Madison County Opinion...

February 13, 2002

By Frank Gillespie
The Madison County Journal
February 13, 2002

Frankly Speaking

Madison County needs economic development
Two recent studies reflect existing problems for Madison County. Let us start with some figures, and then see how they affect life in our community.
In 1982, only 1,800 acres of Madison County were classified as ³urban.² By 1997, the area had increased to 7,200 acres. Over that 15-year period, 6,600 acres of Madison County farmland were converted to residential. That was an increase of 375 percent, the largest increase in the Athens area. This additional housing yielded a population increase of nearly 8,000 people. In the same period, the amount of land converted to industrial and commercial use was minimal.
These figures come from a study by the Brookings Institute. Another study by the University of Kentucky points out the effect this kind of growth has on a community.
The Kentucky study addressed the cost of community services to in a rural county when rapid growth begins. They studied Pendleton County, Kentucky that has 280 square miles and a population of 14,390. They found that providing county services to a dispersed population was more expensive than in a closely settled area. A new family of four was expected to cost the county up to $1,200 to provide services such as education, roads, police and recreation.
Now here is the problem. Residential property simply will not generate enough taxes to pay the cost of services. That is especially true in Madison County where up to 60 percent of residences are mobile homes. Commercial properties yield more in taxes than the cost of services, while farmland requires almost no services in exchange for the taxes.
If the current pattern and level of growth continues, Madison County will be faced with ever increasing financial problems. We will continue to lose farmland and the positive tax base it represents. We will continue to gain new residents, with the deficit of property taxes and cost of services. We will continue to struggle along with limited commercial development, losing the potential positive property tax balances as well as much needed sales taxes. Eventually, we will be forced to reduce county services, or tax farms and homes beyond their ability to pay.
In summary, we have four choices: We can stop population growth, and that is almost impossible. We can keep increasing property taxes on homes and farms, and that will drive out all but the wealthiest of our citizens. We can reduce government services, such as fewer paved roads, fewer deputies to protect our homes and less money for education. Or we can work hard to increase the countyıs economic base by encouraging more manufacturing, service and sales businesses, so that our tax base grows along with our population.
I vote for economic growth. None of the others are feasible if we are to maintain a quality lifestyle for our citizens.
Frank Gillispie is founder of The Madison County Journal. His web page can be accessed at His e-mail address is

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B y Margie Richards
The Madison County Journal
February 13, 2002

Guest Column

Looking for our family Œrootsı
A cousin I hadnıt heard from in years called me one afternoon last week.
Agnes is my motherıs first cousin and my mother often spoke of her, mentioning how they played together and often spent the night together as little girls.
Agnes still lives in her hometown of Jonesboro, and now at age 80, and after losing several of her family, including my mother and a couple of siblings, she is compiling a history of the family. She asked me questions about myself, my dad, husband and children, so she could record their names and birthdates for the record, to show how we are all connected by birth or marriage to the Oaks family of Jonesboro.
It seems that a lot of people, myself included, are looking to do that these days — find a connection our ancestors and scattered family members.
Jana Fountain, a dear friend for many years, is also doing a genealogy search of her family, particularly of her motherıs ancestors. Although just in her 20s, Jana began the project several years ago, shortly after her marriage. Talking about her research one day, she mentioned the family name ³House² and that led to the discovery that she and I are related.
We were completely unaware of any family connection before that, even though we had worked together for several years, but now as ³cousins,² though distant, I think it has made us even closer friends.
Last weekend another cousin, Edith, and her husband Hugh visited us from Carrollton.
Edith is my motherıs niece and my first cousin. She met Hugh at UGA when both were in school there and although Hugh grew up in Florida, he has Madison County roots.
When they visit we usually drive around to several cemeteries to ³visit² some of our relatives. Hughıs parents are buried in a Franklin County cemetery, but he has always mentioned wanting to find his maternal grandparentsı graves which were known to be somewhere in Madison County.
Hugh never had much to go on, since he hadnıt visited the cemetery since he was a young boy. He remembered dirt roads, a knoll, his grandmotherıs house that stood near the cemetery and the fact that it was somewhere around Moonıs Grove Road.
Although we had cruised the area around Moonıs Grove and I had attempted to find the graves in the countyıs cemetery book, we had all come up empty-handed — until last weekend.
Hugh happened to see my copy of the countyıs 911 locator book and while thumbing through it, he spotted the name ³Crawford Family Cemetery² marked on the map. Some of his family were Crawfords, so he was intrigued. Plus, although it didnıt exactly fit in with what he remembered, it was in the same general area.
We drove out to the area and soon found the cemetery.
It sits peacfully framed on a knoll with a wrought iron fence to separate the graves from the surrounding pasture and woods. Several old pecan and oak trees stand sentinel near it, their branches hanging overt the fence.
The family plot has obviously not been forgotten, because the tombstones gleam white in late afternoon sunshine when we arrive.
After we enter the cemetery Hugh soon found what he has been looking for all these years. There under the spreading branches of an old tree are his grandparentsı graves.
He never knew his grandmother. She died in 1921 when his mother was only 12 years old.
He got his camera and photographed the graves and the entire scene for his sister and other relatives.
We all felt a sense of satisfaction.
I guess in this hurry up stressful society we live in something in us feels more than ever that itıs important to know where we come from and how we connect to this crazy, crazy world.
And for Hugh, part of that connection was found on a peaceful country hillside in Madison County, sleeping under an old pecan tree.
Margie Richards is a reporter and office manager for the Madison County Journal.
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