Jackson County Opinions...

MAY 29, 2002



Column
By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
May 29, 2002

State Biggest Threat To Local
Supply Of Water
According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Atlanta's water use has already reached the level officially predicted for 2030. The Corps decided April 15 to deny Atlanta's request to draw more water out of Lake Lanier.
The Georgia Environmental Protection Division has another view: there is no crisis. Other water experts polled by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for a story on the subject in Sunday's paper think those EPD officials are wrong and that the Corps is correct.
Why should we care?
Commerce has an abundance of water. The Bear Creek Reservoir water will be available to Jackson County next week (finally). Commerce wants to sell a lot of water to offset the revenue it's losing as Jackson County's source (Bear Creek) comes on line. Jackson County wants to sell a lot of water because it has to pay back its share of the $63 million for the reservoir and because every homeowner in Jackson County is demanding county water.
Cash flow needs are prompting both Commerce and Jackson County to grab any water customers they can and while the EPD may ban outdoor watering in the fifth year of this drought, both actually need customers who use lots of water.
Region-wide, Jackson, Barrow, Oconee and Clarke counties are sitting on a reservoir that can supposedly produce more than 50 million gallons of water per day, of which at most five million mgd will be used initially.
Two thoughts come to mind.
First, while it seems that we have an abundance of water today, like Metro Atlanta, we will probably use it up much more quickly than the experts predicted. Our need for cash today could tempt us into encouraging water use that we'll regret in a decade or two. We had better be careful about how eagerly we accept water customers, especially any that are outside of our jurisdictions (Commerce and Jackson County), because one day we'll need that water at home.
Second, the official strategy for Atlanta's water shortage is not to use less water, but to get more. The great fear is that somebody will look with covetous eyes at the 40 mgd in the Bear Creek Reservoir not currently being used.
That was Rep. Pat Bell's major focus her first year in the General Assembly and she got assurances from everybody from the governor on down that the state would not try to touch the reservoir, which does not have a nickel of state money in it. Yet, from a regulatory standpoint, the state already says that all water is the state's water, from which it is not a great leap for the state to decide who will use it.
Atlanta is thirsty; the Bear Creek reservoir has "excess" water. As the Upper Oconee Basin Water Authority develops its "security plan," I am only partly joking in suggesting that the bigger threat to our water supply is not terrorists, but state regulators.
Jackson County’s rapid growth will absorb our current surplus of water more quickly than we’d like to imagine. We need to protect our water supplies against the rapid growth in demand, whether it comes from us or from politicians hoping to slake Atlanta’s growing thirst.


Editorial
The Jackson Herald
May 29, 2002

Braselton staff, pay scale
off the charts
There are three things wrong with the Town of Braselton’s recent decision to add 10 new employees and give everyone else large raises:

1. It’s too many new employees, too quick.
2. The pay scales are too high for a small town.
3. It was all done in secret by the city council in violation of the Georgia Open Meetings Law.

What’s happening in Braselton is a textbook example of why government at all levels is bloated and why taxpayers are getting soaked by the people they elect. Braselton simply has too much money on its hands for a small town of 1,200 people. So rather than use the money to directly help its citizens, Braselton leaders are enlarging their own bureaucracy, fattening both their own paychecks and their office positions.
Let us be specific:
First, the addition of 10 new employees by Braselton in one year is nearly doubling the city’s employees. Even considering that Braselton is in a growth area, there is no justification for the addition of such a large number of positions, other than to make life a little easier for those already on the payroll. It’s fluff.
Second, the pay scale used in Braselton for its employees is more akin to that of a city the size of Gainesville or Rome, between 25,000 to 50,000 population, not a small town of 1,200.
Specifically:
•At $46,000 per year, Braselton’s police chief will be one of the highest paid small town (population 1,000-2,500) chiefs in Georgia. The average maximum for a police chief in a town the size of Braselton is $34,000, according to figures from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.
•At $40,600 per year each, Braselton’s water superintendent and sewer superintendent are among the highest paid in the state for a small town. The average maximum for towns the size of Braselton is $31,800 per year for those positions. (And remember, in Braselton that’s two positions for a total of over $81,000 when the job can be done by only one person.)
•At $55,000 per year, the Braselton city clerk is one of, if not the highest paid small town clerks in Georgia. The average city clerk salary for a town the size of Braselton is $27,700.
•At $35,300 per year, Braselton’s court clerk is the highest paid of all the small towns in Georgia. The average court clerk in a small town is paid $24,400 per year.
•At $50,000 per year for a city planner and $38,000 per year for a building inspector, Braselton is in a league of its own since only three other towns its size reported having either position. The maximum salary for a planner in nearby Duluth, which has a population of over 10,000 people, tops out at $45,900. The maximum pay for a building inspector in nearby Commerce, which is four times larger than Braselton, is $36,000. We doubt any town the size of Braselton has both positions in the entire state.
Finally, Braselton leaders did all of this behind closed doors, in secret, a major violation of state law. Governments cannot create new positions and salary scales in secret. It’s illegal.
We don’t begrudge Braselton attempting to plan for growth. But we don’t like to see any government get fat just because it has money in the bank. Thanks to taxes generated by Chateau Élan, Braselton gets a financial windfall. It simply cannot find enough ways to spend its money, so it has created new positions and super-high wage scales to absorb those funds.
The citizens in Braselton should be outraged at their fat and sassy government officials who have thrown fiscal responsibility to the wind and in the process, violated state law.
Those actions should not go unchallenged.

