News from Jackson County...

October 3, 2000


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Water Wise
A Timeline

The Water Wise/Jackson County Government/Rep. Scott Tolbert issue has dominated the news for the past two years because of the potential impact a private sewerage company would have had on Jackson County.

Click here to see a timeline of the events that made this decision so economically and politically important.


OPINIONS
Jackson County opinion page


SPORTS
SEE THIS WEEK'S PIGSKIN PICKERS!

Dragons beat Social Circle in over time
The Jefferson Dragons will travel to Oglethorpe County Friday to face the Patriots of region 7-AA.
The Dragons' Blake Gooch intercepted a Social Circle pass in overtime last week to life Jefferson to a 19-13 win, improving their season record to 3-2.

Dragons and Tigers and Panthers, Oh my!
All three varsity softball teams in Jackson County will begin area tournament play Tuesday.

Panthers fall to top AAA team
Jackson County will host Eastside (4-1/2-1) Friday at Panther Stadium for homecoming night. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m.
Senior Anthony Collins and his Jackson County teammates had the Hart County defense reeling early Friday night in Hartwell.

Commerce boots Lincoln
Commerce kicked a last-second field goal to beat Lincoln County last Friday 16-15.


Neighborhood News...
MADISON COUNTY
Bond set for Fortson
Tracy Lea Fortson, the former deputy accused of killing her ex-boyfriend, Doug Benton of Colbert, and encasing him in cement, could be set free on bond - though she remained in jail as of Tuesday.
Northern Judicial Circuit Judge Thomas Hodges set bond Friday at $500,000 for Fortson, who will go before a Madison County grand jury Oct. 16.

Sorrells resigns as authority chairman
Madison County Industrial Development and Building Authority (MCIDBA) chairman Steve Sorrells resigned earlier this month and fellow board member John Scoggins was chosen as his replacement in a called meeting Tuesday morning.




News from
BANKS COUNTY
Traffic up in Baldwin, police chief says
More motorists are traveling through Baldwin than in the past.
Baldwin police chief Frank Andrews presented the city council at Monday's meeting with statistics about the increase in traffic going through the city.

BJC approves staff privileges for five new doctors
The BJC Medical Center gave "courtesy" staff privileges to five new doctors Monday night, four of whom will work in the emergency room.


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Funeral planned Wednesday for commissioner Robinson
Jackson County Board of Commission chairman Henry Robinson died Monday night after a long illness.
Visitation will be at Jackson Funeral Home from 5 to 9 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 3. The funeral will be at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 4, at the First Baptist Church of Jefferson. Private interment will be at Woodbine Cemetery.
Robinson had served as a member of the BOC since 1996 and, prior to that, he was chairman of the BOC from 1978 until his retirement in 1990. He had previously served as the county tax commissioner for 15 years.
One of Robinson's strongest suits over his tenure as chairman was his fiscal conservatism, a trait apparently well appreciated by taxpayers. Other highlights of his political career include bringing the E-911 system to Jackson County, working on road resurfacing, keeping a regional airport out of the county and a number of environmental issues.
A lifelong resident of Jackson County, Robinson and his wife of 50 years, Sue, have three daughters, Susan, Cindy and Linda, and five grandchildren. He served as a member of the Tumbling Waters Society, Jackson County Chamber of Commerce and First Baptist Church of Jefferson.
Robinson graduated from Piedmont College, Demorest, in 1949 with a bachelor's degree in physical education with minors in history and English.
Jackson Funeral Home, Jefferson, is in charge of funeral arrangements, which will be announced later today.



