The Jackson Herald
January 5, 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
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
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
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.
January 5, 2000
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
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.