News from Jackson County...

May 18, 2001


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OPINIONS
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SPORTS
Dragons down Adairsville; only eight remain
J
efferson to visit Wilcox County Friday
As graduation quickly approches at Jefferson High School, the Dragon baseball team continues to inch closer to its goal of claiming the school's fourth state championship of the school year. With a sweep Tuesday of a two-game set at Adairsville, Jefferson moved into the Elite Eight round of the the State Class A tournament.

Smith named Panther boys' basketball coach
The Jackson County Board of Education voted Thursday to hire Hall County native Ron Smith as the new boys' basketball coach at Jackson County Comprehensive High School.
"We're excited to have someone of Ron's reputation and stature join our program," system superintendent Andy Byers said of the move. "We look forward to our boys' basketball program moving forward."



Neighboorhood News ..
MADISON COUNTY
Fortson murder trial postponed
The murder trial of Tracy Lea Fortson, which was scheduled to start Monday in Madison County Superior Court, has been postponed because reports from the GBI crime lab were not received in time to proceed with the case.

County passes tougher noise ordinance
Madison County commissioners unanimously approved new a noise ordinance Monday with "more teeth" than the old restrictions.
Under the new ordinance an officer may impound any "instrument, device, object or mechanism" employed to create noise which is "plainly audible" beyond a person's property line during certain hours of the night.


Neighborhood News...
BANKS COUNTY
Sheriff seeks salary increase for deputies
BOC approves $380,000 instead of $420,000 sheriff requested.
The Banks County Board of Commissioners faced the challenge Friday of trying to come to terms with sheriff Charles Chapman on a raise for the county's deputies.

Baldwin mayor asks for resolution on closed sessions
The Baldwin mayor doesn't want to be the only one required to sign a resolution to go into closed session.
At Thursday's work session, Mayor Mark Reed said he wants a resolution drawn up concerning sessions closed to the public.

 


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CHECKING OUT LASER

Local legal experts met with officials with the Jefferson Police Department last week for a demonstration of the department's two new Pro Laser II speed detection devices. Shown are: Don Moore (L), state solicitor; Joe Booth (C), Jefferson attorney; and Griggs Walls, Gainesville police officer.

The home of Steven and Stacey Orta of Ellis Smith Road, Apple Valley, was heavily damaged late Friday morning by a fire. The Harrisburg and Jackson County Correctional Institute fire departments answered the call at about 11:15 a.m. on the Ellis Smith Road.


Surprise... Bill Coming Due
ATHENS -- Harold Fletcher got a nasty surprise Wednesday morning.
The chairman of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners learned that the county must come up with $644,377 by Jan. 1 for its first payment on the Bear Creek Reservoir. The revelation was made at a meeting of the Finance Committee of the Upper Oconee Basin Water Authority, which is building the reservoir and treatment plant.
It wasn't much comfort that Fletcher was not alone in his surprise. Barrow County chairman Eddie Elder, who is chairman of the UOBWA, was also shocked.
They shouldn't have been. It has been known since the bonds financing the $60 million project were sold in 1997 that the first payment would fall on Jan. 1, 2002.
What confused the commissioners is that the authority will start sending "bills" each month in July for a sinking fund from which the $1.436 million first payment will be made on Jan. 2.
"I think every member county had been told they would not have to make a payment until Jan. 1, 2002," said Elder.
"I've got a big problem," said Fletcher. "We're talking about $700,000. That's over a mill of taxes. We're going to have to go from 2.5 (mills, last year's levy) to five or six just to get back where we were. And this is on top of that."
The Finance Committee will recommend to the entire authority at the authority's May 23 meeting that counties not be required to pay the monthly sinking fund payments ­ as long as they have the total amount in time for the Jan. 1 payment.
Assuming they all made the monthly payments into the sinking fund, Barrow County's share of the cost would be $582,284 and Oconee County's would be $325,269. The sinking fund would generate $115,043 interest to help make the total payment of $1,436,887. Those counties who don't use the sinking fund system will have to pay slightly more to offset the interest lost by not making monthly payments.
Athens-Clarke is also a partner in the project but has no payment schedule because it funded its share in advance with cash.
What makes the financial situation more difficult, at least in Jackson County, is that from the beginning, county officials have expect to have Bear Creek water to sell to customers starting July 1. The most recent estimate is that the water won't get to Jackson County customers until early October. That means plans to make the monthly sinking fund payments from the proceeds of sale of the water have fallen through.
Elton Collins, chairman of the Finance Committee, was philosophical.
"After 15 years, coming up two months off is fantastic," he said.
The reservoir is due to come on line Sept. 23 at the latest report. It would take Jackson County a few weeks more to test and sanitize its transmission line from the treatment plant to its system so it can sell the water. Presently, Jackson County buys most of its water from Commerce.
The authority must make two bond payments a year for 20 years. By July 1, 2002, Jackson County must be ready to pay another $1,144,705. To meet its Jan. 1 and July 1 obligations each year, Jackson County would have to deposit $149,090 per month into the sinking fund.


