proximity to raw materials or transportation centers, its regulatory or legal structures, the quality of its education system and the skill of its work force, not to mention the intangible perception of a state’s quality of life.
“American companies often function at a competitive disadvantage in the global economy. They pay one of the highest corporate tax rates of any of the industrialized countries. The top federal rate on corporate income is 35 percent, and states with punitive tax systems cause companies to be even less competitive globally,” according to the foundation.
“Although the market is now global, the Department of Labor reports that most mass job relocations are from one U.S. state to another rather than to an overseas location. Certainly job creation is rapid overseas, as previously underdeveloped nations enter the world economy. So state lawmakers are right to be concerned about how their states rank in the global competition for jobs and capital, but they need to be more concerned with companies moving from Ithaca, N.Y., to Indianapolis, Ind., than from Ithaca to India. This means that state lawmakers must be aware of how their states' tax climates match up to their immediate neighbors and to other states within their regions,” the report said.
Georgia’s reliance on property taxes is one of the number affecting Georgia’s overall ranking among U.S. states.  It’s corporate state tax is actually the eighth best in the United States.
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Two Commuter Van Programs Launch

SBJ Staff

It’s been four years in the making, but nine counties in Coastal Georgia, including Chatham, Effingham and Bryan, are about to launch an advanced system of door-to-door public transportation for local residents at inexpensive rates.
And because of federal stimulus funds, the program will launch far more quickly than previously planned, with more than 30 additional vans in the system. 
The system is named “Coastal Regional Coaches,” a program designed to bring public transportation to rural areas, provide a public transportation link between the counties and network the vans with the existing bus routes of the Chatham Area Transit (CAT) system.
Anyone, of any age, can just call the dispatch number 24 hours in advance of when they want a ride. The cost is only $3 each way – $ 6 for a round trip – and an additional $3 for each county crossed.  For example, a trip by a Richmond Hill resident to a doctor in Chatham County would be $6 each way.
A “smart card” system is being planned where riders can deposit money on the cards for use when boarding the vans.  Drivers will not make change, and no credit will be extended. Riders must pay in advance or upon boarding. Human service trips will be paid via a voucher system.
The counties included in the system are Bryan, Camden, Chatham, Effingham, Glynn, Liberty, Long, McIntosh and Screven.  Bulloch county opted not to participate in the program, though the coaches will take customers to Bulloch county, if requested.  The participating counties have each committed funds for the program, in total, about 10 percent of needed revenue.  The assessments were established based on population and projected ridership, and will be adjusted annually based on actual usage.
The local city/county matches are:  Bryan County $25,000; Chatham County $57,400; and Effingham County, $ 39,800.
The system is available to anyone who wishes to use it, and there is no required age, though riders under 18 must provide written parental permission. 
There has actually been a publicly funded program of vans in place for many years in our area, administered by the Coastal Regional Commission (CRC) and the State of Georgia, to service various federal and state programs of the Department of Human Resources, such as for handicapped individuals, mental health customers and other programs. 
But this program will now open up the van service network to the general public, greatly expand the number of vans on the road every day and because of federal stimulus funds, 60 new vans are being purchased, versus a previous goal of purchasing 29 new vans to replace the current aging fleet. 
The vans that are currently in use are owned and operated by transportation vendors who bid on the routes for the various federal and state programs.  Under the new program, the vans will be owned by the State of Georgia, and the program will be administered by Barbara Hurst, the CRC’s transportation director. However, the drivers will still be contractors from the current transportation vendors, not employees of the CRC.  Each driver will be insured for up to $1 million per claim, Hurst explained, at the CRC’s recent Council meeting.
The CRC has been approved for $ 2,520,056 in ARRA funds (federal stimulus money) which will be used for the additional vans, mobile radios, mobile data terminals and GIS automatic vehicle locators for every van, as well as fundding for construction of an administrative facility. 
Revenue to run the system will come from the current state and federal contracts that the CRC administers, programs whose clients will still be serviced by the vans.  But the additional revenue needed will come from  riders’ fees which Hurst projects will be about 20 percent of total revenue; the matching funds from the counties in the system; and a plan to sell advertising inside the 60 vans in operation.
The system will operate from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., the same hours that the dispatchers will take calls. 
The system is not designed for commuters seeking transportation to their jobs, explained Hurst, because space is available on a first-come, first-served basis, and a spot on a van can not be promised.  Specific delivery times can also not be promised on a consistent basis, she added.
Using a computerized mapping system, routes will be built every afternoon, based on inbound calls.  “There will be a cut-off time every afternoon for the next day,” Hurst said, “so that the routes can be built and sent to the drivers.”
Even with 60 vans, Hurst said, “I actually expect demand to outstrip the system,” based on inquiries the CRC has received and market research.
With anticipated cuts in some of the human resources programs in the years ahead, the combined program will help the region be able to continue to provide those vital services, she explained. 
Several of the council members agreed that with gas prices increasing, they felt there will be heavy usage.  “We will change as the demand warrants,” Hurst concluded.
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Vanpool Comes to Coastal GA

