News from Jackson County...

SEPTEMBER 11, 2002


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OPINIONS
Jackson County opinion page

Angela Gary
Music helps us cope
Whether it’s gospel, country, rock and roll, blues and jazz or classical, music has always helped people cope with difficult issues they are dealing with.

Shar Porier
Letter to a friend
My dear friend,
I appreciate your kindness and thoughtfulness. Thank you so much for telling me about your Mom. You’re right, it’s so hard living away from family. We’re both fortunate to have loving and caring sisters.

Frank Gillespie
We must control our borders
It has been one year since the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. We as a nation have had one year to figure out how the attack was carried out, and how we can prevent future attacks. Have we solved the problem? I don’t think so.

Margie Richards
Another way to remember
This paper carries an unfortunate date on it’s cover, for Sept. 11 will never be seen as “just another day” of the year.


SPORTS

Tigers Outlast Lions
With four returning starters anchoring a battle-tested offensive front, Commerce’s offensive line had its share of expectations heaped upon its shoulders during the preseason.
Friday night, the group showed why.

Lady Panthers prepare for showdown
Roughly midway through the season, the JCCHS fast-pitch softball team appears primed and ready to take aim at the Class AAAA North Region title, something they will go a long way towards doing with a win in their next game against Madison County on Thursday.

Dragons win second straight
Jefferson will look to slay their third consecutive AA team in as many weeks Friday, as they travel to Dahlonega to play Lumpkin County in a battle of unbeaten teams.


Neighboorhood News ..
MADISON COUNTY
County reflects on Sept. 11 tragedy
It's been a year since the United States suffered several homeland terrorist attacks, and Madison County held its own ceremony (today) Wednesday to mark the day.

Contracts approved for road projects
County commissioners approved $381,000 in road-widening contracts Monday with ER Snell Contractor Inc. for Neese-Commerce and Nowhere Roads.
The contracts cover the first phase of the widening of both roads.

8% of county voters hit polls in runoffs
Just over eight percent of Madison County voters turned out Tuesday to take part in the primary runoff election. County voters were presented with only three races, two Republican and one Democrat.


Neighborhood News...
BANKS COUNTY
Pond raising mosquito concerns in Homer
Robin Templeton wants her two-year-old and infant child to play on a playground in their backyard.

Home destroyed by fire
The home of Tony and Shannon Nation on Highway 323 was destroyed Monday night in a ravaging fire that lit up the sky for miles around.

Who will fix Buckeye Trails?
A group of Banks County homeowners isn’t too happy about the situation at Buckeye Trails subdivision.

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REMEMBERING FIREFIGHTERS

Firemen in their dress uniforms stood at attention at the Jefferson Fire Station Wednesday morning and honored the firefighters who lost their lives one year ago. Lee Reichert, a correctional officer at the Jackson County Correctional Institute and a member of the National Guard, is shown saluting at the flag pole. He was in Bosnia when the terrorist attacks occurred last year. See pages 11A-12A for more photos and memories of September 11.

