News from Madison County...

DECEMBER 31, 2003


Madison County
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OPINIONS
Farnk Gillespie
Move over National Enquirer, here are my 2004 predictions
Every year at this time we are greeted with a rash of predictions for the coming year. These predictions can be found in every form of media, from supermarket tabloids to network television.

Zach Mitcham
What will we remember about the ‘turn of the century?’
Talk about the “turn of the century” and most still think about the days of Teddy Roosevelt, the Boxer Rebellion and the Wright Brothers.
We are still in the infancy of the 21st century, so we still think of the years surrounding 1900 when we refer to the “turn of the century.”


SPORTS
20 innings of MCHS baseball were plenty memorable in 2003

As far as significant moments in 2003 go, it’s hard not to recall the evening of April 4 – that is, if you brought your caffeine pills.


News from
BANKS COUNTY
— 2003 Newsmaker of the Year —
New school superintendent brought right attitude to the table
When the school year ended last May, the Banks County School System sat in a volatile position.
It needed a new superintendent, assistant superintendent, special education director, two principals and nearly 30 teachers.

— Economic Story of the Year Home Depot announces plans to locate in Banks County; sets 2004 opening
The biggest economic news in Banks County in 2003 was an announcement that The Home Depot would be locating a store in the county. The store wasn’t in operation in 2003, but was under construction for much of the year with a January 2004 opening planned.

News from
JACKSON COUNTY
— Newsmaker of the Year —
Concerned Citizens of Jackson County files lawsuit against BOC
Citizens’ group seeks more input on courthouse decision
A lot of people grumble about government. Only a few step forward to fight back against what they believe to be abusive government policies.

Infrastructure, Improvements Highlight Year For Commerce
A look back over major events in Commerce during 2003 provides a surprising litany of improvements and a whole lot of construction. Those amount to the Number 2 story reported during 2003 in The Commerce News.

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The completion of construction of a new county jail off Hwy. 98 marked the end of a difficult chapter for the county, though new concerns over operating expenses soon emerged after the jail became functional this year.

A look at the major news stories in Madison County over the past year

New county jail finally completed
Voters approved $2.3 million in sales tax money for a new county jail in 1998. Five years and another sales tax vote later, the project was finally completed this year, with inmates moving in this past September.
The completion of construction marked the end of a difficult chapter for the county, though new concerns over operating expenses soon emerged after the jail became functional this year.
Work on the jail off Hwy. 98 didn’t actually begin until early 2001, with completion scheduled for December of that year.
After work began, officials quickly noticed problems. County commissioners eventually shut down construction and fired Boatwright Construction in March 2002 after an independent inspection firm found over 100 problems with the new jail, including a leaking roof, no “security rebar in the walls,” omission of “bond beams,” plus “97 other things,” said BOC chairman Wesley Nash.
“We didn’t want somebody to take a boot and bust through a wall and leave,” said Nash on why corrections were imperative.
The problems led to lengthy legal wrangling between the county and its bonding agency on the project. Finally, a new construction management team was hired to complete the job.
At 20,766-square feet, the 60-bed facility is more than eight times the size of the old jail, which is approximately 2,500 square feet. The county may eventually add two more pods and increase the inmate capacity to 120.
But expansion wasn’t on the minds of leaders this year. They had too many financial concerns regarding operating expenses to consider as jail expenses exceeded what the county commissioners budgeted for 2003. The board added $100,000 and $26,000 in October to the jail’s budget for this year. The BOC approved approximately $1.1 million in operating expenses for the jail for 2004.


