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August 30, 2000


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SPORTS
See this week's Pigskin Picks!


2000 pigskin season begins Friday

Football teams from Jefferson and Jackson County will see their first official outings of the 2000 season Friday night, both on their opponents' turf. Jackson County heads to Homer to battle Banks County in a 7:30 p.m. rematch of last year's overtime game, which the Leopards won on penetration. Jefferson is set to bang helmets with the Eagles of Athens Christian School. The game clock in Athens will start at 8 p.m.

Lady Panthers 8-4 after finishing third in tournament
Jackson County's slow-pitch softball team took its fourth loss of the season Tuesday at home against West Hall, 3-0. Erin Strickland and Megan Elliott put a pair of hits together to mount a threat in the third inning, and April Cantrell combined with Shana Gibbs and Laura Stephens for a double play in the fourth, but the Jackson County bats were quiet for most of the game.

Commerce To Visit Franklin County Friday
The Commerce Tigers will get the first of seven non-region tests this Friday in Carnesville against Franklin County at 8 p.m.
With three region games at the end of the schedule, the Tigers will turn to a recent foe for game one.


Neighborhood News...
MADISON COUNTY
Moore's departure surprises county
Madison County school superintendent Dennis Moore retired from his post on the fourth day of the 2000-2001 school year. His resignation takes effect Sept. 1. Moore informed the county school board of his decision Tuesday night in a closed meeting, following a heated meeting with parents over busing problems.

Money, building approved for counseling program
Madison County commissioners promised $25,000 and the use of the old registrar's office for a drug and alcohol counseling center in the county Monday.




News from
BANKS COUNTY
Impact fee advisory committee named by Baldwin City Council
An impact fee advisory committee of five people has been nominated by the Baldwin City Council. The committee is required under the town's impact fee ordinance.

Banks County top in state in agriculture production
Banks County officials got some good news last week when it was announced that the county leads the state in agriculture production. Banks County farmers added $264 million to the Georgia economy in 1999, according to county extension agent John Mitchell.


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Tuesday Accident Proves Fatal

A driver for Con Agra, Roy Nathan Casey, 56, of Comer, died Tuesday morning when the truck with which he was transporting live chickens overturned in a curve near New Harmony Church on Georgia 334.A witness said the truck, which was traveling south, did not
appear to be speeding when it went out of control and left the road. The identity of the driver has not been confirmed.

Photo by Mark Beardsley



Ready For State Assistance

Jackson County has completed the rough grading for Progress Road, an access road to Interstate 85 between U.S. 441 and Ridgeway Road. Road Superintendent Sam McClure says the county is waiting for the utility companies to install water and gas lines and for the state to provide assistance with base and paving. "Hopefully, some time next year we'll be open for business if someone wants to come in and set up shop," he said.