UPDATE:
Rezoning for New Kings Bridge
Road Subdivision approved by planners

In a 4-1 vote, the Jackson County Planning Commission recommended Thursday night that a developer be allowed to rezone 56 acres on New Kings Bridge Road in order to locate 55 homes.
The Jackson County Board of Commissioners will take action on the request from Tom Beck to rezone the property when it meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 3, at the Administrative Building in Jefferson. The BOC will discuss the rezoning recommendation in a work session at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 3.
Beck's request is to rezone 8.4 acres from A-2 to R-1 and 48 acres from A-R to R-1.
Several area property owners spoke at the planning commission Thursday night in opposition to the plans and said they bought larger lots from Beck on that road that were advertised as "mini-farms or estates."
"We were misled completely," said Mike Rainey, who said his concerns include the impact on area schools and traffic.
Richard Hardesty said he purchased an eight-acre lot on New Kings Bridge Road because he didn't want to be surrounded by homes. He said that the rezoning will mean he has nine homes around him instead of only two.
"This wasn't the way this land was represented when Tom Beck's agent sold it to me," he said.
Beck said he had never personally promised any of the land owners anything and he didn't know what his real estate agent told them.
"I personally made no promises to these people," he said. "It's been two years this has been an on-going project."
He also spoke on his plans and said the homes will be 1,500 square feet or larger and the development will include a two-care commons area. Beck pointed out that in the last two years rezonings have been approved for 200 homes on New Kings Bridge Road.
Daniel Sailors, Tom Smith, Faye Griffin and Jimmy Freeman voted in favor of the rezoning. Larry Benton voted against it. It was recommended for approval with the following conditions: the subdivision shall be for site-built homes only on a maximum of 55 lots; the county road superintendent must approve an entrance road from New Kings Bridge Road and all driveway entrance-exits; a minimum of 1,500 heated square footage for a one-story home and 1,700 heated square footage for a two-story home; a minimum of a two-acre tract must be set aside as an open space/recreation area operated by a property owners' association or a land trust; and all lots must be connected to the county water system.


UPDATE:
Chateau Élan gets license to import wine
Chateau Élan can now delight restaurant goers with their California vintage wine because of a provision the Braselton Town Council granted in a called meeting Thursday evening.
The provision grants anyone wanting to import wine the right to apply to the town council for a special license after they have acquired a similar license from the state. The license costs $100 annually.
At this time, Chateau Élan is the only business in Braselton able to import wine.
In other news, the town council entered into a closed session to discuss land acquisition. When the closed session ended, council member Dudley Ray moved to contact city engineer Jerry Hood "about the most feasible way to run the force main and get appraisal of that particular piece of property discussed in the executive session and negotiate the price."
Council member Pam Jackson seconded and the measure was approved unanimously by Ray, Jackson and Mayor H.E. Braselton.


UPDATE:
Planners deny zoning that would bring duplexes, office complex to Jefferson
A proposal by developers to locate an office building and duplexes on Washington Street hit a snag Thursday night when the Jackson County Planning Commission recommended a zoning for the property that wouldn't allow the plans to proceed.
Marshia Hunter and Dale Overstreet had asked that the 9.9 acres at Washington Street be zoned to C-2 and R-2 to locate a commercial office building and eight duplex lots. The planning commission recommended that it be zoned R-1.
The developers had tentative approval from the City of Jefferson to annex the property pending it being given a city zoning designation. In the county, the property was zoned A-1 which is not a designation the city uses.
The Jefferson City Council will consider the recommendation when it meets at 7 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 9, at city hall.
At Thursday's planning commission meeting, several nearby property owners spoke out against the proposal for the duplexes and office building. Jim Gurley referred to the request as "spot zoning" and said that there has been no new commercial development from Elder Street to Jett Roberts Road. He said the plans are "inconsistent with surrounding development." Gurley's other concerns are on the increase in traffic and that his property value will be "dramatically decreased."
"Commercial office buildings of this magnitude are inconsistent with the residential area it would be going in," he said.
Margaret Cunningham, who lives on Washington Street, said the back of the office building would be the view she would have from her screened-in porch. She added that this often meant dumpsters, air conditioning units and security lights that stay on all night.
Juli Wilkes Wisotsky said the property owners have no "vested rights" in the land because they purchased it in July and knew what it was zoned.
In other matters concerning property in the Jefferson city limits, the planning commission recommended that a request from Freddie and Mary Damons to rezone one acre at 158 Magnolia Avenue from R-1 to R-4 to place a manufactured housing unit on the property be denied. The request was denied because the applicants were not present. It was also tabled last month because they were not present.


