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MARCH 19, 2003


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SPORTS

Jackson County tennis programs in full swing
The Jackson County tennis squad hosted their first home match of the season last Thursday and came away with a loss against Madison County. On the girls’ side, the Lady Panthers were nipped by the Lady Raiders 3-2, while the boys fell 5-0.

So Far, So Good
With a solid 2-2 start on the diamond this season, Commerce is proving that it might be a different breed of Tigers than the ones that struggled through a four-win campaign in 2002.

Lady Dragons start home season off on right foot with first-place showing
Tuesday’s rain-soaked meet with Athens Christian and Apalachee at Memorial Stadium opened up the 2003 home season for the Jefferson girls track and field squad, and if the final results are any indication, this year’s squad has the potential to do very well in the ranks of Class A.
Impressive in the eyes of their coach Tim Corbett is not necessarily the times and distances recorded, but rather the attitude the Lady Dragons have shown thus far in the young season.


Neighboorhood News ..
MADISON COUNTY
‘Yes, Yes’
Madison County will receive approximately $19 million in sales tax revenue over the next five years, thanks to voters' overwhelming support of two sales tax renewals Tuesday.

Hull residents elect three new council members
Residents of Hull chose three new council members to fill vacant seats at the city's council table Tuesday.

IDA awards contracts for Hull water system expansion projects
The county industrial authority approved two construction contracts for the Hull water system Monday.

Resident remembers long ago days at Harrison School
Nellie Sue Parham King remembers her school days at Harrison School in northern Madison County during the 1920s and 30s very well.

Zoning board stalls plans for repair shop on Loop Road
County planners put the brakes on plans for a transmission shop on Loop Road, just off Hwy. 98, at Tuesday night’s planning and zoning public hearings.


Neighborhood News...
BANKS COUNTY
Commerce: We can get gas to Martin Bridge

If the right industrial customer wants to build at Martin Bridge, Banks County might not have to worry about natural gas availability there. Commerce will take care of it.

Baldwin woman dies in two-vehicle wreck
A Baldwin woman died and eight people were injured in a two-vehicle accident early Thursday morning at the intersection of Hwy. 441 and Thompson Street in Homer.

Harper leading water department
The man that helped build Banks County’s water system has returned to run the department.

Alto looks at collecting past due water bills
The Alto Town Council discussed ways to collect past due water bills, including holding property owners who rent out housing responsible.
At last week’s meeting, mayor Carolyn Gulley asked town attorney Jim Acrey if there is a way to hold owners responsible for the bills of their tenants.

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COUNTY EMPLOYEES SERVING COUNTRY

Jackson County Correctional Institute warden Vickie Underwood and administrative assistant Charlotte Davis are shown finishing up the bulletin board of all their employees who have served in the military or are currently serving.

