News from Jackson County...

APRIL 2, 2003


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SPORTS

Panthers remain ‘in house,’ name four-year assistant to head up boys basketball program
After nearly a six-week search for a new boys basketball coach at Jackson County, it seems the Panthers had their replacement sitting on the bench all along this past season.

On A Roll
It’s still early, but the diamond Tigers (5-3) can already point to one significant indicator that they’re an improved outfit in 2003.
After pulling out a 4-3 extra- inning thriller over Lakeview Academy Friday, the team has already surpassed its win total of four games last year in just eight contests this season.

Jefferson tracksters run away with consecutive home meets
The Jefferson girls track and field team turned things up a notch in their last two times competing, as they began a six-meet homestand last week.
The stretch of consecutive meets at Memorial Stadium pits the squad against the meat of their schedule, primarily facing off against other teams from Region 8-A during the stretch.


Neighboorhood News ..
MADISON COUNTY
A soldier’s story
Watching television has taken on a whole new meaning for many people around the country since the war in Iraq began, complete with live coverage of the action, particularly for those who have family members involved in the conflict.

Folk festival set for Sat. in Danielsville
Folklife in Georgia, an event celebrating the traditional music, dance and handiwork of rural Georgia, will be held this Saturday, April 5, at the county park on Hwy. 29 South in Danielsville. The festival will be held inside the old Danielsville Elementary Gym if it’s raining.

Fortson’s motion for new trial denied
Convicted murderer Tracy Lea Fortson was recently denied a new trial.
Fortson, a former Oglethorpe County sheriff’s deputy, was convicted in July of 2001 for the murder of her ex-boyfriend Doug Benton of Colbert.


Neighborhood News...
BANKS COUNTY
Religious group sues Banks BOE

A religious group has gained access for the time being at Banks County’s primary, elementary and upper elementary schools.

Banners won’t be up in time for big race
The more than 150,000 visitors expected to pour through Banks Crossing during the first week of May won’t likely get to see the new street light banners planned for the area.

State problems mean some Banks County students won’t have to take CRCT this year
Some Banks County elementary and middle school students, along with their counterparts throughout the state, won’t have to take one of the most important standardized tests this year.

Whitlock to give talk to chamber
Bobby Whitlock, Workforce Development coordinator from Pioneer RESA, will speak at the Banks County Chamber of Commerce meeting at 8 a.m. on Thursday, April 10, at the civic center.

Several legal issues remain unresolved
Though the primary access issue for a religious group seeking to use school property has been reached, attorneys for the fellowship vowed Monday to continue pressing two other issues.

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‘PERFECTLY POLISHED?’

Students from the Jefferson Fifth Grade Academy “Perfectly Polished” program participated in the spring social last Saturday night in Athens. The program teaches social skills and manners to students. Shown are (L-R) Chelsea Griffith, Brittany Evans, Trevor Castellaw, Abby Martin and Amelia Blair.

Building authority bill dead this session
Options for the Jackson County Board of Commissioners to finance a controversial new courthouse were narrowed this week after the county’s legislative delegation didn’t agree to a BOC request to create a building authority as a financing vehicle.
The county’s five legislators met Wednesday with officials to discuss the matter, but couldn’t reach a consensus, said Rep. Chris Elrod.
“The delegation was not able to reach any kind of consensus,” he said. “We told them ‘No’ at this point in time (on introducing the building authority legislation).”
Elrod said the delegation was concerned about the need for a new jail in Jackson County and would pursue options to help that effort, if possible.
While a building authority could be used to finance a jail project, that was not the immediate intent of the proposed legislation. The BOC requested the legislation to finance a $25-$35 million courthouse on Darnell Road.
With the building authority option dead, the BOC is expected to pursue discussions with the Association County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG) about a lease/purchase arrangement for the courthouse (see other story).
The lease/purchase plan is apparently an effort by the BOC to avoid a bond referendum vote or pre-construction SPLOST on the proposed courthouse and to speed the controversial project along before elections in 2004.
A lease/purchase arrangement would allow the county government to do a “back door” general obligation bond to finance a new courthouse, bypassing voters and a bond referendum. Technically, another group, such as the ACCG, could borrow the money to build the courthouse, then lease it back to the county.
LOBBYING OF
MAYORS BACKFIRES
The BOC’s failure to win approval for the building authority was its second set-back this week in the political arena. Last week, the BOC attempted to drum up support for the authority by lobbying the county’s mayors for help.
But that effort backfired after six of the county’s nine mayors came out in opposition to the proposal.
Only three mayors, Charles Hardy in Commerce, Ronnie Maxwell in Nicholson and Richard Presley in Maysville, agreed to support the BOC.
This week, the other six mayors sent a letter to the county’s legislative delegation stating their opposition and calling for a bond referendum on the courthouse to allow the citizens to decide its fate.
“The following Jackson County mayors have met and discussed the local legislation proposed to create a Jackson County Building Authority. We feel that the taxpayers of Jackson County should have the right to decide, through a voter referendum, whether or not to issue bonds to construct a new courthouse facility. Therefore, we do not support this legislation and hope that you will concur.”
The mayors signing the letter were Monk Tolbert of Pendergrass, Jim Joiner of Jefferson, Doug Haynie of Arcade, Billy Holder of Hoschton, Larry Wood of Talmo and Pat Graham of Braselton.
Mayor Wood in Talmo told The Herald this week that he believes the public should “have a voice” in the courthouse issue.
“I do not support it,” he said of the building authority. “This thing is so complicated and they are so many things that are happening. I think the people need to have a voice in this, especially if they are going to be able to generate funds and not just arbitrarily be able to do it through this authority they want to create. I’m definitely opposed to it.”
Mayor Tolbert said he doesn’t support the legislation because he doesn’t agree with the site selected for the courthouse.

