Jackson County Opinions...

JUNE 12, 2002

By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
June 12, 2002

Driving Habits Another Sign
Of Aging Process?
The graying hair, the odd aches and pains, kids I remember from Commerce High School turning 40. I don't need any more evidence of the aging process, but I got yet another this week.
I'd traveled to Land Between the Lakes, TN, to meet a cousin for our annual fishing get-together. I'd arisen long before dawn even thought of cracking last Wednesday, took I-85 to Atlanta, I-285 to I-75 north to I-24 to well above Nashville before turning west, pushing my aged and failing pickup truck beyond 75 mph most of the time.
That's my typical method of operation. Drive hard and fast. Get there. "Defeat" the trip.
But when it came time to return, I surprisingly found myself poring over the Tennessee map, trying to figure a way to avoid the Nashville-Chattanooga stretch of Interstate, so I took I-40 east out of Nashville, then drove south on TN 111 through the Sequatchie Valley, to Dunlop ("hang gliding capitol of the world"), climbed up to Signal Mountain and down into Chattanooga, passing the UFO house (for real).
Then, once into Georgia on I-75 I found an alternative to I-75, I-285 and I-85, turning east on Georgia 53 to pass through Fairburn, Jasper, Tate and Dawsonville, then to Gainesville and home through Gillsville and Maysville.
The leisurely pace forced upon one by two-lane roads, Sunday drivers and little towns and hamlets makes for a more contemplative drive during which one can marvel at the (sometimes) beautiful countryside, enjoy the old homesteads and see the "real" Georgia (or Tennessee) that exists beyond the four-lane (and six-lane now) highways.
But being contemplative on a 400-mile drive is not my style. I've always been hell-bent to get the drive over with and enjoy either getting there or being home and calculating how many miles per hour I averaged. The realization hit me somewhere in Pickens County when I glanced into the rearview mirror and caught a glimpse of myself with my over-sized polarized sunglasses (they fit over my regular glasses). There I was, a geezer, a cover photo for the AARP Bulletin.
I am not totally in decline just yet; I felt no urge to slow to 45 mph, except in 35 mph zones nor to trade my S-10 for a Lincoln Towncar, but I did succumb to the scenery and (Zounds!) listened to an entire 40-minute sermon that faded and improved with the dips and hills of the road.
Logically, the young should tarry, for they have all the time in the world, and old folks ought to hurry, for the sand is rapidly falling out of the hourglass. But one advantage of aging is the realization that life is best enjoyed at a slower pace and that getting there really should be half the fun (the other half is getting back).
Perhaps this lesson will have application at home; next time I get stuck behind someone driving 42 mph on the Jefferson Road, maybe I won’t say bad words and think ugly thoughts about the driver’s ancestry.
I am not counting on that, however. I will resist the aging process as much as I can, and I won’t wear those sunglasses around Commerce.

The Jackson Herald
June 12, 2002

What is the real property value of Darnell Road?
We find it a little odd that county manager Al Crace defended the county’s $2.1 million purchase price of the Darnell Road property by saying the county’s own tax appraisal of the land was not the “real” fair market value.
The 157 acres was valued at $877,000 on the county’s tax digest. Depending on how you look at it, either the county paid too much for the land, or it was undervalued in the first place.
Of course, Crace is correct in one sense: The value of a piece of land is whatever someone is willing to pay for it. That may, or may not, reflect the value on the county’s tax digest. Property transactions between relatives, for example, are often done at values far below the actual fair market value of the land. On the other hand, key pieces of property are sometimes worth much more to a particular buyer than the assessed value. A business, for example, may be willing to pay far above market value for a small tract if that allows for business expansion, or gives access to important infrastructure, like road or rail access.
In addition, land in transition may also sell for more than it is assessed at. Agricultural property that is purchased for residential development, for example, typically sells for far more than it was assessed for in agriculture.
But in theory, if you weed out all the atypical family sales and other anomalies, property transactions are governed by market forces and should, more or less, align with county assessed values. That’s why the state audits the county’s tax digest each year to compare assessed value to actual sales.
But the real question is this: Was the BOC’s price for land on Darnell Road based on these market forces, or was there something else at play in the deal? Should the BOC have paid $2.1 million of taxpayer money for the property?
We believe not. In real estate, location, location and location are the keys to a purchase price and we believe it is impossible to say that Darnell Road has some high-dollar location value. It does not have a major road access and it does not have water and sewer infrastructure on site. Nor is it in a “prime” growth location of the county for business or commercial projects.
In short, except for the fact that it is near other county-owned land, it has no particular strategic location value that makes it worth the $2.1 million purchase price. At best, the land is worth around $1.5 million based on our conversations with developers in the area who are familiar with the market. At that price, it might be good for a large subdivision.
As we have said in this space many times before, Darnell Road is not the best location for a new courthouse. Had the location been better, the public might support paying a premium price for a strategic piece of land.
But to pay a premium price for land that is not in a prime location, a location that will require millions of dollars in road construction to make it more accessible, doesn’t make sense.
Think of it this way: If the BOC should change its mind and decide to sell that 157 acres next year, would the property bring the $2.1 million the county paid?
We don’t believe so. And in the end, it is that potential resale value which should have set the price.