County employees prepare for war
With war with Iraq just hours away, employees at the Jackson County Correctional Institute began making ribbons to honor their fellow co-workers stationed literally on the brink of conflict.
Those employees, Jeremy Wilkins and Walter Blackmon, are both believed to be stationed near the Iraqi border in Kuwait, said JCCI warden Vickie Underwood.
“It just makes me so proud to know that we have two officers fighting for our freedom,” Underwood said Tuesday.
Wilkins, 26, is an outside detail officer serving the Commerce area. He left in February and has a one-year deployment with a possible one-year extension.
Blackmon, 36, is a sergeant who oversees three correctional officers at JCCI. He is also the father of two daughters, ages two and eight. He left last week for a one-year deployment.
Among the county’s departments, JCCI has the most employees standing to possibly join the war effort. Besides Wilkins and Blackmon, two other employees have been placed on stand-by status with the military.
Lee Reichert, 34, has been notified he will possibly have 180 days to report to duty as part of Operation Homeland Security, Underwood said. He is the father of two daughters and one son.
JCCI employee Janice Hill has also been ordered to stand-by status and to get a physical before possible deployment.
“Of course it’s affecting us,” Underwood said of her employee’s military status. Other JCCI employees are working overtime to compensate for the loss of Wilkins and Blackmon to the war effort, she added.
“We certainly miss them already,” she said.
But, the JCCI isn’t the only county department seeing that some of its staff may join the war effort. Two other county employees have already been called to active duty.
Dwight Allen, a lieutenant in the civil courts division of the sheriff’s office, was called to active duty in mid-February. He was called to duty through the National Guard in Monroe and has since been deployed to an unknown location, said Maj. David Cochran, chief investigator at the sheriff’s office.
Cochran said Allen’s departure as someone who serves warrants means the department is facing a crunch in manpower right now.
Allen is the father of two children.
Also, Adam Garrison, a county EMS paramedic, was called to active duty by the Navy on Monday.
Garrison, who is married and has a four-year-old son, will serve at Camp LeJeune in North Carolina for eight weeks, said EMS coordinator Dwain Smith.
In the meantime, EMS is using part-time workers to fill Garrison’s shift, Smith said. Garrison rotated among the county’s four stations.
But when the county’s four employees return from war, their positions will still be open.
The county commissioners also decided to give extra funds to those employees, if their military base pay is less than their county salary. For some, the county will also help cover their insurance for one year.
Among the more than 300 people employed by the county, they must give “reasonable notification” once they have received stand-by status alerts from their military reserve offices, said county finance and personnel manager Andy Newton.
Newton is also one of those county employees subject to possibly head to war.
Another county department head on stand-by status is transportation and public works director Stan Brown.
Brown, a major in the Air Force Reserve, is not scheduled to deploy, Newton said. However, his unit, which is based out of Dobbins Air Force Base, has already been deployed.
“Anyone on reserve status is subject to recall,” Newton said.
MILITARY STATUS
As of Tuesday, the military status of these county employees is as follows:
•Dwight Allen, sheriff’s office: called to active duty.
•Jeremy Wilkins, JCCI: called to active duty.
•Walter Blackmon, JCCI: called to active duty.
•Adam Garrison, EMS: called to active duty.
•Stan Brown, transportation and public works director: placed on stand-by.
•Lee Reichert, JCCI: placed on stand-by.
•Janice Hill, JCCI: placed on stand-by.
•Jarrod Short, road department: placed on stand-by, waiting for call to report.
•Richard Rutherford, EMS: reserve.
•Andy Newton, manager’s office: reserve.
•Irving Williams, JCCI: reserve, retired.
•Cassandra Thomas, JCCI: honorably discharged to reserve status.
•Charles Andrews, JCCI: honorably discharged to reserve status.
•Wayne Shoemaker, jail: honorably discharged to reserve status.


Oft-Delayed Road Project Supposed To Begin Monday
The long-delayed and often-postponed resurfacing of Broad and Elm streets in Commerce is back on the calendar, according to the Department of Transportation.
It is scheduled to begin Monday, when motorists will find lane closures in the areas where work is expected to take place that day.
The 1.67-mile project runs from Washington Street south to Georgia 334 at the bypass. Its price tag is $407,000.
"We are excited to actually begin this project," stated District Engineer Larry Dent. "After too many delays, we have scheduled a starting date. Lane closures for the resurfacing will occur weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. as the weather permits. Some manhole and drainage work will occur after the resurfacing is complete, but those lane closures will be very small and should only be a small inconvenience."
The projected completion date is May 31.
Preparatory work was done in the fall in anticipation of doing most of the work before cool weather hit. But a combination of getting the contractor's new asphalt plant up to DOT specifications, worry over disrupting holiday shopping and bad weather led to frequent postponements. Finally, the city asked, and the DOT and contractor agreed, to delay the project until spring.
The work will include resurfacing and re-striping the parking spaces along the two streets in the downtown portion.
"Downtown businesses will get 24 hours of notice of parking space closures," Dent said. "Delays are expected. Please use alternate routes whenever possible."


