News from Banks County...

May 30, 2001


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OPINION
Shar Porier
Old barn provides training

Last Saturday, I got a taste of what it feels to be a firefighter. I was asked to join members of Banks County District 3 firefighters at a controlled, training burn at an old barn.

Todd Simons
Oh my dog

If you don't believe in a divine being or maybe you are questioning just a little, I can attest to a miracle that happened just down the road this week.


SPORTS
Moore leads Leopards' spring football

New Banks County football coach Greg Moore set out to build a competitive football team in Banks County during the Leopard's spring practice which ran from May 14 to 25.


Directions to Area Schools


Neighborhood News...
JACKSON COUNTY
Chamber To Support School SPLOST Renewal
Hoping to help the three school systems in the county snare up to $43 million over five years, the board of directors of the Jackson County Area Chamber of Commerce has endorsed extension of the special purpose local option sales tax for education.

Grad test a struggle for some students
Science and social studies remained problematic for local high school juniors this year.


News from
MADISON COUNTY
Cowne says schools must restore reserve funds
Superintendent Keith Cowne told school board members that as well as meeting the financial needs of the system, the board will need to restore the system's reserve fund.

Kesler reinstated as coach
Doug Kesler was reinstated as Madison County fast-pitch softball coach at a called meeting of the board of education Monday night.


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SALUTE GIVEN

Veterans and family members saluted the departed in a Memorial Day service held Monday in Homer. See this week's Banks County News for additional photographs.

Historical society wants back in old courthouse
Members of the Banks County Historical Society made clear at a meeting Thursday night their intent to be part of the future of the historic courthouse and hold their meetings in it.
The group met Thursday night with chamber of commerce president Bonnie Johnson, chamber executive assistant Sherry Ward, board of commissioners chairman Kenneth Brady and commissioner Pat Westmoreland.
Brady asked at the start of the meeting: "Why are we here?" Historical society member Tom Jones replied: "So that you know there is a historical society. We have 70 members."
Jones said the group wanted to get together with Johnson and the commissioners to decide what is best for the courthouse and for the people.
"We want to be in on the decision to determine what happens to the courthouse," he said.
Problems occurred a few months ago, according to historical society member Horace Campbell, when the chamber rented the front room of the old courthouse to Country Roads Real Estate, owned by Shirlene Allen. The room had been serving as a museum for antiques and relics from Banks County history, gathered and collected by the historical society. When members saw their collections placed in the hallways, they called the chamber and the commissioners.
Thelma Dunson asked why the historical society's items had been moved into the hallways and why the real estate company wasn't given the room in the back.
"We went to a lot of trouble to get it all there," she said.
Johnson said: "I didn't have anything to do with it except that the woman requested to come into the courthouse and we just agreed to let her come."
Campbell gave a brief description of the events which led to the saving of the courthouse when it was slated for destruction in 1987. He said many people in the community "thought the demolition reprehensible." Community leaders began working to save it and have it placed in the National Registry of Historic Buildings. A straw vote, sponsored by the historical society, was held to save the courthouse.
"The straw vote came back 2-to-1 in favor of saving the courthouse," he said.
The historical society, with the aid of the chamber, under the presidency of George Evans, worked together to convince the commissioners of the project's worth and to pay for renovations through a hotel/motel tax, said Campbell. In order to be able to receive the funds, he said the chamber and the society created the Banks County Convention and Visitors Bureau. A total of around $300,000 was spent on restoration, he said. The commissioners permitted the historical society to lease the building. When the society began having difficulty paying for the utility bills, it was decided that the chamber could sub-lease the building and help pay for the upkeep. The society would still have a room there to hold meetings.
Campbell said in the late 1990s, the society became basically inactive.
"The past commissioners took it upon themselves before the society's lease expired and evicted the society from the museum in 1999," he said in regard to a termination letter from the commissioners to the society.
The letter, signed by former BOC chairman James Dumas, states that after reviewing all the leases held by the county, it was decided that the "county has need of the old courthouse. Pursuant to the lease agreement between the Banks County Historical Society and the Banks County Commissioners, the commission is exercising its option not to re-new the existing lease agreement." The termination date was February 14, 1999.
Campbell said the letter was invalid, since the society was told to vacate, but no action was taken against the sub-lease holder, the chamber of commerce.
"You can't terminate the lease and honor the sub-lease," he said.
Alex Chambers, secretary of the society, said the letter sent to then-president Richard Chambers was not disclosed to the other members. He said the society had paid a lot of the bills for the courthouse from the treasury accumulated through membership dues. He said the society still has an active bank account.
In February 2001, Brady said he was approached by Johnson to allow the chamber to sub-let the front room to the realty company for $300 per month for one year. He said the rent would be used by the chamber. Brady said the chamber was to use the collected rent "to support industry and trade and the commissioners in what we needed done in advertising or anything that we needed in Banks County."
Brady said he "didn't know there was a historical society still going."
"I assumed that it had disbanded because we didn't hear anything out of them after the letter," he said.
According to county attorney Randall Frost, there was nothing to prevent the chamber from leasing any room in the old courthouse.
"There was no malice on our part," he said. "We didn't think we were doing anything wrong. We thought we were doing the right thing. But it came back and bit us."
Campbell said the society did not believe that the realtor's office should be in the building.
"In my opinion, leasing the front room to the realtor is inconsistent to the whole background of the courthouse," he said. "It does not fit the criteria." He cited a clause from the original 1989 lease: "The society shall not put the courthouse to any other use which is inconsistent with the promotion of tourism and the promotion of the historical, cultural, or artistic heritage of Northeast Georgia."
"We would like to see it back the way it was," he said.
He requested the commissioners re-draw the lease and give the historical society back control of the endeavor they had worked so hard to complete.
When asked if the chamber had a 10-year lease, Brady did not know.
But, Johnson said, "It's renewed annually."
When asked if it is in writing, she replied, "That's what we've been told."
Brady said to Johnson: "Bonnie, they want the lady out from up there and I think everything will smooth over."
Johnson replied that the realtor had a one-year lease.
Brady said the historical society is welcome to use the back room for its meetings.
"Do as you please," he said. "Put your name across the door. I know you think that the commissioners have done you a bad deal. But think about it from our side. I haven't seen a soul about the historical society until a couple of months ago. We didn't do anything dishonest."
He asked the society to work with the chamber "for the common good" and suggested they get together and reach an agreement as to how the courthouse should be used. Then, the county would draw up an agreement, he said.
Campbell also requested the commissioners grant $25,000 to finish the restoration at the historic courthouse. Chambers said that the society ran out of money before it could finish the insulation in the ceiling. He said it would end up saving money in the long run.
"I don't think we can legally spend tax dollars on a Historical Society budget, " said Brady.
He said he would ask the county attorney if it is legal to give the society any county money. Campbell replied that he thought the society should be able to receive funds under the original agreement when the hotel/motel tax was initiated. He said that the tax was raised from two percent to five percent to cover the cost of restoration. Verification whether or not the percentage was still being paid to the Convention and Visitors Bureau was not established.
Thomas Wilson, society member, said the historical society was a promoter of tourism and could see no reason why money could not come their way. "I thought $150,000 for Banks Crossing was a bit much," he said. "I think that $150,000 could have been spread over the county for a more equitable use."
Brady and Johnson defended the beautification project expense and said that additional money came from a matching state grant.
"When you see it, I think you'll see that it was a good investment," said Brady.
Johnson told the society members to organize projects like the chamber does to raise money.