MAYUORS OPPOSE SPLOST
FOR COURTHOUSE
In addition to going on record in opposition to the creation of a building authority, the six mayors went further to also oppose diverting future SPLOST money to pay for a new courthouse.
Although not discussed in any public meeting, some members of the BOC want to approach voters in 2004 with a SPLOST vote to make note payments on a new courthouse. Plans are to have the money borrowed prior to that vote, however, thus forcing voters to choose between a SPLOST, or higher property taxes.
But the six mayors said in a letter to BOC chairman Harold Fletcher this week that the SPLOST should “continue to provide funding for roads, water and sewer, and parks and recreation.”
“As mayors of Jackson County, we also feel that in order to adequately provide the infrastructure necessary for the population growth that we are experiencing, the upcoming SPLOST should continue to provide funding for roads, water and sewer, and parks and recreation. Any reduction in SPLOST for these critical areas will burden the residents of our cities with increased costs to provide this type of necessary infrastructure. For these reasons, we do not support SPLOST funding for a courthouse project.”
Mayor Haynie in Arcade told The Herald that while the county needs a courthouse, that shouldn’t be at the expense of other community needs.
“I think that if we’re going to use SPLOST funds for the construction of a courthouse, which I agree that we need, it will seriously deteriorate our ability to provide the infrastructure in a county that is growing as fast as we are,” he said. “In other words, I think that if we are going to take it away from roads and bridges and recreation and water and sewer, we hurt ourselves rather than letting the people say, ‘Yes, we need a courthouse and this is how we’re going to fund it.’ I’m in favor of a referendum, whether it be a one percent SPLOST increase.”


Fire Insurance Rates To Fall
In Commerce, East Jackson
Property owners in most of the East Jackson Fire District and throughout Commerce will save substantial amounts of money on their fire insurance premiums.
Commerce Fire Chief Johnny Eubanks announced Monday night that the Insurance Services Office has decreased its ISO ratings based on improvements in the department's ability to combat fires.
The ISO rating for all EJFD property within 1,000 feet of a fire hydrant was reduced to Class 4 from Class 7; the rating for all property in the city was cut to Class 4 from Class 5.
The change affects 77 percent of property in the East Jackson Fire District.
On a $100,000 policy, a premium of $510 at a Class 7 rating would fall to $380 per year at Class 4, according to figures prepared by Hyman Brown Insurance Agency.
For a Commerce resident with a $100,000 policy, the savings would be about $40 per year for the drop from Class 5 to Class 4.
"There's a lot of people who are going to save a few hundred dollars a year," Eubanks noted.
Property owners should notify their insurance companies of the ISO reductions to make sure their rates are adjusted.
ISO is the leading supplier of statistical, underwriting and actuarial information for the property and casualty insurance industry. Most insurers use the ISO classifications for calculating premiums for property.
Its ratings are based on several factors, including training of personnel, communications, record keeping, equipment and the quality of the water system.
"We've got more equipment and our records are in the best shape they've been in since the fire department was established," Eubanks said. "The training reports, fire reports, testing of hydrants and testing of fire hoses are all in real good shape. A lot of it is training that firemen have done and pre-fire planning.
"Also, we've got a ladder truck and we've purchased two pumpers since 1992 and one service truck since 1992."
This was the first ISO audit since 1983, during which time the number of fire hydrants in the department's service territory has more than doubled.
"That's some of Jackson County hydrants, some Banks County hydrants and some of Nicholson's, but the biggest portion of it is Commerce," Eubanks said.
The next goal: Class 3, a move that will require some additional training, some improvements in the water system and further improvement in pre-fire planning.
According to Eubanks, the department has made fire plans for 75 percent of the school, church, public buildings, businesses and industries in the district.
"We need to go from 75 percent to 100 percent," he stated.
The department has 30 certified firemen and has 13 recruits in a rookie training program.


