News from Jackson County...

December 27, 2000


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OPINIONS
Jackson County opinion page


SPORTS
Tigers Win Spartan Invitational

In spite of having less than a week of practice under their belts, the Commerce Tiger basketball team won the Spartan Invitational last week at Athens Academy.

Sports teams to ring out 2000 in tournaments
After breaking briefly to celebrate Christmas, most local sports teams will be back in action this week in holiday tournaments designed to get them toned up for January's crucial region and subregion contests.


Neighborhood News...
MADISON COUNTY
Holiday season special for organ donor, recipient
Both Priscilla Harrison and Susan Risler say their lives are particularly blessed this holiday season by the bond they share.
Priscilla, because she received the life-saving gift of a kidney transplant earlier this year, and Susan, because she gave that kidney so that her friend and colleague might live. ...

Conflict over legal expenses remains
A conflict over payment of legal fees continued last week as former county commissioner Ken Clark submitted a written request to be on Thursday's BOC meeting agenda to discuss legal expenses. But that request was denied by BOC chairman Wesley Nash. ...




News from
BANKS COUNTY
BOC allows saddle club to host rodeo
The Banks County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved the Banks Crossing Saddle Club's request to host a rodeo at the county's horse arena off Jolly
Street. ...

Ambulance billing proposals under BOC review
The Banks County Board of Commissioners is considering three proposals from companies wishing to provide ambulance billing services to the county. ...


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New Day Dawning In
Jackson County


Like the sun rising over the site of the future East Jackson Elementary School, a new day will dawn in Jackson County government Monday when the county changes its form of government from a three-member board of commissioners to a five-member board of commissioners with a full-time county manager. The new commissioners will be sworn in at the county's New Year's Day program Monday, Jan. 1, at 9:00 a.m. at the courthouse.



Jefferson now highest tax district
The city of Jefferson taxpayers have the dubious honor of paying the highest combined tax rate in the county this year, dethroning the City of Maysville, which had the highest rates for the last five years. Taxpayers living in Jefferson will pay a combined millage rate of 22.65 mills.
The cheapest tax district in the county is a small area around Jefferson that isn't inside the city limits and is also not included in any county fire district. The rate for that area is 18.49 mills.
Overall, tax rates tumbled across the county following a massive reassessment of property values. The average drop in combined millage rates was 31 percent.
The drop was largely due to a huge decrease in the tax rate for general county government operations. That rate fell five mills for unincorporated areas of the county.
Taxpayers who want to pay their property tax bill before the end of the year may do so by going to the tax commissioner's office in the Administrative Building. The office is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Tax commissioner Don Elrod went to Atlanta Wednesday of this week to get the tax digest approved. He left following official action by the Jackson County Board of Commissioners to adopt the rates and budget. The county rate for unincorporated areas was set at 2.57 mills and incorporated areas at 3.64 mills.


County upholds firing of JCCI employee
The Jackson County Board of Commissioners upheld its September firing of Jackson County Correctional Institute officer Gus Morris during personnel hearings Thursday morning.
The BOC's decision will allow Morris to be paid for any vacation time he had accumulated and will allow him to re-apply for another position in the county.
David Smith, the county's personnel attorney, told Morris that his firing was due to his failure to properly review time cards at the JCCI, which resulted in the falsifying of hours by other employees at the jail. Smith also said he did not believe Morris had falsified the time cards purposely.
"He had the responsibility of correctly taking the time cards at the correctional institute and submitting them," Smith said. "The investigation and audit showed a significant number of miscalculations and errors."
Morris acknowledged that he should have checked the time cards, but said he wasn't aware other employees at the JCCI were turning in false information.
"I should have checked it over," Morris said. "But if I'd known they was cheating, I would have went to the deputy warden or the warden and if nothing had been done, I would've gone further up."
Morris also expressed his discontent with the county's decision.
"This ain't right," he said. "I'm getting nailed on this. It's just an excuse to get rid of people mainly because I'm close to retiring."
Morris was fired in September along with JCCI warden Joe Dalton, deputy warden Ken Ashley and correctional officer Eddie Mullis.
Ken Ashley, who also had an appeal hearing scheduled Thursday morning, did not show up.


