News from Banks County...

JUNE 11, 2003


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OPINIONS

Adam Fouche
Sosa conflict exposes media, society problems
If I were Sammy Sosa, I’d never grant another interview again.
No more SportsCenter. No more talking to Tribune reporters after Cubs games. And no more Sports Illustrated.

Jana Adams
Rock star days
Somebody told me getting married is kind of like being a rock star for a day. Fancy clothes and styled coiffure, hours of posing for pictures and then more camera flashes going off every time you turn around, applause when you enter a room and applause when you leave the premises, a limo for being chauffered away.... yes, I can sort of see the analogy.


SPORTS

Banks’ region to see some changes
Banks County High School’s athletic region could soon get a lot more attractive.
The GHSA has set region realignment for the 2004-06, and the new region 8-AA sees the loss of GAC, Providence, Wesleyan and Apalachee.


Neighboorhood News ..
JACKSON COUNTY

County BOE looking at 1-2 mill increase
Move would be 5.5% to 11.5% tax hike
Faced with continuing state cutbacks, the Jackson County Board of Education is looking at a one to two mill tax hike this year to keep the school system in the black.

$27.5 Million Gas Costs, Capital Expenditures Inflate 2003-04 City Budget
Major capital projects and increased anticipated costs for natural gas next winter pushed the city of Commerce's fiscal year 2003-04 budget to $27.5 million.

Jefferson denies rezoning for apartments
A rezoning request to locate a 160-unit apartment complex on Danielsville Street was denied by the Jefferson City Council Monday night.
In a 3-1 vote, the council denied the request from Janice Wilbanks to rezone 19.819 acres from R-2 to R-M for the project.

Large subdivision plan pulled in Braselton
A rezoning request that would have brought a 526-home subdivision in West Jackson has been withdrawn by the applicant, Braselton officials said this week.

$8.7 Million School Budget To Provide Little Cushion In 03-04
Commerce school superintendent Larry White anticipates little cushion in an $8.7 million budget for the 2003-2004 school year, which calls for an approximate one percent increase in spending over last year.

Nicholson’s budget up 18%
With the construction of a new city hall on the way next year, the city of Nicholson expects an 18 percent spending increase in 2003-2004 over what it budgeted last year.

‘Very large’ industrial project looking at county
Local residents could be learning about another major industrial development in the near future, several county officials said last week.
During a meeting of county and municipal leaders on Thursday, several officials boasted of potential industrial projects that will bring both jobs and money to Jackson County.


Neighboorhood News ..
MADISON COUNTY
Citizens urge BOC to implement animal control
Those who feel threatened by animals on the loose in Madison County could eventually have more than the gun in their home to protect them.

Local veterans honored by postal service
Two county veterans were honored in a ceremony last Thursday at the Danielsville Post office.
The ceremony was sponsored by the U.S. Postal Service and the Purple Heart Association of Athens to unveil the Purple Heart definitive postage stamp, which honors veterans who are recipients of the Purple Heart.

Tobacco ban may be imposed at rec. dept.
Keep tobacco products away from county kids.
That’s the message one local mother pushed Monday to county commissioners, urging the group to ban tobacco products from the county recreation department.

Murder trial set to begin Monday
A Madison County jury will decide the fate next week of an Athens man accused of the September 2002 murder of Willie Frank Smith.

Madison County releases info. on lawsuits, pending litigation
Madison County attorney Mike Pruett submitted on May 28 a summary of the county government’s pending and potential litigation to the county’s auditing firm, Tredwell, Tamplin and Company.

BOC upholds Temple’s firing
Eric Temple will not be rehired as Madison County’s assistant EMS director, commissioners voted Monday.
Temple was fired from the EMS post after testing positive for cocaine use on two drug tests.

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HER STRINGER

Three-year-old Brianna Maxwell holds up the stringer of catfish and bream she caught while fishing at the kids’ fishing rodeo at Scales Creek Saturday. More than 80 children and their parents braved the rain to get a chance to catch catfish, bream and the few albino catfish in the lake.

