The Commerce News
October 10, 2001
All Patriots Endorse Strike In Afghanistan
Amidst the flag waving, the desire for revenge and the debate
over how to respond to the Sept. 11 terrorists' attacks, the
question might be asked: "What constitutes patriotism?"
My most reliable dictionary defines it as "one's love for
or devotion to country," but in times of national stress,
it seems to have a far narrower definition in the minds of many.
Perhaps by the time you read this, we'll have news of attack
on Afghanistan, but in the period of uncertainty before it becomes
clear what that action will be, there is a lot of conversation
about just what America should do. The responses cover a full
range from nothing to using a nuclear weapon.
The American public seems inclined toward wanting a military
response that includes punishment of Afghanistan for its harboring
of the suspected mastermind Osama bin Laden, but there is a sizeable
contingent that argues against war with Afghanistan on the grounds
that, aside from the Taliban, Afghans are largely innocent of
complicity in the attacks on America. That argument suggests
that if we kill innocent civilians in our strikes, we are little
better than the terrorists who struck us.
As the debate continues, we see the "patriotism" of
those who oppose a full-scale attack called into question. Images
of the Vietnam protesters are called forth; to oppose the government's
policy is equated with being anti-American.
So, to some, being a patriot requires absolute devotion to country.
Put me down as one who thinks that concept of patriotism is simplistic
and wrong. One need not demonstrate love of country by
accepting without question whatever policy the government adopts
any more than one demonstrates good parenting by accepting without
question whatever the child does.
Those of us who claim a religion, be it Christianity, Judaism,
Islam or some other, are required to put the principles of faith
above even the call of our country. Our first allegiance is not
to country or flag, but to our deity, and when the principles
of religion conflict with the actions of state, our consciences
should side with our religion.
That is easier said than done. Just as fanatical Muslims have
used their religion to justify actions totally contrary to Islam,
so are Christians tempted to abandon the teachings of Jesus to
punish those who so ruthlessly attacked this country. If we learn
one thing from history, it is that religion is often used to
promote hatred and evil, as the Taliban is doing now.
It is neither un-American nor unpatriotic to question the government's
purpose, policy or action. In fact, it is the very essence of
being American, where we have freedom of thought and speech.
Patriots those who love their country come in all
sizes, shapes and colors, in all faiths and political parties.
They also exhibit a huge variety of opinions about any subject
under the sun. Those who condemn people with different opinions,
who question their patriotism, are, ironically, guilty of the
same narrow-mindedness exhibited by the Taliban, where disagreement
with official beliefs or policies may result in being put to
The Jackson Herald
October 10, 2001
of fire districts a good first step
In changing how fire district funds will be handled in 2002,
the Jackson County Board of Commissioners has taken the first
step toward putting some real accountability over those funds.
Since fire district income will top $1 million next year, this
is not chump change we're talking about. It's important for the
public to know that its tax money is being handled correctly
by all levels of government.
But this move is just a step and does not address all of the
long-term issues of fire protection in the county. There are
two related points that county leaders should ponder.
First is making sure that each fire district turns in an accurate
and complete budget. Most of the districts failed to include
their accumulated funds in their 2002 budget. Unaccounted for
is over $400,000 in funds already in the hands of the 10 fire
districts. Some of the district millage rates might be lowered
if those dollars were included in the budget. In addition, all
of the accumulated funds should be turned over to the county
government in 2002 to be part of the county's audit process.
The individual fire districts should not maintain independent
bank accounts that fall outside the county's bookkeeping. One
such fund was recently uncovered in the county road department
and has badly shaken the faith of the public in how tax dollars
are being treated by some public officials.
Second, changing the accounting process does not address the
more fundamental question of what is best for fire protection
in the county for the long term. The allocation of fire resources
is done district-by-district and the financial resources of those
districts vary widely. The West Jackson Fire District, the county's
largest, has four times the financial resources of Plainview
Fire District, the county's smallest. Perhaps that is an equitable
balance since the West Jackson area has more homes and businesses
to protect, but we're not sure of that because no one at the
county level is looking at the "big picture" of overall
fire protection. Related to that is the issue of full-time firefighters
for some areas of the county. Some volunteer firefighters have
resisted that idea, but we believe it deserves some debate and
consideration as the county grows. But again, no one at the county
level is looking at the long-term view.
Fire protection is important to any community. But it's also
important that the money being used for fire protection be accounted
for correctly and that it be allocated to benefit all the citizens
of Jackson County.
The BOC has taken a step toward that end. We hope it won't be
the last step taken.
The Jackson Herald
October 10, 2001
digest grows and distorts
If you don't like paying property taxes, this column is sure
to raise your disdain to a new level. Long maligned by critics,
property taxation is the most unbalanced and unfair tax system
around, except perhaps for the federal income tax system. Like
federal income taxation, property taxation is full of loopholes
and special exemptions. Not all property is considered equal
in the eyes of our tax system.
One of the problems in Jackson County this year is that our overall
tax digest, which is the total sum of all taxable property, grew
much less than in recent years. This year, the digest grew only
seven percent, the smallest increase since 1999. Two years ago,
the digest jumped a whopping 33 percent and since 1994, the county's
overall tax digest has climbed 112 percent to over $1 billion.
But that growth hasn't always been equal. Certain types of property
have grown more than others, thus shifting the tax burden to
different groups of people. On top of that, some tax districts
in Jackson County are vastly different than others.
