By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
October 23, 2002
Halloween Aint What It Used To Be
Halloween ain't what it used to be.
Your children may not believe it, but once upon a time, on Oct. 31, kids would dress up as ghosts and headless corpses and go house to house collecting candy and other treats.
Our neighborhood streets were laid out on a grid, so we could visit 100 homes within a half mile. We never failed to garner less than a half grocery bag (made of paper back then) of candy, homemade confections and, alas, the occasional apple or orange. Flags might be at half-mast at the American Dental Association's office, but Halloween was a kid's sweet dream.
There was no public trick-or-treating. This was private enterprise and virtually every house in our town contributed. We'd go out in groups of two to 20, returning by 9:00 p.m. to explore the contents of our grocery store bags on the living room floor. We swapped candy and reported on the houses with the best treats.
Surprisingly, there was very little mischief. Occasionally, we heard rumor of someone throwing eggs, but the most severe crime was the soaping of a local teacher's windows with soap liberated from her bathroom. The culprits, who had asked permission to use the teacher's bathroom, were captured and probably held back a year based on evidence of stupidity.
Then the annual razor-in-the-apple scare came along, one of those urban legends that never actually happened but got repeated every year, like the drug-laced tattoos and make money at home on your computer.
Maybe those were the incentives for more controlled trick-or-treating like the downtown events in Commerce and Jefferson. We put all the kids in one place, parents hold their hands as they trick-or-treat and often the parents do the asking. (In fact, next Thursday night you'll find parents pushing an infant in a stroller and collecting candy on his or her behalf. I don't know which is worse, giving an infant candy or using an infant to collect candy for yourself, but it happens.)
The downtown event offers several advantages. First, it neutralizes trick-or-treating in residential neighborhoods, where kids could get run over by a car, mauled by dogs or where strange people may be offering anthrax spores or drug-laced Tootsie Rolls. It saves residents $10 per household in candy costs and allows them to watch the World Series without the constant interruption of the doorbell.
From the viewpoint of a parent, this is great progress. You know exactly where your kids are, a cop is always in view, no one is out after dark, all of the candy-givers are reputable and you can be sure that the cute little outfits you bought or made will be seen by all of your friends.
One might expect the kids to view this as another activity parents have taken over like recreation baseball, sanitized for the sake of fairness and safety and in which the fun and spontaneity are removed. Fortunately, none of our kids realize what theyre missing by not being able to go house to house. In 20 years, theyll look back with fond memories of this small-town event.
Halloween aint what it used to be, but dont let on to the kids.
The Jackson Herald
October 23, 2002
Disappointed in courthouse site fall-through
We would echo comments this week from commissioner Emil Beshara that we, too, are very disappointed that terms to purchase 200 acres near the Jefferson bypass for a new courthouse site fell through.
That site, north of Jefferson between Hwy. 129 and the bypass, is far superior a location for a courthouse complex than the proposed site on Darnell Road east of town.
It has been our contention all along that if the county was going to spend $20-$30 million dollars on this much-needed public facility, it should be put in a high-profile location in the community.
A courthouse is, after all, a symbol of the county in which it stands. To build it in a remote, backwoods location away from the main corridors of traffic not only makes it inaccessible to the public, but also undermines the symbolism of the building itself.
Understandably, county leaders dont want too many restrictions on any land they buy for a courthouse complex. Also understandably, property owners dont want other land in the area to be negatively affected by the courthouse complex.
Still, if the county proceeds with building a courthouse along Darnell Road, it will not be a project that the citizens of this county can take pride in.
For our $25 million, we want as many people as possible to see the symbol of our community. To hide it would be a shame.
By Kerri Graffius
The Jackson Herald
October 23, 2002
County budget a remarkable
The 2003 Jackson County budget is a remarkable document. Theres an old saying that if you want to know the real priority of a government, not just what officials say their priorities are, take a look at how they spend your tax money.
So lets take a look.
This years budget has been a struggle for county leaders. For one thing, it was late being put before the board of commissioners, despite the fact that additional employees are on hand to help with the countys accounting.
When it was finally presented to the board by county manager Al Crace, the budget included a proposed tax hike. But that idea met with immediate resistance by the BOC. Make it work without a tax hike, the board told Crace.
