News from Banks County...

FEBRUARY 12, 2003


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OPINIONS
Shar Porier

‘Check the hat’
I thought I had it figured out. I called the airline before my flight to see what new changes had been made as far as carry-on items and security checks. It had been five months since my last flight and I wanted to know what to expect.

Phillip Sartain
The scene of the accident
As a general rule, I try to be careful about what I watch on television. Most of the stuff on TV is pretty bad. But by far the worst programs are television shows about television. If your remote control gets stuck on one of those, you run the risk of serious humiliation. I’ve just now reached the point where I can talk about it publicly.


SPORTS

Directions to Area Schools

Staring at Goliath
The Lady Leopards may fall Wednesday night, but they’ll do so fighting the biggest cat in the land.
After winning a play-in game Monday, Banks County (9-15) was set to face Wesleyan in the region tournament Wednesday night at 7 p.m. in Buford.


Neighboorhood News ..
JACKSON COUNTY
Dragon grapplers standing at the pinnacle of success
For the second consecutive season, the Jefferson wrestling program laid claim to the Class A state duals championship last Saturday, winning the title in impressive fashion and capping off an undefeated season in the state’s head-to-head team competition.

Maysville Votes To Fire Its Water Superintendent
MAYSVILLE -- At a called meeting on Monday night, the Maysville City Council voted unanimously to fire the city's water superintendent, Ralph Sailors.

Authority budget plans for full Bear Creek payment BOC plans credit line to cover reservoir debt
The Jackson County Board of Commissioners agreed to seek proposals to borrow up to $1.8 million over the next year to make the Bear Creek Reservoir debt payments.

Payment Denied To Former Nicholson Superintendent
NICHOLSON -- Nearly a month after the resignation of Ray Chester, the Nicholson Water Authority has voted to suspend, temporarily at least, payments to its former superintendent and his construction company.

BOC interviews contractors for courthouse
No discussion yet on financing for multi-million dollar project
The Jackson County Board of Commissioners heard from the top four companies in the running to be general contractor for the new courthouse in an all-day work session on Friday.


Neighboorhood News ..
MADISON COUNTY
A good start
Teacher Mary Wildes is sometimes frustrated that it appears many parents don’t know about the services available to them for their pre-school age children.

BOC agrees to make judges’ races non-partisan
Judges are supposed to be impartial, not using the position for political sway.
In fact, Magistrate judge Harry Rice points out that according to judges’ code of conduct he’s not even supposed to ring a bell for the Salvation Army in front of a grocery store, because such activity could be construed as using the judge’s position to influence someone to contribute.

Hull council must fill three seats
The city of Hull now has three empty seats at its five-member council table.
Long-time councilman Ken Murray and council woman Trina Hill presented their letters of resignation at Monday night’s council meeting, effective Tuesday, Feb. 12.

Madison County woman accused of theft, forgery at Athens Regional
A 37-year-old Danielsville woman now sits in jail for allegedly embezzling money while employed at Athens Regional Medical Center.

Sheriff’s office investigates store burglaries
Three burglaries of two local convenience stores in less than a week have the Madison County Sheriff’s office suspecting the crimes are related.

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CLUB STOPPED

Officers with the Banks County Sheriff’s Office raided a teen club at Banks Crossing last week and shut down the club after finding activity in violation of the owner’s business license. The club was targeted at 13- to 20-year-olds as a place to dance and hang out.

