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DECEMBER 17, 2003


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OPINIONS
Rochelle Beckstine
Say no to commercialized Christmas cards
I don’t do Christmas cards.
I’m a little ashamed to admit it so openly, but I don’t think I should be.
What is it exactly?

Jana Mitcham
And the caroling continues
Not too long ago, Zach and I were puzzled to find ourselves already in the middle of a discussion of the lyrics of the Christmas carol Good King Wenceslas.


SPORTS
Swept Away
Leopards down Commerce for fourth time in a row
The Leopards have only two games remaining on their plate before the holiday break.


News from
JACKSON COUNTY
JHS cafeteria to be expanded for auditorium, BOE says
The Jefferson Board of Education plans to expand the cafeteria at Jefferson High School to serve as an auditorium for the school.
The plan, tenatively scheduled to begin in February, is the latest version of some major upgrades set for the school.

So Far, So Good On Junked Car
Removal Work
Public Understanding, Police Officer Reports
Commerce’s effort to rid its residential neighborhoods of junked vehicles is moving along slowly but well, says the man given the responsibility of enforcing the city’s cleanliness of premises ordinance.

News from
MADISON COUNTY
Luminarias set for Sat.
The 19th annual Luminarias and Live Nativity will be held Saturday, Dec. 20, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. on Booger Hill and Moon’s Grove Roads in Danielsville.

Counselors talk about keeping kids in school
Madison County High School’s counseling team outlined current and proposed programs to assist incoming freshmen adjust to high school life at the December board of education meeting Tuesday night.

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WRAPPING FOR THE NEEDY

Students in Kelly Walls’ discover classes at Banks County Middle School bought and wrapped 225 presents (including two bicycles) for 40 area needy children. The students wrapped the gifts on Monday. Above, eighth grader Lacey Bennett wraps her gift.

Planners threaten proposed Lula subdivision
If plans proceed with a 74-lot subdivision on unpaved Barefoot Road in Lula, the developers of the project might find themselves in a legal battle — with the Banks County Planning Commission.
Planning chairman Harold Ivey told the Lula City Council Monday night that Banks County objects to a planned rezoning of nearly 64 acres on the unpaved county road.
The council chose not to act on the rezoning request Monday but to instead table the matter until January in order to gather more information.
John Schwartz wants the land rezoned from agricultural to residential to build a curb and gutter subdivision. He spoke of planned sidewalks, average lot sizes of three-quarters of an acre (some as small as six-tenths and as large as more than one acre) and stick built homes priced around $150,000.
Schwartz had the Banks County property annexed into Lula during the summer. Now he wants the land rezoned.
But Ivey objected to not only the rezoning, but how the annexation was handled. He said the county was never properly notified in writing of plans to bring the land into the city of Lula.
Lula mayor Milton Turner produced a letter he said was sent to commission chairman Kenneth Brady informing the county of intentions to annex the land. He also said Brady acknowledged receipt of the letter during a phone conversation earlier this year and voiced no opposition to the annexation.
But Ivey said Brady has denied ever receiving such a letter. Because of an illness, Brady could not be at the Lula meeting Monday night and was not available to clear up the matter Tuesday.
Regardless of the status of the annexation, Ivey said the county still objects to putting such a subdivision on a narrow, unpaved road. He requested a meeting between the city, the landowner and the county before any vote is taken.
Ivey also raised concerns about Banks County being able to get emergency vehicles into the development when a train blocks the only viable access to the road.
Several other residents also spoke against the rezoning on similar grounds.
Joe Barefoot, who lives on the road, said the railroad crossing on Barefoot Road is one of the most dangerous along that stretch of rail line and has been responsible for numerous deaths.
He said the addition of nearly 150 cars coming in and out of the subdivision would increase the danger of an accident at the crossing.
Resident David White added that the city had refused offers from the railroad company to close the crossing. That refusal, he said, opens the city to a lawsuit should anyone else be killed at the crossing.
Barefoot also raised concerns about putting the burden of supporting the subdivision with emergency protection and schools on the county’s taxpayers.
One of the other issues the city will consider before acting on the rezoning will be getting water to the project.
White brought up the fact that the city’s ordinances require developers drill a well for the city in projects containing 75 or more lots. He pointed out that the subdivision had been dropped to 74 lots and insinuated that move was made to prevent the property owners from having to drill a well.
He also said the city must construct a pump station in order to serve potions of the higher elevation subdivision with city water.
Schwartz did answer some of the concerns voiced at the public hearing. He said he will work with the city on a well if the subdivision will put a drain on the city’s water system pressure.
He also said the matter of getting access to Barefoot Road wasn’t to be considered during the rezoning hearing. Instead, he said that was a permitting issue.
The city will be revisiting the matter next month.


