Jackson County Opinions...

July 18, 2001



Column
By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
July 18, 2001

The Joy Of Shedding Blood In Nicholson
I've been told that a lot of people in Nicholson have been calling for my blood recently, so last week I shed blood in Nicholson.
Council member Margaret Ward asked me if I'd give blood at an Antioch United Methodist Church blood drive in support of a member. I normally give at the Commerce community blood drive, but since I could not attend that last Tuesday because of work, I agreed to drive to Nicholson.
There, in Jackson County's oldest church, the faithful were collecting blood for cancer patient Toni McGinnis. I was the first one to sign in; Mrs. Ward was the second.
After answering all the Red Cross questions relating to not having sex with male prostitutes, intravenous drug users, people who have had sex with either of the above or paying someone to have sex since 1977, the attendant took my blood pressure.
"Let me do that again," she said.
"What was it?" I inquired.
"I'm not going to tell you," she said.
She took it again. "One-sixty-two over 102."
With blood pressure like you can expect to receive telephone solicitations for cemetery plots.
"Impossible," I said. "It's never been anywhere close to that."
I was ordered to sit down, have a glass of juice and take it easy for 10 minutes.
"I guess coming to Nicholson causes your blood pressure to go up," Mrs. Ward said, not altogether joking.
So, sipping ice water, I talked with Beulah Smith and Jane Cathy, wife of the pastor and a long-time Red Cross volunteer. They briefed me on the history of the church and talked about how it is growing again; the youth ministry, once abandoned, is again active. The UMW, sponsors of the blood drive, is also active.
The next time, my blood pressure was down to 150/80, so they agreed to remove a pint of my O-positive blood.
By then, two other people had given, but on the day, the church collected only 15 pints, something of a disappointment. Nine other potential donors were rejected. The church had hoped to collect 40-50 pints; the Red Cross' goal was 30.
According to Red Cross officials, it gets harder and harder to get people to donate blood. The last blood drive at BJC Medical Center resulted in 20 units being donated. Officials were pleased to get 50 units Tuesday at the First Baptist Church, but 10 years ago the same drive would have brought in 75 units.
"People are just unconcerned about something until it affects them personally," Mrs. Ward commented.
It takes an hour or less to give blood. There is virtually no pain or discomfort. The need is critical and gets more critical every year and most of us can give blood. If you know someone who's had cancer or had a major operation, then you know someone who benefited from a blood drive. Virtually every person will one day need a blood transfusion or a blood product.
The Red Cross and local volunteers are trying to figure a way to get you to donate blood regularly, and I hope you will if you can. Donating blood is so simple, but it is also extremely crucial. Please consider it.



Editorial
The Jackson Herald
July 18, 2001

Kids should be the focus of recreation programs
There are signs this week that the split between the City of Jefferson's new recreation department and the Jackson County Recreation Department may be healing. Following some changes in Jefferson's approach, leaders of both departments have reportedly talked with each other and worked out some details for the upcoming fall sports season.
That's good news for those who have been concerned about the direction the departments had been headed in recent weeks. That recreation leaders are working together for the good of all local kids is the way the system is supposed to work.
There are few areas of government more emotional than that of kids' recreation programs. Some parents get all bent out of shape over minor issues, such as where a coach plays their kid on a team. Such tensions go with the territory, as any coach or recreation leader will attest.
But when those tensions reach the leadership and political level, that's when we should all worry. Regardless of how the departments are structured in Jackson County, the focus should be on offering the best-quality program possible for local youth.
Despite its initial rocky start, Jefferson did the right thing in creating a city recreation department. Growth in the area had made the coordination of Jefferson area youth programs difficult for volunteers. Hiring someone to do that will facilitate the growth that is bringing pressure on the city programs.
Unlike Commerce, Jefferson is not ready to opt out of the county's recreation programs. To maintain a quality program for both departments, Jefferson and Jackson County need each other. By working together, the quality of play in all sports will be enhanced and in the long run, local kids will be better served.
That's what it's all about anyway - serving kids with quality programs. And as long as city and county recreation leaders keep focused on that, we'll all be better served.

