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FEBRUARY 26, 2003


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OPINIONS
Jana Adams

Do you knock on wood?
Do you knock on wood? Or make an X across your windshield when a black cat crosses the path of your car? Think it’s unlucky to open an umbrella indoors?

Ralph Hudgens
Hudgens’ legislative update
The General Assembly was in session on Monday and Tuesday of this week and in recess for the balance of the week.


SPORTS

Directions to Area Schools

Diamond Days
When spring rolled around in 2002, Leopards baseball coach Mike Williams had a daunting task ahead of him.
He had lost nearly all of his defensive position players and was looking to fill the field with a team largely untested on the varsity level. He did so and the Leopards managed a season finishing just under .500.


Neighboorhood News ..
JACKSON COUNTY
Judge questions layout plans for courthouse
Senior judge Robert Adamson outlined numerous concerns Tuesday that he and other Superior Court judges have about a proposed layout for a new courthouse.

Planners Say No To Mobile Home Upgrades
Two couples who hope to improve their housing by upgrading mobile homes in areas zoned for site-built houses are hoping the Commerce City Council will not listen to the Commerce Planning Commission.

Prime blasts BOC rumors
There was no hunting trip, says president of firm
The president of Prime Engineering last week blasted rumors that the firm had hosted a Texas hunting trip for members of the Jackson County

1,600 acres sold in South Jackson
What is believed to be Jackson County’s single largest undeveloped land transaction took place last month when 1,600 acres in South Jackson was sold to a Gwinnett County investment group.

Nicholson City Council Meets Thursday, Monday
The Nicholson City Council will hold a work session Thursday night and its regular meeting Monday. Both are at 7:00 at City Hall and both are open to the public.

Hoschton ball field work may be halted
Construction of Hoschton’s ball fields could be halted, if the county parks and recreation department doesn’t fix a sedimentation problem at the site, the city council warned this week.


Neighboorhood News ..
MADISON COUNTY
Schools burglarized
Three area schools were burglarized late Monday night and early Tuesday morning.

Board delays decision on naming asst. director for county transfer station
County commissioners discussed at length but took no action Monday on promoting a current transfer station employee to the position of assistant director.

Water director position could oversee county, city operations
County leaders may consider negotiating with cities to create a position that oversees county water operations and manages water services for Danielsville, Ila and Carlton

History on file
Willie Long’s life spanned almost a full century in Madison County.
And thanks to his daughter, Lula Thompson, his contributions to the county are now a part of a permanent pictorial record of the history of the area through the Madison County Library’s picture archive project.

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TENNIS TIME

Catie Murphy works on her serve during tennis
practice Monday afternoon. The tennis team began practicing this week and will open up the
season March 12 against Commerce.

Preserving history
Gillsville’s oldest buildings are about to get a major face-lift as the final plan for their restoration has been completed.
The council has been working on the project for a number of years, but was not able to find anyone interested in taking on the complex renovation. Then Jorene Martin, of The Yaeger Company, came along and breathed fresh life into the proposal back in November.
Martin, who had worked with the city to obtain grants while she was with the RDC, laid out the groundwork that got the project moving forward, said Mayor Larry Poole.
Martin, at that time, said the first thing that needed to be done was to prepare a “preservation plan,” an integral part of maintaining a listing on the National Registry of Historic Places. There are strict guidelines that have to be followed to maintain historic standing. Such a designation insures future administrations will follow the project and maintain its historical integrity.
The one wooden structure and three brick buildings in Gillsville may take several years to complete, according to Martin.
Yaeger completed an overall assessment of each of the buildings, from foundation to roof, and presented the plans to councilman Ronnie Whiting. Yaeger provided a basic floor plan that included electrical and plumbing schematics, yet left the buildings open for a variety of uses.
At a work session last week, Whiting briefly discussed the plans for the renovations, preserving a part of Gillsville’s history spanning two and a half centuries.
Whiting said one of the more difficult projects involved finding a stone mason with experience in different types of mortar.
“If we replace the old mortar with new, I’ve been told it could destroy the old brick,” she said. “The mortar of the buildings was made from natural sources and red clay from around the area, maybe from an old riverbed. We need to find someone who understands the new mortar needs to match the old mortar.”
Poole said a survey needs to be done on the property to “peg down the corners.” There is no plat to go by. He hopes the plats and deeds of the adjacent property owners would help find the boundaries. The property boundaries must be marked prior to getting power to the buildings to start the work.
The city will maintain ownership of the buildings and will lease the old brick-front stores. Poole said businesses, including a florist shop, have been asking about locating there.
The wooden structure built in the mid-1800s will be the new city hall and house a Heritage Museum and a small library.
Whiting said: “It is one of very few examples of that type of wooden structure in the state of Georgia. That fact that it remains standing is testament to the quality construction. It is also a unique structure in that it has a cantilevered roof. We hope to restore it to its original condition. It will be something the whole town will enjoy.”
Some of the funding for the project will come from grants and possibly from the Department of Consumer Affairs, where officials have showed interest, according to Martin. DCA officials reportedly saw Gillsville as a model for the state.
Poole said Gillsville is the oldest settlement in Hall County and gave a short history lesson of the town. Gillsville was originally named “Stonethrow” by Native Americans and early settlers in the 1700s. Later it was known as Cotter Crossing. In the 1800s, after Major Josiah Gill purchased the town’s store, the town was renamed Gillsville.
At the turn of the century, Gillsville became prominent during the cotton boom.
Poole said: “The demise of the cotton industry and the ‘Great Depression’ probably were the greatest factors that forever changed the course of our town. We have held onto a thread of our heritage and transitioned into a laid-back farming community where people enjoy living and raising their families.
“We have held onto our status as a city, recognized as such by and through every measure, challenge and attack which has been thrust our way. We fully realize we are the smallest municipality around, but we also know that we have something here that many people envy. We are aware that our community heritage is something special. We hope to keep to that character of Gillsville.”