BOC looking at 2 mill decrease when digest is finished
Now the complaints begin.
After a 23-month-long effort to correct problems in the Jackson County Tax Assessor's office, new re-evaluation notices have gone out to property owners in the county. And some taxpayers were startled to see the values placed on their property.
Chief tax appraiser Cathy Johnson said that most of the county's 19,895 property owners have already received a notice. But since the notices went out last week, Johnson's office has been flooded with phone calls with questions or complaints about the value assigned to their homes, land and businesses.
"The phone has been ringing off the hook," she said. "...There have been a lot of questions - a lot of 'why?' When someone calls in, we try to check the information that we have to make sure all of the data is correct. We try to explain why and how the process works...We explain that the law requires us to assess property at fair market value."
County leaders point out that growth in the county is pushing up the value of all property. But that doesn't necessarily mean that taxes will go up since the millage rates of local government haven't yet been set. That won't be done until the final digest is set, but if the overall digest grows, the millage rates set by local governments are likely to fall. The Jackson County Board of Commissioners said Tuesday that it plans to roll back the millage rate as much as two mills once the final digest numbers are known.
"We're going to do everything in our power to reduce the mill rate by as much as two mills," BOC chairman Jerry Waddell said in a meeting Tuesday afternoon.
RE-EVALUATIONS
The re-evaluation process began in October 1998, when chief tax assessor Jeff Robinson and an assistant were fired following the state's rejection of the county's tax digest. Errors and inaccuracies in the digest led to some property in the county being under-assessed or missed altogether.
Local government officials had been complaining for years that the digest wasn't correct, forcing them to raise millage rates even as new homes and businesses were being built.
Following that 1998 shakeup, a full re-evaluation of property in the county was begun. Last week's mailing was the result of those efforts.
State law mandates that property taxes be collected on 40 percent of the county's digest at fair market value. In recent years, the county has been fined by the state because that value dropped far below the 40 percent threshold. The county was fined last year, but that fine may be waived since the state missed an appeals deadline.
The re-evaluations across the county were done by a private firm, Norman and Associates, which contracted with the county to visit each piece of property. In some cases, they remeasured houses and looked for additions that had not been previously picked up.
Recent property sales are also used to help establish the fair market value of the assessed property. Because of the growth in subdivisions in recent years, land prices have climbed in Jackson County and that is also reflected in the re-assessments.
APPEALING THE VALUE
Johnson said those who think their property is not assessed correctly can file a formal written complaint within 45 days from when they received the notice. (The re-assessment notice has the deadline on it.) Appeals first go to the county board of equalization. If a property owner is not satisfied with that result, he can then appeal the value to Superior Court.
Property owners have four main avenues for a successful appeal. 1. To show that there are factual errors in the county's appraisal data; 2. To show that the property is not valued at the real fair market price; 3. To show that the property's value isn't uniform with surrounding property of a similar configuration; or 4. To show that the property is exempt from taxation.
The board of equalization will begin hearing appeals on Oct. 2.


Natural Gas Prices High As Heating Season Nears
So you think gasoline prices have gone up over last year? That's nothing. Natural gas prices have doubled, and that could result in some very high winter utility bills.
Commerce city manager Clarence Bryant said the city is bracing for the worst as the winter heating season approaches.
"Beginning in October, we'll be selling gas at $8.38 (per thousand cubic feet - mcf). We'll be paying $6.63. Last year at this time, our cost was $2.73," said Bryant. "It has more than doubled, but we didn't see it jump up until the summer months of this year."
The city's purchase price went to $3.56 in June, then $4.93 in July, according to Bryant. The city has established a floating profit margin of $1.75 on a product that used to bring it more than $2.30 in profit per unit.
Bryant believes the increased cost is due to the deregulation of the gas industry and the construction of electric peak generating plants like Plant Dahlberg in Center, which use natural gas. In addition, natural gas is now bought and sold as a commodity, which may cause prices to be inflated.
The gas-powered electric plants were created to save electric companies from buying more expensive electricity at times of peak demand. But one result appears to be forcing the cost of natural gas to go up so that winter heating bills will be higher.
"During the spring and summer, they usually fill underground storage fields, but nobody so far has been putting $4.50 gas into the ground," Bryant said. "Now, they have to be rushing to fill those, if they're going to fill them at all. We may get to a real cold winter and there won't be any gas."
The problem would be worst along the eastern seaboard, which is subject to severe winters, which would result in more demand for gas.
"The national news is talking about rates being 50 percent higher. That would be all right, because the price we're paying now is double," says Bryant. "If it only goes to 50 percent, our rates will actually come down. If they're talking about 50 percent more than we're paying now, that's another three dollars. A lot of people can't afford that."
Bryant said he'll have a better idea of what prices will be following a meeting next week with the city's supplier and a mid-October meeting with the Municipal Gas Authority of Georgia.


