News from Banks County...

JANUARY 29, 2003


Banks County
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OPINIONS
Jana Adams

The woman who cried skunk
I awoke one morning not too long ago to an awful stench in the house and to find my cat running at high speeds throughout the rooms, meowling an alarm with each step — wild animals in the house, wild animals in the house!

Phillip Sartain
Another soft spot
Living in a house with four females, it goes without saying that my manhood is always being tested. Most of the time, it’s just jealousy or envy. But sometimes, it hits a soft spot—like when my wife accused me of carrying a pocketbook.


SPORTS

Directions to Area Schools

Down the stretch
Losing to Rabun County Tuesday night couldn’t have come at a worse time for the Leopards.
A win would have nearly assured Banks’ boys (9-10, 2-3) of a third place finish in the subregion, keeping the team out of a play-in game come tourney time. But with the 53-48 loss to the Cats, the Leopards’ future remains uncertain.


Neighboorhood News ..
JACKSON COUNTY
Large crowd expected for water meeting Thurs.
BOC’s plans to takeover water authority to be discussed
County water officials are preparing for a large crowd at Thursday night’s public meeting to discuss plans by the Jackson County Board of Commissioners to takeover the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority.

County seeks legislation on airport, public building authorities
The Jackson County Board of Commissioners approved resolutions in a called meeting Friday morning seeking legislation to change the county airport authority and create a public building authority.

Governor’s Budget ‘Catastrophic’ For BJC Nursing Home
If Gov. Sonny Perdue's budget is enacted, the $1.1 million in lost revenue will have "catastrophic" consequences for the nursing home at BJC Medical Center, fearful officials reported Monday night.

Nicholson Residents Demand A Definition Of ‘Junk’ Cars
Nicholson city leaders said they wanted to incorporate citizen input in finalizing its new set of town ordinances and they certainly got that last Tuesday night.

County ‘judicial center’ gets tag of $22 million
The first phase of a new county judicial center on Darnell Road has a tentative price tag of $22 million for a 115,000 sq. ft. facility, according to figures compiled by architects for the county. The price does not include a proposed 1.3 mile four lane highway to connect the site to Hwy. 15 and Hwy. 82.


Neighboorhood News ..
MADISON COUNTY
The Gift of Friendship
Friends Joe Moore and Benjamin Scoggins typically spend Friday afternoons “just hanging out” together.

County contingencies dwindling
County contingencies are dwindling.
And with a new jail expected to open this spring, local leaders are hoping they won’t be forced to borrow money if jail operation costs are greater than expected.

Employee killed in accident at Trus Joist plant
A 20-year-old Athens man was killed by a piece of machinery he was working on at Weyerhauser’s Trus Joist Colbert plant early Friday morning.

Still 131.6 miles of dirt roads in county
There are 131.6 miles of dirt roads in Madison County and 178 roads with at least a portion of the roadway unpaved.

Annual Chamber meeting set for February 20
The annual Madison County Chamber of Commerce meeting will be held from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., Feb. 20, in the new Chamber office at the old county courthouse in downtown Danielsville.

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CHEERLEADING THE LEOPARDS

Ashley Turner (front) and Kayla Segars led the Banks County crowd in cheers during the Leopards’ win over Dawson County Friday night. See page 1B for more sports news.

