Jackson County Opinions...

MAY 28, 2003



Column
By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
May 28, 2003

BJC: Sometimes
It’s Just The Right
Time For Change
Sometimes it's time for a change.
That was the consensus of members of the BJC Medical Center Authority as they fired David Lawrence, who had been administrator for 16 years.
Lawrence did a lot of good. He brought technology and equipment up to date. He managed to keep the facility afloat during bad (and good) economic times. He negotiated better contracts from vendors, saving a lot of money. He helped BJC weather the regulatory storms and kept it in compliance.
But it was time for Lawrence to leave. Past time, some say.
In spite of all the gains, the authority members felt a lot of frustration. They'd noted that in spite of the population growth of Banks and Jackson counties, the occupancy rate at the hospital showed minuscule gain. And while the facility has brought in new doctors, others have opted to go elsewhere. The track record of attracting new doctors was a sore spot.
"If hospitals in South Georgia can attract doctors, why can't we?" said one authority member.
It also rankled some, particularly the newer members, that the CEO of a community hospital did not live in the community. How can one expect a doctor to be sold on a community when the CEO chooses not to live there?
The straw that broke the camel's back – and it was put to me that way – was a relationship Lawrence had with a female co-worker. Both are single, but employee morale was devastated. The time had come.
It didn't help that Dana Carey, administrator of BJC Nursing Home, quit to work for Hill Haven, formerly Crystle Springs. She was well-liked, considered extremely competent and had reduced the number of complaints at the nursing home. In the authority's mind, Lawrence gets some blame for her leaving, whether there is any or not.
Quorum Health Resources has been given the task of putting BJC back on the right track. The company brought in an interim administrator and is conducting a survey of the facility to establish its needs.
The biggest challenge is public relations. No matter how many doctors, how much new equipment and how many new procedures can be done there, a large part of the public sees BJC as an inferior hospital.
If a Commerce resident gets a staph infection at an Athens hospital, that's one thing; if he gets it at BJC, it's assumed to be a sign of uncleanliness, incompetence or inferiority. Some Jackson County EMTs routinely recommend treatment of accident victims to anywhere but BJC. For much of the public, the idea that the hospital in Commerce could be a good hospital is totally foreign. It’s a tough attitude to overcome.
The inability to sell the public on BJC may ultimately have been Lawrence’s undoing. Public confidence results in more patients and revenue, but building confidence takes the competence of doctors, hospital staff and it takes people willing to recognize that a good hospital can and does exist in Commerce.
BJC’s success is measured by how many citizens entrust their health and that of their loved ones to BJC Medical Center. The numbers show room for much improvement.


Editorials
The Jackson Herald
May 28, 2003

BOC looking for a few good ‘puppets’
If you are a wishy-washy individual who likes being a puppet for other people, the Jackson County Board of Commissioners wants you.
In the coming weeks, the BOC will be making a series of appointments to local boards and authorities. But rather than look for the best qualified individuals for those positions, the BOC wants people it can control and manipulate.
It’s no secret that this board has a clear history of attempting to centralize power in Jackson County. Board members believe, wrongly, that the county government is the most powerful and important local institution and therefore, should control all aspects of local government.
A couple years ago, the BOC took over the joint city-county planning commission, kicking off the towns involved and putting in place their own hand-picked board members. Since then, the BOC has attempted to take over the county water authority. It has effectively taken over the airport authority and has plans to get control of the county industrial development board.
We believe this board has the wrong agenda. While some members of the BOC are fond of saying that we live under a “republic” form of government rather than a “democracy,” they fail to also point out that in local government, there are few inherent checks and balances. Unlike the state or federal governments, local governments do not have separate executive and legislative branches to balance out the agenda.
One of the only ways to have checks and balances in local government is for some power to be diffused through various appointed agencies and boards.
But this BOC does not like that diffusion of power. Instead, it wants to dominate and control every board. Rather than naming qualified people to these agencies, this BOC wants to name people it can control.
The truth is, no respectable individual would allow himself or herself to be named by this BOC to any local government position. Only those who agree to become a BOC puppet will allow their name to be sullied by such an appointment.
Of course, we want good people to be on these agencies. But the truth is, those appointed cannot serve two masters: Either they will think for themselves and represent what they believe is in the best interest of the public, or they will do what they’re told to do by this BOC.

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Column
By Mike Buffington
The Commerce News
May 28, 2003