Bell presses Water Wise issue; says Tolbert skipped legislative committee meetings
The atmosphere was tense Tuesday night as the two candidates vying for state representative for District 25 met for the second time in a public question and answer session.
In a forum sponsored by the Hoschton Womens' Civic Club, Democratic challenger Pat Bell continued her attacks on incumbent Republican Scott Tolbert about his role in the Water Wise matter and other issues. For his part, Tolbert blasted a "certain group" that he said had spread lies about himself and his family.
"I supported and helped this young man in his first race," said Bell. "I believed in him, but I feel like the late and honorable Sen. Paul Coverdell - when running against an incumbent he stated, 'You sir, have not represented the people of this state nor have you done it honorably.' That is how I feel about my opponent."
In his opening statement, Tolbert said he has become "disgusted" with politics because he has been subject to "many, many lies" in the past several months, including that he is under investigation by the FBI and that his wife had given money to former Fulton County commissioner Mitch Skandalakis.
"Basically, they have said I'm not an honorable man," he said. "...This is the state of politics in present-day Jackson County. I cannot for the life of me explain what happened to debates, speeches, platforms. I cannot understand why a candidate or political party has put people to spreading lies rather than spreading ideals. As tempting as it is to lash out and strike against those who have acted immaturely, I will not."
WATER WISE
The first question from the audience Tuesday night dealt with Water Wise and how Tolbert would have benefited from the project. He replied that his involvement was strictly as the closing attorney for the company's purchase of the former Texfi plant in Jefferson.
Tolbert said the deal with Water Wise would have benefited Jackson County and included $50,000 for a computer system and 10 percent of proceeds from sewage service. He said Jackson County would have had control over where sewer lines would be located and would eventually be given ownership of the plant at no cost.
"Jackson County taxpayers have paid approximately $2 million for a sewage plant they could have had for free," he said. "It's going to cost another $500,000 on an engineering study...They went out and hired a private company without the process of a bid. There is an individual over there getting a 10 percent gratuity for doing nothing."
But Bell said the Water Wise offer to the county wasn't a good deal and that Tolbert was misrepresentating the true nature of the deal.
"The more you talked to these people (Water Wise), the more questions we had," Bell said. "The bottom line is this: (The person) who owns the permit from EPD controls the show... I have contracts that would prove (Tolbert) untrue. You would not believe the hoops the county would have had to jump through if we had hired Water Wise."
Bell said that three different local governments decided to pass on the Water Wise deal.
"The decision was made (to turn down Water Wise) and it was a good decision," she said. Don't believe me - the water authority, the City of Jefferson and the board of commissioners unanimously agreed."
Bell also blasted Tolbert's effort to gut Sen. Eddie Madden's bill to limit condemnation powers of private companies such as Water Wise. During the last legislative session, Tolbert unsuccessfully offered an amendment on the floor of the House to strike key language in Sen. Madden's bill, a move that Bell said was a conflict-of-interest since Tolbert's motion was an obvious effort to benefit Water Wise.
"We should demand that our elected officials conduct themselves with high ethics and standards," she said. "...I will work to strengthen ethics in government...to enact rules for these representatives from voting on legislation where they have personal financial interests."
Bell also launched new allegations against Tolbert, saying he had poor attendance at his legislative committee meetings other than those that deal with insurance. Tolbert is a member of the House Judiciary Committee, Education Committee and Insurance Committee. Bell said Tolbert didn't attend any Judiciary Committee meetings and only five Education committee meetings.
"(But) he didn't miss any of those insurance meetings," she said. "Insurance companies donate heavily to his campaign."
Other issues addressed by the candidates included eliminating school taxes for senior citizens and education reform.
On eliminating school taxes, Tolbert said he has already prepared legislation that over a five-year period would exempt taxes on homes for senior citizens. He said a referendum would first be held in the county with voters deciding the issue. Tolbert said the money the county would lose in these senior citizen taxes could be replaced with taxes from the new Georgia Power plant in Jackson County.
"What is not made up, to be honest with you, will come from people like myself," he said. "It will not be a great deal of money - probably a few dollars a person."
Bell said she would have to study the issue and what it would do to the county and school systems before taking any action.
"I do think that somebody who is 70 years old has paid their share of taxes, but I would have to really do a lot of work (before doing this)," she said.
On education reform, the two candidates agreed that paraprofessionals should be kept in the lower elementary grades. Bell said they are especially important in first through third grades.
"Paraprofessionals are cost effective," she said. "That third grade child has got to read...It is a lot cheaper to educate than incarcerate."
Tolbert said: "I was disappointed to see the governor do away with paraprofessionals...They perform a service at a considerable less cost."
Tolbert also pointed out that he voted against the governor's education reform bill because of the cost it would bring to Jackson County's school systems.
"What we have to do is demand accountability in our schools," he said. "We also have to give aid to our teachers. In order for us to have real education reform, schools first have to have clear goals...True reform is going to empower the teachers and the parents. We must maintain local control."


