Jackson County Opinions...

December 27, 2000

By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
December 27, 2000

Some Room For Improvement In The New Year
It is time once again to welcome in a new year. I don't care what you've heard, Jan. 1 marks the beginning of the new millennium.
Not that it makes a difference. With no Y2K (remember that) to worry about, with all of the celebration about entering the 21st century all gone, all we have left is to celebrate the arrival of a new year.
Aside from an all-night party and a morning of college football bowl games, what we get from the typical new year observance is a rash of "resolutions" about change.
Businesses take inventory as their tax year ends, both to satisfy the government and to know where they stand. Most of us can benefit from an annual and frank evaluation of ourselves too, and if that isn't impetus for change, we're in trouble.
My brother-in-law, an engineer by trade, is big on planning and evaluating, and he would say that one needs to constantly measure where one is against where one planned to be. He would favor annual alterations of course as needed to meet goals.
But there is more to life than meeting career or financial goals, and a fair assessment taken annually can help bring us back to the track we know we should take. What better time to take on a personal self-evaluation and plan corrective action than at the beginning of a new year.
The options are limitless. For example:
·Attitude: Most of us can stand improvement in the way we approach our jobs, our families and our commitments. Anger toward work or family builds stress in everyone, but particularly in the person holding the resentment. If you hate someone, more harm is being done to you than to the one you so dislike.
·Commitments: Be they family, church or work, most people can do better. When we fail to live up to expectations, we are short-changing those things that should be most important to us. This year might be a good time to dedicate more of ourselves to our family, church or some other worthy commitment.
·Leisure time: Use it better this year. Some of us take too much, some too little. You work hard, so you need time to do the things you really enjoy. A lot of people have tons of hobbies, but never allocate themselves time to enjoy them.
·Count your blessings: Make 2001 a year of thanksgiving. Look for those blessings. Enjoy that sunrise, stop and smell the rose, enjoy the kids, pet that faithful dog that meets you every day when you slog home from work. Life is full of treasures, some huge, some tiny, and the more you look for them, the more you see.
·Read more: Whether it's from newspapers, magazines, books or off the Internet, make time to read. I promise you that the Commerce Public Library can outfit you with books that are far more entertaining and informative than what you'll find on 56 channels of cable.
·Abandon the talk shows: Most talk shows on radio and TV are aimed at making you angry. There's enough anger out there without specifically cultivating it. Stay away from Bortz, Limbaugh, Springer, etc. If you spend a lot of time in your car, try books on tape or listen to National Public Radio.
There you have it. Happy New Year.

The Jackson Herald
December 27, 2000

Open the door for new teachers
Ever since Gov. Roy Barnes led the effort to abolish teacher tenure, the Georgia Association of Educators teachers' union has raised a hue and cry across the state.
Give us more "respect," they say in their public relations news releases. According to the GAE, "respect" apparently means that no public official should dare question the competence of teachers.
The latest song being sung by this union is that the state has a teacher shortage that can only be solved by higher pay and an earlier retirement.
"Who will teach our children?" asks one recent new release from the group. "We must act now to save the education profession."
Well, we have one solution to the teacher shortage, but we don't think the GAE will like it - make it easier for career professionals to enter the teaching profession.
The truth is, there are many well-educated professionals who would enter the teaching profession if they didn't have to fool with the Mickey Mouse education courses currently required.
Why shouldn't a professional chemist be allowed to teach a high school chemistry class?
Why shouldn't a business person be allowed to teach a high school economics course?
The irony of the situation is that these professionals can teach at most colleges in the state without having to get a certificate that says they are an "educator." Yet these same people aren't allowed into our high schools, middle schools or elementary schools unless they go back to school themselves to learn education "theory."
Of course, the GAE wouldn't like the idea of tearing down that barrier, just like they don't want merit pay or incentives to lure specalized teachers into the profession. All that group wants is to shelter its members from any change in the status quo.
We believe that during the upcoming legislative session, Gov. Barnes should begin opening the doors in Georgia to this huge pool of potential teachers that are currently being shut out of the system. Allow professionals to enter our schools and teach the subjects they know best.
And while you're at it, governor, tell the self-serving GAE to take a hike.