No more flu shots available in Banks Co.
Like most clinics across the nation, the Banks County Health Department is reporting the flu shot is no longer available.
The preventive shot to combat influenza was given to the last customer on Dec. 9, said David Palmer, a spokesperson for the District 2 Public Health Departments that includes Banks County.
This year, 740 doses were given locally, which is typical for the flu season, he said.
And like other health departments, local officials don’t have anywhere to refer patients to get the flu shot. District 2 officials, however, are trying to locate other flu shots, Palmer said.
The considerable demand for the flu shot started a few weeks ago, when an outbreak in Colorado resulted in several deaths. Since then, health officials across the nation have been scrambling to meet the surge in demand.
But with the national flu vaccination supply nearly exhausted, local officials are advising residents to take other preventive measures.
Palmer said residents should cover their mouth or nose when coughing or sneezing, wash their hands more frequently, and stay home from work or school if they start to feel flu-like symptoms.
The BJC Medical Center, which is also out of flu shots, is experiencing an exceptionally high number of patients with the flu this year.
About 25 percent of its inpatients have the flu, said Oscar Weinmeister, assistant administrator for the BJC Medical Center in Commerce. The hospital typically has 15 flu cases a year, but last week had about 10 inpatients being treated for the flu.
“We have a number of people who have the flu,” said Weinmeister. “This is definitively the worst year for the flu in the four-and-a-half years I’ve been here.”
In fact, he says, some hospitals across Georgia are experiencing extremely high emergency room visits with patients reporting flu-like symptoms. Some metro Atlanta hospitals are even operating on disaster-level management and Weinmeister is expecting the flu’s effects to continue.
About 30 percent of the BJC Medical Center’s emergency room visits last week were related to the flu, Weinmeister said.
The BJC Medical Center experienced a flood of people getting the flu shot last week, as 400 vaccinations were given Monday through Wednesday, he added.


