Jackson County Opinions...

FEBRUARY 26, 2003



Column
By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
February 26, 2003

Impossible To Get Ready For Terrorist Attacks
How do you prepare for a terrorist attack that could involve biological, chemical or even nuclear weapons?
Most authorities (except those in government) agree that the United States is little more prepared for a terrorist attack today than it was Sept. 11, 2001.
Tom Ridge, homeland security secretary, has announced a communication blitz to urge people to prepare disaster kits, make plans for evacuation and to "arm yourself with information."
That is not bad advice. People in areas prone to hurricanes, floods or earthquakes do that anyway. The problem is that the federal, state and local governments are moving only slowly to prepare for a disaster.
Why is that? It's because no attack seems imminent. And while Ridge starts a PR campaign, government isn't on the kind of footing it needs to be on if these threats are real.
The Bush budget, which calls for a trillion dollars worth of deficit spending over the next decade (plus extra for a war with Iraq), addresses homeland security only in the context of a new department with new needs – not as a critical high priority. The 3,000-page, foot-thick federal document contains all of the special spending proposals we call "pork barrel spending" unless our area is a recipient. Hundreds of millions of dollars that could be better spent to get our first responders prepared for terrorist attacks are being spent for constituent services all over the country. Few of those are critical.
The billions that Bush wants to rebate to taxpayers may be welcome, but in addition to causing the deficit to soar, they take resources that, if we expect serious terrorism, would be better spent in preparation.
The states are in worse shape. Many cannot legally carry a deficit and most are struggling to make ends meet because of a slow economy. They're raising taxes to fund education and Medicaid, they've already cut the fat from their budgets, yet they're supposed to prepare to respond to terrorist attacks without significant federal help? Not likely.
In spite of the "orange alert" and continuing warnings, few Americans think defending against terrorism is a top priority. If we did, we'd lobby our governments to make the investment, to raise taxes if necessary.
How would any major city cope with a biological or chemical attack? Our hospitals, many of them threatened by current state and federal cuts, will be expected to respond, and they will, but few will have the equipment, training or materials to handle the situation. The EMS, fire and police agencies will be in the same situation.
It is inevitable. Politicians don’t get re-elected by planning for a future event that might happen. They are elected to deal with existing problems, of which there is never a shortage. A tax hike now to cover homeland defense would be attacked from all sides; recipients of current pork barrel spending and tax rebates are happy constituents.
Still, if attacks occur, we’ll all blame government for its lack of preparation. At that point, tax increases for preparedness will be palatable. Government, business and citizens will all be focused and America will take terrorism seriously.
Until then, we’re on our own.


Editorials
The Jackson Herald
February 26, 2003

Building authority needs a cap
It was just over a year ago, Feb. 13, 2002 to be exact, that the Jackson County Board of Commissioners unveiled its plans to buy land and build a new courthouse. In the 12 months since that unveiling, the BOC has purchased 160 acres, hired architects, hired a contractor and spent millions of dollars of tax money.
What the BOC has not done, however, is discuss how it plans to finance and pay for this multi-million dollar project.
How big is it? Just for phase one, early numbers estimate an expense of at least $22 million. It is likely, given the nature of construction, that number will easily go to $35-$40 million. It will certainly top that amount with phase two and three.
So we’re talking about a huge debt Jackson County taxpayers will be obligated to fund for years to come.
If voters in Jackson County approve a bond referendum for that project, then so be it. But it is clear to us that this BOC does not intend to allow any kind of public vote on creating this huge debt.
What the BOC plans to do is create a “building authority” that will borrow the money for the project and then lease the building back to the county government. Those lease payments would come from county taxpayers in the form of higher property taxes.
Why does the BOC want to go that route? Because by Georgia law, the BOC cannot issue such debt without a public vote. Thus, the creation of a building authority will allow it to sidestep the public.
For small projects, such as building additions, we don’t have a problem with a building authority. But we do believe that any such authority should have two key provisions:
First, the authority should have a debt limit cap. No government should be given a blank check to create a huge debt for taxpayers without a vote.
Second, the authority should have to hold mandatory public hearings before issuing any kind of debt. Those hearings should include how the proposed project would be financed and paid for and how much tax money would be involved.
We know the BOC will not agree to those two items. Indeed, that board has done everything it could to bypass public input on the courthouse project.
So we call on our legislators to study this building authority proposal and to make sure the taxpayers of Jackson County are protected.
(To contact our legislative delegation with your thoughts, use the address and email information on this page.)

