News from Banks County...

OCTOBER 9, 2002

Banks County


Banks County

Banks County

among all
Georgia weekly newspapers
by the Georgia Press Association

June 29, 2001

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Angela Gary
It’s past time to start Christmas shopping
If you haven’t started Christmas shopping yet, you better get busy. I’ve got well over half of the names on my shopping list marked off already.

Phillip Sartain
For Sale: Moronic Homeowner
The house I live in has a large attic. But that doesn’t mean you can put just anything you want up there. Even the simplest of minds will tell you not to put a queen-size mattress and box springs in your attic. It’s hard to do and it doesn’t make any sense. I did it anyway.

Frank Gillespie
For once, I agree with the McKinneys
We Southern ladies and gentlemen are required to look for areas of agreement with those whom we disagree. That is one of the meanings of “love your enemies.” Therefore, it is with great pleasure that I announce that I agree with Rep. McKinney’s latest statements.

Margie Richards
A treasure trove of memories
When I was a kid, my mother constantly chided me about being a pack rat. I saved everything: school papers, ticket stubs, cards, notes, old toys, etc.


Directions to Area Schools

Leopards taking on Dawson Tigers
Banks County could be playing one of two Dawson County teams this Friday.
They may play the Tigers that beat Apalachee and Athens Academy earlier this year. Or, the Leopards just might get the Tigers that fell 20-7 to Rabun County last week.

Neighboorhood News ..
BOC hires architect for new courthouse
The Jackson County Board of Commissioners agreed Thursday to hire an architect for the courthouse project despite hearing a request from one of its members that a decision not be made until the board considers an alternate site being suggested by Jefferson.

Jefferson offers county 25 acres for courthouse
The City of Jefferson is offering the Jackson County Board of Commissioners 25 acres to locate a new courthouse on.
The property is located on Hwy. 129, just north of the downtown area. It is between the new Hwy. 129 bypass and the old Hwy. 129.

Parking Ordinance Would Target
Downtown Owners, Employees
The city council won't act on it when it meets Monday night at 6:30 at the Commerce Civic Center, but it's preparing to enact a parking ordinance designed to keep local business owners and their employees from parking on the main streets in the downtown.

Grading Begins On New City Waste Treatment Plant
Earth moving equipment is feeding a steady parade of dump trucks as rough grading got under way last week at the site of Commerce's new waste treatment plant.

Neighboorhood News ..
Journey into Palestine
When Brad Smith, of Jubilee Partners in Comer, heard the call from an international organization called Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) for volunteers to go to Palestine last spring, he didn’t hesitate.

Work resuming on jail project
Work will finally resume on the new county jail.
Nicholson Professional Consulting of Roswell set up an office on the new jail site off Hwy. 98 this week.

Raising pay of paramedics a focus in budget talks
Despite a tight budget, Madison County leaders plan to raise the pay of county paramedics and EMTs in hopes of keeping qualified personnel from leaving the county.
The Banks County News
Homer, Georgia
Telephone: (706) 367-5233
Fax: (706) 367-8056


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This is an aerial photograph of Banks Crossing in the early 1970s. The road leading to the bottom right corner is Hwy. 441 going toward Homer. The road going to the top right corner is I-85 heading toward Atlanta. The Banks Crossing interchange has grown tremendously since this photo was taken. Debate is on-going on how to prepare and handle for future growth in the county.

