Jackson County Opinions...

MARCH 5, 2003



Column
By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
March 5, 2003

BOC To Gain From Support Of
War With Iraq
With their credibility suffering from their attempt to take over the water authority and the decision to locate a courthouse next to the landfill, the Republican-majority board of commissioners is looking for a quick fix to bolster its popularity.
That's why you can expect a resolution from the BOC in the upcoming days, declaring the "Republic of Jackson's" support for President Bush's war in Iraq.
By joining the coalition supporting the war (Great Britain, Eastern Europe and Iceland), the commissioners are taking a page from the commander in chief's playbook by turning attention away from domestic mess to a remote foreign event.
Of course, this means Jackson County will have to actually participate in the war, and you can be sure County Manager Al Crace and BOC Chairman Harold Fletcher are, as you read this, fleshing out the details, looking for ways to help their country while at the same time gaining an upper hand in domestic events.
That's why they've chosen Mike Buffington to command a platoon to test battlefields for chemical weapons. He'll be equipped with a canary in a cage and instructed to take five deep breaths in the event the canary falls off its perch, and then to call Central Command.
I was going to volunteer, until I discovered the county’s “battlefield mime clearing” position reserved for me contained a critical typographical error.
The commissioners are contemplating offering Jerry Waddell's services in rebuilding the water system in Baghdad. They'll send him in undercover before the war starts so he can get a head start, and they're hoping Prime Engineering will sponsor the trip. Commissioner Emil Beshara has suggested that SPLOST funds be used to purchase the ticket to Iraq if Prime won’t, but has not mentioned the return fare.
As a member of the Bush-Cheney Coalition, the Republic of Jackson will be expected to provide ground troops too. The voting list is being scoured for habitual Democrats and other repeat offenders to serve under the command of Stan Evans. In return, Evans is being promised a new jail once the courthouse is built.
As strong supporters of Bush, the commissioners are willing to make sacrifices. It is said they are considering lending Crace to the occupation army to reorganize Iraq under its new government after the war. Crace could find himself in charge of hiring the consultants and administrative assistants crucial to the creation of a successful bureaucracy.
Privately, a couple of commissioners are trying to find a commission in the Army for Beshara, but there isn't expected to be much demand in Iraq for animal control. The best opportunity, they reason, is to offer him as ambassador to the Kurds, where he can use his peace-making abilities skills to unite warring factions in the new Iraq.
The payback for the Republic of Jackson’s support is financial help from Washington. Turkey had been offered billions, so the commissioners reason that our participation ought to be worth $22 million. We should support them. It’s our patriotic duty, not to mention our only hope of financing a new courthouse.


Editorials
The Jackson Herald
March 5, 2003

Postal retirement fund overpaid
If you still have 34 cent stamps in your drawer unused from 2001, or even 33 cent stamps from 1998, you’ve noticed that postage has gone up pretty often lately. The main annoyance for most consumers is standing in line at the post office to buy three and four cent stamps to paste on until the old ones are finally used up.
But the pain of the higher postage rates amounts to more than the aggravation of standing in line. It comes through the increased prices that businesses pass on when they mail bank and investment statements, magazines (and, yes, newspapers), utility bills and so forth. It all adds up to bigger bills on your desk.
Like the weather, people complain about higher postage. But no one does much about it.
Soon, the 108th Congress will have an opportunity to do something.
According to the National Newspaper Association, if Congress acts on Senate Bill 380 and House Bill 537, consumers won’t have to buy 39 or 40 cent stamps next year. If it doesn’t act, another postage increase is assured, according to Postmaster General Jack Potter.
The Postal Service discovered last November that one of its major expenses, contributions to retirement funds, would be overpaid by $71 billion over the next 40 years. That’s Billion, with a B. This year’s share of pension payments alone is nearly $3 billion. If that payment has to be made, the Postal Service will raise rates again in 2004.
The funding for this postal employees’ Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) comes partly from payroll withholding and matching contributions and partly from annual USPS payments. Once the cup is full of payments, benefits are secure. If more is added, the pensioners don’t get more and the Postal Service doesn’t get the money back. It is just overflow.
The cup will overflow generously into federal coffers unless Congress changes the law. The federal Office of Personnel Management, Office of Management and Budget and Treasury Department all agree that the payments will be too much, but only Congress can stop them.
The two new bills, S. 380, sponsored by Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), and Thomas Carper (R-DE) and HR 735, sponsored by Reps. John McHugh (R-NY), Henry Waxman, (D-CA), Danny Davis, (D-IL), and Tom Davis, (R-VA) would put the payments back into line with the funding need.
A no-brainer, it would seem. So why wouldn’t Congress do that? The labor unions support the revision; so do most business groups.
The catch is that the overflow money makes the deficit look better on the books. With a federal deficit soaring over $200 billion this year the desire of Congressional budget balancers to hang onto the overflow is understandable. But it still wrong.
The right way to tax Americans for federal programs is through the taxes and fees created through the Congressional debate and vote process, not through an accidental tax on the stamp. Unless Congress acts, though, that’s what consumers will get. An accidental tax.

