Jackson County Opinions...

June 11, 2003



Column
By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
June 11, 2003

The Choice: More Business, Industry Or Higher Taxes
Jeff Dorfman's figures answer a lot of questions.
The professor of applied economics at the University of Georgia explained at last Wednesday's breakfast meeting of the chamber of commerce why it is we covet business and industrial growth.
Simply put, to keep taxes down.
While Dorfman pointed out that there are ways to develop residential neighborhoods that are less costly to government, he said it takes a house valued at $440,000 to provide the taxes and fees to support two adults and a school-age child who move into Jackson County.
The community loses money on mobile homes, apartments and all but the best stick-built houses. It makes money on agricultural land, business and industry, but especially on business and industry. That is, residences bring in less in revenue to government than it takes to provide the roads, courts, schools, recreation, law enforcement, etc. needed by those houses and the people who live in them.
We all know what the population is doing in this county; it's growing by leaps and bounds. Houses are popping up like dandelions after a spring rain, filling with children who need education and families requiring all the amenities we expect.
These people are coming whether we like it or not, thanks to our location and relatively inexpensive land. There's not a thing we can do to keep them out. No community has yet managed a successful no-population-growth strategy.
So, we pray that there will be enough business and industry to cover the residential funding deficit. We have a chamber of commerce, an industrial development authority and city and county governments that work to convince businesses to locate here or, better yet, those already here to expand.
The revenue needed per house would be significantly lower in Commerce, but the situation here is just as bad because Commerce has so little industry. We're getting the housing boom, but are lagging in attracting new business.
That's why the Commerce Board of Education and Commerce City Council are, for the first time in years, working together. A proposed industrial park just across Interstate 85 on the west side of the Maysville Road has the potential to make Commerce a player in attracting industry – and over the long haul to help balance the tax digest against the residential onslaught, something West Jackson and Jefferson have been doing for years.
It will take that kind of partnership, with help from the county commissioners, chamber and IDA – and the property owner – working continuously to keep taxes from going out the roof. We know the residential growth is coming. It is up to us to make sure business and industrial growth keeps pace.
We're not going to have many $440,000 houses. Either every taxpayer must pony up a lot more money, or business and industry must be brought in to take up the slack. My vote's for the latter.
I don’t mind (too much) paying my fair share of taxes, but I want that fair share to be as low as possible.


Editorials
The Jackson Herald
June 11, 2003

128-years-old
and still growing
It would have been interesting to have lived in Jackson County in 1875. It was a boom time in Jackson County. The community had begun to climb out of the ravages of the Civil War from a decade before. And while it was still very much a rural community, a glimmer of business and commerce growth had begun.
But along with those first inklings of growth, there was also a tense political atmosphere in Georgia in 1875. Reconstruction was still in place and the resentment of “Yankee imperialism” was heavy on the minds of many Southerners.
It was in that atmosphere of optimism, growth and political tension that this newspaper was born 128 years ago this week.
In 1875, this newspaper was not named The Jackson Herald. It’s birth name was The Forest News. It was only after a fire in the 1880s that the name was changed.
For the first 16 years of its existence, The Herald went through seven editors. But in 1891, it began a stretch in which one man and his wife owned and published The Herald for the next six decades.
John Holder was a remarkable man, having had a long career not only as a newspaper publisher, but also in state politics. He and his wife received The Herald as a wedding present in 1891 and he sold The Herald in 1960 to a group of local businessmen.
It was under Mr. Holder that The Herald first found its strong editorial voice. His interest and involvement in politics spurred him to take strong stands on a variety of issues.
That practice of having a strong editorial voice continued under the new owners in the early 1960s. At the time, problems with local bootlegging rings were editorialized about and The Herald even sent undercover people to several locations to buy illegal beer for a news story. In 1962, The Herald won first place for the “Most Fearless Editorial” award in the state for its writing about local organized crime.
Having a strong voice against local organized crime would continue with The Herald for the next three decades, a turbulent time in the history of Jackson County as organized crime was slowly put out of business.
In 1965, Herman and Helen Buffington purchased The Herald and it remains in that family today. Its voice in speaking about important local issues continued under the new owners, not just about crime, but also about local education, government and development problems.
And that strong voice continues today. Although many community newspapers have begun to shy away from confronting local issues on opinion pages, we believe that is one of the core missions of our business.
The issues the community faces are different today than 128 years ago when The Herald was born. Those early owners and editors would be astonished at the kind of growth and development this community has seen since those days of muddy roads and an economy that was based entirely on agriculture.
But one thing has not changed and that is this newspaper’s commitment to the Jackson County community. For 128 years, this newspaper has attempted to provide the community with important news and commentary its citizens need to know.
On this 128th birthday, we reaffirm that mission. Our goal is to serve our readers by giving you the most comprehensive coverage of Jackson County possible.
Thank you, Jackson County, for supporting this community voice for the last 128 years.

