News from Jackson County...

JANUARY 29, 2003


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SPORTS

Panthers to play the underdog role at Cedar Shoals on Friday
The Jackson County boys will look to play the role of spoiler this Friday when they travel to face off against the unbeaten and No. 3 ranked Jaguars from Cedar Shoals.

Lady Tigers Setting Sights High As Region Tournament Nears
Thanks to a clutch 42-40 win over subregion foe Prince Avenue, Commerce can finish no worse than third out of Region 8-A South.
But don’t expect Don Watkins’ club to be content with that.

Dragons to meet Towns County today for first-place in 8-A North
About the only thing certain about tonight’s make-up game between the Jefferson boys and Towns County is that when the final buzzer sounds, one of the two teams will have sole possession of first-place in 8-A North. Meanwhile, the other will have suffered their first subregion loss.


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.


Neighborhood News...
BANKS COUNTY
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.

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.

Development authority wants sewer debt paid off
The Banks County Development Authority could soon have its Banks Crossing sewage system paid in full.

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Gas spill leads to school evacuation

An overturned gas truck on Hwy. 129 on Tuesday led to South Jackson Elementary School being evacuated and the road being closed for several hours. A gas tanker truck driven by Philip Benard Brown, 25, Athens, overturned, spilling 500 gallons of gas at the scene. SJES students were taken to Jackson County Comprehensive High School where they stayed for the remainder of the school day. Communications equipment officer J.L. Barrett, Gainesville State Patrol Post, said Hwy. 129 was closed until 7:45 p.m. Monday. The wheels of his tanker traveled into a ditch causing the truck to overturn onto its side. The truck’s capacity was 9,000 gallons. The truck is owned by Petro Express.Brown, as well as a passenger in the tanker, Lamont Johnson, 37, Athens, were both slightly injured and were transported to Athens Regional Medical Center. None of the injuries were thought to be serious, officials said.

