News from Banks County...

JANUARY 1, 2003


Banks County
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OPINION PAGE

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OPINIONS

Angela Gary
Cheers, tears and jeers to the newsmakers of 2002
Local news is always informative and often entertaining. The news that made the headlines in 2002 from across Banks County was varied and caused readers to nod their heads in agreement, laugh out loud and even cry.

Shar Porier
Reeling in the years
For two weeks, the boxes had sat there. I kept passing them by, not wishing to take that trip where shadows of memories would overwhelm me and the tears would fall.


SPORTS

Directions to Area Schools

Lady Leopards in final
The Commerce gym has been kind to Lady Leopards coach Robert Sain.
Both his wins so far this year have come there, and he has a chance for his third one Monday night (see editor’s note above).


Neighboorhood News ..
JACKSON COUNTY
Landing industries, seeking unity keeps Scott Martin on the run
Jackson County has a long, tainted history of sectional infighting. That’s partly due to its large size, and partly due to having a plethora of local government entities.

BOC moves forward on courthouse despite controversy
A new courthouse is something that has been needed in Jackson County for a long time. No one disputes the need for the facility. One only has to spend a little time in the courtroom or the clerk’s office to see the need for more space and a more modern facility.

Drought, Water Were Top Stories Of The Past Year
Usually when the weather dominates the news, it is the extremities of weather, storms or floods that wreak havoc with dynamic suddenness.


Neighboorhood News ..
MADISON COUNTY
The industrial divide
A government purchase of land off Hwy. 72 for a proposed second county industrial park sparked months of controversy early in 2002.
The ordeal was perhaps the most notable land development conflict in the county in years and thus earned The Journal’s “Top Story of the Year for 2002.”

Animal shelter opens in Madison County
After years of anticipation, a Madison-Oglethorpe Animal Shelter opened in December.

Business faces contamination allegations
One of Madison County's biggest businesses, Trus Joist, faced criticism this year from those who believe the company may not be acting in an environmentally responsible manner.

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LEADING THE WAY

Jack Banks has worked behind the scenes in 2002 as the development authority chairman to get county citizens and officials to think about growth and how to handle it.