Teen club shut down
A Banks Crossing teen nightclub shut its doors for the final time Saturday night.
Club Drive’s business license was taken after officers raided the club targeted at 13 to 20-year-olds and found activity in violation of the license agreement. No one was arrested.
“They were shut down and their license was taken,” Banks County Sheriff Charles Chapman said.
Chapman said officers found underage children drinking and smoking and found suspected drug residue and paraphernalia.
“A place where young people are allowed to go can be a good thing, but we don’t want and we don’t need a place where our young people can go and be around alcohol,” Chapman said. “This is something we had to do and something we cannot tolerate.”
The sheriff’s office had received several complaints over the past few weeks about the club, Chapman said. His office planned an undercover operation for several days prior to Saturday.
Chapman said an undercover officer went into the club just after 9 p.m. Saturday. While inside, the officer saw a group of kids passing around a brown bottle. The bottle had beer in it, he said.
Another undercover agent was posted outside the club in a nearby parking lot. That officer saw a group of kids leave the club and go to a car in the parking lot.
Chapman said the officer watched the group of kids get a bottle of liquor out of the trunk of the car and fill up several cups. The kids then went back inside the club.
After about an hour of undercover work, Chapman said several more Banks County deputies arrived on the scene and went into the club.
Inside were about 80 teens. Chapman said many underage children were smoking and were forced to put out their cigarettes upon the officers’ entry.
“Inside of the teen club was one great big cloud of smoke because so many people were smoking,” Chapman said. “There were ‘No Smoking’ signs posted inside.”
He also said the lights were dimmed when officers arrived. The club staff was asked to turn on the lights and had to physically screw in light bulbs to get the lights on.
“They couldn’t just turn on the lights with a switch,” he said.
Upon further investigating the club, Chapman said officers found several people over the age of 21, suspected marijuana residue in ashtrays, suspected marijuana leaves in the bathroom and drug paraphernalia. No drugs were found.
However, a club disc jockey was drinking alcohol when officers arrived. Deputies also lined up everyone inside and outside the building and searched all of them, Chapman said. Some of the kids also tested positive for alcohol use in a blood-alcohol breath test.
“We did see alcohol and we confiscated some of the bottles that were used,” he said.
Michael Bramonte, the club’s owner, got the license to open the business in October. He agreed to several conditions on his business license during a planning commission meeting.
Among them included an age limit of 13 to 20-years-old, no hanging out in the parking lot and a staff member to check identification to prevent any overage adults from entering the club.
At that meeting, Bramonte also assured the planners that his staff was trained to recognize drug and alcohol use and put a stop to it. He promised to keep the site clear of alcohol and drugs. The planning commission told him at the time that he would be shut down if he did not fulfill the conditions.
“They were in several violations of their license inside and outside the building,” Chapman said.
All of the children in the club at the time of the raid were sent home. Chapman said he spoke to many of the mothers who came to get their children.
“As mothers came to pick up their kids, they were not aware of what was really going on,” he said. “I made the ones aware that I talked to.”
The kids came from Banks, Jackson, Madison and Franklin counties.
“In reality, when you look at the situation, the bottom line is money, and when people are in business to make money and the care of our young people is not in the forefront, something bad is going on,” Chapman said. “When people go for money in expense of ruining a young person’s life, it’s not right. I hope the people of Banks County understand this.”
BRAMONTE OPENING NEW BUSINESS
Before Saturday night’s raid, Bramonte had already applied for an alcohol license to change the business from a teen club to a restaurant.
The board of commissioners approved the license at a meeting Tuesday night, giving him permission to sell distilled spirits and beer.
Commissioner chairman Kenneth Brady said Monday that the county will be sending Bramonte a letter informing him that his license to operate Club Drive as a teen club had been revoked and that he has the right to request a meeting with the BOC about the incident.
However, now that the business will be changing to a restaurant, such a meeting might not occur.


Commissioners tweak county’s SPLOST allotments
The Banks County Board of Commissioners made minor changes to its sales tax allotments Friday in hopes of assuring the availability of funds to complete several projects.
Allotments for the cities of Homer, Maysville and Baldwin from the special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) cannot by law change. The county only modified the way it plans to divide up its own portion of the sales tax revenue.
After voters approved the SPLOST in 2001, the county sold bonds that will be paid back using a portion of the sales tax money. Banks generated just under $5 million from the bond sales and has used that money to build new fire stations and buy new fire trucks. In addition, $3 million of the bond funds were allocated for construction of the new jail.
The county sold the bonds in order to raise funds to finance the fire and jail projects immediately instead of having to wait for sales tax revenue to come in.
The BOC did not—and cannot—make any changes to the bond money or how it is used. However, the board did modify the planned use of the funds left over after the county satisfies the bond debt payment.
County administrative office Michael Fischer said the county has about $1,441,306 yearly to spend after paying off the bond debt, allocating money to the three cities and paying fees associated with the tax.
He projected the county will collect $6,341,619 of usable, unallocated sales tax revenue over the five-year life of the SPLOST.
Fischer suggested, and the BOC agreed, to use about 16.6 percent of the money, or $1,052,436 to help with the jail construction costs. Though Banks has just under $3 million from the bond sales to build the jail, Fischer said estimates put the construction cost closer to $4 million.
The additional SPLOST funds can help complete the jail construction without tapping into property tax money.
Plans to build a multi-purpose gym at the recreation department were also on the SPLOST ballot voters approved in 2001. The BOC anticipates using about $1.5 million to completely finance that building.
Furthermore, water projects were on the SPLOST ballot and will get a sizable portion of the usable sales tax revenue. Nearly 56 percent of the funds will go to water system improvements and extensions.
The county projects pumping $3,537,989 of the money into water projects over the next several years.
Roads and bridges saw one of the biggest changes after the tweaking of SPLOST allotments.
The BOC has cut its share down to just under four percent, or $250,493. However, Fischer pointed out that in the county’s operating budget, the road department gets a sizable amount of money.
Fischer added that when the SPLOST ballot was written, the county had no specific road projects in mind for the funds. He said the road allotment could survive the cut.
Though the county has modified how much money it plans to spend on its SPLOST projects, the changes aren’t necessarily final. The BOC can still amend the allocations later.
And depending on the track of the economy, the commissioners may have to do so. Should retail sales improve or if the county does land a proposed Home Depot store, sales tax revenue could go up by as much as $2 million. The additional income would be spread among the allotted projects as the BOC sees fit.
Brady said Fischer and other county officials have put a lot of work into the new SPLOST allotments and he thought it was a good plan.
Following the plan, he said, will likely allow the county to finance all of its proposed projects without shifting the financial burden on county landowners.


