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February 27, 2002

Jackson County

Jackson County

Jackson County

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Panthers fall in opening round, 67-65
Finish season at 17-10 overall
The Jackson County boys’ basketball team saw its 2001-02 hoops season end Saturday in Tallapoosa, as the host Haralson County Rebels handed the Panthers a 67-65 loss in the opening round of the Class AAA state tournament.

Dragons all grown up, ready to pick up where they left off
Coming off a season in which they reached the state tournament’s final four, the 2002 Jefferson baseball team looks to be in contention for another run deep into post season play. The Dragons open the season next Friday at home against Georgia Military College.

Neighboorhood News ..

Simmering controversy
No action, but plenty of talk Monday about the IDA and industrial park dilemma
No industrial authority members were fired as some expected.
And no actions were taken on a proposed commercial/industrial park off Hwy. 72.

Colbert man charged with trafficking cocaine
The second county drug bust in two weeks led to the arrest of a Colbert man last Friday afternoon

Neighborhood News...

Child abuse numbers up
The Banks County Department of Family and Children Services (DFACS) investigated 19 new cases of child abuse in January, according to director Renota Free at last week’s monthly meeting.

LOST funds may be reduced
The cities in Banks County may find funds from the Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) reduced beginning in 2003.
The Jackson Herald
Jefferson, Georgia
Telephone: (706) 367-5233
Fax: (706) 367-8056


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Jimmie Sue Toney, who has taught 32 years in the Jackson County School System, was honored at the West Jackson Intermediate School PTO program Tuesday night. The special “This is your life” program was a surprise for Miss Toney, who is surrounded by some of her students.

BOC refuses to release courthouse site records
Herald sought documents about 157-acre deals
The Jackson County Board of Commis-sioners denied an open records request this week for documents related to the proposed purchase of 157 acres for a new county courthouse.
On Feb. 15, The Jackson Herald made the open records request for records, documents and letters related to four tracts of land that the county has taken an option to purchase. The purchase price for the land has been set at $2.1 million.
“We made this request so we could inform the public in more detail about how the county arrived at the decision to purchase this land,” said Herald editor Mike Buffington. “The entire process of selecting this courthouse site has been done by the BOC in secret and even now, after they have selected the land and set the price, they continue to withhold information from the public.”
County attorney Daniel Haygood said that an exception in Georgia law allows the county to withhold the records until the property is officially purchased.
“The law states that the (real estate) exception exists until the transactions are closed,” said Haygood.
But David Hudson, attorney for the Georgia Press Association, disagreed.
“Once the option is signed and fixes the price, then there is no longer a justification for closing meetings or records on the transaction,” said Hudson.
Buffington pointed out that there is no law that requires the BOC to withhold the requested documents.
“The board can release the documents anytime it wants to — it’s totally their choice and they’ve chosen to keep the public in the dark,” he said. “What good is the information to the public if the deal is already done before the board releases any details?”
Buffington said the newspaper made the request because the details of the proposed transaction are important for the public to make an informed decision about the proposal.
“This isn’t a routine property acquisition where the county is simply buying rights-of-way — this is perhaps the most important land purchase the county will make for the next 30 years,” he said. “If this site is a good location and the property is a good deal, then why does the BOC wish to hide these records?”
Buffington said that by releasing the records, the BOC could clear up a lot of questions being raised about the proposed purchase.
“For one thing, releasing the records might clear up the question over how much the county knew about the recent annexation into Jefferson of a key piece of land,” said Buffington. “In addition, the public needs to see some specific appraisals of the land, cost estimates, financial comparisons and other evaluations done by the BOC about this particular site.”

