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Voting 'none of the above'
Most of the people arguing over votes in Florida are ignoring
one basic fact. Many people decided to vote for "none of
the above" in the presidential election. Because few ballots
give the voter the option of voting for "none of the above,"
voters often chose to not vote in certain races.
On getting it right
Last week's court story in The Madison County Journal was a mess.
A number of cases were incorrectly listed. And this was entirely
Lady Raiders look to hit hot streak
After nabbing wins against Loganville and Monroe Area and then
52-33 against Winder-Barrow, Tim Cook's Lady Raiders will look
to hit a hot streak that will hopefully carry over after the
Ballinger pleads not guilty to church arson
Jay Scott Ballinger, 38, Yorktown, Ind., pled not guilty in United
States Magistrate Court in Gainesville Wednesday to six counts
of arson, including the 1999 fire at New Salem United Methodist
Church in Banks County. Volunteer firefighter Loy Williams Jr.
was killed while fighting the New Year's Eve church fire.
County moves forward on water expansion project
The Banks County Board of Commissioners is moving forward on
the expansion of the treatment capacity of the waste water treatment
plant from 70,000 gallons per day to 300,000 gallons per day.
BOC files court order for probate court income records
The Jackson County Board of Commissioners filed a court order
Monday to force probate court judge Margaret Deadwyler to release
financial records for her office.
County budget to eat $4.25 million reserves
The good news is that Jackson County taxpayers will see the county
government tax rate drop five mills when tax bills are eventually
sent out. The bad news is that the county will use much of its
accumulated reserve funds, some $4.25 million, to effect that
tax decrease, meaning that next year taxes may have to go back
up dramatically, or county services may have to be slashed in
The Madison County Journal
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A large crowd turned out Thursday for a public meeting
on Madison County school finances.
Crowd seeks answers
on schools' fiscal problems
Madison County school taxes are up 26 percent to help offset
a cash shortage. And a large crowd of concerned citizens sat
in the high school media center Thursday night hoping to find
out what went wrong with school finances.
What they heard varied. Much of the blame for the financial fix
was directed toward former superintendents Dr. Dennis Moore.
But school board members also said the county was in dire need
of facilities improvements before Moore took over in 1998. They
said much of the current hurt comes from past county school leaders'
lack of solid long-term planning.
Moore, who was not at the meeting or any meeting since his resignation
on the fourth day of this school year, has been widely criticized
for what many have called reckless spending and mismanagement
of funds. And those same criticisms were voiced Thursday.
Shortly after Moore's resignation, citizens learned that the
school system entered September with a $369 cash balance.
Though there was speculation, there has been no evidence presented
to support any belief that Moore had any illegal profit from
the school system.
BOE member Elaine Belfield, the board's most outspoken member
on the school finance problems, spoke about her disgust with
Moore's spending practices.
She said Moore did not keep the board informed on what was going
For example, Belfield said she was in a local restaurant when
she overheard someone talking about a retreat to Vermont for
local school employees. She said she knew nothing about the trip.
"He made many decisions without informing the board,"
said Belfield. "I did not know many things he was doing."
Belfield added that Moore was careless with the money, paying
for projects that weren't really needed. She pointed to the new
glass walls of the high school front office as evidence of frivolous
spending. She noted that Moore approved the payment of college
tuition for some teachers without board approval.
"We had a lot of trust in the last treasurer (former superintendent
Jim Perkins)," said Belfield. "And we made the mistake
of trusting him (Moore) also."
But other board members weren't as willing to blame Moore.
BOE Chairman Jimmy Patton, who lost his seat Nov. 7 to Ric Power,
said the board's cash cushion was lost over several years, adding
that it will take several years to fully recover. Patton presented
financial charts showing two principle factors that he suggests
caused the crisis.
Patton credited failure to raise local tax rates enough to meet
the needs of the schools and a corresponding reduction in school
maintenance budgets as the primary contributors to the loss of
In the past four years, the BOE tax rate increased .7 mills while
annual spending on school repairs averaged under $100,000.
In the last school year, repair bills ran $438,000. They included
roof repairs, air conditioner repairs, carpeting and painting.
Many of these repairs had been put off for several years, according
District 4 board member Jim Patton, no relation to the District
5 representative, reiterated the chairman's points.
"We keep trying to act like the deficit actually happened
in the past two years," said Jim Patton, who added that
before Moore, there was a "tendency to put off things that
Acting superintendent Allen McCannon described increases in the
school's staff as contributors to the budget shortfall. He noted
that 87 percent of the school 's budget goes to pay for salaries.
He listed the number of new employees necessary to staff the
new Hull-Sanford school and their cost.
State funding for these new teachers and staff will not be available
until after the New Year.
Audience members asked for pledges from the board to keep better
control over the budget. They urged the board to consider hiring
a financial manager to oversee board funds and to plan for future
Others wanted to be sure that detailed financial reports were
being provided to the board in time for them to make corrections
if necessary during monthly meetings.
Another audience member asked the board not to view borrowing
money as the answer to solving money problems.