Banks Crossing Home Depot set for January grand opening
Local officials excited about opening of new county business
When the new Banks Crossing Home Depot opens in January, company officials won’t be the only ones smiling about good profits. Banks County’s government stands to gain a lot from the store as well.
“Other than a large industry, Home Depot and Wal-Mart are the two types of businesses that have the most impact on our SPLOST (sales tax revenue),” Banks school superintendent Chris Erwin said. “I’m excited about it.”
The Home Depot store manager Cathy Barrett said the store has penciled in a January 22 grand opening for the 102,000 square-foot store. A bevy of activities, including special events for kids, are in the works for that opening date.
“We definitely want to support the community,” Barrett said. “We’re excited to be here.”
The January opening of The Home Depot store couldn’t come at a better time for local government entities. January and February are usually slow months for sales tax collections. But the opening of a store of this magnitude could significantly bump up collections.
Both the school system and the county government get some of their capital revenue from sales tax collections.
The school system, for instance, uses funds from the special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) to construct new buildings and renovate old ones. Though the school system can’t legally use the sales tax revenue to pay teachers or buy supplies, Erwin said having funds coming in for construction projects takes that cost off of the county taxpayers.
“It can only be a good thing for our county’s educational system tax wise,” he said.
The same holds true for the county. Banks County has used its sales tax revenue to build new fire stations, buy new fire trucks, build a new jail, construct a recreation building and improve the water system.
The county also gets LOST (local option sales tax) revenue from retail sales. LOST funds decrease the amount of taxes on property owners. Commission chairman Kenneth Brady said LOST revenue accounts for over $2.5 million per year in property tax reductions.
“It’s going to really help us out,” Brady said of the new Home Depot. “We are really proud they chose Banks County to locate in and I hope they do real good here. The better they do, the better we do.”
Barrett couldn’t comment on the projected sales for the new store but said her management staff “expects to exceed the home office’s expectations.” Brady predicted the new store could bring in between $25,000 and $50,000 per month in additional sales tax revenue.
Besides sales tax money, the new store also stands to bring in an increase in property tax dollars. Prior to the building’s construction, the lot was vacant land with a single home.
The development of the property, construction of the building and subsequent sales of four out parcels in front of the store have increased the value of that land, which directly translates into an increase in property tax revenue.
Another impact the store could have on the area is the increase in commercial development around it. Traditionally, stores like Home Depot have been a draw for other commercial establishments and restaurants.
“This location is good for the community,” said Rey Velez, human resources manager for the store. “It can affect the growth of the community without completely ruining the countryside.”
Superintendent Erwin said he hopes the store will be a draw for other businesses that will keep local residents in Banks County spending their money in the community.
“I’d rather spend my tax money right here in Banks County than have to drive to Hall County or Gwinnett County,” Erwin said.
Barrett said Home Depot is excited to be locating in Banks Crossing and looks forward to helping both the Banks County and Commerce communities. She also said her management team will be relocating to the area.
“We’re very vested in the community,” she said.
Erwin said he looks forward to the store being a partner in education with the school system. He said he received much support from a neighboring Home Depot at his former high school.
“They have been excellent supporters of education,” he said.
The store, which is just slightly smaller than the Athens location (about 8,000 square feet), will employ 128 works. One hundred of those, Barrett said, will be local employees.
Valez added that the store will continue to hire and take applications up to and past the January 22 grand opening.
Like other Home Depot locations, the store will also serve individual customers and large contractors.

 


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Early deadlines set for next issue
The Banks County News has early deadlines for next week’s issue due to Christmas.
The deadline for classified ads is noon on Friday, Dec. 19, while the display ads deadline is 3 p.m. The deadline for news will be at 5 p.m.
The Christmas issue will be on the news stands Tuesday, Dec. 23. Mailed subscriptions will be sent to the post office one day early.
The News office will be closed on Thursday, Dec. 25, for Christmas Day.


Resident says Lula must get tougher
A Lula resident doesn’t think his city council has been tough enough.
David White spoke before the council at Monday’s meeting criticizing what he sees as a lack of action against developers.
White, who lives in the Barefoot Road area, said a nearby home builder continues to violate city ordinances without any penalties from the city.
“If you do not enforce your ordinances, they will shortcut them,” White said of the builders. “They do not respect you. Make them respect you.”
City attorney Brad Patten said the council has started working with Hall County on an intergovernmental agreement to deal with ordinance violations.
But White said that if the city is not now equipped to handle such violations, then it should stop issuing building permits until a system is in place.
Lula mayor Milton Turner told White that he had issued a stop work order to the developer and that the case will come before the council in January.
But Larry Shuler spoke up and told Turner that someone was working on the house, despite the stop work order.
Turner said he would look into the matter.
OTHER BUSINESS
In other business, the council
•approved an intergovernmental agreement with Hall County to participate in the SPLOST V. Turner said he won’t support the SPLOST, saying he refuses “to be held hostage to another government.”
•learned the city will have to look at more than $25,000 in upgrades to its wastewater treatment plant this spring to meet state requirements.
•agreed to make Joel Cleveland at full time employee effective December 31 with a pay rate of $9.75 per hour.
•approved Christmas bonuses for employees. Full time workers will get $100 while part time workers will make $50.
•agreed to make December 26 of this year as a paid holiday for employees. The holiday means that trash collection will occur on Monday, Dec. 29.
•approved a $0.50 per hour raise for employee Tony Christopher retroactive to the date he should have gotten a review earlier this year.
•heard from councilmember Mordecai Wilson who said he appreciated the work of outgoing members Mike Ostrander and Perry Bridgeman.
•heard from Ostrander who said he had an enjoyable four years on the council and wants the best for Lula.
•swore in new councilmen Larry Shuler and Clyde Moore.