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NOVEMBER 12, 2003


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OPINIONS
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SPORTS
Make It Nine
Commerce’s Ninth-Straight Win Over Jefferson Brings First Region Title In Three Years
Commerce’s seniors came full-circle Friday night.
The Tigers won the region crown in 2000 when they were freshmwn and now, thanks to Commerce’s 35-13 thumping of Jefferson Friday night to clinch the 8-A title, they’ll add another patch to their lettermen’s jackets in their final year.

About as tough as they get
Panthers have hands full Friday against Jags
T he Jackson County football team has one last shot to pick up a win before the season ends Friday night when they host Cedar Shoals.

Winner Friday earns region’s second seed in playoffs
The Jefferson football team controls its own destiny in the race to be able to host a playoff game next week.
A win this Friday in their regular season finale against Athens Academy at Memorial Stadium and the Dragons will earn the second seed from Region 8-A in the state playoffs. .


News from
BANKS COUNTY
Game, set, match
BOE considering tennis courts at BCHS
Banks County High School’s tennis program got a much-needed show of support Monday night.

Chevron station in Baldwin robbed at gunpoint
Al Patel found himself at gunpoint last Wednesday night during his shift at Mac’s Chevron service station on Highway 441 North in Baldwin.


News from
MADISON COUNTY
Veterans ceremony set for Sat.
American Legion Post 39, Danielsville, is hosting an “All Veterans Day” this Saturday, Nov. 15, beginning at 10 a.m. at the historic Madison County courthouse on the square in Danielsville. The MCHS band, under the direction of Johnny Hallman, will play patriotic music, including “Taps” with drum and bugle.

County to seek engineer for rec pond study
The county will seek an engineer to perform a study of a proposed retention pond on the recently purchased property for recreation expansion

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.

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Veterans Day Salute

Veterans saluted the Flag. As the nation’s colors were brought in, veterans of all branches of the military stood at attention and proudly saluted the “Stars and Stripes.” Pictured are: (L-R) Dwight Weir, retired from the Navy after 20 years, and John E. Dowdy, former Army Staff Sargent. Dowdy served 24 years with the Army and eight with the Navy. See this weeks Jackson Herald for more on the program.

County BOE considering Sept. bond referendum
The Jackson County Board of Education is considering holding a bond referendum in September to help fund future building projects in order to keep pace with the county’s rapid growth rate.
School system officials are hopeful that the support citizens have shown in the past in two previous referendums will continue should a September 21, 2004, referendum date be set. However, because of the economic problems, getting a feel for how the public feels prior to the date is extremely important, they said.
“I’d like to get a feel from the community,” school system superintendent Andy Byers said. “I think we have time to find out whether the community would support it.”
Given the fact that the county’s growth has been so immense, school system officials feel the importance of planning for the future is vital to continue providing a quality education for county residents.
“The growth is a serious reality that needs to be understood,” Byers explained. “Subdivisions are springing up all over.”
While the topic will be a major point of discussion at the board’s annual retreat in the spring, getting the early stages of the process for a referendum going now is essential, according to officials. Most on the board appeared in favor of the move and noted that the alternative of adding mobile classrooms to the system is not the answer.
“If we’re going to do it, we might as well do it and have enough to do it now,” chairman Kathy Wilbanks said.
Just what it will take to fund the building of a new high school, middle school, elementary school and other classroom additions is estimated at $43 million. Citigroup, the bank the county is in discussions with, used the school system’s historical net maintenance and operations tax digest with the assumed annual growth rates to estimate the level that the annual millage levy needed to support debt service on 20-year general obligation bonds. Also, there are additional assumptions included in the figures such as the current market interest rates, what is considered a low annual growth rate (6 percent), as well as service charges and bond insurance.
According to Brice Holcomb of Citibank, the figures show that the millage levy under the no capitalized interest option is 2.05 mills; the millage levy under the capitalized interest option is 2.09 mills; and by using the actual net General Obligation Bond digest for next year and thereafter, the millage levy can probably be reduced to 2 mills.
The general consensus among board members and school system officials is that adding mobile classrooms in order to deal with the population influx is the wrong thing to do.
Asked if he thought the funding for the projects could be sold to the public, Jackson County Comprehensive High School principal Robin Hines was confident.
“Absolutely,” he said. “We’re trying to do what’s best for the kids and I think the community knows that.”
Board vice chairman Ed Tolbert raised the issue of what more tax increases would mean to the county and asked officials how that situation would be handled.
“We’ve been very open with the community,” Byers explained. “Everybody sees the growth and understands what comes with it. I feel like our parents and citizens would support us.”
Using school councils and other means, the board will continue to get a feel for the level of support in the coming months. One important reason the board is looking into this now is the fact that interest rates are so low, Byers said.
“If we’re going to maintain (the education system) then somebody’s going to have to pay,” he explained. “And that’s one of the main things that attracts people to Jackson County is the outstanding education system we provide.”
Director of management services Jeff Sanchez was firm when responding to Tolbert’s questioning. “I’m sympathetic to the taxpayers, but our business is to educate children,” he said.
By law, local referendums can be held four times a year. The September date is thought to be the best of the four times to have the bond referendum because it would likely be the only question on the ballot at that time. That, according to Holcomb, would make the chances of the measure passing much higher.
If in fact that is the date the board sets, it will need to pass a resolution by July 21 in order meet a 60-day prior notice law.


