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FEBRUARY 25, 2004


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OPINIONS
Rochelle Beckstine
Children truly are second class citizens
In a bizarre twist, the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment, apparently protects criminals incarcerated in jails, but not children attending schools, that is according to a U.S. Supreme Court decision made in 1977.

Our Views
Candidates to start making announcements
It’s a major election year in Banks County and most local seats are up for re-election. Candidates are likely to start throwing their hats in the ring.


SPORTS
No Shocker At State

Southwest Atlanta Christian Dunks CHS In First-Round Of Class A Tourney
The “Hoosiers” sequel will have to wait.

One more makes it four
Six state champions help lead the way to Jefferson’s fourth-straight state title
If there were any doubts about who the best Class A wrestling team in Georgia was heading into last weekend’s traditional state championships they were certainly dispelled following the event.

Panther season ends after state tourney showing
For the Jackson County wrestling program, the future looks bright. But, last weekend at the Class AAAA state wrestling championships some growing pains still needed to be endured.


News from
JACKSON COUNTY
War of words
Water authority fires back at BOC
The war of wordS between the Jackson County Board of Commissioners and the county water authority continued last week as the chairman of the authority strongly defended his board against BOC allegations of mismanagement.

Citizens concerned about LP
Louisiana Pacific’s request for increased emissions draws crowd to hearing
More than 50 people crowded into a meeting room in Athens last week to air their concerns with the current operation of Louisiana Pacific and question the company’s application to increase its emissions.


News from
MADISON COUNTY
BOC says ‘No!’to replacing fairways with driveways
Sunrise Golf Course may yet fade into the sunset as its owner finds himself strapped with a massive financial failure.
But the county won’t let that course go the way of suburbia.
At least not without a fight.

‘Comer Colored School’
Comer resident Phillip Fortson grew up next door to the old school once known by locals as the Comer Colored School.
As a child, he used to run from room to room in the old abandoned building, never thinking of the historical value of the place, and how, if the walls could talk, of the stories they could tell of a time gone by.

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RDC lends advice

Ben J. Hulsey, (R), executive director of the Georgia Mountains Regional Development Center, spoke with members of the Banks County Board of Commissioners and the development authority at a special called meeting Tuesday. Jack Banks, (L), is the chairman of the development authority.


Funding talks
Development authority meets with state officials on financing
Members of the Banks County Development Authority and board of commissioners met with three state agencies on Tuesday that may prove invaluable in securing financial assistance for future development in the county.
Carole Ciriacks, regional project manager for the Georgia Department of Industry, Trade and Tourism (GDITT); Kathy Papa, regional representative of the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (GDCA); and Ben Hulsey, executive director of the Georgia Mountains Regional Development Center (GMRDC), provided information on what their agencies had to offer.
Jack Banks, chairman of the DA board of directors, requested the meeting. He and other DA members have been discouraged over the lack of sharing of information from the county commissioners’ office. Home Depot was given as an example of the BOC keeping them in the dark and possibly costing the county grant funds that could have been used to benefit the area.
Banks said: “We may have missed out on something there. I understand the need for confidentiality and that some business is done that way. Nonetheless, it shouldn’t have been kept from us. There are ways to handle the situation.”
BOC chairman Kenneth Brady said he was asked by Home Depot to keep it quiet.
Commissioner Pat Westmoreland said Brady did not inform him or commissioner Rickey Cain either about Home Depot coming into the county.
Banks said: “We just want to get all the resources we can get to make Banks County a better place. Home Depot brought in over 100 jobs. That could have been the catalyst to get us needed funds to improve infrastructure. Now, there’s nothing we can do.”
Ciriacks said it was important to involve the agencies with projects at the very beginning of development talks. Some funding sources are lost if any work is begun before making application for grants.
Hulsey agreed, and added: “Agencies want to know your involvement. They want to see teamwork between the government entities; the cities and counties working together; counties partnering with other counties. It’s very competitive and those who’ve done the best job and have the most to offer their community are the ones that get funded.”
Hulsey handed out a long list of agencies and the funding or loan potential they offered on particular projects.
Papa said the DCA does handle grants for improving infrastructure, but that such projects have to directly impact low income populations, or provide new, permanent jobs for the area. DCA handles community development block grants and economic incentive program grants. The latter requires industry or business to put up a matching sum equal to the grant amount.
Hulsey, Ciriacks and Papa all suggested the best bet for the county to obtain financial assistance was to call one or all of them when a potential developer showed serious interest in the area.

Alto approves 2004 budget
The Alto City Council voted unanimously to approve the 2004 fiscal year budget of $601,046, a five percent reduction over last year, during a special called meeting Tuesday.
In the general fund, additional revenues from property and franchise taxes helped give the town a slight boost of one percent from $215,298 last year to an anticipated $219,346.
An amendment approved in January on the 2003 budget included the addition of $100,000 in the water fund revenue from cashing in certificates of deposit to pay down the city’s GEFA loan.
With that figure out of the formula, the 2004 water fund revenues were reduced 11 percent from $423,580 (2003) to $381,700.
Mayor Audrey Turner said adjustments could be made to the budget as the year progressed.
Though the agenda called for the opening of bids on the Gilstrap Road well project, Turner said no bids had been received on the job.
“We may be able to extend the time limit for two more weeks,” she said. “But, I’m not sure. I have to get with our attorney. We may end up having to re-bid it.”