Jefferson mulls courthouse counter-proposal plan
Jefferson officials may offer a counterproposal to the Jackson County Board of Commissioners’ plan to build a new county government complex on Darnell Road.
“We’re going to discuss it and see if there’s something we want to present to them,” said Mayor Jim Joiner.
The BOC said it will consider other options than the 157-acre multi-building complex that commissioner Sammy Thomason recently made public. Jefferson residents and merchants are up in arms over the possibility that the entire complex will be relocated away from the downtown.
According to Joiner, the county approached him several months ago suggesting that if Jefferson was to be host to the new complex that it should purchase some land for the site and give it to the county.
“I just discounted the idea,” he said. “They were considering putting it anywhere but in the downtown and it was ‘If you can come up with something to help us, we can consider putting it downtown.’ I just don’t think the people of Jefferson should go into debt. We’re taxpayers too; we pay our fair share and we’re willing to take on our share of the burden to build a courthouse.”
Joiner pointed out that a Darnell Road site was among those considered by the Leo Daly firm, which conducted a site selection effort on the county’s behalf. The result was a recommendation to build a new facility downtown.
“All that time, I thought they (the county commissioners) were talking about that (first) Darnell Road site,” he said.
But it was a different site, a 157-acre parcel.
One of the initial criticisms of the Leo Daly downtown site was that there would not be enough parking, and Joiner speculated that the city council might be willing to work with the county on acquiring parking areas downtown – if they could be used as off-street parking for the city.
Joiner said he is not opposed to moving some county functions to Darnell Road, but believes that the city would be hurt if the judicial functions left the downtown.
“As far as Jefferson is concerned, we want to work with the county every way possible,” he said. “We will do everything in our means to work with the county to locate at least a portion of the complex in the downtown area. Give us the judicial building if you don’t think we have the room (for the rest). What we’re thinking about is that the judicial building brings people in from all over the county to Jefferson fairly regularly for court. When you go to the county administrative building, you go to pay taxes or buy a tag. You’re in and out. When you go for jury duty, you’re there for the day. That type of traffic would be beneficial to our merchants.”

Building permits drop in 2001
Building activity in Jackson County during 2001 slid a notch from more than $131 million in 2000 to $127.37 million last year. The slight downward turn marks the first time in several years the county has seen a dip in the dollar figure of building permits issued.
Since 1998, total construction costs throughout the county has risen 42 percent.
But what may account for the largest decrease in building activity isn’t the lack of home construction, instead the dip points to fewer commercial and industrial projects in 2001.
In 1999, commercial and industrial projects accounted for $25.9 million of total building permits issued that year; in 2001, that figure dropped to $20.9 million.
“It’s been a bit of a disappointment,” said Commerce city building official David Lanphear. “We really wanted some more commercial.”
Of the 26 building permits issued last year for commercial and industrial construction, only four projects totaled more than a million dollars.
The largest single building permit issued last year went to Haverty’s for its $10.8 million distribution center being constructed in Braselton. Also in Braselton, the new Pilot Truck Stop and combined McDonald’s along Highway 53 received a building permit with an estimated $1.6 million price for construction.
Elsewhere in the county, the Jefferson Station Company’s building project on Washington Street brought in $2.1 million and construction at Southeast Toyota on Highway 334 earned a $1.7 million projected building cost.
Another notable figure for 2001 was the more than $10 million for new school construction projects.
West Jackson Intermediate School came with a $4.9 million building price tag, while the construction project of East Jackson Middle School brought in a $5.2 million permit in November.
As for home-building in Jackson County, while some municipalities issued more building permits in 2001 than the previous year, others saw a slight fall.
In Commerce, for example, the city issued 27 single-family home permits in 2000; in 2001, that number grew by more than 100 percent to 59 permits.
The city of Jefferson, on the other hand, experienced a 20 percent decrease in the number of building permits issued from 162 in 2000 to 129 last year. Hoschton also saw their home-building activity fall by nearly 42 percent.
Talmo hasn’t seen a single-family home building permit in at least two years, as did Pendergrass. Yet, a 21-home subdivision will begin construction in Pendergrass in the coming weeks.
But the number of single-family home permits issued in unincorporated Jackson County grew from 558 to 595 in 2001.
For all municipalities in the county, 862 single-family homes received building permits—up more than 43 percent just four years ago.
The number of single-family and multi-family homes, including duplexes, built in Jackson County pushed to more than 1,208 units last year; the previous year brought in 1,097 units.
“The interest rates are so low right now that people are getting the loans they need to build a house,” explained Braselton building inspector Don Seagraves.
Mobile home permits, however, remained stagnate at 184 for the past two years.
Among the municipalities, Commerce issued 16 mobile home permits in 2001, followed by Jefferson with 11 and Arcade with 10. The number of mobile home permits issued to owners in unincorporated Jackson County totaled 132.