Nicholson's City Government Can't Function
It could be late November before the Nicholson government can function.
There are seven candidates qualified to run for mayor in the November special election, but the recent resignations of the mayor and two city councilmen leave Nicholson without enough public officials to conduct business.
The city council ­ or what is left of it ­ can meet, but it can't conduct any business. And while Thomas Gary is the new mayor pro tem, he has nothing over which to preside.
City Councilman Stanley Fouche resigned last Monday so he could run for the mayor's position vacated last month when Steve Wilbanks resigned. Councilman Daniel Sailors resigned when he found out he had to in order to seek office as a Jackson County commissioner.
That leaves council members Gary and Margaret Ward in office, but they can't do business because it takes a quorum of three elected officials, says Dana Wilbanks, city clerk.
"We are very limited in what we can do right now, but as far as day-to-day operations, everything is normal, so far," Mrs. Wilbanks said.
Because it cannot muster a quorum, the Nicholson city council cannot meet next Monday, nor on Oct. 2 or Nov. 6, all regularly scheduled meeting dates.
"We have a meeting called for Nov. 13 if there is no run-off, but if we have to hold a run-off, we can't have a meeting until after it," Mrs. Wilbanks said. "And with seven people running, I feel pretty certain we'll have to have a runoff."
That would make it December before the city government can act, and even then it will be two city council members short. A special election will have to be held in March to fill the unexpired terms of Fouche and Sailors.
Candidates who qualified for mayor last week include Fouche, Carl Bergeron, Ronnie Maxwell, Billy Kitchens, Bobby Crawford, Ray Hancock and Clarke Kesler.
The inability of the government to function leaves its pending decision on zoning up in the air. The city has drafted a zoning map and zoning ordinance and has held a public hearing as required by law. All the government has to do now is vote on the ordinance ­ which it probably won't be able to do until after the mayor's race is settled in the Nov. 28 runoff.
"Everything (on zoning) is on hold at least until we get a mayor. Even after that, we may end up waiting (until the two other council seats are filled)," Mrs. Wilbanks said.
The only jurisdiction left in Jackson County without zoning, Nicholson is strongly divided over the matter. Zoning will likely be the central issue in the upcoming mayoral election.
Zoning may be the most pressing issue facing the town's new government, but other more routine issues could become crucial with a little bad timing. While Mrs. Wilbanks can handle day-to-day issues, any need for a major expenditure, such as a replacement piece of equipment, could put her in a difficult position.



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UPDATE:
Planners approve another cell tower request
The Jackson County Planning Commission recommended approval Thursday to another request for a cell tower to locate in the county.
The planners recommended approval of a request from American Tower for a conditional use permit for 129.4 acres at Hwy. 441 and Hoods Mill Road, zoned A-2 and owned by E. W. Barnett, to locate a telecommunications tower.
The Jackson County Board of Commissioners will take action on this request and others listed below when it meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 3, at the Administrative Building in Jefferson. The BOC will discuss the requests at a work session at 5 p.m. on Oct. 3.
At Thursday's meeting, planning commission chairman Keith Hayes questioned American Tower's attorney, Tom Anderson, about the plans, including how many towers the company has in Jackson County; whether they co-locate on other towers in the county; and what their master plan is for the county.
"I'm kind of concerned on how many we're going to end up with," Hayes said. "I know we need our wireless communication. Everybody now has a cell phone or beeper. We just need to have some kind of idea of how many we'll have."
The conditional use was granted with the following conditions: site to be landscaped outside of compound fence; maintain existing growth and add landscaped screening within 30 days after tower is completed; conditional use permit is limited to one commuications monopole tower with a maximum height of 195 feet; and tower to be constructed of sufficient strength to accommodate a total of five users.
In other business, the planning commission recommended:
·several proposed amendments to the county zoning ordinance from the Jackson County Board of Adjustments, including giving the chairman the authority to grant variances under certain conditions and notifying adjacent property owners of any proposed variances. Property owners will be given a 10-day response period before any change is made.
OTHER BUSINESS
The planning commission also took action Thursday on the following requests which don't require further action by another governmental body:
·approval to Gregory Shawn Worley to subdivide 4.62 acres at 2883 Hwy. 60 into two parcels to locate an additional single-family home.
·approval to Frank H. Gilstrap to subdivide 2.554 acres at 3118 Galilee Church Road into two parcels to locate an additional single family home.
·approval for a preliminary plat for 13 lots on 11.083 acres at Whitney Place on Elder Avenue.
·approval for a preliminary plat for 50 lots on 54.527 lots on Riverwood on South Apple Valley Road.


