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JUNE 11, 2003


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SPORTS

Summer Hoops Now In Session
With Commerce athletes juggling a number of sports commitments during the summer break, getting a little June hoops time has become a valuable tool for the school’s basketball coaches in keep their players sharp in the offseason.
Both the Commerce boys’ and girls’ basketball teams have had their minds on roundball this past week as they’ve hosted scrimmages with area schools at the high school and middle school gyms as a way to step up the summer practice schedule.

County teams battle for bragging rights
For Jackson County Parks and Recreation Department squads competing in tomorrow’s bevy of tournament championship games it all comes down to one night.

Potter leaving JCCHS to take coaching positions at Tucker
Jackson County head volleyball and girls track coach Robin Potter accepted a dual head coaching position with Tucker High School of Region 6-AAAA recently. She will head up both the girls basketball and volleyball programs at that school effective immediately. Her resignation was approved by the Jackson County board of education Monday night.


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.


Neighborhood News...
BANKS COUNTY
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.

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.

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.

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NEW FLAG FLYING

The new Georgia state flag (center), approved this year by the General Assembly, began flying in Jefferson this week over the town’s city hall, fire department and police department. Next year, voters in Georgia will decide between this flag and the “blue flag” adopted two years ago under Gov. Roy Barnes. The new flag is similar in appearance to the Georgia state flag before 1956 and is similar to the Confederate First National Flag used during the early part of the Civil War.

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.
Monday night, the BOE approved a $41.1 million budget for FY ‘04, which begins July 1, 2003. The final tax rate won’t be set, however, until the county’s tax digest is finalized later this year.
The budget for the new year is $1 million over the current year’s budget. State cuts during the current year, however, distorted the results for FY ‘03 since the system had to use some of its reserve funds to make up for the loss in state funds. The system used nearly $900,000 of its reserves during the current year, leaving a cash balance of only $540,000.
Without a tax hike, the school system projects it would end next year $646,000 in the red.
Because of continuing changes in the state funding and the lack of having a final tax digest, school system budget director Jeff Sanchez said the tentative budget is still a “work in progress.”
“We knew it was going to be difficult, but we’ve cut everything we know to cut already for the most part without cutting positions,” Sanchez said. “But if everything falls the way we want it to we’re looking at about an increase of anywhere from a mill to a one-and-one-quarter of a mill ... and if things don’t go as well, it could be as high as two mills.”
Sanchez also predicted a three percent increase in the digest over this year. It should be finalized in August or September.
The tentative budget will increase the amount of local funding by some $1.2 million to a total of $18.8.
Regarding the possibility that the cutbacks might need to come in the area of personnel, Sanchez stated that such cuts should only be made after reductions in all other areas have been exhausted.
“I’m afraid if we have to go back and cut again it would be better to cut folks because there’s just not anything else there” he explained.
Perhaps most disconcerting to members was the news presented that forecasted even more ominous times ahead.
“As bad as things were this year, I’m afraid next year could be even worse,” Sanchez said.


$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.
The city council approved the spending plan in a unanimous vote after very little discussion Monday night.
"In my 25-26 years of doing this, this is the hardest budget we've had to put together," declared City Manager Clarence Bryant as he presented the budget to the city council.
The budget is up $4.35 million or 18.7 percent over the current budget, and up $6.5 million or 30 percent over projected actual spending for the current fiscal year.
Some of the highlights:
•no increases in utility rates.
•$6.3 million for the purchase of natural gas, an increase of $2.1 million over the current budget. "The futures market is $5 to $5.50. We won't see any $3 gas this year," Bryant noted.
•$7.3 million in capital improvements, including $4.3 million in the water and sewer system, of which $3.6 million is for the new wastewater treatment plant.
Although it provides only 2.5-percent cost-of-living pay increases (no merit increases), the total personnel costs went up almost 14 percent, thanks to higher costs for retirement, health insurance and workman's compensation insurance, according to Bryant.
•$550,000 for the sidewalk improvement program funded by a federal grant. The "transportation enhancement," now under way, was also in last year's budget but was not funded.
•all funds (General Fund and utility funds) are in the black for the year.
The budget becomes effective July 1. A final version will be approved at the July city council meeting once year-end numbers can be plugged in.