Development authority questions $4,928 expense on Feb. account
When members of the Banks County Development Authority saw its account statement as of February 12, one charge on it had them scratching their heads.
A $4,928 expense was listed as a payment for the co-op advertising grant the county entered into with Tanger Factory Outlet Malls.
The board of commissioners had agreed to enter into an advertising campaign partnership with Tanger and pay $27,500. At the time, the commissioners said they did not know where the money to pay for the campaign would come from, since there was no money budgeted for such things. With the account statement showing the withdrawal, it appears they found a way.
Development authority chairman Jack Banks said: “We only get $15,000 a year and we have to pay for advertising? What happened to the CVB (convention and visitors bureau)? They are supposed to do things like this.”
Board member Sam McDuffie questioned why the DA did not have its own account so the board could keep track of expenditures and use the funds as they saw fit.
Banks replied: “I don’t know the answer to that. But, we need to know. It looks as though we’re doing an advertising campaign. We get the pennies and [the CVB] gets the thousands.”
Banks suggested the members meet with the board of commissioners to settle the issue.
McDuffie said he still wasn’t sure exactly what the DA was meant to do and what their rolls as board members were.
He said: “I assumed we’d be involved with improving and expanding the infrastructure of the county as well as be made aware of who’s looking to sell, buy and develop land. And there’s the promotion of the industrial park. But, we need to define what our purpose is.
We can help the county. We need to diversify the tax base. If we don’t, we’re going to end up a bedroom community for Jackson County. We’re in a bad position already. Our residents work elsewhere. They need jobs here. We need to work with the chamber and the board of commissioners to focus on bringing development to the county.”
McDuffie continued: “It bothers me that we don’t have a clue about what’s happening in the county. It’s like a big secret. We need to know what’s going on.”
Banks agreed and said the last commercial development he knew about was Ruby Tuesdays.
“We’re getting short-circuited,” he said. “We don’t get calls anymore.”
On a trip to Washington, D.C., last month with a contingency from the county, Banks had the opportunity to speak with legislative representatives. From them, he found out that the county had missed out on a number of grants, worth millions of dollars. As far back as Wal-Mart, and as recent as Home Depot, the county could have applied for grants that would have covered sewer and water system expansion in the area making it more attractive for continued development.
He said: “If we know something is coming, the RDC could write the grants and the county would benefit.”
Banks continued: “We need a person who will look after the future of the county. Have one person who has all the information needed to pass on to potential industrial developers.”
Out-going board member Thomas Wilson agreed that such a person is needed.
Member Horace Campbell said he thought an agreement had been made with the Banks County Chamber of Commerce when Bonnie Johnson was president and that Sherry Ward was designated to fulfill that role.
A contract does exist, signed by Johnson in April 2000. In it, Johnson agreed the chamber would maintain a database of sites available for industrial/commercial development, complied from leads through the BOC, the DA and local real estate agents. It also calls for continual updating and forwarding information on to the Georgia Department of Industry, Trade and Tourism and other state agencies. “Good will calls” were to be made to various agencies and developers to “create an awareness of Banks County’s potential for growth.” Visits and information gathering were to be coordinated by the chamber.
In other business, Banks told the board he had met with a representative of a company that privately runs waste water treatment systems and could bring a working system to the Martin Bridge Road and I-85 interchange, an area earmarked for future development.
The facility could handle 75,000 gallons per day on a five-acre site. Treated waste water could be reused as irrigation for roadside and median landscaping.
Banks said the representatives would work up a proposal and bring it to them at the March meeting.

 


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Election ahead Tuesday
County government, homestead, presidential primary on ballot
State flag also up for vote
Banks County voters will go tto he polls on Tuesday to decide if county government will change and to pick their presidential preference.
Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday.
One local issue on the ballot is the county government change. The question voters will be given is: “Shall the act be approved which changes the form of government of Banks County to three elected commissioners and a county administrator?”
The proposal calls for three members to be elected to the board of commissioners. They may reside anywhere within the county. At the time of qualifying for the election, each candidate shall specify whether they are seeking post 1, post 2 or post 3.
The chairperson would be the official head of the board and would preside at all meetings. The chairperson would be named each year by a vote of the three-member BOC. The BOC members would also elect a vice chairman who would preside at meetings in the absence of the chairperson.
The chairperson would have the right to make motions and nominations but would not vote unless there is a split vote.
The salary for each of the three BOC members would be $9,600.
The legislation also calls for the BOC to hire a county administrator. The exact duties and salary of the county administrator are not given in the legislation. The only mention given on job duties is a section which states that the administrator shall also serve as the county purchasing agent.
HOMESTEAD EXEMPTION
Banks Countians will also vote on a homestead exemption on property taxes for senior citizens and disabled people when they go to the polls on March 2. If it passes, each Banks County resident who is age 65 or older or who is disabled would be granted on exemption from all county property taxes in the amount of $20,000 of the assessed value of that homestead. The value of the property in excess of the exempted amount would remain subject to taxation. The current exemption is $16,000.
If passes, the exemption would be granted beginning Jan. 1, 2005.
PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARY
Banks County voters will also join those across the state on Tuesday in going to the polls for the presidential preference primary.
Democratic voters will have nine presidential candidates listed on their ballots. They are: Carol Mosley Braun, Wesley K. Clark, Howard Dean, John Edwards, Dick Gephardt, John F. Kerry, Dennis J. Kucinich, Joe Liberman and Al Sharpton. All of these candidates have dropped out of the race except for Dean and Kerry.
George W. Bush is the only name listed on the Republican ballot.
Both ballots will also list two versions of the state flag and ask voters to select their preference. The two choices are the flag adopted at the 2003 session of the General Assembly or the flag adopted at the 2001 session of the General Assembly.