Tax bills coming soon
Banks County residents may be just a few weeks shy of getting their 2002 tax bills.
The school board approved its 12.25 mill tax rate Thursday night and the board of commissioners agreed to collect the tax for the school system for a 2.5 percent fee.
With all the final votes taken, the county can now forward the digest to the state for its approval. Tax commissioner Margaret Ausburn said the digest should be in department of revenue officials’ hands come Monday.
Once approved, the bills will need a couple of weeks of printing time before being mailed out to taxpayers. Residents will have 60 days from the date the bills are mailed to pay their 2002 taxes.



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BCHS writing scores above state average
Banks County High School has improved its writing test scores for the year.
School superintendent Deborah White presented the scores to the school board at a meeting Thursday.
At BCHS, 96 percent of students passed the test, up one percentage point from last year. The school surpassed the state average of 91 percent and RESA’s 92 percent passing average.
BCHS principal Wayne McIntosh said he was extremely proud of his staff, not just in the English department.
“These scores show that everybody in every classroom is doing some writing,” he said. “The scores reflect what they are doing in the classroom.”
White also pointed out that a greater achievement was having 81 percent of Banks’ test takers scoring in the high range on the test.
“I am very proud of the kids,” McIntosh said. “This shows that our kids not only write, but they write well. And that’s important.”
White said the same.
“We are pleased and we have always done well in writing,” she said.
White said she attributed the high scores to the school system’s reading and writing initiatives.
The school has a “Writing to Win” program that emphasizes writing from kindergarten through high school, she said.
“Tests have shown that eighth grade scores and high school scores have increased significantly,” White said.
Banks County has not yet learned its ranking within the state nor the results of other portions of the graduation test.
“We are a hidden gem here in Banks County,” McIntosh said. “The students and teaches are to be commended.”


BOC to pay off sewer bond debt
The board of commissioner’s decision to pay off the Banks Crossing sewer bond debt could result in nearly $400,000 in savings.
The BOC voted Friday to relieve the $802,200 debt. Doing so will save the county approximately $386,000 in future interest payments.
Money to pay off the debt will come from funds contained in a checking account and certificate of deposit that were financed from a 0.75 mill economic development tax the county started collecting when the treatment plant was constructed in 1987. The county has just over $1 million in funds from the tax.
The BOC voted to pay the debt early after the development authority suggested a pay-off before the 2016 end date could save money and possibly free up funds for future economic development projects.
BOC chairman Kenneth Brady said county officials and attorney Randall Frost are still researching a mass of documents between the BOC and the development authority regarding the tax funds. He said questions remain about whether the remaining money can be used and what it can be used for.
Development authority chair Jack Banks said, if possible, he’d like to see the money used to uphold an agreement the county has to build a road from Industrial Boulevard to Hwy. 59.
Brady said that discussion would have to wait until later.
OTHER BUSINESS
In other business Friday, the BOC:
•agreed to be the fiscal agent for Family Connections, providing the department’s building. Family Connections is funded through state grants. The BOC agreed that due to the importance of the program’s work, continuing to be the fiscal agent was a benefit to county citizens.
•heard a request from building inspector Tony Vento that the board consider hiring an assistant inspector to help with the high volume of inspections. Vento also said he would train the person over the next several years to be his replacement. During budget hearings this spring, the BOC will consider the request and also look into raising inspection fees to fund the extra person. Vento said the fees needed to be reevaluated because they were much lower than in surrounding counties.
•approved a contract with the state department of transportation to resurface three-fourths of a mile on Bennett Road from Hwy. 51 to the landfill. Brady said the DOT was furnishing $37,674 to pay for material. The county will furnish the labor costs and will bid the project soon. The road has already been patched.
•approved an agreement with Hall County giving the county permission to run a water line on West County Line Road. However, under the agreement, Banks County will not be able to use the line to service any Hall County customers.