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Column
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
June 11, 2003

On BOC, Dooley and other ‘stuff’
You might not have noticed it, but a comment by board of commissioners chairman Harold Fletcher this week bears a few observations.
During a meeting last week with area towns, Fletcher said that “Contrary to popular opinion, Jackson County has more than one project going on.”
The comment was referring to the BOC’s continuing efforts to build a new county courthouse on Darnell Road.
Fletcher’s remark was a flip comment aimed at critics of that effort, including this newspaper.
Of course, everyone knows that other things are happening in Jackson County besides the courthouse issue, but it is Fletcher and a couple of the puppets on his board who have made the courthouse issue such a mess.
In truth, the courthouse issue is sucking the life out of the Jackson County government. Every single decision being made by Fletcher & Company revolves around protecting the courthouse project.
You might remember that last year, it was Fletcher and his alter-ego commissioner Sammy Thomason who attempted to divert future school taxes from the Toyota project into the county’s general fund to build roads.
Guess what roads they want to build — that’s right, the “Fletcher Freeway” to go to the new courthouse site on Darnell Road.
Every decision currently made in county government is contingent on how it will affect the courthouse project, Fletcher’s comments notwithstanding.
But while this board has become obsessed with the project, it still has no plans to allow a public vote on the financing.
That, in my opinion, violates the law. The state constitution says that local governments cannot issue debt without a vote of the public. If a $25 million courthouse isn’t a debt project, then nothing is.
Rumor has it that a lawyer is investigating that issue, among other things, and has made an open records request to the county for various documents.
For the sake of Jackson County taxpayers, let’s hope that someone litigates this issue on its constitutional merits.
***
Also discussed at that meeting last Thursday was the prospect of another large business locating in Jackson County.
Let’s hope the county is successful in that effort. Both the additional tax base and jobs will benefit the county.
I just hope some of our county leaders don’t meddle in that effort the same way they attempted to do with the Toyota project.
Jackson County doesn’t need to lose a “big fish” because of amateurs playing economic politics for re-election.
***
I don’t know what to think about the huge flap over the Adams-Dooley situation at UGA.
At its core, the controversy appears to be a power struggle between the athletic department and the administration.
Although I’m a UGA grad, I have no particular affinity for either man. But I do know that no matter whatever the real circumstances, Adams cannot win a fight against UGA athletic boosters as long as those boosters support Dooley. Boosters control too much money and state political influence.
To put it in athletic terms, Adams is about to find himself in the same position as did that player from Tennessee in Herschel Walker’s first game two decades ago — on his back wondering what kind of train had just run over him.
Memo to Adams: Don’t pick a fight you can’t win. This is one of ‘em.
***
The Jackson County Board of Education wants to remove the term limits imposed on its elected positions.
I have a compromise to propose: Let’s remove the BOE’s term limits and put them on the board of commissioners.
The truth is, BOE’s have very limited power because public schools are run by dictates from the state and federal governments. Nothing they can do about that, so let’em run for office as many times as they wish.
Boards of commissioners, however, do have power and can quickly make a mess of local government. For that reason, they should be limited to no more than two terms.
Heck, in Jackson County, maybe we should just turn the county government over to the board of education. It’d give that board something to do and overnight improve the IQ of county leadership by 35 points.
***
Martha Stewart is a mystery to me. I never have understood her appeal. That she is caught up in a corporate scandal affects my life not one whit.
Maybe there ought to be a special jail for all those corporate bigwigs who stole, cheated and plundered our public corporations. Then Martha could teach WorldCom’s Bernie Ebbers how to arrange flowers that wouldn’t clash with the black and white stripes he’d be wearing.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


Editorial
The Commerce News
June 11, 2003

Budget Pain May Just
Be Starting In Georgia
The new Georgia budget isn’t even in effect yet, and already state officials are worried about whether revenue projections will hold up. That’s a valid worry, since the budget, finalized only after much gnashing of teeth, is based upon revenue growing by more than six percent.
For the fiscal year starting July 1, school systems, libraries, public health facilities– anything that relies on state funding– are having to cut services or, in the case of school systems, make up lost state funds with local funds. That is increasing local taxes, but more worrisome is the possibility that the state plans further budget cuts.
What makes these late cuts difficult is that, for schools, they would come after school systems have signed contracts for personnel, which they are bound to honor. If the state reduces the Commerce City School System’s budget by reducing the money for staff, the school system cannot cut its budget similarly because of the contractual obligation.
This already happened last year. School systems all over Georgia are dipping into reserve funds to get by, and some don’t have the reserves to do it again. Such reductions are immoral in that under the guise of cutting state spending, what actually happens is that the Georgia General Assembly is virtually mandating increased local spending.
The General Assembly doesn’t have the political courage to raise taxes to meet the obligations it has made, so it forces local governments to raise taxes in its stead. Once was enough. If the revenues upon which the budget was based don’t pan out, the General Assembly should raise taxes. It created the problem, let it solve it.


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