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OCTOBER 29, 2003


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OPINIONS
Jackson County opinion page


SPORTS
Business As Usual
Commerce Rolls Over Overmatched ACS
A David and Goliath pairing, yes, but one where Goliath trampled his undersized foe.

Something has got to give
Jackson Co. homecoming game pits winless foes
For Jackson County, this year’s homecoming game against Habersham Central may be the best chance the Panthers will have this season at ending the state’s second-longest losing streak, now at 21 games.

Dragons enjoy bye, prepare for rival Commerce Nov. 7
This year’s off-week of preparation for the always anticipated Jefferson/ Commerce rivalry game will be more pleasant for the home team. That is, compared to what the Dragons were coming off of a season ago when they were somewhat dejected by their narrow 10-7 defeat to the Redskins.


News from
BANKS COUNTY
Residency issues rock Lula election
Ostrander withdraws, Moore questioned
Rumors about residency issues of two Lula city council seat candidates were put to rest at the political forum held Thursday night.
Ward 1 candidate incumbent Mike Ostrander withdrew from the Ward 1 race via a letter.

Alto, Lula elections ahead Tuesday
Registered voters in Alto and Lula will be heading to the polls on Tuesday to cast their ballot in several council seat races.


News from
MADISON COUNTY
Shopping center plans axed
BOC votes 3-2 to turn down Hwy. 98 proposal
A planned shopping center off Hwy. 98 near the county industrial park was shot down by county commissioners Monday night.

More money approved for new county jail
County commissioners tagged another $26,000 for the new county jail Monday night, on top of an earlier $100,000 boost in the jail budget earlier this month.

Our Time and Place:
A History of
Jackson County, Ga

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.

Order this book online

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IN THE HALLOWEEN SPIRIT

Lucille Cooper added a spider web this year to the Halloween decorations she has put up in the front yard of the Gordon Street, Jefferson, home where she and her husband, the Rev. R.E. Cooper, reside. Mrs. Cooper has been decorating her yard for 10 years. See this weeks Jackson Herald for more details.

Tax rates climb across county
BOC sets tax rates
The Jackson County Board of Commissioners set its 2003 county tax rate and various fire district tax rates at a called meeting last Friday morning.
The BOC set the county tax rate at 9.74 mills for incorporated areas and at 8.73 for unincorporated areas.
Following a public hearing on the Harrisburg Fire District rate, the BOC set that district’s tax rate at 1.76 mills. Other fire district rates will remain the same, or be lower this year.

City of Jefferson at top in millage rate total
With the City of Maysville’s tax rate still in limbo, Jefferson residents have the dubious distinction of paying the largest total property tax rate in Jackson County.
The combined city, school, county and state tax rates are 32.63 mills in Jefferson this year, up nearly seven percent from last year’s rate. Both the Jefferson City Council and Jefferson Board of Education approved tax rate hikes this year.
The owner of a $200,000 house in Jefferson will pay around $2,600 in total property taxes this year.
In unincorporated Jackson County, the Harrisburg area has the highest tax rate at a combined 30.24 mills. The Harrisburg Fire District approved an increase in its tax rate to pay for new equipment in 2004.
Because it has nine towns, three school systems and a host of independent fire districts, Jackson County has the most complex tax structure in Georgia. What you pay in local property taxes is largely a function of where you live and what taxing districts cover that area (see chart in this weeks Jackson Herald).
While the tax increases this year vary from 2.2 percent to 6.8 percent, how that impacts property owners may vary depending on individual assessments. A rise in assessment along with a rise in tax rate could lead to a larger increase than shown in the chart.


