News from Jackson County...

AUGUST 27, 2003

Jackson County

Jackson County
Jackson County


Our Time and Place:
A History of
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A complete history of Jackson County, Georgia from 1796 to the present. Written in narrative style for easy reading. Includes material not found in other books about Jackson County.

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Hometown Kid Makes Good
Commerce’s Michael Collins To Take Field For Clemson Tigers
The last time Michael Collins donned pads for a football game, he was helping Commerce secure one of the school’s most cherished gridiron wins — a state championship clinching victory over Buford in front of an overflow Tiger Stadium crowd of 8,000 or so fans.

Panthers travel to Winder-Barrow to kick-off regular season
The worrying is nearly done, the dog days of summer training camp have now passed and Friday night fever is once again ready to explode in the GHSA.

Dragons to open season Friday at Apalachee
The first games of the season can be a bit puzzling for football coaches, as they try to make the transition from the preseason to the regular season as smooth as possible.

Neighborhood News...
BANKS COUNTY Reviving the past
Plans for new town hall in Gillsville take shape
In between recollections of five-cent candy, men gathered around a pot-bellied stove for afternoon chats and shelves with old button-down shoes, the Gillsville City Council members walked around a century-old former general store that will one day be turned into the new town hall.

BCN office closed Monday;
Early deadlines set next week
The Banks County News will have early deadlines for next week’s issue due to the Labor Day holiday on Monday.

Neighborhood News...
Commissioners back park plans
Group votes 4-1 to overrule earlier zoning board recommendation
“Park issue still far from resolved” — See editorial .
The controversial land off Hwy. 72 looks no different today than it did last week. But Monday, nearly 33 acres off James Holcomb Road officially changed from farm property to industrial land.

Inmates to inhabit new county jail soon
Inmates will most likely be inhabiting the new county jail sometime within the next two weeks, according to chief deputy Bill Strickland
The Jackson Herald
Jefferson, Georgia
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Despite a court suit that could unravel plans for a new courthouse, Jackson County officials have ordered that grading and site preparation continue on Darnell Road. The Jackson County Board of Commissioners agreed recently to spend up to $3 million from county reserve funds to fast-track the $25 million project.

Courthouse suit to be heard Tues.
Citizens’ group legal battle with BOC on the agenda
A key hearing will be held next Tuesday on the lawsuit between a group of local citizens and the Jackson County Board of Commissioners.
The hearing before visiting Judge Carlisle Overstreet of Augusta will be held at 2:30 in the Jackson County Superior Courtroom in the courthouse.
In the suit, the citizens contend that the BOC is violating the Georgia Constitution by proposing to do a $25 million “lease-purchase” deal with the Association County Commissioners of Georgia to finance a new courthouse. The citizens say that the deal is really not a lease, but is a debt and as such, must be put before voters. The Georgia Constitution states that no local governments can issue long-term debt without a vote.
The BOC argues that the proposed deal with the ACCG isn’t really a debt, but a lease arrangement. The board also argues that the arrangement follows a 1988 state law that allowed lease-purchase deals and that it also conforms to a 1989 court case in which a precedent was set for such deals.
The BOC’s plans to build a new courthouse on Darnell Road have been a controversial move since the board decided in 2002 to purchase 160 acres for the project. In addition to debates over the location, which is outside the downtown area of Jefferson, some opponents have voiced concern about the $25 million price tag.
While the issue is surrounded by those concerns, at issue in court Tuesday will be technical questions about the proposed deal between the BOC and ACCG.
The citizens’ group, represented by Gainesville attorney Wycliffe Orr, has filed several affidavits in court, two of which may have an impact on the case.
In an affidavit from former Rep. Robert Lawson, the former lawmaker said it was never the intent of the 1988 law for counties to use it to finance multi-million dollar construction projects. Lawson was the author and principal sponsor of the law that year.
“I can state, and do state that the acquisition of real estate portion of the bill contemplated and intended purchase of land, and not construction of buildings. It was never discussed, intended, or contemplated that this bill would permit lease or lease purchase agreements for financing long-term capital construction projects involving long-term debt, debt service, and millions of dollars. The bill and resulting code section were not intended to permit local governments in Georgia to assume long-term, multi-year financial responsibility for such construction projects without obtaining voter approval through the referendum process,” stated Lawson.
In another affidavit, Thomas Smythe, a professor of economics and business at Furman University, states that his analysis of the proposed deal does not qualify it as a lease.
“This transaction in fact represents a long-term bond issue cloaked in lease terminology,” he said in an affidavit.
Smythe calls the ACCG a “phantom partner” in the deal and says that the county “could have saved its taxpayers money in the form of lower interest rates if it had simply floated a traditional bond issue.
“Based upon my knowledge of finance, I would classify the purported lease as a debt,” he said.

