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 June 20, 2000


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OPINION
Angela Gary
Time to stop with
the self-diagnosis

I've really got to stop diagnosing myself. Those helpful medical books are not so helpful when you start trying to diagnose yourself.

Letter
Upset with sign stealing

Dear Editor:
To those who are running for sheriff, if you are so insecure about running for sheriff that you have...


SPORTS
Summer basketball camps under way for Leopards

Banks County High School kicked off the summer basketball season this week by participating in area team camps.


Neighborhood News...
JACKSON COUNTY
Jefferson adds tighter water restrictions
The City of Jefferson tightened water restrictions Monday, banning outdoor watering between 10 a.m. and midnight. That is a tighter restriction than the statewide 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. ban.

Airport manager suggests tighter security
Several recent thefts at the Jackson County Airport has led officials to consider tightening security at the facility.


News from
MADISON COUNTY
Republicans accuse judge of violating election code
Republican leaders may seek a state investigation of county probate judge and elections superintendent Donald "Hoppy" Royston, claiming the 23-year incumbent violated state election law by allowing Democrats...

Madison County's Jedd McLuen to compete in U.S. Open
Talk about starting out with a bang. Jedd McLuen, former Madison County High School golf standout and current College of Charleston golf team member, will get his..


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SPEAKING ON DROUGHT CONDITIONS

Tommy Irving, Georgia Agricultural Commissioner, spoke of the trying days ahead for farmers this season at the Banks County Chamber of Commerce breakfast Thursday.


Aqua Source corrects problems in water system
A private firm which took over the Baldwin water and sewer systems over a year ago found a 37 percent discrepancy between the number of gallons of water bought and the number of gallons of water sold.
The systems in place at the time of the take-over were in a bad state, according to a report given recently to the city council by Gene Brown, Aqua Source's area manager of water and waste water treatment operations.
One of the problems resulted from leaking lines and another came from broken or faulty meters, he said. Replacement and/or repairs were made. This cut back on water loss and increased income for the city, he added.
Betty Cloer, Aqua Source special project manager, gave the April - May report last week at the meeting of the city council. For the past five months, Aqua Source has been working with city officials, staff and water department heads "to straighten out the water service accounts," she said. That has been "one of the main issues" that she and her team have been working on.
As the report shows, accounts in arrears have dropped from $68,389 in January to $39,664 in May. She explained that they are trying to establish how many consumers there really are and make sure that they receive proper billing.
The problems arose, she continued, when residents moved and the billing department closed the accounts, but the meter readers didn't turn off the water. Forty percent of the over-due bills sent out were returned due to the person having moved and failed to leave a forwarding address.
Cloer made the recommendation that the city no longer accept partial payment of water bills and that bills be paid in full every month. This would require the city council to amend the utility ordinance.
The city council agreed that it would have a work session with the Aqua Source team and try to figure out these billing problems.


