State OKs creation of 40-bed long-term acute care facility at Athens-Limestone Hospital


 ATHENS, Alabama – Athens-Limestone Hospital officials got state approval Thursday to add 40 beds for long-term acute care, which would make it the only facility of its type between Birmingham and Nashville, a hospital official said.

The State Health Planning and Development Agency issued a Certificate of Need for the new facility, which is expected to be completed within the year, said the hospital’s chief financial officer, Randy Comer.

“Once established and operational, this will provide patients with the opportunity to have family closer to them as currently the nearest LTAC is in Birmingham or Nashville and is inconvenient for day travel,” Comer said.

The facility at Athens-Limestone Hospital, expected to cost about $9.6 million, will specialize in treating long-term chronic conditions with the goal of transitioning patients to skilled-nursing care or home, if possible.

“This facility will treat patients who need more critical care than a skilled nursing facility normally provides, but over a longer period of time than a normal acute care facility provides,” Comer said. “Admissions will come from facilities across North Alabama, as well as Athens-Limestone Hospital itself. We are looking to establish this facility as a wing in our hospital and are looking at partners who specialize in this type of facility to actually run the day-to-day operations.”

Comer said the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services placed a moratorium on establishing new long-term acute care facilities a few years ago.

“However, this moratorium is expected to be lifted at the end of this month,” he said.

Currently, Athens-Limestone Hospital, a Huntsville Hospital affiliate, has 101 beds and is run by CEO Kelli Powers.

Recently, hospital officials completed renovation of the emergency room, as well as renovating the front lobby and its nursery, and installing a hospital-wide sprinkler system. 

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Closings, garbage pickup announced for New Year’s holiday in Athens, Limestone


Here are closings in Athens, Limestone County in observance of the New Year’s holiday:

Limestone Commission offices: Closed Monday and Tuesday. Next meeting is at 10 a.m. Jan. 7 in the Clinton Street annex.

Limestone County Courthouse: Closed Monday and Tuesday.

City of Athens offices: Closed Tuesday.

Limestone County schools: Students return Jan. 3.

Athens City Schools: Students return Jan. 3.

Athens State University: Closed, classes resume Jan. 2.

Athens State University Center for Lifelong Learning. Closed, classes resume Jan. 2

Calhoun Community College: Closed, classes resume Jan. 7.

Garbage collection

Collection for the City of Athens will be on its regular schedule next week.

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Huntsville Dunkin’ Donuts reports one of chain’s top five openings

— Corporate headquarters hasn’t made it official, but the Huntsville
Dunkin’ Donuts had one of the company’s best opening weeks when it started a
month ago.

Dunkin' Donuts building

The new Dunkin’ Donuts at North Memorial Parkway and Country Club Road had one of the restaurant chain’s best openings last month. (Paul Huggins/


five and maybe top three,” said Blake Robinson, owner.

store on University Drive sold 68,259 donuts and 45,837 munchkins in the first
week, he said.

one is Las Vegas, but a 24-hour donut shop in a 24-hour town, I don’t think
that counts,” Robinson said. “Surprisingly, Birmingham was number two.”

was a better first month than Robinson expected, and he said he’s encouraged not just
by sales of coffee and donuts but also merchandise, such as mugs and a T-shirt that
says “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drink Starbucks.”

attributed the fast start to two items: One, Huntsville had been without a
Dunkin’ Donuts for 10 years, so there was a pent up demand; and two, the Huntsville
area has a large base of residents and visitors from up North, where Massachusetts-based
chain has had a strong following.

A poll conducted by The Times shows Dunkin’ with a slight lead, 45 percent to 43 percent, over Krispy Kreme.

regular customers told Robinson they regularly went to Tennessee to get their
coffee or donut fix, including one Madison man who drove to Nashville every

with a northern background often give away where they are from just by the way
they place an order, Robinson added.

they tell me to melt the sugar in the ice coffee, I know they’re from up North,”
he said.

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Outokumpu completes sale of ThyssenKrupp’s Inoxum unit


A ThyssenKrupp worker cleans a roll of stainless steel in preparation for sending the metal through the company’s 72-inch cold rolling mill, Oct. 20, 2011 in Calvert, Ala. (Press-Register file photo)


ThyssenKrupp AG today said it has completed the combination of Inoxum, its stainless steel business, with Finnish steel company Outokumpu Oyj.

