News from Banks County...

August 15, 2001


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OPINION
Angela Gary
It really was an alligator, I'm serious!

Why is it that people think I'm kidding or exaggerating or delirious when I tell them that I saw an alligator at our lake?

Phillip Bond Sartain
Essential husbanding skills: The Big Chill

Marriage is full of challenges that no one tells you about. No real surprise there. But I'm not talking about the kind of problems that result in an appearance on the Jerry Springer Show.



SPORTS

Directions to Area Schools

Leopards tie with Athens Christian in scrimmage
Leopards to host Athens Academy in scrimmage Fri.
Banks County got its first taste of pigskin competition during a scrimmage last Thursday with Athens Christian.



Neighborhood News...
JACKSON COUNTY
Spring test results finally reported
Students in the Jackson County and City of Jefferson elementary schools generally scored above the state averages on the new Stanford 9 standardized testing last spring, but eighth graders in the county system came in below the state and national averages.

GBI: Acting Alone, Chief Stole $269,000
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has closed its inquiry into the embezzlement of traffic forfeitures and has concluded that, acting alone, former police chief George Grimes stole $269,779 from Jan. 1, 1994, to the date of his death, June 1, 2001.




News from
MADISON COUNTY
The battle over districts
Local legislators say proposed districts are power play by Democrats.
Neither of Madison County's Republican state legislators had anything good to say about the proposed redistricting maps put forth by Governor Roy Barnes and the majority Democrats.

Proposed school budget up 12 percent
The Madison County school board is proposing a $28.5 million budget, up approximately 12 percent from $25.38 million last year.
The budget increase will require a hike in property taxes. How much of an increase won't be determined until tax digest figures are finalized.


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SENATOR TALKS WITH GROWERS

Senator Mike Beatty spoke with poultry growers Barry Edington, Maysville, Paul Fonzo and his brother Steve after the House Subcommittee on Agriculture held a public hearing on House Bill 308.


Poultry growers plead for legislative support
Poultry farmers from Banks, Jackson and other Georgia counties met with the Georgia House of Representatives agriculture subcommittee last week to plead for passage of a bill that would end what they say are unfair practices in the industry.
The subcommittee members, Representatives Elis Black, Ann Purcell, Robert Ray and Tom McCall, wanted to hear from farmers directly about their experiences as contract producers. The subcommittee is determining when, and if, House Bill 308, known as the Producers Bill of Rights, will make it to the House floor for a vote.
Rep. Chuck Sims, Douglasville, one of the drafters of the bill, was also present.
"We need to keep farmers in the production of agriculture," he said. "And we need to protect the rights of farmers. This bill deals with all agricultural contracts from poultry to swine to peanuts to tobacco."
Agricultural contracts have come under fire from attorney general's offices and legislative bodies in several states. In Georgia, the "state attorney general's office is troubled by the disparities in the contracts between the processors and farmers. This bill is designed to reduce these disparities," he said. "It's important for producers (growers) to have contracts that treat them fairly so they can stay in business."
Farmers are required under most contracts to put up substantial investments in buildings, equipment and materials with no guarantee that the companies will continue doing business with them.
The bill seeks to remedy the situation by requiring accountability of the companies. Growers would be entitled to place liens against companies for unfair practices that cause financial harm. It also would allow the grower to seek mediation or go to court if a resolution cannot be reached. Companies could be fined up to $10,000 for failing to follow the act. A three-day grace period would be allowed for the farmer to look over the contract before signing. The companies would be obligated to provide a full disclosure of financial risks involved. The confidentiality clauses, preventing them from showing the contract to an attorney or another grower, would be eliminated.
Barry and Becky Edington, Maysville, have been in the poultry business for 10 years producing broilers, but say they are being forced out of business.
"We would like to see Georgia be the first state to protect the poultry grower and all the contract farmers that deal with agriculture companies," Edington said. "When you decide you want to go into the poultry business, you sit down with an integrator (a representative of the poultry company). The figures he shows you look good. He gives you a letter of intent to show the bank to get the loan for the houses."
They built the houses and bought the equipment. For a year or two the flocks they received were healthy and the income was good, he said. Things changed later, he said. Sick flocks and reduced numbers of birds were being delivered. Then new changes had to be made to the houses at their expense.
"Add all that and the fact that we haven't had a raise in the amount of money we receive per pound for years and we have no choice but to sell our farming business before we go under," said Edington
A Goldkist grower from Banks County told the committee that if one farmer growing for the company does poorly, it affects the pay scale of all the other growers.
"The loss is passed along to the others and they end up losing money," he said.
Chris Burger, a former grower from Bartow County, was under a flock-to-flock contract with Cagle Industries on a layer farm. He said he lost his wife and children, his farm, his livelihood. He said the growers had a tremendous amount of pressure on them.
"These farmers need that bill," he said.
Burger was questioned by Ray about his contract. Burger replied that the contract had no long-term commitment that he would make back his investment of over $600,000. Burger said that he kept some feed samples to be tested at a laboratory when his layers were not producing. Two independent labs found the feed was for broilers, not for layers and actually prevented the hens from laying eggs.
According to Burger, when Cagle found out what he had done, the company started giving him sick birds. He tested a few of the chickens and found they had avian colic. "They should have destroyed that flock," he said. "They put me out of business."
A grower from Oconee County said the integrators use the contract as "a tool of terror. They won't bring you chickens in a heartbeat." He told the subcommittee he had been cut off after three years because of "differing opinions. I tried to stand up for myself and it cost me $300,000."
A grower from Camilla said the poultry industry is a "great revenue generator. As growers, we don't want to hurt that. We just want to be treated fairly. There are so many factors beyond our control. Am I stupid for letting myself get into this position? No. I made a good decision based on bad information. I wish we didn't have to come to you, but we have nowhere else to go."
Ray and Purcell had difficulty understanding why any of them would enter into such a business venture.
"I don't see any sensibility in entering a business with a contract such as has been presented here, " said Ray.
McCall said that the contract was "the biggest thing that needs fixing. But I don't know how much we can get into changing it."
Senator Mike Beatty attended the meeting to show support for the bill. He has introduced a bill along the same lines to the Senate, SB 227, the Family Farm Fairness Act. He said that he has been poultry farming since he was 12 years old.
"I've been in every aspect and every situation over the years," he said. "It's hard on a man lying in bed at night thinking of that $500,000 investment and how he's going to feed and clothe his family and meet the mortgage. These two bills could be a key issue to the continuance and growth of agriculture in Georgia. I think we in Georgia could be a model for the rest of the country in how we work together in partnership as farmers and integrators."
McCall said the subcommittee will have public meetings to hear from farmers who were unable to make the trip to Atlanta. He said they would hold one in the southern section and one in the northern section of the state. The dates and locations will be announced.




