Jackson County Opinions...

 March 29, 2000




Editorials
The Jackson Herald
March 29, 2000

Say 'No' to Internet taxes
Within a few weeks, Congress may take up the touchy issue of allowing sales taxes to be applied to internet transactions. Many traditional retailers have pressured Congress to allow internet sales taxes in order to "balance the playing field." Some local and state governments are also worried that a growth in internet sales will affect their source of sales tax revenue.
But we are not convinced that internet sales should be subject to a sales tax. Although the argument of a "level playing field" sounds reasonable on the surface, it is not a valid reasons to create a new tax. Consider:
· Internet sales are only a fraction of overall retail sales in this country. They have not harmed the traditional retail community in any substantial way.
· Many transactions done via the interent, such as prescription drugs and travel products, are already exempt from sales taxes.
· There are thousands of different sales tax districts in the nation. To track those sales for tax purposes would impose a huge burden on small e-commerce retailers, which make up many of the on-line merchants. Only large established retail firms would be able to track those sales, thus slamming the door on many small businesses that operate only on the internet.
· Those using the internet to make a purchase do not use public infrastructure in the process. Since many sales taxes are tied to specific public projects, it seems unfair to tax a purchase made out of state to support a local road, park or school.
· Existing retail merchants have the opportunity to also market via the internet. No merchant is locked into only selling from traditional storefronts. Thus, the playing field will level itself as traditional "bricks and motor" retailers go on-line.
So our message to Congress is this: Continue the moratorium on internet taxes until there is a compelling reason to consider such taxation. So far, we see no such compelling reason.


Editorial
The Commerce News
March 29, 2000

New Look At Subdivision Development Warranted
It appears to be a consensus of the Commerce Planning Commission that a major overhaul of the city's subdivision regulations is overdue. Members recently watched a video about the effect of large-lot subdivisions on urban sprawl.
As we understand it, the concept to be considered is that developers of larger subdivisions will be allowed to put houses on smaller lots, but because they leave green space, the density of the subdivision as a whole would be unaffected. In this concept, the development would "cluster" housing, while leaving sizable acreage open for recreation, buffer, whatever.
No change in policy has been made yet. Greg Perry, vice chairman of the planning commission, has asked that the same presentation be made to the mayor and city council to see if they agree with the concept. If they do, expect some changes in subdivision regulations.
The idea has merit. It is, in effect, what the city was getting at when it approved a large subdivision recently on Mount Olive Road. In addition to keeping some open space to preserve the character of the land, it can also reduce the costs of infrastructure required to provide water, sewerage and other utilities to houses. It also gives a more pleasing appearance and provides smaller, more manageable lots, which could lead to more of a sense of neighborhood among residents.
To date, sprawl has not been a consideration in planning in Jackson County, much less Commerce. But as the growth pushed this way by Atlanta accelerates and the fields and forests we've long taken for granted are carved up into 1.5-acre lots, we need to re-think our ideas about subdivisions if we are to retain any of the rural character we enjoy. A different approach to regulating subdivision development is certainly worth considering.


Award Not About Justice
A California jury has awarded a dying woman and her husband $20 million in punitive damages from two tobacco companies it apparently found responsible for the woman's life-long smoking habit and the lung cancer it may have caused. What makes the award significant is that it is the first time cigarette companies have lost such a judgment for someone whose smoking began after the Surgeon General's warning began appearing on cigarette packages.
As hard as it is to side with tobacco companies, the judgment sounds a clear warning that users of products which can cause harm will not be held responsible for the damage those products ultimately do. It is inconceivable that anyone in America who started smoking after the Surgeon General's warning became a mandatory part of the cigarette package can say they were misled about the safety of cigarette smoking. But it has happened, and a jury has bought the story to the tune of $20 million.
The concept of personal responsibility gets talked about by a few politicians, but when there is money at stake, the responsibility becomes corporate. Anyone with just a little bit of sense ­ say the ability to read ­ knows that smoking is a hazard to one's health. Those who opt to smoke because they think it's cool or like the taste do so with the knowledge that they have greatly increased the odds for a multitude of health problems.
Smoking is a matter of personal choice. The rules against smoking in public places are designed to protect others from the ramifications of the smokers' choice. But when a smoker comes down with lung cancer after 30 years of ignoring the Surgeon General's warning, the fault rests not with Big Tobacco, but with the smoker. A $20 million award for the smoker is more about the exploitation of a wealthy and unpopular (but legal) business than about justice.


