Jackson County Opinions...

 July 19, 2000


Column
By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
July 19, 2000

It All Falls Apart When He's On His Vacation
I knew it was a good idea NOT to call in to the office while I was on vacation last week. Some things, you just don't want to know.
I'm not referring to the news. I looked over The Commerce News when I came back and found that the staff managed to put out a pretty decent paper while I was gone. I'd had the forethought to skip town on a big news week, although Angie Gary, who keeps up with assignments for all four MainStreet Newspapers, almost doesn't quite see it that way.
"You're going on meeting week?" she asked in a tone that was more of an accusation than a question.
Darned right. What kind of vacation would it be if I didn't miss the Commerce City Council meeting. Besides, all of those meetings provide plenty of filler, I mean news, to make the paper interesting.
Actually, I turned everything over to Adam Fouche, who put together most of the pages and wrote a column in place of mine. Angie probably figures I was just too lazy to write a column in advance, but I knew Adam would come up with something so far off the beaten track as to make my attempts at humor look almost sane. He did not disappoint me.
But I did not figure Teresa into the equation. Teresa is the Commerce News office manager, receptionist, classified ad expert, typesetter, proofreader and person to yell at when I'm not here.
On Monday as she was leaving work, she let the heavy steel back door of our building catch her in the heel. Down she went, cut to the bone.
The company has a policy against bleeding in the office, which Teresa promptly violated. She passed out, regained consciousness, and drove to the emergency room at BJC Medical Center.
But that wasn't enough. She had a reaction to the painkiller, which, actually, induced more pain than the injury. Naturally, of the doctors available under our PPO, one was out of business, one takes no new customers and the third could not be reached. The news department at MSN strongly recommends that Teresa find somebody to sue, so she can retire, but she has refused.
She is now on crutches. Don't ask her about them.
Previously, my computer decided it did not want to communicate with the computers in Jefferson, so nothing Teresa typed on Monday could be sent via modem to Jefferson. That's actually not an unusual occurrence, but I'm the only one who knows the right combination of curse words to make it work.
Then I come back to find out that all Commerce teachers will now be fingerprinted and background checks run, a decision worthy of a full investigation.
What happened? Did a staff member refuse to wear the ID badge last year? Are soft drinks missing from the canteen? Did Merrill Bagwell forget to return a library book?
I'm turning the investigation over to Adam Fouche, who should have his report completed by the time I am able to go on vacation again. Maybe by then Teresa will be off crutches and my computer will work.
Damn, it's good to be back.



Editorial
The Jackson Herald
July 19, 2000

A solution to growth
We have a solution to the county's growth issues - make a huge effort to attract more new businesses.
Growth as a solution to growth? To some, that may sound like a crazy idea.
But it's not. Attracting new industrial and commercial investment is critical to Jackson County's future.
Here's why:
1. The key problem with growth is that the expansion of infrastructure seldom keeps up with the expansion of population. Schools get crowded and roads get clogged as the population grows. That leads to voter frustration and gives birth to anti-growth sentiment.
2. The reason infrastructure can't keep up with population is that local governments can seldom afford to build roads and schools ahead of the growth curve. Given unlimited resources, there would never be crowded roads or schools. Few governments, however, sit on a gold mine.
3. The reason local governments don't have the necessary resources is that most homeowners pay less in taxes than in the services they consume. Making that even worse are exemptions for various special interests that shift more of the tax burden to homeowners than ever before.
4. There is no way to ever tax homeowners the full amount they use in services. If local governments taxed everyone for what they used, there'd be a revolution.
5. Given that governments can't tax homeowners enough to cover the cost of services, there are only two choices left: Cut services, or find some way to subsidize the tax income.
6. Major cuts in services are unlikely since every government service has some constituency that wants that service. Senior citizens want a senior center, parents want a recreation program, etc. On top of that, some of the services, such as the court system, are mandated by state and federal law.
7. That leaves finding a way to subsidize homeowner taxes as the only viable alternative. The best way to do that is to attract as much businesses investment as possible. Businesses pay far more in local taxes than they consume in services. Businesses subsidize homeowner taxes. Not only that, but many businesses also generate a local sales tax that helps subsidize homeowner taxes.
8. If local governments can attract business investment at a faster rate than they attract residential expansion, they stand a better chance of catching up with local infrastructure needs. That means better roads and more space in the classrooms.
So ironically, the solution to Jackson County's residential growth is to generate additional business growth so we can afford to pay for the infrastructure we need.
You probably won't hear many candidates in our local elections discuss this - "growth to solve growth" probably isn't the best slogan for a campaign.
But it is, in the end, the only real answer.

