Jackson County Opinions...

MARCH 10, 2004



Column
By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
March 10, 2004

Actually, There Are Good Things Happening Here
Those who live and work in Commerce know of its good points and bad. We’re here because we like it, but we are aware of our city’s shortcomings. We complain about road and drainage problems, dilapidated buildings, ugly entranceways to town, litter, etc. We fault city government for failure to rectify those problems and we criticize its spending on everything from schools to recreation to the abundance of new, cheap houses and lack of recycling.
Nothing unique about that, is there?
In case you’ve missed it though, although City Hall sometimes seems oblivious to the needs of its citizens, Commerce is actually taking a number of steps that will improve the way the city appears and the quality of life. Some of you will notice; others may not.
We all know about the $9 million sewer plant, but as long as what we flush down the commode doesn’t come back, who cares? Also, the city is and has been working on electrical service upgrades for years. Eventually, the entire town will be switched to a higher voltage system that will be more efficient and dependable. Though you may save money by not having to replace light bulbs as frequently, you don’t really care about that either.
Here are a few other projects that are either ongoing or in the works.
•The city began advertising for bids this week to provide sewer service to the Maysville Road interchange at I-85. Think more jobs and industrial development to help keep school taxes from going out the roof.
•For two or three years now, the city’s Department of Building Inspection has been cracking down on code violations at rental property. In addition to closing down Pardue’s Mobile Home Park, the process has resulted in the condemnation of numerous unsafe structures. Many have already been removed, more are on the list. That’s beautification.
•Ditto with the enforcement of the junked car ordinance. More than 100 vehicles have been removed, and work continues toward getting the rest. Each rusting hulk taken to the junkyard makes the community a little less unattractive.
•The city will soon apply for its fourth block grant to improve neighborhoods. Each results in better streets and drainage and improves the appearance of the neighborhood.
•The city will draft a “transportation plan” to prioritize road work, but also to direct it in building sidewalks, curbs and gutters. A focus on curbs and gutters is a priority, along with another sidewalk grant.
•An arch will be erected over the entrance and ornamental plantings are proposed at the cemetery. Anything will help.
•The new middle school will be open this fall, an addition to the library is in the planning stage and there is already talk of expanding the Lanier Tech presence here. All are important community components.
Don’t worry, there will still be plenty of issues to complain to City Hall about, from taxes to utility rates to zoning decisions. I wouldn’t want to deny you that pleasure.
But just for the record, good things are happening too. Commerce has plans and projects in process that will make it a more attractive town and a better place to work and live.


Editorial
The Commerce News
March 10, 2004

Sewer Line A Major Step Forward For City
After years of largely sitting on the sidelines while Braselton, Jefferson and Jackson County got most of the industrial growth, Commerce signaled this week that it too will be a player in economic development.
The city is advertising for bids to run sewer lines to the Maysville Road intersection with Interstate 85. The project is directed at serving a proposed 500-acre “distribution center industrial park,” but it will also open several miles of Progress Road to development and bring sewer to the entire Maysville Road interchange.
“Infrastructure if a prerequisite,” noted Pepe Cummings, president of the Jackson County Area Chamber of Commerce recently while talking about economic development. It is simply a fact that when trying to entice a business to locate, having roads and utilities at the site makes all the difference in the world, compared to a promise to get them to the site. Locally, the development of the U.S. 129 and Banks Crossing interchanges occurred because utilities were present; the Maysville Road will be no different.
Coupled with Jackson County’s plan to finance Bana Road’s construction with part of a $18 million bond issue, Commerce’s decision will for the first time put the city in a competitive position for attracting the jobs and taxes of business and industry, both of which are crucial to balancing the residential growth threatening to overwhelm the area.
Nowhere is the issue more crucial than the funding of education. In the past couple of decades, Jackson County and Jefferson have benefited from location of the likes of J.M. Huber, Louisiana Pacific, Georgia Power, Toyota, Caterpillar, Haverty’s, The Seydel Companies, Mayfield Dairies, Nicolon and others, while Commerce has added no new major industrial taxpayers. It desperately needs to experience some similar growth because its school system is in the early stages of a population growth that will stretch facilities and programs to the limit.
While we look for industrial growth, the prospects for commercial development will also be brighter as the new sewer line opens up the east side of Interstate 85. We know what the Tanger II Factory Outlet Center has done for Jackson County; further retail development would add significant additional sales tax revenue benefiting the entire county (and all three school systems), while providing a variety of new jobs.
Maintaining the quality of life in an area of rapid growth is a constant balancing act. One of the keys is to balance residential growth with the creation of new jobs and new revenue sources. The new sewer line is a major step for Commerce in achieving that balance.

On The Right Track
Commerce Planning Commission member Joe Leffew is on the right track. Leffew came to last week’s planning commission meeting with a list of specific requirements he’d like to see in houses built in Commerce.
It included items like sod yards, double-paned windows, concrete driveways – things that contribute to making a house and its neighborhood nicer. Leffew wasn’t proposing that the list be adopted, rather that the planning commission at some point consider implementing more stringent requirements that will improve housing in Commerce and, as he said, revitalize the town and compliment the city’s effort in refurbishing its downtown.
Housing standards are more important than lot size in improving the quality of housing. Attention to these details will go a long way toward determining what this town is like in 20 or 50 years.