Mar-Jac buys property in Jefferson for feed mill
Mar-Jac Poultry of Gainesville has purchased property on Benton Road near Jefferson to locate a feed mill, but no firm plans are in place as to when the facility will be built.
Pete Martin, complex manager of the Gainesville plant, said this week that the company owns several tracts of land in the Jackson-Banks area and has not decided when or where its next development will be.
"Our plans are to build a feed mill," he said. "We just purchase property. We have property in two locations in Jackson County and we have property in Banks County. We haven't even made the decision on which property we are going to yet...Our long-range plans are for a feed mill."
Martin said there is a lot of work to be done before construction could begin on a new facility.
"We don't have any idea when we would start that construction because there is so much to be done prior to that," he said. "We've got to get zoning done and our plans put together. There is no way we could start construction within a year."
Martin said the facility would be a "state of the art mill" that would not be a nuisance to close-by property owners. He said plans call for the new mill to manufacture 6,000 tons of feed per week, but there have been no plans made on the dimensions of the facility.
"We've bought 70-something acres," he said. "We only need three or four acres for a feed mill. All of the rest of the property will be greenspace. It's the best thing that could possibly happen to those homeowners...It's no surprise to us that there will be some people upset, but if we go to Jefferson, we'll be a great neighbor."


Commerce Takes Aim At Rental Housing
City Council Proposes Enforcement Of Codes In Between Tenants
Like the ripples spreading outward from a stone thrown in a pond, comments made by a Commerce citizen at the April Commerce City Council meeting reverberated through the city government. And they may result in tougher standards for rental housing.
At its May meeting Monday night, the city council asked city manager Clarence Bryant to come up with a plan by which the city government can eliminate substandard housing.
Ward 4 councilman Bob Sosebee put the issue on the table, remembering citizen Joe Leffew's complaints at the April 9 meeting about the city's abundance of poor housing. Leffew, in opposing the city's endorsement of "affordable housing" complexes in the city, observed that while Commerce residents may move out of their substandard housing into the new units, other people would move into the places they vacate.
"What he said last month really hit home," said Sosebee, who asked Bryant to develop a plan so that once rental housing becomes vacant, new tenants cannot move in until the property is brought up to code.
Without such improvements, he said, "People will be moving back into the same rat holes these people moved out of."
The mayor and council seemed to be in agreement.
"That's exactly right," offered Mayor Charles L. Hardy Jr.
Councilman Richard Massey noted that often a house will be abandoned, then someone will "slap some paint on it" and rent it out. Councilman Donald Wilson pointed out a house on old U.S. 441 that "is a shame and a disgrace."
Bryant seemed hesitant. Although he pointed out that enforcing the housing code would require the hiring of two additional people, his principal reservation seemed to be whether the city council had the backbone to follow through.
"You as elected officials can't get involved with this," he said. "You've got to make a commitment. Y'all got friends and neighbors who own this kind of property ... We get 25 turn-ons (utility reconnects) a week."
"If that's what it takes to get the job done, OK," replied Councilman Sam Brown.
"The people of Commerce want us to take the lead in enforcing this," agreed Sosebee.
"There's an awful lot of substandard housing (in Com-merce)," Bryant pointed out.
Adding a second inspector and an administrator to the office of code enforcement would enable the city to enforce building codes already in place. The city would inspect each unit of rental housing, whether house, apartment or mobile home, between tenants, requiring the owner to keep the property up to code.
Since the city is at the beginning of its budget preparations for the 2001-02 fiscal year, Bryant can work a proposal into the budget for the council's consideration.