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Column
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
May 29, 2002

United towns a powerful force
Politics is a world of constantly changing dynamics. Most of the time, those changes are subtle and small. But occasionally, there is a sudden, large shift. And like the grinding of the earth’s Tectonic plates, the result is a jolting earthquake that dramatically changes the landscape.
Such was the meeting last week between seven of the county’s nine towns. (The other two towns would have probably been in attendance except for an error on their invitation letters that had the wrong date.)
The topic of that meeting was to discuss legal and strategic ideas for the upcoming sales tax negotiations with the board of commissioners. But the topic was less important than the event itself; that is, for the first time ever, an effort is being made by the county’s nine towns to join hands and work together.
That, of course, didn’t happen in a vacuum, nor did it happen simply out of a feeling of goodwill. Rather, the birth of this alliance stems from the fact that town leaders have a common threat from the Jackson County Board of Commissioners.
For months, the BOC has signaled its disdain for the municipal governments in the county. The BOC’s open quest for power and control over matters large and small has rattled the county’s citizens, including leaders of other political agencies.
The first indication that the political landscape was changing came even before the alliance on sales taxes. For several weeks, the towns of Arcade, Jefferson, Pendergrass and Talmo have been working on a joint municipal planning commission. That in itself is a major alliance of towns that previously have seldom worked together.
But the genesis of the joint quad-cities planning board could just be the start of something much, much larger. If the four towns can forge an alliance, and perhaps even bring in a couple of the other municipalities, the sum of their parts could become the most powerful political force in the county.
Consider this potential scenario: By adopting a plan of strategic annexations, the four allied towns could control the entire Hwy. 129 corridor from the Hall County line in the north, to the Clarke County line in the south. That major North-South road literally bisects Jackson County and would give the quad-cities control of a key industrial and commercial growth corridor in the county. By adopting shared tax districts, coordinating water and sewer delivery and using a joint planning commission, that stretch of real estate could become the most valuable road frontage in Northeast Georgia.
Now consider an East-West expansion of that where Braselton and Commerce join Jefferson and Pendergrass to control the I-85 real estate corridor. If that should happen, the municipal governments would control 90 percent of the county’s future industrial and commercial real estate.
For the smaller towns, such a process could give them new resources that they would have never had on their own. Individually, for example, Talmo can do little in the way of major infrastructure upgrades and growth planning. But in alliance with the other towns, it could become a key political and development player.
All of that, of course, is just speculation on my part. To really happen, a lot of things would have to take place. Keeping such alliances together are difficult; the more players, the more difficult it becomes.
At least two members of the BOC have pooh-poohed the alliance efforts, telling me the joint planning commission will never happen.
But it is that condescending attitude toward the towns that brought them together in the first place. Had the BOC attempted to work with the towns, rather than at odds with them, none of this would have taken root.
There is a great power struggle developing in Jackson County between a BOC that is determined to dominate, and the county’s towns that are just as determined to resist being put under the thumb of that board.
In the process, the BOC is increasingly isolated. It has few political allies left among the major players in Jackson County. Certainly no one is rushing to the defense of that board and even some of its own supporters are beginning to wonder if its grasp for power hasn’t begun to backfire.
If the towns forge a strong alliance, it may mean the BOC’s reach for power has been checkmated, at least for now.
Stay tuned. More is sure to come.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


Editorial
The Commerce News
May 29, 2002

Going After Delinquent Taxes Is Fair For All
The amount to be collected is statistically insignificant in the city's budget, but Commerce's decision to go after some $128,000 in delinquent property taxes should be cheered by the rest of the city's taxpayers.
For a system of taxation to be accepted, the public must understand that all taxpayers are treated equally. Nothing will erode confidence in government more quickly than the idea that some taxpayers aren't paying their fair shares.
The Commerce City Council hired a company to go after those who have not only been late in paying their taxes, but who have also ignored repeated requests for payment and warnings about the consequences of not paying. That company, officials say, will begin the process of selling property of delinquent taxpayers from the courthouse steps.
The threat (and follow-through) to sell the property for taxes serves another purpose. It provides notice that the city is serious about collecting taxes, which may discourage procrastination when taxpayers get this year's property tax bills. Those who finally pay previous years' taxes this year may also discover that the late penalties and collection fee added to the tax bill are sufficient incentive to pay future bills on time.
In Commerce, almost all property taxes go to fund the city school system, so it is hardly a stretch of rhetoric to say that property owners who do not pay taxes are hurting school children. That's all the more reason for the city to move against delinquent taxpayers.

What Happened To Flags On Memorial Day?
What happened to the display of American flags in downtown Commerce for the Memorial Day weekend?
In past years, the city has put up American flags throughout the downtown to mark important national holidays. This Memorial Day, a holiday set aside to remember those who died in the armed services to protect our freedom, there was no such display. The city's Streetscape banners, red, white and blue and promoting "community pride," were flying, but nary an American flag.
Given the events of the past year, the threats to our nation from terrorism and the fact that our service personnel are again fighting abroad, Old Glory should have been flying proudly along our downtown thoroughfares.
Some displays of the American flag following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were less than inspiring but it's hard to think of a more appropriate time to fly our flag than on Memorial Day.


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