News from Banks County...

MARCH 3, 2004


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OPINIONS
Angela Gary
Southern ladies love their tea time
Sitting in a refined old Southern home with a dainty cup of hot tea in one hand and a warm scone covered with cream in the other hand.

Our Views
Development authority funds used incorrectly
It’s appalling that the members of the Development Authority were not consulted before thousands of dollars were taken from their budget to fund a marketing program for a private business.


SPORTS
Diamond Leopards open with a win
The Banks County Diamond Leopards won their first game of the season Monday night against Commerce, 6-2.


News from
JACKSON COUNTY
Citizens blast request for extended rock quarry hours
Residents who live near Martin Marietta rock quarry filled the clubhouse at Monday’s Jefferson City Council meeting to oppose a request for extended hours at the Academy Church Road business.

Gas Pains
Gas Line Relocation For U.S. 441 Widening To Cost $3.1 Million
The city of Commerce expects to have to pay more than $3 million to remove and replace gas lines along U.S. 441 as the widening of the highway takes place later this year.


News from
MADISON COUNTY
Long division
A look at how the lengthy redistricting process could affect Madison County. A proposed redistricting plan, put forward by the State House Democrats would split Madison County into four sections.

Edwards carries Madison County
But Kerry the victor in Democratic primary
John Edwards carried Madison County in Tuesday’s Democratic primary. But the victory went against the state and national totals, which showed Democrats supporting John Kerry as their presidential candidate.

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A quiet day in the snow

BLANKETED IN SNOW
Jeff Sheffield sent in this photograph of Maysville United Methodist Church, blanketed by the snow last Thursday


Tax bills to be mailed this month
Banks County residents won’t have to wait much longer before receiving their 2003 property tax bills.
According to Banks County’s chief appraiser Connie Garrison, the bills should be mailed by the end of the month.
The Georgia Department of Revenue has levied $45,000 plus interest in penalty fees for 2002 and 2003 due to a number of problems that go back to the resignation of then-chief appraiser and county mapper Andy Scroggs.
According to minutes of the Banks County Board of Tax Assessors meetings, it was eight months before a chief appraiser, Garrison, was hired.
In March 2003, she requested the board of commissioners amend the tax office’s budget so a county-wide revaluation system could be implemented in accordance with Georgia law and avoid fines.
At the April BOC meeting, the commissioners turned her down and said they would accept the state’s fines and penalties.
Bob Armour, a 27-year employee with the county, resigned stating “harassment” from the commissioner’s office.
His position and that of another employee who resigned were not filled for months and work piled up.
Minutes of the August 27, 2003, meeting revealed the difficulties the assessors office was having: “The assessor’s office has experienced a lot of non-support with funding and staffing. We are experiencing a $15,130 penalty due to the ratio for the 2002 digest falling below acceptable [state] levels and $30,000 for 2003.
Garrison said a county-wide revaluation should have occurred in 2002, but due to the resignation of [Scroggs] and lack of financial support, the project was not completed and the county was fined.
“We experienced a conflict from the chairman of the board of commissioners. There was no money available for the tax assessor’s [state mandated obligations]. We were advised that our office could be contracted with an independent company. Also, the chairman of the board of assessors was advised to relieve all employees from their duties. The BOA was advised by the chairman to stop jumping through hoops and hurdles due to computer updates and that [continuing] education was not necessary. “
Banks County Tax Commissioner Margaret Ausburn requested an extension for filing the county’s 2003 ad valorem tax digest, but DOR director Larry Griggers denied the request.
In January 2004, Garrison was paid a visit by DOR field representative Herb Dyer in response to a grievance made by BOC chairman Kenneth Brady. Garrison explained the difficulty she and her staff were experiencing with the chairman.
She said Dyer went out to speak with Brady, but she did not know what was said.
“I never heard anything else back from Mr. Dyer,”she said.
Garrison does have a full staff now and they “have been working diligently to get the tax bills out.”
She said the DOR has specified the 2004 tax digest must be submitted by August 1, “with no exceptions.”


