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December 6, 2000

Madison County

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Frank Gillispie
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.

Zach Mitcham
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 my fault.

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 Christmas holidays.

Neighborhood News...
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.

News from...
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 2002.
The Madison County Journal
Danielsville, Georgia
Telephone: (706) 367-5233
Fax: (706) 367-8056

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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 on.
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 financial reserves.
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 to Patton.
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 needed doing."
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 needs.
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 money."

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.
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 this support.
"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," she added.
And Bernita doesn't have any patience for those who frown on the idea of adoption because "you don't know what you're getting."
"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 Journal.

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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.

Danielsville discusses 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 them down.
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.