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 youve picked up that Im 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 lets 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 citys
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 Commerces 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 doesnt make good sense to go out of our
way to grow faster.
The Jackson Herald
August 20, 2003
a historic move
To many newcomers, Monday nights
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
werent 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
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
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 ones views about Monday nights approval
of beer and wine sales, there is no denying that the action has
deep roots into the fabric of Jackson County.
The Jackson Herald
August 20, 2003
have it both ways
The dance of public issues in Jackson
County is a never-ending source of amazement. Every week, Im
stunned at what various public officials do and say in Jackson
But Im 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 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
In February, Oppenheimer was the lone defender at a huge public
meeting about the BOCs 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
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 BOCs
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 towns leaders over a
controversial rezoning and annexation issue for Mar-Jac poultry.
Part of Oppenheimers 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 heres the question for Mr. Oppenheimer to ponder: Why
is it wrong for the citizens of Jackson County to speak out against
the BOCs actions, but not wrong for him to speak out against
the City of Maysvilles 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. Oppenheimers 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 communitys decision-making, then why doesnt
he annex into the city so he can have a vote?
Its 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
Frankly, I dont 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
In Jackson County, thats called talking out of both sides
of ones mouth.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.
The Commerce News
August 20, 2003
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
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 Redmons 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,
theyve sold nearly 300 T-shirts designed to remind the
community of Erics situation.
Together, the two events will likely raise $5,000 to help offset
some of Erics 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.
Governments Should Learn From Budget Woes
To paraphrase a large banks 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 states budget difficulties
now. Equal caution should be exercised in starting programs or
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.