BOC close to signing off on spray field
Banks County and the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) have apparently reached a deal on a proposed wastewater spray field at Banks Crossing.
Lawyers from both agencies are negotiating a lease agreement that will give the county use of 85.77 acres adjacent to the Atlanta Dragway for a treated wastewater spray field.
The land will allow the county to spray a set amount of treated sewage water on the land per week and will raise the county’s treatment capacity to 300,000 gallons per day, an increase of 230,000 gallons.
Atlanta Dragway general manger Craig Armstrong presented the lease to the board of commissioners Wednesday. The county will have to pay $300 per month rent for the 20-year lease.
A similar lease has been considered in the past. In fact, the state has already given approval for the project and engineering work has been completed.
However, the county and the NHRA couldn’t agree on a buy-out for the lease. Previously, the track proposed a buy-out, which if the land was sold, could force the county to remove the land application system.
Yet, the new agreement stipulates that if the NHRA sells its property at Banks Crossing, the new owner must honor the 20-year lease or sell the land to the county at a “fair market price.”
The current buy-out clause was more agreeable to the commissioners.
According to the agreement proposed, the county must also cover the property taxes on the land. Track officials estimated the taxes at just over $11,000 for 2002.
In addition, the lease mandates that the county negotiate to release the Atlanta Dragway from its connection to the Commerce water system and install a connection with the Banks County system at no cost to the track.
Further, the county must release the Atlanta Dragway from any responsibility should the Georgia Environmental Protection Division find violations in the application system.
The spray field location, which has been batted around since 1998, was about to become a serious situation for the county.
Commission chairman Kenneth Brady said the county was nearing capacity at its wastewater treatment plant, and the lack of an additional spray field could result in a sewage moratorium for any future businesses.
“If a new business came in with a high capacity, we might have had to put them off,” he said.
Brady also expressed fears that the lack of wastewater treatment capacity could put the county out of compliance with state regulations during the NHRA Southern Nationals planned for May.
“Hopefully by the May race, you can flush those toilets all you want to,” Brady told Armstrong.
The commissioners stressed that the water from the spray field has no odor and will not harm the environment.
“You actually create a mini rain forest,” Brady said.
COUNTY FARM
SITE FLUSHED
After the agreement with the NHRA stalled the first time, the county made moves to have the spray field built on the county farm at property near the proposed drinking water reservoir. However, area residents were opposed to such plans.
The BOC has had the spray field issue tabled on its agenda since August of last year while then commissioner Ernest Rogers continued negotiations with the NHRA.
At a meeting two weeks ago, Brady adamantly urged the BOC take the issue off the table and discuss building the spray field at the county farm. They did not.
All three commissioners expressed content that the spray field issue was finally nearing a settlement.
Commissioner Pat Westmoreland added that he appreciated the work Rogers and James Dumas have done “behind-the-scenes” to get the project rolling.