5 City Races To Be Decided In Tuesday Election
Next Tuesday’s municipal elections in Commerce stand to be confusing for voters. Not only will there be a regular election for city and school board slots, but there will also be a special election on a separate ballot and wholesale changes in the city council voting districts.
Voters will fill four slots in city government and three on their school board next Tuesday, but only four of those races have more than one candidate. One ballot will feature the elections for mayor, the city council seats in wards 4 and 5 and the school board seats in districts 3, 4 and 5. The special election will fill the Ward 3 seat formerly held by Sam Brown, who at the time of his death was unopposed for re-election.
Mayor Charles L. Hardy Jr., Councilman Richard Massey, the new Ward 5 seat and board of education member Dr. Paul Sergent, District 5, will all run without opposition for re-election. Former mayor and long-time Public Safety Commis-sioner J. Mac Barber had qualified to run against Hardy but his candidacy was tossed out in a challenge by Election Superintendent Shirley Willis because of his residency and voter registration.
WARD 3 RACE
The most contested race is in the special election in Ward 3 where four candidates, Greg Fields, Mark Fitzpatrick, Mike Rhoads and Paul Vickery, seek office. The election will be decided by plurality – which means no runoff will be held unless there is a tie.
Fields, 37, works for Reliance Electric in Athens and lives on Smallwood Drive. He said his primary purpose in running is “to help individuals who don’t know who to ask when they need something done.”
Fitzpatrick, 39, is an Alltel business services technician and lives on Piedmont Road. One of his top priorities, he said is to “see the downtown attract some new businesses and for the parking lot for the civic center to be completed.”
Rhoads, 58, lives on Piedmont Road and is retired from the automotive supply business. He says his top priority is to help the city “develop a more balanced tax base” and to increase the minimum lot size for residential development.
Vickery, 59, lives on Madison Street and is a revenue agent for the Georgia Department of Revenue. His priority, he says, “is to just represent the people of Ward 3.”
WARD 4
The Ward 4 race pits incumbent Bob Sosebee against challenger Neal Smith.
Smith, 62, lives on Roosevelt Boulevard and is food service manager for the Continuing Education Center at the University of Georgia. He says his top priority if elected will be to focus on economic development “and improving the tax base.”
Sosebee, 55, chairs the Downtown Development Authority and is a real estate agent for Century 21. He lives on Dogwood Trail. Sosebee said the top issue for the next four years will be “the managing of growth while maintaining the quality of life.”
SCHOOL BOARD
DISTRICT 3
Political newcomers Heidi Fields and Barry Lord have challenged long-time incumbent Bill Davis.
Fields, 38, is a customer service representative for Community Bank & Trust and lives on Smallwood Drive.
“I want to try to get driver’s education back in the school curriculum,” she declared. “Right now it is a separate thing and a lot of children can’t afford it.”
Davis, 62, lives on Shankle Road and is service manager of Cain Ford, Cornelia.
“I would like to serve one more term to finish what we started, like the new middle school,” Davis said. He seeks his fourth term in office.
Lord, 43, lives on Piedmont Road. He is a surveyor for Ingram Lord & Associates.
“No one on the school board has children in school. As a parent, I see how the day-to-day decisions affect the children,” he said.
DISTRICT 4
Rodney Gary has challenged Chairman Steve Perry for the District 4 seat.
Gary, 49, lives on Stark Road and is owner of Gary Motors and Auto Parts. His focus, he said, will be on improving relations between the school board and the city “to get everything running smoothly.”
Perry, 50, manages the pharmacy at CVS and lives on Magnolia Place. His priority for the next four years will be to “finish the commitment the Commerce School Board made in the last SPLOST, especially seeing the new middle school completed” and to work with the city council “in our joint pledge to increase the city’s tax base ...”
NEW DISTRICTS
The major source of confusion will be new voting districts. In the past, there have been five school board districts and four city council wards. Following reapportionment last year, the boundaries are the same for five wards and five districts – although city council members still run in wards and school board members from districts.
The reapportionment changed the district lines slightly for school board members but dramatically for city council elections, with a new Ward 5 carved out to correspond to District 5. Voters should be sure to check their voter registration cards to make sure they’re in the right district, officials say. Maps showing the voting districts will also be visible at the Public Safety Complex, which is the city’s poling place.


Guilty verdicts given in armed robbery
A Jackson County jury found four young men and one woman guilty of the armed robbery of Zales Jewelry store after more than three hours of deliberations last week.
The jury began deliberating at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 22, and came back with a verdict at 8:30 p.m. Judge David Motes then sentenced the five armed robbers and court ended at 9:15 p.m.
The five suspects, Andre Demond Traylor, 26, and Chad Neal Harper, 20, both of Riverdale; Kelvin Williams, 24, and Deon Reed, 19, both of Chicago, Ill.; and Erin Monet Jordan, 20, Union City, were all charged with armed robbery, kidnapping with bodily injury, aggravated assault and criminal damage to property.
“This was an extremely serious armed robbery,” Judge David Motes said before sentencing the five. “There are several different kinds of defendants. There are defendants I see who make me angry. These are not that kind of defendant. These are defendants who make me afraid for the good citizens of Jackson County, for the merchants of Jackson County, for all of those in Jackson County who want to live law-abiding lives. I can imagine nothing more fearful than having a gun pointed at my head and hearing noises I thought were gunshots.”
District attorney Tim Madison referred to the five as a “traveling gang” during his closing remarks, adding that they worked as a “sophisticated team” during the robbery.
“They picked our community,” he said. “They thought it would be easy picking and our law enforcement wouldn’t be alert enough to catch them...They terrorized those victims that day. In two minutes time, they sole more than most of us would earn in 10 years. They stole $388,00 worth of jewelry.”
Traylor was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the armed robbery charge. He was given this mandatory sentence because it was his second armed robbery conviction. Traylor was also given a life sentence for the kidnapping charge and three consecutive 20-year sentences for the three aggravated assault charges.
Williams received life sentences for both the armed robbery and kidnapping charge and 20 year sentences each for the three aggravated assault charges. He was given two life sentences because he has a prior firearm possession conviction. His life sentences come with eligibility for parole.
Reed and Harper were given 20 year sentences for the armed robbery and life sentences for the kidnapping. They also received three 20 year sentences for the aggravated assault charges. Their life sentence comes with the eligibility for parole.
Williams, Reed and Haper would likely be eligible for parole in 18 years, however, that doesn’t mean they would be released. The state parole board would hear their cases and make a determination if they are to be released.
Jordan was given a 15-year sentence for the armed robbery. The jury found her not guilty of the kidnapping charge and one of the aggravated assault charges. She was found guilty of two of the aggravated assault charges and given two 15-year sentences. She would likely be eligible for parole in 13 and a half years.
Jordan is the only defendant who spoke to the judge during the sentencing. She apologized for what happened and told the judge she especially regretted what the treatment of the victims. Her mother also spoke to the judge and pled for leniency. She said her daughter had attended college for two years and returned home for one semester. She said she got involved with a bad crowd.
“She’s been horrified throughout these proceedings,” her attorney, Leslie Roche, told the judge. “Please have mercy on her and sentence her to the minimum.”
District attorney Tim Madison had asked for the maximum sentence of 20 years and Roche had asked for 10. Madison said the gunman and the driver of the get-away car were the two most important people in the crime.
“The crime couldn’t have been committed without those two,” he said.
In his sentencing Motes said:
“The jury has decided she is less culpable than the other defendants, however, it seems Miss Jordan didn’t think of the possible consequences of her actions by providing the get-away car. She undoubtedly knew the defendants were armed. She undoubtedly knew they went there to take the jewelry...While she is less culpable on some of the charges, she is no less guilty of armed robbery.”
The five showed no emotion as their sentences were given. They did wave to family members as they were led out of court. Several of their family members, including some from out of state, attended the three-day trial.
The defendants have 30 days to file any appeals in the case.