School Board, City Council
Find Consensus At Retreat
HIAWASSEE -- The exercise was part pep rally, part family counseling and part goal-setting, but when the Commerce City Council and Commerce Board of Education ended their joint retreat Saturday afternoon, the consensus was that they'd reached a consensus.
The mountain air on the shores of Lake Chatuge must have had a good effect, for the 12 participants emerged of one accord that they should communicate more, work harder to get along and unite on issues that affect life in Commerce.
Time will tell whether the harmony achieved among members of two groups previously prone to sniping at each other will last, but all 12 participants were exuberant over just how well they managed to co-exist for nine hours in a small conference room at the Fieldstone Inn and how much they'd accomplished in the process.
All six city council members attended, as did five of the six board of education members plus school superintendent Larry White and assistant superintendent Dr. Nancy Baird.
"Facilitator" Sherri Lawless of the Carl Vinson Institute of Government of the University of Georgia pushed, prodded and cajoled members into listing problems, goals and, finally, the major priorities for action in the coming months.
As expected, economic development turned out to be the top priority – actually the top three priorities – for the attention of the two groups.
Narrowed down from 16 issues identified by various individuals, the top three by consensus were:
•bringing more business and industry to the city
•enlarging the city limits through annexation
•growing the city tax digest to support a growing school system.
The one issue that got the most pre-retreat attention – granting taxation authority to the board of education – was barely mentioned, having been taken off the table by the school board prior to the retreat.
And while City Manager Clarence Bryant was not present due to a pre-planned trip, he was assigned to take charge of the actions planned by the group to accomplish its goals.
Bryant is tasked with getting city council representation on a "sales team" to market Commerce to potential business and industry. The deadline is April 30.
He is also asked to assist White in developing a similar team to work on annexing land into the city, to work with White to schedule a joint meeting of the two groups in May, to contact the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia about doing a survey of the school system's electrical use to see how costs can be reduced and to write a policy explaining exactly how school tax funds are collected and apportioned.
The retreat began at 9:00 Friday for the board of education, which established its consensus on major issues and tried to identify possible ways it can stretch its budget funds in the face of state cutbacks.
The city council joined the retreat at 2:00, at which point Lawless asked each member to identify "what will success (at the retreat) look like?" Answers ranged from leaving with common written goals and timelines, development of a stronger relationship and improved communications, a commitment to meet jointly more often and agreement on the need to find ways to fund the school system, to agreement on the need to increase the tax base.
And when they looked back on the retreat at its end, all parties declared that the criteria they'd set for determining success had been met.
"Things are going to be a lot different, a lot better," predicted Councilman Sam Brown. "Because of this breaking the ice, the community we live in will be a better place to live, to work and to raise a family in."
Councilman Bob Sosebee agreed.
"This has been more productive than I thought. This is the best eight hours I've spent in a long time."
"We were at a crossroads," school board chairman Steve Perry said. "We were going to either get a whole lot worse or a lot better. I'd like to thank everybody for taking your time to attend."
GROWING THE TAX BASE
Of all the issues, the growth of the city's tax base – to fund the school system – dominated.
While Commerce officials admitted that the city has done little to stimulate growth, they faulted the Jackson County Area Chamber of Commerce for the city's lack of industrial growth as well.
"We depended a lot on the chamber and the chamber has let us down," alleged Sosebee. "We cannot depend on the chamber of Commerce to sell our side of the county. For whatever reason, it's not happening."
The group agreed to form its own sales team, which would include representation from the chamber, but also from the city council and school board, to make sure prospects understand they are wanted in Commerce and what the city and its school system have to offer.
As for annexation, Sosebee said the city is working with property owners on U.S. 441 north and on "both sides of Progress Road" about annexation and proposed that the two groups might want to hire someone to work on annexations.
The group also touched on the school system's electric bill, with White saying that the system's average kilowatt hour charge is 9.7 cents, nearly three times what East Jackson Elementary School will pay under its contract with Jackson EMC and more than the 9.56 cents Jefferson averages to Georgia Power.
"We just want what the rest of the county is paying or what Jefferson is paying," said Perry.
"If we only saved 10 percent across the board, we could fund a new beginning teacher (out of the savings)" said White.
Sosebee proposed contacting MEAG for an analysis, but stated, "We should be able to sell power to our schools at the same rate as Georgia Power sells it to the city of Jefferson. I'm in favor of selling electricity and gas to the city schools as cheaply as we do to any other customer."