Medical Center Loses $1.5 Million
If the current fiscal year is like the one just completed, BJC Medical Center will be broke.
The facility, which includes a hospital, nursing home, wellness center and a clinic, lost $1.5 million last year, according to an audit of the year's operations.
The major contributor to the shortfall, according to administrator David Lawrence and finance director Jim Mertz, is the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, which cut federal payments for Medicare patients.
According to the audit, the facility provided care that should have resulted in $25,856,323 in payments, but it received only $14,058,011 for those services. That's because the federal government paid only 42 cents on the dollar for inpatient services and 24 cents on the dollar for outpatient services. With 54 percent of its patients covered by Medicare, the facility took a $6.4 million hit right there.
Medicaid costs were similarly discounted to 34 cents on the dollar for inpatient services and 29 cents per dollar for outpatient services, which cost the facility another $2.34 million.
The facility also had $1.25 million in bad debts and provided $738,588 worth of charity care. Its contracts with PPOs and HMOs resulted in deductions of just over $1 million.
The medical center had total net revenue of $14.4 million, compared to expenses of $15.9 million.
"We had some money in the bank from past years to absorb the loss, but it's challenging to survive in rural health care right now," Lawrence stated in a press release prepared for the occasion. "On the one hand, salary costs across the industry are increasing dramatically, while on the other hand, payments from the government are actually decreasing, rather than keeping pace with these costs."
The facility started the fiscal year with almost $1.5 million in reserves. It has about $400,000 now.
"We had a $950,000 cash drain last year," said Lawrence.
The audit was accepted by the nine-member hospital authority without comment.
Lawrence put on the best face possible for the report.
"We've been doing things to offset some of these changes," he said in the press release. "We're increasing medical staff to meet the needs of the area's growing population, which ... will increase admissions and revenue further. There are more people moving into this area every day, so in the next few years with our technology, it'll be hard to think of us as a rural hospital. There is word from Washington that we are going to get some relief from the BBA cuts, and I'm cautiously optimistic.
"BJC Medical Center actually has a lot of things going for it. We just have to tighten our belts and hold on until the politicians figure out what they are doing to health care in America. What we won't do in the meantime is compromise the quality of our care."
The medical center also had other problems. A highly critical state report about its nursing home hurt staff morale and affected hiring. At the same time, it hurt occupancy at the nursing home. In addition, an industrywide shortage of nursing personnel forced the hospital and nursing home to hire more expensive agency help to keep both the hospital and nursing home sufficiently staffed.
While Lawrence says the medical center is making headway, he predicted that the facility would lose money this fiscal year too.
"We won't end next fiscal year in the black, but you won't see that kind of drain again," he said.


