News from Jackson County...

FEBRUARY 19, 2003


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OPINIONS
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SPORTS

Jefferson crowned Region 8-A champions
Anyone in search of evidence supporting the age old coaching adage that offense wins games, but defense wins championships, would have had all the proof they needed Saturday night during the Region 8-A boys final.

Lady Panthers take third in 8-AAAA
The Jackson County girls earned a Class AAAA state tournament berth last week, however the feat was not accomplished without a flare for the dramatic.

Five Wrestlers Heading To State
Going “across the river” in this area usually pertains to the Commerce-Jefferson football rivalry, but for a handful of Tiger wrestlers, crossing the North Oconee this weekend means a shot at a medal at the state wrestling tournament.


Neighboorhood News ..
MADISON COUNTY
Adams resigns as MCHS principal
First-year Madison County High School principal Robert Adams has resigned, effective at the end of this school year.

Comer beer, wine ordinance gets thumbs up
Those wanting a beer or glass of wine with their meal in Comer will now be able to place that order.
The Comer City Council unanimously passed a beer and wine ordinance Tuesday that will allow restaurants to acquire licenses to serve alcoholic beverages to their dining customers.

Planners frown on one-acre lot in low density area
Family members wanting to give an acre of land to a disabled family member ran into a road block at Tuesday night’s public hearings of the planning and zoning commission.

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


Neighborhood News...
BANKS COUNTY
The talk of the town

Keeping his campaign promise to hold a town hall meeting if elected, Lula mayor Milton Turner hosted a meeting Thursday to discuss the gains and the goals of the current administration.

BOC to hold two meetings this week
The Banks County Board of Commissioners have two called meetings scheduled for this week.

Holcomb, Lord to run for Baldwin council seat
Beverly Holcomb, wife of councilman Ray Holcomb, and Donald Lord have qualified for Post 1 in the March Baldwin special election, said city clerk Betty Harper.

Carole Moores resigns from chamber
Carole Moores has resigned as executive director of the Banks County Chamber of Commerce.
Her resignation will be effective March 28.

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MOTORCROSS PRACTICE

Zack Adams, 10, of Jefferson gets a little motorcross practice at a graded site near Buhler Quality Yarn. Adams said he’d like to race one day and frequently joins in the open practice for the motorcross series.

Holder Construction named courthouse contractor
The Jackson County Board of Commissioners hired Holder Construction as general contractor for the new courthouse Monday.
Holder had the lowest bid at $1.04 million. The company has worked with the architects selected by the county, Cooper Carry, on numerous projects.
Consultant Wayne Wilbanks recommended the company after reviewing proposals from the top four candidates, Holder, Batson-Cook, Brasfield & Gorie and Turner. Each company had several representatives who spoke during an earlier all-day BOC work session.
Holder representatives speaking at the work session were: Dave Miller, CEO and president; Jeff Price, project executive; Doug Hunter, vice president of pre-construction; Bill Headley, project director; Randy McGill, superintendent; and Scott Schuler, project manager. They spoke on the company’s projects, including the Floyd County Government Center, Atlanta City Hall and Kennesaw City Hall/courthouse expansion. The company has been in business for 42 years.
In other courthouse news, Cooper Carry, Long Engineering and staff members have met to discuss site utilities, road design and permitting procedures. Geo-Hydro has also performed additional soil testing and shear wave velocity testing.
In other courthouse activity:
•Cooper Carry is working on the schematic design with the presentation of a few concepts set for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 25, in the Grand Jury room.
•county attorney Daniel Haygood and Wilbanks are negotiating with Cooper Carry regarding their contract for project design.
•Cooper Carry and staff met with EDI Ltd., an audio visual, acoustical, security and technical consultant, on the project.
•local surveying firms have provided cost per linear foot and hourly rates for survey crews to perform various activities that will be required. A uniform rate sheet is being established and will be provided for review and approval by the BOC.
•Long Engineering is working with the City of Jefferson’s engineer to confirm sanitary sewer and water availability for the site. The company is also working on the road layout.
•Dave Peace is assisting in the preparation of the nationwide permit for construction activities that will impact one of the streams.