‘A day of reflection’
More than 100 people gathered at the Jackson County Airport Wednesday morning to remember those who lost their lives in the terrorist attacks on the United States on Sept. 11, 2001.
A little later, firemen in their dress uniforms stood at attention at the Jefferson Fire Station and honored the firefighters who lost their lives one year ago.
At Jackson County Comprehen-sive High School, some 180 ROTC students held flags high in the air during a memorial service.
These are just a few of the special programs held in Jackson County on Wednesday to remember 9-11. A community-wide program was to have been held in Braselton Wednesday night as were several other church services.
At the service at the county airport, Jackson County Board of Commission chairman Harold Fletcher said the attacks caused people to feel vulnerable and violated.
“On Tuesday morning, Sept. 11, 2001, our world was changed,” he said. “Our nation was attacked by terrorists with a tremendous loss of life. This date is permanently etched into our national psyche. We all remember where we were and what we were doing.”
He called for Sept. 11 to be “a day of reflection.” Fletcher called for a moment of silence at the conclusion of his remarks.
Prayer and remarks were made by John Wood, Grove Level Baptist Church; Cary Hillyard, Jefferson First Baptist Church; and Brian Stowe, Maysville Baptist Church.
Wood spoke on the struggles of the nation over the past year.
“We have a vision to rebuild America better than it was before,” he said. “...I encourage us, as a nation, as individuals, as families, to build our foundation...to build our walls around our homes, around our communities, around our churches and around the nation. When the enemy comes in, we know God will be with us.”
Hillyard encouraged those present to remember the men and women and young people and children who died on Sept. 11.
“We remember the sorrow, the pain and the agony of family members as they searched for their loved ones and their friends,” he said. “We remember the firemen and the policemen who went in and tried to rescue....We remember what it felt like when we heard their news. We remember our disbelief...our shock...our anger... We remember today, lest we forget.”
Stowe said Sept. 11, 2001, is a day that Americans will remember where they were and what they are doing. He said it joins days such as Dec. 7, 1941, the assassination of John F. Kennedy Jr. and the space shuttle explosion that will be etched in the memories of people who lived through them.
Also on the program were: four members of the Jackson County Comprehensive High School ROTC, who presented the colors; and the Maysville Baptist Church music ministry, which presented the National Anthem.
JEFFERSON FIRE STATION
At the Jefferson Fire Station 1, the firemen followed the protocol used across the state in ringing the station bell a the time the attacks occurred last year and when the towers fell. All of the firemen were gathered in front of the station by the flag pole for this observation. They also lowered the flag to half-mast and joined together in saying the pledge.
Fire chief Doug Waters said: “We will never forget the loss of our fellow firefighters and the spirit of which our department and the state sent our token of thanks to them and the money to their wives and families. Remember them.”
AT JCCHS
At JCCHS, the ROTC students carried flags as they entered the gym filled with their fellow students and community members. The colors were posted and the students joined in singing the National Anthem and the pledge to the flag.
A moment of silence was also held and the marching band presented “America, the Beautiful.” The chorus presented several selections. Speakers included Dr. Robin Hines and Col. Tom Taylor.


A close race
At press time Wednesday, the Republican lieutenant governor’s race was close with both candidates having 50 percent of the vote.
Mike Beatty of Jefferson had 92,706 votes, while Steve Stancil had 93,975, a difference of only 1,269.
In Jackson County, there was a very low voter turnout, only 13 percent. Some 2,041 of the county’s 16,772 registered voters cast a ballot in the lieutenant governor’s race. Beatty received 1,897 votes in Banks County, while Stancil had 47.


County BOE plans 2-mill tax increase
The Jackson County Board of Education plans to increase its tax rate two mills next year.
The proposal calls for raising the current 15.50 mills to 17.50 mills. According to school superintendent Andy Byers, the increase is needed now largely because of legislative mandates that he feels are just not meeting the requirements of the law.
Byers, citing a 1985 law, stated that there should be an 80/20 percent partnership between the state and local school boards regarding funding. However, the current partnership between the two stands at 60/40, thus leaving local systems with no choice but to turn to taxpayers for funding.
Also contributing to the planned millage hike is the growth Jackson County is experiencing, he said. Byers noted that the school board is having to hire 15 teachers every year to keep up with the current growth the county is experiencing.
When taking into account the further costs associated with growing, such as salaries, classrooms, supplies and textbooks, Byers said the board will have no choice but to again, look to taxpayers to meet the needs.
One other contributing factor to the increase is a “mistake” that Byers said was made in 2000 when the board lowered the millage rate from 18.38 to 14.83. The following year, the board raised the millage rate slightly to the current 15.50, but it was apparent to Byers even then that the need to raise tax rates in 2003 was going to be there.
The bond millage rate is also expected to increase from .78 mills to 1 mill, Byers said.
Public ad valorem tax hearings are required by law if tax revenue increases. The last hearing will be held Thursday at 7:30 a.m. at the BOE, behind Jackson County Comprehensive High School.
In other business at Monday’s board meeting, the school system saw an increase in SPLOST revenue in June to $321,001, up $47,846 from the previous month. It was unknown why the increase occurred, however, Byers stated that he hoped it was “a sign that the economy is turning back around.”
The BOE also approved the closing on a $17,000 land purchase from Potluck Properties. The land will be used for a variety of athletic field additions at JCCHS.