Construction on the new Banks County jail nears completion
Over a year after construction crews broke ground on the new jail, a proposed opening date may be delayed by road construction.
Sheriff Charles Chapman anticipates a “punch-out list” to be completed by the end of April. Once completed, the state could take up to two months to approve the facility and new employees will have to undergo eight to 10 weeks of training. But, without the completion of the Thompson Street extension, the doors will remain closed until access becomes possible.
“This jail will operate on an entirely new system,” Chapman said. “We will need to hire additional jailers and our current employees will have to be trained to work at the new jail.”
Even though it will take more care to run the new jail, Chapman said it will be better for employees and inmates.
A minimum of 16 employees are needed to run the jail. A full-time terminal agency coordinator (TAC) is also needed to handle the abundance of state paperwork, which must be in compliance with the Georgia Crime Information Center rules.
Although Sheriff Chapman said he has been fortunate not to encounter any serious incidents, he said the security and safety upgrades were greatly needed.
“The operation of the new jail will be as different as daylight and dark,” said Chapman. “The sheriff’s office outgrew the current location some time ago.”
The Banks County Sheriff’s Office has booked 6,000 inmates into the current jail over the past seven years, a number that doesn’t include those who were picked up on warrant arrests for other counties. At times, as many as 10 inmates have been placed into holding cells built for one, due to necessity.
SAFETY AND SECURITY
The entrance to the new jail opens into a central control room where a 24-hour guard will always be on-duty. The control room is surrounded by unbreakable glass and walls built of concrete and steel.
There is also a central tower which serves as a control center where inmates will be monitored 24 hours a day through walls of windows and strategically placed cameras. The tower overlooks four separate pods. Three pods are filled with two-man cells and one pod has four-man cells, for a total of 52 beds. Each pod also has a day room where a television will hang from the ceiling and meals will be served.
“The separate pods allow for better classification of criminals,” Chapman said. “We can separate violent criminals from others and house males and females at the same time.”
A recreation yard is also available for inmate use. The yard is surrounded by concrete and steel walls and lined with barbed wire. The dimensions of the recreation yard are identical to each pod’s dimension making it possible to finish the area into more holding space if needed in the future.
When inmates are taken in for booking, they currently walk through the front door, where processing is visible by the public and safety can be an issue. At the new jail, a squad car will enter a metal and barbed wire gate through an electronic fence. Once the gate closes, a Sally-port door will open where the car will park inside a secure garage. The gate that allows access to the Sally-port will close and then the arrested person will be escorted through a metal door into central booking.
Holding cells line the walls. A four-room sick bay, an intox room and storage rooms for inmates belongings are also included.
Double sided lockers in an evidence room are among the safety and security upgrades at the new facility. An evidence custodian will receive evidence in a room where safes and shelves offer enough space for evidence storage.
Separate bathrooms for men and women are also an upgrade from the current facility where one uni-sex bathroom, located in the hallway, serves visitors and employees.
Offices for investigators, the chief, the sheriff and a large squadroom, as well as a records room and clerks desk complete the administrative portion of the building.
UPGRADES
Although they haven’t started packing, Chapman said everyone at the sheriff’s office is looking forward to moving into a facility so much better than the one they have now. The sewer system at the current jail is one problem that has plagued the sheriff’s office for years.
“During my office, we have struggled with many things with the building, but the sewer system has been the biggest problem,” said Chapman.
The current jail sewer system reached its limit years ago. Built in the late 60’s, the jail’s sewer system is about the size of what most builders install for a three bedroom house today.
Chapman remembers when they built the old jail.
“It’s served Banks County well, but it’s been long outgrown and outdated.”

 


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Edwards wins in county primary
Nearly one-third of the 6,600 registered voters in Banks County turned out for the Super Tuesday primary election. Using the new computerized system, Banks’ tallies came up quickly.
In the presidential primary, John Edwards gave Democratic front-runner John Kerry a real run for the money and won in Banks County by a clear margin of two-to-one with a 796 to 366 vote.
Edwards is reportedly dropping out of the race, according to members of his campaign staff. That leaves Kerry the main contender to take on Bush in November.
On the Republican ballot, President George W. Bush received 652 votes.
As for the flag, Banks County voters joined others across the state in choosing the state flag that was introduced by the legislature under Governor Sonny Perdue in 2003 over the flag of 2001. Some 1,346 votes came in for the current flag, while only 505 were cast for the blue flag.


A close vote
Voters say ‘no’ to county administrator by 103 votes
Only 103 votes made the difference between Banks County changing to a county administrator form of government or remaining with the current board of commissioners format.
Some 1,005 people voted to keep the existing form of county government, while 902 want an administrator.
Banks County board of commissioners Pat Westmoreland and Rickey Cain asked that the referendum be placed on the ballot. Both were disappointed that it didn’t pass.
“I ran on that as a part of my platform,” Cain said. “People said they wanted a different form of government. So, we got it on the ballot. I’ve heard that if we had gone to the administrator and a five-member board, more people would have voted for it. We’ll see. We may send it back through the legislature and get it back on the ballot this fall. They may be able to get it out before the close of this session.”
Westmoreland said: “We were looking for professional leadership. But, we’ll get along as best we can with what we have.”
Westmoreland agreed with Cain that the issue could be revisited in the fall election.
BOC chairman Kenneth Brady said: “Well, now we can get on with the business at hand. Get the job done for the residents of the county. I was surprised that the vote was so close. I thought there would have been a larger margin opposing it. But only 902 in the whole county came out to vote for it. People didn’t want a change.”
HOMESTEAD EXEMPTION PASSES
Banks County taxpayers 65 and older and those with disabilities will see an increase in their homestead exemption from $16,000 to $20,000. The measure passed 1,665 to 505.