Jackson County Opinions...

SEPTEMBER 10, 2003



Column
By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
September 10, 2003

A Capital Idea For Eliminating The USPS Deficit
I heard on the radio recently that, facing continued operating deficits, the U.S. Postal Service plans to cut back services in smaller post offices, possibly eliminating some.
I can’t recall the amount of deficit mentioned, and after my web search for that data was interrupted by a porno site, I gave up. But I recall thinking how silly it was to cut back on services when the answer to the Postal Service shortfall is so simple.
You can help.
If every time CapitalOne sends you a credit card application, you take the postage-paid envelope that comes with it, stuff all the material CapitalOne sends you back into the envelope and mail it, we can eliminate the Postal Service deficit.
Every time you do that, the U.S. Postal Service makes 47 cents, more if you can cram more than an ounce of junk mail back into the envelope. Consider it recycling.
CapitalOne sends my household an average of five credit card applications a week. I, therefore, produce $2.35 per week in extra revenue for USPS just by returning the junk mail to its source.
Multiply that by the 90 million households in America, and in one week, we’ve contributed $211 million or $1.09 billion per year without ordering a single credit card.
We can expand our deficit-reduction quest if we duplicate this with every unwanted mail offer accompanied by a “postage-paid” envelope or card. The value to the USPS of an envelope thus sent, 47 cents; the value of a post card, 33 cents. The satisfaction of reducing trash in local landfills and getting revenge on the purveyors of unwelcome solicitations – priceless.
There is an ever-so-slight chance that CapitalOne might cease sending you the nearly daily solicitations. That would certainly destroy the USPS recovery plan, but the odds are unlikely. I’ve written to CapitalOne to point out its wasteful spending, noting that the chance of my taking a credit card from them is slightly less than that of hell freezing over twice, but I am still a valued potential customer deserving of five offers a week. CapitalOne is unmoved by response from those it solicits.
Should CapitalOne go under before the USPS deficit is eliminated, there are plenty of similar sources of revenue. Surely not a day goes by that you do not receive an unwanted and unappreciated solicitation for something that is accompanied by a postage-paid return mail. Stuff that envelope or scribble a message on that card, put it in the outgoing mail with the knowledge that you’re doing a great public service.
+ + + +
Buoyed by my success in eliminating the Postal Service deficit, I’m now working on financing the new courthouse. This, alas, is a greater challenge requiring more thought accompanied by large amounts patience and diplomacy.
I’m leaning toward “Harold Fletcher Days,” a City Lights type festival to be held on the vacant tract on Darnell Road. Fun events include the greased commissioner chase, pin the tail on the manager, a tag-team wrestling match between the commissioners and the water authority, and the Lame Duck Dash.
Hmm. This is going to be harder than I thought.


 Editorials
The Jackson Herald
September 10, 2003

Echols a symbol of public engagement
A 14-year-old girl from Jackson County was in the U.S. Supreme Court Monday as one of the key players in a high-profile case being heard in the nation’s highest court.
Emily Echols is one of the lead plaintiffs in the case over campaign finance reform heard by the court during an unusual four-hour session Monday. Although the case has many plaintiffs challenging last year’s campaign finance reform law, Echols’ part was to challenge a provision that banned minors from making campaign donations.
At such a young age, Emily is doing what so many people in society today fail to do — step forward and become engaged in public life. We all complain about politics and politicians, but few people are willing to step forward and challenge the problems which they know exist.
Emily, however, did step forward. At the encouragement of her father, Tim Echols, Emily became engaged in the issue of political donations by minors. When Congress attempted to tame the influence of big money on the political process last year, it included a provision in the law to keep large donors from giving money in their childrens’ names to candidates.
Emily, along with a handful of other minors, agreed to be part of the legal challenge to that law. She believes that even as a minor, she should be able to make a political donation to the candidates of her choosing.
Time will tell if the nation’s highest court will agree with her on that. But one thing’s for certain, we haven’t heard the last from the young political prodigy from Jackson County.
More people of all ages would do well to follow the lead of Emily Echols and become more directly engaged in public life.

 

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Column
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
September 10, 2003

