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OPINION PAGE - JANUARY 5, 2000 - JEFFERSON, GA

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Editorials
The Jackson Herald
January 5, 2000

Goals for 2000
During the first week of each year, it has become a tradition for us to publish a list of our top goals for Jackson County for the new year. We've seen many of those goals accomplished. Always, however, there are new needs for the citizens of this growing county to consider.
In 1999, we saw several of our goals tackled, the most notable being the approval of a referendum to restructure county government.
So as we enter 2000, we'd again like to share our New Year's goals for Jackson County:
1. The start of construction for a larger county courthouse and administrative complex. Already the county is buying land for this project, but there are many details yet to be worked out. Sometime in 2000, we'd like to see construction begin on the site so that the county will have the room it needs to conduct business.
2. The election of good quality people to the restructured county commission. The new five-member board is likely to draw a lot of candidates, but some of those people will have self-serving agendas that may not be good for Jackson County. Just as important as the new government will be getting good people in office.
3. The development of sidewalks in the county's towns with funds from the sales tax approved last year. There's a huge need in most towns for pedestrian areas, especially sidewalks. For too long, our city governments have ignored this need. But in this era of "smart growth," we believe one of the smartest things local governments can do is provide a safe way for citizens to walk around town.
4. The development of advanced telecommunications infrastructure in Jackson County. It's time for our local telecommunications firms to invest in the future of Jackson County by offering cable modems and other high-speed links to the digital world. We've said it before, telecommunications will be the backbone of the 21st century - but Jackson County is still linked by digital dirt roads. It's time for our local telecommunications firms to get off the dime and start working on this.
5. The expansion of the new county sewage system. Just this week, the county took possession of the old Texfi facility in Jefferson as the basis for moving into sewage service. But this move should just be the start of getting sewage service to areas where it is needed.
6. Additional work on the county's zoning codes to bring them up to date and to better plan for the county's growth. Although the county put a subdivision moratorium in place to do this, we're not sure that's the best way to start. Still, we're encouraged that county leaders want to update the zoning ordinances and hope they will start that process quickly.
7. A review of the county's fire protection services. Specifically, we would like to see a countywide fire department that would coordinate fire services, allocate resources and be fully accountable to the elected board of commissioners. The existing system of independent fire districts served a useful purpose, but we believe it's time for a more unified approach to fire protection.
8. A continuation of local efforts to focus on the problem of domestic violence and the related problems of substance abuse and suicide.
9. The planning for a nice, large community center in Jefferson designed to serve as a meeting place, community stage and for other community events. This shouldn't be a second-rate building, but rather one that reflects a sense of pride in the community.



Column
By Mike Buffington
January 5, 2000

Moratorium a doubtful move
The subdivision moratorium put in place last month by the Jackson County Board of Commissioners was a curious move. In one blow, the BOC managed to rally local builders and developers against the idea and at the same time, back itself into a political corner.
The basic problem is this: Now that the board has played its trump card, it has no other cards to play. Moratoriums are usually actions of last resort, a move reserved for crisis management. And the threat of a moratorium is often used as political leverage by governments to get concessions from developers and builders on difficult rezoning issues.
But the county has no crisis to manage, nor did it use the threat of a moratorium to get any concessions. The move came out of the blue for reasons that are at best vague and undefined.
One reason for the moratorium appears to come from pressure brought on county leaders by a flurry of rezoning lawsuits. During the last year, the county has been hit with several suits over denials of rezoning requests.
The question is, how will a moratorium fix that? The lawsuits have come not because of inherent problems with county zoning codes, but rather because county leaders have ignored those codes and too often made decisions based on popular opinion, not the law. Only in high-profile cases where the developer had the money and savvy to fight back has the county granted "unpopular" rezonings. Even then, it has done so with a great deal of hesitation.
Another underlying part of the moratorium appears to be a belief by county leaders that they can "control" growth. Commissioner Henry Robinson, who proposed the moratorium, said later that "if we talk to 100 people in Jackson County, 90 percent of them will tell us we're growing too fast." The implication of that comment is that the moratorium is an effort to slow growth.
But it shouldn't be up to government to decide how fast or slow an area grows. While governments can encourage or discourage certain kinds of growth, it cannot and should not "control" it. Growth is the result of free market supply and demand, not governments. And while the moratorium may, for a short time, slow some growth, that pent-up demand will hit with full force after the moratorium is lifted. In some ways, that makes growth more difficult to manage.
What's most distressing about the county's action, however, is that for years leaders have had the opportunity to fine-tune zoning codes as issues arose. Yet that is seldom done. For the most part, a particular weakness is talked about, but never fixed. It doesn't take a moratorium to fix problems the county's already identified.
Local developers and home builders have vowed to fight the moratorium, but any legal action might take longer than the six-month moratorium will last. So what's at stake here isn't the building industry, but rather the credibility of county government. If it sits back without aggressively pursuing some kind of zoning code update, the moratorium will be just an empty action that was rash and unwarranted. Governments cannot, on a regular basis, use moratoriums as regulators of growth.
On the other hand, if county leaders show real interest in fixing some problems and outline a long-term plan for growth and zoning, then perhaps the moratorium will have served some useful purpose.
But given the history of the board on zoning issues, I'm doubtful the latter will happen.
I hope they prove me wrong.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.



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