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Column
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
March 10, 2004

Fat culture isn’t the fault of others
To no one’s surprise, the U.S. government announced Tuesday that Americans are too fat.
“We’re just too fat,” said Health Secretary Tommy Thompson after discussing a study which says 400,000 people die each year because of obesity. Fatness is now the second-leading cause of preventable deaths, just behind smoking which kills 435,000 per year.
If terrorists killed 835,000 American each year, we’d all be up in arms. But when we kill ourselves at that rate, we just shrug and eat another donut and smoke another cigarette.
But to know that Americans are increasingly fat didn’t take a formal study. Just sit in any parking lot at a shopping center and watch people waddle in. If I’ve seen one obese bottom in low-cut pants, I’ve seen a million.
Some are blaming this fat culture on fast foods. A few folks have tried to sue McDonalds and other fast food companies for making them fat from Supersize fries and burgers.
The idea of personal responsibility is alien to these people. That’s why they’re fat in the first place — no self-discipline. McDonalds didn’t put a gun to their heads and force them to eat their junk food.
Of course, the same argument was made with tobacco, but the tobacco companies lost in court when smokers sued them for their addiction. It was easier to blame someone else for their bad habits rather than take responsibility themselves.
I suspect that eventually, the same thing will happen to fast food companies. Some fatty will sue and win a gajillion dollars because McDonalds or Burger King sold them too many fries.
There’s billions of dollars to be made off this fat industry. Weight loss books and exercise firms are a sure bet. Health care costs to take care of this self-induced sickness is in the billions.
But get ready, the backlash is coming. Already some fat folks defend their lifestyle and decry “fat discrimination.” And these people never, ever blame themselves for their weight. Here’s what one heavyweight named David said on a recent “blog” posting about “fat discrimination.”
“Most fat people are fat because of medical or environmental factors. Some causes include metabolic or psychological issues, work environment, hereditary bias, cultural factors, the barrage of advertising by giant food conglomerates, and stupid dietary guidelines that make it all to easy to gain weight while being deluded that one is eating ‘properly.’”
Uh-huh. And the fact that the guy couldn’t push away from the table. Funny how he didn’t mention that.
There’s even a National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance. No kidding.
None of this is to suggest that the other end of the cultural spectrum is any better. Body image problems among teen girls is well documented. Pole-thin supermodels exist only in magazines. Those guys in men’s magazines with six-pack abs don’t reflect the abs found on most of us whose stomachs are shaped by another kind of six-pack.
The reality is that both extremes are, well extreme. But there is no denying that our culture has enlarged in recent decades. We can blame the growth of fast foods and a more sedate lifestyle, but the truth is, we’re fat because we eat too darn much.
And like any addiction, be it smoking or drugs or alcohol, nothing will change until those who are obese admit they have a problem and want to make a change.
It’s called “personal responsibility.” Unfortunately, that isn’t on the menu for a lot of Americans.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


Editorials
The Jackson Herald
March 10, 2004

Why the need for impact tax?
By agreeing to pay a consultant $18,000 to develop city impact “fees,” the Jefferson City Council has all but decided to levy this development tax. And that move could ripple throughout the county in the coming months and years.
But let’s get the lingo straight, here: While often called an “impact fee,” the correct term should be “impact tax.” What is being created would indeed be a new city tax designed to supplement the existing tax structure. Calling it a “fee” is just a more polite way governments reach into our pockets and get a few more dollars.
Admittedly, impact taxes have been a hot topic in growing communities around the nation. Local governments, often spurred by anti-growth advocates, have used the tax in a variety of ways, sometimes finding themselves in a court battle for wrongly applying the measure.
What’s apparently underlying the move in Jefferson is the rapid growth of subdivisions in the area. If all the available approved building lots were completed and occupied today, the town’s population would more than double.
But while there is no argument that Jefferson is in a growth mode, we have yet to hear city leaders say why they need a new impact tax. What specifically would these dollars be used for?
Proponents often frame this debate by saying the impact tax will hit “all those developers” and hint that it’s just a tax on builders.
But the truth is, impact taxes hit homeowners. Developers just pass along the cost. That, of course, raises the average cost of new housing in a community.
Some like that idea for reasons that have nothing to do with paying for infrastructure. Elitists often want to raise the cost of housing to force out the “riff-raff” who occupy more modest homes. Impact fees, along with various zoning requirements, are indirect ways that housing costs in a community can be manipulated by government, the force of market demand be damned.
Even if that isn’t the driving force behind this move in Jefferson, there is certainly an undercurrent of “it’s-the-fault-of-all-those-newcomers.” Rightly or wrongly, a lot of problems found in growth communities are frequently laid at the feet of “newcomers.” Jefferson is no exception to that mentality.
But that isn’t always accurate. Often, the financial pressures of growth on local government isn’t the fault of newcomers, but rather of poor planning and leadership within the government itself. It’s always easier to hide behind the “newcomer” skirt than it is to look inside our own government operations.
That’s not to say there aren’t circumstances where impact taxes might be appropriate. Certainly, some commercial developments might qualify for special impact taxes since they often have a large impact on infrastructure demand.
But that’s what troubles us about Jefferson’s proposal — so far, no one has articulated why an impact tax is needed or what kind of projects the city would pay for with those funds. Discussions on the idea have been vague and non-specific.
We suspect that’s because Jefferson leaders really don’t know what they would use impact taxes for — they just like the general idea because it would get more money out of all those darn “newcomers.”
Yes, by all means, tax the newcomers. After all, they don’t vote.


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