City To Add $12 Surcharge To City Court fines
Fee To Help Fund Data System For Commerce Police Department
The cost of most traffic and misdemeanor offenses in Commerce will go up $12 if the Commerce City Council follows through with a plan to fund a new computer system with “technology assessments.”
“This will cover just about all offenses,” noted Police Chief John W. Gaissert after the meeting.
Commerce intends to join Banks, Jackson and other agencies in a common data system that will allow its police department to communicate through its data bases with other agencies. The “technology assessment” added to fines and forfeitures is the financing mechanism.
Details have not been announced, but City Manager Clarence Bryant said the matter will be discussed at the next city council work session (Monday, Dec. 1) and presumably passed at the Dec. 8 city council meeting.
No indication was given as to whether the surcharge would be removed once the new system is paid for or whether it would become permanent.
In other business, Bryant announced that after the first four months of the fiscal year, Commerce is in the red by $1,107,000. That compares to $633,000 for the first four months last year.
Most of that – more than $940,000 – will be recovered through reimbursements, including $88,000 from the East Jackson Fire District for the payment on the ladder truck, $660,000 advanced to the city school system to be reimbursed as tax money comes in and more than $200,000 to be reimbursed to the water and sewer fund from SPLOST and other sources.
“That will bring that $1.1 million down to around $200,000. That’s pretty good shape for not collecting any taxes so far,” Bryant declared.
Tax collection should begin soon. The bills were to be printed yesterday (Tuesday). Payments will be due Jan. 11, Bryant said.
The council also:
•voted to authorize the demolition of a condemned house on Homer Street next to Huck’s because the owner has not been responsive to city attempts to have the building repaired or demolished.
•voted to rezone from M-1 to C-2 a lot on South Elm Street as requested by Mike Brown and recommended by the Commerce Planning Commission.
•certified the results of the Nov. 4 city election.
•approved two agreements with the Department of Transportation. One allows DOT to recategorize roads from “rural” to “urban” for administrative purposes based on census data. The other obligates the city to participate in DOT work to improve three traffic signal devices.
•voted to approve a new soil erosion and sedimentation ordinance required by the Environmental Protection Division.
•voted to donate $1,400 to Peace Place, the battered women’s shelter. The donation is based on Commerce’s percentage of the county population.
•learned that several property owners in Montgomery Shores subdivision will have requests for annexation on the agenda at the December meeting.
•heard Bryant report that the sidewalk project and the community development block grant project will both be 98 percent complete within the next two weeks.