The real cost
of growth?
Experts across the nation have spent years attempting to get an answer to a simple question: What is the real cost of growth in a community?
For public policy planners, that is an important issue. For taxpayers, it’s also important because ultimately, it is the taxpayer who foots the bills.
But getting an answer to that question isn’t as straight-forward as it may appear. Indeed, some of the conventional wisdom that is widespread in the public concious may not, in fact, be true.
Next week, members of the Jackson County Area Chamber of Commerce will get to hear one noted expert on the issue. Jeff Dorfman from The University of Georgia will speak at the monthly chamber breakfast on June 4 at the Gardensmith.
Dorfman has studied the cost of development on local governments. In a 2002 report, he says that when unimproved land, such as farm or forest land, is converted to housing, it actually costs local government more than the government will generate from taxes. Fields and forests don’t demand services, but people in houses do.
One example cited in Dorfman’s report is on suburban Cherokee County where for every dollar collected in residential taxes, local governments have to spend $1.60 in services. On the other hand, for every dollar in taxes off farm and forest land, it cost that local government only 20 cents.
Dorfman is not alone in doing such research. A number of studies have been done across the nation on the same issue. Many of the reports have been used by local governments as the basis for putting in place impact fees.
But is that conventional wisdom really true? Some argue that growth does indeed pay for itself and that mismanagement and waste by public officials is the real problem.
Critics of impact fees and “cost of growth” studies make this assertion: If there were enough dollars to sustain local governments before growth, why shouldn’t there be just as many dollars available after growth begins? In other words, why do new homes have any greater impact on a community than homes that have been there 10-20 years?
In Florida, a study by the University of Florida for a builder’s association claimed that housing development does indeed pay for itself, a direct contradiction to many other studies.
So what is the truth in all this?
That’s a difficult question, especially if you begin to factor in non-governmental issues, such as the quality of life and access to important services.
I suspect that the truth is somewhere between the published extremes. Growth does indeed create costs, but those costs shift over time. Unless it is a mansion, the average new home with two adults and two children is a burden to local governments. But over time, those children will exit local schools and the cost to government will decrease. In addition, the value of that home will rise and taxes paid on it will increase. Given time and stability, the cost of that house to local government will balance out.
The problem, as I see it, comes not from the initial costs, but the rate of growth and lack of stability. In today’s society, people are extremely mobile. As one set of kids move out of local schools, the parents sell the house to a new, younger family who has kids and the cycle starts all over again. In that situation, a house may never be able to pay its own way.
In addition, the rate which new homes are built is also important. Local schools and public services can absorb growth if it is moderate, but if the growth exceeds 4-6 percent per year, local governments have a difficult time keeping up with the demand for services. That in itself increases costs to taxpayers.
But there is another factor that is seldom studied or discussed: The cost of no-growth. While the cost of growth is a public policy dilemma, the cost of no-growth is even a worse problem. No growth means no new investment in a community. Both property and sales taxes stagnate, or fall, shifting the cost of government to fewer and fewer taxpayers. And the quality of life begins to fall as the resources in a stagnate community shrink.
If you don’t believe that, travel to some struggling South Georgia towns or to the Midwest where small communities are dying.
Jackson County doesn’t have those problems. We are blessed, or cursed depending on your view, with a community that is growing. So how should we attempt to cope with the problems and costs of growth?
There are three points that I believe local policy-makers should focus on to help deal with the costs of growth:
1. Focus on bringing in businesses that will create local jobs and add to the industrial tax base. People who work locally tend to spend more money locally than commuters, a fact that impacts sales tax income. Local jobs also increases the stability of the population, encouraging people to stay in a home long enough to pay for the initial cost of services for that home. And industries pay far more in local taxes than they demand in services.
2. Focus on developing a reasonable amount of commercial businesses to serve the growing population. The lack of commercial development in Jackson County means that a lot of sales tax money is flowing to Gwinnett, Clarke and Hall counties.
3. Focus on building amenities that will enhance the community’s quality of life. Strong recreation, civic and cultural programs will offset many of the negative consequences of growth and will, over time, increase the stability of the population. And a stable population will mean that Jackson County just won’t be filled with young families who place a high demand on schools and other services.
Growth does have a cost. The only worse problem is for there to be no growth and for our communities to decline.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


Editorial
The Commerce News
May 28, 2003

Conservatives Abandon
Historic Principles
Somewhere the political polar axis has shifted. Suddenly, big government, intrusion by government and balancing the budget, long tenants of the conservatives, have been abandoned by the conservatives. Now the very men and women who once called for a smaller, less intrusive government and for balancing the budget are the champions of a larger government and massive government deficits.
Perhaps it is a legacy of the 1990s, when everyone seemed to live in abundance, that has made "buy now, pay later" the philosophy of the Republican Party – as it had traditionally been of the Democratic Party. And maybe it's just politics that now that the Democrats lack power, they stand on the sidelines and decry the deficits that President Bush and his Congress run up for subsequent generations to pay. Likewise, it may be that everyone wants a smaller government when the "other" party is in power; but when they're in control, more is better.
For whatever reason, the traditional conservatives are acting like liberals, spending money they don't have. With a wink and a nod, they pass a "tax cut" at the very time they are increasing spending, providing a legacy of debt and irresponsibility to following generations.
When today's children come of taxpaying age and wonder how it came to pass that they were saddled with so much debt, however, no conservative is likely to own up to the fact that he and his brethren in one year frittered away hundreds of billions of dollars in surpluses and hundreds of billions of dollars more to create record deficits.
Likewise, when some future Social Studies student inquires as to what happened to the Bill of Rights, no conservative will admit to complacency when the Bush Administration, in its "War on Terror," managed to circumvent the Constitution's guarantees of habeas corpus and due process and acquire the power to detain non-citizens without evidence, conduct wiretaps and do surveillance without any evidence of criminal activity, conduct searches without warrants, listen in on conversations between defendants and their attorneys and investigate private citizens without probable cause. Political history will try to blame it on "liberals," no doubt, for the absorption by the presidency of the power to declare war, which, in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, is given to Congress – but which a "conservative" president just used to lead us to war.
What we see is that the politicians with a "conservative" approach to government are just politicians who are out of power. When they finally gain a majority, their philosophy changes – they love making government and the deficit bigger. They become the liberals they hold in such great contempt.
Future generations will find the loss of freedom and the debt neither politically gratifying nor amusing. But it'll be too late.


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