Decision in Braselton lawsuit could have implications for state HB489
Jackson County Superior Court Judge David Motes will have a lot to think about over the next few weeks.
At stake is a decision for a lawsuit involving the Town of Braselton that could affect a state law.
That law, which was passed in 1997 by the Georgia General Assembly, specifies that counties and its affected municipalities must adopt an intergovernmental agreement on who will provide which services. The Service Delivery Strategy Act, through the intergovernmental agreements, outlines which services — such as water and sewage — are handled by either a county or city.
But the state law, which is also referred to as House Bill 489, is now being called into question by Braselton through a lawsuit involving the City of Gainesville.
Judge Motes said during a court hearing on Sept. 4 that he will take 30 days to reach a decision on the case.
In December 2001, Gainesville filed a lawsuit against Braselton alleging that the town illegally tapped into one of Gainesville’s water lines to serve the Clearwater subdivision.
The Friendship Road subdivision was annexed into the town in Sept. 2001, without objection from Hall County.
Later, Braselton began constructing a water line running along Spout Springs Road that will serve the Clearwater subdivision. Chateau Corners Development, which is building the subdivision, is named as a defendant in the lawsuit.
Already, the town had a water transmission line that fed through Hall County from a Gwinnett County water source. Braselton purchases much of its water from Gwinnett County. Hall County presented no objection to the line when it was constructed in 1999.
Braselton officials, meanwhile, have made it known that it intends to provide water to town residents.
According to the 2000 U.S. Census, only 23 Braselton residents reside in Hall County.
“We feel that the citizens of Braselton should have water service in their own town,” said mayor Pat Graham in January.
Last week, an attorney representing Braselton told The Jackson Herald the town is trying to provide water service to its residents and that Gainesville’s allegations of illegal wrongdoing “couldn’t be any further from the truth.”
So, in a counter claim to Gainesville’s allegations, Braselton called the Georgia Service Delivery Strategy Act unconstitutional. And that response brought the state Department of Community Affairs (DCA) into the lawsuit as a defendant as well.
“We don’t think there was any evil intent in passing this legislation, it probably sounded like a good idea,” said William M. Droze, an attorney representing Braselton. “But in practice, it has a horrible consequence. And that consequence is that there are 23 residents in the Town of Braselton who have no voice in Hall County.”
According to Braselton’s defense, the state law is unconstitutional because it allows local governments to enter into county-wide service delivery strategy agreements to enact local laws in violation of the Georgia Constitution.
If Judge Motes rules in Braselton’s favor for that motion, the state law would be unconstitutional and invalid for other governments in his ruling district .
But, “that’s not as great that sounds,” Droze explained.
Although the legal implications of the Braselton lawsuit could affect the state law, in practice, the intergovernmental agreements among Georgia counties and cities will still be valid.
The intergovernmental agreements are just a part of the Service Delivery Strategy Act—they are not laws.
COURT HEARING
During a court hearing last week, an attorney for the DCA said the burden of proof in determining the law’s unconstitutionality lies with Braselton.
Grace Evans Lewis, state senior assistant attorney general, said the Town of Braselton failed to identify with “fair precision” exactly which provision of the law is unconstitutional
“Here, a blanket attack on the Service Delivery Act is insufficient,” she said.
But Droze defended the town’s “blanket attack” on the law.
With only 23 Braselton residents living in Hall County, Droze said the law’s provision to include only municipalities with at least 500 residents to reach service agreements with the county essentially alienated taxpayers.
“We are required by law to participate in the development of the (service delivery) strategy but we have no authority in delegation,” Droze said. “Our hands are tied even if go to the table—we don’t count.”
Droze then explained that while alienated municipalities are “welcomed” to provide non-money raising services, such as fire and police protection, the town isn’t welcomed to provide money-generating services, like water and sewage service.
The Service Delivery Act, he said, creates a monopoly for Gainesville to provide water service to Hall County residents in Braselton.
“If there wasn’t any monetary motivation, the City of Gainesville wouldn’t be fighting as hard,” he added.