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.
The meeting will be at 7 p.m. in the auditorium of Jackson Electric Membership Corporation in Jefferson.
The meeting was called by the water authority after the BOC announced plans three weeks ago to seek legislation that would gut the functions of the authority and shorten board terms to one year.
Several municipalities in Jackson County are expected to present resolutions at the meeting opposing the takeover effort. The Jefferson City Council is expected to meet Thursday to adopt a resolution opposing the takeover and four members of the Hoschton City Council spoke against the idea last week (see separate story.) Nicholson has already adopted a resolution opposing the move.
In addition, the proposal has met with strong opposition from the Jackson County Homebuilder’s Association and a number of petitions are being circulated in a door-to-door campaign to oppose the BOC’s plans.
While details on the format of Thursday’s meeting were still being worked out at presstime Wednesday, authority officials said they planned to briefly outline the issue at the meeting, then open the podium for the public to make comments. Officials are also considering a system to allow audience members to ask questions about the proposal.
In addition to members of the BOC, the five members of Jackson County’s legislative delegation have been invited to the meeting. The BOC’s proposal requires legislation to change the makeup and operating structure of the water authority.
VOTE POSTPONED
Meanwhile, the BOC delayed a vote on the takeover proposal until after Thursday’s meeting. The BOC plans to vote on a resolution calling for legislation Monday night at its regular meeting.
Last Friday, the BOC again discussed the issue in a called meeting. Commissioner Emil Beshara said he favors the board’s original proposal that calls for the county to take over the day-to-day operations of the water and sewerage authority, voids three contracts with Jefferson and three other long-term contracts, and shortens the terms of authority members to two years.
Beshara said water and sewer would be a new county department under the direction of public works director Stan Brown.
Beshara said that the decisions on where SPLOST lines are located and planning for future expansion would continue to be made by the water and sewerage authority. He added that the BOC could approve a resolution stating that the water authority remain to have the authority to make decisions on where lines are located.
Beshara said the BOC has not proposed a “takeover” of the water authority.
“I welcome any public input regarding what has actually been proposed,” Beshara said. “It doesn’t accomplish anything to have people whine and rail against something that has not been proposed. We have not proposed a takeover of the water and sewer authority. We have not proposed that the BOC have control over the expansion of the water and sewer system funded by SPLOST. We’ve proposed to assume day-to-day operation as a county department...We have not proposed any change to the current system of allowing the water and sewer authority members to continue to have sole authority to identify the expansion of the water and sewer system through SPLOST.”
SECOND PROPOSAL
A second proposal on the matter called for two members of the board of commissioners to serve on the water authority. Beshara said he doesn’t favor that proposal.
BOC chairman Harold Fletcher said the second proposal came after a meeting he had with water and sewerage authority chairman Elton Collins. He said he thought it was a good compromise. It was later rejected by the authority.
“I think it’s a plan that could be workable,” he said. “It addresses most of the concerns this body has. I’m convinced it was an opportunity for us to mitigate some of the differences we have with the water authority. I personally would like to see us to continue to consider that.”
HUDGENS AT MEETING
Sen. Ralph Hudgens, one of five legislators representing Jackson County, was at the BOC meeting last Friday and asked for an explanation of what is going on with the water authority.
Beshara told him that making water and sewer functions a county department would save on any duplication of services by “consolidating management positions.” He discussed in detail manager Jerry Waddell’s position with the authority and said he has “no experience, education or training” to run a water department.
He also spoke on the monthly payments the county owes for the Bear Creek reservoir. He said the water and sewer authority needs to sell about two million gallons of water per day to make this payment. He added that they have been selling one million gallons per day.
“The local governing authority has the responsibility for the debt, but has had all control over how that water is distributed, marketed and delivered taken from the BOC to the water authority,” he said. “Ultimately, that debt is backed by property taxes.”
BOC chairman Harold Fletcher also spoke on the debt.
“If we are going to be obligated as the elected county officials, then we should have some say on how the revenue side is being handled,” he said. “That’s all we’re saying. We’re not wanting to do away with the water authority...We feel certain there is a problem and we feel we have an obligation to address it.”
FLETCHER BLASTS PAPER
Fletcher also spoke about an article in last week’s issue of The Jackson Herald on the MACI project being endangered by the legislation proposed by the commissioners. He called this a “red herring thrown out to make us look bad.”
The article quoted water authority officials as saying that the project is being held up because it is unclear exactly who the recipient would be, the BOC or the water authority.
Chris McGahee of the Northeast Georgia Regional Development Center attend the meeting to address this allegation. He said the grant funds would not be impacted by the effort and that no funds are being held up because of the controversy.
“There are a lot of emotions involved in this,” Fletcher said. “We have seen certain members of the news media engage in the dissemination of misinformation to further his cause. He is opposed to this and he is going to disseminate.”
Fletcher then held up last week’s front page, with the headline “MACI project endangered by takeover attempt?” and called it a cross between “sloppy journalism” and “yellow journalism.”
Fletcher also asked public works director Stan Brown to give an update on the road work needed for the MACI project.
Brown said the Georgia Department of Transportation has pledged $1.4 million and consultants were hired in November for these projects. He said the work is on schedule and he has met with MACI representatives.
“The bottom line is that we are on schedule,” Brown said.