Ag commissioner gives bleak outlook
Agriculture commissioner Tommy Irvin told members of the Banks County Chamber of Commerce Thursday that he is concerned about the drought conditions that have led to serious problems for farmers across the state.
"We're going through some of the most trying times right now, that I have seen in my 31 years as agricultural commissioner," Irvin said.
As he addressed a full crowd at the chamber breakfast, he expressed deep concern over the conditions farmers across the state are dealing with in the wake of the drought that began in the summer of 1998. Irving said he has gone to several events in the last several weeks dealing with what can be done and what kind of plans can be formulated to avoid the disaster that "seems to be looming over our heads."
He told of how stream and river flows have diminished. The aquifer that runs from Macon into Florida "seems to be in pretty good shape," he said. He pointed out, though, that irrigation is not enough.
"Crops need rain," he said.
He is also concerned that farmers had to begin irrigating sooner this year­earlier than in any time of history in the state. Before even tilling the baked ground, farmers were forced to irrigate, he added. Then to get the seeds up, more water was needed.
Compounding the difficulty of the farmer is the regulation that farmers must have their seed in the ground prior to June 1 in order to qualify for disaster relief, if needed.
"Some of our farmers were forced to sow seed in dust," he said.
Wherever he goes and to whomever he speaks, he asks, "Please pray for rain," as he did at the chamber meeting.
He continued by saying rain may be the only way to save Georgia's two most important crops­peanuts and cotton. Georgia ranks number one in peanut production and number two in cotton in the nation.
"They are the most stressed crops at this time," he said.
And the problem will be with farmers for some time. According to forecasts, the drought will continue through the winter of 2001.
Irvin said that Georgia farmers are no longer growing corn because of the huge amount of water it consumes. Jokingly, he told of an experience many years ago. He was asked how many bushels of corn is grown per acre up there? His reply, "Bushels? Our folks sell by the gallon."
"We do have a few positives," he said. "We had one of the finest Vidalia onion crops we've ever had in the history of Georgia farming. We started off with a good peach crop, and if we get a little rain, it'll be a good season."
Irvin said some of the future ideas and plans in the works to assist Georgia farmers will be opening up the world market, into Europe, Russia, and even China. The Federal Agricultural Bureau has an office in Brussels, Belgium, which acts as a go-between to get Georgia's crops and meats to European markets.
China is an important market that may soon be open again to sell cotton and chicken imported from Georgia. he added. With one-third of the world's population in China, it could help the Georgia farmer prosper. Irving is traveling to China in the near future to help pry open the doors to commerce and trade from Georgia markets. At one time, China was a big buyer of cotton and tobacco ($80 million per year) from Georgia. Irving hopes to re-introduce those products.
Tobacco presents a problem these days, he explained, with all the restrictions and health problems. Consequently, Georgia tobacco farming has been reduced by 40 percent over the past four years. The trade with China could help re-establish tobacco as a top commodity.
One other problem facing Georgia's farmers comes from the federal mandates of the Department of Natural Resources "Clean Water Act." Irving said, "I don't see eye-to-eye with the DNR on some of their regulations. Too many restrictions can be harmful to the agricultural farmers."
When the floor was opened for questions, he discussed topics about blueberry production, gasoline metering and supermarket scanning, all of which fall under the agricultural department. He referenced one instance where a $450,000 fine had been placed on a major gasoline company for scrimping on their meters. Though it was just a small amount the customers were being shorted, over a period of time it added up, he explained. He would like more monitoring to go on at the supermarkets, but more staff would be needed and the funds have not been available to his department.
The popular Farmer's Market Bulletin was also brought up. This is an indispensable tool for farmers across Georgia. It was almost eradicated due to the Republicans voting to refuse the funding for it, he said. The FMB has been around for a long time and all rural residents and farmers are able to receive it free of charge. Irving reassured the audience that its publication would not be stopped.


CITY NEWS

Homer to seek architect for new town hall
The town of Homer is seeking an architect to help the town go forward with plans to construct a joint city hall/fire department on the vacant lot next door to The Banks County News.
Council members discussed the project at its city council meeting Tuesday night. Property was purchased for the project several years ago. Homer business has been conducted at Hill Business Services, instead of town hall, for years, according to city clerk Carol Ayers, because town hall is too small. With zoning likely on its way, the city will need more space, officials said.
Fire chief Mike Garrison said the new building shouldn't be constructed like the facility operated by the City of Maysville because the structure would not allow for a drive-through teller lane and handicapped accessibility. When constructed, the new facility should be built with the future in mind, with space for at least four fire trucks, he said. Space must allow for drive through bays for those trucks, he said, and officials would have to work closely with the Georgia Department of Transportation in placing access points to the site. The facility would also need space for three fire department offices, showers and living quarters for up to four paid staff per shift, to accommodate future growth of the department.
The city also needs a new pumper truck, Garrison said, pointing out that he is uncertain whether the 1971 model pumper would satisfy mandated service testing. A new truck and completion of the city's water project would help the city obtain a better ISO rating, leaders said.