Slocum questions accuracy of teen pregnancy stats
A leading voice in the Jackson County medical community last week questioned the accuracy of teen pregnancy numbers from 1998 in the 10-county Northeast Georgia Health District.
After hearing numbers form the health district at a meeting of the Jackson County Human Resources Council Thursday, Henry Slocum of BJC Medical Center pointed out that the figures included 19-year-olds who are already out of high school.
"I'm not so sure the numbers are correct," Slocum said. "The numbers are really down in the school system. I feel the school nurse program has made an impact and the (teen pregnancy) numbers have been going down."
Health district officials said Jackson County had the highest number of teens ages 15 to 19 giving birth of any county in the 10-county Northeast Georgia Health District in 1998, according to that district's statistics from that year. Those figures show that in 1998, 97 females per 1,000 births in Jackson County were to teens between the ages of 15 and 19. That compared to the next highest figures of 86 in Elbert and 79 in Madison and Greene counties.
Abigail Gunter of the Northeast Georgia Health District told the HRC group that some of the health data about the community "is pretty alarming. You can see the teen pregnancy rate is pretty high. Groups like you have an impact, but this is a message we need to keep working on."
To Slocum's question, Gunter responded: "Even if it is lower than this, it is still too high."
Slocum also pointed out that the black community has worked harder than the white community on reducing teen pregnancy numbers in the county.
Joe Geoffrey of the health district said that while abstinence is promoted by health departments, he believes some parents are simply in denial.
"Some parents know their children are having sex, feel there's nothing they can do to stop it and want to know how to keep them safe," he said. "Then in some communities there is denial - 'My kid won't have sex,'" Geoffrey said. "They think we are promoting sex. To me, it's a safety measure (to talk about preventive issues). They are putting their kid at risk."
Gunter pointed out again that it is important to teach abstinence along with pregnancy prevention, and said there seems to be a lot of pressure for teens - and even younger children - to have sex.
"You hear of fifth and sixth graders being pressured to have sex, and that's so sad," she said.
HIV, CLOGGED ARTERIES
According to district statistics, the county has also seen an increase in the number of HIV infections, from one in 1983 to eight in 1992 to 37 in 1997. The county also has more than 5,000 people suffering from high cholesterol, more than 4,500 inflicted with high blood pressure and over 2,500 with elevated blood sugar, also according to statistics from the health district. Three-fourths of the people with diabetes or high blood pressure don't know it or don't have it under control, the health district report said.
Gunter and Geoffrey also added that episodes of clogged arteries and diabetes is happening at a younger age, with a 70 percent increase of diabetes seen for those ages 30 to 35 in the 10-county district.
POSITIVE FORCE IN COMMUNITY
Suzanne Cummings of the Jackson County Health Department emphasized that the health department is not just about birth control and that its services are not limited to any social, age or economic group.
"We want families to realize that public health is not just there for birth control or after (someone has) contracted an STD, it's about all aspects of life," she said. "It's also about what's going on at home and whether they are in school. We want (youth) to get their education and have positive self-esteem...and to help build them into good decision-makers."
Cummings said public health services are available for ages ranging from infancy to senior citizen years and includes blood pressure and diabetes screening and treatment; school age and adult immunization; women's health; hepatitis and HIV screening and counseling; and flu shots, just to name a few.
"We're there for everyone; we're not limited to any group," she said. "And we've got a great new facility on Darnell Road."
Geoffrey said the health department is in the process of planning a number of community health fairs, including health screenings, for the health department in Jefferson and for several churches in the area, and hopes to contact local industries about in-house health fairs.



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City Making Little Annexation Progress
A committee working to convince people to have their property annexed into Commerce appears to be making little headway toward its first target.
Chaired by Commerce city councilman Bob Sosebee, the committee has met but once, in January, while trying to annex Montgomery Shores subdivision.
The problem is that nowhere does the subdivision touch land inside the city limits, and the easiest method of reaching the subdivision would be to get Dr. Joe Griffeth, who is a member of the committee, to have his Jefferson Road property annexed.
Griffeth's sons, who are handling the matter for the retired physician, told committee members in January that they might consider the annexation offer if the city will guarantee them the right to continue using the land for firearms hunting for deer.
It is against the law to discharge a firearm inside the city limits.
"We haven't done much lately. We've got to get back to work on that," commented Sosebee. "We are going to look at other options that would enable us to reach the folks at Montgomery Shores and would provide (the Griffeths) with whatever comfort level they would like."
Mayor Charles L. Hardy Jr. said city attorney John Stell is researching the possibility that a portion of the Griffeth property could be annexed to reach Montgomery Shores, leaving the majority of it outside the city.
According to Sosebee, a large majority of the property owners in the subdivision, which is located just off the Jefferson Road, have expressed interest in annexation.
"We'd love to have it. I've been actively pursuing it as long as I've been mayor," Hardy said.
Sosebee said the committee has not seriously looked at other tracts.
"We'd like to get this finished up this calendar year and get the folks in Montgomery Shores in," he said.