Concert Lineup To
Be Announced Monday
Country music legend Bill Anderson will announce Monday the lineup for the musical events of the June 19-22 City Lights Festival, including the headliner of the 2003 City Lights Concert.
So stated Rob Jordan, president of the Commerce Area Business Association at the CABA's March meeting last Wednesday. Much of the meeting centered around the four-day event.
"Believe me, I do not know who it will be," said Jordan in regard to this year's concert. In fact, Jordan did not even know the time for the press conference at which the announcements will be made.
The festival will encompass a new event this year, stretching it from three days to four. The add-on, billed as the "City Lights Night of Good News" will be a free Christian music concert at Spencer Park downtown. Rev. David Bowen, pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Commerce, is organizing that event, seeking groups like "New Song" and others.
According to Jan Nelson, executive director of the Downtown Development Authority and lead organizer of the festival, church groups will be offered "vending opportunities," although they will be asked to share their profits with the festival. Proceeds go toward the Bill Anderson Center for Performing Arts, which is planned for the campus of the new Commerce Middle School.
Jim Purcell, who is in charge of the City Lights Celebrity Shoot-out golf tournament June 19, reported that his committee is intact and urged members to start looking for prizes to donate and to be receptive to sponsoring holes.
Rose Richard announced that the Thursday night event formerly called "Dinner with the Stars" will be changed to "A Taste of Italy," with Italian food and decorations.
At her recommendation, the group authorized the expenditure of $400-$500 for aprons to be given to those who help with the event in lieu of the usual City Lights T-shirts.
Nelson reported that she has sent vendor applications, using a list from a Toccoa festival organizer, and is starting to get responses. The "City Lights Downtown" part of the festival will occur Friday and Saturday, June 20-21, and will feature a single stage with continuous musical performances in addition to the craft and food booths.
In other business:
•Nelson reported that the Jackson County Comprehensive High School Chorus has been selected to perform in an event in Austria and is looking for "underwriters" to help raise the $1,000-per-student cost.
•Jordan served notice that he will raise the issue of creating a CABA scholarship at some point in the future and appointed a committee chaired by Nelson and containing Keith Ariail, Gina Hagan and Susan Harper to consider the particulars.
•Nelson reminded the group of its April 19 Easter activities. They start at 8:30 a.m. when candy eggs for the annual egg hunt will be distributed on the front lawn of the First Baptist Church of Commerce. A children's "Easter parade," complete with prizes for best-decorated wagon, bicycle and battery-operated car, will leave the parking lot of Community Bank and Trust's drive-in at 10:45 a.m. and the egg hunt will begin as soon as the last parade participants are on the grounds at the church – roughly 11:00.


Another takeover?
Taking control of Jackson County’s economic development efforts could be the next move in the works by the Jackson County Board of Commissioners. And like several other actions by the board to consolidate control over county operations, this effort is likely to generate a lot of controversy in the coming weeks.
Commissioner Sammy Thomason proposed at a weekend BOC meeting in Helen that the BOC become “lead negotiators” in economic development efforts made by the county.
“The citizens elected us to increase the tax base of Jackson County,” he said. “I’m not sure they wanted us to delegate that. We need to have more of a lead position in the negotiation process.”
Stacey Britt added that “anytime you expend county dollars, the BOC needs to be involved.”
“I don’t think anyone is talking about taking over economic development,” Britt said. “...It’s wrong to take the BOC out of the process and then ask us to make the decision.”
Thomason said: “Absolutely not...Just because Harold and I are the lead negotiators, it doesn’t mean the chamber or IDA are out of the process. They are support staff, in my mind.”
If such an effort comes to pass, it would be a major change in how the county has recently handled pursuing prospective businesses and industries. Such a move could also anger the county’s business community.
The move apparently stems from last year’s successful Toyota plant project where some members of the BOC said they felt “left out” of the discussions.
“We didn’t know anything,” said Britt. “...It was wrong for me, as an elected official, to hear information from a non-BOC meeting.”
Thomason said: “I found out information (on Toyota) in a non-BOC meeting. That’s wrong and I’m still mad about it.”
In recent years, the Jackson County Area Chamber of Commerce and the county industrial development authority have been the first points of contact in business recruitment. Local city and county officials are usually kept appraised about prospective industries, but generally come to the table only when the negotiations reach a critical stage.
Both Thomason and BOC chairman Harold Fletcher were reportedly at odds with the chamber and IDA during the Toyota talks last year after the two commissioners attempted to divert local school taxes generated by the project away from local school systems and into the county budget to build roads related to the deal. The rest of the BOC reportedly balked at that move and it was strongly opposed by the IDA and chamber.
Under Thomason’s proposal, the chamber and IDA and other members of the county’s economic development team would be involved, but that the BOC would take over the main talks.
Thomason’s proposal was that the BOC chairman and the district commissioner in whose area the project falls should be the “lead negotiators.”
“Somebody ultimately has to be the lead negotiator,” he said.
Dr. Wes Wynens of the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia, who served as the facilitator for the two-day retreat, asked where this would leave the IDA.
Thomason said the IDA would be in a “supportive role.”
But Beshara voiced opposition to the idea.
“I don’t know that I agree with that,” he said. “We have a good, effective team right now with the chamber and the IDA...It’s not wise to assume I know more about economic development than Pepe (Cummings, chamber president) or Scott (Martin, IDA chairman).”
Other members of the BOC, except for Beshara, seemed to agree with the proposal. No action was taken, but the BOC agreed to meet with the chamber and IDA to set up a policy on how to deal with economic development in the future.
Thomason said that the “ultimate authority” on economic projects resides with the BOC.
“I’m not much for delegating the negotiations,” he said.
Thomason said the BOC would be more likely to get information and share it through the negotiating process than to have someone bring them the proposal and say it’s the best deal.
“All teams need a quarterback,” he said. “We’re not saying the team members (in place now) aren’t good.”
Fletcher did say that if the commissioners have a strong objection to a proposed economic project, the IDA and chamber wouldn’t pursue the matter.
“They feel like we are a team and they want to support this team,” he said.