Sewer line route still under review
For the builder and opponents alike, the first Jackson County-built sewer line has become a moving target.
The proposed route has changed twice and now the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority must consider whether to change the design to accommodate wastes from Hoschton.
Much of Thursday night's meeting of the water and sewerage authority was spent discussing the project, which includes trunk lines up the Middle Oconee River and Dosters Creek.
The route remains a controversy, in part because it has been changed and then changed back, and in part because other parts of the route have not been changed. Alienated and angry property owners continue to challenge the authority, which appears unable to make up its mind where the pipe should run.
On Thursday night, two previously satisfied property owners accused the authority of breaking a promise to relocate the section of line crossing their property; and a third property owner reiterated her complaints about the effect of the line on her land.
The precise location of the line along the route will not be known for several weeks. General manager Jerry Waddell reported that 95 percent of the field work on surveying is completed, but that it will take a few weeks for that data to be incorporated into a route map.
Even as the line's location remains in limbo, the characteristics of the line itself are subject to change.
Hoschton has asked that the authority treat its 75,000 to 100,000 gallons per day of municipal wastes while the city upgrades its treatment plant. To do that, the authority would have to make a connection with Hoschton ­ and increase the capacity of virtually every part of the proposed Middle Oconee - Dosters Creek system. The connection would add about 5.5 square miles of potential service area to the proposed system.
The authority took no action Thursday night, but Waddell suggested that it might be possible to work a three-way venture that connects both Hoschton and Braselton to the county system while sharing the costs.
The county's engineering firm, Metcalf & Eddy, estimates that the cost of making the Hoschton connection would be $2.07 million. That includes increasing the sizes of all lines, installing new lines, adding a pump station near Jackson Trail Road, and increasing the capacity of two previously planned pump stations.


Gas Costs, Capital Improvements Push Proposed Commerce Budget Up 50%
FY 2001-2002 Proposed City Budget Tops $29 Million. The first draft of the proposed 2001-2002 Commerce budget is almost 50 percent higher than the current city budget.
The $29.46 million the city proposes to spend is 49.8 percent higher than the $19.69 million 2000-01 budget now in place.
Unexpectedly high prices for natural gas and $5.65 million in capital expenditures ­ most of it to upgrade the city's sewer plant ­ account for most of the increase.
In fact, the high gas prices pushed actual spending by the city up more than $3 million in the current budget; City Manager Clarence Bryant projects actual spending this year to hit $22.6 million because of high gas prices.
In addition, the city rolled a lot of capital expenditures from this year's budget over into the proposed budget.
The only rate increase in the budget, Bryant said, is a 75-cent per thousand cubic foot (mcf) increase in the city's profit margin on natural gas. Last year, the city shaved its margin to help keep gas prices from being any higher; the result was that the gas department will show a loss of $50,000 to $100,000 this year, according to Bryant.
"We don't have enough margin in our budget to meet our operational needs," Bryant explained. Those "operational needs" include $824,420 transferred to fund other city operations.
While there are no water and sewer rate increases in the budget, that doesn't mean those rates won't be raised. The city seeks a grant/loan combination from the Rural Development Administration for its sewer plant expansion. That agency could demand rate increases of the city to guarantee loan repayment.
SCHOOL FUNDS
The city budget includes a proposed $1,684,875 appropriation for the city school system, a number that will have to be adjusted. The Commerce Board of Education approved its tentative budget Monday night (see separate story), and it contained a line item of $1,754,895 for local appropriations. That would be an increase of 12.5 percent.
On paper, the budget shows substantial increases in spending for the Administrative Department, mayor and council and Finance Department over what was budgeted this year. What caused the "increases," Bryant explained, was an attempt to spread among the utility departments expenses for those departments. It worked well when the budget was created, but the city could not retrieve the data back from the computer without going over every invoice. So, on paper, it looks like the Finance Department, whose budget was $98,254 and which is projected to spend $334,176, is grossly over budget. The same kind of aberration occurred in the line items for the mayor and council and the Administrative Department.
The mayor and council will hold their first budget work session Monday night at 7:30. The city council will adopt a tentative budget in June and a final budget in July, after all of the FY 2000-01 figures are finalized.


State names Braselton's tap as second best
The water coming from Braselton's taps has been rated among the tastiest in the state.
The Georgia Water and Pollution Control Association announced May 10 in Decatur that Braselton's drinking water was second in Georgia out of over 100 cities competing in the organization's annual water taste test.
Rome's water placed first in the contest.
The water was judged by about a dozen politicians and officials in the Environmental Protection Division, who did blind taste tests.