Jackson County Opinion Index

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Column
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
July 19, 2000

Incentives, flexibility key to greenspace
"Greenspace preservation" is the hot new buzzword in government. Everyone wants to save greenspace as areas grow and develop. The governor thinks it is a good idea and has set up a program to encourage counties like Jackson to adopt some kind of greenspace preservation plan. Jackson County has set up a committee to discuss ways the county can save some areas from development pressures.
It's a good thing, of course, to preserve undeveloped areas. But this committee's task won't be easy.
For one thing, Jackson County currently does not have a pressing greenspace problem. That may sound odd since every road seems to have a slew of subdivisions under construction. But today, around one-third of Jackson County's total area is under a formal greenspace program - Conservation Use. In exchange for an agreement to not develop an area and to keep it for agricultural use, landowners can come under the Conservation Use plan that dramatically lowers their taxes.
Although that plan has hurt the county's overall tax digest, it has kept a lot of land from being sold for development projects. The plan essentially takes away property tax pressures as an incentive for someone to sell undeveloped or agricultural land.
Such incentives make sense for this greenspace committee to consider. Rather than attempting to buy up land, local governments should encourage greenspace preservation through landowner incentives.
The same idea applies to setting aside greenspace within new subdivisions. It would be unreasonable, for example, for local governments to mandate that all subdivisions set aside 20 percent of their land for communal greenspace. While that may sound like a good idea, to do that in small subdivisions, or in large-lot projects, would probably not pass legal muster. Governments cannot take land without compensating the owner and unreasonable greenspace set-asides would likely be considered a "taking" action.
So rather than deal with that legal problem, local governments should create a series of incentives for developers to voluntarily set aside greenspace. For example, if a developer agrees to a greenspace area, other zoning or land use restrictions could be eased.
While incentives are the main way greenspace should be encouraged, there may be some limited areas where local governments should actually buy land, or the development rights to land. Areas that are historically, culturally or aesthetically significant might qualify for purchase consideration. If the government didn't want to buy the land, it might consider purchasing the development rights, meaning that the landowner can keep the property, live on it or sell it, but the government owns the right to control development on the land. That system isn't used much in Georgia, but it is one possibility.
The biggest question this greenspace group will have to face, however, is the trade-off in higher density housing. To set aside certain areas for greenspace will likely mean allowing other areas to have higher density housing than might otherwise occur.
A perfect example of that is the Mulberry Plantation project in West Jackson. That 1,500-home project is being done under the county's planned unit development (PUD) codes. The reason for that is that the project is mixed use, meaning that it has other components besides just residential housing. Mulberry will be a golf community so that its mixed-use plan includes both housing and recreation.
Because of the golf course, a large part of Mulberry will, in effect, be greenspace. To accommodate that, however, means allowing other areas of the project to have higher housing densities than would otherwise have been approved. Under the county's PUD rules, four houses are allowed per acre. (That doesn't mean all one-fourth acre lots, however, since the space can be allocated in various combinations.)
But such high-density housing scares a lot of people and many oppose allowing those smaller lot sizes. It's hard for some to get beyond individual lot sizes and view such mixed-use projects in total - that is, 1,500 homes in the project is still 1,500 homes, no matter what the combination of individual lot sizes. If the total land area is 1,500 acres, then the overall density is one house per acre, although most individual lots are actually at much higher densities because of the green space left undeveloped.
More incentives and flexibility are the keys to greenspace preservation, but many politicians and citizens are clamoring for more controls and regulations.
Bridging that gap will be the greenspace committee's biggest challenge.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


Editorial
The Commerce News
July 19, 2000

Rights Of Way Should Be Cleared Of All Signs
Like ugly dandelions in a patch of fescue, small signs of numerous types have sprouted along the public rights of way in Jackson County, an infestation enhanced by the four-year election cycle.
One would have to be absolutely blind to not notice the political signs for every candidate that have sprouted like offending weeds. Some of them are carefully placed in yards with the owners' permission. All too many, however, are placed on public property in what should be a violation of law as well as good taste.
It is possible that many of these signs will be taken down after this week's primary, but it is just as likely that some of them will remain there until they fall down of their own accord. One of the first actions of the new Jackson County Board of Commissioners should be to make the posting of signs on the public right of way illegal and to enforce the ordinance.
For while the scourge is worst every four years, the blight of signage is worsening every year in between as well. The main offenders are real estate agents advertising homes for sale and homeowners promoting Saturday's yard sale. Alltel and Georgia Power may not care if people use their utility poles and rights of way for advertising, but the rights of ways of the cities, county and state should not be allowed to be appropriated for this purpose. If the cities and county have ordinances against littering the roadsides, they should have ordinances against the littering by signage as well.
Politicians, real estate agents and those advertising yard sales should be allowed to post their signs only on private property with the permission of the owner. Signs otherwise posted should be removed and those who continue to violate the law should be fined. It's time our elected officials took action to clean up an eyesore that may be peaking this season, but which exists year-round. The littering of our roads and public spaces should be stopped.


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