Banks County Opinions...

SEPTEMBER 17, 2003


By: Zach Mitcham
The Banks County News
September 17, 2003

The dying call of council duty
One of my first council meetings as a reporter included a lengthy discussion of whether to purchase a refrigerator for a maintenance shed.
I took notes, writing down one council member’s remembrance of a previous mini-refrigerator. They talked awhile but eventually made no decision on whether to buy anything.
Later, I looked back at my notepad, wondering what I was doing, jotting down details of a little fridge that cooled drinks and leftover lunches in the 80s.
This surely couldn’t interest the general public.
Many issues discussed at small town council meetings are like that, things where you just feel sort of ridiculous taking too many notes, that pothole in front of Jim’s house that needs fixing, that grass at the cemetery that needs cutting.
I remember one historical preservation commission meeting I covered in another county that included discussion of curtains in a certain downtown window, how tacky they were.
“Don’t you write that!” I was scolded by a generally nice, elderly commission member, mortified to see my pen moving, probably thinking of the potential headline, “Commission member ridicules neighbor’s tacky green curtains!” (I did not tell her that I sometimes take notes on trivial matters just to keep my mind from drifting or that “Don’t you put that in the paper!” makes any reporter want to respond “o.k, well, let me tell you how to vote.”)
There are, of course, bigger matters at hand at small town meetings than curtains, pot holes and small-time refrigeration.
You can see how a council deals with growth, whether it invites it or puts up a barricade, whether it is smart in how it plans development or helter skelter in its approval process.
In the minutia of small town council matters is something admirable too. The attention to the small details shows a diligence, a commitment to looking out for neighbors.
Unfortunately, the idea of serving on town councils is less and less appealing to the general public. Unless there is a controversial issue brewing around election time, most council posts include no more than one candidate, if that.
Many are scared off thinking of the long meetings they’ll have to sit through, the morass of paperwork that comes with any government affiliation, the possibility of being sued for some decision, the reporter that puts their name in the paper, the phone calls they’ll get when someone’s music is too loud, the anger thrown their way when they inevitably fail to please.
“It’s just too much trouble.” That’s the final thought of most who consider running. It’s almost as if they are considering a self-flogging, knowing that in the end, it will only hurt.
Those who run for elected office or volunteer for an appointed post deserve a baseline respect from the rest of us.
We can gnash our teeth and shake our heads and call them stupid.
But are you willing to make the sacrifice to fill their shoes?
Most of us prefer not to, leaving the dying call to civic service to someone else.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.

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By: Adam Fouche
The Banks County News
September 17, 2003

Education funding becoming a critical issue
These days, I wouldn’t have a board of education member’s job for anything. Or even a superintendent’s for that matter.
Times have gotten tougher, where fielding parental complaints and trying to solve personnel conflicts aren’t the biggest issues anymore.
The Atlanta Journal Constitution in its Sunday edition reported on the economic impact that slashes in state funding has had on rural school systems.
The article referenced $294.4 million in budget cuts since the spring and another $273.1 million proposed for the 2004-05 school year.
According to the AJC, those cuts most severely affect rural systems because those systems often fund close to 80 percent of their budget with state money.
The situation in Banks County is close to the same. And as the state continues to slash funding, local officials must find some way to make up the shortfall. Only one viable solution exists: property tax revenue.
Systems do get some funds from sales tax (SPLOST). But by law, that money can’t directly contribute to a system’s yearly operating budget.
Sales tax revenue can only be used for specific capital expenditures, such as new construction or renovation. Yes, most of the capital projects are necessary, and having a solid sales tax revenue does keep those special projects from relying on funding from the regular budget.
However, sales tax money doesn’t really help make up shortfalls caused by state budget cuts. School officials have no choice but to supplement the state money with local funds, or in other words property tax revenue.
In rural areas, a heavy reliance on property taxes puts school systems in a bind. Many rural systems don’t have a viable tax base.
In Banks County, the tax base has slowly started to grow. And more emphasis on projects like the Industrial Park Drive extension and development of the Industrial Park will help.
The owner of an industry will pay far more in property taxes than any homeowner or farm owner. And that’s the way it should be.
More industry translates into a richer tax base for the school system. And that allows the regular land owners and farmers to shoulder less of the burden of educating children.
But here’s where the issue becomes more difficult.
School boards aren’t normally involved in the recruitment of new industry into a county. But in reality, the school system probably benefits the most from industrial development.
So here’s the challenge. Local county commissioners and city officials must work closely with the school board to recruit industry and ensure that the school system has a solid tax base from which to draw revenue.
And those groups must be conservative in handing out property tax break incentives because the school system desperately needs that revenue.
A challenge also goes out to legislators and state school officials. The state mandates that school systems offer certain programs.
But at the same time, lawmakers have cut the funding for those programs, leaving local school officials holding the bill.
It’s time to decide — drop some mandatory programs or help local systems fund the mandates.
Because they can’t do it all on their own.
Adam Fouche is a reporter for MainStreet Newspapers. His email address is
The Banks County News
Homer, Georgia
Telephone: (706) 367-5233 Fax: (706) 367-8056

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