Board member John Mason said, "We don't intend to keep borrowing
Madison Co. adoptive
family enjoys close bond
Bernita Hitchcock was at a low point in her life when 11-year-old
Kim entered the picture.
Bernita's grandparents Mason and Fannie Foote, to whom she had
been devoted, died within three months of each other, leaving
her feeling lonely and sad.
"I was the only grandchild around here and I helped take
care of them," she said.
But Bernita isn't lonely any more because she has since moved
into her grandparents' home along with adopted daughter Kim.
"Kim came at the point of all this loss and brought some
new life with her," Mary Jane Perkins, Resource Development
person for Madison and Oglethorpe County Department of Family
and Children Services, said.
A TYPICAL DAY
Like many other women nowadays, Bernita is single, has a full-
time job and is working hard to provide care for her children.
Kim was 9 when she came into Bernita's home as a foster child.
Bernita has since agreed to foster another 14-year-old girl.
(The names and faces of children in foster care cannot be printed.)
A typical week for Bernita involves getting her daughters over
to her mother's home to get ready for school in the mornings
in time to be at work by 6 a.m.
Friends help get the girls on the bus.
After work, she picks her foster daughter up from basketball
practice each day.
The family attends Bible Study on Wednesday nights and basketball
games on Friday and Saturday.
Bernita says she has a huge support group through her family,
community and church, adding she would find it hard to do without
"Just the other day the girls came to me and said, 'We wish
you were our Mama,' and I told them 'I am your mama,'" she
said. "But they said 'No, we wish you would have had us.'"
"You're giving somebody so much," Bernita says of the
experience. "It makes you feel good to give somebody something.
They appreciate it."
"They're not somebody else's kids - they're yours,"
And Bernita doesn't have any patience for those who frown on
the idea of adoption because "you don't know what you're
"It's a chance (with kids) whether they're yours or 'somebody
else's,'" she said.
"They know what I expect," she says of her girls. "You
raise your kids the way you want them to be...and you pray."
Bernita says the timing was right for her and Kim to be together.
"She's a major part of my life and I know my grandparents
look down and are happy for me," she said. "They believed
in helping people too."
For the rest of this story, see this week's Madison County
Go to Madison
Public Meeting Dates
& Convenience Stores
Comer renews beer
permits as charges pend
on two city businesses
The Comer City Council voted 4-0 to renew beer and wine permits
for three local businesses although two of the companies are
facing charges of selling beer to minors. Current law requires
a decision on the licenses before Dec. 31, while hearings on
the violations cannot be held until January.
Approved for 2001 beer and wine sales are Jim's Amoco, Foodlane,
and Kangaroo. Jim's Amoco and Kangaroo face charges that could
result in suspension or revocation of their permits. A hearing
has been set to follow the council's Jan. 9 meeting.
In other business Tuesday, the council adopted the 2001 budget
and set a rate of 4.7 mills for the 2000 property taxes. The
city tax is the same as last year and has not changed since 1996.
The city expects to collect and spend $436,750 in the next year.
Significant increases in the police and public works budget are
projected. The police department will see an increase of 10.35
percent, reflecting a full year of staffing and equipment upgrades.
The public works budget will grow by 13.22 percent due to increased
payroll and expansion of the city water and sewage systems.
The Comer Police Department has received a Local Law Enforcement
Block Grant of $10,000. Chief Barry Reed said that the grant
will be used to purchase repeaters for the city's three patrol
cars so that officers can more effectively communicate with the
911 center from their portable radios, and to purchase intoxication
equipment and a fingerprint system for local use. He estimated
that the city would save enough by doing their own bookings to
pay for the equipment within two years. The city pays the sheriff's
office $35 for each prisoner processed in their office.
speed humps to slow Madison Street traffic
Motorists on their way to and from school in Danielsville may
eventually face a "hump" in the road meant to slow
City council member Nina Hitchcock brought up the matter Monday,
asking whether she and others could petition for a speed hump,
which is like a speed bump, but with more of a flattened top.
City attorney Victor Johnson said he would research the guidelines
for speed humps.
In other business Monday, the council gave final approval of
the 2000 millage rate at 2.85 mills, down 3.5 percent from 2.95
mills last year.
The council approved the renewal of beer and wine licenses for
all but one city store, which failed to meet proper advertising
requirements for the permit. That business won't have a beer
and wine permit for about eight days at the beginning of the
year, city leaders said.
The group also talked about making punishment stiffer for businesses
that sell alcohol to underage customers.
The council changed its work session time from 7 to 6 p.m. on
the Tuesday preceding its regular meeting on the first Monday
of every month.
The group discussed the possibility of painting the city water
tank, with board member Kimsey Austin recommending the city look
into Community Development Block Grants for the project.
The council agreed to seek prices on a golf cart or a small pickup
truck for the maintenance department.
City officials agreed to change next month's council meeting
from Jan. 1 to Jan. 8.
The council applauded city clerk Michelle Dills for her completion
of an advanced educational program for municipal clerks at the
University of Georgia.