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.
Without legislative approval, Perdue already enacted cuts effective Feb. 1 that will cost the facility more than $417,000 this year; the additional cuts proposed in the budget will slice almost another $615,000 from a facility that already operates in the red. Those figures represent the reduced level of state Medicaid plus the corresponding reduction in the federal match, which is $2 for every state dollar.
Nobody is predicting closed doors yet at BJC Nursing Home, but neither has anyone yet come up with an operating plan should Perdue's plan be passed.
The president of the Georgia Nursing Home Association predicts that the cuts in state Medicaid funds will cause a quarter of the state's 357 nursing homes to close. Fifty-one percent of the state's nursing homes operate in the red already; seven filed for bankruptcy last week.
What makes the cuts so frustrating is that for every dollar of state Medicaid trimmed, a federal match of $2 is also gone, says David Lawrence, BJC administrator, with the result amounting to a one-seventh decline in revenue.
"If you're in business and you cut a seventh of your revenue, can you survive?" he asked. "There are other things they can cut in the budget that don't have matching funds."
The medical industry across the state has already been cut by four percent in Medicaid services and the budget proposal lops off another six percent, so legislators can expect to hear from all areas of medicine in the state.
"Nursing homes are different," Lawrence insisted, noting that virtually all of them are weighted by heavy (80-100 percent) Medicaid patients. "We're 92 percent Medicaid."
The hospital's patient load is about 14.5 percent Medicaid, and would suffer more than $50,000 in lost revenue, said Oscar Weinmeister, assistant administrator.
Statewide, hospital and nursing home operators are launching a massive lobbying campaign to convince the Georgia Legislature to find other areas from which to cut funds. Already, families of nursing home residents are being asked to contact their legislators. At Monday night's meeting of the BJC Medical Center Authority, the board agreed to draft sample letters for family members to sign and mail to legislators.
"It's going to be very, very important to get this thing turned around," Lawrence concluded.
"The real victims are patients in the nursing homes and their families, who have made plans based on 'this is the way things are,'" said Charles Blair, chairman.
Commented member Don Brown, "There will be seven weeks of hearings (before a state budget is approved). It will be interesting to see how serious the governor and the legislators are about health care and the care of the elderly in particular."
In other business, the authority:
•accepted the recommendation of its medical staff and granted active staff privileges to Dr. Paul Sergent and courtesy staff privileges for emergency room physician Brian Sleigh.
•approved the expenditure of $18,900 for roof repairs and $14,917 for five new "med carts."
•accepted a two-year contract with Reliance Standard Insurance for long-term disability insurance. The $24,850 annual premium represents a savings of more than $13,000 per year.
•unanimously re-elected Rick Massey to another term on the authority.
•learned that the BJC Medical Center Auxiliary is buying six wide wheelchairs, 100 pairs of baby booties and an exercise machine.
•approved a fund-raiser for the American Heart Association.
•heard that during December, the hospital had an average of 11.8 patients per day; and that the nursing home has 165 residents.


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.
The price tag was part of a master plan report presented to the Jackson County Board of Commissioners Friday morning by architects Cooper Carry. The BOC is expected to take some action on the master plan when it meets Monday at 7 p.m. in the Administrative Building in Jefferson.
Jerry Cooper and other members of the team planning the Jackson County courthouse spoke on their proposal during a one and a half hour presentation Friday. The firm’s concept is to create a “campus” on 160 acres along Darnell Road, starting with a new 115,000 sq. ft. judicial building. That facility is proposed to have two additional phases in the future to expand it to 160,000 sq. ft. It would initially have four courtrooms and a hearing room that would expand to 10 courtrooms with the later additions. The plan has a 25-year window.
The report also outlines potential future sites for a new administrative building, an amphitheater, lake and sites for professional offices.
At Friday’s meeting, Cathy Daslcalakis, a judicial planner with Cooper Carry, said the third floor of the judicial center would have offices for the Superior Court, two Superior courtrooms and a ceremonial courtroom. The ceremonial courtroom could be used for large trials and ceremonial programs, she added.
The second floor would have four courtrooms, the office for the state, magistrate and probate court judges and offices for juvenile court, the district attorney, state court solicitor and the public defender.
The first floor would have the clerk of court and other judicial support offices, a law library, grand jury room and lounge area with vending machines.
The basement will have holding cells for inmates brought in for court proceedings. A sally port will also be in the basement for the bus to take the inmates to the facility. This will all be underground. A portion of the basement will be unfinished and could be used for storage.
Vivian Blackmon spoke on the meetings Cooper Carry has held with judges, court officials and area attorneys in developing the master plan.
Also at the meeting, Mark Elliott spoke on the possibility of locating a 400-bed jail on the site, near the current state detention center. Sheriff Stan Evans said he didn’t agree with the proposed location of the jail. The architects agreed to set up a meeting with him to get input on where the jail would be located on the site.
Elliott said that a fire burn building, 911 center, fire station and agricultural/ multi-purpose center could also eventually be located on the property. There are no immediate plans for these projects.
SITE OVERVIEW
The report also discussed issues related to the Darnell Road site, including the need to be prepared to build a storm water detention and treatment system to take care of runoff from parking lots and roads at the site. Since the Darnell Road site drains into the City of Jefferson’s drinking water system, the report predicts the city will enact some kind of storm water ordinance to “mandate that all developments in the watershed provide water quality treatment... in addition to storm water detention requirements.” The city currently has a storm water moratorium in place for the watershed.
The report also states that rock outcroppings on the site indicate a “presence of rock.” It says known boring locations are “inadequate” to determine the volume of rock at the site and that additional borings are needed. It warns that assessing the expense of moving rock and other subsurface conditions may affect the cost of the project.
The report also outlines road needs at the site. The master plan includes a 1.3 mile four-lane divided curbed “parkway” to connect between Hwy. 15 and Hwy. 82. Traffic signals at the two intersections may be needed, the report says.
Nearly a mile of sewerage line will be needed to connect to the City of Jefferson’s 12-inch sewer main along Hwy. 82. The report states that an eight to 10-inch line could provide service to the site.
Flow testing in water lines in the area are needed to determine the exact needs for the site, the report states.
Financing of the project was not discussed at Friday’s meeting.