Baldwin looks at multi-use development
A 55-acre tract on West Airport Road could become Baldwin's first multi-use development.
At the council work session Thursday, John Lovell spoke on behalf of the potential buyer of the acreage, Tom Limbach. He presented the Baldwin City Council with a draft of the planned development that could take from five to seven years to complete. Ten light-industrial lots line one side of the development. A 120-unit duplex or apartment complex will sit on 10 acres in the center of the development. Some 89 lots for single-family residences will be offered for sale, as well as 72 lots for mobile homes. Over five acres is set aside for greenspace.
Lovell said there would be covenants placed on the lots for sale.
Council member Ray Holcomb said: "We're growing too fast. We need to slow down and get other projects done."
Holcomb voiced concerns over providing water to the large community. City engineer Fred Hawkins said that he would work up a cost estimate and determine the water usage of such a development.
Council member Kevin Gaddis agreed with Holcomb and said: "We don't want to over commit ourselves. We need to figure capacity versus costs before we approve this."
Mayor Mark Reed said he wanted definite commitments that the property would be developed as Lovell presented.
"We have had properties change hands several times, and each time more lots were added," he said. "We don't want that to happen again."
The council noted that they may ask that the number of lots be reduced. They also said the developer would have to install a lift station as part of the infrastructure needed to bring sewer service to the community.
First, though, the city has to annex the property and then re-zone it multi-use. Both those steps require public hearings. According to the city clerk, Stacey Jacobs, the process will take about 40 days. Notices of the hearings will be published. Lovell said Limbach is interested in doing other projects in the area.

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New 911 address signs to be available
The Banks County 911 department is getting ready to offer new address signs to the public to be placed on their property.
E-911 director Deidra Moore met with the board of commissioners Friday morning and discussed the project. The effort is under way in order for the signs to be consistent to make them more visible to emergency crews.
The BOC agreed to a proposal from Moore to proceed with the project. U.S. Highway Products Inc. will provide the materials for the signs and the 911 Center will put the signs together.
The signs will be issued with all new building permits as part of the permit fee. Existing homeowners will be able to purchase the signs from the county. The cost will be $10.50 per sign and they will be available from the county beginning Sept. 1.
"It will help if the public will come in and get these signs when they are ready," BOC chairman Kenneth Brady said. "It will be consistent...They will be easily recognizable by law enforcement and emergency services."
OTHER BUSINESS
In other business, the BOC:
·agreed to use Commerce Micro Computer to get the computer-aided dispatch system purchased last year at a cost of $20,000 in "working mode."
·heard from Brady, who said he appreciated commissioners Pat Westmoreland and Ernest Rogers handling the building inspections while Tony Vento attended a training session. He suggested that another county employee be trained to handle inspections when Vento has to be out.
·agreed to give the Boy Scouts $1,000 for clearing up the county property where timber has been harvested. The funds will come from the money the county received from the timber sales. The Scouts will also plant shrubs at the health department. The county received $64,500 for the timber sales. Rogers suggested that the remaining money from this project be set aside into a CD to be used for the new jail facility. He said the special purpose local option sales tax for the new jail won't cover all of the costs and this money could be used for that project.
·agreed to lease a roller for the road department.
·approved a resolution extending the public transportation van program in place in the county.
·agreed to hold the election on homestead exemption on July 16, 2002.
LOOKING FOR NEW JAIL SITE
After the meeting, the commissioners went with Sheriff Charles Chapman to look at county property to possibly use for the new jail site. No decision has been made as to where the new facility will be located.
In the past two months, Brady has met with several firms that construct jails. He said the sheriff will list the specifications for the new building before bids are taken for the project.