Builders list concerns with health board
A disagreement over the minimum size for lots with septic tanks and public water is only one issue the Jackson County Builders Association has with the county health department.
More than 40 members of the JCBA attended the health board meeting on Nov. 5 to speak on the lot size issue and present a list of other concerns.
Keith Hightower, president of the JCBA, spoke on behalf of the group and said it supports a smaller 21,780 lot size for septic tanks. He said the smaller lot size would allow for more “diversity” in developments.
“We’re looking for more diverse subdivisions and types of housing in this community,” Hightower said. “If we can maintain a half acre, then we can put some of the conservation, greenspace back into the community, which is a good selling feature for our homes. That still provides the soil that is compatible with taking that type of system (septic tank) on a half acre.”
The health department has been using a 25,500 square foot minimum lot size, which has also been supported by the county board of commissioners. Commissioner Emil Beshara has been the only member of the BOC to speak in favor of the smaller lot size.
Tony Huff, environmental supervisor for the district, said the type of soil in the county and the slope were used to determine the lot size.
“We’re not fighting a battle with each other,” Huff said. “We’re all fighting the same battle.”
Scott Uhlich, land use program director for the Georgia Department of Human Resources, also spoke on the lot size and said lot size is based on “optimum conditions.” He said it is up to a community to set the standards.
Uhlich also said the recommended 25,500 square foot lot size is from a 1986 version of the Georgia Department of Human Resources manual. The new manuals recommend the 21,780 square foot lot size, according to Beshara.
Beshara said following the meeting that the dispute he has with the health district is their “unique interpretation of the phrase minimum lot size.” He said the officials have interpreted it to mean that the minimum lot size must be comprised of soils that are all usable for a septic system.
“In other words, if the board of health sets a minimum lot size of .6 acres, you have to have .6 acres of usable soil,” he said. “This is in conflict with established DHR policy and common sense. You really only need a maximum of about 7,000 square feet for a system, including all setbacks.
“State law requires you to have enough room for an original and a replacement system. So realistically, you only need about 14,000 square feet of soil that is unobstructed and usable for percolation of septic waste. They have arbitrarily decided to require nearly double that amount, and therein, lies the dispute.”
Beshara repeatedly asked Uhlich during the meeting if there is a minimum amount of usable soil in state law. Ulich said there is not.
Beshara said after the meeting that this was the most significant thing that happened during the session.
“He essentially admitted that the district policy is not grounded in law passed by the General Assembly,” he said. “It was the first time this was admitted by Uhlich. If they would just require site plans, detailed drawings showing where the original and replacement systems will be installed, they would have everything they need to assess a lots suitability.”
The health board agreed to form a committee, comprised of its members, developers and county officials, to discuss the lot size issue.
Michael Smith, director of the environmental health and injury prevention branch of the DHR, also attended the meeting.
OTHER CONCERNS
Another concern listed by the group in a two-page letter to the health department deals with a duplication of services by the soil scientist and environmentalist. The builders suggest that approval come from the registered soil scientist.
Other suggestions from the builders association include:
•final plat approval should exist to make sure all regulations were adhered to as identified in the preliminary stage.
•work with the county building inspector to mirror time frame and scheduling of permits and plat approvals.
•require 50-foot buffer as required in manual for counties without watershed protection ordinance.
•reconsider an ‘across the board’ usable soil policy.
“The objective of this document is to identify the primary issues the local builder/developer community is experiencing with the local board of health and the regional health district,” the letter reads. “It is not our intention to point fingers or place blame. We simply want to submit our concerns. By doing so, we hope to work with our local and regional administrators to streamline the process and gain a more thorough understanding of the policies at the local and regional levels.”


BOE struggles with costly digest error
The Jackson County School System recently began the excruciating process of dealing with the miscalculation in the county’s tax digest that it is estimated will cost the system more than $1 million in revenue.
County manager Al Crace revealed the error last week, stating that Plant Dahlberg in Center, which is valued at $119 million, had been inadvertently listed twice in the digest. The mistake will lead to a revenue shortfall of $398,715 for the board of commissioners and $37,000 for the Nicholson Fire Department. But the majority of the burden, $928,749 in losses, will affect the county school system. On top of those direct losses, the system’s state funding formula, which is based on the property tax digest, could cost county schools another $237,000 in revenue.
The mood of the board of education during Thursday’s work session and Monday’s meeting reflected the frustration many are feeling.
“The situation is grave,” director of management services Jeff Sanchez told the BOE Thursday. “I’m just thankful that you all went up one mill (this fiscal year). As it is, I think we have a chance.”
Because the county school system has no other source of local income for non-capital expenses other than property taxes, the fallout of the error makes operating the school system extremely difficult since the budget and millage rate (18.5 mills) for the current fiscal year have already been set.
The system put a freeze on spending last Tuesday and began the process of finding expenses that can be delayed or cut. But superintendent Andy Byers stated that there may be no choice but to borrow money and go into deficit financing for the coming year.
According to Sanchez, if the school system continues to operate without any changes, it will likely end up some $350,000 in the red.
While reluctant to cut programs and services, board members agreed it is a reality they are likely going to have to face in the future.
“I want to make sure we’re looking at things and items that won’t affect kids in the classroom,” board chairman Kathy Wilbanks said. “Programs need to be the last thing (that’s cut).”
Given the fact that the board is considering a bond referendum, possibly in the fall of next year, to help pay for the construction of several new schools, keeping out of the red is especially important, according to Byers.
The board gave unofficial approval last week to begin the tedious task of trimming projects and items in order to save money. From reducing power bills, to adding a surcharge to field trips, and re-evaluating grant options, the system will look into every possible way it can save money and reduce the burden, Byers said.
“There won’t be a whole lot of money there, but there might be something there that can save us something,” he explained. “It’s not a significant amount of money, but we’ve already taken the big things out of our budget.”
Cutting off security lights late at night, which could save between $3.50-$4.00 per light, and adding a 34 cents per mile travel surcharge for field trips, are just two of several cost-saving options being explored by the system right now. Meetings with all principals and directors in the coming days will also help to re-evaluate finding ways to save any possible money. In addition, Sanchez has been talking with state officials who are offering advice on how to handle the situation.
The county school system last dealt with a deficit in 1985, a fact that although was bad at the time, could actually be useful in dealing with the current crisis, Sanchez pointed out.
“We have experience on the negative end of the scale and I’m glad we went through it,” he explained. “But the strength of our school system is that we communicate well — whether we agree or not. The process we’re going to be using is talking about where we are and how we can save money. We’re a tight-knit school system and we’re going to be all right.”
One thing that should aid the system as it deals with the shortfall is the fact that it planned for the worst when approving the current budget and the millage rate earlier this year.
Because local tax revenue collections often fluctuate and an additional 2.5 percent state cutback is anticipated, the shortfall could not be quite as big as expected. Sanchez noted that if the economy continues to improve the state cuts could be reduced to 1.5 percent and tax collections could be slightly better than what is expected.