Ethics complaint filed against Fletcher
Pendergrass man says BOC chairman didn’t report corporate positions, property ownership
A Pendergrass man has filed an ethics complaint with the State Ethics Commission about Jackson County Board of Commission chairman Harold Fletcher.
Phillip Davis, Pendergrass, filed the complaint, alleging that Fletcher didn’t list fiduciary positions he holds in five different corporations. Davis also alleged that Fletcher did not disclose numerous tracts of property he owns through a self-directed IRA.
A letter from the commission to Davis said an informal hearing would be held to determine if the allegations warrant further investigation. No date has been set for that hearing.
Public officials are required to file a financial disclosure statement twice each year. In election years, the disclosure forms must be filed five times.
The forms ask for several types of financial disclosures, including fiduciary positions held by the official, ownership in a business entity, and ownership in real property that is valued over $20,000.
Davis’ ethics complaint states that Fletcher failed to disclose positions he holds in five corporations: As CEO of Pharo Enterprises, Inc. Jefferson; CEO of First Fletch Financial, Inc., Jefferson; CEO of Properties Unlimited Group, Inc., Jefferson; CEO First Piedmont Financial Services, Inc., Jefferson; and CFO of Tower Realty, Inc., Jefferson.
On three disclosure forms from 2000 through July 2002, Fletcher only listed two fiduciary positions: President of Piedmont Realty Services, Inc. Jefferson and president of Diversified Properties, Inc., Jefferson.
On the most recent disclosure, dated Dec. 31, 2002, Fletcher reported that he held no fiduciary positions in any business entity. But Fletcher did list ownership of Piedmont Realty Services and First Piedmont Financial Services.
REAL ESTATE
On the part of the form that requires disclosure of real property ownership that exceeds $20,000 in net value, Fletcher listed only his personal residence at 2215 Hog Mountain Road, Jefferson, on the first three disclosure forms.
On the Dec. 31, 2002 form, Fletcher listed .82 acres at 4630 Hwy. 129 North, Jefferson, and 24 acres at 245 Hog Mountain Road, Jefferson. He did not list his residence on the most recent form.
Davis attached with his ethics complaint a printout of property transactions that Fletcher had been a party in through his self-directed IRA. The printout listed 47 records in Jackson, Banks and Madison counties. On the printout, Davis attached a note, saying: “Mr. Fletcher is buying and selling properties through his IRA like it is a real estate company — is this proper?”
One transaction from December 2002 that Davis included is a copy of a warrant deed that was a sale from Pharo Enterprises, Inc. which Fletcher owns to his IRA account. Davis questioned if that was proper.
Mr. Fletcher did not return phone calls for a comment on the ethics complaint.

 

 


