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Drug counseling program should not receive government
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.
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 . . .
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
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.
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
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
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.
rezoning requests withdrawn
Two controversial rezoning requests were withdrawn this past
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
on five charges
A Winterville woman accused of murdering her ex-boyfriend and
encasing his body in cement was indicted on five charges last
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
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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
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
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.
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.