Water theft on the rise in Alto
Alto leaders have made a move to get tough on people stealing water from the town following the loss thousands of gallons of water.
The city council agreed Tuesday night that a fine of $2,500, plus court costs, for those found guilty for stealing the water from the town. Those caught a second time could face a fine of up to $5,000.
City attorney Jim Acrey reminded the council that the perpetrator would have the right to due process of law and that it would involve a court case and a conviction. He was asked to set up an ordinance outlining the fines and process for handling those cited for water theft. Acrey said that state law would allow the violators to be tried in Baldwin.
Mayor Jack King said the thieves are making away with 5,000 gallons at a time from the water tank off Crane Mill Road. The culprits have not been caught taking the water. King said it is costing the city money and asks that residents in the area keep a look out to discover who is doing it.
Another problem is that residents along Crane Mill Road end up with dirty water due to the method in which the water is released from the tank, according to council member Susan Wade.
The city attorney was asked to set up an ordinance stating the fines and determining how the process for handling those caught
In other business:
·a voluntary water ban was adopted in compliance with a request from the Georgia Department of Natural Resources for water conservation. There is to be no outside water use of any kind from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Residents with even number addresses will be allowed to water only on even days; while those with odd number addresses can water on odd days.
·the council agreed to also serve as the planning commission for the town. Council members had planned to set up a board with other citizens but reportedly couldn't find anyone willing to serve.
·it was reported that only one bid was submitted for the city hall expansion. It came from Telford Banks Construction, which projected a cost of $211,532 for the 1,162 square foot addition. The project calls for adding two offices, two restrooms and a meeting room. Louis Canup, former Habersham County Board of Commission member, who was asked to serve in an advisory role on the bidding process, asked the council to reject the bid on the basis of the high cost. The council agreed that the bid was more than it had budgeted and voted to reject the bid. They will advertise again for the project.
·the Council agreed to request from Cook Street residents to install "Slow Children" signs and speed bumps on the road.



LOCAL NEWS

Wal-Mart boosts sales tax revenue
When the Wal-Mart 24-hour super center opened at Banks Crossing in March, county officials knew they could expect an increase in sales tax revenue, but they weren't certain how great an increase they should bank on.
If increases posted during the national retailer's first partial month of operation are a good indicator, gains could be substantial. The Georgia Department of Revenue collected $158,462 in local option sales tax for Banks' coffers during March, up $46,339 over the same period last year. And officials haven't yet received collection revenues for April, the first full month of the new super center's operation.
Saying revenues will likely decrease slightly once excitement over the new store's opening settles, Banks County Board of Commissioners Chairman James Dumas estimates the county may see sustained revenue increases of as much as $40,000 per month in sales tax alone, "unless the economy takes a downturn."
Wal-Mart shouldn't be credited with the entire sales tax increase, Dumas said. Additional revenue generated by new restaurants like Chick-Fil-A and a new motel also play a role, he says.
Accurate sales tax revenue projections are especially important during budget time, as county commissioners try to determine how much income they can expect to flow in, and in turn, how much they can allocate to county departments.
Making that determination is not easy. Commissioners know to expect higher sales tax revenues around the fall, for example. Last September, sales tax collections totaled $151,000 - even before super Wal-Mart opened.
But in January, 2000, collections fell to $105,000, rising to $117,000 the following month.
Now, with one month's sales tax revenue yet to be transferred to the county prior to this fiscal year's end, collections since July 1999 total about $1.4 million, according to county clerk Avis Lewallen.
For the next fiscal year, beginning July 1, 2000, commissioners are "hoping" for sales tax revenue of $1.9 million through June 2001 Lewallen said.
Continued growth at Banks Crossing will also increase the county's property tax base, another source of revenue. Completion of the Wal-Mart center, which Dumas estimates to be an $8-million facility, is a prime example of how significant one development can be, Dumas said.


Homer to call another meeting on zoning
The town of Homer still has work to do on a few points of the city's proposed zoning ordinance before they can vote whether zoning should come to town.
A planning committee will meet in a work session June 20 at 6 p.m. to try and iron-out last minute points of contention addressed by citizens when the city held the first official reading of the ordinance earlier this month.
Planners will likely revisit whether zoning will put a time frame on the continued use of existing structures which do not conform to permitted uses allowed in any given zoning category.
Town officials have not set a date for the second reading of the ordinance.



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Maysville completes revision of personnel policy
The Maysville City Council finished its revision of the town's personnel policy during a work session Monday night. The council is set to approve the new policy during its regular meeting July 10.
Monday's work session was the last of several work sessions to revise the town's personnel policy. Monday, the council made minor changes to the policy.
The council did decide to give employees three extra bereavement leave days that are separate from personal leave days.
Under the travel expenses section, the council added a phrase saying meal expenses must be "reasonable" and lodging should be "economical." The council also decided not to pay for any room service charges and limit employees on town-related trips to one personal phone call each day.