Homer makes move on property lease
A complicated dispute between the Town of Homer and a property owner seeking higher rent has been settled, at least for now.
The dispute between town officials and Mack Garrison over the water department building lease agreement was temporarily laid to rest on Tuesday, but not without some controversy beforehand.
In November, Garrison said he notified Homer Mayor Doug Cheek that the town’s lease agreement for the water department building was void, after his grandmother’s death in 2001.
The town had entered into a 10-year lease agreement with a five-year option with Lillie Garrison in 1991. At the time, the town agreed to pay $200 a month for the facility that houses Homer’s large equipment and town employees. Following the initial 10-year period, the rent increased to $250 a month.
Garrison, who is the husband of council member Sandra Garrison, said once he realized the lease agreement became void after his grandmother’s death, he told town officials a new one was needed. He also asked for more money from the town.
And while Garrison says he told town officials his initial offer of $850 a month was negotiable, no agreement was reached with the town on the matter.
Two weeks ago, when the council was discussing the offer presented, Sandra Garrison abruptly left the meeting and accused the council members of lying behind her husband’s back.
Mayor Cheek offered an apology for Garrison’s unexpected comments.
But for Tuesday’s called meeting, the Garrisons and council members were openly negotiating the terms of a new lease and they even laughed a few times during the process.
Mack Garrison and the council members said they were grateful for the first round of negotiations, while Cheek said it was the first time he knew Garrison was willing to hear counter offers.
Beforehand, the town was looking to quickly move its water department out of the building before looking to construct a permanent facility.
“I’d like to see the town continue leasing the property,” Garrison said Tuesday, while adding he wasn’t interested in selling the property right now.
Mayor Cheek tossed out the first counter offer of $400, to which Garrison said, “Címon, get real.”
Garrison then explained that a similar property he owns in Commerce rents for $650 a month. He also said he was willing to accept any time of length for the lease, “yearly, monthly, weekly, whatever.”
Mayor Cheek then questioned the council if they were willing to move the water department or pay higher rent for the time being. Most agreed to keep the water department in the facility for the short-term, but that a permanent facility needs to be in the town’s long-term plans.
The council then agreed to pay $600 a month on a monthly basis “until we decide what to do.” The temporary lease became retro-effective on Jan. 1.
Last week, Garrison explained why he was initially more than tripling the cost of rent for the facility to the town.
“There’s two sides to every story, but this story is real personal to me,” says Mack Garrison, while adding he wouldn’t dishonor his father’s time as mayor to Homer.
A LONG STORY
The debate regarding the water department building actually began in March 1938, when Lillie Garrison received a life estate for the three-quarter acre property.
Lillie Garrison was the wife of O.S. Garrison and mother of Edwin “Buster” Garrison, who later became a long-time mayor of the town.
According to the decades-old deed, Lillie Garrison’s property was to go her children, Buster and Herbert Garrison, after her death. When Lillie Garrison died in February 2001, that property later became part of her grandson’s holdings.
Mack Garrison says he inherited 25 percent of the property after his grandmother’s death, his mother gifted him another 25 percent and he purchased 50 percent from Herbert Garrison’s family.
Following his grandmother’s death, Mack Garrison says his attorney advised him the lease agreement with Homer for the building was null and void. A new lease agreement would be needed, he said.
At first, the town council sought the legal advice of Commerce attorney Allen L. Lacey Jr. on the matter. Homer’s attorney, Gary Freeman, also represents the Garrisons.
In a December letter to the town council, Lacey wrote that the lease agreement between Garrison and Homer was still valid. Garrison, however, says the attorney didn’t have all of the information he needed to make that judgment.
A month later, Lacey wrote that since Lillie Garrison owned a life estate of the property when she entered into the lease agreement with the town, it became void after her death.
Garrison says he had a Maysville appraiser and three real estate dealers in different counties evaluate the property’s worth after his grandmother’s death.
The initial figures for a new lease price were proposed between $1,700 and $1,800 a month, he says.
“I said the town wouldn’t pay for it,” Garrison said.
He then offered to cut the proposed cost in half, to about $850 a month, Garrison explained.
Garrison says that since 1991, higher taxes and cost-of-living increases have resulted in him asking the town to pay more than $250 a month for the water department building.
Mayor Cheek, however, said the lease increase from $250 a month to $850 is unrealistic for the town.
When Garrison presented a proposed new lease to Homer officials, he says he made it clear that the terms of the lease, including price and time, were negotiable. Cheek says they weren’t.
“It’s not that Mack Garrison is trying to price gauge anyone or increase rent,” Garrison said. “(The rent) went for 10 years without a penny being raised.”
And while the town has had a lease agreement with the Garrison family since 1991, he says Homer officials first began using the rent-free building in 1977.
Garrison also says that the real point of contention with the town isn’t about money, it’s about liability insurance. Right now, the town doesn’t have liability insurance on the property that houses large equipment and is the meeting place for town employees, he said.
OTHER PROPERTIES
Besides the water department building (which is also referred to as the York property lots), Garrison also held a lease for the town clerk’s office.
For years, Homer town clerk Carol Ayers operated out a tiny office on U.S. Hwy. 441. The office was next to Hill’s Tax Service, which Ayers operates.
The town didn’t pay a dime for the clerk’s office, Cheek said, but in return Ayers did some bookkeeping work for Garrison.
When Garrison proposed a $350 a month rent for the office, the town decided to move the clerk to Carter Stewart’s building in the Homer Shopping Center and pay $450 a month for a year.
Town officials said the move was done to give the clerk a restroom and to make the facility handicapped accessible (which weren’t provided in the old office). Garrison says he offered to provide those changes.
Overall, Cheek says the debate with Garrison centers on Homer getting its own facilities.
“I just think the city needs to move to owning their own real estate, as soon as possible,” Cheek said. “That way we won’t have any of these problems.”
Another debate with Garrison is a small piece of land on Hwy. 441 for a new town hall and water department facility.
Once Homer purchases and constructs a new building for the town hall and water department, it will then work on bringing a new fire station to the town, Cheek said.
Initially, the town wanted to build a town hall and fire station complex on land along Hwy. 441 and next to The Banks County News office, but the space was too small, he said. Instead, building a new station will now be in the long-term plans, Cheek said.
And one reason the land is still too small for the city involves an agreement with Garrison and the town.
According to Cheek, Garrison verbally agreed to “swap” the last 30 feet on side of the property with the city. The town paid a surveyor to look at the land and Garrison then agreed to do the swap but later pulled out from the deal. Without the swap, the town has fewer feet for the city hall and water department complex, Cheek said.
The town is expected to move into its new city hall and water department complex in 12 to 18 months, Cheek added.
On Tuesday, Garrison, who is also Homer’s fire chief, said some property being offered for sale by the Turk family might be a good location for a new town hall/fire department complex. He also said the surveys of the property will cause “controversy” with the five landowners.
Mayor Cheek said the town hasn’t looked at bigger lots for the fire department. One volunteer firefighter said the department would need enough room for three bays, classroom space and bunk space in a new facility that will likely be about 8,000-square-feet.
The council then began to openly talk about the new property idea, when town attorney Gary Freeman warned them they have the legal right to enter into a closed-door session to discuss real estate.
Every council member agreed to enter into a closed-door session to discuss “property acquisition.” Following the 25-minute meeting, the council took no action.



