Jackson County Opinions...

NOVEMBER 5, 2003

By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
November 5, 2003

Overlooked Again, This Time By The NRA
Once again, I have been overlooked. I am not on the National Rifle Association’s 19-page list of enemies. If I were on the list, I’m sure they’d have called to tell me. If you know differently, please advise.
The omission is an embarrassment, a reminder that in journalistic circles, I am at the bottom of the food chain. The New York Times made it as an organization, and surely some of its columnists were named, but nobody at the NRA knows where Commerce, GA, is, let alone that it has a newspaper and an editor less than fond of the NRA.
I suppose I could have helped my odds of making the list had I written a few virulent anti-gun editorials and columns. Certainly anyone who witnessed my shooting skills at last week’s Commerce Kiwanis Club “sporting clays tournament” at Brush Creek Shooting Preserve would conclude that I am opposed to firearms. Or hitting what I shoot at when using them. But I admit to being remiss in not damning firearms, shooting and those who enjoy either.
Alas, I didn’t realize the NRA was working on a list. Otherwise, I’d have enhanced my résumé by castigating Charlton Heston and festooning my ‘92 Chevy S-10 with anti-gun bumper stickers. Maybe some of those junk emails and faxes from unknown senders contained this valuable information and, had I read them, I’d have been in a position to make my move.
I am not really opposed to firearms. They’re fun to shoot even for poor shots like me, and while I long ago gave up hunting, I think it’s a wonderful sport and wish every Jackson County deer hunter would bag his or her limit this year so I could finally see my hostas bloom. I even see the value of a firearm as a weapon of self-defense, though I suspect that more lives are lost to accidental shootings with loaded guns than are saved by using them for defense.
In truth, I even like Charlton Heston. He made a great Moses, liberating the Hebrews by the power of God (rather than with an assault weapon). He was grand in “Ben Hur” as well. If he shrilled for the NRA in his dotage, who am I to complain?
The NRA is just another special interest group, one of those that Democrats particularly hate. They hate the NRA because it gives money to the Republican Party. There are others the Republicans hate because they’re advocates strictly of Democrats. (All of our Senators and representatives are bought off by such groups, but the only special interest groups any of them recognize are the ones who don’t donate to them.) The NRA is no better or worse than the NEA, except the NEA frowns on firearms in the classroom.
The sore spot with me is the enemies list. If a national group is going to have one, I want in, or rather, on. I was too young to be on Nixon’s list and too insignificant to be on Newt Gingrich’s later version. Although I am on the record as an opponent of the Iraq war, John Ashcroft is checking neither my email nor my library card usage. To find out that even the NRA is ignoring me is insult added to injury. I’m the Rodney Dangerfield of journalism.
I demand inclusion on the NRA hate list and I’m sticking to my guns.

The Commerce News
November 5, 2003

Don’t Forget To Change Smoke Alarm Batteries
With the beginning of November, the holiday season is just around the corner, as is cold weather and the need to begin using home furnaces and heaters. It is a good time to remember an annual chore that can be a life-saver – the replacement of smoke detector batteries.
State and national fire safety groups have tried to tie the annual battery replacement to the change from daylight saving time to normal Eastern Standard Time, the theory being that as people remember to change their clocks back, they’ll also remember to replace the 9-volt batteries that operate most smoke detectors.
If you didn’t remember, do it today. Georgia is among the top 10 states in the nation in deaths to fires – part of the reason can be attributed to the lack of smoke detectors or smoke detectors that are inoperable (usually because of dead batteries).
Among the leading causes of residential structural fires are failures in heating systems, ranging from improper wiring to improper use and a lack of servicing. Ideally, every heater, fireplace or wood stove would be checked annually to make sure it is in good operating condition, but even that is not a guarantee against failure. That’s why smoke and heat detector type fire alarms are so crucial.
Today, housing codes require such alarms, but they are of no benefit if their batteries go dead and are not replaced. Buy a new battery today and install it in your smoke detector. It’s the cheapest life insurance you can buy.

Democrats Would Be Wise To Listen To Miller
Senator Zell Miller is getting a lot of attention from his new book bashing the Democratic party. Based on excerpts, Miller hits the proverbial nail on the head in describing the shortcomings of his own political party in “A National Party No More.”
A lifelong Democrat, Miller has watched as the Democratic Party’s primary system has produced candidate after candidate incapable of resonating with Southern voters. By letting the caucus in Iowa and the primary in New Hampshire establish the presidential field, the Democrats have all but guaranteed that their party’s leading candidates will be too liberal for Southern voters.
What Miller does not say, however, is that the worst of the problems attributable to the Democrats are also endemic in the Republican Party. For example, he correctly cites the polarizing tactics of the Democrats, something the GOP has taken to new heights. He rips the Democrats for operating under the influence of the “special interest groups,” when the Republicans are equally or greater beholden to similar (but different) groups. Both major political parties are sold out to their separate special interest groups. Both put party before public interest, both place more importance on political advantage than on sound public policy.
Miller may be premature in writing off all of the Democratic Party’s presidential aspirants. Certainly the economy and the situation in Iraq will affect Bush’s re-election chances. Still, if the Democrats ever hope to regain power and win in the South, they’d do well to heed much of Miller’s advice.

