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SEPTEMBER 18, 2002


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A complete history of Jackson County, Georgia from 1796 to the present. Written in narrative style for easy reading. Includes material not found in other books about Jackson County.

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OPINIONS
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SPORTS

Good Enough
For two quarters this past weekend against Banks County, Commerce seemed like a team that had fallen under some strange Friday the 13th hex.

Special teams continue to plague Panthers in defeat
Jackson County coach Brent Brock is not easily discouraged, as anyone who talks to him can attest.

Late field goal slays Dragons
Jefferson would normally be thankful to finally play a team in their classification after three straight tests against Class AA teams. Trouble is, Friday’s game is against ninth ranked Landmark Christian, one of the tougher teams in the state.


Neighboorhood News ..
MADISON COUNTY
Schools looking ahead at future sales tax projects
Voters will hit the polls in March to determine whether to renew a one-cent sales tax for county school improvement projects. But first, the county school board must decide what projects to put on the referendum.

Hanna’ provides some ‘short-term’ relief
Last weekend’s rain from tropical storm Hanna may have provided some short-term relief for the long-term drought affecting Madison County and surrounding areas, but it by no means provided a solution to our water problems, according to county extension agent Carl Varnadoe.

IDA’s water expansion plans in Hull still behind schedule
The bit.
It bit ‘em again.
No the drill bit is not lodged again in the old well on Hwy. 72, but the county industrial authority (IDA) learned Monday just how far that troublesome drilling tool — which was stuck most of the summer — set back their water expansion efforts.


Neighborhood News...
BANKS COUNTY
Honoring Heroes
From one end of the county to the other, from morning until night, “Patriots Day” ceremonies were held in remembrance of the tragedy of September 11, 2001.

Alto looks for help with water
Alto Mayor Carolyn Gulley said the city could apply for a $50,000 “Immediate Threat, Endangerment Grant” that would help the city finance bringing the new well on Gilstrap Road on line.

Lula to get 106-home subdivision
Lula is about to grow by more than 100 homes.
After hearing the concerns of bordering property owners, the Lula City Council approved the annexation and re-zoning of a 110-acre planned subdivision along Belton Bridge Road and Talon Drive and a 58-acre commercial development site off Highway 365.

Rafe Banks Park to get walking trail
Rafe Banks Park in Lula will soon get a walking trail. Monday, the city council voted to spend $5,000 on the trail.

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CREWS WORK ON DOWNED POWER LINES

Following a night of rainfall, a fallen tree across from Jefferson High School caused two power line poles to snap along Hwy. 129. More than 100 Georgia Power residents in Jefferson were without electricity from shortly before 5 a.m. until after 8 a.m. on Monday, said company spokesperson Carol Boatwright. With school starting, crews had to work quickly to restore electricity. Dr. John Jackson, Jefferson City School superintendent, said if Georgia Power had advised him electricity wouldn’t be restored for more than five hours, school might have been canceled on Monday. But, electricity was restored at all three Jefferson schools by 8:40 a.m., he said.

Beshara to call for county alcohol vote
Jackson County Commissioner Emil Beshara said Monday night he will introduce a motion Oct. 21 to call a pair of alcohol referendums.
If the motion passes, voters would decide in March whether to allow the sale of alcohol by the package and by the drink in Jackson County.
“We’ve had a number of people come to us requesting that Jackson County drop its prohibition on alcohol sales, and I believe it is time for the people of Jackson County to have their say,” Beshara said at Monday evening’s board of commissioners meeting.
The District 4 commissioner pointed out that alcohol sales are allowed in some communities in the county and that beer and wine sales are also largely permitted.
“I completely realize people may have religious-based concerns over the consumption of alcohol, but I believe the sale of alcohol in Jackson County can be restricted so as to not negatively impact the community,” Beshara stated.
That could be accomplished, he said, by restricting sales to certain areas. He indicated that the commissioners have “informally discussed” establishing “nodes” around interchanges of Interstate 85, “that can be policed more effectively.”
Beshara further suggested that any by-the-drink ordinance could be structured to discourage “the traditional Bar” by requiring that license holders receive more than half of their revenue through food sales.
Beshara proposed that the commissioners use their Oct. 7 meeting to solicit public input, then vote on the matter Oct. 21.
He also pointed out that the board of commissioners can, at any time, vote to authorize the sale of beer and wine by package or by the drink.
“I will look closely at these two referendums,” he said, “and then may have a motion on beer and wine.”
He said “several retail merchants” have indicated to him that the legal sale of alcohol would be “a significant element that would help them succeed.”
None of the other commissioners addressed the topic.