 

 

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BCHS graduation planned Friday
It's cap and gown time at Banks County High School. Graduation will be held at 7 p.m. Friday at Leopard Stadium, located at the middle school.
The valedictorian and salutatorian had not been named as of press time Wednesday. School leaders said they would be announced Thursday when final tests have been completed. Others to be on the program have also not been named yet.
Honor graduates are as follows: Laura Carlyle, Heather Cash, Steven Caudell, April David, William Dickerson, Jamie Evans, Elisha Funk, Tiffany Haag, Edward Herring, Shannon Hill, Billy Jackman, Thomas Keller, Bray Maxwell, Laura Mitchell, Jessica Mullins, Casey Murray, Becky Nation, Joseph Pardue, Ashley Reece, Sandra Reece, Tonya Trotter, Jason White and Thomas Whitworth.


Baldwin to get tough on water theft
The Baldwin City Council decided Thursday to take a tougher stand on residents who turn their water meters back on after the city has shut them off.
"It's a theft of water," said councilman Kevin Gaddis at Thursday's work session. "It's city property they're tampering with."
Gaddis suggested the city send a police officer with a citation after a resident illegally turns back on the water. A court appearance would be required by the offender.
"Let the judge decide what penalty they should pay," said Mayor Mark Reed.
The issue came up as the council discussed the problems with collecting past due water bills and the increase in requests for water bill adjustments due to leaks at residents' homes.
"The water bill is the last bill some folks take seriously," said Reed.
Reed said that part of the problem leading to the lack of money in the water operating fund is due to people not paying their water bills.
"People move and don't pay their bill," he said. "They are not maintaining their water systems from the meters to their homes and ask us for adjustments. They bounce checks."
Councilman Robert Bohannon said a compromise is needed to deal with people asking for adjustments on their bills due to leaks and the rest of the council agreed. He suggested taking the resident's average usage for the year and adding the late fee and the water cost the city pays for the consumption over the average. That total would be what the resident owes, he said. Gaddis added that a person needs to provide proof of the leak to verify that the request is bona fide. Gaddis also suggested that a minimum, either in gallons or in dollars, be set for individual adjustment considerations.
"If it's above that set amount, we'll discuss it with the customer," he said. "If it's below that amount, they will have to pay according to the formula."
Bohannon said the council should consider increasing the service fee for connections and disconnections.
Gaddis said: "We need to make a policy and stick by it. We need to look at this as a business, not a government."


Firefighting muster coming up June 2
The second annual Banks County Fire and EMS Firefighting Muster will be held at 9 a.m. Saturday, June 2, at Banks County High School. The event is open to the public of all ages.
Teams competing in timed events will be from Banks County and surrounding areas. The events include: night attack, bull's eye, "Wet the Turkey," the burst hose event, firefighter rescue and rapid dress.
The Banks County Mobile Unit Support Team will serve hamburgers, hot dogs, chips, drinks and more.
For more information, call the fire department at 677-1812.