News from Banks County...

JUNE 4, 2003


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OPINIONS

Angela Gary
Cancun is for all ages
If you judge Cancun by those wild shows on MTV, it’s a party place where anyone over 25 is considered old. I haven’t actually watched one of those shows, but I’ve seen the advertisements for them. Everyone in Cancun is half-naked on the beach with a drink in their hand.

Shar Porier
‘If dogs run free,Why can’t we?’
That’s from one of my favorite Bob Dylan songs.
As I look out over the field in the front yard, I think of that song as my three dogs are running and playing. Jax and Red Dog are in the midst of a tug-of-war over a rather large branch. It’s bigger than Jax. But that doesn’t stop him.


SPORTS

Local fast-pitch team picks up two tourney wins
A fast-pitch softball team made of local girls from Banks, Jackson, Barrow, Franklin, Madison and Oconee counties recently took two tournament wins.


Neighboorhood News ..
JACKSON COUNTY
BOC denies rezoning for 68-home subdivision
The Jackson County Board of Commissioners denied a rezoning request Monday night that would have led to the development of a 68-home subdivision on Wilhite Road.

City Council Expected To OK Budget,
Authorize Marshals On Monday Night
The Commerce City Council expects to pass a $27 million budget and empower its building officials to serve as marshals when it meets Monday night at 6:30 at the Commerce Civic Center.

Braselton mayor defends proposed 2004 budget
The Braselton Town Council fielded questions about the proposed 2004 fiscal year budget from two residents on Monday.
Stephanie Roberts, a two-year resident, and Jim Leben, a 10-year resident, asked the mayor and council a variety of questions about the budget, ranging from Braselton’s growing police department to grants being used by the town.

Mayor blasts councilman during courthouse discussion
Jefferson councilman Bosie Griffith’s questions about the town’s stance on the relocation of the Jackson County courthouse led to a brief but fierce debate at Monday’s council meeting.

Bear Creek Reservoir Managers Adopt Plan To Help Conserve Water Next Time Drought Hits
ATHENS -- The owners of the Bear Creek Reservoir serving Jackson and three other counties are looking forward to the next drought.
The Upper Oconee Basin Water Authority doesn't want a drought, but its members voted last Wednesday to adopt a draft of a plan for managing water when the next drought arrives.

County continues to review courthouse design
Report given on sewer system
Jackson County leaders are continuing to review Cooper Carry’s design for a new courthouse.
Board of commissioner Sammy Thomason, county manager Al Crace, courthouse consultant Wayne Wilbanks and public works director Stan Brown met for three hours Friday with Cooper Carry, architects for the project, and Long Engineering, who is preparing a sewer master plan for the site.


Neighboorhood News ..
MADISON COUNTY
County grievance committee upholds Temple’s firing
A five-member county employee grievance committee voted 4-1 Monday to recommend upholding the county’s recent decision to fire assistant Emergency Medical Services (EMS) director Eric Temple, after he failed a second test for illegal drug use.

Family-oriented entertainment center coming to Danielsville
Danielsville will soon have a family-oriented entertainment center in an older 7,800 square foot building on Hwy. 98, just east of the red light.
The city council voted unanimously to approve the request during its regular Monday night meeting.

School system announces summer hours
Madison County school superintendent Keith Cowne said that all schools and system-wide personnel will be working a four-day work week again during the summer break.

Comer to close recycling site
Comer’s city council voted to close the city’s recycling center at its June meeting Tuesday night. The center has become a dumping ground for people in three counties, according to city officials.

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‘Leprechaun’ played the flute

Bruce Bernstein played the part of a leprechaun during his whimsical musical tour around Europe at the Banks County Public Library Monday afternoon. Bernstein’s show is just one of a number of shows set for Monday afternoons over the next seven weeks.