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By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
June 12, 2002

Don’t trade freedom for security
I don’t like the phrase “homeland security.” There is an echo of paranoia in the phrase, an echo that makes one wonder if a nation founded on individual freedoms will trade that for security.
It wouldn’t be the first time a nation defined itself not by its optimism, but by its fear. And that is a dangerous road to travel.
In 1985, I spent three weeks in what was at the time the Communist Soviet Union. If there was ever a nation that existed on fear, it was the Soviet Union.
When we stepped off the plane in Leningrad, a corridor of armed soldiers lined our way from the tarmac to the airport itself. Our group of journalists was shadowed by “observers” who watched our every move. At each motel across the country, we were required to surrender our passports for “safekeeping.” Our days were structured such that it was almost impossible to move around outside of the group. When a few of us did, we were chastised by “tour guides.”
Alas, the most subversive thing we did was have a harmonica and play “The Star Spangled Banner” while standing in the middle of Red Square.
Years later, on another trip to Moscow after the fall of the Soviet Union, a former tour guide told me that under the communists, every guide was required to make daily reports to the KGB about the members of his or her groups.
It was a society, a nation, built on fear and ruled by fear. Neighbors reported on neighbors; family members reported on their kin. Everyone was suspected of being “subversive.” No one trusted anyone and by 1985, the social and economic fabric of the nation was falling apart.
This nation, of course, doesn’t have the same history as the Soviet Union. But the level of fear about terrorism that exists today is perhaps causing a reaction that may take us down the wrong roads.
Yes, we want our airports to be secure. But as one who has flown several times since 9-11, some of the security is nonsense. I’ve had to take off my shoes to be searched; my carry bag is fair game even after being scanned.
Do I fit the profile of a terrorist?
Last week, I had a wrench and screwdriver confiscated from a backpack at the airport. The tools were used to fix a bike and had been left in a side pocket.
When adjustable wrenches become weapons, the way we define danger in this nation has changed.
Terrorism is a real threat. It always has been, but now we face a group of people motivated to exploit this nation’s freedoms for their own ends.
Their goal isn’t to crash airplanes, or use “dirty bombs” to kill. Their goal is to make us fearful, to make us cede freedom for security.
It is a trade that too many people are willing to make.
But do we want to be like those former Communist nations where everyone is spying on everyone else? Do we want an internal police force to operate like the old KGB?
No, this nation does not have Siberian death camps to send uncooperative citizens into. We still have some legal protections from search and seizure, although some of that is being eroded by the fear of terrorism.
There is no conspiracy in all of this, no grand plan to rule the world. This is more subtle than that, and thus more dangerous. It is not government trampling the rights of citizens, it is citizens willingly giving up freedoms so they will feel more secure.
Some things we have to do to secure our borders. There’s no argument about that.
But we’re going too far, too fast.
It’s time to take a deep breath and to pause and ask ourselves if we can ever get back lost freedoms once they have been given away.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.

The Commerce News
June 12, 2002

School Tuition Not A Simple Solution
The position of the Commerce City Council seems to be that the Commerce Board of Education should begin charging tuition to nonresident students. The council last Monday asked superintendent of schools Larry White to ask his board of education to "have a tuition plan in place" a year from now.
While the concept of tuition for nonresident children is a concept worthy of consideration, the city council would be wise to ask, rather, for a full analysis of the effect of charging tuition for children who live outside the school district.
In the city portion of the school budget, Commerce taxpayers subsidize nonresident students by approximately $1,300 per student. That figure will go up, and it is an irritation to city taxpayers. But on the other side, such students bring in more than $4,000 apiece in state funds to help provide teachers, facilities and materials. They also generate more than $1,000 each per year in special purpose local option sales tax funds needed for capital projects.
The council seemed a bit arrogant in its assertion that "we have something good; people will be willing to pay for it." That harkens back to the era when Commerce city and school officials assumed that the opening of the new Jackson County Comprehensive High School would have little effect on enrollment at CHS. They were wrong; enrollment plummeted and it hurt the high school. If the Commerce School System employs a tuition, some parents will opt to send their children to the county school system. Before any system is adopted, the effect needs to be known.
As White pointed out to the council, it does not take the loss of too many students to eliminate funding for one teacher and if the lost teacher is not directly connected to the lost students, it can adversely affect the ability of the school to provide education and could result in higher operating costs. The loss of any number of students currently at CHS would hurt its ability to offer programs.
At the same time, city officials are right in that resident student population will grow rapidly, offsetting such losses over time. The challenge with instituting a tuition policy is creating one that will be beneficial to the Commerce School System, fair to students and parents and provide significant tax relief.
Further complicating the matter is the fact that many nonresident children have parents who pay taxes in Commerce. Many (if not most) Commerce business owners live outside the city. The taxes on their businesses in many cases provide more revenue to the school system than would the taxes on their homes. It would be unfair to charge tuition to such parents.
Rather than demand a tuition plan by the beginning of the 2003-04 school year, the Commerce City Council should ask for an analysis of the potential for tuition. It may be that a tuition of some sort is advisable, but it seems prudent before enacting one that both the school board and the city council have a better understanding of the consequences.

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