Home-Building in Jackson County
2001 2000 1999 1998
Total Construction*: $127.37 $131.54 $118.85 $89.3
New Site-Built Homes: 862 913 628 485
Mobile Homes: 184 184 249 217
*(In millions of dollars. Construction values are estimates filed by builders and homeowners and are generally lower than the actual cost of a project. This total includes all residential, commercial, industrial projects and other projects in Jackson County.)

New Single-Family Home Permits Issued
in Jackson County by Municipality:

2001 2000
Jefferson 129 162
Maysville 37 43
Pendergrass 0 0
Talmo 0 0
Arcade 9 9
Braselton* 1 5
Hoschton 32 55
Commerce 59 27
Unincorporated Jackson 595 558
*(In Braselton, it was reported last year there were 59 home building permits issued by the town. In fact, that figured include all of Braselton’s counties—Jackson, Hall, Barrow and Gwinnett. In 2000, there were five permits issued only in the Jackson County portion of Braselton; in 2001, there was one. For all of Braselton’s counties, there were 41 home building permits issued in 2001.)

Supreme Court upholds Lance death penalty
The Georgia Supreme Court has denied an appeal by Donnie Lance who was convicted of the 1997 murder of his ex-wife and her boyfriend.
The Supreme Court affirmed the death penalty sentence of Lance, who was found guilty by a Walton County jury in the bludgeoning death of Joy Lance and the shooting death of Butch Wood. The trial was held in Walton County in June 1999 before Judge David Motes of Jackson County.
Lance claimed that the trial court erred by denying his request for funds to hire experts.
Judge Robert Benham of the Georgia Supreme Court wrote: “Our review of the record indicates that Lance’s request for the contested funds was too unspecific, uncertain and conclusory to support a finding that the trial court abused its discretion in concluding that the requested funds were not necessary to a fair trial.”
The court found no merit in Lance’s claim that the trial court erred by denying his motion to preclude the trial court from seeking the death penalty.
“The trial court did not abuse its discretion by denying Lance a continuance one month before trial,” Judge Benham wrote. “The court found statutorily aggravating circumstances that warrant the death penalty and found no merit in Lance’s other enumerations of error.”
District attorney Tim Madison said this week that he is pleased with the Supreme Court unanimously upholding the case.
“That ends his direct appeals,” Madison said. “The next thing he is able to do is file for a habeaus relief and start that in another jurisdiction...He still has another layer of appeals to do.”
Madison said he has several years to file this appeal. Lance is being held in Jackson.

Rezoning For Garage Gets Board’s Okay
Council Will Have Final Say March 11
One property owner went away happy and another unhappy following Monday night's meeting of the Commerce Planning Commission.
Rodney Gary, who seeks rezoning of two lots at 2530 North Broad Street from C-1 to C-2 so he can repair and sell cars on the lot, got the thumbs-up from the planning commission. But Pat Hodsdon, who wanted a zoning change from C-1 to R-3 for a lot on Green Street so he could sell it for the development of duplexes, did not get the planning commission's endorsement.
The Commerce City Council will make the final ruling on both zoning requests at its March 11 meeting at 6:30 p.m. in the Commerce Civic Center.
No one spoke against either request, although Tammy Faulkner, who lives adjacent to Gary's property, brought up concerns over traffic and screening. But Faulkner generally supported Gary's plan as likely to be better than what is on the site now.
"Nobody around there seems to own a lawnmower but us," she said, noting that her husband has to mow adjacent properties, including a Georgia Power right of way, that are largely ignored by their owners.
Gary said he will tear down the old Northern Freight building and construct a 5,000-6,000 square foot garage.
Hodsdon told the planning panel that he had three buyers interested in the 1.25-acre tract, two of whom plan to build two duplexes and the third who plans to build one initially and perhaps the second later.
The lot is on a one-lane street and is surrounded by rental property that is zoned commercial. Hodsdon lived on the lot until his house burned down in 1996.
"There are 20-30 rental units I can hit with a rock from there," said Hodsdon, who is an appraiser. "I don't feel like it has very much potential as commercial property."
Donnie Davis, representing Morning Star Baptist Church, brought up the subject of buffers and fences, but the planners pointed out that the church, not the other properties, is the nonconforming use in the neighborhood.
The planning commission members struggled with the issue. Vice chairman Greg Perry wondered aloud if rejecting the rezoning request would amount to "condemning" the property. Still, the city's land use plan identifies the site as commercial.
"So the only way I can conform is to nonconform?" Hodsdon asked.
Doug Newcomer made the motion to recommend that the city council deny the request. Newcomer, Perry and Ronnie Seabolt supported the motion, while chairman Billy Vandiver voted against it.
In other business, the board re-elected Vandiver and Perry as chairman and vice chairman respectively.