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Property tax bills are mailed out
Jackson County property owners should have received local property tax bills in the mail during the past week.
But tax commissioner Don Elrod said the bills contain an error. The bill states that checks should be made out to the Douglas County Tax Commissioner. Elrod pointed out that this should be listed to the Jackson County Tax Commissioner.
Elrod also said that people who recently purchased a house and have not yet received a tax bill should contact the person they purchased the home from.
Property taxes are due Dec. 30.


Arcade seeks water/sewer service area
Saying they just want to “control our destiny,” officials from the City of Arcade met with county water authority members last week in an effort to carve out a service territory for themselves.
But the logistics of Arcade getting into the water and sewerage business, not to mention the cost, may prove daunting.
“This thing is equivalent to unscrambling an egg,” observed county water authority Chairman Elton Collins.
Arcade Mayor Doug Haynie and councilmen Dean Bentley and Ron Smith met with the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority last Wednesday to test the water for acquiring the authority’s distribution system and customers in Arcade. Also attending were county commissioners Harold Fletcher and Tony Beatty, county manager Al Crace and county engineer Stan Brown.
Although Fletcher tried to convince Haynie “you really don’t want water and sewer,” Haynie insisted that the city “needs a service delivery area” for the future. A service delivery area as defined by state law is required for grant applications from the Department of Community Affairs, he noted.
When someone approaches the city for water or sewer, Haynie said, the city then comes to the authority and, “like any other customer, we get put at the bottom of the list.”
Arcade got county water through the authority in the late 80s when the authority helped it get a $500,000 community development block grant backed by $1.2 million in authority SPLOST dollars. Water authority manager Jerry Waddell estimated that the authority has $3 million tied up in tanks and lines in the community, which has 400 water customers.
The upshot of a 75-minute meeting was that staff from the authority, its engineers and Arcade will figure out how to separate Arcade from the county system and then decide what options are legal and feasible. Preliminary discussions suggest legal and practical difficulties.
WANTS TO SEEK GROWTH
Driving the Arcade request is an inquiry from the owners of what used to be the 4W Farm in South Jackson about providing water and sewer for development. Arcade sees the potential for a tax base that could one day give the town an opportunity to levy property taxes, something it does not do now.
Haynie presented the idea that having an independent water and sewer system is critical to Arcade’s growth.
“You can’t run a grocery store on a septic system. You can’t have retail without it,” he said in regard to sewer.
But breaking off the Arcade part of the system will cause legal and technical headaches. First, the authority’s entire system is pledged as collateral for four separate bonds. Secondly, Arcade serves as the authority’s hub for lines coming out of the Bear Creek Reservoir to serve all of the authority’s customers, and its 500,000-gallon tank next to Arcade City Hall feeds much of the county system.
DIFFICULT PROBLEMS
Water engineer Rob MacPhearson explained that while it might be technically possible to isolate the city’s residential customers, doing so would require a series of master meters and, without the construction of a new water tank, would leave Arcade residents without fire protection. All that bodes ill for a town struggling to make budgetary ends meet.
At present, the authority’s customers in Arcade generate around $10,000 a month in revenue, nowhere near what Arcade would need to fund operational and capital costs.
Haynie said Arcade, if it is successful, would buy water from the authority, reducing the authority’s operational costs while keeping usage intact, and would buy sewer capacity as it landed customers.
One alternative presented by Brown that could help Arcade meet some of its goals, is a “franchising system” under which Arcade and possibly a developer would install water or sewer pipes in a development, hastening its completion and the growth of a city tax digest. The city could finance its part through bonds to be paid back with funds raised by property taxes.
The authority’s sewer engineer, Mary Kay Jackson, observed that sewer line construction is generally driven “by one good project,” such as the Toyota plant going in at Valentine Farms. Such lines then open up nearby areas for development without huge additional capital costs.
The groups did not set a date for further discussions.