Madison County Opinion...

 December 27, 2000


Column
By Frank Gillespie
The Madison County Journal
December 27, 2000

Frankly Speaking

Time to take a serious look at the future
As the new century dawns, it is time for all citizens of Madison County to take a serious look at our future. Our rapidly changing society puts us at risk of falling further behind the rest of the state and nation in many areas.
Over the next several decades, our population will double. With greater numbers of people will come greater demands for public and private services. Unless this growth is planned and directed, we will face the same kind of problems that hounded Gwinnett County a few years ago.
The key word is infrastructure: roads, water, sewage, schools, parks, libraries and other public buildings. Where do we construct these vital resources and how do we finance them?
We have a Catch-22 situation here. Without the infrastructure, we cannot attract the high-end housing and business construction that will produce sufficient property taxes. And without considerably more revenue, it will be difficult to build the necessary infrastructure.
Here is the problem. Madison County is a combination rural and low-end residential community. Recent figures show that 60 percent of all homes in the county are manufactured homes. While most of them are well constructed and comfortable, they generate very little in property taxes.
Every new manufactured home in Madison County brings with it another, usually young, family that will need schools for their children, safe roads to reach schools, churches and work, more deputies, fire trucks and ambulances to assure their safety and parks to provide safe places for their children to play. The taxes yielded by manufactured homes will finance only a fraction of the cost of these services.
Our farm areas must be taxed at the lowest possible rate or farmers would be driven off the land. Even the tax rates now charged are a serious burden to most farm operations. Clearly, increasing revenue by collecting more property taxes on homes and farms is not the answer.
The other primary source of revenue for the county is the sales tax.
Here too we have a problem. Madison County has the least developed economy in the area. The majority of our citizens must go outside the county to find work and to shop. As a result, most of the sales taxes paid by our citizens go to places like Athens, Commerce and Royston.
Unless the state legislature finds a formula that redirects these taxes back to the shoppers' home county, we will continue to finance our neighboring counties when we are most in need of tax revenue.
Madison County's governing boards, the Board of Commissioners, Board of Education, Industrial Authority, Planning and Zoning and others will have to work closely together to find ways to rapidly build our infrastructure while at the same time attracting high-end housing and quality businesses that can generate tax revenues to pay for them. They will have to seek out every available grant or low-interest loan. They will have to be careful to fully collect user fees where available. They will have to carefully control their budgets to be sure that the county receives the greatest possible value for tax money spent.
The next few years will be critical for Madison County. We need elected officials who will devote their energies to solving these and many other problems. We do not need elected officials wasting their energy and our money in partisan fighting!
My prayer for the new century is that we the people of Madison County will come together as a united community to build the kind of future our children deserve. It will take the best effort of all of us to get the job done.
Frank Gillispie is founder of The Madison County Journal. His web page can be accessed at www.mcga.net. His e-mail address is frankg@mcga.net.

Column
By Zach Mitcham
The Madison County Journal
December 27, 2000

From the Editor's Desk

The tormenting brother
Over the Christmas holidays a lot of families surely ask the same question:
What is it that makes brothers such tormentors?
I don't have the answer to that, but I could be a case study on the subject.
I had just turned 7 years old when my sister was born. And I remember my parents putting her in my lap and taking a picture of our first meeting.
It was peaceful.
She hardly weighed as much as a football. And there was very little hair to pull.
Her name was Anna Marie Mitcham, not Anna Bell as my parents had threatened to name her, drawing loud protests from me.
But fighting for a good name was one of the few times I stood up for her over the next several years.
I have always been quiet and pretty good about keeping my temper in check. But Anna brought out the bad side in me like no one else could.
It might have been the last Oreo that did it, perhaps a television show. She liked "Pinwheels" and that kiddie show drove me crazy.
She was a little girl, unable to relate to a much older boy. And I didn't understand her either.
So over the years I tickled her relentlessly. I squashed her frequently and "frogged" her on her arms, drawing tears. I teased her in mean ways, asking questions like "when's it due?" I was a very skinny kid and she had a round stomach as a child. But she has gotten some payback on this matter in recent years, asking me the same question.
I never passed on an opportunity to torment her. And any confrontation between us was usually my fault, but I tried to frame it where our parents would see her as the guilty one. This was part of the fun.
Naturally, she wanted to beat me in anything she could. We both remember the day we got the last two ice cream bars out of the freezer and sat watching TV, trying to be the last one to finish. The reward was eating the ice cream while the other sat watching - "treatless." She ate slowly and kept careful watch of me. And when I said I was done, she was unable to contain a smile as she rubbed the ice cream across her mouth in delight, showing me what I was missing. She finally finished, then I held my dripping ice cream up from the side of the recliner and let out a loud "mmm good" as she endured the bitter defeat.
It's a goofy story, but one that shows the competitive streak in both of us. Each wanted to outdo the other, no matter how small the reward.
Now, Anna is not the little kid I picked on. She is a junior drama major at the University of Georgia and a better student than I ever was. She is very good at what she does. I have seen her in countless plays over the years and I'm amazed by her ability. She seems fearless in front of large crowds, able to take on a separate persona. Sometimes when she's on stage I forget she's my sister.
On top of that, she is witty, making me laugh as much as anyone I know.
My sister and I have grown closer over the years. And I hope that continues.
Still, I'm not opposed to issuing the time-honored threat:
"Don't make me come sit on you."
And she'll look at her 28-year-old brother with wide eyes, knowing there's a lot of weight behind those words.
It's sad.
But the tormentor lives on.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.

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