Bob Sutton checks out the former Texfi
sewage plant in Jefferson. He will operate the facility until
bids can be taken for a permanent operator. Jackson County took
over the plant Monday following a ruling by Judge T. Penn McWhorter.
Judge Rules For
County In Water Wise Condemnation
By ANGELA GARY
JEFFERSON -- Jackson County is in the sewage business following
a court order signed Friday by Superior Court Judge T. Penn McWhorter.
McWhorter agreed with the ruling by special master Greg Perry
in the condemnation suit filed by the county against Water Wise
for the old Texfi sewage plant in Jefferson. The county took
over operation of the plant Monday.
Jackson County Board of Commissioners chairman Jerry Waddell
led as county leaders, accompanied by a deputy, walked through
the sewage plant Monday afternoon. A county employee had to cut
the lock on the gate before the group could enter. That lock,
along with one on a storage building and several others around
the plant, was replaced. The county will also replace the fence
around the facility this week.
"We've been expecting this," Waddell said. "We
felt we had presented a good case (in the condemnation hearing).
We had hoped for a smoother transition. Water Wise officials
were invited here today."
Water Wise attorney Chris Elrod sent the county a letter Monday
morning authorizing the county to take over the sewage plant
and take any necessary steps, including cutting the lock and
chain that secure the gate to the property. He added that Water
Wise would remove the dialing system installed over the holiday
weekend for emergency use.
Bob Sutton will operate the plant for the county on an interim
basis until bids are taken.
Water Wise officials have not commented on the judge's order
nor said how they will proceed. Elrod said Monday that no decision
has been reached on whether the company will appeal McWhorter's
Perry had ruled that the county pay $1.5 million for the plant,
but a jury trial will be held on this in March pending an appeal
by Water Wise disputing the value of the facility. Elrod said
that Water Wise plans to proceed with this appeal.
The judge ruled that the county did not act in bad faith in seeking
to condemn the property, but he said some actions by both parties
"It is clear that this is not an attempt by Jackson County
to block a noxious use, as it intends not to change the character
of the facility and actually intends to expand the facility substantially,"
the ruling reads. "While the motives of the condemnors may
have been mixed, the weight of the evidence adduced on this point
indicates that the condemnors' basic motivation is to expand
substantially the present facility for the public use of the
people of Jackson County."
The judge also ruled that the city of Pendergrass' actions to
contract with Water Wise in July 1999 violated state law. He
said the law requires towns to evaluate any bids for such projects,
including prior projects by the company.
"There is no evidence that Pendergrass complied with this
mandatory code section," the judge wrote. "Therefore,
the special master was correct in finding that the agreement
between Pendergrass and Water Wise was not valid."
The judge also ruled that a quit claim deed filed by Pendergrass
the day of the hearing was valid.
Some City Tax Bills
For Elderly Have $100 Error
Several hundred elderly Commerce taxpayers
should call City Hall before paying their 1999 city taxes. The
call will save them almost $100, according to City Clerk Shirley
"The (billing company) made a mistake on the bills of people
who have the school exemptions," Mrs. Willis stated. "These
are people age 62 or older and who have less than $18,000 of
earned income. They qualify for a $10,000 school exemption."
The company that prepared the city's tax bills gave exemptions
of only $2,000 to $4,000, Mrs. Willis said.
In most cases, the mistake resulted in those taxpayers' bills
being $99.90 too high.
"They need to contact me," said Mrs. Willis. "What
I'm doing now is just recalculating them as they come in, and
I've already recalculated 219 pages."
Commerce property tax bills are due Feb. 20.
Annexation Committee Meets Thursday
A committee looking into the possible
annexation of large tracts of land on the west side of Commerce
will have its organizational meeting Thursday night, and at least
one vocal opponent plans to attend.
The committee, created because of interest from residents of
Montgomery Shores, is charged with considering whether the city
should annex all land between B Wilson Road and the city limits.
Members include Bob Sosebee, chairman, and Sam Brown, from the
city council; William Studdard and Henry Slocum, city residents;
and Drs. Sammy Thomason and Joe Griffeth, who live in the affected
area. They will meet at 7:00 Thursday night in the conference
room at city hall.
And Luther Beck will be there as well.
Beck, who owns land in the area that might be affected, had led
the opposition two years ago when the city annexed by legislation
all of the land inside the city bypass. The annexation succeeded,
but was very controversial.
"They're going to do it again," Beck said recently.
That is not necessarily the case, contends Sosebee, at whose
urging Mayor Charles L. Hardy Jr. appointed the committee.
Sosebee has said that if the residents of the area appear largely
in favor of the annexation, the legislative method could be used.
If there is significant opposition, an attempt would be made
to merely annex the land of interested individuals through the
"100 percent method," which means only land contiguous
to the city limits.
Residents of Montgomery Shores have expressed a desire to enter
the city, a move that would save them money on water bills, provide
police protection and save them on ad valorem (property) taxes.
But there is opposition, and Beck is not alone in expressing
"I've got four or five people lined up (to attend the Thursday
meeting) that are opposed to it," he said. "Of course,
you never know how many will attend. I've talked with (Rep.)
Scott Tolbert and talked with (Sen.) Eddie Madden, but at this
point they don't know anything because the city has not contacted
Like Elsewhere, City
Escapes Y2K Disaster
The new year, the 21st Century and the
New Millennium crept into Commerce at midnight last Friday with
a whimper. What was once billed as a possible debacle turned
into the quietest New Year in recent history.
Citizens stayed home to watch the world's millennium celebrations
- or maybe a football game on television or, worse yet,
drank coffee at offices throughout town, slaves to fears of the
Y2K computer glitch that wasn't.
No sounds of The Jesters wafted out of the Civic Center. The
Commerce Area Business Association's annual New Year's party/dance
was canceled out of concern that so many people had Y2K responsibilities
that no one would come.
When midnight passed, nothing happened. The streets of Commerce
were mostly deserted, the exceptions being the cars of the Commerce
Police Department, city utility department vehicles and even
volunteers from the Commerce Fire Department.
The second crucial hour was at 1:00. Although news reports from
around the world revealed no substantial Y2K problems in countries
that had made nowhere near the preparation made in America, city
employees and employees of several computer-dependent firms sipped
coffee and awaited anxiously, just in case. Y2K problems would
have turned up in computers at 12:00 a.m.; they would have showed
up in the electrical system at 1:00, because Georgia Power operates
its systems on Central Time.
But there were no more Y2K problems in Central Time than in Eastern
Standard Time. The lights never flickered in the evening fog,
and the 21st Century dawned without incident. Workers shut down
their computers and went home. It was the quietest New Year's
Eve in years.
"It was unusually quiet," agreed David Murphy, Jackson
County E-911 director. "It is usually pretty busy on New
Year's Eve, but it was not near as bad this year as what it has
been in the past."
The same held true in Commerce.
"It was probably the quietest midnight on record. It was
a non-event," said Police Chief George Grimes. "We
made no arrests New Year's Eve at all. We had one little neighborhood
problem. We talked to the people and they went back inside."
In City Hall, city manager Clarence Bryant drank coffee and watched
computer monitors from about 11:00 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. City clerk
Shirley Willis made backups of files before midnight, then brought
the system back up after the witching hour "to verify that
everything was running smoothly." Everything was.
So much for Y2K problems.