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 members 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 couldnt 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 Jims 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.
Dont 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 neighbors 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 Dont 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 theyll 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 theyll get when someones music is too loud, the anger thrown their way when they inevitably fail to please.
Its just too much trouble. Thats the final thought of most who consider running. Its 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.
By: Adam Fouche
The Banks County News
September 17, 2003
Education funding becoming a critical issue
These days, I wouldnt have a board of education members job for anything. Or even a superintendents for that matter.
Times have gotten tougher, where fielding parental complaints and trying to solve personnel conflicts arent 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 cant directly contribute to a systems 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 doesnt 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 dont 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 thats 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 heres where the issue becomes more difficult.
School boards arent 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 heres 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.
Its time to decide drop some mandatory programs or help local systems fund the mandates.
Because they cant do it all on their own.
Adam Fouche is a reporter for MainStreet Newspapers. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.