Jackson County Opinion Index

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By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
December 27, 2000

Taxes grow as county grows
OK, so our tax rates have dropped dramatically. Every local government lowered its millage rates this year except for Maysville, which has not yet set its rate. (It's expected to stay the same at 1.5 mills.)
Of course, that doesn't mean the taxes you pay will fall. If the value of your property increased more than the millage rate dropped, you'll still pay more taxes. The average overall tax decrease this year was around 31 percent, so if your assessments went up more than 31 percent, you'll pay more taxes. If your assessments rose less than 31 percent, you'll pay less taxes.
But even more than the assessments was the impact new growth had on the county's tax digest. That was especially true in the City of Jefferson, where the tax digest rose a whopping 42 percent over last year. Over a five-year period, Jefferson's tax digest has gone up 163 percent, largely from additional industrial, commercial and residential growth.
For general city operations, however, the total property taxes taken in by the city have gone up only 123 percent, meaning that the city's growth is paying for itself, so far. (A historical note: for the first time ever, Jefferson will take in over $1 million in local taxes this year. Five years ago, the city took in less than a half-million dollars.)
For the Jefferson City School System, the situation is similar. The school's digest has gone up a dramatic 166 percent over the last five years, while its net property tax income, not counting bond taxes, rose only 149 percent. If you include bond taxes, the city school system property tax income rose 157 percent, still below the tax digest growth rate.
What all of this means for Jefferson is that the town's growth continues to outpace the level of property taxes needed to pay for that growth. A major contributing factor to that has been the growth in sales taxes which, to some extent, offsets the need for higher property taxes. (Another historical note: for the first time ever, taxes levied for the Jefferson City School System topped $2 million this year.)
If Jefferson could develop its sales tax base by attracting more retail stores, that would also help offset the need for property taxes.
On a side note, the new census numbers are set to be released later this week. That will affect us not only politically, but also in how sales tax funds are divided between incorporated and unincorporated areas of the county.
One of the major factors in this year's drop of property tax rates was the five-mill decrease in county government taxes. But get ready for the rate to go up again next year. To finance the tax decrease, the county is using up much of its reserves. Next year, the rate will have to climb dramatically to keep county operations humming.
That has angered some of the new incoming county commissioners, who believe the outgoing BOC played politics with the tax rate in order to make the new board look bad next year. Politically, the new board can't oppose the tax decrease on the record, but some new BOC members are privately upset about the situation. They know that it's a one-year deal and that next year they will be the ones voting to raise taxes.
The biggest impact of the tax decrease may be the continued postponement of building a new county courthouse. Jackson County needs a new facility, but that isn't likely to happen anytime soon. Some of the new board members don't like the plans being considered by the outgoing board anyway and that, along with the lack of funds, will delay any further action on the issue for a while.
High on the agenda of the new BOC should be an effort to get a better handle on the county's fire protection services. There are too many fire districts with too much power to levy taxes. For the most part, these fire district boards answer to no one.
Wouldn't it be better to levy one countywide tax rate and split those funds among the different departments? Why in the world does Jackson County need 10 fire tax districts?
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.

The Commerce News
December 27, 2000

Looking Forward To Changes In New Year
Not that 2000 was a terrible year, but it will be good to welcome a new year.
The new year brings a new county government locally and a new president nationally. It brings opportunity for improvement ­ and uncertainty about the future.
Locally, the biggest challenge will be for the new five-member board of commissioners to settle in, become familiar both with how the government operates and their own power and responsibility. There will undoubtedly be some wrangling among the commissioners, particularly about hiring a county manager, which will be the board's next biggest challenge.
The transition will affect all levels of government. Any competent manager will want to make changes, some of which will ruffle feathers and cause dissent. And the manager, not the chairman of the board of commissioners, will be responsible for the day-to-day operations. Chairman Harold Fletcher may have a big job, but he has no more power or authority than the other four commissioners. It may take some time before that reality sinks in.
Expect some controversy, count on lively discussions and sharp disagreements as personalities and politics clash. Jackson County's government faces a period of adjustment and evolution that probably won't be pretty, the end result of which should be government managed more efficiently.
Nationally, George W. Bush will find that, even after the extended count in Florida, winning the presidency is easier than being president. His challenge will be to build the coalitions necessary to get legislation through Congress, where his strongest opposition may come from the right wing of his own party. His touted ability to get along with different factions may be his greatest asset.
America faces challenges at home and abroad. Bush and his administration must reach a consensus on the size and role of the military, must face a slowing economy, work a compromise with Democrats in Congress over his proposed trillion dollar tax cut and continue to balance the budget.
All this he must do with a sharply divided House and Senate, which means Bush must have cooperation from Democrats and Republicans alike. While it may seem logical that philosophically opposed politicians should be able to function in the many areas where there is little disagreement, that is not necessarily the way of Washington, DC. For the good of the country, politicians from both parties must put country before politics, service before self.
This is a tall order, but the beginning of a new year is a time for optimism. We can see what is possible if our public servants do what we elected them to do, and the opportunities are unlimited. Just how our local and federal governments conduct themselves will soon be evident. Hopefully, the new year will bring progress, not partisanship.

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