JCCI warden, three officers fired by BOC
Jackson County Correctional Institute warden Joe Dalton and three administrators at the facility have been fired by the Jackson County Board of Commissioners over allegations of time cards being falsified.
The BOC held a called meeting Tuesday morning to fire warden Joe Dalton for not properly supervising two correctional officers at the facility who allegedly falsified their time cards. The commissioners were required to hold an official meeting on Dalton's firing since he is an appointed department head.
The other three, deputy warden Ken Ashley and correctional officers Eddie Mullis and Gus Morris, were notified of their dismissal through a letter from the county. They have three days to appeal their firing by requesting a hearing with personnel director John Hulsey.
Dalton and Ashley were fired for failure to properly supervise the two employees who reportedly falsified their time cards. Mullis is accused of receiving $7,909 from Aug. 8, 1999, through Sept. 2, 2000, due to falsifying time records. Morris was fired for allegedly receiving compensation for hours not worked, but an exact amount has not been given.
Ken Mize, a long-time employee with the Jackson County Sheriff's Department, has been named interim warden at the prison. State corrections officials have also agreed to assist in running the prison until a new warden is hired.
BOC chairman Jerry Waddell said all time cards from the JCCI have been forwarded to the auditor for review.


Jefferson to apply for building grant
Jefferson leaders are moving ahead with plans for a new social meetings building. Town leaders hope the city will receive a state grant to fund construction of the facility.
At a meeting Tuesday night of the city council and members of the building committee, it was reported that the city can apply for up to $500,000 in state funds for the project. The only problem is that the deadline for applying is Nov. 1. That means plans for the building must be completed in a couple of weeks for bids to be taken.
Architect Doug Shaw of Precision Planning was also at Tuesday night's meeting and he agreed to begin work immediately on the plans. The citizen's committee presented a $336,400 proposal to the council last week and this will be used as a guide by Shaw.
The city must advertise for bids for at least two weeks and select a contractor for the project. All of this paperwork must be submitted with the grant application, leaders said.
The proposal calls for a 3,200-square-foot building to accommodate up to 150 people. It includes storage space, restrooms and a meeting room. It will have a brick exterior and metal roof.
In other business Tuesday, the council discussed creating a seven-member Downtown Development Authority. Council members were asked to have one nominee each at the October meeting. A council member will also serve on the authority. The members must meet at least one of the following criteria: Taxpayer or resident in the city; owner or operator of a business in the downtown area; or a member of the city council.
The main focus of the group will be to apply for grants for development of the downtown area and to work toward downtown revitalization.


Jefferson IDA approves bonds for plastics plant
The Jefferson Industrial Development Authority approved a bond inducement resolution for up to $6 million Wednesday for Unique Plastic Packaging LLC.
The company's chief executive officer, Warren Miller, said the total investment would be $7 million for the project. He said funds from the bond will be used to purchase equipment. The business will be located in the former IMAC facility in the Walnut Fork Industrial Park, near Jefferson.
Miller said the company manufactures plastic containers for the food, beverage and pharmaceutical industries. He said it is an "environmentally-friendly" business and that the process uses little water and puts nothing into the sewer system. It will be a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week operation with 150 employees being hired within four years. Miller said the company would need "semi-skilled labor" and training would be provided.
In other business Wednesday, the IDA appointed officers as follows: Ron Bond, chairman; Gus Johnson, vice chairman; and Roy Stowe, secretary-treasurer.