Beatty speaks to water authority
Commissioner Tony Beatty gave the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority a demonstration of how the county commissioners conduct a meeting last Thursday night.
Sixty-five minutes after asking to speak for “five minutes to help y’all with a couple of things,” the District 4 commissioner had given the authority members advice on everything from customers who need to be contacted to changes to be made in a legal document.
The central theme of Beatty’s commentary was that having finally received the monthly information packet the authority has vainly tried to get to him (and the other commissioners) since September, he is fully prepared to advise the authority on how it should conduct itself.
Beatty opened his rambling commentary with the statement that “I think we need to air things out between ourselves and keep the press out of it,” then advised the authority on when it should be prepared to move its lines along U.S. 129, of an unhappy customer on Trotters Ridge Road, grilled the authority and its engineers on its proposed completion dates for each SPLOST project, asked how many days a week Prime Engineering was on the job, questioned the authority’s method of purchasing a used generator, proposed that the authority offer half-price sales on water hookups, commented on its plans to increase water sales, critiqued its bidding process, suggested the authority place more emphasis on its bid process for engineering than on its bid process for contractors, offered suggestions for technical changes to the authority’s contract with Braselton and was instructed by the authority’s sewer engineer, Mary Kay Jackson on the difference between the words “qualitative” and “quantitative.”
His repeated suggestion that he would support “removing the burden” of installing water and sewer lines for new industries piqued the authority members’ interest much more than his criticism of the quality of copies in his information package.
Beatty’s “offer” was based on his wrong assumption that the authority’s complaint about being told to borrow money related to the MACI project. Although Chairman Elton Collins informed him that the authority’s anger was instead related to the board of commissioners’ pressure last year to borrow against SPLOST proceeds, Beatty forged bravely on.
“I’m going to do my best to get the economic development projects off y’all,” he stated. “I don’t feel like you need to be burdened with these kinds of things because, first of all, you’re not using SPLOST money at all. It’s Jackson County taxpayers’ money we’re hoping to get bigger business in...”
Keith Ariail spoke for the entire authority when he said, “I don’t understand.”
Beatty suggested – but refused to be pinned down on specifics – that he would try to make sure any major water or sewer projects needed by industry would not be the responsibility of the authority.
Twice, Collins tried to clarify what Beatty might be getting at.
“Are you saying you (the board of commissioners) might get into the sewage business also?” he asked.
“No, that’s not what I’m saying,” the commissioner responded, changing the subject to the authority’s effort to build the sewer line to Mulberry Plantation.
Told there was no specific deadline for completing that project, Beatty suggested a way to make a deadline: “You just have to get out there and grab one and hold it,” he offered. “If that is a problem with y’all, us asking you to do the big economic development projects, let us know.”
“Who else could do them?” Collins asked.
“We could always contract out to do it,” Beatty proposed.
Collins: “What you’re saying is you’re going into the sewage business.”
Beatty: “No, we’re not getting in the sewage business. This is all Jackson County.”
Collins: “We’re going to be doing sewer lines and the county commissioners will be doing sewer lines too, is that right?”
Beatty: “I didn’t say that. I just said if it becomes a burden to y’all, then I’m only one party who wouldn’t mind seeing us do this. Because we’ve got to do the permits for this; if you knew how it was entwined, you would understand what I was talking about, what Mr. McGee (an apparent reference to Chris McGahee, a planner for the Northeast Georgia Regional Development Commission) showed us. Let one person be responsible for the whole thing.”