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County government to change?
Changes could be in store for Banks County’s form of government, but commission chairman Kenneth Brady said he won’t go along with it.
The commissioners will have a special called meeting Thursday morning at 9 a.m. at the courthouse conference room to discuss the matter. At that meeting, the BOC will vote on sending Rep. Jeanette Jamieson a letter asking for the General Assembly’s approval to allow Banks County citizens to vote on the change.
The county will have to hold a special election to allow citizens to vote on the government change.
The change would establish three elected commissioners and a full-time county administrator to run the day-to-day operations of the county. If approved by the governor, the General Assembly and Banks County voters, the change would take effect on January 1, 2005, the end of BOC chairman Kenneth Brady’s current term.
“I’m not signing this letter,” Brady said. “The other two commissioners can vote it in if they want to.”
Brady said commissioners Pat Westmoreland and Rickey Cain met with county attorney Randall Frost and drafted the letter to Rep. Jamieson. He said he had no knowledge of the proposed government change until the letter was finished and he was asked to sign it.
Brady said he refused to sign the letter, saying the BOC must have a meeting and take a vote on whether to sign the letter or not.
Banks County’s current form of government has two elected commissioners and an elected full-time commission chairman that runs the county’s day-to-day operations.


Chamber board asks Moores to leave post early
Banks County Chamber of Commerce executive director Carole Moores had planned to resign from her position as of March 28, but the board of directors has asked her to leave one month earlier.
Moores sent an e-mail to chamber members on Monday stating that the board of directors had asked her to leave her position as of this Friday, Feb. 28.