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School Board Seeks 100% Pay Hike
The Commerce Board of Education voted unanimously Saturday morning to ask Rep. Pat Bell to introduce legislation doubling members’ pay. The vote took place at the board's annual retreat at Unicoi Lodge outside of Helen.
If successful, the board members would each receive $100 per meeting instead of the current $50. With two regular meetings a month, board members stand to make an extra $1,200 per year – not counting any called meetings or training sessions.
Members of the Commerce City Council get $2,700 per year, with the mayor pro tem collecting $3,300, regardless of how often they meet. Like the board of education, the city council has one regular meeting and one work session a month.
The move was inspired by the Jefferson Board of Education's ongoing effort to do exactly the same thing, said Steve Perry, chairman.
"The city of Jefferson has decided to increase the per diem compensation for members," he said. "We felt like it was something that needed to be considered, something that hasn't changed in this system for quite some time. I think the work the board puts in, they don't put in for the money, but with the city of Jefferson changing their charter gives us an opportunity also to for the board members in Commerce to be compensated on the level that the board members of the city of Jefferson."
Apparently, the Jefferson, Jackson and Commerce boards of education had some informal agreement to make such moves simultaneously, so Jefferson's move caught both Commerce and Jackson County school board members by surprise.
"I wish that Jefferson City had communicated to us what they were doing, Normally, we try to do things pretty much in line together," said Larry White, superintendent, who added that the Jackson County Board of Education did not know of the Jefferson move until members saw a story about it in The Jackson Herald.
White also said that several years ago, the three school superintendents drafted a letter to the legislative delegation expressing the view that the $50 per diem pay for all board members was too low. The superintendents were then advised that the matter would have to be voted on by each of the school boards, he recounted.
Jackson County superintendent Andy Byers has asked White to "send him a copy of what we're doing," White said.
Jefferson's proposal calls for paying its chairman $150 per diem, but Commerce opted not to differentiate between its members and chairman.
Perry also stressed that the board had "no intention whatsoever of doing this outside the public eye," and was moving on it during the retreat because of the timing. The board had given public notice of its meeting as required by state open meetings laws, though besides White, associate superintendent Dr. Nancy Baird and the school board, only a newspaper reporter was present.
When Perry called for discussion, there was little.
"It doesn't need any discussion," said member Arthur Lee Pattman. "It should have been done three or four years ago."
Bill Davis made the motion; Lanny Pope seconded it, and it passed without dissent.
In the afternoon session, most of which was devoted to curriculum, the board revisited the issue, amending its motion to make the new rate of pay effective July 1, 2003, when the 2003-2004 school year begins. That motion was made also by Davis and seconded by Pope.
White later moved to diffuse any criticism of the board for the out-of-town vote, saying he was the one who put the matter on the agenda, thinking that action needed to be taken soon in order to get the change approved during the current legislative session.
"That was my doing, not the board's," he said.
The Commerce City Council must approve a resolution seeking the charter change, and the matter is on the council's agenda for its March 11 meeting at 6:30 p.m. at the Commerce Civic Center.
In the only other vote taken at the retreat, the board voted to purchase a security system for Commerce Middle School, which has been burglarized four times since Christmas, apparently by the same thieves, who have stolen a number of laptop computers and damaged a number of interior doors.
The board's action will allow White to bring in a consultant to choose the best of three bids. The bidders are Long Cellular and Security, Jefferson; Electronic Sales Co., Gainesville; and EMC Security, Jefferson. No price was mentioned, and the EMC Security bid is not in yet.