The Commerce News
August 29, 2001
Least Our Downtown Lacks Portable Toilets
Jan Nelson always writes about things that affect downtowns,
so I thought I'd share the success story from Athens. The bars
and restaurants are so full of customers at night that Athens
has had to install portable toilets to keep revelers from urinating
on private property.
As Dave Barry would say, I am not making this up. So many alcohol-filled
Athenians downtown when the bars close at 2:30 on Sunday mornings
are peeing on buildings, in alleyways and in the parking garage
that it has become a nuisance.
Like Commerce, Athens has spent a lot of money making its downtown
pedestrian-friendly. It is a very popular place day or night;
try to find a parking place there and you'll see what I mean.
Athens has a beautiful, vibrant downtown.
Having spent all that money, the downtown is victimized by its
success there is no way portable toilets enhance its appearance.
But because there are so many people in town and so few bathrooms
(at least at night), the Downtown Development Authority has installed
portable toilets and is considering making them permanent fixtures.
This may make some business owners happy. The staff at the parking
deck, for example, may no longer have to clean up after small-bladdered
drunk people who wander in at 2:40 a.m. and use the facilities
that aren't designed as facilities. But the businesses next to
the ugly portable toilets are not all that happy now.
The parking deck is apparently a favorite after-closing urination
station, so the Athens DDA concluded that it would be a logical
place to locate the blue one-seaters. I know for a fact that
employees of the adjacent bank had to endure the odors and were,
shall we say, peeved.
Many a downtown in Georgia would love to have so much business
that restroom facilities are urgently needed but it is
a tough problem to solve. The city could build public restrooms,
but they would cause nightmarish problems for maintenance and
An accompanying issue is the number of intoxicated individuals
in the downtown at night. Given the popularity of bars and the
partying nature of UGA students and Dawg fans, Athens probably
has more drunks per capita on Saturday nights after home football
games than any city in Georgia. The attendant problems of drunk
driving and crimes ranging from theft to rape go with the revelers
as they walk to their cars, dorms or apartments or as they drive
Being home to a huge university, Athens has special problems
few other cities face. Fortunately, it has the resources to resolve
those problems as well. I'd be willing to wager that the portable
toilets will not become permanent fixtures.
In Commerce, the biggest people problem at night downtown is
littering, including broken beer bottles left by loiterers who
are generally well watched by our police. At 2:30 a.m., no one
Our challenge is to add vitality and life to the downtown, including
restaurants that open in the evening. But we're so far from facing
what Athens must deal with that we can only gasp in astonishment.
Our little town has its own downtown woes, but at least portable
toilets will not be among them.
The Jackson Herald
August 29, 2001
sales tax for education
One of the biggest problems with property taxation is that it
is inherently unfair to a large number of people. Because of
various distortions in the system, a narrow group of citizens
wind up paying a disproportionate share of the burden.
That's why we like sales taxes as a means of paying for government
services. For the most part, the more you spend, the more sales
taxes you pay.
This is especially true for the cost of education. As we all
know, the biggest share of local taxes goes toward education.
That burden might not be very heavy if we lived in an area where
the student population was stagnant. But most schools in Jackson
County are growing and more space is needed to house those students.
The best way to pay for those expansions is to continue using
a one percent sales tax for education building expenses. For
the last four years, all three local school systems have used
that one percent sales tax to expand existing facilities, build
new facilities and to help pay off bond debts from previous construction
On Sept. 18, Jackson County voters will be asked to continue
that sales tax for another five years to raise around $43 million
for additional construction projects and to pay down bond debt.
We believe local voters should answer "Yes" to that
question and support continuing this sales tax.
Our local school system will need new facilities in the coming
years. In fact, plans are already on the drawing board for a
primary school in Jefferson and a new county high school in East
Jackson. We can either pay for those projects with higher property
taxes that put the burden on just a few, or with sales taxes
that spread the burden among everyone. In fact, because of the
Tanger retail stores along I-85 in Jackson County, the sales
tax burden is spread to many who don't even live in Jackson County.
We believe the sales tax is the best way to pay for those projects
and encourage voters to support the measure on Sept. 18.
The Jackson Herald
August 29, 2001
all pay for ag tax breaks
Here's a trick question: This newspaper uses newsprint for its
production. Newsprint comes from pulp, which comes from trees,
which are agricultural products. Ergo, the press that prints
this newspaper is equipment used in agricultural production.
If the local tax assessment office would buy that argument, I'd
have it made. As of this year, equipment used in agricultural
production on family farms is exempt from property taxes. Since
this is a family newspaper, seems like our newspaper press ought
to be exempt from property taxes as well.
I doubt, however, that our local assessors will buy that argument.
We'll have to continue paying property taxes on the press because
unlike farmers, we don't have special interest groups working
at the state capital to get such exemptions for newspaper presses.
But don't feel sorry for me. Everyone reading this newspaper
is going to help make up the difference. While the agricultural
industry continues to get a host of special exemptions from property
taxes and sales taxes, the rest of us will pay more.
Fortunately for Jackson County, the loss this year on agricultural
equipment won't be as much as in some counties in South Georgia.
Here, the total amount coming off the tax books is just $5.8
million. Still, that amount will cost the county school system
$86,950 in taxes and the county government $15,000 in income.
All of that will have to be made up by - guess who? - you and
me. (The small $5.8 million raises another issue: In a county
with as much poultry and farm equipment as Jackson has, why wasn't
more of that equipment on the books to begin with?)