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Column
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
March 29, 2000

Aging boomers to change elderly healthcare
If there was ever any doubt that I'm getting old, it was erased the other evening after tossing a baseball with my kids. Sore arm. Sore shoulder. Sore back.
They said it was downhill after 40, now I believe it. In fact, there's an entire generation of us aging baby boomers who consume increasing amounts of medical services. We ain't as young as we used to be.
So it's not surprising that various service industries are catering to this aging population. Computers may be a growth industry today, but caring for us old folks 20 years from now will be the growth industry for the future.
The idea behind Northminster Presbyterian Homes in Jefferson may not have been quite that direct, but there's little doubt that the facility is positioned for growth in the coming years.
As an outgrowth of the Jefferson Presbyterian Church's efforts, the facility is a marriage of church mission and private business. A lot of people have given time and considerable funding to get Northminster going and now the facility is looking toward the future and even more growth.
Ken Brown was recently hired by the Northminster board as president and CEO of the facility and has big plans for its future. With 20 years' experience in management and health care, Brown looks around Northminster's acreage and sees a lot more than trees. It is a vision of how an aging population will be cared for in the coming decades, a vision that banishes the usual concepts of nursing homes and other elderly care facilities. And with a projected build-out population of around 300 people, Northminster will be a city within a city.
Rather than corridors of rooms and beds of elderly people, Northminster is betting on a combination of facilities and differing levels of service, depending on the needs of its population. Better health care has us living longer, and many elderly people have the ability to live relatively independent lives. For those people, Brown envisions detached living houses or duplexes that require little maintenance and that are designed with the physical needs of an elderly population. As those physical needs become more dependent on others, the level of service would increase accordingly.
The idea isn't a totally new concept, having been practiced in larger retirement communities around the nation. But it is rather new to Georgia and certainly to this community.
Several months ago, I had to take one of the kids to the emergency room on a Sunday afternoon. While we were waiting to see a doctor, an elderly man and woman came in, she in a wheelchair and he carrying two bags of medicine. I couldn't help but overhear the conversation with the doctor - the man had driven some distance to get to the hospital, even though he was on a powerful medication. He didn't know what pills his wife should take or how many. She had had a stroke and couldn't communicate. It was a pitiful scene of two people who no doubt wanted to be independent, but who were far past the time when they could take care of themselves.
Facilities like Northminster aren't the answer for all such situations. It is, after all, a business, and such care doesn't come cheap.
But for those who have planned financially for their elderly years, places like Northminster will become home. And with that, the dynamics of us aging baby boomers will again change and evolve.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


Column
Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
March 29, 2000


Turning 50:
It Beats All The Alternatives
On March 20, I hit the half-century mark and, aside from a dip in the NASDAQ, nothing serious happened.
Some people get depressed when they hit certain decade marks. Turning 30 and 40 never bothered me, but I assumed if there was any milestone that might take me to the ledge on a tall building, it would be turning 50 and being eligible for AARP membership. I am happy to report that there is no need for anti-depressants, and I can be trusted to use sharp objects.
It was a low-key affair. My family and I celebrated with my sister and brother-in-law in a delightful dinner Saturday and the opening of gifts on Sunday for my Monday birthday (an appropriate day of the week for such an observation). Barbara vandalized my office and on Tuesday, my computer and desk suffered similarly in Jefferson: black crepe banners, references to being over the hill, but no explosives or women bursting forth from cakes. Company policy, I presume.
People seem surprised that I was 50; perhaps they had guessed 55 or even 60, but having a birthday seems preferable to the alternative, if you catch my meaning. As for being over the hill, I went over the crest at age 30 and have been going downhill ever since, though the rate of descent seems to increase every year.
I am determined to enjoy my senior citizen status. To exploit it, really. There ought, after all, to be some rewards for getting old. Some cultures actually honor their elderly, though I don't live in one of those. America worships youth. We elderly have to fight for anything we can get.
I've done some research and planning for being old.
The big advantage is that instead of being considered an SOB, I now qualify for the adjective of "crotchety." Some of the other attributes now expected of me include:
·driving slowly. It's safer with our deteriorating reflexe, and "slowing down" is what we're supposed to do in all aspects of our lives. Besides, we're pointing out everything that's been built in the past three decades, destroying the way things were in the old days.
·forgetting to do things. Now, maybe sympathy will replace blame.
·need for naps. I'm not lazy when I take a nap; I'm old. I need one.
·inability to cope with technology. Likewise, this has always been a problem with me. With senior citizenship, I have the right, the duty, actually, not only to curse the "new-fangled" ways, but also to enlighten everyone around me with how much better and simpler things were way back when. Over and over, if necessary.
There are also some amenities of age:
·shopping discounts: I'm not sure if Warren's Package Store carries a senior citizens' discount, but I'm going to demand one.
·status as a special interest group. "The elderly" pack significant clout; at least, that's what the AARP would have us believe.
·seniority: We can't work as hard, but we've been on the job forever, so companies have to give us longer vacations. I'm looking forward to five or six weeks off with pay each year.
·the right to be grandparents. Whoa! Give me another 10 years before that, please.

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