Where is Banks County going?
Rarely do the county’s main entities ever get together in one session. But this week they did, at the request of the development authority, in a round table discussion about the county’s growth.
“I feel like this is the first correct move, as far as all the parties involved, for looking at industrial growth,” commissioner Ernest Rogers said.
And though the groups didn’t make any decisions, they came to one agreement—when growth happens, it’ll happen around Banks Crossing, Martin Bridge Road and the Hwy. 441 corridor.
A general consensus also originated that industrial and business growth will benefit the county while residential growth will not be as beneficial.
The development authority may call a similar meeting again in the future.
A summary of what each county entity had to say at Monday’s meeting and some of the key discussions follows.
BOC chairman Kenneth Brady said that a main factor in determining growth in the county will be the water and sewer availability.
“Water will be our most important asset, not only for growth but because our wells are going dry,” Brady said. “I’d like to see sewage stay at I-85 and not come this way because sewage plus water equals development.”
Brady also indicated that the county needed a growth plan, but that the plan could not be drawn up in just a few meetings and that it would need to be constantly changed.
“We will need to satisfy the population here and the population moving in,” he said.
Brady added that he wanted the county to “keep our rural areas rural.”
Rogers said he knew industrial growth would come to the county and that everyone needed to prepare to plan for it.
He also indicated the need for more industrial development over residential growth.
“It is ideal to have more industrial growth and minimal residential growth,” he said. “We need to strengthen our subdivision regulations to make them tougher than surrounding counties so more residential growth will happen in surrounding counties.”
Rogers estimated that for every dollar residential growth pays in taxes, the county pays $1.85 to service that growth. But for every dollar industrial growth brings in, the county only pays about $0.45 in services.
“We need a balance to have industrial growth coming in but not have fast residential growth,” Rogers said.
He suggested raising the minimum lot size to prevent high density developments.
As the front line on combating and controlling growth, the planning commission usually is the first group to see growth coming in.
Planner Alicia Andrews said she had spoken to a developer before Monday’s meeting and was pleased to learn how strict the county’s subdivision regulations are.
“What we’re doing makes it hard for them to come in,” she said.
Andrews added that as the county continues to grow, the planning commission will have to change regulations to keep up with the growth.
Ed Lindorme said he agreed with Rogers that the county needed to increase its minimum lot size from two acres. He also said growth would happen around the railroad tracks, along the major highways and in the areas where sewage service is available.
“Industrial development will be along I-85 and 441, not stuck out here in the boondocks,” he said.
Lindorme added that the county had a land-use plan detailing future growth areas. However, Lindorme disagreed with any idea to rezone areas of the county in anticipation for growth.
“I’ve heard talk that we ought to go on the new bypass and zone it commercial,” he said. “That’s the biggest mistake you could make.”
Lindorme explained that advanced rezoning opens the door to any number of businesses that wanted to open without any say-so by the BOC, planning commission or county citizens.
“If it’s already zoned C-2, then one of the most atrocious business can come in and we can’t do anything about it,” he said. “If you have to get it zoned, they are much more flexible on working with you. If you zone there ahead of time, you don’t have influence and you lose your control.”
Andrews also spoke Monday on behalf of the CVB since neither president Bonnie Johnson or executive director Sherry Ward were present.
Andrews said little about the CVB’s stance on growth, but did say the CVB was taking steps to increase tourism. She said projects like the beautification at Banks Crossing promote tourism at no cost to the county.
She explained that the funds used for those projects come from the hotel/motel tax and that it is not county money.
Development authority chairman Jack Banks said problems arise when the CVB claims the funds are not tax money.
“The problem is saying it’s not tax money,” he said. “It is tax money. It’s just a designated tax and that’s the only place it can go.”
The state allows a county to collect a five percent tax on money taken in by hotels and motels. The county allocates two percent of that tax to promoting tourism.
In Banks County, the two percent goes to the CVB. The money cannot be used by the organization or the county in any other way and must go toward promoting tourism.
School superintendent Deborah White explained that growth patterns within the school reflected growth patterns in the county overall.
She presented statistics showing approximately a two percent increase in enrollment over the past several years.
White added that the most growth occurred at the upper elementary and middle schools, an indication that many of the county’s new residents were established families.
“The subdivisions are such that they have established families moving in rather than first home buyers,” she said.
White also hinted at the school board’s plans for accommodating future growth. By the beginning of the 2004 school year, she hopes to have the new middle school running. The school will be able to hold 950 students, though she said predictions are to only have around 600 students when it opens.
The high school now has about 650 students but can accommodate nearly 950 as well.
White said the school board has long-term plans to keep the high and middle schools centrally located while possibly building new elementary schools in the northern and southern part of the county.
White added that when the new middle school opens, the school system may be reorganized into four schools, kindergarten through second, third through fifth, sixth through eighth, and ninth through 12th.
White said the school board needed direction from the county on future growth trends to help prepare for expansion in the school system.
“We need to know about population trends and we need some guidance on where residential growth and industrial growth will be so we can plan for the future and where to locate our schools,” White said.
She said the school system was working to increase test scores, teacher retention and quality of education to make the system more appealing.
President James Dumas said the chamber’s role was to support business in the county and help it make money.
He said Banks County has too heavily relied on Banks Crossing and should expand its business base.
“Our eggs are in one basket, retail sales,” he said. “We have very few eggs in any other basket.”
He suggested further industrial growth and said the chamber was interested in developing businesses with low infrastructure needs.
Chamber executive director Carole Moores said the county can have growth and maintain its rural character.
“We can bring in industry and still have subdivisions that we can manage and still have quality of life,” she said. “It’s doable.”
Though the development authority organized Monday’s meeting, its members probably spoke the least.
DA member Sam McDuffie said, however, that his main goal was the good of the county.
“We have all got to come together for the common good of Banks County,” he said.
McDuffie added that increasing lot sizes won’t stop growth.
“They will buy the land because someone will pay the price,” McDuffie said.
He also said the development authority was not trying to speed up growth.
“We don’t want to speed it up, we want to plan for it,” he said.
Banks, who lives near Banks Crossing, said growth would expand from those areas regardless of nearby landowner’s wishes.
“Growth is going to be down there whether landowners want it or not,” he said. “I live there. I know.”
Banks County Clean and Beautiful director Leslie George raised the issue of having a meeting to inform the public.
She suggested a Saturday public education session that would allow citizens to bring in their questions about growth and pose them to the different governing groups in Banks County.
George’s idea was met by skepticism.
Andrews said the county’s meetings are open to the public and they have a chance to speak at them.
“The problem is getting people to come,” she said. “You can put it in the paper and invite them and they still won’t come.”
Brady agreed that a public information session may not do much good.
“As long as things are running well, I don’t think Mr. and Mrs. Public want to bother us,” he said. “I think we are doing what Mr. and Mrs. Public want us to do.”
Dumas entered the notion that with larger lot sizes in Banks County, many people may not be able to afford to buy their own land and home.
He said the county’s kids were leaving to go to other cities where jobs and more affordable housing were being built.
Dumas raised the idea of planned unit developments (PUDs).
“If you have a PUD, you can tell a developer what to put there,” he said.
Lindorme disagreed, saying PUDs were a way to get around zoning regulations.
“You take an area and put in all types of mixed zoning,” he said. “It never meets the strict zoning requirements that you have in the rest of the county.”
Dumas said the county actually allows PUDs whenever it negotiates with a rezoning or conditional use applicant.
“You’ve got a fear of the term,” he said. “Just call it something else.”
Thought the Martin Bridge Road exit at I-85 was alluded to as an area for future industrial and commercial growth, the main topic of discussion for the area was infrastructure.
The interchange already has water availability though sewage at the area is in the air.
Lindorme said any developments that come into the area should pay the cost of putting in sewage capacity there, which he says could be done in a few months.
“We should not put it in ahead of time,” he said.
Banks, however, said the county needs to plan infrastructure to handle growth at the interchange.
Rogers said Martin Bridge was an area the county has considered for sewer expansion..
“That area is an area to look at for future sewage growth,” he said.
Exactly how that expansion would come about or when was not discussed Monday.
One major concern coming from Monday’s meeting was the amount of traffic at the Tanger II mall in Jackson County while the Tanger I mall and Commerce Factory Stores in Banks County have continued to sputter out.
“The worst mistake the county ever made was allowing Tanger to go to Jackson County and not dealing with them to get it in Banks County,” Andrews said.
Andrews indicated Tanger II’s location right next to I-85 drew in more customers.
“The visibility is in Jackson County,” she said. “That’s what they see.”
Most at the meeting were concerned with shoppers leaving Banks County to shop in Jackson County.
Dumas said he and Banks have gone to Tanger’s main office and convinced him to put Old Navy in the Tanger I.
“Without that visit, it would’ve been in Jackson County,” Dumas said. “We’ve got to work with that business community.”