Basin group hires management firm
With its regional reservoir and water treatment plant scheduled to be in operation in July, the Upper Oconee Basin Water Authority finally hired someone to manage them.
Meeting last Wednesday, the basin authority approved a contract with Azurix North America that will pay the firm a base fee of $667,200. Water produced at the plant in excess of six million gallons per day (mgd) will result in additional costs.
The six mgd base figure is the estimated usage at the time the plant opens in July.
"Do we have a cost calculated per 1,000 gallons?" asked Jackson County Commissioner Pat Bell.
"Thirty-seven cents," replied George Byrd, whose firm of Moreland Altobelli is the program manager for the project. Byrd pointed out that the figure did not cover capital costs, just management, chemicals, etc. He also noted that as the plant produces more water, the cost per thousand gallons produced will fall.
One question that remained unanswered during the meeting was how the company would be paid for its services prior to when members start taking the water.
"Where did I get the feeling that the counties would not pay anything until the water started flowing?" Bell asked.
What prompted her question was a statement from the authority's attorney to the effect that the counties might have to put up those funds out of pocket.
Chairman Wendell Dawson observed that his county (Oconee) had a meeting planned with the basin authority's financial consultant, and he recommended that the other counties do the same thing.
The total estimated cost expected for operations before the plant begins sending water to the counties is estimated at $88,000.
Allocating costs to the four member counties can get complicated. Costs associated with the reservoir management will be allocated according to the formula for allocating the water. That means Athens-Clarke would pay 44 percent, Jackson County 25 percent, Barrow County 19 percent and Oconee County 12 percent. But costs associated with the water plant would be distributed according to the allocation formula there, which has Jackson County with 42.8 percent, Barrow with 38.1 percent and Oconee with 19 percent. Even that could be further complicated, depending on how much of its allocation any county is drawing.
Distributing the costs properly will be among the responsibilities of Azurix.


City Hall Will Take 2000 Tax Payments Before Bills Go Out
As a favor to its taxpayers the Commerce City Hall will accept payment of 2000 property taxes this week, even before the bills go out.
It's not that the city is in desperate need of tax payments; rather, officials figure a lot of their taxpayers want to take their 2000 tax payments as deductions on their 2000 income tax returns.
As has been the case for the past several years, Jackson County has been unable to get its tax digest approved in a timely matter, due to problems in the office of tax assessor. That means bills go out late, so late in some cases that it is difficult for taxpayers to pay their bills before Jan. 1. That is what happened this year.
Tax commissioner Don Elrod was to have taken the county's tax digest to the state today (Wednesday).
"Pending approval by the state, people may come by City Hall and pay on the afternoon of Wednesday the 27th, Thursday, Friday and on Saturday until noon," said city clerk Shirley Willis. "He will call us if everything is approved, and we will be ready to accept payments that afternoon."
The city already has the tax bills. Those taxpayers who choose not to pay early will get their tax bills in the mail Wednesday, Jan. 3.
City Hall will be open all day Thursday and Friday and until noon Saturday, to accommodate those persons wishing to get their bills paid so they can claim them as deductions on their federal and state income tax returns.
The lateness of tax bills has been a sore spot with the city for years. In theory, the tax bills should be due in late December, but in recent years, they've been mailed out in late December and due in late February. Taxpayers have 60 days in which to pay the bills.
"It's a real disservice to our people," Commerce councilman Bob Sosebee complained at the December city council meeting. "Property taxes are one of the few deductions that are left."
As for Jackson County taxpayers who need to take their 2000 taxes as a deduction, they're out of luck this year.
County tax bills will not go out until after Jan. 1, but the office has similar provisions for early payment.
Homeowners whose taxes are paid through an escrow account are the exception. The law allows them to claim the deduction, regardless of when the escrow company pays the bill.