While this dollar amount isn't very much relative to the total
tax base, it is another example of how the agricultural industry
in Georgia continues to get special tax breaks that burden the
rest of us taxpayers. For example, the largest impact on local
property taxes is the conservation use program for agricultural
land that will take $96.3 million off the Jackson County tax
digest this year. While that program has some good points, such
as encouraging land preservation in the face of development pressures,
it has a tremendous financial impact on local governments and
on other taxpayers in Jackson County.
Property taxes are inherently a bad way to raise revenue for
government. Back when the state was mostly agricultural, wealth
was largely measured by land ownership. Property taxation perhaps
made some sense at that time.
But not today. The assessment of property taxes is an inexact
science at best, a wild guess at worst. It is a paperwork nightmare
for government and for many property owners. It punishes those
who are society's producers while bypassing a large number of
citizens who pay the taxes only indirectly.
But worst of all, property taxation has become so distorted by
special interest groups that the burden is being shifted in ways
that are unfair. What, for example, makes family farms any different
than a family dry cleaning business, or any other small family
enterprise? Why must the rest of the community pay more taxes
so agricultural businesses can get a break?
The same could be said for some of the homestead exemptions where
some get a windfall just because they've reached a certain age.
The common thread between those two exemptions are powerful lobby
groups that tug and pull at state politicians to get special
The problem is, average taxpayers don't have a lobby in Atlanta
to ask for tax breaks. For example, why shouldn't young families
with children get a tax break? Shouldn't we as a society encourage
young families to invest in home ownership by granting them a
special tax exemption?
Alas, there is no "young families lobby" in Atlanta.
Instead, young struggling families have to pay more taxes because
Farmer John no longer pays taxes on his tractor and pays reduced
taxes on his land.
Anytime a tax exemption is granted to one special group, the
rest of us pay for the difference. Farmers may not pay taxes
on their tractors any more, but the children in local schools
still have to be housed and taught. Roads still have to be paved.
Bad guys still have to be arrested and put in jail.
The cost of government doesn't go down when an exemption is granted;
the burden just shifts to other, less powerful groups.
Farming is a business. It should be treated like any business.
If we are going to tax the equipment of one business, we should
tax the equipment of all businesses: tractors, poultry equipment,
newspaper presses and dry cleaning equipment.
Last year, voters in Georgia approved the farm equipment tax
break. This year, we're all going to pay for it.
Ask yourself if it was worth it when you write your county tax
check in a few weeks.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.
The Commerce News
August 29, 2001
Be Allowed To Drive?
Advocates for Hispanic immigrants in Georgia are hard at work
petitioning the state to grant driver's licenses to illegal immigrants.The
idea is that such a move would allow illegals who often resort
to using faked driver's licenses to purchase insurance in Georgia.
Like most issues, there is probably more to this than meets the
eye, but the idea of granting legal status to an activity by
people who are illegally in the country is very disturbing. It
is certainly to be hoped that the General Assembly does not put
this initiative in the fast track.
Georgia faces a problem that other states share: what to do about
the growing number of Hispanic workers in regard to driving.
Our state's schools are already obligated to educate the children
of illegal immigrants and our economy is dependent upon the labor
the immigrants provide. Several states already allow illegal
immigrants to get licenses.
But granting driving rights to illegal residents seems like an
admission by the state that it is giving up on trying to enforce
immigration laws or a recognition that the United States
has done so. A logical subsequent step, it seems, would be to
grant blanket amnesty to immigrants and throw the borders open,
neither of which the American public is prepared to do. With
a driver's license, one can acquire all kinds of other rights
and privileges normally not thought to be available to illegals,
although, truth be known, there is a thriving business in fake
IDs and licenses.
It may also be that the basic hypothesis of the move that
illegal immigrants will buy automobile insurance is incorrect.
We'd like to see the figures from those states who have offered
driver's licenses to illegals to see what percentage acquire
the licenses and what percentage of those buy and maintain the
In the mean time, Georgia should be in no hurry to grant driving
rights to people who are in this country in violation of the
Less Than Forthcoming
Is there anyone in America who thinks Rep. Gary Condit had nothing
to do with the disappearance of intern Chandra Levy?
In an interview with journalist Connie Chung, Condit did nothing
but convince any American who at the time was undecided or ignorant
that he was hiding the details of a case that has gained worldwide
attention. Worse, he appeared arrogant and, if you will, Clinton-like
in his avoidance of key questions.
Here is a man who had a "very close" relationship with
a 24-year-old intern who has since disappeared and may very well
be dead. He sidestepped questions about whether he had a sexual
relationship with the missing woman and claimed to have "fully
cooperated" with police in the four-month-old disappearance
case, an assertion that police dispute.
And, he is seeking re-election.
Gary Condit clearly doesn't want the public to know about his
relationship with a woman less than half his age, and it appears
that he has been less than forthcoming with law enforcement officials
investigating the case. What happened to Chandra Levy remains
a national mystery, but there is nothing mysterious about Condit's
Condit's relationship with an intern certainly breaks no new
ground, but the fact that no one has seen Miss Levy for four
months makes this matter much more serious than an extramarital
escapade. Condit has broken faith with his constituents, broken
his marriage vows and taken advantage of a young woman, but the
victim's disappearance suggests the truth, when learned, will
be much darker yet.