Take the difference between the Jackson County School System
and the Jefferson City School System as one major example. This
year, the county school system will get 45 percent of its tax
revenue from residential property owners while the Jefferson
system will get just 28 percent of its property tax income from
homeowners. Because of its concentration of businesses, Jefferson
will get 63 percent of its taxes from industry and commercial
concerns. In the county system, businesses make up only 25 percent
of the total tax income.
While those numbers are vastly different, the real difference
between those two tax districts is in agriculture. The county
school system will get 20 percent of its income from agricultural
concerns while Jefferson only gets 2 percent from agriculture.
What really hits the county school system in those numbers is
the erosion of its agricultural tax base due to a growth in special
exemptions. Over $97 million is taken off the county system's
tax digest from agricultural exemptions, especially the conservation
use provision. Compounding that problem this year was the removal
of farm equipment from the tax books, a move that didn't make
any difference to the Jefferson tax digest, but which again chipped
away the county school system's tax base.
What all that means is this: A mill of taxes in Jefferson has
a dramatically different impact than a mill of taxes in the county
school system. In Jefferson, businesses will pay 63 percent of
that mill while in the county, 45 percent will be carried by
From the perspective of the county government, all of that is
meaningless. A mill of taxes for the county government is the
same everywhere, except for fire district taxes which vary from
district to district.
Still, the overall county digest is changing. For one thing,
while the digest has seen huge growth, it's also been hit with
a large growth in exemptions. From last year to this year, for
example, the overall exemptions in the county digest grew 17
percent, more than twice the rate of the gross digest, which
grew only eight percent. That means that fewer property owners
are carrying the burden.
Perhaps one of the good signs in the county's digest is the continued
growth in the business digest. Businesses pay a lot of taxes
in any community, yet most firms don't create much governmental
expense. Most homeowners, on the other hand, pay less taxes than
the services they demand. This year, businesses make up 34.5
percent of the county's tax digest, an all-time high and a one-and-one-half
percent increase over the year before.
On the other hand, agriculture continues to drop as a source
of county government income. This year, agricultural property
is only 16 percent of the total digest, down a full point from
the year before. (Both residential property and motor vehicles
remained virtually unchanged overall from the year before.)
But while the digest continues to shift and change, and despite
the fact that it has more than doubled since 1994, most local
government millage rates have stayed the same, or gone up. Even
with the growth in sales taxes and specific service fees, local
governments are still heavily dependent on property taxes to
fund their operations.
For local school systems, that may be understandable. More people
mean more students, which of course means more teachers and classrooms.
In addition, school systems don't have the range of fees and
income that municipal and county governments have.
But for local towns and the county government, one has to wonder
why property tax rates have remained high despite the growing
tax digest. In theory, at least, a more diverse and growing tax
base should lower property tax rates over time.
Since 1994, that hasn't happened in Jackson County, save last
year's one-time rate drop by the county government. This year,
the county government's millage rate will be the highest it's
been in over a decade.
All of which begs this final question: If we can't lower property
tax rates when times are good and the county's tax digest is
booming, then will we ever be able to lower them?
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.
The Commerce News
October 10, 2001
Not Worried About Law
If Nicholson wasn't already firmly established as the governmental
laughingstock of the area, it became so last Monday night when
councilmen Billy Kitchens and Chuck Wheeler declared several
tracts of land "grandfathered" into the city limits.
The action came right after a pronouncement from the city attorney
that such a move was illegal, over the objections of the city
election superintendent, who said the same, and in spite of the
opposition of the mayor and the other city council member. But,
shoot, what does "legal" matter in Nicholson?
It should matter a great deal, but Kitchens and Wheeler appear
more intent on getting things done their way than in following
the law. Their position seems to be that by declaring something
legal, it becomes legal. Exactly why they hired a city attorney
is something of a mystery, since they chose to ignore his advice.
But then again, once the two councilmen ignored his advice, city
attorney Chris Elrod reversed his position and basically declared
their action legal. The client, it seems, is always right.
Election superintendent Shelby Chester was to hold a hearing
on the validity of Crawford's qualification as both an elector
and a candidate. It may be that Crawford by that time had found
evidence that his property was in the city, rendering the Kitchens-Wheeler
motion moot. That aside, the action was an example of the kind
of power grabbing that's been going on in Nicholson since those
two were elected.
In this particular case, everyone in city government wanted to
correct a possible oversight of 16-20 years ago when Bobby Crawford's
property was supposedly to have been annexed. And while there
is no record that it was, Crawford, his wife and four neighbors
found their names on the Nicholson voter list and assumed their
property had been annexed. While that is a disservice to those
people, the only way to remedy the situation is to annex them
legally. In the meantime, not only is Crawford ineligible to
run for city council, but he, his wife and their neighbors are
also ineligible to vote in Nicholson's upcoming election. If
they do vote, any citizen or candidate for office will have no
trouble getting the election ruled void.
Although the antics of city government may be amusing to people
outside Nicholson, those whom it affects directly should be embarrassed
by the total disregard for law and ethics demonstrated by Kitchens
and Wheeler. Whether they (or their attorney) like it or not,
the laws of Georgia apply to Nicholson. To vote or seek elected
office, one must be a resident, and to become a resident through
annexation, very specific steps must be taken. Any other means
is illegal. Nicholson violated the law, plain and simple.