Outokumpu will give ThyssenKrupp one billion euros ($1.32 billion) in cash for Inoxum and will assume about 133 million euros ($175.9 million) of the stainless steel unit’s external debt.

Outokumpu also will assume pension liabilities of around 338 million euros ($447 million), and give ThyssenKrupp a 29.9 percent stake in the new company. Outokumpu will owe the German steelmaker an additional 1.25 billion euros.

“As promised we have implemented the portfolio measures announced in May 2011 within the timeframe we set ourselves,” ThyssenKrupp CEO Heinrich Hiesinger said in a statement. “We have taken a further important step in leading ThyssenKrupp into a successful future.”

The Finnish steel company announced in January that it would buy the stainless steel arm of ThyssenKrupp for 2.7 billion euros ($3.55 billion) and in November won European Union Commission approval for the acquisition.

ThyssenKrupp decided to divest Inoxum last year due to overcapacity among stainless steel makers in Europe and widely swinging stainless prices. The German steelmaker’s $5 billion complex in Calvert, located on the Mobile-Washington county line, is shared by both stainless and carbon steel units. The company segregated the stainless steel business in May 2011, renaming it Inoxum.

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Report: Navy gives General Dynamics, Huntington Ingalls huge U.S. submarine orders


Pre Commissioning Unit Mississippi (SSN 782), the Navy’s newest Virginia-class submarine, in Groton, Conn., April 9, 2012. The Navy has awarded submarine contracts worth up to $4.5 billion to General Dynamics and Huntington Ingalls, which include the construction of two Virginia-class submarines. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy)


The U.S. Navy last week awarded submarine contracts worth up to $4.5 billion to General Dynamics Corp. and Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc.,  securing the contract funds from automatic budget cuts, Reuters reported.

The Navy awarded General Dynamics a five-year contract valued at up to $1.99 billion if all options are exercised, for research and development work on a new submarine to replace the current Ohio-class vessels, which carry nuclear weapons, according to Reuters.

It also awarded a separate contract worth nearly $2.5 billion for construction of two smaller Virginia-class submarines, work that will be split between General Dynamics’ Electric Boat division, based in Groton, Conn., and Huntington Ingalls’ Newport News shipyard, Reuters reported.

Most of the work will be done at General Dynamics’ Connecticut facility, but about 7 percent of the work will be done by Huntington Ingalls. The Navy eventually plans to buy 12 new submarines to replace the current fleet of aging Ohio-class submarines, with construction slated to begin in 2021, according to Reuters.

The largest military shipbuilder in the country, Huntington Ingalls builds and maintains ships for the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard. The company’s Ingalls Shipbuilding division in Pascagoula and Gulfport employs about 9,900 workers and builds destroyers and amphibious transport ships.

Read the full Reuters report here.

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Original Oyster House to harness Causeway breeze, sun with green energy additions (photo gallery)

Original Oyster House Wind Turbine

SPANISH FORT, Alabama — The Original Oyster House this morning became the latest Baldwin County business to cash in on green energy with the installation of a wind turbine and solar water heater at the restaurant’s Causeway location.

Restaurant staff and Mobile and Baldwin county officials and chamber members gathered as the turbine propeller was attached and the 45-foot tower it was affixed to was raised. Students from the Green Club at McGill-Toolen Catholic High School were on hand to pass out pin wheels to observers and help attach the propeller.

Joe Roszkowski, president of the Original Oyster House, said he got the idea to use a wind turbine and solar water heater after Original Oyster House began producing biodiesel out of used cooking oil from its two restaurants in Gulf Shores and the Causeway two years ago. The fuel runs the company’s delivery trucks and four other company vehicles.

“We saw that there was savings in that and green is the right thing to do,” he said of his decision to install the turbine. “We’re celebrating our 30th year in business here on the Causeway and we figured we’d take advantage of the Causeway breezes and generate some power with this.”

The wind turbine generates power whenever winds reach eight miles per hour or greater. Power generated by the turbine will light the restaurant’s playground and holiday lights and any surplus energy will be put back on the grid.

The two panel, 80 gallon solar water heater, installed at the restaurant’s Causeway and Gulf Shores locations, uses energy from the sun’s rays to generate hot water to be used for cleaning or cooking.

Roszkowski said the turbine cost about $42,000 once installed and the solar water heaters cost about $3,000 each. Though he’s not sure how much money he will save with the new additions, he hopes it’s a lot.

“We plan to put a computer up in the restaurant that will monitor the output of the wind turbine,” he said. “We’ll know more about the cost savings then.”