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Radar shut down in Pendergrass
PD reapplying for permit
The Pendergrass Police Department has stopped using radar after learning that it was being used along a strip of Hwy. 129 that is not in the city limits.
Police officer Bill Hazelgreen reported to the city council at a meeting Tuesday night that town officials had believed the portion of the bypass was in the city. He said that as soon as it was discovered that the property isn’t in the town, the department stopped using radar.
The city has worked with the Georgia Department of Transportation to rectify the problem and is re-applying for a radar permit.
“The city limits have been resurveyed,” Hazelgreen said. “We could have continued running radar in the areas not disputed but the chief determined that our officers will not operate radar until the entire bypass is checked and rechecked.”
Hazelgreen added that the officers are not allowed to run radar except in a few specifically designated areas on the bypass.
“These areas only include places where a patrol vehicle can sit on asphalt, not on the roadway edges,” he said. “This area is in a curve with metal guard rails less than four feet off of the roadway. There is no room in most of this area for a patrol vehicle to sit off of the roadway and operate radar. Pendergrass officers are not allowed to cross the median to pursue speed violators so any person caught speeding going the opposite direction are not pulled over anyway.”
From the north city limits to the disputed property, approximately 1,750 feet of roadway is in the city limits.
“This area includes one of the designated areas where our officers can operate radar,” he said. “No citations written in this area can be challenged.”


Jefferson tax rate up 15%
After cutting its way through proposed budgets three or four times, the Jefferson City Council set its tax rate at 6.49 mills, up from 5.63 mills last year.
The council approved the tax rate, which represents a 15 percent increase, at a called meeting Thursday night.
The $4.5 million budget calls for $3 million in non-tax revenues with the difference coming from property taxes.
Departmental expenses look like this for 2004:
Financial/Administrative $782,124
Police $1.36 million
Fire $483,030
Street $891,492
Museum $103,662
Parks/Recreation $263,054
Library $114,400
Planning/Development $185,900
Other $399,227


Election set Tues. in Pendergrass
voters in Pendergrass will be heading to the polls next Tuesday to select a mayor .
Incumbent Monk Tolbert is facing challenger Harris Denver “Dink” Elrod in the contest.
The mayor’s race has largely revolved around controversy about the town’s new police department.
The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday.
For more election coverage of Pendergrass and the City of Hoschton, see this weeks Jackson Herald.

BOC passes resolution on lot size
Seek 21,789 sq. ft. minimum for conservation subdivisions
The Jackson County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution Friday morning to seek the health board’s OK on smaller minimum lot sizes for conservation subdivisions.
Commissioner Emil Beshara brought the resolution before the BOC at a called meeting Friday, saying the matter had been discussed at the previous Monday night’s meeting, but that a signed resolution was needed to send to the health board.
The resolution calls for board of health approval on the minimum lot size served by septic tank to be set at 21,789 square feet for conservation subdivisions, down from the 25,500 square foot minimum lot size adopted by the board of health in 1999.
Beshara said that the minimum lot size would only apply for conservation subdivisions and that lots served by septic tanks in other subdivisions would still follow the 3/4-acre minimum.
He pointed out that in conservation subdivisions, the home lots are typically on higher ground and are farther away from environmentally sensitive areas such as streams and wetlands.