Incentives should be for more than short-term deal
When two members of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners carelessly plunked $14 million in tax abatements on the table in an effort to lure a large distribution center to Commerce, they were playing politics, not public policy.
It’s an obscene amount of money, of course, but the issue is larger than just $14 million. The real issue is the long-term direction Jackson County will take as it enters into what may be a period of hyper-growth.
But neither BOC chairman Harold Fletcher nor commissioner Sammy Thomason have enough vision to see the long-term consequences of their actions. Both men are focused only on next year’s elections and their burning desire to stay in office.
That is why they offered what may be the largest local tax abatement in the state’s history to this company — a 10-year, $14 million deal to forego property taxes on the company’s building and equipment.
But the price of that deal goes far beyond just the dollars lost. The real price is the precedent it sets for other future development deals in Jackson County and for what it says about our economic development priorities.
I’m not in blanket opposition to using incentives for industrial development deals. There are many who view such incentives as nothing more than “corporate welfare,” but I’m of a more moderate opinion.
If done correctly, wisely and in moderation, incentives can be an excellent tool for communities to build a stronger economic base.
Not all incentives, however, are created equal. In addition to the questionable size of the current proposed tax abatement, there are two other related concerns.
First, why is Jackson County using a large incentive for what may be one of the best industrial sites in the state? True, the site near Commerce still doesn’t have all the infrastructure it needs. But it is a prime site for future industrial growth and putting that infrastructure in place is only a matter of time. (If City of Commerce officials would invest in the site, it would have infrastructure today. Their own lack of vision over the last two decades has prevented them from investing in themselves.)
It doesn’t make sense for us to, in effect, give away one of the county’s prime industrial sites. That is counter to all market reality. Our prime development sites should have fewer incentives than our less marketable areas. The proposed deal does just the opposite for no reason other than politics.
Second, Jackson County should use incentives to support the kind of job growth Jackson County needs rather than just for the number of jobs on the table.
Jackson County, especially the Commerce area, has a lot of low-to-moderate paying service sector jobs, but there is a lack of higher-paying white-collar jobs available. While every community needs both kinds of employment, the truth is, Jackson County must focus on luring more of the high-end management, manufacturing and professional jobs.
The reason for that is evident: Our best and brightest students, those who go on to college, often have to leave the area to find work because there are so few professional/management jobs currently available in the community.
On the other hand, there are a zillion service sector and moderate-skilled jobs available. Do we really want to offer our largest incentives for more of those? Shouldn’t we use our incentives to lure a better balance of professional/management positions?
Think about it for a moment: We spend millions and millions of dollars in Jackson County each year on education. We push students to excel and attend college.
Yet if they do, we as a community have little to offer them in the way of employment. Thus, we have a huge brain-drain taking place as they leave to find work elsewhere.
Shouldn’t we use our economic development incentives to help stem that loss of human capital?
That is not to say the current company isn’t worthy of consideration, or that Jackson County shouldn’t welcome the jobs it offers. Far from it.
But for the long-term, Jackson County must develop a more diverse economic base which includes corporate, management, technical and professional positions. If we don’t do that, Jackson County will become just a second-rate truck stop between Atlanta and Greenville.
Economic development isn’t just about tax dollars, or the number of jobs created, or the political needs of county commissioners. It is a complex system that brings together a variety of interests and needs, some tangible, some intangible.
But to understand that, and to weigh those factors in balance with the needs of a community, takes leadership and long-term vision.
Unfortunately for Jackson County, our public officials displayed neither vision nor leadership in the current economic development proposal.
Blinded by politics, they gave answers before they ever understood the questions.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


Editorial
The Commerce News
September 10, 2003

2 Years After 9-11, There Is Much To Be Done
Thursday will mark two years since the infamous terrorist attacks in New York, Washington, DC, and Pennsylvania, but the aftermath of those attacks continue to destabilize the world.
The U.S. economy is slowly recovering, Americans seem consigned to but not obsessed with subsequent attacks, our armed forces have decimated the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein’s power structure in Iraq. Yet Osama bin Laden, architect of the 9-11 events, and Hussein remain at-large and the ranks of terrorist organizations are growing, rather than diminishing.
Domestically, the Department of Homeland Security is in place, but no one supposes that the homeland is secure given the nearly infinite number of potential targets. The war in Iraq, which President Bush tied to the 9-11 attacks, was a resounding military success but is a growing diplomatic nightmare, partly because the stated causes for going to war were grossly exaggerated and partly because the United States has no coherent plan to restore peace and rebuild Iraq.
If Americans have learned that their military might cannot alone achieve peace, the terrorists have learned that their attacks will be met with the full resources of the most powerful nation in the world and that those who plot such actions will be hunted down relentlessly. In spite of that, the nation’s conduct is perceived in many quarters as a recruitment call for new terrorists. If the goal of the Bush Administration was to make terrorism less attractive to those who would undertake it, the American failure borders on spectacular.
America has adjusted to the idea that it is vulnerable and is moving to decrease it, but has not yet figured out that America alone cannot achieve peace. The challenge is to build a coalition of nations and peoples to oppose and root out the cancer of terrorism. That coalition will not be created by an arrogant and cocksure American government dictating policy but by a more true partnership working by consensus and equally committed to finding a solution to the Israel-Palestine issue that generates the fanaticism feeding terrorism.
America won the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; the Taliban and Baath Party are in shreds. But their leaders remain alive and their crusades against America have more support now than ever. The war is just beginning. We must keep our guard up, mend fences with our allies, hope for the best and prepare for the worst.

Prompt Answers Needed
You have to feel a little sorry for the would-be developer of a 30-acre tract near Commerce. It took him nearly four months to get a decision out of the Commerce government, which should have just said “No” three months earlier.
Commerce is not ready to accept annexations for residential development, having all it can handle with the in-city projects under way. It may be that if major industry locates in the city, as is hoped, Commerce will again be able to justify the annexation of land for residential development. In the meantime, the government must act to protect the tax base (and student base) of the city school system by making sure there is balance in the tax digest. Right now, that means no annexations for residential housing.
Developers will propose many projects over the coming years due to the city’s water and sewer resources. It will be up to the planning commission and city council to stand firm against those not beneficial to the city and its school system, but they need to act decisively so developers don’t spend months while the two groups toss the issue back and forth. Give them well-reasoned appropriate answers – without unnecessary delay.


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