WA member says BOC may want group to finance a new courthouse
Does the Jackson County Board of Commissioners want to take over the county water authority as part of a plan to finance a new courthouse?
That possibility came to the table last week when a member of the authority said he believed the BOC plans to use the water authority as an alternative way to fund a new courthouse.
Vice chairman Warren Walker alluded to the proposed takeover and suggested its intent was to use the authority as a mechanism to finance the construction of a new courthouse.
In the process, he declared that he was appointed to the authority by the commissioners “to be on the water board to come and make arrangements about turning it over to the county...”
Looking into the bill that created the authority, Walker said he saw a provision that gives the authority unlimited borrowing ability – with no stipulations on how the money is spent.
“Now if the county commissioners had our water authority and had control of it...we could borrow all the money we want and there is nothing in there that says what we can do with it. We can go out and build doghouses for everybody, free doghouses. We can build a new being a dumb country boy, what are the commissioners wanting this board for so much? Could it be that little sentence in there that we can just borrow an unlimited amount of money?”
In other business, it took 40 minutes of discussion, but the water authority voted 3-2 last week to defeat a motion to hire a consultant to analyze its finances and operations.
Most of the discussion was between new member Wanda David and chairman Elton Collins.
David proposed that one member of the authority and one county commissioner jointly pick a consultant, put a $25,000 cap on the cost and that the cost be split between the two groups. She was joined in her position by new member Clay Dale.
David’s argument was that an analysis is due because the authority does not have the money to both operate and complete its proposed SPLOST-funded water projects.
But Collins wasn’t interested, arguing that since the board of commissioners plan to take over the authority in less than a year, there is no point in spending the money.
Collins was referring to efforts of the board of commissioners to assume control of the authority. Both David and Dale were appointed as part of the process, which Collins expects to be completed next year when his term expires.
Dale seconded David’s motion, but Collins, Walker and Dean Stringer voted against it.

Huge industry looking at Commerce site
County offers 10-year incentives package
A major industrial prospect is seriously considering a Commerce site for a large distribution warehouse, said to be one of the biggest projects of its kind in the nation.
To sweeten the pot, the Jackson County Board of Commissioners has offered a large package of incentives to the prospect, including a 10-year tax abatement on the building and equipment said to be worth $14 million over the term of the deal.
The value of the building and equipment is said to be $140 million. County and Commerce city taxes, except city school taxes, would be abated for the 10-year term.
But officials say taxes from the warehouse’s inventory would more than make up for the loss in revenue from the building and equipment. The inventory is slated to start at $150 million and grow to $300 million over the first five years of operation, say Commerce leaders.
If the inventory does equal $150 million, accounting for freeport exemptions, the net tax base would be around $24 million, an amount that is larger than many other recent local industrial development projects.
In addition to its share of inventory taxes, the Commerce City School System would also receive a 10-year phase-in of payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT) on the firm’s building and equipment. And since both the inventory and real property investment would affect the system’s QBE state funding formula, city school leaders have also asked that the firm make up any funding shortfalls created by the project’s impact.
Other incentives are also part of the package, including the placement of roads and other infrastructure at the Commerce site.
The unnamed company is reportedly slated to begin with 200 jobs and perhaps grow to as many as 600 people within five years.
The offer to the firm came after meetings last week between the Jackson County BOC, the City of Commerce and county industrial development authority. At an IDA meeting Thursday, that board signed off on the proposal.
BOC chairman Harold Fletcher praised the deal and its potential impact on the county.
“We’re looking to the future of Jackson County and we’re saying, ‘bring it on,’” Fletcher commented. “We are going to face it. We are going to provide the financial means, whatever it takes, to make this thing happen so Jackson County is a better place.”
Before agreeing to the deal, IDA members discussed the potential long-term impact on the Jackson County School System. The site near Commerce is currently in that system’s district, but would be annexed into Commerce for the industrial project. That move led county school system superintendent Andy Byers to question the reasons for the annexation in a letter to the IDA.
Earlier last week, commissioner Sammy Thomason said the annexation has to be done to lower the fire ISO rating for the firm. Thomason, who represents the Commerce area on the BOC, has been one of those who negotiated the proposal with representatives of the company.
Fletcher also addressed Byers’ comments, saying the county would sit down with the Jackson County Board of Education to discuss the situation for other future development projects.
“There is a need for some resolution,” he said of Byers’ concerns. “... As we sit down with the school boards...we can resolve those issues so we don’t have to answer these questions every time something like this comes up. We have an opportunity to attract a tremendous development here in Jackson County... This says to the world that Jackson County really means business... We’re willing to recognize that there are possibly issues that have not really been resolved. There may be some that we need to flesh out. What we are saying is that we are willing to take a step on faith and work to make this thing happen. We’re not afraid of the challenge.”
Fletcher also said that the location of this project would “open up the entire I-85 corridor” in Jackson County for future industrial projects.
Commerce Mayor Charles Hardy also told the IDA of the city’s support for the project.
“We want this thing bad and we’re going after it,” he said. “That’s all we can do. If there is anything else we can do, we will do it too.”
Initially, the firm had reportedly narrowed its Jackson County sites to a location in Braselton. But following a visit by commissioners Thomason and Fletcher to an Atlanta consulting firm working for the company, the site near Commerce was put back on the table.
Upon learning about the county’s effort to push the Commerce site, Braselton leaders declined to enter into a bidding contest against another county town.