The Original Oyster House bought the turbine and solar water heaters from Robert Harris at Gulf Coast Green Power in Fairhope, the same company that installed a 45-foot windmill at LuLu’s at Homeport Marina in Gulf Shores and Windmill Market in Fairhope. The turbines are manufactured in Flagstaff, Ariz., while the water heaters are made in Turkey.

Harris has sold six wind turbines in Baldwin County and 15 across Mississippi, Alabama and Florida. He said the Deep Water Horizon oil spill really put a dent on the sale of green energy equipment, but business has begun to pick back up in recent months.

Roszkowski said the Original Oyster House is partnering with the Gulf Coast Exploreum to help educate children on the positive effects of green energy. The restaurant will begin hosting field trips for area schools in early 2013 to allow students to see the wind turbine and solar water panels in effect. 

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Balch & Bingham’s Cooper re-elected as ABA delegate for Alabama

Clark Cooper 0511.JPG

Clark Cooper


BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — Clark A. Cooper, a partner in Balch Bingham’s Creditors Rights
Bankruptcy and Litigation Practice Groups, has been re-elected as Alabama’s
State Delegate for the American Bar Association House of Delegates, the firm said.

The group, which sets ABA policy, meets twice each
year. Cooper will serve a three-year term as Alabama’s only ABA State Delegate and
is one of 50 total state delegates. He also serves as a division
director for the ABA Section of Litigation, in which he oversees multiple
committees in the section.

Cooper has more
than 19 years of experience as a litigator. He has represented clients in a
wide variety of litigation, including creditor and lender rights matters and
concerns, construction disputes, class actions, fraud claims and insurance claim cases. He has held leadership positions with the
ABA since 1998.

commitment and dedication to the legal profession is a noteworthy achievement.
We congratulate him on this accomplishment and know that he will continue to
serve as an exemplary representative for the State of Alabama,” Alan T.
Rogers, Balch Bingham’s managing partner, said in a prepared statement.

The American Bar
Association has nearly 400,000 members.

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Five things that will shape Alabama businesses in 2013

housing pic AP file.JPG

Continued recovery in the housing market should boost businesses tied to the industry in 2013. (AP file photo)


Businesses across Alabama are closing their books for 2012 and looking ahead to the new year with a mix of concern and optimism.

We asked Keivan Deravi, an economist at Auburn University Montgomery, and John Norris, managing director at Birmingham’s Oakworth Capital Bank, to talk about the key factors that will shape the direction of commerce in the state during 2013.

1) Fiscal cliff/debt ceiling negotiations: Congress is attempting to reach a deal in the waning hours of the year to avoid going over the fiscal cliff, the scenario of higher taxes and reduced spending set to go into effect at midnight.

While going over the cliff will certainly affect every state, including Alabama, Deravi said he is more concerned about upcoming negotiations on the U.S. debt ceiling. The fact that there is no long-term solution to that problem continues to breed uncertainty, which is ultimately poisonous to business planning and growth.

“This is just foreplay for the real negotiations that will go on in February,” he said.

2) Affordable Care Act: Speaking of uncertainty, there’s also sweeping healthcare reform that has prompted questions from all kinds of businesses.

Small business owners in Alabama are waiting for answers from Washington, Norris said, and in the meantime, they don’t know what their costs will be. Some businesses are making preemptive moves by limiting employee hours.

The new legislation also is affecting healthcare jobs, he added.

In 2012, Norris said, “We did not see the type of growth you might expect in healthcare in the Birmingham-Hoover metropolitan area. I think a lot of that is due to the healthcare act.”

3) Growth in big industry: Last summer, Airbus announced plans to build an airplane factory in Mobile, a project that is expected to create ripples across the region in the form of new supplier and support businesses.

Alabama’s auto industry also will continue spinning off new jobs and investment. For example, early 2013 should bring more announcements about supplier projects for the Mercedes-Benz C-Class sedan that will join the automaker’s Tuscaloosa County assembly lines in 2014.

The Honda plant in Talladega County and the Hyundai plant in Montgomery also continue to grow.

4) The global economy: The value of Alabama goods and services shipped around the world last year reached a record $18 billion, and exports will continue to play a key role in the state’s economy.

That means any potential shifts in global demand for Alabama steel, coal or other products will be felt here at home.
“The global economy is not just something that happens out in the void,” Norris said. “The global economy is something that happens here in Alabama.”
5) Recovery in housing: Home builders, real estate agents, mortgage lenders and others tied to the housing industry should feel the effects of continued improvement in housing, Deravi said.