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Local school boards say renew SPLOST
The Jackson County, Jefferson and Commerce boards of education met Monday evening in a joint effort to call for a renewal of the one-cent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST). Revenue from the tax would be split among the three systems based on enrollment.
Both Jackson County and Commerce plan to call a bond referendum this fall that would be paid for with SPLOST funds, while Jefferson will pay off existing bond debt. There is some speculation, however, that Jefferson may also call a bond referendum.
The Jackson County school system would receive 64.57 percent of the proposed SPLOST funds, up to a maximum of nearly $28 million over the five-year period. Jefferson is in line for 18.92 percent, or just over eight million, and Commerce 16.51 percent, or seven million.
SPLOST funds must be earmarked in advance. All three systems are planning, or are currently involved in, expansion projects. Jefferson's new middle school is expected to be ready during the 2001-02 school year and Commerce plans to build a new middle school as well. Jackson County has approved the preliminary site plan for a new middle school that could be ready in late 2002, and a new high school is expected to be built in East Jackson in coming years.
Though payments from the current SPLOST have dropped off a bit in recent months, the maximum of $25 million is still expected to be reached in January or February. The proposed new SPLOST would become effective after the current maximum amount is met.


Water treatment plant behind schedule
Any hopes of Jackson County getting water from the Bear Creek Reservoir in July have been put to rest.
The water will not be available to the Jackson County water system until October at the earliest.
Until recently, the Upper Oconee Basin Water Authority has held fast to its July 1 deadline by which treated water will be ready. A week ago, the engineer overseeing construction conceded that it would probably be sometime in August before water could flow. Now, says Elton Collins, a member of the authority, the contractor building the water plant at the site says it will be at least Sept. 23 before purified water will be processed at the treatment plant.
"It could slide a little more, possibly," Collins told members of the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority last Thursday night.
Even if the water plant is finished that day, water won't flow to Jackson County customers for several weeks, says the water and sewerage authority's engineer.
Charlie Armentrout pointed out Thursday night that once the water plant is operational, it will take "several weeks" to test, flush and sanitize the 36-inch line bringing the water to the county system. Flushing, said Armentrout, requires 10,000 gallons per minute, and before the water can be released, it must be fed into a holding pond to dechlorinate before it can be released to drain into area streams.
Delays in the reservoir are a concern because county officials planned to use revenue from selling the water to make the county's bond payments on its share of the $63 million project. The county's first payment is in January. Annual payments are $2.1 million.


BOC, authority to hold retreat
The Jackson County Board of Commissioners and representatives of the chamber of commerce and the water authority will hold a "retreat" Friday to try to reach a consensus on how to approach water and sewer development in the county.
Steve Dempsey of the Carl Vinson Institute of Government from the University of Georgia will moderate the day-long event at the Carmel Retreat Center, located off the Jackson Trail Road.
Participants will include the county commissioners, county manager Skip Nalley, members of the Industrial Development Authority, the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority and Pepe Cummings, Randall Pugh and Charles Blair of the Jackson County Area Chamber of Commerce.
"More than anything, we're doing this to find out if folks are headed in the same direction with the items they think are priorities, with respect to their organizations," said Cummings, president of the chamber.


JHS seniors to graduate Friday
Dressed in cap and gown, Jefferson High School seniors will march around the track at the JHS Memorial Stadium to the sounds of a bagpipe during a graduation ceremony held at 7 p.m. Friday night.
Some 63 seniors are expected to graduate during commencement ceremonies.
STAR Student Brooklyne Marlowe will give a welcome and valedictorian Michael Newton and salutatorians Brian Ferguson and Jacob Cole will also speak.
In the event of rain Friday evening, graduation will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday. If rain continues Saturday morning, the event will be held at 2 p.m. that afternoon.
If inclement weather continues, graduation will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday. Construction at the high school gymnasium precludes the event being held indoors.


WWII vets to be saluted
A salute to "The Greatest Generation" will be held at 7 p.m. on Friday, May 25, at Panther Stadium at Jackson County Comprehensive High School.
Veterans of World War II, along with those who served from Korea to the present in the Armed Forces, will be honored. Veterans, or those who know of one living in Jackson County, are asked to call the Jackson County Board of Education office at 367-5151 to give their name and address. All will be invited to the event.