Braselton shopping center gets OK
The Braselton Planning Commission has recommended approval of a 245,000-square-foot shopping center along Highway 211.
Wedged between Hwy. 211, Thompson Mill Road and the proposed realignment of Friendship Road (Hwy. 347), the shopping center marks one of several commercial developments to receive attention near the Chateau Elan area recently.
The rezoning and annexation request for 39.84 acres in Gwinnett County was tabled last month, at the applicant’s request.
Michael Sullivan, a representative for Gilleland-Merritt, LLC, said the company’s decision to table the request came because the company wanted to be “good neighbors.”
“But my clients want to be good neighbors and are certainly sensitive to the fact that the size (of the proposed development) might ring some alarm bells with some of the residents in some of the nearby neighborhoods,” Sullivan said.
The company then met with the various homeowners associations in Chateau Elan and got some feedback on the project from residents, he explained.
One of the items discussed among residents was constructing the shopping center to be similar in appearance to Mulberry Park’s commercial development, Sullivan said. Mulberry Park will be directly across Hwy. 211 from Gilleland-Merritt’s proposed project.
“We know that progress is coming here and that it has to happen, we just ask you to consider if this is the best place,” said Julius Davis, while asking that the development remain in a Chateau Elan theme.
Davis, who lives adjacent to the property on Thompson Mill Road, was the only person to publicly comment about the proposal.
“I think this is a development that will bring a very high end, very positive retail and restaurant development to the Chateau Elan and Braselton area,” Sullivan said.
Although the development company hasn’t determined which businesses will be located in the shopping center, the 80,000-square-foot “big box” store could become a Best Buy, Sullivan said. The largest store isn’t large enough for a Wal-Mart Supercenter, he added.
Full-service restaurants will also be included among the “neighborhood-type uses,” he added.
Before taking a vote on the proposal, planning commission member Stephanie Braselton said the request has numerous “unknowns.”
“We have a great deal of unknowns as far as the road situation and we also have a great deal of unknowns about other undeveloped commercial property,” Braselton said.
With the Georgia Department of Transportation proposing to realign Friendship Road, Sullivan said the main entrance of the development will be at that location on Hwy. 211. The DOT is also planning to widen the road to four lanes.
To curb some traffic, the number of entrances along Hwy. 211 were also reduced, Sullivan said.
Plans call for Thompson Mill Road to become a secondary road, said town clerk Jennifer Scott.
Planning Commission members Kathy Schaaf and Rita Herren weren’t present for the meeting.


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.


Rainfall Fills City Reservoir
Seven inches of rain did wonders for the Commerce city reservoir.
Last week, not a drop of water was leaving the city reservoir in Banks County; the Grove River below the spillway was a series of shallow pools, and the reservoir was a foot below full pool.
Then the rains came, more than seven inches, starting Friday afternoon and going through mid-afternoon Sunday.
"We gained a foot and a half and the level is still climbing," said Bryan Harbin, director of water and sewer operations for the city.
As of Monday morning, the reservoir was eight-tenths of a foot above full pool and rising.
According to Harbin, the city was prepared to enforce more strict water conservation measures until the rain came.
"We were looking at having to do something this week, but we won't do anything now," he said.
The city watershed lake, though shallow, recharges fast. Its drainage basin reaches to Lula and an inch or two of rain anywhere in the basin helps keep the reservoir level high.
It's not that simple with the Bear Creek Reservoir, which is the primary water source for Jackson County, plus Athens-Clarke. Oconee and Barrow counties also take water from that facility, which is located in Southwest Jackson County.
The bad news is that the rain did not end the drought and the level of the reservoir is expected to continue to fall in the upcoming weeks. The good news is that, for a while at least, officials were able to pump more water into the lake.
Bear Creek gets its water by pumping out of the Middle Oconee River, which it had not been able to do since June 2 because of low river levels. That has led to a surprisingly fast drop in the water level in the lake.
But the rain enabled operators of the reservoir to crank up its three pumps Sunday morning, pumps that can add 60 million gallons per day to the reservoir.
In addition, once the level on the Middle and North Oconee rivers became sufficient, Athens-Clarke, which had been getting all of its water from the reservoir, began withdrawing from the rivers instead.
"We were able to increase the level of the reservoir about a foot, and we will continue pumping as long as we can," stated Kevin Williams, manager. That was not expected to be long. By Monday morning river flows were already falling.
The rain did not change the water restrictions imposed by Athens-Clarke and Jackson counties, however. All "unessential" outdoor use of water is banned.