Mistrial declared in murder trial after hung jury
A mistrial was declared late Friday afternoon after a hung jury in the trial of a Banks County man charged with the 2002 murder of a Cornelia businessman
Thomas Harold Pruitt, 36, had been charged with malice murder in the shooting of Phillip "Bobby" Fain, 61, Cornelia. A second suspect, Patrick Henry Cagle, 30, struck a deal with the district attorney before the trial began and agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit murder and testify against Pruitt.
Cagle said during his testimony that he was aware the murder had been committed but he wasn't present when the shooting occurred. Pruitt's attorney, Katie Anderson, alleged that Cagle was the triggerman.
Cagle was given 35 years in jail and will serve 20 without parole. If he had been convicted of murder, he could have been given a life sentence. If he had been convicted of malice murder, he would have been given two life sentences, plus an additional 60-year sentence.
The jury deliberated for seven hours Thursday and Friday before telling Judge Joe Booth that they couldn't reach a consensus.
Earlier in the day Friday, district attorney Tim Madison had asked for a mistrial because he said two jurors talked to two defense witnesses outside of the courtroom the day before. Judge Booth interviewed these two jurors Friday morning and then dismissed them and called in the two alternate jurors. The two alternates had been present for all of the testimony but left the courthouse after deliberations began.
The eight-woman, four-man jury then deliberated for two more hours Friday before telling the judge they couldn't agree.
A juror who asked not to be identified said after the trial that two female jurors didn't believe there was enough evidence to convict.
Pruitt was not released after the trial but was taken back to jail where he will serve at least one and a half more years on a parole violation charge. Madison has not yet said if he will seek a new trial in the case.
Fain was found in a remote, wooded area of central Banks County in the spring of 2002 after the two men were arrested. Cagle was taken into custody after Fain's stolen vehicle was found at Cagle's sister's residence in Madison County. Pruitt, whom authorities believe was also at the residence when deputies arrived, was later apprehended.
Fain had been reported missing on May 1 by an adult daughter after he failed to show up for a business meeting. He had an On-star tracking device in his vehicle and it was found mid-day on May 1 in Madison County, according to law enforcement officials. A Madison County deputy reportedly went to the residence where the vehicle was located.
At the time of the arrest, Sheriff Charles Chapman reported that Cagle ran from the home when the Madison County deputy arrived. He said additional officers and a canine unit were called in and that Cagle was on the run for four hours until he was taken into custody.
Cagle led authorities to the wooded dirt road where Fain's body was found, but he didn't confess at that time to being involved in the murder.
Fain was found on a dirt road off of Emory Chambers Road and was taken to the crime lab in Atlanta where he was identified through dental records. The sheriff said the cause of death was gunshot wounds.
Both suspects have criminal records and were on parole when the crime occurred.


Tax assessors: County needs
re-evaluation
Banks County’s property assessment situation was getting critical.
Assessments are out of line. The state has started imposing penalties. And the county has lost thousands of dollars in potential revenue over the past year because it isn’t collecting the proper amount of tax.
But since the county board of commissioners have committed funds over the next two budget years to complete the property re-evaluation and hopefully get assessments back in line, the situation looks to be improving.
The tax assessors board met with the BOC Monday in a public information session to answer questions about property evaluation.
Chief assessor Connie Garrison and former assessor Bob Armour explained the complicated process.
Garrison said the county should have done a re-evaluation last year.
However, the costly re-evaluation wasn’t done. Since the county hasn’t been valuing property at the level the state thought was appropriate over the past year, the department of revenue imposed fines and has threatened stiffer penalties in future years if the county fails to correct the problem.
Property values fluctuate over time as a result of growth and an increase in land sales and the assessments must be updated periodically to stay within the acceptable level allowed by the state.
The county has budgeted $60,000 next year to start the re-evaluation of all county property and will finish the process in the 2005 fiscal budget year.
Armour said the department of revenue would likely work with the county concerning penalties with the out-of- line assessments as long as a re-evaluation is underway.
“We want to show the desire that we’re doing what we need to do in Banks County,” he said.
Armour went on to say that working in the tax assessors office is a difficult job that requires extensive training and knowledge.
“You don’t just walk in there and do this job because you can add one and one and two and two and hold a pencil,” he said. “It don’t work that way.”
He said he and other assessors, including Garrison and Nancy Sims, have always worked hard in the office and have tried to maintain a good working relationship with the tax commissioner and BOC.
Commissioner Pat Westmoreland said the BOC’s job was to give the assessors what they need to do their job and let them handle the operations of the office.
He went on to say that Armour resigned from his office due to conflict and interference and accused BOC chairman Kenneth Brady of interfering with the tax assessors office.
Brady said the commissioners had agreed to a revaluation and that he had not been telling the assessors how to do their job.
“As far as I know, they’re running it as they see fit,” Brady said. “As far as me interfering with that office, I haven’t.”
The tax assessors closed out the meeting by saying they were open to the public and welcome any questions about property assessments or revaluations.
“Feel free to come in,” Sims said. “If you have questions, we’ll answer them.”
Sims added that the tax assessors board appreciates the county’s support and is always “open for discussion” to the BOC.
The tax assessors also released their meeting schedule. They’ll meet the second Wednesday of every month at 10 a.m. as necessary.
The board will not hold a meeting when it has no business to discuss.