Commerce Struggles To Halt Sprawl With Subdivision Rules
What exactly should the city of Commerce dictate to subdivision developers to best control sprawl as the city grows?
That's a question The Georgia Group, a land use consulting company, is trying to determine as it prepares to draft new subdivision regulations for Commerce.
The city has declared a six-month moratorium on the approval of new subdivision plats so it can get a handle on development through a new ordinance.
Lynne Hair, of The Georgia Group, got input Monday night from the Commerce Planning Commission. She'll meet Tuesday, Sept. 5, at 7:00 p.m., with the mayor and city council to get their ideas and will come up with a draft ordinance by mid-October.
She got an earful from the planning commission, particularly from vice chairman Greg Perry, who told her, "I'm interested in stopping sprawl."
Perry and other members were impressed by a 1983 video showing how areas of Massachusetts and other New England states have used "cluster development" to preserve open areas. Perry in particular pushed to see that kind of "creative design" utilized in developments.
"My inclination is that a developer ought to put in a neighborhood, not a subdivision," he said.
Under the concept, a developer would be allowed the same overall housing density as under the existing ordinance, but would be asked to cluster all of the houses in half of the acreage, leaving the other acreage open for recreation and to preserve the rural quality. Perry also repeatedly insisted that developments should "be neighborhoods."
Hair said that such an approach would best come under the zoning ordinance, but that much of the same thing could be achieved by limiting street length and width and by preserving trees.
Among the provisions the planning commission members told Hair they wanted in a subdivision ordinance were:
·required homeowners associations and protective or restrictive covenants.
·shortening of street lengths to 500 feet or less.
·tougher paving standards so that roads will not be torn up by heavy equipment used in construction.
·divided entrances to subdivisions.
·sidewalks on both sides of streets.
·street lights.
·narrower streets and rights of way and shorter setbacks.
·landscaping plans designed to preserve trees.
·a checklist developers must meet with their plats before coming before the planning commission.
·more time for the planning commission to study a proposal before accepting or rejecting it.

Judge orders Water Wise to release loan info
Superior Court Judge Penn McWhorter ordered officials from Water Wise Inc. to release some key financial information to the Jackson County government in a hearing Tuesday. The Jackson County government filed a motion in Superior Court Friday to compel Water Wise owner Jerry Wickliffe to answer three questions during the taking of his deposition. The action comes as lawyers for both sides in the on-going condemnation lawsuit began preparing for a scheduled Sept. 11 court date.
Water Wise is appealing an earlier court decision over the amount the county paid for the old Texfi sewage treatment plant. A judge had earlier ruled the plant was worth $1.3 million, but Water Wise claims it is worth more than that amount.
Tuesday's action came after Wickliffe reportedly refused to answer several questions during pre-trial depositions. One of the key questions lawyers for the county want to know is what Wickliffe did with $2.325 million he borrowed from Prinvest Financial Corp. Wickliffe had borrowed $3.625 million from Prinvest and used $1.3 million to purchase the old Texfi sewage facility. But what he did with the remainder of those funds is unknown and Wickliffe reportedly refused to divulge that information during his August 14 deposition.
Lawyers for Jackson County say that information is critical since Wickliffe claims the Texfi facility is worth more than the $1.3 million. But Water Wise lawyer Chris Elrod said in court Tuesday that what happened to the remaining funds isn't important for the condemnation case. "They want to know if any of the money went anywhere else," said Elrod. "And that's not relevant or discoverable. It's not likely to lead to admissible evidence. I mean, it's not any problem if Jerry Wickliffe took that money and bought his wife a new diamond ring with it. If it didn't go into the (Texfi) property, it's not relevant. That is our entire argument about it."
But lawyers for the county said the whereabouts of the $2.32 million may be important at trial since Water Wise had borrowed the funds for the Texfi deal.
"It's a loan to buy the property, secured by the property, and I think we're entitled to look at where it went," said Abbott Hayes, attorney for the county.