UPDATE 9-12-02
County BOE raises millage rate
Come December, property owners in Jackson County will pay an additional 2.22 mills to the county school system to maintain programs and keep up with growth.
On Thursday, the Jackson County Board of Education held an early morning called meeting to raise the maintenance and operation millage rate from 15.50 mills to 17.50 mills. The BOE also increased the bond millage from .78 mills to 1.0 mills.
The maintenance and operations millage covers items from teacher salaries to gas for school buses. The bond millage is paying back a bond in 1994 to build East Jackson Middle School and West Jackson Middle School.
A mill is a dollar of taxation for every $1,000 of assessed fair market value on property.
With the millage rate increase, an owner with property assessed at $100,000 can expect to pay an additional $88 a year in taxes, said tax commissioner Don Elrod. Various exemptions are not included in the figure.
Tax bills will be sent out in October with payment due Dec. 20.
School superintendent Andy Byers said the millage hike is needed for several reasons.
"We're out of money, we're operating on borrowed money now, we have cut every area that we can cut without going into programs," Byers said.
If the school system has to cut programs, it would do so from music, art and physical education courses, he added.
Of the estimated 23 music, art and P.E. teachers in the school system, Byers said the state funds only seven positions.
The millage hike will hopefully provide enough money to save the programs from cutbacks, Byers said.
STEMMING FROM GROWTH
The millage hike largely reflects growth in Jackson County, Byers said.
"We are averaging roughly 15 new teachers a year just because of growth," he said.
The figure doesn't include the number of additional teachers hired to reduce student class sizes as required by a new state law, he said.
New homes built in the county have meant more schools will continue to be constructed.
One such area of the county slated for a surge of new homes, and more students, is West Jackson.
"I'm really concerned about Mulberry Plantation," Byers said of the 1,500-home subdivision in West Jackson.
In a recent conversation with the developers of Mulberry Plantation and WJMS principal April Howard, Byers said he was told the project is scheduled to be completed in five years.
Which means up to 2,000 students from the subdivision could be entering the school system within a few years. The residential and golf course development will be similar in scope to Hamilton Mill. Engineers and surveyors were at the property site last week, he added.
Special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) funds are already scheduled to fund several new construction projects for the county school system, as well.
By the end of the month, the BOE is expected to purchase 100 acres on Kings Bridge Road for a third middle school. Construction on South Jackson Middle School could begin in three to four years, but possibly sooner, Byers said.
Also, the county school system will purchase 147 acres for the new East Jackson Comprehensive High School on Hoods Mill Road and Water Works Road. Byers said he wasn't sure when construction will begin on the project, but it could start within a few years.
In the meantime, construction on the new East Jackson Elementary School is expected to end sometime in February or March.
No new teachers will be hired to instruct at EJES, Byers said. Instead, half of the teaching staff at Benton Elementary School will be transferred to the new school with the remaining staff coming from planned growth.
Beyond a recent three percent increase from the state, teachers will not receive an additional salary increase from the county school system, he added.
During the meeting, BOE members discussed imposing an impact fee on new developments to offset growing school infraction needs for taxpayers.
Byers, however, warned imposing impact fees is a controversial issue that has landed several county governments in court.
Chairperson Kathy Wilbanks asked if residential growth could be discouraged since the school system has had a hard time building schools in rapidly-growing areas.
"You can't build fences," BOE member Ed Tolbert said.
Byers added that someday the school system might have to resort to using more portable classrooms in order to receive additional state funding to construct permanent classrooms.
And as land values continue to escalate, the county school system could begin to build two-story schools, he said.
TURNING TO THE TAXPAYERS
Another reason Byers said the BOE is turning to the taxpayers is that the county school system has received fewer dollars from the state.
Byers explained that the state and school system are supposed to be in a 80/20 percent partnership in sharing funds.
But, in reality, the partnership has shifted to a 40/60 relationship since the state considers Jackson County a "high wealth county," he said.
As the tax digest grows in Jackson County, the state gives fewer dollars to the school system. The school system, in turn, has to resort to raising taxes to meet its needs, Byers said.
Besides tax digest funds, Byers said the state has been allocating less money to education.
He cited the state for cutting $150,000 in staff development funds to the school system. At the same time, the school system must deal with higher accountability standards that will require more funds for staff development.
The state further cut three percent from local school systems after they had already signed new teacher contracts.
"We don't have any place to go, we weren't allowed to go any place because those folks were already placed under contracts," Byers said. "We don't have any place to go so we go to the taxpayers."
Byers said money for library resources and textbooks have also been severally under-funded from the state.
Whereas the state used to provide $19 per student for library resources, the figure has been slashed to $9.
"I mean, what can you buy for $9? It simply would mean that our library centers, media centers, without local support, would just simply dry up and die and we would have nothing there," Byers said.
No one from the public appeared for Thursday's early morning hearing on the millage hike. About 10 people appeared at two other hearings the previous week, Byers said.