New Baldwin city budget shows town in the black
The Baldwin City Council held the first reading of the city’s 2003-04 budget at Monday’s meeting and for the first time in a few years, the city is in the black.
The $1.623 million general budget, which is actually a 20 percent increase over last year, comes in with a $1,100 reserve.
City employees will see an across-the-board raise of three percent.
The fire and police departments will be allowed to fill vacant positions. For the fire department, that means an assistant fire chief position. For the police department, it means more staff to handle background checks.
The water/sewer department budget at $1.202 million will also have a small reserve of $715.
But the biggest jump in reserve comes from the water plant that is now solely owned and operated by Baldwin.
Anticipated revenues from the sale of water have been set at $758,702. Expenses have been cut to $459,001 leaving a reserve of nearly $300,000. Mayor Mark Reed said the reserve would go into a capital reserve for future expansion of the water intake plant.
A public hearing will be held at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, June 17.
Another work session on the budget will be held during a work session at 6 p.m. on June 26.
Adoption of the budget will take place at 7 p.m. on Monday, June 30.
Council member Ray Holcomb said he wanted the council to hold quarterly budget meetings this year. The council agreed.



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Trial gets under way this week for 2002 murder
The trial of a Banks County man charged with the 2002 murder of a Cornelia businessman continued Wednesday after one of the suspects struck a deal with the district attorney's office and agreed to testify.
Patrick Henry Cagle, 30, Alto, and Thomas Harold Pruitt, 36, Gainesville, were charged in the April 30, 2002, murder of Phillip "Bobby" Fain, 61, Cornelia.
On Friday, Cagle pled guilty of conspiracy to commit murder and agreed to testify against Pruitt. He was given 35 years in jail and will serve 20 without parole, according to district attorney Tim Madison. If he had been convicted of murder, he could have been given a life sentence.
Pruitt's trial began Monday and was still under way as of press time on Wednesday. It was expected to go to the jury later this week.
Fain was found in a remote, wooded area of central Banks County in the spring of 2002 after the two men were arrested. Cagle was taken into custody after Fain's stolen vehicle was found at Cagle's sister's residence in Madison County. Pruitt, whom authorities believe was also at the residence when deputies arrived, was later apprehended.
Fain had been reported missing on May 1 by an adult daughter after he failed to show up for a business meeting. He had an On-star tracking device in his vehicle and it was found mid-day on May 1 in Madiso County, according to law enforcement officials. A Madison County deputy reportedly went to the residence where the vehicle was located.
At the time of the arrest, Sheriff Charles Chapman reported that Cagle ran from the home when the Madison County deputy arrived. He said additional officers and a canine unit were called in and that Cagle was on the run for four hours until he was taken into custody.
Cagle led authorities to the wooded dirt road where Fain's body was found, but he didn't confess at that time to being involved in the murder.
Fain was found on a dirt road off of Emory Chambers Road and was taken to the crime lab in Atlanta where he was identified through dental records. The sheriff said the cause of death was gunshot wounds.
Both suspects have criminal records and were on parole when the crime occurred.
Check www.mainstreetnews.com this week for further updates on the trial.