News from Madison County...

October 25, 2000


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OPINIONS

Frank Gillispie
Drug counseling program should not receive government money

The first clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution reads, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...." It is this clause that creates the principle of separation of church and state.

Ben Munro
Raiders silence doubters

I'll admit, my "Raider glass" was "half-empty" as I rode to Danielsville Friday night.
And while I've never been accused of being an eternal optomist, I felt . . .


SPORTS

SEE THIS WEEK'S PIGSKIN PICKERS!

Madison County topples Wesleyan 28-18 in biggest Raider win in years
Artist Norman Rockwell couldn't have painted a better homecoming picture than the Raiders did in Danielsville Friday night.
Homecoming 2000 will go down as a thing of legend in Raider lore, as Madison County pieced together a masterpiece, topping Class A's seventh-ranked squad, Wesleyan, 28-18 in a win some in Madison County are calling the program's biggest in well over a decade.

MCHS finishes fourth in the state
The sting of the final loss was obvious Friday night in Columbus for Madison County. The Raiders were one win away from a state semifinal appearance when Loganville shut the door on their title hopes.


Neighborhood News...
BANKS COUNTY
Sheriff candidates speak at forum
Honesty, integrity and experience were key words used at a political forum Tuesday night by both candidates for sheriff of Banks County. Questions from the audience at the forum, which was sponsored by the Banks County Chamber of Commerce, also indirectly dealt with these traits for the office.

Judge rules 'Baldwin owns plant'
The "Water Plant War" between Baldwin and Demorest is over with a judgment made in Baldwin's favor.


News from...
JACKSON COUNTY
Black resigns as mayor of Arcade
In a move that has fueled rampant speculation about a possible legal investigation, Gary Black resigned as mayor of Arcade last week.
Since that action, rumors have circulated across the county that a Georgia Bureau of Investigation probe into allegations of ticket-fixing led to Black's resignation.

Tolbert defends Water Wise deal at Hall forum
Rep. Scott Tolbert again defended his actions on behalf of the private sewage firm Water Wise at a political forum in Hall County Tuesday night. It was the first public comment from Tolbert on the issue since Water Wise owner Jerry Wickliffe pled guilty in federal court this month to public corruption charges for rigging bids in Georgia and Alabama.


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SHE'S IN THERE!


Madison County's Renee Mathews swipes second base during the Raiders' loss to Lovett in the state fast-pitch softball tournament in Columbus Friday. Madison County won two and lost two in the tournament, finishing fourth in the state in Class AAA.



BOE anticipates 28 percent increase in property taxes
Madison County taxpayers may be facing a 28 percent increase in school taxes this fall, according to figures released at a Board of Education work session Tuesday night. The board is reviewing the current budget for possible reductions to handle a current cash shortage, but found little they could trim.
Trimming the current budget is difficult for two reasons, according to acting superintendent Allen McCannon. A significant part of the year's budget is expended at the start of the school year. He said the board cannot cut what has already been spent. In addition, 85 percent of the budget is tagged for salaries.
Teachers work under a signed contract and their salaries cannot be reduced during a school year.
"We may be able to make personnel adjustments for future years," McCannon said. "But it is difficult to change during a school term."
Local revenues will have to generate $5.68 million in local funds out of a total budget of $25.36 million. With an estimated available tax digest of $410 million, a school millage rate of 14 mills will be required. The 1999 rate was 11.12 mills. Tax commissioner Louise Watson said Wednesday that she does not have any preliminary tax digest figures available right now. But she expects to release final tax digest figures for the year soon. The tax commissioner's office plans to mail tax notices in mid December. Taxes will be due 60 days after they are mailed.
Adding to the increase is the bond retirement tax. Bonds were issued as a result of a 1992 referendum to finance the new high school gym and other construction projects. The previous tax rate of 1.5 mills failed to generate sufficient funds to make required payments, forcing the board to pay $75,000 out of general revenue. An increase to 1.8 mills will be required to pay back the deficit and meet current payments.
Total school taxes are expected to rise from 12.31 mills to 15.75 mills. These taxes will be combined with tax assessments from the board of commissioners to determine the final amount billed to county property owners later this year.
Board member Robert Haggard released figures showing Madison County currently in the bottom 10 percent of Georgia school systems in property tax assessments. Figures from 1997 show a local tax rate of 9.6 mills. The state average for that year was 14.52 mills. Area counties paid much higher rates. Clarke county led the way with 19 mills in 1997. Jackson County billed taxpayers 18.38 mills, followed by Stephens County at 16.50, Hart County with 16.39, Oglethorpe County at 15.50, Elbert County at 14.50, Oconee County with 14.25 and Franklin County with 14.16 mills.
One contributor to the loss of reserve funds has been the failure of the board of education to apply appropriate tax increases over the past five years, according to statistics provided by McCannon. The county's school tax rate history shows a rate of 8.8 mills in 1994, 10.5 mills in 1995, 9.3 mills in 1996, 9.6 mills in 1997, 10.3 mills in 1998 and 11.12 mills in 1999.
A major result of low taxes in previous years has been a neglect of maintenance and repair of school facilities. Board chairman Jimmy Patton listed this failure as a primary contributor to the current cash flow problem. He released a list of 54 repair and improvement projects undertaken in the 1998-99 school year that cost $259,867. Projects ranged from a $190 replacement heater for the bus shop to $36,000 to re-carpet Comer Elementary School.
Growth in the school system is the primary contributor to the cash shortfall, according to McCannon. Current estimates show just under 4,500 students in the school system. Instructional costs (teachers' salaries, books, supplies) in the past two years are up $2 million. Maintenance and operations (repairs, utilities) rose $400,000 and capital outlay (equipment, property, buildings not included in the SPLOST program) climbed $346,000.