Stop ‘Harassment’ Says Water Authority
And It Will Pay Off The Bear Creek Debt
JEFFERSON -- The good news for Jackson County taxpayers is that the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority pledged last Thursday night that it will make all of the 2003 debt payments on the Bear Creek Reservoir.
The bad news is that payment of the debt, which technically belongs to the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, is contingent upon the BOC discontinuing its "harassment" of the authority. And following a rambling, 65-minute period of second-guessing and "suggestions" from Commissioner Tony Beatty (see separate story), preliminary indications are that the commissioners' back seat driving will continue.
Much of the four-hour meeting was dedicated to the authority's ongoing controversy with the county commissioners. The debt payment was just the first such issue.
"I have made it plain from day one that this is not our debt legally," said Elton Collins, chairman. "But I think all of us agree that we're getting the revenue from that water and we should pay that debt ... I just want to make it plain here tonight that we would love to pay that debt. We can pay that debt. The money is here."
Then he got to the caveat.
"We will pay this debt if the county commissioners will stop harassing us, will let us do our job and if they will do their job," he said. "At the point they decide to leave us alone and let us do our job, we will cut a check for those months that we haven't paid. We will pay those months in arrears."
Collins said he had communicated that to the BOC chairman Harold Fletcher, whose response was "When can we expect a check?"
"I said, 'well, if you will do what I have requested you to do, stop harassing us and trying to one-up us on everything and if you all will pass a resolution supporting the water authority, on June 1 we will give you a check for six months of payment.' I think we owe the debt, we ought to pay it and we will pay it, but I just don't think we need to continue seeing the harassment we've been seeing."
ABOUT MACI
Collins also addressed the issue of the sewer line to the Michigan Automotive Compressor Inc. plant at Valentine Farms.
"That is our number one priority and that line will be there when that plant is ready for it," he pledged. "We do have the loan in place when we need the money. We also have some state and federal grants that have been promised to us and we hope those will be there when we need them."
The authority passed a resolution beginning the process of using the $2.88 million Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority grant on the project. The county can begin drawing on the money after the contractor is given a notice to proceed, which is expected in May, according to Mary Kay Jackson of Metcalf & Eddy, the authority's sewer consultants.
RELATED ACTIONS
Other business related to the spat between the authority and the commissioners includes:
•a board decision to review its bid procedures, possibly including establishing a $1,000 threshold after which bids must be taken.
•the selection of Collins and member Warren Walker to meet with two commissioners to do "preliminary work" until the two groups can meet as a whole. The point of appointing two members, Collins said, was to avoid having a quorum of either group so press coverage can be avoided.
•a report that for 2002 the authority had net operating income of $834,694.
•a vote to accept the recommendation of Jerry Waddell, manager, and the county auditor for the authority to carry the Bear Creek debt payment in its annual budget. "If we're taking all of the revenue and not showing that we're making the Bear Creek payments, it would skew all the numbers," said Waddell. The Bear Creek debt will not be carried in the authority's audit, however, since it belongs to Jackson County.
•acceptance of Walker's recommendations to promote the sale of water by offering interest-free financing of water taps ($240 down and payments over three years), increased advertising in the newspapers and free ecoli bacteria testing on private wells. The offer on water taps applies only to residents who have access to county water.
•appointment by Collins of a water sales committee chaired by Walker and made up of Waddell, water superintendent Paul Mims and Upper Oconee Basin Water Authority alternate delegate Dan Gunnells. Among the committee's responsibilities will be to negotiate with Braselton and Jefferson about proposed water sales agreements.
•an explanation from Waddell demonstrating how the $1.23 million rebate from the Upper Oconee Basin Water Authority was spent making the Bear Creek debt payments during 2002.
•reiteration by Collins that Commissioner Emil Beshara's published allegation that the authority had created a $500,000 "retirement fund" for Waddell was untrue.
•a seven-minute closed session so Walker could ask about statements allegedly made by Beshara and commissioner Stacey Britt that Prime Engineering took Waddell on a hunting trip to Texas. Waddell said the statements are false, that he has never been to Texas, never been on any Prime-sponsored trip and that the only invitation from the engineering firm, made to all members of the authority, was to a reception in Atlanta, which neither Waddell nor any of the authority members accepted.


Supreme Court denies appeal on landfill lawsuit
The Georgia Supreme Court has denied an appeal from a developer trying to locate a landfill in West Jackson over his lawsuit attacking the county’s zoning codes.
Kelly Henderson filed a lawsuit against the county contending that the zoning codes were not correctly approved in 1974. This was an effort on his part to develop a construction and demolition landfill on 117 acres on Hwy. 53. He filed the lawsuit last year after the board of commissioners denied his request to rezone the property from PCFD to I-2 for the proposed landfill.


