Jackson County Opinions...

AUGUST 20, 2003



Column
By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
August 20, 2003

Plenty Of Room For More People Inside City Limits
By my calculations, there are some 516 lots in developing subdivisions in Commerce, and another 249 for mobile homes. Of the lots for stick-built houses, the best numbers I can get indicate that 153 contain houses on or being built; of those, 88 are occupied.
There has been a lot of residential activity proposed for Commerce, mainly to take advantage of its sewer system, and if you read this page regularly you’ve picked up that I’m agin’ annexation for such projects.
My contention is that we have sufficient housing on the way to promote all the residential growth we can handle.
If every subdivision in the city builds out and every house is occupied, we will have added 1,052 people – not counting those in mobile homes, nor who move into new houses built on the many other vacant lots.
Additionally, between them, Heritage Hills and Heritage Crossing have 38 vacancies, which suggests we could add 93 more people.
These are very conservative estimates based on census data showing 2.46 residents per housing unit in Commerce. Actual gains in population will be greater because most of the people buying those houses are younger and will have one or more children.
I submit that Commerce neither needs nor can afford further developments of apartments, mobile home parks, or houses selling for less than $150,000. The numbers bear me out on the issue of need. Now let’s look at the cost.
Based on census data and school tax information, local children require $1,370 apiece per year in local education costs, which does not include the cost of providing classroom space. A new $120,000 house will bring in $800 in city taxes, 95 percent of which goes to the schools.
The city will recover some money in utility sales, but most of the land outside the city (and some inside) is not in the city’s electrical service area, leaving only water and natural gas sales as income producers for yet-to-be annexed home sites.
On the plus side, each new resident helps the city keep its percentage of the local option sales taxes, which generate roughly $520 per year per person based on current distribution arrangements, a third of which goes to the schools for construction (none for operations). If Commerce’s population fails to keep pace with that of Jackson County, its piece of the sales tax pie will get smaller. Additional citizens should mean more sales tax is collected, but the distribution will not be changed until the 2010 Census for LOST, and at the the next referendums for SPLOST. Incidentally, it is estimated that 70 percent of local sales tax revenue comes from out-of-county residents.
A household will generate $760 in school taxes. It is arguable that it will also generate $520 per person in sales taxes, but a better analysis of per capita cost vs. income would require figuring the per capita spending from the city budget, which is way beyond my abilities.
The bottom line is that Commerce cannot afford a lot of population growth unless it is offset by commercial growth, particularly industry. It just doesn’t make good sense to go out of our way to grow faster.


 

Editorials
The Jackson Herald
August 20, 2003

Going ‘wet’ a historic move
To many newcomers, Monday night’s action by the Jackson County Board of Commissioners to allow beer and wine sales in unincorporated Jackson County may not seem like a big deal.
But given the history of Jackson County, the move is an echo from the past. Indeed, three of the current county commissioners weren’t even living in Jackson County when that issue surrounded a much larger problem.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Jackson County was a haven for organized crime, with various groups loosely referred to as the “Dixie Mafia.”
One of the largest aspects of this criminal activity centered around bootlegging, the sale of beer and wine in areas of Jackson County where it was not legal. Those sales also involved selling booze to teenagers and supplying booze on Sundays.
The profits from that activity were huge and the enterprises grew to other counties and became highly organized. So important was that criminal activity in Jackson County that in the late 1960s, one bootlegging ring had district attorney (then called solicitor) Floyd Hoard murdered to stop a grand jury investigation.
Although beer and wine were sold in several county towns at that time, unincorporated Jackson County remained “dry.” On a number of occasions, efforts were made to have the county become “wet” as one way to undermine the illegal bootlegging trade.
But that never happened because an “odd couple” opposed the idea: Bootleggers and church leaders would join hands to kill any effort to have the county become wet.
Eventually, bootlegging began to wane. With more profits to be made from illegal drugs, the criminal activity shifted away from booze. Law enforcement began to crack down on bootlegging in the wake of the Hoard murder. And over the years, more local towns began to allow beer and wine sales, making alcohol more accessible across the county.
So it was just a matter of time until the rest of Jackson County became wet. The growth of subdivisions in unincorporated Jackson County began to pressure small stores to carry beer and wine to compete with stores inside the towns. Indeed, on one previous occasion, the BOC approved beer and wine sales, but quickly retreated because of a change in politics.
Whatever one’s views about Monday night’s approval of beer and wine sales, there is no denying that the action has deep roots into the fabric of Jackson County.