SBJ Staff

The Coastal Regional Commission has signed a contract with VPSI, one of the world’s largest, privately-owned commuter vanpool providers, to begin a system of alternative transportation options for the workers in 13 Coastal Georgia counties.
The company currently operates 40 customer service centers and a fleet of 5,000 vehicles throughout the U.S.
Because of the lack of public transportation in the area, and no system which connects counties, the CRC has worked for a number of years to bring the system to fruition, part of a State of Georgia initiative.
According to Allen Feather, Business Development Executive with VPSI, commuters don’t always live near existing transit or where they work, so many individuals are driving in our area. Vanpooling offers a number of environmental improvements, and other solutions to provide public transportation systems take a long time to implement, or are prohibitively expensive.
And, traditional programs are not necessarily efficient, with the distances that many Coastal Georgia commuters are driving to work. 
The system will be subsidized to a degree by employers, as an employee incentive, but primarily supported by revenue from the riders.  Commuters will be able to take out the cost of their ride on the commuter van as a pre-tax deduction, adding to their savings.
Groups of seven to 15 in an area, going to the same company, or neighboring companies, are organized into a ridership group.  Several styles of vehicles will be available.
Each van has a primary coordinator/driver and up to two or more alternate drivers, all of whom are volunteers from the group.  Drivers typically rotate driving, usually weekly or monthly, he explained. 
It’s a system that has been well testing, and produces enormous savings for the worker.  According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, “Today, the average person spends 5 percent of his or her income on gasoline alone, up from 2.5 percent in 2002.”

What’s the cost to commute to work?
The gas alone to commute 1,500 miles/month, if driving 35 miles one way,  at a cost of $2.50/gallon, is costing commuters between $150 to $250 a month.
But the cost of gasoline is just the start. The total operating cost to drive a car to work, driving 18,000 miles/year including depreciation on a commuter’s car, insurance and other costs, can cost as much as $9,900 a year, according to AAA.
In a single occupancy vehicle, driving 100 miles daily roundtrip miles, gas can run $14 per day.
Using a 15-passenger van and vanpooling, the cost goes down to $100 per person, per month, or just $5.00 a day.
The CRC also believes that vanpooling is safer than driving alone, reduces traffic and parking congestion, helps companies increase retention and recruiting efforts and reduces tailpipe emissions and pollution.
VPSI will be providing a turnkey service, including maintenance and insurance for volunteer drivers.  VPSI operates on a month-to-month agreement basis; there is not a long-term lease for the CRC. 
The program is being launched immediately, beginning with a series of “lunch and learn” presentations at larger employers in the region, transportation fairs, payroll stuffers and posters, according to Feather.  A VPSI vanpool coordinator will be hired shortly, according to Barbara Hurst, CRC Transportation Director. 
To participate, call her at 912-262-2830.
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Alabama DOE spokeswoman overexposed in Playboy

Alabama Education Association Executive Secretary Paul Hubbert is criticizing state schools Superintendent Joe Morton's hiring earlier this year of a spokeswoman for the Alabama Department of Education who posed as one of Playboy magazine's "Girls of the SEC" in 2001.

In the latest issue of the AEA's newsletter, the Alabama School Journal, Hubbert says Morton, who is pushing for the passage of an ethics code for teachers and other employees "should first apply his code of ethics to his own department."

Click here to read the rest of the story...

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