U.S. Rep. Norwood speaks about war at local forum
U.S. Rep. Charlie Norwood says he doesn’t know when America’s war against Iraq will happen, but when it does, it will be a fast attack.
Rep. Norwood (R-9), spoke to a handful of Republican supporters on Monday in Jefferson. His local talk about terrorism, immigration and health care was just one of several stops the eight-year representative made to North Georgia cities in relaying the attitudes and actions on Capitaol Hill.
On the possibility of war with Iraq, Rep. Norwood said he supports President Bush in attacking Saddam Hussein and that Americans should be prepared for a quick battle.
“I can’t tell you...if I knew I wouldn’t tell you and frankly I don’t want to know when and if the next step is coming, but it’s coming,” Norwood said on the possiblity of when the U.S. will declare war against Iraq. “The greatest fear is to do nothing,” he added.
For Norwood, the biggest fear he faces in the attack is the use of chemical weapons by Iraq, he said.
“I don’t think that the president can sit there and let a psychopath like Saddam Hussein continue to produce weapons of mass destruction and we know for a fact that he’s perfectly capable of using (what he has) because he has (used them) and the only reason he hasn’t used them against us is because he can’t quite get here yet,” Norwood said.
On the nuclear threat with North Korea, Norwood said he agrees with Bush’s policies and that other Asian countries have as much to lose, should the Communist country continue to push its nuclear abilities.
“When people get hungry, they get dangerous,” he warned of the North Korean threats.
And while the media isn’t keeping the North Korea situation on the front page, Norwood says it’s still a high priority for the White House. Should the U.S. need to cross the 38th parallel (which divides North and South Korea), other nations should support us, he added.
As for financially supporting the war, Norwood said he’s willing to allow the U.S. to borrow money for the attack and homeland security, but that the federal budget should be trimmed in other areas, as well.
Another issue of “terrorism” Norwood addressed was the surge of illegal immigrants entering the U.S.
Norwood said he plans to propose legislation on the matter that will be “cause for some good debate.” His approach, he said, is that illegal immigration is a matter of terrorism and should be about homeland security.
With more than 10 million illegal immigrants in the country and only 2,000 Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) officers to enforce the laws, Norwood said his “interesting” bill will focus on those who have already entered the country. It will “empower” local law enforcement officers to arrest illegal immigrants in a similar manner to drug violators, he said.
“It’s not fair to leave (enforcement) on the employer and for the employer to do the job of the federal government,” Norwood said, while adding the current attitude on illegal immigration for local leaders is to look the other way.
Bush, the former governor of Texas, doesn’t agree with his immigration proposal, Norwood said.
But, for practically all of the issues Norwood addressed, he said he supports Bush’s policies.
On the recent Columbia shuttle disaster, Norwood said he believes the sentiment on Capital Hill will keep the space program going. Despite the tragedy, the president has implied the program should continue and that Congress will likely fund another space shuttle, he said.
Besides the weak economy and impending war, Norwood said health care reform is one of the most talked-about items in Washington, D.C.
Norwood, who serves as vice-chairman of the U.S. House’s subcommittee on health, said the key issues in health care reform will be monetary caps on lawsuit awards and prescription costs.
He also said if the Medicare program isn’t reformed soon, it will consume most of the federal budget within 30 years. The Social Security program will also likely see an overhaul, once Bush is re-elected in 2004, he added.