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City Boosts
Tax Rate And
City Salaries
The two issues are actually unrelated, but the Commerce City Council voted Monday night to raise taxes by 7.38 percent and to increase salaries of city workers by 5.5 to six percent.
Commerce residents will pay 7.38 percent more in property taxes this year than they did last year because the city council voted unanimously Monday night to set the 2002 ad valorem tax rate at 16.41 mills for the city school system and one mill for city operations.
That 17.41-mill total compares to 16.3 mills last year.
The rates are expected to bring in $1,925,962 to the school system, an increase of $180,795 over 2001; they will bring in $120,403, an increase of $5,233 for city operations.
The motion to set the tax rate was made by Archie D. Chaney Jr. and seconded by Bob Sosebee. Not only did it pass without discussion or dissent, but the city also held three public hearings (as required by state law) without a single citizen showing up to make a comment.
The council also voted unanimously on a motion by Sosebee, seconded by Chaney, to implement a "classification and compensation plan" effective Oct. 1 that resulted in salary increases for city workers.
The vote is the result of a five-month study by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia of what municipal workers are paid in like-size cities and with similar job classifications, said City Manager Clarence Bryant.
"We still have one department we're having real problems with in the job description," Bryant told the council. "They (the job descriptions) are not inclusive of all the skills that are required."
Implementing the new program also includes creating additional pay steps to cover longevity in each classification, Bryant said.
The raises are in addition to 2.5 percent cost-of-living increases and one-percent merit increases that were part of the city budget approved in July.
TAP FEES UP TOO
Those building houses served by the Commerce Electric Department will find the cost of getting service higher following another council action taken Monday.
In another unanimous vote, the council accepted Bryant's recommendations to increase the connection, or "tap" fee, for electricity.
The cost of a residential tap fee for overhead wires (up to 200 amps) was raised to $200 from $125, while the cost of an underground tap was set at $400. Nonresident tap fees went to $250 for overhead taps and $600 for underground taps. There is also a new figure for three-phase power (which requires three transformers) to $400 for overhead and $700 for underground.
"This covers us much better. We were not covering the cost of the wire itself," Bryant said. "In three-phase, which requires three transformers, we were really getting burned."


Hearing set Fri. on rezoning of Brooks property
The Jackson County Board of Commissioners agreed in a called meeting Friday to hold a public hearing on whether or not to zone a tract of land in Center to B-2.
Property owner Tim Brooks had filed a lawsuit against the county over its denial of his request to rezone the 30 acres on Hwy. 441 from A-2 to I-2 for industrial use.
At Friday’s meeting, commissioner Emil Beshara made the motion that the county planning and development department advertise for a hearing to be held to consider a consent order to rezone the property to B-2. The B-2 zoning district is for highway oriented business districts, while the I-2 zoning district is for heavy industrial use.


Jefferson names Quad Cities Planning Commission reps
Larry Benton, Brant McMullan and Nancy Pollock have been named by the Jefferson City Council as its representatives on the newly-formed Quad Cities Planning Commission.
Benton will serve a three-year term; McMullan a two-year term; and Pollock a one-year term.
The Quad Cities Planning Commission is comprised of Arcade, Talmo, Pendergrass and Jefferson.
Pendergrass earlier named Mark Tolbert as its representative and Talmo named Chip McEver. Arcade will name its two representatives Monday night. The membership is based on population of the four towns.
The members will be paid $50 for each meeting they attend.
The planning commission will hold a training session for the members on Tuesday night. The first official meeting will be on Tuesday, Oct. 15. Meetings will be held at 6 p.m. on the third Tuesday night of each month at the Jefferson clubhouse.
Jefferson will provide the staff for the Quad Cities Planning Commission. Gina Mitsdarffer is the director of planning and development and Dan Atkins is the building inspector. Both formerly worked in the county’s planning department.
The town leaders decided to form the commission earlier this year after the Jackson County Board of Commissioners changed the way votes are counted on the county planning commission. The city representatives on the county planning commission can now only vote on zoning matters that are in their town limits. County representatives get to vote on all zoning matters.
All members on the Quad Cities Planning Commission will be allowed to vote on all of the zoning matters that come before the board, whether or not it is in their town.