Tax hike set in stone
In the final of its three public hearings on the proposed tax increase, the Banks County commissioners voted Thursday to raise the millage rate by 1.11 mills.
Newly-elected commissioner Rickey Cain, who wasn’t part of budget discussions for the tax year, abstained from the vote. Kenneth Brady and Pat Westmoreland voted in favor of the increase.
While the county has finalized its 8.096 millage rate, the school board’s rate won’t be set until it meets next month. The BOC will also meet on February 7 at 9 a.m. to approve the school board’s millage rate.
The tax digest will then be sent to the state department of revenue for approval and the county will begin sending out tax bills. The bills will be due 60 days after they are mailed out.
Eight citizens showed up at the hour-long public hearing Thursday, voicing their concerns on a declining Banks Crossing economy and rising taxes.
“Is this basically because of the stores closing?” Thomas Denton asked of the millage rate increase.
Brady explained that the tax hike was most affected by an increase in personnel and insurance costs that caused the budget to go up for the current year.
Cain said later in the meeting that the empty stores at Banks Crossing did have some effect on the tax base. However, he said the commissioners were going to meet with Stanley Tanger to talk about getting more stores on the Banks County side.
Answering a question from a citizen about the empty stores, Brady said the problem wasn’t due to any difference between Banks and Jackson counties but was a result of the declining economy and the fact that Jackson County had a newer Tanger mall.
Brady also pointed out that Jackson County has only one restaurant (Denny’s) and the new Tanger mall. All the other restaurants, all the motels, all gas stations, the Pottery and two outlet malls are in Banks County.
He added that several prospects were looking at the area who didn’t want their name released to the public yet.
TAXPAYERS BEAR
SMALL BURDEN
Brady said several times at the hearing that property owners were bearing only a small portion of the county’s operating costs.
About one-third of county revenues come from property taxes. A large portion comes from the local option sales tax (LOST), the hotel and motel tax and fines and fees the county assesses.
“If we had to pay everything without the sales tax, we’d have to pay about 13 mills in the county and probably about 40 altogether (counting the school tax),” Brady said. “I don’t think the public knows what all is coming into Banks County and how low we are paying.”
Brady pointed out that the county’s property taxes are some of the lowest in the state. He also said the county doesn’t spend money frivolously, pointing out that Banks County public officials aren’t paid near as much as in surrounding counties.
“I think the Banks County citizens are getting a value for their budget,” he said. “We’re holding this down as low as we can.”
However, some taxpayers still said it was too much.
“It’s hard for the handful of us that own land to keep up everything,” Denton said.
Denton went on to say he was disappointed that so few landowners were at the meeting and expressed fears that allowing the commissioners to increase the tax rate would only give them free reign to do so again soon.
“I’m most worried we won’t be able to have land because the government keeps raising taxes,” Denton said.
Commissioner Westmoreland said it wasn’t the government’s fault.
“You’ll find that it’s not the government,” he said. “It’s the real estate companies that speculate on land.”
He said the land speculations and transactions cause assessment values to rise, increasing the amount property owners pay in taxes.
Brady said the county was trying to keep from raising taxes anymore in the near future.
“Hopefully, we can hold it at this rate or below for the next few years,” Brady said. “We’ve been able to keep up with the cost of services with our income. Now, we need to adjust because services are outrunning our income.”
He added that some services in the budget could be cut out.
“If there is a service that the majority of the public wants cut out, then we can actually suspend that service if enough people want it out,” he said.
“WE’LL PAY MORE
IF WE GET MORE”
Some of the citizens at the meeting Thursday said they weren’t against paying more taxes if they get more services.
“I don’t mind paying for a service as long as we’re getting more service to pay for,” Greg Wells said.
However, Wells said he was concerned that taxes would get so high that his daughter would not be able to take over his poultry farm one day.
Wells’ wife, Delores, said she thought some departments needed more money.
“I think they’re stretched too thin,” she said of the sheriff’s office. “I can see an increase there, but not in other areas.”
GET INVOLVED
IN THE BUDGET
Several times during the meeting, the commissioners pointed out that citizens can attend and get involved in the county’s budget hearings.
The hearings normally begin in late spring when each department head comes before the board and presents a departmental budget.
“Y’all get the budgets and you can cut them if you want?” Wells asked.
Brady said the commissioners could cut departmental budgets and often do during the hearings.
“They must prove to us that they need it,” he said of the budgets. “We go through it line by line and it takes a lot of time.”
He added that the county’s budget was public record. Several citizens put in a request at the end of the meeting to get a copy of the nearly 100-page budget at a 25 cent per page cost.