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.
Oakmont Residential, LLC wanted to rezone 118 acres on Zion Church Road and Highway 124 from light industrial to residential for the subdivision that called for 4.4 single-family detached homes per an acre.
When no one from the development company represented the request at last month’s town planning commission meeting, the planners recommended denial of the request, following a public hearing.
The rezoning request was submitted in January, but needed several months to complete a regional review of the plans by affected governments, such as the county school system.
Another Braselton proposal undergoing a regional development review is River Walk, a mixed-use project with 157,000-square-feet of commercial space and 338 residential units. The project is located in Hall County on State Hwy. 211 and Thompson Mill Road and runs along the Mulberry River, which borders Jackson County.
The Braselton Planning Commission was expected to hear the annexation and rezoning request next week, but the request will be heard in July to allow nearby governments enough time to complete a Development of Regional Impact study.
Last month, Hall County officials objected to the development’s plans for the requested amount of commercial space and residential density. Ruby-Forrest, Ltd. is proposing the development.
The Braselton Planning Commission will not meet Monday, June 16, since the Ruby-Forrest, Ltd. request was the only item on the agenda.
OTHER BUSINESS
In other business, the council:
•approved the revised final plat for Chateau Elan, Woodlands, Phase II and approved the final plat for Chateau Elan, The Village, Phase III.
•approved the final plat for Traditions, which will be located on Dunbar Road and Friendship in Hall and Gwinnett counties. The 58-home subdivision is not to be confused with Traditions of Braselton, which in located in Jefferson in Jackson County, town officials said.
• approved an annexation and rezoning request for Linwood Burns. His four-acre lot is located on Thompson Mill Road in Gwinnett County and his septic tank is located in the buffer area of Chateau Elan, The Village, Phase III. By annexing his property into Braselton, Burns can become a town sewage customer.
• learned Pilot Truck Stop has agreed to place a directional sign for truckers on Highway 53. Residents of The Vineyards and town officials have been asking the truck stop’s owners to place a sign for several months. The truck stop will need a variance request to place the sign, which will be heard by the Braselton Zoning Board of Appeals. The truck stop’s owners haven’t applied for the request, yet.


$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.
At the same time, the budget isn't expected to cause a hike in city property tax rates.
The Commerce Board of Education approved the tentative budget at its Monday night meeting and will vote on the finalized budget next month.
"It's tight," White said.
Instructional services will cost the school system nearly $57,000 more in 2003-2004. With the state not passing any teacher pay scale increases —paired with Commerce schools only getting $2,044 more in state funds — the school board had to use local dollars to fund teacher "step" increases next year.
The proposed budget calls for the use of $183,135 in reserves while asking for $1.9 million in local taxes, an increase of 4.6 percent from last year.
However, White said he hopes the growth in the city digest will prevent a millage rate increase.
Another major cost will come in the maintenance and operation funds which will see a $29,167 increase.
Because the school board received its state allotments sheets late and won't have its budget finalized before July, it also had to approve a spending resolution for next month which will allow it to start using next year's funds as long as spending doesn't exceed one-twelfth of the total budget.
BOARD TOURS CMS SITE
The board had its first tour of the site of the new Commerce Middle School building at its Thursday work session.
White went over the layout of the school and told the board he felt significant strides have been made in the construction process, with the foundation of the school nearly complete and several walls already blocked.
The superintendent added that he expected the pace to quicken with the addition of five or six more brickmasons to the 12 already at the site.
Steel for the project is expected to arrive June 23.
In other business , the board:
•recognized retiring Com-merce Elementary School paraprofessionals Eunice Banks and Mildred Thomas.
•agreed to pay its annual $1,759 dues to the Georgia School Board Association.
•approved its 2004 special education comprehensive plan.
•had its second reading and adoption of its promotion, placement and retention policy.
•adopted a memorandum of understanding with the Jackson County Board of Health which will allow the use of city schools in case of a widespread health emergency.
•had its first reading of an updated pager and cellular phone policy which will allow students to use the devices under some circumstances.
•met in closed session for 30 minutes and, in open session, approved the hiring of Carol McFadden, special education teacher at Commerce Elemen-tary School (contingent upon receiving a provisional certificate from the state); and the following paraprofessionals: Kathy Thomason, special education, Commerce Middle School; Adam Crenshaw, physical education, Commerce Elementary School; Kimberly Ellison, kin-dergarten, Commerce Elemen-tary School; Becky Lord, kin-dergarten, Commerce Elemen-tary School; and Pam Barnett, special education, Commerce Elementary School.