County budget tops $8 million
After nearly 40 hours in meetings over the past two months, the Banks County Board of Commissioners has churned out a proposed budget for the coming fiscal year.
The county will begin working under the $8.4 million budget on July 1, the start of the fiscal year. The total budget has increased seven percent over last year’s total of $7.8 million.
Citizens will have their first chance to question the budget during a public hearing scheduled for next Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in the BOC conference room. The budget will likely be officially approved on June 19 at 9 a.m.
After taking initial budget requests in April and demanding further departmental trimming the past two weeks, the commissioners were able to balance the budget by tweaking revenues late last week.
A poor economy and the decrease in some revenue streams sent the BOC scrambling to make up lost funds.
Projected revenues from the probate, magistrate and superior courts all dropped, a total loss of about $87,000 for the county.
But the county hopes to get back those losses and more in other areas.
The commissioners will likely vote on a new ambulance fee structure at their June meeting. That change, coupled with more accurate budgeting calculations this year, stands to bring in an estimated $175,000, nearly $100,000 more than budgeted last year.
The BOC also hopes that the planned opening of Home Depot this December and an upswing in the economy will boost the county’s sales tax revenue. Liberal local option sales tax (LOST) projections are set to increase 12 percent to $2,412,256.
Property taxes are projected to make up 32 percent of the budget. BOC chairman Kenneth Brady said Friday he doesn’t expect the county to need to raise property taxes.
But the commissioners won’t know that for sure until they get the tax digest later this year.
EXPENSES
Most departments were able to keep budget increases to a minimum for the coming budget year.
The tax assessor’s office saw an increase of 87 percent in its budget. That raise came mostly for a re-evaluation of property, planned to start this year.
The planning/enforcement budget also jumped 96 percent. But that increase comes from taking on some of the costs normally associated with the building inspector’s budget.
The registrars’ budget has decreased by nearly half. Many of that department’s expenses were moved into the probate court budget since that office handles election issues.
The fire/EMS budget will be the biggest in the county this year at $1,434,405. The budget surpasses the sheriff and jail budget, typically the largest county expenditure, by about $8,000.


Banks County under outdoor burning ban
Banks County is one of the 45 counties in Georgia under a burning ban through October 1.
According to the Banks County marshal’s office, it is illegal for anyone to burn anything outside during this period, with the following exceptions in Banks County:
•fires carrying out recognized agricultural practices.
•fires for recreational purposes and for cooking food.
•fires for training fire-fighting personnel. (Acquired structure burns are prohibited.)
•fires for prescribed burning of forest land.
All other outdoor burning is prohibited. Although some Banks County residents believe they are allowed to burn trash and other debris on their own land, such burning is an illegal practice and can result in a fine.
Some alternatives to burning include composting yard trimmings and other debris, as well as mulching, chipping, natural decomposition and landfills. An inert waste landfill operation can be used with proper EPD documentation.
WHY IS THE BAN NEEDED?
In Atlanta, during the summer months, ozone in the air can reach unhealthy levels, according to officials. Ozone is formed when volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides coming from man-made and natural sources react in the presence of sunlight.
A major source of these pollutants is the burning of fuels and other combustible materials, officials say. The Georgia EPD has identified open burning as a significant contributor of the pollutants that form ozone. Therefore, open burning in metro-Atlanta and the surrounding areas must be restricted during summer months.
For more information on what can and cannot be burned, contact code officer Keith Covington at 677-4272 or Ranger Winford Popphan at (770) 869-7705.


Commissioners finish budget cut talks
Before they churned out a proposed budget Friday, the Banks County commissioners met Wednesday morning for a final session of budget talks.
The board looked over several of the few remaining county departments searching for additional budget cuts to shorten the gap between revenues and expenses. (See separate budget story for a proposed fiscal year 2004 budget.)
What follows is a summary of some of the board of commissioner’s actions last Wednesday:
SHERIFF’S OFFICE AND JAIL
The board of commissioners decided two weeks ago to cut five percent out of the sheriff’s office and jail budget. The cut was taken off the total request, leaving the sheriff with the duty of deciding what money to use for what line item.
Last week, Sheriff Charles Chapman met with the BOC to again discuss the sheriff’s office budget.
Chapman said his $1.5 million budget request was necessary to fund two additional deputies for the county and to give badly needed raises to sheriff’s office and jail employees.
He also said he had turned money in to the commissioners after every budget year but the current one.
BOC chairman Kenneth Brady said the commissioners would give Chapman enough money to do his job but that the board didn’t “need to get involved in how Sheriff Charles Chapman runs his jail and runs his police force.”
The BOC tentatively approved a $1,426,327 budget for the sheriff’s office and jail.
TAX COMMISSIONER
The tax commissioner budget has changed only slightly since initial budget requests.
Tax commissioner Margaret Ausburn had to figure a marginal increase for a new computer system. The system was going to be split three ways between the tax commissioner’s office, the water department and the courthouse budget.
However, the water department decided on a different computer system, leaving the tax commissioner’s office and courthouse budget to split the cost of their computer system.
Ausburn told the commissioners she needed extra storage space for the new vehicle license plates for next year that will begin arriving in August. She said the tags had to be securely stored in the tax commission office.
DISTRICT ATTORNEY
The BOC cut $2,100 out of the office expense line item in the district attorney budget, leaving a total of $135,087 in the budget.
SUPERIOR COURT
The commissioners decided to cut out $1,300 from the superior court budget.
The funds came out of an office expense line item.
NON-DEPARTMENTAL
The commissioners sliced $14,000 from the non-departmental budget. All of those funds came from the chamber of commerce.
The chamber budget had $42,000 listed on the board’s budget printout but commissioners said they had only agreed to give the chamber $28,000.
RECREATION DEPARTMENT
The commissioners shaved the recreation department budget by $19,000.
Most of the funds, $14,000, came from cuts in capital expenditures. The board also sliced $5,000 from the programs line item.
E-911/EMA
Deidra Moore, E-911 and EMA director, offered up more than $59,000 in cuts in her budget.
She had originally budgeted for four additional part-time dispatchers but volunteered to cut that request to just two in order to ease budget restraints.
Moore also offered to take a lower raise eventhough she is not in line with how much she should be paid under the recently-approved salary schedule.
However, the commissioners said they wanted to get employees under the salary schedule and wanted her to leave her raise in place to get her up to the proper level.
Moore also sliced $8,600 from capital expenditures and $3,000 off contract fees. Most of those cuts were a result of approval for a new computer-aided dispatch system that will eliminate maintance costs on the old system.
SENIOR CENTER
Commissioner Pat Westmoreland said the senior center needed a new commercial dishwasher, a cost anywhere between $800 and $1,200.
However, the BOC decided to have the senior center purchase the equipment out of its office expense budget to prevent adding any additional funds to the senior center budget.
COUNTY WATER-ADMINISTRATION
The BOC found that one employee that shares time with the water department and probate court had her entire salary contained in the probate court budget.
Therefore, the commissioners took the portion of her salary budget under county water out, cutting just a few thousand off the budget request.
WATER-PUMPING AND PURIFICATION
The BOC cut $6,600 from utilities in the water pumping and purification budget, leaving a total of $334,936 for that department.



