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APRIL 28, 2004


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OPINIONS
Letter to the Editor
Defends actions on speed breaker
Dear Editor:
I am a resident of Narramore Way and although my husband and I were person enough to stand up for what is right, some people want to take it so personal.

Shar Porier
Let’s talk tacky
Suppose you had just closed a deal on several acres of land and had plans to build a $200,000 home. You drive to the courthouse, park your car and take the short walk to the courthouse steps.


SPORTS
Club Leopards head to state
For the second year in a row, Banks County and Greater Atlanta Christian let one stroke decide first and second place at the region tournament held at Hammer’s Glen Monday.


News from
JACKSON COUNTY
Republican chair refuses to give candidate names
Oppenheimer cites anger at Herald editor
Jackson County Republican Party chairman David Oppenheimer refused Tuesday to release the names of local candidates who have qualified to run in the July 20 primary.

Water board asks for GBI probe of Britt
Illegal water meter found at commissioner’s property
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation is being asked to investigate circumstances surrounding an illegal water meter discovered on a county water line that was feeding water into a barn on the property of county commissioner Stacey Britt.


News from
MADISON COUNTY
The tangled web
Bitter county conflict includes computer controversy
Board of tax assessors chairman John Bellew filed the necessary paperwork this week to challenge Wesley Nash for the county commission chairman’s seat in November.

Preventing child abuse
Local DFACS workers are on the ‘front lines’
Kathy Seymour, Child Protective Services (CPS) supervisor for the Danielsville Department of Family and Children’s Services (DFACS) office, has seen it all since coming to work there in 1987.

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Budget hearings

Commissioner Pat Westmoreland (L), commission chairman Kenneth Brady and Banks County Sheriff Charles Chapman (R) discuss the sheriff’s office’s $1.9 million budget. Westmoreland asked Chapman to cut it down $100,000. On Monday, Chapman said he had cut the budget by $100,000.