‘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.
One project officials alluded to is a “very large” industrial development that is expected to bring at least 200 jobs and “several hundred million dollars,” explained Jackson County Chamber of Commerce president Pepe Cummings. Other “smaller” projects in the $40-50 million range are expected to bring 100 jobs to the county, if those projects come about, he added.
No additional details about the potential projects were given during the Jackson County Roundtable meeting.
Despite the national economic downturn, Jackson County hasn’t been hit as hard and is seeing “a lot of activity,” Cummings said.
“It’s easy to sell Jackson County,” Cummings told county and municipal leaders. “The fact of the matter is, I’m marketing and selling a place and each of you are more responsible than I am for creating that wonderful product that others feel confident in to invest their money.”
And one company investing a lot of money in Jackson County is Toyota. The Japanese automobile manufacturer is planning to build a $60-100 million plant in North Jackson that will initially bring 120 jobs to the county.
“Everything is on schedule,” Cummings said of media reports doubting the project’s progress. “Everything is fine.”
Cummings said that while Toyota hasn’t decided which subsidiary company will occupy the Pendergrass facility, county officials are expected to learn this month who will be named to the plant. In the meantime, the project is being dubbed “Beach Valley.”
Groundbreaking for the project is expected to take place this month with construction moving “very fast” for an opening date in mid to late 2004, Cummings said.
Another stimulus factor for Jackson County’s quickly growing pace is the state and federal highways criss-crossing the county, leaders said.
Mayors from Arcade, Jefferson, Talmo and Pendergrass all said U.S. Highway 129 will bring growth to their municipalities and they are aiming to attract quality businesses.
“The growth is coming so fast sometimes it’s hard to plan for it,” said Arcade Mayor Doug Haynie, whose city is now planning to start its own sewage operation.
Jefferson Mayor Jim Joiner said most of the city council’s recent meetings have been consumed with rezoning requests, while Talmo Mayor Larry Joe Wood and Pendergrass Mayor Monk Tolbert said developers have begun asking about rezoning and annexation requests into their cities.
“We’re excited about the (Pendergrass) bypass because we think it’ll open up some commercial and maybe some retail opportunities,” Tolbert said.
NOT JUST COURTHOUSE
But, with all of the growth happening in Jackson County, county commission chairman Harold Fletcher said officials are still working on other projects, not just the new courthouse.
“Contrary to popular opinion, Jackson County has more than one project going on,” he said of the courthouse project.
However, courthouse project consultant Wayne Wilbanks did provide a brief overview of the project for the county and city leaders.
On the courthouse’s classical Greek design, Wilbanks said “it’s designed for the future.” The official groundbreaking for the courthouse is planned for August, the building’s “topping out” is slated for February or March and the facility is expected to be open in late fall 2004, he said.
The next project residents will learn about immediately after the courthouse project is complete is the new county jail, county manager Al Crace said.
And to keep the county projects going, funds will have to keep flowing from retail sales taxes, Fletcher said.
Fletcher said he and Jackson County Schools superintendent Andy Byers have agreed that some sales tax revenue is “slipping through the cracks” from reaching the county and school systems. A new system has been devised to track all Jackson County companies for reporting sales tax revenue to the county, he said.

 

 


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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.
Councilman Bosie Griffith made the motion to deny the request and said the project doesn’t meet the city’s land use plan. C.D. Kidd III and Philip Thompson also voted to deny the request. Steve Kinney voted against this motion.
At last week’s work session, several citizens spoke in opposition to the project and the lack of adequate water pressure was discussed. Developer Darrell Garner also spoke on the project at last week’s meeting.
OTHER BUSINESS
In other planning business, the council:
•approved a request from Gwinnett Industries to rezone about 5.6 acres on Hog Mountain Road from A-2 to M-1 for a light industrial park. The council also approved the annexation of the land into the city.
•approved a request from BP&S Family Partnership to rezone 6.9 acres on Hwy. 129 from C-2 to M-1 to locate an equipment rental and office/warehouse. This action is pending approval of the city’s watershed ordinance, which is expected to be acted on at the July meeting.
•approved a request from FOP Georgia to rezone 56.9 acres on Toy Wright Road from A-2 to M-1 to build a tree farm and education center. This action came after a discussion as to whether untreated sewage would be put in holes on the property. “I have a problem dropping raw sewage straight to the ground,” Kinney said. Mayor Jim Joiner said the liners would be used and that the sewage will be treated. The council also approved annexation of the property into the city.
•approved a conservation subdivision ordinance, which calls for a minimum of 40 percent greenspace, maximum two units per acre overall average density and specifies setbacks and minimum home square footage requirements.
•approved a request from Ron and Sharon Welch to build a conservation subdivision on 38 acres on Memorial Drive.
•agreed to a request from the planning department to extend the moratorium on development in the Curry Creek watershed until July 14 to allow the staff to compile further reports and continue work on the watershed protection ordinance.


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.
In a public hearing Monday night, Nicholson leaders went over its $319,314 budget for next year that will call for an additional $50,000 in its capital outlay funds to cover the cost of the new building which will be built on the city’s 10-acre tract on Lakeview Drive.
That cost drives the total expenditures expected for this year to nearly $127,000 more than it spent last year.

The city budgeted $270,216 in expenses in 2002-2003.
The only another notable increase over last year was a 3.4 percent hike in city employee salaries.
There was no public opposition to the budget.
The city council will vote on its final budget next month.