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West Nile in Banks County
A dead crow found near Banks County Middle School on May 21 has tested positive for West Nile Virus.
District deputy director of environmental health Cail Collins said officials have no reason to believe mosquitoes in the area are also carrying the disease and that only infected mosquitoes, not birds, can transmit the virus.
Since crows can travel for long distances, the infected bird may have contracted the disease somewhere else in Georgia or the Southeast and wasn’t necessarily infected in Banks County.
“It is undetermined on the origin of the crow and where it was bitten,” Collins said. “It could have been 50 or 100 miles away or more.”
Collins added that the discovery of the bird is no reason for alarm in the community.
“Even if you are bitten, there is less than a one percent chance that you will get the virus,” he said. “Even if you get it, you may not show any symptoms at all.”
Local public officials are not testing mosquitoes at this time and have indicated that few of the insects carry the disease.
“Most mosquitoes do not carry viruses or cause illness in people, and most people who are bitten by infected mosquitoes will not become sick,” Banks County environmental health specialist Dale Carter said. “However, anyone who becomes ill after being bitten by a mosquito should consult a physician.”
Collins said symptoms have typically been flu-like, including a headache and fever. The virus usually affects the very young, the elderly and those with a compromised immune system more severely than normal, healthy adults.
Local officials are accepting dead blue jays, crows and raptors (hawks, owls and eagles) for West Nile testing. However, health officials can only test the animals if they have been dead for less than 24 hours.
Birds with clear, normal eyes have probably been dead for a short enough period of time to allow testing.
Though health officials aren’t testing all birds, they are asking citizens to report any dead birds found. Carter said anyone who finds a dead bird should call the environmental health department at 706-677-5009 with their name, address, phone number, where the bird was found and what type of bird was found.
Carter said health officials are trying to track and record dead birds and may conduct tests where a large number of birds are found dead in a small, confined area.
Collins said a high number of dead birds in a small area could indicate the existence of infected mosquitoes nearby. However, since many birds do travel in flocks, they still could have contracted the disease elsewhere.
After reporting bird kills, officials ask that residents dispose of birds that have been dead more than 24 hours by burying the bird or double bagging it and putting it in with their regular trash.
“Remember to wear gloves and use a shovel to handle dead birds or any other dead animal,” Carter said.
Officials have indicated that there is no reason to believe that dead or live birds can transmit the disease to humans.
West Nile Virus first appeared in Georgia in 2001 and is one of the least deadly of the family of mosquito-borne diseases that include Eastern Equine, St. Louis and LaCross encephalitises.
Officials say residents can help protect themselves by eliminating stagnant or standing water where mosquitoes breed and by wearing insect repellent while outside.
Repellents containing DEET are highly effective and safe for adults and children over the age of two, but are not safe for infants or pregnant women, Carter said.
Last year, officials in Georgia found West Nile Virus in hundreds of birds and horses statewide. Forty-four of the state’s eight million people became sick with the disease and only seven died of the infection.
All of the fatal cases involved people who were either elderly or had underlying medical conditions that put them at a greater risk.