Development authority wants sewer debt paid off
The Banks County Development Authority could soon have its Banks Crossing sewage system paid in full.
The DA voted in a called meeting Tuesday to draft a resolution requesting the board of commissioners use the county’s economic development funds to pay off the $802,200 principal on the bond debt.
The county has just over $1 million in an account from a .75 mill economic development tax that has been levied for the past 15 years. Since 1987, the funds have been used to pay the yearly payment on the debt for the Banks Crossing sewage system. And according to county attorney Randall Frost, the money can only be used for bond repayment until that debt has been satisfied.
The county pays nearly seven percent interest (twice the current average rate) on the bonds and stands to save several thousand dollars in interest payments over the next 13 years by relieving the debt early. The county will be able to use the money it saves on interest payments to finance other economic development projects.
The development authority commissioned member Horace Campbell, an attorney, to draft the resolution, which the board will review at a called meeting on Friday, February 7, at 8:45 a.m. During a BOC called meeting scheduled for 9 a.m. on the same day, the DA will present the resolution to the commissioners and ask them to pay off the debt immediately.
Further, once the sewage system is paid for, the development authority will transfer ownership to the county. The county currently handles maintenance and operation of the facility and has since 1999.
The DA agreed to ask the BOC for an early pay-off after learning Tuesday that it doesn’t have any control over the economic development tax.
After discussions at a meeting several weeks ago, the development authority thought it had control of the funds, pending more research into the subject.
However, county clerk Jenni Gailey said Tuesday that documents drafted when the tax was levied specify that the BOC has complete control over the funds, including any decisions about how the money is spent.
Should the board of commissioners vote to pay off the bond debt early, the DA will likely approach the BOC soon about using some of the $230,000 that will be left over in the development fund to fulfill an agreement the county entered into several years ago to build a road between Hwy. 59 and Industrial Boulevard.
As part of that agreement, a property owner gave the county land to construct a water line from Hwy. 59 to Banks Crossing to fill a tower and supply water to the area. The landowner was also giving the county and the development authority a two-year option on the property to decide what would be built in the area. In exchange, the county would build the road.
The option has since expired and there is no road. However, commission chairman Kenneth Brady said in an interview Tuesday afternoon that the county must uphold its end of the agreement and build the road. If the county doesn’t build the road, it will be forced to take up the water line and lay a new line along Hwy. 59 and up Hwy. 441 to Banks Crossing.
“Anytime there is an agreement put in by a previous commission, we are obligated to do what was negotiated by them unless we feel it is a detriment to Banks County to fulfill that agreement,” Brady said. “But if we don’t have the money, we don’t have the money. And that’s another horse.”
If the county can pay off the sewage debt early, it can use the remaining economic development funds for the road project. Banks County will probably get additional funds from the state department of transportation for the project.
Because the development authority held the called meeting Tuesday, the DA canceled its February 13 regularly scheduled meeting.



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Lula to hold public hearing on RR bridge
The Lula City Council will hold a public hearing on the future of the 60-year-old railroad bridge. The hearing will be held during the regular monthly council meeting at 7 p.m. on Monday, February 17, at city hall.
Southern Railroad wants to turn the bridge over to the city. Representatives have told the council that Southern will not repair the bridge again.
Southern representatives had offered the city $50,000 to take over the bridge last year. The city refused.
Councilman Mike Ostrander suggested if the offer of the $50,000 still stands, the city place the money in a special account building interest or dividends so repairs could be maintained. If the railroad withdraws the monetary offer, he said: “Forget it. Let them keep it up.”
Ostrander discussed closing the bridge to vehicle traffic and using it only as a foot bridge.
The bridge is one of two ways residents have in crossing over the tracks running through the middle of town. The other is an underpass. Both are restrictive as emergency vehicles nor school buses can traverse them.
The council has been working with the Lula Area Betterment Association to have the bridge declared a historical structure to prevent it from being torn down. Southern Railroad representatives have refused to allow the historical designation and have stated the company would not absorb the costs involved with maintaining the bridge. The railroad’s preference is to pass it on to the city.
Mayor Milton Turner said the matter would be discussed fully during the public hearing when all the information on the bridge and Southern Railroad’s offer would be available.


Half of BCHS loses power Fri.
Classrooms in half of Banks County High School were without power and heat last Friday after a transformer malfunctioned there.
Principal Wayne McIntosh said power was out from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Georgia Power crews had to replace a transformer that supplied power to the left half of the school.
Some kids were moved into the cafeteria and auditorium to continue regular instruction.


Jamie Ayers on active duty in Kuwait
One of the first area residents serving in the military has been called to active duty. Jamie Ayers is now on active duty in Kuwait.
Anyone with information on other local residents who have been recently called to active military duty are asked to contact the paper. Send their name and information about them to: Angela Gary, The Banks County News, P.O. Box 920, Homer, GA 30547; email AngieEditor@aol.com; or call 367-5233. Information can include the soldier’s name, hometown, age, family, educational history, branch of military, latest military post, rank, military history and any other interesting and pertinent information. Photographs are accepted.