Although tax code changes regarding home mortgages could have a negative impact, other indications point to a “digging out” of the industry slump.

“We should see accelerated buying and refinancing, and banks should begin making more loans,” he said.

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For some retired teachers, 2012 property taxes were a little bit higher

Property taxes

File photo

Property taxes went up this year for some Alabama seniors and disabled persons who had previously been exempt.

Before May, the permanent and totally disabled, as well as seniors over the age of 65 with less than $7,500 in federal taxable income, paid no property tax on their primary residence as long as they filed proper homestead exemptions.

But that was problematic, says Rep. Jack Williams, R-Vestavia Hills, because it allowed, for example, a very high income earner with a disabled spouse to avoid property taxes altogether. Williams sponsored the bill that now caps income for such households at $12,000 annually. Families with more income can still claim the state’s regular homestead exemption.

The new law also changes the tax bill for seniors. All Alabamians over the age of 65 remain exempt from state property taxes, but property taxes assessed at the county level will change, based on income.

Before the passage of the new law, Alabamians over the age of 65 were broken up into three tiers:

- Those with less than $7,500 on their federal income tax returns were exempt from all ad valorem taxes.

- Those with more than $7,500 on their federal returns, but less than $12,000 on their state returns, received a $5,000 homestead exemption against county property taxes.

- Those with more than $12,000 in income reported on their state returns received the standard homestead exemption of $2,000 against county property taxes.

Now, there’s just one number that matters. Seniors under $12,000 on their federal returns are fully exempt, while seniors above that mark on the federal return receive the standard homestead exemption.

The change helps many low-income seniors by increasing the cap for full exemption. But it hurts one very specific set of older Alabamians: those who receive income from a defined benefit retirement plan, such as the Alabama Employees’ Retirement System. The reason: income from such plans is exempt from state income taxes, but not federal income taxes.

Prior to the new law being passed, those seniors with less than $12,000 on their state returns received a $5,000 exemption on their county property taxes. But some of those seniors might be over the $12,000 threshold on their federal return, reducing their exemption from $5,000 to $2,000.

In short, the law makes complex changes to a complicated issue. That has motivated some legislators, including Rep. Williams, to take another look at its final wording.

“We’re going to go back and revisit this,” Williams says.

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City of Athens to begin collecting additional 1-cent sales tax on New Year’s Day

money penny.jpg

ATHENS, Alabama – On New Year’s Day, businesses in the city limits of Athens will begin charging consumers an additional 1 percent sales tax, bringing the total to 9 cents on every dollar.

The controversial increase approved by members of Athens City Council in October will provide the city with the funds for long overdue maintenance, infrastructure upgrades and fleet replacement for fire and police departments, Mayor Ronnie Marks said. Those items are needed if the city hopes to stay competitive with retail recruitment, he said.

“It gives you an opportunity to plan rather than be in a reactive mode,” Marks said. “Like we’ve said before, it’s a difference between having a revenue stream to do planning or do like we’ve always done and kick (projects) down the road.”

Council members who approved the increase about a week before a new council was seated said at the time that voters would not approve an increase in property taxes to fund the much-needed improvements and equipment purchases and they felt the sales tax increase was the only solution.

Residents who opposed the increase were upset to learn a few weeks ago that the city ended its fiscal year in October with a $1.4 million surplus.

“They said, ‘Why are you doing a tax increase if you finished at $1.4 million to the good?’” Marks said.

He responded that not only does Athens want to remain in good financial condition and plan for future projects but, because it insures its employees, the city must prepare for bad years.

“We chose to be a city that is self-insured,” Marks said. “We’ve been very fortunate we haven’t had many catastrophic illnesses or difficult situations but if we had two or three bad years, there would not be a surplus.”

Marks said revenue from the sales tax increase, expected to be about $4.4 million annually, would be used for:

• Infrastructure: 30 percent. These funds would go for bridge, road, sidewalk and green space improvements.

• General fund: 30 percent. Funding would go to public safety, services and quality-of-life improvements.

• Schools: 20 percent. Money would go into a special account that would be used at the discretion of the council for projects proposed by city schools.

• General fund contingency: 20 percent. These funds would be used for debt service and emergency items.

All expenditures using revenue from the new tax must be approved by the City Council.

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Email Kelly Kazek at or call 256-701-0576 or find
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