Sheriff asks for $1.9 million at BOC budget hearing
Budget hearings come to a close
The Banks County Board of Commissioners wrapped up budget hearings Thursday after hearing from 17 departments on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The county’s calendar year begins July 1, final action on the budget is expected by mid-June.
Overall, increases in budgets reflected the growing cost of gas, audit fees and salary increases.
SHERIFF’S OFFICE
Banks County sheriff Charles Chapman asked for $1.9 million to run the sheriff’s office and the new jail in 2005. The new budget is over a half a million dollar increase over last year.
Utilities for the new jail and new employees are the main projected expenses. Utilities at the old jail were $18,000, at the new jail the projected utilities are $47,000.
“It’s a large increase, but the new jail itself is a lot responsible for the increase,” Chapman said.
Commissioner Pat Westmoreland said: “Everything is way too high.”
Chapman asked for salary raises for jailers, deputies and four new vehicles.
“We have a lot of high mileage cars on the road,” Chapman said.
BOC chairman Kenneth Brady asked if he would consider motorcycles instead of new cars.
“You could get two for the price of one and they would get better gas mileage,” he said.
Chapman said: “Motorcycles won’t cut it.”
Brady asked if Chapman would consider more fuel efficient vehicles to save money in gas. Chapman said he’d look into it, but that he preferred the Crown Victoria’s.
Chapman said he asked for pay raises because other counties are paying so much more.
“I know we are not any other county but Banks, but Jackson starts jailers at $13 an hour, we pay $10 for top jailers in Banks,” he said.
Chapman also asked for pay raises for the deputies, an overall $117,000 increase to his budget.
He also said he will have to hire new jailers.
“I need four jailers on every shift, one in central control, one booking officer, one in the tower and one that is able to roam and help others,” he said.
“The sheriff is an elected official, he works for the taxpayer and tries to control the budget, he knows what he’s got to have and if he gets out of line with his budget the citizens will let him know at the polls,” Brady said. “Saying that, the sheriff needs ample equipment and I don’t like it any more than anyone else. I know it is a huge increase, but in order to do the job the way he needs to do it and let the citizens know he has control over his own funds.”
Westmoreland said: “That may be true, but we, as elected officials, are responsible for holding down the budget as much as possible. When we’ve cut others’ budgets, we need to look to cut down, like on jailers and deputies.”
Chapman said he wrote the budget to adequately pay the staff.
“They are underpaid compared to other counties,” he said.
Medical expenses for inmates was a large expense in the 2004 fiscal year and was increased this year to cover any fees. Office expenses are also up a little over last year.
“Our call volume has increased dramatically,” Chapman said. “We don’t ever close. We can’t just turn our backs on a lot of things, we have a statutory obligation spelled out in the Constitution to the public.”
Increases over the past years have been minimal, he said: 1998, 1.2 percent increase; 2001 no increase; 2002, 10 percent increase; 2003, eight percent increase; 2004 17 percent increase.
Westmoreland asked Chapman to take $100,000 off the budget. Chapman said, “get real.”
“I’m also responsible to the taxpayers,” Chapman said. “You are responsible in one way, I’m responsible in another way.”
BUILDING INSPECTION
Tony Vento said he wants to move one employee from part-time to full-time in the building inspection office. According to Vento, the office conducts 11 inspections a day and issues 12 permits a day.
“Things are getting hectic,” he said. “The trend is moving upward, we’ll be doing more next year.”
Revenue from the department is almost double what was projected. Westmoreland said the difference in the revenue would almost pay for the new employee. The larger question was whether to promote from within the department or to advertise the position to the public. Brady, Westmoreland and Rickey Cain all agreed that advertising the position would be what they wanted.
“We need to give everyone ample opportunity to apply for the position,” Brady said.
Vento said it could cost up to $40,000 to hire a qualified inspector.
Brady said: “Technical schools offer building inspection as a degree and we could advertise with them and get a graduate who wants to get in the door. I think that’s the route we need to go.”
Vento said some schools don’t require ISS certification, but the state does.
Vento also asked for high-speed Internet access, an upgrade that costs $30 a month.
“It is worth it,” Vento said. “It is important, especially when I get cut off in the middle of a search with the ISS and Secretary of State. I’m trying to make the office more professional, but if you want me to stay with dial-up I will.”
Westmoreland said since the department was below the budget they should get high-speed, computer programs and a copier. The combined budget for Planning and Enforcement and Building Inspection is $20,000 less than last year.
PLANNING AND ENFORCEMENT
Keith Covington told the commissioners the department would be receiving no grant money this year. The department has been receiving grant funding for the past six years, funding that was only supposed to last three years.
A one percent salary increase was included in the budget. A scrap tire disposal line item was also included at $300. Covington said the county currently has around 120 tires to dispose of, 80 more than are allowed to sit on a property according to a new Banks County ordinance.
“We are way over the limit and we have to get rid of them,” he said.
Several companies offer tire disposal, but residents should call the retailer ahead of time and check the rates, he said. A $1,000 fine is issued to anyone caught disposing of tires illegally.
Animal control was budgeted at $5,000.
CORONER
The budget for the coroner remained the same and no hearing was held.
UTILITIES
The utilities’ budget was split into four categories; water administration, water pumping and purification, water distribution and sewage collection and treatment.
Under water administration, Gary Harper said a recent audit turned up the possibility of a part-time employee.
“The auditor said two sets of eyes and two brains should be working down there,” Brady said. “It’s in the best interest of the county to train someone that can be shared with the magistrate.”
Water administration would pay most of the salary and the benefits for the new employee, the magistrate office will reimburse $8,000 of the salary. The new position is an administrative clerk that will assist the office manager. The salary was set at $18,568.
Commissioner Westmoreland asked Harper to cut back office expenses from $20,000 to $15,000. Among the items listed were TBS, office supplies, a new computer and desk for the new employee.
The overall budget was increased $22,000 over last year, a 15 percent increase. The office currently serves 16,000 plus residents.