 

 


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Jefferson BOE to regulate school taxes
Jefferson Board of Education officials voted unanimously Thursday in favor of a move that will allow the body to regulate taxes independently from the city council.
Approval of a resolution creating the School Board Taxation Authority was passed following brief discussion on the matter. The new authority will lead to the school board being its own taxing authority. In the past, the city council was the taxing authority for the school system.
However, before the move can take effect, legislation will have to be introduced to change the city charter to give the school system the authority to set its own millage rate. BOE chairman Ronnie Hopkins, who is also the city attorney, will prepare the legislation and present it to the local delegation, he said.
“I just think that’s our responsibility and I’m ready to do that,” Hopkins told other board members before they all voted in favor of the move.
“We felt it was time the city school system became its own taxing authority,” he added. “We’ll have a new day dawning with the way we deal with the city and how we collect taxes.”
If the move is passed, officials indicated that they expect to be able to begin using their new powers as early as July.
In other business Thursday, Hopkins offered some information on the recent budget and accountability issues that have been at the forefront of the school system’s dealings this year.
He stated that while on a trip to Washington, D.C., recently, he and other school board members from around the state met at length with federal house and senate leadership from Georgia, including Senators Charlie Norwood and Saxby Chambliss, as well as the staff of Senator Zell Miller.
Much of the discussion centered around President Bush’s nation-wide education reform legislation known as the “No Child Left Behind Act,” which was passed in Jan. of 2001.
According to Hopkins, an obvious sentiment of displeasure was felt by the majority of those that made the trip and for their part, he said, Georgia’s congressmen seemed to be understanding.
By and large the discussions were designed to let the leadership understand what’s going on at the local level throughout the state, he added.
Bush’s broad education reform package was short some $5 billion from the $26 billion version that passed, however, despite the lack of funding all the education mandates have remained. In addition, a lagging economy has brought on a slew of state cutbacks in the past year and a half, which has caused further hardships.
Thus, the burden had fallen on local systems and, Hopkins said, in turn the effects on programs across the board has been substantial. One instance he cited was a lack of funding for special education programs that he said was effecting other areas on down the line.
“I don’t know that we’re doing any good at all,” Hopkins acknowledged, “but I think they understand the consequences and problems of all the things we have had to do in all these areas.”
He continued, “What they have done is set up an impractical scenario...but, I really think we had some sympathetic ears, now whether they’re able to help us or not, I don’t know.”


What Happens To
Documents Left
For Commissioners?
JEFFERSON -- An intriguing mystery has unfolded in the office of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners. Call it the case of the missing documents.
Every month since September, the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority delivers a monthly package of information for the commissioners to the commissioners' office in the county administrative building.
But, something happens to the documents. The commissioners say they do not get them.
"This is the first one I have received," said Commissioner Tony Beatty last Thursday night.
Frustrated by the situation, the authority decided last week to hand deliver the information.
The authority members know that the information gets to the commission office. They have receipts signed by the commissioners' clerk, Erica Johnson, confirming delivery.
Johnson acknowledges that the documents get to the office and described her routine for getting them to the commissioners.
"I e-mail the BOC that the water authority has delivered them to let them know it is in the office," she said. "Then I put the packet in their mailboxes."
Johnson also confirmed that she has copies of all of the packets that were delivered.
Yet, the commissioners have repeatedly stated that they do not get the information.
Johnson admits that it is conceivable, though not likely, that someone could be stealing the packets from the mailboxes.
One commissioner who has repeatedly demanded information about the county's water and sewerage authority has refused to allow authority personnel to deliver that information.
"We've been getting receipts since September, but the commissioners say they are not getting the information," authority chairman Elton Collins said. "So we decided to deliver the materials to their homes. Commissioner (Emil) Beshara called and said he did not want water authority personnel on his property. What are we supposed to do?"
Beshara is one of the authority's most vocal critics about communications and other issues.
The question as to what happens to the documents delivered to the administrative building was put to Beatty when he spoke to the authority at its Thursday night meeting.
"I don't know," he said. "That's one of the things we've been trying to find out."
According to Collins, the authority began delivering the monthly packages last summer, and when the commissioners complained that they were still not getting the information, the authority began getting receipts for delivery of the documents.
"This is the first one I've received," Beatty stated, referring to the booklet delivered to his home by authority personnel.
Beatty told the authority he did not like to see it going to the expense of personal delivery of the documents and asked that his copy be placed in his "mailbox" at the administrative building.