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Column
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
February 26, 2003

How to kill Darnell Road scheme
The Jackson County Board of Commissioners is between a rock and a hard place and every taxpayer in the county ought to rejoice.
Although the BOC is moving like a freight train to build a courthouse on Darnell Road at a cost of $30-$40 million, taxpayers may yet be able to stop those ill-conceived efforts, or in the end walk away from the debt.
How can that happen?
It’s a little complicated, but it all comes down to money — no matter what the BOC plans, it will have to be paid for. And therein lies a huge dilemma for that board.
There are basically only three ways the BOC can finance this project: First, it can call for a bond referendum and allow voters to approve or disapprove raising taxes to pay for long-term debt. That would mean that voters would get to vote directly on the courthouse plans.
Second, the BOC could call for a SPLOST vote in 2004 to finance the project. That could be structured several different ways, one of which would also require voters to approve long-term bonds to be paid off by SPLOST funds.
But both of those methods would require voter approval and this BOC does not want to put its Darnell Road plans before voters.
That leaves the third option which the BOC wants to pursue at all costs. That is to create a building authority. That authority would then try to borrow $30-$40 million to build the courthouse, then lease the facility back to the BOC.
That’s what the BOC plans to do, but there’s a little problem with that: Any lease deal between the BOC and building authority can only be for one year at a time. This board cannot bind future boards to the lease.
So here’s what could happen: Voters could elect new BOC members and the new board could vote to end the lease. Since the county did not secure the loan, taxpayers would walk away from the Darnell Road project with no liability. A new BOC could then find a more suitable location for the courthouse and conduct the process the right way.
So what would happen to the empty monument on Darnell Road? Well, the building authority could find someone else to lease the facility (unlikely), or it could allow the lending bank to foreclose.
And that’s the real rub — what lender or bank in its right mind would give this county building authority $30-$40 million to construct a single-use building on Darnell Road without any guarantee of a long-term lease? And what lender would give away that kind of money in the current county political climate where a new BOC might very well walk away from a monument to this board’s egos?
If the BOC believes its plans on Darnell Road are sound, then it should have no hesitation about going to the voters with a bond referendum or SPLOST vote.
But this board will not do that. It will, instead, attempt to sidestep county voters by using a building authority.
That, too, could be a dead end. Even if the building authority does manage to borrow some money, at a high interest rate, voters can respond by putting in office new BOC members who pledge to walk away from this Darnell Road mistake and leave the bank holding an empty shell of a building.
One way or the other, voters will have the final say in the BOC’s courthouse efforts. The board can allow that up front with a bond or SPLOST vote, or it can gamble on a lease which future boards may well cancel.
Rejoice, taxpayers. The way to stop this BOC is to cut off its money. Sooner or later, you will have that chance.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


Editorial
The Commerce News
February 26, 2003

Consequences Of War
Are Unpredictable
The United States and Great Britain edge closer to the seemingly-inevitable war with Iraq. Troops are on the move, pressure is being put on U.S. "allies" to cooperate and the rhetoric from Washington, DC, grows more intense.
That the United States can overwhelm Iraq is not in question, but there are diverse opinions about the need, the cost in both human and monetary terms and the consequences. The fact is, no one can be sure of the consequences of going to war.
Twelve years ago, the U.S. began the Gulf War with Operation Desert Storm, which led to the destruction of the Iraqi army with an ease that stunned the most optimistic American military experts. It also led to the Gulf War Syndrome, which has yet to be fully explained, and health problems of American personnel from insect-borne diseases and exposure to oil field smoke. Other unanticipated consequences include the death of an estimated one million Iraqi children in the decade following the war, which the Iraqis blamed on United Nation sanctions (of course) and the preservation of power by Saddam Hussein.
This time, the stakes are higher. While it is hoped that the war will go as smoothly, the possibility exists that there will be significant American casualties, particularly since it is widely believed that Hussein will try to deploy any chemical, biological or nuclear weapons he possesses, having nothing to lose since his removal is the stated American goal. Hussein will try again to spread the war to Israel so as to draw in other Arab nations, a deadly possibility. Anti-U.S. sentiment has grown since the last war, opening up the possibility that war will lead right-wing factions to sponsor (more) terrorism, perhaps even conduct coups to bring radicals to power and further destabilize the entire area. A worst-case but imaginable scenario includes the use of nuclear weapons, by Iraq if it has them, by Israel if it is successfully attacked with Iraqi weapons of mass destruction, by the U.S. if its troops are similarly attacked, and possibly by Pakistan and India, who seem to be perennially on the verge of nuclear war.
And though America is already targeted by the al-Qaida terrorist network, it is possible that the beginning of the war with Iraq might be used as the kickoff for a "retaliatory" round of attacks against the U.S. and its European allies. It is also virtually certain that war will encourage still others to join the ranks of terrorism and it is not at all certain that Iraq after Hussein will be better than Iraq with Hussein. The effects on the American economy are also unknown.
Needless to say, political, military and intelligence officials are trying to assess the risks and to limit their consequences, but it is impossible to foresee all that might take place during a war with Iraq. Barring a last-minute change of heart by the Bush administration, there will be war. Once it starts, all we can do is pray for its quick conclusion, expect the unexpected and watch to see how events unfold.


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