 

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Column
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
August 20, 2003

Speaker can’t have it both ways
The dance of public issues in Jackson County is a never-ending source of amazement. Every week, I’m stunned at what various public officials do and say in Jackson County.
But I’m also amazed at the comments made by some citizens in Jackson County at public meetings.
For example, take a close look at the comments made in Maysville Monday night by Jackson County Republican Party chairman David Oppenheimer.
Oppenheimer is never shy and has spoken out in public on a variety of issues over the years. This year, he has twice spoken out at public meetings in defense of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners.
In February, Oppenheimer was the lone defender at a huge public meeting about the BOC’s effort to take over the county water authority. His defense was, more or less, to say that the citizens had elected the BOC and that those who disagree with that board should just hush and let the board members do what they want.
At that meeting, Oppenheimer repeated a line used by some members of the BOC that the only people upset about the takeover effort were from Jefferson. But when asked for a show of hands, it became obvious that the room was filled with people from all areas of Jackson County.
With his jaw on the floor, Oppenheimer sat down.
One would have thought that having been embarrassed once, Mr. Oppenheimer would not make the same mistake again. But in June, at a BOC hearing about the proposed new courthouse, Oppenheimer stood up to defend the BOC. He praised them for “having the courage to be leaders.”
Again, Oppenheimer dismissed public outrage over the BOC’s handling of the courthouse matter, saying that the public had a right to vote for the commissioners. The unspoken meaning was, “Hush, citizens, and leave the commissioners alone.”
Alas, Mr. Oppenheimer has a difficult time following his own advice. Monday night, he was front and center at a Maysville City Council meeting blasting that town’s leaders over a controversial rezoning and annexation issue for Mar-Jac poultry.
Part of Oppenheimer’s argument was to ask the council to consider the “morality” of Mar-Jac, a not-so-subtle implication about unproved allegations that the firm has ties to international terrorism. Oppenheimer also charged that Maysville leaders were not enforcing current ordinances and should not approve the rezoning.
But here’s the question for Mr. Oppenheimer to ponder: Why is it wrong for the citizens of Jackson County to speak out against the BOC’s actions, but not wrong for him to speak out against the City of Maysville’s actions? Why is it OK for him to exercise his right of free speech as a citizen, but somehow spurious for others in Jackson County to do the same thing?
The truth is, his stand is rooted in party politics. All five county commissioners are members of Mr. Oppenheimer’s Republican Party, ergo, they can do no wrong in his eyes.
But the members of the Maysville City Council are apparently not card-carrying members of his party, therefore they are fair game for a public rebuke.
Mr. Oppenheimer could have followed his own advice. The citizens of Maysville elected the current city council, so why does Mr. Oppeneheimer have the right to complain? He does not even live inside the city limits of that town. If he is so concerned about that community’s decision-making, then why doesn’t he annex into the city so he can have a vote?
It’s a double-standard that has come to typify the faithful core of both political parties. Many Democrats see no wrong among their members just as many Republicans see no evil among their flock.
Frankly, I don’t blame Mr. Oppenheimer for opposing a feed mill in his front yard.
But he cannot expect to be taken seriously when he speaks in public if he bases his position simply on party politics. He cannot defend one group of public officials by dismissing public dissent just because those officials are Republicans, yet himself dissent with another group of officials who are not from his fold.
In Jackson County, that’s called talking out of both sides of one’s mouth.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


Editorial
The Commerce News
August 20, 2003

Teens Offer Example Of Civic Involvement
A couple of Commerce High School juniors provided a wonderful example last week of what two people – helped by some friends – can do when they set their mind to it.
Laura Sanders and Mary Beth Howington decided in mid-July that they wanted to do a fund-raiser to benefit Eric Red-mon, a long-time classmate recovering from an automobile accident.
They organized support at CHS among Redmon’s friends and classmates and came up with two events. One was a T-shirt sale and the other a car wash. On Saturday, some 60 teenagers (and 15 adults) pulled off the car wash, earning $2,700. In addition, they’ve sold nearly 300 T-shirts designed to remind the community of Eric’s situation.
Together, the two events will likely raise $5,000 to help offset some of Eric’s hospital bills. More importantly, they will remind Eric and his family that they have many friends in the community who are not only thinking of them and praying for them, but who are also willing to do something tangible to help them.
Two young ladies have reminded their community that motivated people can do great things if they have desire, leadership and a cause that captures the imagination. There are plenty of worthy causes and people who want to reach out, but it takes leadership and organization to bring the two together.
Well done.

Governments Should Learn From Budget Woes
To paraphrase a large bank’s advertising campaign, what can an economic downturn teach us about managing state and local government?
This has been a tough year for local government. While the U.S. can run up massive debt, Georgia is prohibited from operating with a deficit and most local governments must live in or close to their means.
On the state level, the current recession demonstrates two points. First, the “rainy day fund” was not nearly sufficient to handle the surplus “rainfall” of bad times. It must be larger. Secondly, just as the state should look carefully before implementing new programs even during good times, it should also be more careful about trimming taxes during the boom years. The billions of dollars of tax income Georgia gave up during the 1990s are a contributor to the state’s budget difficulties now. Equal caution should be exercised in starting programs or trimming income.
This recession has also demonstrated to local governments that they cannot count on state funds in tough times – but they can count on continued state and federal mandates. When dollars are squeezed, the state is subject to reducing its participation in programs it mandates, leaving cities, counties and school systems holding the bag.
When the recession ends and a strong economy returns, prudent governments will remember these lessons to be prepared for the next downturn, because just as the recession will end, so will the following recovery. Moderation during good times will reduce the pain during the bad times.


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