Jackson County Opinions...

DECEMBER 10, 2003



Column
By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
December 10, 2003

Sewer Upgrades Just The Price Of Producing Wastes
Facing a $3 billion sewer upgrade, the Atlanta City Council last week approved a massive rate increase. Mayor Shirley Franklin has indicated she may veto it because it does not adequately do the job, and several city council members lobbied against the increase in church pulpits Sunday, arguing that people can’t afford to pay the proposed new rates.
In January, Commerce will charge significantly more for water and sewer service, a move officials say is necessary to pay for a $9 million waste treatment plant. There will be cries about people not being able to afford the new rates.
Atlanta is being fined by the Environmental Protection Division because its system pollutes the Chattahoochee River below Atlanta. Commerce is under an EPD “consent order” to improve its plant because it pollutes downstream Beaverdam Creek at times.
Nobody in Atlanta worries about the economic cost of polluted water downstream. Nor will anyone in Commerce question the city’s degradation of the water quality on little Beaverdam Creek. Without the force of law, neither Atlanta nor Commerce would ever pony up to improve its system because the benefits, like the wastes, go downstream.
Protecting the environment requires looking at the big picture, which is not local government’s strong point. The ramifications of pollution are seldom directly quantifiable because science is not absolute, so local taxpayers and rate-payers see no direct benefit to increased costs, whereas they know exactly how those costs will affect their standard of living.
“We can’t afford it” is the first defense against any environmental initiative, as though someone were really applying a cost-benefit ratio. Atlanta has a finite number of rate-payers, but the problems its untreated and under-treated wastes will cause are not easily calculated. We don’t know who will get sick, whose life expectancy will be shortened or how much more disease will occur if the problems are not solved. We do know who will pay those new rates.
How can we afford not to have safe drinking water?
It’s easy. Locally, we can afford to pollute the water because we never calculate the true cost and because the people who will suffer the consequences cannot, with certainty, be identified and are downstream.
Time will make it more difficult to ignore. The cost of today’s wastewater upgrades will pale compared to those of the future, when the science is more advanced, the population larger, the degradation more widespread – and the treatment requirements correspondingly greater. Like the federal financing of government, the cost of protecting the environment is pushed to future generations. Atlanta’s current crisis is due to the previous generation’s “inability” to afford it. Bills do come due.
We use the water, we create the waste, so we should pay to clean it up. That’s only fair, but that is not the kind of policy that wins votes.
Waste discharge permits should be given only upstream of a community’s water withdrawal. That would change our perspective and we’d decide we could afford it. If we were downstream of Atlanta, we’d certainly demand they fix their system.


Editorial
The Commerce News
December 10, 2003

Cost Of Treating Wastes Destined To Increase
Commerce’s new water and sewer rates are a sign of things to come, not only in the city, but in Jackson County and beyond.
Here, they’re driven by the forces of growth and increased regulations. The current sewer plant, built in 1974, cannot provide the level of treatment required by the state, so it had to be upgraded; at the same time, the area is growing and the city sees a need for more capacity. The new rates are necessary to finance improvement and expansion.
Jackson County is relatively new in the sewer business, but every developer wants sewer capacity. As the county population becomes more dense, the number of septic systems will degrade groundwater and surface water to the point where there will be state or federal prohibitions against septic systems, adding to the demand for public sewer lines.
Additionally, talk persists about potential new state requirements on the handling of stormwater, which now is generally routed without treatment into the nearest creek or river. New regulations could place a horrendous financial burden on local government, but since stormwater is largely a result of development, communities have an obligation to protect citizens from the ramifications of development.
Fifty years ago or even 20 years ago, these items were not huge issues. As we grow, however, disposal of waste materials affects more people, whether the product is human waste, industrial waste or household garbage. In addition, advances in science continuously warn us that what we once accepted as benign may be harmful. The cost of treating water, sewage, of disposing of all kinds of wastes, will be added to the budget of every government. Citizens will have no choice but to pay them.