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Sewage debacle
At a special called meeting last Wednesday, the Baldwin City Council sat down to figure out how to get past the problems plaguing the expansion of the city’s sewage treatment plant.
Hold ups from reluctant landowners to sign over rights-of-way and approval of the plant expansion from the environmental protection division have prevented the city from bringing the 800,000 gallons per day plant on line.
One of the landowners forced the city to go through a condemnation process. He also wants the city to lay the sewer lines at the level of the road even though part of his land, around 100 feet, rises some 35 feet above the pavement, said city attorney David Syfan.
Burying a sewer line to that depth is unacceptable to the council and the city engineer Fred Hawkins. Syfan is working with the landowner’s attorney to iron out the problem.
Mayor Mark Reed, who was visibly distraught over the situation, said: “We have a problem. Contracts have been signed and people are depending on us to provide them service. We need to identify the hurdles and overcome them.”
Hawkins said the plans have passed back and forth between his office and the EPD for months.
“They send them back with some questions,” he said. “We answer the questions, send the plans back and then the plans just sit there at EPD for a month or more. Part of the problem seems to be lack of understanding the way this system works.”
He also said the EPD employee working on the project had taken maternity leave and no one proceeded with it.
“I have repeatedly called them and asked for them to approve the plans,” said Hawkins. “I have gotten nowhere.”
Though the city has had approval on a 400,000 gallons per day (0.4 gpd) expansion for some time, the council saw the need to expand it by another 400,000 gallons per day to handle the load from the Lee Arrendale Correctional Institution and the new subdivision developments. It is this re-adapting of the plans that has the project in limbo with the EPD, said Hawkins.
While the city could go ahead with the plan and finish building the plant with the hope that EPD approval would come through, it would be a risk that could prove troublesome, said Hawkins, and the EPD could fine the city.
“I can’t recommend breaking the rules,” he said.
Reed asked if the plant, as it stands, could be adapted to run at the original 0.4 gpd already approved by the EPD.
Sonny McNeil, contractor for WPC Industrial, said the .4 gpd plant could be brought on line in 60 days with a few changes at a cost of around $40,000.
Reed said the council had two options: bring the .4 gpd plant on line and start collecting some revenue or continue building without the EPD permit.
McNeil said his main concern is the coming change of season that could bring rain and colder temperatures affecting the pouring of concrete to continue on with the expansion.
After further discussion, the council decided to try contacting legislators Rep. Jeanette Jamieson and Carol Jackson to ask for their help in pressuring the EPD to approve the plans and grant the permit.
Council member Ray Holcomb said it made good sense to continue with the construction and just operate the plant at the approved .4 gpd. However, he suggested waiting until all the options were explored.
The rest of the council agreed and said the subject would be discussed further at the next work session, Thursday, October 10, at 6 p.m.