Armed robber hits Hoschton store
An alleged robber who ran out of a Hoschton convenience store with the cash register in his hands last Thursday, remains in the Jackson County Jail, following his prompt arrest.
Steven Gibson, a white male who told police he is homeless, supposedly entered the Citgo Food and Gas station around 10 a.m. and attempted to rob the store.
Gibson allegedly took a bottle from the store’s cooler and used it to hit a convenience store worker on the head, according to Hoschton Police Capt. Allan Johnston. The worker was briefly unconscious and refused medical attention when an ambulance arrived later, he said.
Police say Gibson stole the store’s cash register and ran outside. He apparently attempted to pry the register’s door open, but couldn’t reach the $6,192 in the drawer, Johnston said Friday.
Officers from Braselton, the Jackson County Sheriff’s Office and the Georgia State Patrol quickly “saturated” the area near the convenience store on Ga. Hwy. 53 to find the alleged robber, Johnston said. Officers patrolled the nearby schools, while West Jackson Intermediate School and ABC-123 Child Development Center officials decided to lock-down the schools, he added. West Jackson Primary School wasn’t locked-down.
Within 45 minutes, officers found Gibson on Oak Avenue and he was arrested without incident, police say.
Johnston said Gibson invoked his right to remain silent and didn’t provide other details for officers.
Gibson has been charged with one count of armed robbery for using the bottle, one count of possession of a knife at a crime scene and one count of aggravated assault. He was denied bond on all counts



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Mill WorkforceTo Be Cut To 33
Jobs This Fall
Two-thirds of the jobs at Mt. Vernon Mills will be moved to Alto this fall, leaving only 33 workers in the 350,000 square foot building that has been a Commerce institution since 1893.
Plant manager Johnny Klugh confirmed that three of the five remaining processes undertaken at the Commerce mill will be moved to Alto.
The plant manufactures yarn, which is shipped to the Cleveland plant, where it is woven into "bottom weight" fabric used in pants under Levi, Wrangler, Duck Head and other brand names.
"They are consolidating some of the operations to save on overhead and cut costs," Klugh explained. "There will be 70 jobs affected."
Of those employees, nine are at or near retirement age. Another 40 will assume the same jobs at an Alto facility and the remainder have been offered jobs at another Alto plant.
"Nobody's real happy. Everybody that's left here has been here a long time," Klugh noted. "You get to a place where it feels like home. You come in 30 minutes early and socialize in the break room ... But it's a whole lot better than coming in and having a meeting and being told you don't have a job anymore."
Klugh, who came to Commerce 30 years ago, is retiring at the end of the month, a move he's been anticipating for more than a year. Eddie Fisher will become the "location manager" of the Commerce facility.
Harmony Grove Mills was started in 1893. When Klugh joined the facility, it employed about 550 people, but over the years that number has steadily dwindled.
"A lot of the cutbacks were due to improvements in technology. We were going capital intensive instead of labor intensive," Klugh stated. "In 1984 we moved the weaving to Cleveland and we were able to turn out a lot more cloth than we ever were before."
Employment fell to around 200, and amid almost monthly rumors that the plant was to close, there were layoffs, after which those laid off were hired back, but employment declined through attrition to about 100 today.

Early deadlines; JH office to be closed Monday
The Jackson Herald will have early deadlines for next week’s issue due to the Labor Day holiday on Monday.
The deadline for classified advertisements will be at noon on Friday, while the deadline for display advertisements will be at 3 p.m. on Friday.
The news deadline will be at 5 p.m. on Friday. This deadline is for news items submitted from the public, including school, social and church news.