Voters approve millions in sales tax projects
Madison County will receive approximately $19 million in sales tax revenue over the next five years, thanks to voters' overwhelming support of two sales tax renewals March 18.
Eighty-eight percent of voters (1,513 to 206) approved renewal of a one-cent sales tax for county school improvements, while 85.5 percent of voters (1,443 to 245) approved renewal of a tax for county government projects.
Both sales taxes are expected to generate approximately $9.5 million in revenue over the next five years.
The county school system planned numerous facilities upgrades at county schools, with primary aims of reducing classroom overcrowding and moving forward with a long-awaited PE/athletic complex (see Page 2A) across from the high school and middle school, which will include a cross country course, a track and soccer field with bleacher seating, a baseball field, tennis courts and a practice field for the marching band. A 180-seat fine arts theater is also being constructed.
The school system plans eight additional classrooms at Ila Elementary School, five additional classrooms at Comer and Colbert Elementary schools, expanded cafeterias at Danielsville Elementary School and Madison County Middle School.
Approximately $1.6 million from the education SPLOST will also go to retirement of old construction debt.
Meanwhile, commissioners plan to allocate approximately $8.4 million for needed road work in the county. Another $630,000 will go to an EMS/sheriff's station in the Hull area, along with new patrol cars and a fingerprinting system, while another $500,000 will be tagged for upgrades in public safety communications.


South Madison water system expansion hits high gear
Give them water and they will come.
That could be the motto of Madison County’s industrial development authority (IDA), which is seeking to boost the county’s commercial tax base by developing a water system in the southern portion of the county. Such a system, they believe, will lure businesses to the county’s designated high-growth area and help offset the tax burden on local property owners.
The IDA took significant steps in developing the South Madison Water System in 2003, while incurring significant debts in the process.
The authority took on two major loans in 2003, both over $500,000, to develop the South Madison system.
One loan of $539,000 from the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority (GEFA) was for construction of a well house, well pump, chemical feed building and water line.
The new line will connect to nearly five miles of water lines serving approximately 185 customers in Hull. That system is currently owned by Athens-Clarke County, but the IDA has purchased that system with funds from a second GEFA loan of $507,000. Madison County will take over that system in January.
Facing considerable loan payments in 2004, the IDA raised its tax rate from .24 mills to 1 mill, a 331 percent increase. The tax hike meant that someone owning a $100,000 home paid approximately $40 more in taxes in 2003 for the IDA.
Some have criticized the IDA, saying the authority has spent taxpayer money frivolously, while others contend that a county must spend money to make money.
“When the water system is available, I think you’ll see that area take off commercially and residentially,” IDA secretary Marvin White said in an August interview. “Without that water system this county is not going to reach its potential for quality growth.”

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To read more about the local events in Madison County, including births, weddings, sports news and school news, see this week's Madison County Journal.


BOC stands behind business park plans
Nearly 33 acres of controversial land off James Holcomb Road officially changed from farm property to industrial land, as county commissioners stood behind industrial authority plans for a business park on the site.
The county commissioners voted 4-1 on Aug. 25, with Melvin Drake providing the lone “no” vote, to approve a request by the industrial authority to rezone the western 32.97 acres of the IDA’s 80 acres on James Holcomb Road from A-2 (agricultural) to industrial classification.
The board’s decision was a rejection of a unanimous planning commission vote the previous week to deny the rezoning request. Planners said that the property was purchased in a “flighty” fashion, “without much thought or cost analysis.”
Many who oppose the proposed industrial park wanted to see the property sold and the business park plan abandoned, saying it would prove nothing more than a financial drain on taxpayers. But proponents say the park is a way to look at the county’s long-term financial interests.
A chief concern centered on the problem of accessing the property from Hwy. 72. Some say that the turn off of Hwy. 72 is difficult and that big vehicles will be left exposed to highway traffic, creating a safety hazard.
Opponents of the park also say county taxpayers weren’t given a voice in the decision to purchase the property. The IDA purchased the property late in 2001 for $425,000. The group has paid interest on the land, but nothing on the principal debt.
“The money these people are spending is not coming out of their accounts; it’s coming out of the taxpayers accounts,” said Doug Epps.
But others say the rezoning is in the best interest of county taxpayers, in that it will help attract businesses to the county and offset the tax burden on property owners.
Former Chamber of Commerce chairman Linda O’Neal told commissioners that the land purchase was “the right thing, perhaps not done in the right way.” However, she said the property lies in a high-growth area as designated in the county comprehensive plan and that citizens had plenty of opportunity to comment on the comprehensive land use plan. She noted that earlier this year a Madison County Grand Jury recommended the rezoning of the property to an “industrial” classification. And she said she felt IDA members would follow the wishes of a business park committee, that suggested the authority develop the western portion of the property under certain noise, light and other restrictions.