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See Galilee Preschool Flyer

Mobile homes under the ax of proposed UDC
A leader in the mobile home industry says the proposed unified development code (UDC) would not allow single-wide manufactured homes to be located in Jackson County.
Tom Collins, a long-time member and former president of the Georgia Manufactured Housing Association was among those who spoke at a Jackson County Planning Commission meeting Thursday night.
The planning commission reviewed the proposed unified development code and land use map Thursday night and agreed to send the documents on to the board of commissioners for consideration. The action wasn’t a recommendation for or against the proposal, but was a request for the BOC to review all of the public comment before taking any action. Several public hearings have been held with input being taken. Citizens have also sent comments to consultant Bill Ross. All of this information will be forwarded to the BOC for review.
At Thursday’s meeting, Collins said the 1,400 minimum square foot requirement for all homes in the code would not allow single-wide manufactured homes to locate in the county. He said the largest single-wide is 1,200 square feet.
“If they raise the work-force housing to a minimum of 1,100 square feet now, to 1,400 square feet, that translates into a payment that most people simply can’t afford,” he said.
Collins added that another requirement, on the width of a home, would also eliminate single-wide homes.
“They say that no housing is allowed that is not at least 16 feet wide at the narrowest point,” he said. “The floor length of a single wide is 15 feet by eight inches. They have very clearly eliminated single side homes.”
Collins, who lives in Nicholson and works at Flamingo Homes, said he sent a letter on behalf of the Georgia Manufactured Home Association to the consultant outlining his issues, but it was not in the information given to the planning commission. Consultant Bill Ross said he didn’t have time to get it in their packet, but would make sure it was forwarded to the BOC for review.
Collins also spoke on the need for manufactured homes to provide housing for the county’s work force.
“They have not said that you can not put a multi-section in there, but they have imposed restrictions that would raise the price probably $5,000 to $7,000,” he said. “They have definitely said with this ordinance that there will not be any single wide units going in the county.”
On Monday, Collins spoke further on the proposal and the impact it would have on double-wide manufactured homes.
“In double wides, they want the roof pitch to be 4-12,” he said. “What that means is that for every 12 feet you go out, they want you to go up four feet. Almost all manufactured housing is building with a 3-12 roof pitch and we can barely get under the street lights (when moving them). If you put a 4-12 pitch on them, it makes it very, very difficult for them to even build the homes in the factories because they won’t clear the roof in coming out of their buildings.”
He added that they can ship roofs with a 4-12 pitch, but that the transportation cost would increase.
“They have raised the price of shipping them on the highway by (requiring us) to have a second escort car. So, a person who can’t afford a lot is having to put up money that has no value to them just for the transportation.
“The bottom line is that we are penalizing poor people for being poor. That is just wrong. I think the bottom line intent is to do away with any housing....They are cutting out the work force housing.”
Collins added that the requirement in the code that all homes have sodded yards, paved driveways and garages would add thousands to the final price of a new home.
“You’re looking at $15,000 to $20,000 right there,” he said.
OTHERS SPEAK
Also at Thursday’s meeting, several other citizens also spoke on the proposed land use map, including Pat Hodsdon of Commerce. He pointed out that industry leaders look at the number of homes in an area in order to ensure a work force is in place for their business. He pointed out that the map has a large amount of agriculture zoning.
“One home on 10 acres is detrimental to the county,” he said. “We need industry to grow. Let’s not shoot ourselves in the foot.”
Phillip Davis said the proposal would allow “rampant development” and cautioned against Jackson County becoming “another Gwinnett County.”
Harvey Lance said there should be fewer “starter homes” or smaller homes in subdivisions. In areas where homes have septic tanks, he said the lots should be larger.
“There seems to be plenty or R-1 homes,” he said.
PLANNERS REVIEW CODE
The planners went over each section of the code at Thursday and gave their comments. Chairman Wayne Wilbanks and member Don Segraves offered several suggestions. Among Segraves concerns are the section requiring trees be placed in developments and the recommended size of new homes. He said the county would be “pricing a lot of people out of building” with some of the requirements. He suggested the county “tread carefully” and abide by the affordable housing codes and laws.
“You’re pushing it to the limit if you’re not on top of it,” he said. “I don’t like to go to court on these things.”
As for section eight of the code, which deals with trees, Segraves said he “didn’t think very much of it.” Wilbanks said he disagreed with this.


BOC talking with ACCG about financing
Lease/purchase through association another way BOC might seek to finance courthouse project
Knowing that efforts to create a county building authority in the Georgia General Assembly might fail, county leaders also approached the Association County Commissioners of Georgia about doing a lease-purchase for a new courthouse.
Last year, the BOC used the ACCG lease-purchase pool to finance the purchase of 160 acres on Darnell Road for a courthouse site.
Mike Stewart, ACCG’s assistant director for administration, said officials have met with Jackson County several times to discuss financing options for the project.
“We are currently working with Jackson County, at their request, in trying to find the best means available to finance the proposed new government facility,” he said. “ACCG has worked closely with Jackson County over the years in their acquisition of equipment and has met on several occasions with the county to discuss ways in which the county can accomplish the completion of the proposed new government center.”
Stewart said the ACCG has assisted several counties in financing courthouse projects, including the new $35 million courthouse/administration facility built in Douglas County in 1996.
Stewart said the program calls for the ACCG to serve as the “Third Party Entity,” essentially holding the title to the facility until the lease is paid off.


Time change ahead Sun.
Daylight Savings Time will begin on Sunday, April 6, when clocks are set ahead one hour.