 

 


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Failed audits could cost Braselton in grant funds
Braselton’s failed attempts to submit its audits for the past five years on time to a state department is costing the town any state grants it applies for.
Ed Blaha, a director for the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts, said Tuesday Braselton wouldn’t be able to receive state grants, if the town seeks such funding.
“At this point, if a state agency called me up and asked me if (Braselton was) eligible, I would say ‘no,’” Blaha said.
The problem is that audits dating back to 1999 have failed to get the final approval from the state department and have been repeatedly submitted past deadline.
Municipalities have six months at the end of the fiscal year to submit their audits to the state department. State code says municipalities can receive extensions to complete their audits for two consecutive years, but not three years. The department then reviews the audits and notifies town officials if additional or corrected information is needed. Those cities not getting approval by the state are subject to lose out on potential state grants and have notices published in a local newspaper.
Blaha said Braselton’s 1999 audit was completed this week. The town asked for an extension in June 2000 and a second extension request was denied by the state.
The town submitted its 2000 audit on June 22, 2001, after the state notified officials the document was late. No extension was requested, he said.
But, the 2000 audit had some “technical comment” flaws that needed revision. The town submitted those revisions on Monday night. The state department is now reviewing those changes, Blaha said.
On Monday, the town council held a called meeting to approve its 2001 audit before submitting it to the state. No extension was requested for the 2001 audit.
One of the problems cited for the town’s failure to submit audits on time was a change in technology several years ago.
David Knight, an account working on the town’s audit, said Braselton’s financial records were still being completed on a table in the rear of a furniture store just a few years ago.
“In the past, some people didn’t look to the future,” he said. “This town has grown tremendously in the last four or five years.”
Knight, who has been working on Braselton’s audits for four years, said he struggled with one former council member to bring the town into a more modern accounting system.
And when that system finally arrived for the town, it still caused problems.
Town manager Jennifer Scott said a big problem in completing audits has been a change from a DOS operating system to a Windows operating system. The first system didn’t allow officials to enter certain descriptions and other variables the state requires, she said.
Despite the delay in past audits, town officials say they still have made some strives.
“Technology wise, I think the town is ahead of the curve,” Knight said. He said he will continue to monitor the town’s financial transactions.
Once tax season ends, Knight said he plans to begin working on the 2002 audit and expects it will be completed sometime between April 15-May 15. The town might ask the state for an extension. Knight will then begin working on the 2003 audit, once the fiscal year ends June 30.
Mayor Pat Graham said once the town completes its 2002 audit, it would be the first time in five years Braselton has been caught up with its audits.
“We’re trying to work with the city,” Blaha said.


Employee raises get BOC vote of approval after all
County employees will be getting a raise after all.
On Monday, the Jackson County Board of Commissioners approved a two-percent cost of living raise for county employees. The board also approved up to an additional two-percent merit raise.
The BOC had denied, in a 3-2 vote, an earlier request for an employee raise due to concerns about county finances because of the Bear Creek Reservoir payments.
Commissioner Tony Beatty made the motion Monday night to approve the two-percent cost of living raise and the other commissioners unanimously agreed. The vote for the merit raise was 3-1 with Beatty casting the dissenting vote.
County finance director John Hulsey said the annual cost for the raises would be $461,332. He recommended that this year’s funds come from the contingency fund since it was not on the budget.