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By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
November 5, 2003

Tax digest error hitting BOE hard
The error in the Jackson County tax digest is one of the most serious problems local government has faced in recent years. That’s especially true for the Jackson County School System which has overnight been thrown into crisis mode because of the error.
Now, I know discussions of tax digests and other government financial issues is often a snooze. Most people don’t care about the complex way taxes are collected. I’d bet that less than 50 percent of citizens even know what a “tax digest” is, much less the details of how it’s calculated.
Still, for all its arcane obscurity, a county tax digest is one of the most important documents in local government. It is the bedrock on which all local government budgets are built. If that bedrock has a crack, the entire structure is subject to collapse.
Although it isn’t yet clear how the error happened, the upshot to the story is this: Jackson County’s single largest taxpayer, the power plant near Nicholson, was listed twice on the county’s property tax list.
If the county listed your house twice, it wouldn’t make much difference in the overall budget. But because that power plant is 10 times larger in value than the second largest taxpayer, it is a huge part of the overall county property tax structure. (In 2002, the plant was 8.5 percent of the overall county tax digest.)
In essence, the double-listing inflated the projected income to the county government and to the county school system.
The county government can deal with the problem because it has more than one source of local income. (In 2002, property taxes were only 38 percent of the total county government income.)
In addition to multiple sources of income, the county government has much greater flexibility in how it spends money than a school system. Some things it can postpone or just not fund next year. (Not to mention that the BOC tax rate is already too high and that there’s so much “fat” in county government, putting that piggy on a diet is a good idea anyway.)
With the county school system, however, the situation is much different and much worse. On the surface, the system is losing over $900,000 in income. On top of that, the tax digest error could affect its state funding since the QBE funding formula is itself based on tax digest numbers.
In the end, the Jackson County School System could lose over $1 million because of the error.
Making matters worse, the system, like all Georgia school systems, was already in the middle of a budget crisis because of state cutbacks. In addition, school systems have no other source of local income, as do counties and cities, and depend totally on property taxes for non-capital expenses. There is no other way to make those funds up.
Finally, unlike the county government, the school system is already into its fiscal year (July 1-June 30). While the county won’t begin its new fiscal year until Jan. 1, the school system has already established its programs and budget for this year and has already spent money in the fiscal year.
All of that makes the matter a real problem for the county school system. Reportedly, it cannot now go back and redo the tax rate. Its only choice is to slash programs and perhaps even borrow money and go into debt to finance current programs.
But that borrowed money will have to be paid back sooner or later. The county system is already at 18.5 mills for a tax rate and the maximum it can go is 20 mills.
Because of the digest error, the tax rate could hit that cap next year, in part to pay back this year’s borrowing and to finance ongoing programs.
The word “crisis” is overused in today’s world, but the financial situation faced by the Jackson County School System is indeed a real crisis.
Fortunately, the system is blessed with quality leaders who have the confidence of system patrons and taxpayers.
In calm seas, anyone can steer the boat.
It is in storms like this that we should be thankful to have good leaders at the helm.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.

The Jackson Herald
November 5, 2003

Arcade budget sowing seeds of corruption
Arcade city leaders are wringing their hands with public angst as they try to get a balanced 2004 budget. City council leaders have even decided to forgo their own pay to make ends meet.
But you can save your pity for another day because the so-called “tight” budget in Arcade is the result of government myopia at its worst.
To any outsider looking at Arcade’s budget, the problem is evident — the town has allowed its police department to become an out-of-control financial Frankenstein.
In that small town, the police budget for 2004 is an astonishing $590,000. And that for a town that is but a tiny flyspeck on a map.
In a word, money. The town is using its police department as a device to extort revenue from passing motorists. Put another way, Arcade runs a speed trap to collect fine money for city coffers.
Just look at the numbers. Tiny Arcade projects that it will collect over $423,000 in fine income next year.
You read that right — $423,000. Nearby Jefferson only budgeted $300,000 for fine income in 2004.
Compounding the problem in Arcade is a lack of oversight of the APD. Not only has the department been running what is obviously a speed trap, it has also expanded its expenses far beyond what the small town needs. Some 69 percent of the town’s total city budget is devoted to maintaining the police department. And that growth in expenses has outstripped the income such that now the city is scrambling to get in the black.
This isn’t rocket science. Any small town the size of Arcade with a $590,000 police department is a town that has its priorities all wrong. The tail is wagging the dog.
That so much money in Arcade is tied to the unethical practice of operating a speed trap is a recipe for even worse trouble in the future. It is the seed from which grows public corruption.
And it’s only a matter of time until a bitter fruit is harvested.

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