 

 


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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.
The proposed legislation on the airport calls for a change in the terms and the make-up of the authority.
The resolution calls for two-year terms. The five members, one from each district and one at-large, would be appointed in January 2004.
Additional proposed changes would grant the county government responsibility of the day-to-day operation of the airport. The county currently provides informal day-to-day oversight of the airport.
The airport authority was created by an act of the legislature in 1964.
The public buildings and facilities authority would be in place to providing financing for public buildings for county and city governments, school systems and other county authorities. The resolution lists a jail and ambulance service center as two of the facilities that could be funded through this authority. It could also be used to finance a new courthouse. Commissioner Sammy Thomason asked whether roads could be funded through this authority. County attorney Daniel Haygood said it was set up for buildings and other structures, not roads.
There would be five members on the building authority to be appointed in the same manner as those on the airport authority. The terms would also be for two years.


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.
In an hour-long public hearing, the audience shared its thoughts on three new ordinances presented by the city but spent the bulk of that time voicing displeasure over the city's proposed landfill and junkyard ordinances, demanding a more precise definition of what exactly constitutes "junk."
The council said it would take all the citizens' complaints and suggestions into consideration at its work session Thursday and would continue to consult with Lee Carmon of the Regional Development Center who was also present at the hearing to help explain the ordinances.
Nicholson city leaders will also hold a future public hearing to discuss codes dealing with domestic animals and the discharging of firearms in the city limits.
In the debate over the junkyard and landfill ordinance, many felt threatened that items around their homes may unfairly fall under the category of unused "scrap, waste, reclaimable material or debris" given the broad language in the ordinance.
Unused automobiles quickly became the focal point of the discussion as residents said many in the city frequently dismantle older cars in order to restore them.
The council said it had no problem with citizens fixing up automobiles, just as long as an abundance of them didn't sit visibly disassembled for an extended period of time, prompting a few in the crowd to demand a clarification of what timetable Nicholson leaders had in mind.
Nicholson mayor Ronnie Maxwell attempted to clarify the whole matter by saying that the regulations were aimed to keep landfills from coming into the city and that it had no current plans to hire a marshal to come inspect people's property.
In less heated conversation, several raised questions over the fairness of the city's proposal to prohibit mobile homes over five years old from coming into the city under its residential development regulations. Some citizens felt a fairer approach would be make all mobile homes—no matter what the age—meet certain city inspection standards.
Inquires were also raised over if inspection fees would be charged for additions to homes under the city's proposed minimum standard codes. For new home sites, the ordinance calls for a $150 inspection fee the first 1,000 square and $50 for each additional 1000 square feet but doesn't have a provision for adding square footage on to an already existing home.
The new ordinances discussed last Tuesday are part of Nicholson's first-ever land use which city leaders describe as an alternative to zoning and have been working on since the middle of last year.


Rep. Elrod called to active duty
Rep. Chris Elrod has been called to active military duty.
Elrod, a member of the Coast Guard Reserves, is now in Charleston, S.C., where he will be stationed for up to one year.
Elrod will likely miss most of this legislative session, although his active duty status could change depending on what happens in Iraq.
Elrod, a Republican from Jefferson, began his first term this year. He asked that anyone who would like to contact him about legislative issues should send an e-mail to voteelrod@alltel.net.


Braselton sets retreat
The Braselton Town Council will hold an all-day retreat in March to discuss various items for the town.
The retreat will be held at the Braselton-Stover House on Hwy. 53 on Monday, March 3, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
During a called meeting on Thursday, the town council also approved qualifying fees for November’s meeting.
The qualifying fees will be $36.
The seats of council members Bruce Yates (District 1) and Elise Cotter (District 3) will be up for election.