Whats remarkable is that Crace had the audacity to propose a tax hike in the first place. He knew that even with the millage rate staying the same as last year, the county would collect $1.2 million more in property taxes, thanks to growth in the digest and property reassessments.
Think about that: With no change in the millage rate, the county will get more than $1.2 million additional dollars, a 12 percent jump, yet the countys top bureaucrat wanted even more and was willing to get it off the backs of property taxpayers.
After hitting a brick wall with the board about the tax hike, Craces first instinct was no doubt to balance the budget by dipping into the countys reserve funds. But that idea apparently got nixed after he remembered that he and some of his bosses had been highly critical of the previous county administration for having done the same thing. Its hard to do what youve spent two years slamming others for having done.
So Crace and finance director John Hulsey spent a Saturday working on the numbers again. As if by magic, they found another $480,000 in revenue. In addition, they discovered a way to cut over $390,000 in expenses.
But one has to wonder why it took pressure from the BOC for Crace to find those dollars. Why wasnt the first budget right?
What Crace didnt cut, of course, was staff. Despite the fact that the nation is in a financial downturn and some local businesses are having layoffs and shutdowns, government continues to grow, and grow, and grow.
Crace also played some interesting games with the budget. For one thing, its structured now so that the county planning and zoning department will be forced to raise its fees, despite the fact that those fees have already been raised in recent months. Some BOC members want that anyway; Crace just made that decision easier.
But what makes this budget so remarkable is that despite all the wrangling, in the end it does not include any new county services or programs for those who pay the taxes.
Nada. Zip. None.
No animal control facility.
No new land for future parks and recreation fields.
Theres not even a dime in the budget to pay for the BOCs courthouse project or the new roads needed for the Toyota plant. That money will be borrowed next year and its payback discussed by the county later. (Which is the subject of several future columns.)
In short, the county budget is growing, but taxpayers arent getting anything additional for their money. All the extra tax money is going to pay fat bureaucratic salaries and more overhead. Regular county employees, except for deputies in the sheriffs department, wont even get a raise this year.
It isnt clear if Craces own salary will go up or not. The county manager is budgeted to earn $95,000 in 2003 and Crace says that does not include a pay hike for himself.
But one thing is clear: Although Craces contract called for him to be reviewed after six months, that has yet to happen.
Perhaps now, in the afterglow of this budget mess, would be the time to do that.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.
The Commerce News
October 23, 2002
City Making Sure All Pay Fair Share Of Taxes
Scores of Commerce property owners have discovered this month that the city is serious about collecting its property taxes. Scores more will soon learn the same thing as a second round of delinquent tax sale notices will be published.
Some of those people found their property advertised for sale in The Jackson Herald because the payment of ad valorem taxes slipped through the cracks during a property transaction. Most, however, may have been surprised that the property was put up for sale, but they knew full well that they'd never paid their property taxes. In some cases, tax payment was skipped because of hard economic times; more often it was because some people don't pay their bills until they're forced to.
Citizens who make a point of paying their bills on time, including tax bills, are delighted to see the city taking this step. Nothing erodes confidence in government more than the idea that some people get by without paying their taxes. Taxes are inherently unpopular, but they are much more palatable if everyone pays their fair share.
When property is sold from the steps of City Hall Tuesday, Nov. 5, it will be the first time the city has taken this step in more than a decade. In recent years, the city has been able to collect virtually all of the money without resorting to legal action other than a letter from the city attorney, but delinquencies are up for the 2000 and 2001 tax years.
The tax sale should send a message to the city's property owners that it is better to pay tax bills on time than to procrastinate and pay more later or even lose the property. Some property owners, to avoid the tax sale, will have to pay the tax, a $10 fi fa fee, a $150 collection fee and the cost of running the legal ad. Unless the tax bill is very high, that can be a significantly high late fee. In addition, many property owners probably find the public notification of their delinquency to be embarrassing.
The city will bring a new tax-collecting tool to the table in 2003. Business licenses will not be issued to businesses whose owners have not paid their 2002 property taxes. This means the office of a business person or professional can be closed Feb. 1 if the owner's 2002 property taxes are not paid.
All of these problems can be avoided if property owners will do what they're supposed to do: pay their taxes. We may all complain about tax rates and tax bills, but we expect all citizens to pay their fare shares.