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See Galilee Preschool Flyer


Investigators looking into suspicious car fire
Investigators are labeling an early morning car fire last week in the Mt. Olive Townhomes off Mt. Olive Road in Commerce as suspicious.
“We are getting the fire marshal’s opinion,” Jackson County chief investigator David Cochran said. “We don’t have anything back to see if accelerants were used.”
Shortly after 4 a.m. Thursday, the sound of a tire exploding and car alarms going off woke several residents in the new section of the complex. Residents found a 1996 Pontiac Sunfire burning in front of apartment 319. The car was completely destroyed in the blaze.
Commerce fire chief Johnny Eubanks said the fire apparently started near the back end of the car, a rarity for vehicle fires.
“The fire did not start in the engine compartment,” Eubanks said. “That’s not normally what you see in a vehicle fire.”
Eubanks also said the vehicle’s owner had not driven the car since 12 hours earlier on Wednesday afternoon.
A police report suggested that events surrounding the fire led to the possibility that it was deliberately set. According to the report, Regina Standridge, the car’s owner, said a woman she got into a fight with over Labor Day weekend may have started the fire.
A neighbor told police that after hearing the explosion and finding the car on fire, he ran outside and began spraying water on it with a garden hose. He said he saw fireworks spin “out from under the car.” The man also said the fireworks “spun and sparks flew out of the fireworks.”
Police are still investigating the incident. Cochran said he expects a report this week from the fire marshal’s office.


Water tank could become giant billboard
If all the details can be worked out, Jackson County will have its first 500,000-gallon billboard.
The Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority agreed at last Thursday’s meeting to discuss with Bluegreen Golf, the developer of Mulberry Plantation, a proposal by the developer to place the development’s logo on the water tank on Georgia 124.
Bluegreen has offered to paint the outside of the tank – at a cost estimated at about $60,000 – in exchange for getting to put its logo on the tank.
The tank sits on a hill on Georgia 124 and will be very visible from the proposed entrance to the 1,141-acre subdivision.
On a motion by Dean Stringer, seconded by Warren Walker and approved unanimously, the authority agreed to enter negotiations with Bluegreen to cover not only painting the outside of the tank, but also the inside.
The authority’s water engineer, Rob MacPherson, stated that the cost of the entire paint job, which would have to be done to standards required for water tanks, could approach $150,000.
Initial correspondence from Tomas R. Powers, division president, of Bluegreen Golf, states “as future repainting schedules occur, the community property owners association would be responsible to reimburse the authority” for subsequent repainting.


Art in the Park ahead this weekend
The 12th annual Art in the Park at Hurricane Shoals offered by the Tumbling Waters Society will be held this weekend, with events planned from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and from 12:30 to 5:30 p.m. Sunday.
The festival will include music, barbecue, art and craft vendors and Funland, and the old gristmill will be open, with fresh ground cornmeal available. Meanwhile, across the river, Heritage Village will be open, with the 44th Georgia Volunteer Infantry Re-enactors and Indians camping out both Saturday and Sunday. Children’s games, storytelling, hands-on crafts and other activities will be held in the village.
The 5K Mill Race and one-mile Fun Run or Walk will be offered again this year, as well as the Duck Dash. Race and run/walk fees are $15 on race day, or $12 before. Ducks can be adopted for $5 each or five for $20.
All proceeds are used to maintain and improve the park.
Schedule of Events
Saturday
Festival open 10 a.m.- 6 p.m.
•8:30 a.m. - One-mile Fun Run or Walk
•9 a.m. - 5K Mill Race
•11 a.m. -1 p.m. & 3-5 p.m. – Children’s games, toys, hands-on crafts, storytelling at Heritage Village
Sunday
Festival open 12:30-5:30 p.m.
•2 p.m. Covered bridge dedication ceremony (see separate story on page 3A)
•4:30 p.m. Duck Dash, grand prizes to be announced
For more information on the festival, contact Crystal Weise at 335-5563.