Controversial rezoning requests withdrawn
Two controversial rezoning requests were withdrawn this past week.
Madison County Board of Commissioners chairman Wesley Nash reported at Monday's BOC meeting that a request by John and Robin Berry for a conditional use permit on 41.88 acres of agricultural land on Drake Woods Road was withdrawn.
The Berrys planned to sell the property to North Georgia Christian Family Services, a private, tax-exempt organization that would operate several children's group homes on the land.
But several neighbors in the area objected to the permit at last week's planning commission meeting, saying that the facility wouldn't be "good for the community."
Opponents told the planning commission that it wouldn't be good to have "troubled children" in the area, that it would bring the standard of living down and that "predators" could be roaming around.
For the rest of this story, see this week's Madison County Journal.


Fortson indicted on five charges
A Winterville woman accused of murdering her ex-boyfriend and encasing his body in cement was indicted on five charges last week.
A Madison County Grand Jury indicted Tracy Lea Fortson of Smithonia Road in Winterville for malice murder, felony murder, two counts of aggravated assault and attempted arson.
Fortson, 35, is accused of murdering Doug Benton at his Colbert home in June and attempting to hide his body in a cement-filled horse trough left in a wooded area in Oglethorpe County.
Fortson is also believed to have attempted to burn the residence in an effort to destroy evidence.
She is scheduled to offer a plea Nov. 15.
BOND REMAINS SAME
Also last week, Judge Roger W. Dunaway Jr., of the Toombs District, issued a ruling signed Oct. 17 denying her attorney Tom Camp's request to lower bond in the case. The document was filed in Madison County's superior court on Friday.
Camp had requested Oct. 12 that Fortson's bond be lowered to an amount of $75,000 to $100,000.
Dunaway agreed to hear the plea after all judges in the Northern Judicial Circuit recused themselves in the matter.
Judge Thomas Hodges, who had originally denied bail at the time of Fortson's arrest in June, was forced to grant bail after she was not indicted for the murder within 90 days of the charges.
"Considering and balancing all the evidence presented in this case, the Court finds that the petitioner does pose a significant risk of fleeing the jurisdiction of the court or failing to appear in court when required," Dunaway wrote in his denial. "She is charged with the most serious of offenses... While as the petitioner points out, she did not flee during the initial investigatory phase of this case, there were no charges placed against her at that time. She has now been charged with capital felony."
Dunaway also found that Fortson does "pose a significant threat of intimidating witnesses or otherwise obstructing the administration of justice. There was evidence of possible reprisals against witnesses in the community...and there was evidence of attempts to conceal evidence which could obstruct the administration of justice."
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Future of county drug counseling program uncertain as tensions flare
Efforts to establish a government-assisted drug counseling program in Madison County have taken a very strange turn.
The $25,000 allotted by the county to the proposed drug counseling center was returned to the county as questions about the program leader's past business dealings arose.
Meanwhile, the drug counseling program has split into two competing factions - on one side the Rev. Jessie Martin, who founded the Adolescent Addiction Prevention Program and Aftercare Services (AADAPP), and on the other side, a newly formed AADAPP board that returned the $25,000 to the county commissioners Saturday amid questions about the revocation of Martin's insurance license in the 1980s.
Each side presented documentation to the commissioners Saturday morning supporting their right to speak for the corporation. George Cronic, named secretary by the new board, presented a statement outlining the formation of the board and its authorization to conduct business for the corporation. Northeast Georgia AADAPP, Inc. was created on September 26, 2000 by Rev. Randy Crowe, pastor of Hull Baptist Church. On Oct. 16, a committee was established consisting of the Rev. Crowe, George Cronic and James Norton, all of Hull. On Oct. 18 an organizational meeting was held, by-laws adopted and a board of directors consisting of Crowe, Norton and Cronic put in place.
This board then named the Rev. Crowe as president, James Norton as vice president, George Cronic as secretary and Daniel Dooley as treasurer. They ordered Dooley to deposit all funds in an account at South Century Bank. He was then directed to draft a check in the amount of $25,000 to the county board of commissioners.
In their statement, the board said, "It is the feeling of this Board that the timing for the creation and funding of this organization, at this time, is not in the best interest of this organization. Further examination and reflection on this worthy cause very well may be appropriate in the future."
The statement never mentioned Martin directly. They did acknowledge that "....support for this organization was broadly based and many other citizens of the county vocally supported the purposes of this organization and supported the originators of this worthy cause."
Martin identified himself as "Director and President of Northeast Georgia AADAPP" and presented a petition to the Board of Commissioners asking that "The contract, which was approved on October 9, 2000 be continued, along with all rights."
He addressed the issue of his past and said that he is still fit to run the program.
"Even though I was charged with all that is on the exhibits, which were faxed or delivered to you and others in this county by order of Wesley Nash, chairman of the commission board, I believe I may have been politically used and definitely wounded by these charges," Martin told the commissioners in a written statement. "However, I am still fit to continue to carry out the contractual parts of the contract that was approved Oct. 9."
Martin, who maintains the new board is attempting to "steal the corporation" from him, presented minutes of a meeting on Oct. 9 at which Crowe appointed Jessie Martin as president in a temporary capacity and Anna Martin as temporary secretary.
Martin also requested that the board of commissioners "keep the $25,000 check until I have had the opportunity to set five members of the Board to oversee the affairs of this program."
The controversy has left the future of the AADAPP program uncertain.
Chairman Nash suggested, and the board agreed, that a steering committee consisting of commissioners Bill Taylor, Melvin Drake and Bruce Scogin review the situation and recommend further actions by the board.