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Foreclosures hit highest monthly total in years

There might be a little truth to the notion that, at least to the media, all economic news is bad.

But a remarkable number of foreclosures in metro Atlanta, including Gwinnett, is alarming.

Gwinnett had 570 foreclosures this month, the highest monthly total in the past four years, according to the legal notices submitted to this paper during that span.

The problem goes beyond this county.

A 13-county metro region, including Cobb, Fulton, Rockdale and DeKalb, totaled 15,253 foreclosures in the year 2000, according to local real estate tracking firm EquiSystems.

Last year there were 37,605 foreclosures - a nearly 147 percent increase, according to EquiSystems.

One explanation for the trend:

"Over the past seven years, the numbers have slowly been going down nationally, with the exception of a few hotspots, but now every area is increasing, and there are economic factors are behind it: higher interest rates, fuel prices, unemployment," said Brad Geisen, president and CEO of Foreclosure.com

In recent years, many debt counselors have cited their concerns about so many people taking nontraditional loans with high interest payments. The problem: these homebuyers have no financial safety net when something goes wrong, such as a job layoff or illness.

Bill to help with

natural gas costs

It's a safe bet many Gwinnett homeowners cringed as they opened their December gas bills. It's also likely they began throwing random objects when they saw what they owe.

It might only save a few dollars for most consumers, but legislation to reduce sales taxes that residential customers pay for natural gas is expected to move quickly through the state House and Senate.

More gas stations

fined for gouging

Two more Gwinnett gas stations have been fined for ripping off customers in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The penalties are part of an ongoing investigation by the Georgia Govenor's Office of Consumer Affairs into statewide price gouging after Katrina struck the Gulf Coast.

These gas stations were price gouging during that period, according to the Govenor's Office of Consumer Affairs:

•Quick Pick Food Mart at 3190 Highway 124, Snellville, fined $3,000.

•Shell Big H Food Store at 6549 Rockbridge Road, Stone Mountain, fined $1,000.

The Chevron Food Shop at 5694 Buford Highway, Norcross, received a $2,000 fine in November.

Toys 'R' Us to stay open

Gwinnett Toys 'R' Us stores have been spared from the corporate chopping block.

The Wayne, N.J.-retailer recently announced it would close 87 locations based on a review and evaluation of all its U.S. stores during the past several months. Toys "R" Us spokeswoman Kathleen Waugh said the only Georgia store to close is in Macon.

Toys "R" Us has two Gwinnett locations: Pleasant Hill Road in the Gwinnett Place Mall retail district in Duluth and the Mall of Georgia retail center in Buford.

Doug Sams can be reached at doug.sams@gwinnettdailypost.com.