Candidate Calls Nicholson 'Town Hall' Meeting
A former candidate who got two votes when he ran for mayor in November has called a "public town hall meeting" for next Wednesday evening to discuss zoning.
Ray Hancock, who ran seventh in a field of seven candidates in the Nov. 7 special election, says the meeting will be held at 7:00 p.m. Jan. 3 at City Hall and that Mayor Ronnie Maxwell will be present.
Hancock said he had not been able to contact other elected officials (council members Thomas Gary and Margaret Ward), because he was unaware of their names. Nor had he contacted officials of the Northeast Georgia Regional Development Center, who drafted the zoning ordinance.
"I do have a 40-page copy of the ordinance. It has notes written all over it. I guess it's the one they're trying to vote on," said Hancock.
Maxwell, said Hancock, "will answer any questions he can" about the ordinance, which has been the centerpiece of a controversy that has shut down the city.
Maxwell was not involved in the drafting of the ordinance.
With the city's two council members strongly in favor of implementing the ordinance, two vacancies on the town council until at least March, and a mayor who was elected on an anti-zoning platform, the warring factions have yet to hold an official meeting.
Maxwell walked out of the Dec. 4 regular meeting after being installed as mayor, then failed to appear at a meeting called by council members Margaret Ward and Thomas Gary. Then Maxwell called a meeting and Gary failed to appear. City Hall is closed, the library is closed and the city garbage service is shut down because there is no one to sign checks. Employees, including the librarian, city clerk and maintenance worker, have not been paid for their last week of work.
The city council normally meets on the first Monday night of each month, but it has not met since September, first because it could not muster a quorum and later because of the political fracas.



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Interim manager to be named Tues.
In its first official action, the new five-member Jackson County Board of Commissioners is expected to hire an interim county manager when it meets at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Administrative Building in Jefferson.
The new board has already reviewed applications for this temporary position and interviewed the top candidates.
Also at the meeting, the BOC will name a new county attorney, county clerk and the vice chairman for the board.
Following the meeting, a public hearing has been set for 7 p.m. to receive citizen input on a proposed moratorium on industrial zoning. A vote on the proposed moratorium will be held at the BOC's regular meeting at 7 p.m. on Jan. 15.
Commissioner-elect Emil Beshara said at an earlier BOC meeting that the board wants the moratorium because of concerns about the existing zoning ordinance.
Industrial zoning applications that have already been submitted to the county would not be affected by this moratorium.
The BOC's regular January work session will follow this public hearing. The agenda has not yet been set for that meeting.




New Year's Day program planned for 9 a.m. Mon.
The 73rd annual New Year's Day program will be held at 9 a.m. Monday at the Jackson County courthouse in Jefferson.
The swearing-in of county officials will be a highlight of the program. Those to be sworn in include the new board of commissioners chairman Harold Fletcher and the new commissioners, Tony Beatty, Sammy Thomason, Emil Beshara and Stacey Britt. The officials will be sworn in by probate judge Margaret Deadwyler.
Tom Plank, minister of Galilee Christian Church, will be the guest speaker and Jack Davidson will introduce special guests. Judge David Motes, who coordinated the program, will give introductory remarks. Mary Williamson will provide entertainment.
The program, which started in 1927, is believed to be the only one of its kind. The theme is giving thanks for the year past and asking for divine guidance in the year to come.


Zoning Ordinance To Be On Agenda
The Commerce City Council may approve new zoning and subdivision ordinances at its first meeting of the new year.
Then again, it may not act on them. The city council will meet Monday night, Jan. 8, at 6:30 at the Commerce Civic Center.
Meeting Monday, Dec. 18, the Commerce Planning Commission voted to recommend that the city council accept both the new ordinances. But since the council members will have had only a few days to go over them, there is a possibility that the council will table action for a month on the zoning ordinance, says city clerk Shirley Willis.
"They will probably vote on the subdivision regulations, and maybe the zoning ordinance too," Willis said. "But they won't get copies of the final drafts until Friday afternoon."
Should the council want a longer look at the zoning ordinance before voting on it, there is a strong likelihood that the current moratorium on approval of new subdivision plats will be extended. That moratorium is due to expire in January, but the planning commission voted to recommend its extension for six months or until the new zoning ordinance is approved.


County Gets $800,000 To Rebuild Covered Bridge
The Jackson County Board of Commissioners approved a resolution to contract with the state and federal departments of transportation for over $800,000 in grant money to help replace the covered bridge over the North Oconee River at Hurricane Shoals.
Commissioner Pat Bell said that with private donations and other grant money, the bridge should end up costing the county nothing.
Also at its meeting Thursday, the board of commissioners also approved a software contract for the tax commissioner's office.
The one-year contract with Visicraft Systems will cost the county $9,500 per year in software support. The software itself is free.
Tax Commissioner Don Elrod said the county pays $11,000 per year for support for the software it currently uses.