To grow or not to grow
Nineteen buildings currently sit empty at Banks Crossing—that’s 19 opportunities for additional sales tax revenue that sit unused.
Just two months ago, only 17 buildings were unoccupied, as two more restaurants have since closed their doors, falling victim to competition and a declining economy.
And not a single one of those empty buildings is on the Jackson County side of Banks Crossing. All of them are in Banks County.
Early this year, one group, the Banks County Development Authority (DA), recognized the need to diversify the county’s tax base in case Banks Crossing’s commercial support goes under.
The DA mobilized public officials, organizing a rare joint meeting between the county’s main entities. The authority also plans more meetings to involve citizens and take their input on growth in the county and to disseminate additional information.
And some of the DA’s comments during the year have sparked a flurry of letters from residents, some good and some bad. The authority’s actions and comments have brought growth to the forefront of public discussion all year.
And one man stands behind-the-scenes to make it all work as the group’s leader and primary organizer—the 2002 Newsmaker of the Year, Jack Banks.
JACK BANKS
Jack Banks’ name hasn’t been in the headlines much during the year. In fact, he hasn’t made headlines at all. But the group he leads, the development authority, has.
Banks, the four-year DA chairman and seven-year member, isn’t shy to express his opinion on growth, realizing that there are those that tend to disagree.
And why should he be? He practically lives at Banks Crossing and has experienced the effects of growth on his rural life first hand.
“We should be encouraging development in Banks County,” Banks said about the DA’s role. “We wanted that to occur at Banks Crossing and the 441 corridor and along Martin Bridge Road. But I’m not sure that that’s the opinion of all the people in the county.”
Though Banks, along with several other DA members, has pushed for a more active board to encourage “smart growth” in Banks County, others have expressed concerns that the board may have overstepped its bounds.
At a meeting in June, authority member Horace Campbell warned his fellow members about facilitating land deals between property owners and prospective businesses.
“We need to be cautious in our roles as development authority members,” he said at the time. “My concern is that we’re getting too proactive and getting involved with property owners who make money.”
And Banks County Board of Commissioners Chairman Kenneth Brady also expressed concerns about the DA’s view of its role in the county.
“They were not put together as a group of people that go out and bring business in to the county,” Brady said in August. “Once a business contacts them, they are supposed to help them hook up to sewer and get infrastructure.”
Brady also explained that the DA was put in place as a tool for the county to borrow long-term funds, usually for infrastructure projects like sewer and water improvements. In fact, the Banks Crossing sewer treatment facility was financed through the authority.
But despite any negative views of its role, the DA has chugged along. In January, one member said the board was being too passive.
“We have got to promote Banks County,” Tom Wilson said. “We’re sitting here piddling around wasting time.”
And all along, other board members have stressed the DA’s role of making it easier for prospective businesses to find out information about the county and contact officials for meetings.
Usually, Banks is one of the county’s main contacts, often meeting with prospects, making phone calls and gathering information—a job not often in the spotlight.
He has also had a major hand in the development authority’s push to organize a meeting to bring county officials together and share ideas on growth and the future of Banks County.
A RARE MEETING
In August, Banks proposed a meeting between county officials to discuss growth. The development authority liked the idea and it grew from there.
Two months later, a rare meeting between six county entities became reality as the BOC, the planning commission, the BOE, the development authority, the CVB and the chamber of commerce came together.
“That’s one of the best things that has occurred over the past year,” Banks said. “We got all the boards and commissioners to sit down and think about this. We feel like we got everybody’s opinion on how they see the county now and thoughts on where to go. That’s one of the main things we did this year.”
The meeting churned out some similar ideas, like the need for industrial growth and the likelihood of most growth occurring along the major transportation thoroughfares.
But there was also disagreement as some groups didn’t see the need for more extensive plans for county growth, citing the existence of a land use plan.
However, Banks and his authority have trudged through it all and its members continue to press the issue of diversifying Banks County’s dwindling tax base.
“The wave is coming,” as Jerry Boling put it. “We can’t wait around and wait around to act. We must act now or we’re going to lose the opportunity.”
And as far as the development authority goes, they aren’t waiting around.
The DA already has started talks about a second meeting around March, this one involving the public. The meeting will likely give residents a chance to express their ideas on growth and Banks County’s future.
And, the DA has plans to work on a road connecting Banks Crossing with Hwy. 59, giving the opportunity for light industry to locate in the area with quick I-85 access and frontage.
Too, the DA has throughout the year brought in speakers to educate the members themselves.
GIVE US INFORMATION
Banks has commissioned and encouraged his fellow authority members to line up guest speakers—speakers who can help them understand some of the complicated issues behind growth and growth management.
He himself has lined up speakers and will bring a group before the DA next month to talk about alternative wastewater disposal and treatment methods.
During 2002, economic forecasters, utility company representatives and trade and tourism officials have spoken to the development authority, all in the hopes that its members will become better able to promote Banks County in an effort to bring in more diversity.
DIVERSIFY,
DIVERSIFY, DIVERSIFY
Diversity in the county tax base has been uttered almost non-stop in 2002, especially among the development authority.
“If we don’t do something to diversify, we could just become a bedroom community for other counties surrounding us and it will be up to taxpayers and the ad valorem taxes to pay for what we have in Banks County,” Banks said. “We need to diversify. We’ve got commercial but we need some industry to help offset the tax burden.”
Outside eyes that have spoken to the DA have expressed similar views about diversity, though many in the county have cast speculation on the ability of an outsider to tell Banks County what’s best for Banks County.
Though the view that the county must grow in the right way in order to keep property taxes down hasn’t gotten a favorable response from some residents and public officials alike, Banks and the DA have continued to preach that message throughout 2002.
And as the county heads into the new year, Banks will likely be right there in it again, working with the DA and behind the scenes to promote smart growth, diversify the tax base and bring together public officials and county residents under one roof to hash it all out.



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School system makes changes at the top
For the past several years, the upper level administration within the Banks County School System has been fairly stable.
Deborah White has been superintendent for three years. Travis Moon had been elementary school principal for 14 years.
Jan Bertrang had led the high school for four years. And Janice Allen had been the upper elementary school principal since the school’s inception in 2000.
But during the year, those positions changed.
White announced in November her intentions to resign at the end of the school year.
She cited her concerns about irreconcilable differences with the board of education and the lack of “support and cooperation necessary for cooperative leadership.”
The board has started a search for her replacement.
Early last year, Moon announced he would be retiring from his position at the elementary school. He said in March that he wanted to spend more time with his family and accomplish “many things” before his Parkinson’s Disease became a problem for him.
Bertrang left her job at the high school to fill Moon’s vacancy. The 24-year school system veteran said she wanted to work with the younger children and have the opportunity to spend more time with her family.
The board of education later hired Wayne McIntosh from a school in South Carolina to be the new high school principal. At the time, some teachers at the high school were requesting that then assistant principal Lloyd Shaddix get the job.
He did not and later resigned to take a position in Pickens County. Pam Goodman was hired in May to replace Shaddix.
At the upper elementary school, Allen left as principal to become the school system’s K-3 instructional supervisor. The board tapped Richard Townsend from Jefferson to head the school.
And just down the hall at the middle school, Matthew Cooper came in as the new assistant principal, replacing Jeff Webb, who resigned early in the year.
In another key change, football coach Greg Moore dropped his athletic director position. The role was given to newly-hired girls’ basketball coach Robert Sain last spring.