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Column
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
July 18, 2001

Good firefighters, lousy bookkeepers
The vehement negative reaction by local volunteer fire departments toward efforts to increase financial accountability should appall every taxpayer in Jackson County. Those opposed to the idea of better financial accountability within local fire departments are doing a disservice to themselves and to those in the county who collectively pay several hundred thousand dollars in fire taxes each year.
This isn't a new issue. Over the last decade, this newspaper has reported and commented on the explosion of tax funds being spent by the county's nine independent fire districts. We have also reported on the sloppy record-keeping done by many of the departments and on the late budgets often submitted by those departments. But until last week, county leaders had refused to openly address the concerns, fearing a political backlash from those involved in volunteer firefighting.
Last week, that changed. Commissioner Emil Beshara had the guts (or gall, depending on your viewpoint) to bring the issue up in the open, but the heated reaction he got was all too predictable. The fire departments don't want real financial accountability and they don't want to discuss the future of firefighting in the county if it includes the possibility of paid firefighters.
So how big is this issue? If fire protection in Jackson County were a county department, it would easily be in the top 10 in budget size. Last year, the county's nine fire districts (which excludes Jefferson and Commerce) took in $612,000 in taxes and another $48,000 in other income. In addition to that, the county government kicked in $143,000 for fire protection, mostly to pay for fire services provided by the Commerce Fire Department to residents living outside the city limits. So in total, rural fire protection in Jackson County was a $715,000 enterprise in the year 2000. That's over twice the size of the tax commissioner's office; it's nearly double the size of the county planning and development department; it's nearly double the size of the clerk of court's office; it's larger than the state court, probate court, superior court and district attorney's offices combined; and it's nearly $200,000 more than the county spent in recreation for the year.
If those other departments refused to keep adequate records and didn't balance their checkbooks, local taxpayers would be up in arms and the BOC would be raising all manner of heck. If the county recreation department kept its records in a shoe box and didn't balance its bank statements, someone would get chewed out by county leaders.
Yet that is exactly the situation with many of the county's fire districts. The 2000 county audit pointed out a number of problems with the fire department record-keeping, including the lack of balanced bank statements. One department failed to issue 1099s to firemen, a potentially serious IRS problem.
When the various fire districts were created in Jackson County a number of years ago, each district was to have a local elected board to oversee the department in that district. But those elections are only nominal and often those on the district board are also involved in the local fire department. There's not a true arm's-length relationship and there is no real sense of accountability for all that tax money.
What county leaders proposed last week was a reasonable solution to that problem. Each district would approve invoices and then forward those to the county for payment. The county would cut the checks and credit that against that district's account. It would be less paperwork for the districts and would introduce some level of accountability beyond the shoe box system.
But fire department leaders put cold water on that idea, refusing to even consider allowing such accountability. Not only that, but they threatened to quit en masse should the county consider hiring any full-time firefighters to fill in during the day when many local volunteers are away at work.
Such a cowboy attitude is indefensible, even for volunteers. This is tax money we're talking about - a lot of tax money that belongs to the people of Jackson County, not the local fire departments. Fire protection should be about serving the community, saving lives and property, not egos and turf-protecting.
Fire department leaders have said that volunteer departments will work as long as they have community support. But to keep that support, those leaders will have to do a better job of financial accountability and they will have to be open to changes in local fire protection as the county grows, including the use of some paid firefighters.
Local volunteers are good at fighting fires, but they're lousy bookkeepers. It's time to fix the problem and move on.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


Editorial
The Commerce News
July 18, 2001

Funds From U.S. Will Have Strings Attached
The recent Salvation Army flap illustrates a problem religious groups face if they receive federal money under President Bush's "faith-based initiative."
The SA proposed that religious groups receiving such funds be exempted from laws prohibiting discrimination against the hiring of gays and lesbians.
Legislation is now pending, promoted by Bush, to allow religious groups that get government money to consider religion when hiring. That legislation may pass, and an increasingly conservative Supreme Court may uphold it, but religious groups anxious to get their hands on federal cash should nonetheless be reminded that federal dollars never, repeat, never, come without strings.
When religious beliefs clash with federal law, faith-based groups receiving federal funds may find themselves compromised. In taking federal cash, religious groups face not only possible challenges to their faith-based policies, but also the possibility that they will become too dependent upon federal money to ever be truly independent again.
What makes faith-based initiatives strong is faith, not funding. Groups that provide services to their community do so because their faith dictates that they serve their fellow man, whether with a soup kitchen, a homeless shelter or programs for the elderly and disadvantaged. Add government funding to the mix and the ability of the group to determine who it serves, who it hires, how it operates and how it spends its money may be reduced. Federal funds will not come without audits, accounting requirements and entanglement with bureaucracy.
The greater risk may be that faith-based organizations will lose the volunteer enthusiasm and drive necessary for success. Those missions exist because people sacrifice time and money to fill a need not being otherwise met. If a church program receives federal money, is not the church's role diminished? The Bible exhorts the faithful, not the government, to "be open-handed toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land." When the government enters faith-based programs, the church will have surrendered its mission to the state.


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