Development Auth. discusses website
The Development Authority of Banks County is looking at developing a website to bring more exposure to the area.
At a meeting Thursday's morning, the authority discussed creating of a website to bring more exposure to the property for sale in what is now called the Banks Crossing Business Park.
Oglethorpe Power and Georgia Power have websites that give specifications on available land, according to Horace Campbell. The authority could have a link from their page to show what is available for sale in the county.
Jerry Bolings said that with the two-year option on the acreage, visibility of the land needs to be increased as soon as possible. The area is in a prime location and a large company would be ideal for the tract, officials said. He said that the ideal solution is to be a part of the county's website, the state's website and link with Oglethorpe Power and Georgia Power, as well.
A motion was approved to recommend that the county board of commissioners initiate the contracts to secure the services of setting up the county's website, with the Development Authority linked to it. The link could include available building sites and information. Permit information and applications could be included on that site.
Campbell pointed out that a decision needs to be made as to what type of business would be acceptable at the Banks Crossing site.
"As long as land use and zoning requirements are met, everything's fine, but we wouldn't want to go out and solicit a junk yard," he said.
Boling answered, "We can't exclude someone, but we don't have to actively solicit such a business. In the meantime, realistically, if we have it on the market for three years, someone is going to come along and want it. It could be a business with high water usage or low salaries and not much of a tax base."
Rather than be passive, Boling wants to actively pursue the kind of business that would pay high wages, that would be easy on our infrastructure and be high-tech boosting the tax base.
He said he has been looking into one company, which has a branch called a logistics company. In that logistics company, distribution warehouses are being built across the country through their real estate division. This could be a good potential customer for the property since it is high-tech and provides better salaries and puts less pressure on the county's infrastructure, he said.
It would be a computer-based business that would create a possible 50- 70 jobs, not including the support job opportunities that would be created. "Georgia Power has offered to perform a survey of a new business to see if it would be a negative impact or positive impact on our tax base," he added.
Banks said he had received a letter from a real estate firm stating that a distribution business is looking for 30 acres of property. He said the land would have to be sold for $32,000 per acre, including the realtor's fee.
The company that needs a 40,000 square foot distribution building creating possibly 70 new jobs. It could run off of a septic tank and there would be little water usage, officials said. Banks sent a picture of the property and additional information to the real estate company.
He went on to point out a negative aspect of the project. The road would have to be re-done to handle semi-truck traffic, since it basically would be a truck terminal. Bolings commented that such a business would not add much to the tax base.
Banks, Boling and Norman Cooksey all agreed that they should set up covenants as to the possible property uses. Boling questioned whether they had the authority to do this or whether it would have to come from the county zoning board. But Campbell said such a move would be "premature until we own the land."


Mandatory watering ban in place
A mandatory outdoor watering ban has been put in place for all Banks County water customers.
The outdoor watering ban is in place from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and includes watering uses such as recreational, lawn and garden and non-commercial car washing.
Customers violating the ban will receive a written citation. County officials say the ban will be in effect until further notice.
Every water system with a permit from the Environmental Protection Division got a letter Monday advising that as of June 19, the use of water for lawns and gardens will be restricted.
The state has ordered that the watering of lawns is banned between 4 p.m. and 10 p.m.
Watering during other hours will be allowed only on even-odd days. Residences or businesses with odd number street addresses may water on odd-numbered dates and those with even-number addresses may water on even-numbered dates.
This marks the first time in Georgia history that the state has ordered a statewide ban.
The 15 counties of Metro Atlanta have been on water restrictions, and the EPD tightened those as well.
The ban is the result of a three-year drought. Rainfall in Georgia is said to be 20 inches below normal since May 1998, but as much as 42 inches below normal in some areas.
Most weather experts expect the drought to continue for some months, which leads to the possibility of further restrictions from the state, including a narrowing of the hours when watering is permitted and a total ban on outside watering.


Deadline ahead to register to vote
Banks Countians who are not already registered to vote and would like to cast a ballot in the July 18 general primary have only a few days to do so.The deadline to register to vote is June 19. The voter registrar's office is located in the Banks County courthouse.

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