School Blood Drive A Very Worthwhile Project
The Health Occupations class at Commerce High School did an unusually good deed last week with its first of two blood drives of the school year.
The class, made up of students interested in learning about the various careers in the health field, attracted 43 potential donors to its blood drive, and wound up with 36 pints of blood. More importantly, 20 of those donors were first-time donors, most of whom were students.
The students were motivated, in part, by an American Red Cross presentation demonstrating that their (students’) blood would be particularly useful in treating premature babies. “Anything for the kids,” remarked first-time donor Tyson Randolph as he waited for a technician to insert the needle in his arm.
The donation of blood helps the Red Cross keep Georgia hospitals supplied with blood, but this particular blood drive attracted 20 new donors. These are people who not only may come out in the spring for the second blood drive, but who can do the same thing at Commerce area blood drives as often as every 56 days. With supplies of whole blood seemingly always at a critical level, getting new, motivated donors is crucial.
Staff and students in the Health Occupations class should be very pleased with the results of the blood drive and every student or staff member who gave blood has a right to feel a part of a great project. Hopefully, all of them will want to frequently repeat their good deed, both at school and community blood drives. The need for blood never ceases because there are always leukemia patients, people awaiting surgery, accident victims – and certainly premature babies – who need that life-giving blood. Staff and students at CHS, particularly the Health Occupations Class, are helping meet that need.

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Column
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
December 10, 2003

The death of small-towns in the Midwest
Growth has its problems. Just look around Jackson County and talk to folks unhappy about the new subdivision next door, or the crowded school classes, or the traffic along major two lane roads through the county.
If that doesn’t convince you, attend a city or county planning commission meeting or other government meeting where zoning is discussed. There is nothing as controversial today as zoning in Jackson County.
And yet, for all the issues and problems created by an influx of new residents and businesses, our problems aren’t nearly as bad as those of Superior, Nebraska.
Last week, the New York Times ran a lengthy feature about the dying towns of the American Midwest. It is an extraordinary and sad portrait of the American heartland. The Great Plains aren’t so great these days as community after community faces a slow death.
Zoning isn’t an issue in those counties because there is no growth. Schools are closing because of a dwindling student population. New investment in housing is nil. Businesses are closing. In some small towns, a new Wal-Mart building 60 miles away has been the death of local stores.
Since 1950, some 70 percent of the counties in the Great Plains have lost population. A color-coded map in the Times article shows a great swath of counties running up from western Texas and Oklahoma through Kansas, Nebraska, the Dakotas, eastern Montana and Iowa as having lost a considerable amount of population between 1990 and 2000.
The reasons for this death of communities in the Midwest are complex. It’s due, in part, to the rise of mega-agricultural firms that have replaced smaller family farms. Those large enterprises employ less labor than individual farms did and they tend to suck up most of the federal agricultural subsidy funds as well.
Other jobs have moved off shore, cutting industrial employment opportunity in the Midwest. What off shore businesses have hurt many areas of the nation, including the textile industry locally, the Midwest lacks other areas of employment to take up the slack. The result is the creation of a pocket of poverty amid the bread basket of the nation.
Some observers believe that this great shift in the Midwest, traditionally the conservative heartland, is making that area of the nation a de facto welfare state. Communities that do grow are largely in areas with a government university and perhaps a regional hospital, both of which are funded in large part by taxpayers. Add to that millions in local and state funds for “economic development” and the billions in agricultural subsidies has perhaps made the Midwest more dependent on government money than even the most hard-core poor of urban America.
Some towns, of course, are fighting to grow. They build industrial parks, spec buildings, new airports and all the other lures for business investment. And yet, much of that has failed, perhaps even giving some towns a false sense of hope.
To be sure, the Midwest isn’t the only area where depopulation is taking place. Areas in South Georgia are also in trouble, as are parts of Alabama, Louisiana, West Virginia and some areas in the Northeast.
But it is the Midwest that has been hit the hardest with this trend. One could argue that this trend of dying rural communities combined with the mega-growth of urban and suburban areas means that within a couple more generations, rural America will cease to exist as a cultural institution. We will either live in cities or suburban areas while rural small towns die from a lack of investment.
Yes, growth has its problems. This newspaper writes about those ad nauseam.
But at least our community is alive and not fighting the cancer of depopulation.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


Editorials
The Jackson Herald
December 10, 2003

Sales tax issue should be fixed
What’s wrong with the Georgia Department of Revenue? For the second time in recent years, local officials have found that a lot of Jackson County sales tax money has been sent to other counties.
In this age of computer technology, there is no excuse for over $100,000 in local sales tax money to get “lost” in other counties. While we realize the Banks Crossing area sits on a county line, once a business is identified as being inside a county, its corresponding number should track the money accordingly.
Because of the problem, local officials have vowed to track sales tax funds more closely. That, of course, will cost local taxpayers more money to pay for those audits and personnel costs. All of that on top of taxpayer costs being paid to fund the state department of revenue.
It’s a crazy situation, but typical of how government operates today. We’re having to pay one set of bean counters to watch behind another set of bean counters, all of whom are government employees.
It’s time to fix the problem, once and for all. The question is, do our state leaders really care?


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