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Column
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
March 5, 2003

Bid process designed to hide courthouse cost
You might have missed it, but Jackson County taxpayers have once again gotten kicked in the teeth by their own government.
When the Jackson County Board of Commissioners recently awarded a bid for a general contractor for its courthouse project, it was done in a way to prevent taxpayers from knowing the true total cost of that project until after the building was completed.
Rather than bid the entire project based on detailed architectural plans the way large construction projects are usually done, the BOC just bid out the general contractor and awarded it to Holder Construction at a little over $1 million.
I have no doubt that Holder Construction is a good firm, but in doing the bid this way, the BOC avoided having to tell the public the total cost of its courthouse project up front.
That’s not surprising. This board has long operated in the shadows, only releasing bits of information for public consumption. Over and over, this board has sought to avoid public input at all levels on a variety of issues, but especially the courthouse.
Let’s be blunt here: The move by this board to build a new courthouse has been the worst example of leadership I have ever witnessed by public officials. This will be the most expensive project ever undertaken by the Jackson County government, yet it has also been the most poorly managed. The result will be millions of dollars wasted, money that will have to be paid by taxpayers for years, perhaps decades, to come.
Just look at the board’s record:
1. The BOC decided on a site for the new courthouse in secret. Not once did it solicit public input before a decision was made. Not once did it consider any site but the one chosen by the chairman.
2. The BOC decided to pay far above market value for the land. The land is rocky and uneven and several residential developers had earlier passed on the site at a far lower price than was paid by the BOC.
3. The BOC decided to purchase a huge amount of land, 160 acres, based on some goofy idea of a “campus” for county buildings. At the most, a new courthouse and all related buildings need only 25-30 acres.
4. The BOC chose a site that is remote and difficult to access by a majority of county citizens. The site was chosen based on petty politics, not on serving the needs of citizens.
5. The site does not have, nor will it ever have, good road access. The county cannot afford to build the necessary roads to make it accessible.
6. The county hired a friend of one commissioner to be an “advisor” on the project. That’s in addition to hiring an architectural firm to design the building. That firm’s idea? “Listen to the land.” Nuts.
7. The county has not overseen the design process with any level of scrutiny. That was obvious last week when Judge Adamson, very nicely, picked apart the preliminary design ideas that the county had paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to get. Frankly, Adamson could have sketched out a better design during lunch on the back of a napkin.
8. Now the BOC has hired a general contractor to oversee the project. But rather than bid the project in total, as is usually done, the BOC just bid the general contractor. Why? My theory is that by doing this, the BOC will avoid having to tell the public up front the total cost of the courthouse. The general contractor will do the sub-letting, avoiding public bids, and the price will only be known after the project is complete. Preliminary numbers suggest it will cost at least $22 million, and that’s just to start. Plan on spending $30-$40 million.
9. Not once has the BOC discussed how this huge project will be financed and paid for. But we all know what they have in mind: To create a building authority that will in turn borrow the funds. Doing that will allow the BOC to bypass any public vote on how to finance the multi-million dollar project. In other words, this board is planning to tie taxpayers to years of debt without allowing taxpayers to have any voice in approving that debt.
Frankly, I don’t care where a new courthouse is built. But I do care that the citizens of this county have had no say in these complex and expensive decisions.
No public input in the site.
No public input in the design.
No public input in the financing.
That isn’t leadership, it’s just amateur politicians playing games with our money.
And if we as Jackson County citizens stand by silent, we will get exactly what we deserve.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


Editorial
The Commerce News
March 5, 2003

City Right To Support Its Zoning Ordinance
In a tough decision pitting the needs and desires of individuals against the good of the city, the Com-merce government is making the difficult but correct choice.
Its planning commission has recommended that two requests to rezone lots in residential areas to allow mobile homes be turned down. The city council appears ready to accept the recommendation Monday night.
In both cases, residents live in mobile home in areas zoned for site-built houses. As “nonconforming uses”, those mobile homes cannot be replaced if they are destroyed or removed, because the intent of the ordinance is that the neighborhoods be reserved for site-built houses. There are many other similar nonconforming lots whose owners will eventually face the same situation.
Most everyone agrees that the new mobile homes would be an improvement for the residents and their neighbors over the existing ones. The problem is that 10-20 years from now, the value of the mobile home will have diminished, affecting property values in the entire neighborhood, whereas a site-built house would appreciate in value. The key to improving neighborhoods is to have houses in areas zoned for houses and mobile homes in separate areas zoned for mobile homes. The desires of the individuals conflict with the goal of the community.
This is a matter of protecting neighborhoods for the present and the foreseeable future. The city has areas zoned for all types of housing and the community will be better served if the integrity of those zoned districts is maintained.


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