Commissioners approve maximum jail price
Banks County now has a definitive maximum price on the new jail.
The board of commissioners approved a $3,199,480 guaranteed maximum price on the construction of the new jail.
The BOC will meet within the next few weeks with Sheriff Charles Chapman and project engineer R.W. Allen and Associates to make additions and deletions to the plan, which may lower the price of the jail.
Commissioner Ernest Rogers also wanted a break down of the square footage of each item listed in the cost estimate in order to double check some of the engineer’s figures.
The price the commissioners approved Tuesday night is not necessarily an exact cost of the project, but merely a maximum possible cost for the jail.
In other business, the BOC:
•tabled a decision on a change order to locate a land application system (spray field) for treated wastewater at the county farm. Rogers said his negotiations to keep the wastewater at Banks Crossing were going well and he needed a little more time to finish talks with all parties involved.
•rejected two bids on engineering work for Wilkinson Road. The BOC also voted to seek new bids for the project. However, the bids will only be for the road’s alignment, drainage and right-of-way work in order to cut the project’s cost.
•agreed to purchase a $9,800 mower from Thorne Equipment that will allow the county road department to mow in ditches and on the side of steep banks and give a wider cutting area.
•agreed to tentatively move the November 12 regular meeting to Thursday, November 7. Commissioner Pat Westmoreland requested the move because he plans to be out of town on Nov. 12. The move is contingent on whether the planning commission decides to meet that week. The planners’ next regular meeting falls on Tuesday, November 5, which is election night. It will likely be moved to another date as well.
The commissioners held a public hearing and voted on only three planning and zoning items.
The BOC unanimously approved Michael Bramonte’s request to open a teen game room in a building on Frontage Road.
The game room, which will have billiards and video games, will be open from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Wednesdays, 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays.
Bramonte said he will serve no alcohol at the game room.
He also said he had already opened his teen night club located next door to the game room. So far, he said, business has been good.
The commissioners also approved a change in the county’s sign ordinance to stop charging yearly renewal fees for signs.
A change in the subdivision regulations that requires a developer to designate right-of-way on class II and III subdivisions only was also approved. The new ordinance will no longer require additional rights-of-way on minor and family subdivisions.