The water pumping and purification budget was up $7,000 from last year, for a total 2005 budget of $341,346.
No salary increases were budgeted this year.
Brady said he received a letter from the Environmental Protection Division.
“I thought it was a joke, I read it three times,” he said. “If there is not a Class I operator on the premises (of the water treatment plant on Apple Pie Ridge Road) the plant would be shut down immediately by the EPD. If our plant doesn’t have Class I, we can’t produce water.”
Harper was asked to shave $2,100 off the lab supplies budget.
For water distribution, Westmoreland asked Harper if he could operate with two fewer employees, if they stopped installing lines.
“If we eliminated water line installations, stop putting little lines in the ground and put in lines with fire protection, six inch lines at least, it would be cheaper in the long run,” Westmoreland said.
Harper said they were not equipped to install the larger lines and that the installation would have to be contracted out. Westmoreland said it was something they needed to look at.
Westmoreland said the road department was short on help in the summer and suggested the possibility of some employees moving to the road department.
“I don’t know how the employees would respond to that since they are used to installing water lines and now they’d be cutting grass,” Brady said. “Would you ask for volunteers? We need to take care of our employees first. Morale would go down. Just leave it like it is for now.”
The sewage collection and treatment budget was increased less than $1,000, to $97,249. No salary increases were included.
PUBLIC HEALTH
The BOC heard from the public health department head Wednesday afternoon. The proposed budget for public health remained the same at $75,000.
Gregg Sheffield said the health department is currently $7,000 in the good, after putting $57,000 of $64,000 in revenues back into the Banks County Health Department. He informed the board that cuts in Medicare could affect potential revenues. He said some are suggesting raising medical fees, environmental fees or increase services. Only 25 percent of those served at the health department actually pay.
MENTAL HEALTH
Pat Edwards, behavior health services, asked the board for an additional $886 for the 2005 fiscal year. Brady had questions about the group closing their office, which used to be located in the health department.
“Why should we continue paying when we don’t have a mental health facility?” he asked. “You have put our people at a disadvantage by not having a building or office in Banks County, they will have to travel to receive services.”
Edwards assured Brady the citizens in need would still be receiving services. She said the department is increasing the amount of house calls, will meet at job sites and has arranged with superintendent Chris Erwin to meet with children at the schools. Edwards said only those needing to see a physician will have to travel to another county and the department will work out transportation for those in need.
Huge cuts in state funding are responsible for the closing of the office, according to Edwards. She said seven offices have closed around the northeast.
“I know you values the services we provide, but we ask for increased support to help our employment and community services, we’ve had huge cuts from he state and we are trying to put all of funding in services and eliminate some of our overhead costs, so we can help more people under a new model,” Edwards said. “We think this will be a distinct advantage for the citizens.”
Westmoreland agreed: “We are looking at a great need we have in our county, people need the services they have been providing. We are looking at a budget of $17,000. We just saw one for $1.9 million and you didn’t want to cut anything off of that and now you want to cut out $17,000.”
Brady said: “I don’t want to cut the budget, I just have a problem that they left us.”
Brady asked the group to publicize the services available to the citizens in the newspaper a few times a year. Edwards agreed. She said that the old phone number still works and it directs calls to other mental health facilities in other counties.
HISTORICAL SOCIETY
Bobby Blackwell met with the BOC about the historical society. He asked for $8,000 for 2005, the same amount requested last year.
He also informed the board of construction set to take place at the old courthouse, which will use money remaining in the 2004 budget.
The courthouse will receive paint on the left side, windows, doors and shutters for $2,850. Painting of the front of the courthouse and columns will cost $1,425 and is scheduled to be completed by mid-June. New lights around the front of the building are scheduled to go up next week.
The historical society also plans to purchase three mannequins, two males and one female to display historic uniforms and clothing in the courthouse. He also asked for a newspaper copier that costs $2,500.
“If we don’t need it, we won’t spend it,” Blackwell said.
LIBRARY
Stacy Krumnow spoke to the BOC about the financial needs of the public library.
She provided a growth chart to the board, showing that the library issued 2,000 new cards this year to patrons and that computer usage is up by 2,000.
The proposed budget is the same as in previous years. The total budget is $84,500, only $50,000 comes from the BOC. The BOE and the city of Homer pay the remaining portions. In addition to the $50,000, the BOC will pay $3,500 for the Piedmont library fees for the inter-library loan program.
NATURAL RESOURCE CONSERVATION SERVICE
The county has held a position open for the NRCS. They agreed not to continue holding the $11,400 they had held previously to fill the position. PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION
No official meeting with public transportation was held, but Westmoreland and Brady approved the budget at $33,178, which is the same as last year’s.
EMS
Perry Dalton spoke with the BOC on the needs for EMS. He said the largest increase in his $1.6 million budget would be for a requested third med-unit. He said this unit is very badly needed and would cost $300,000 in salaries, benefits and related costs. He said EMS has been “inundated with calls and can’t keep up.” It would take six people to staff the med unit.
Dalton added that his budget doesn’t include any funds to expand the fire-fighting program.

 


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Planners to meet Tuesday
The Banks County Planning Commission will meet at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at the courthouse in Homer.
Items on the agenda include the following applications: Sarah and Charles Cross for a variance for a poultry house on Highway 105.; Homer Realty-Carter Stewart to rezone two acres on New Highway 441, North from ARR, Agricultural, Rural-Residential to C-1, Neighborhood Commercial; Robert L. Dalton to rezone 206 acres on Apple Pie Ridge Road from ARR, Agricultural, Rural-Residential to CAD, Commercial Agricultural District; Evelyn G. Dalton to rezone 136 acres on Apple Pie Ridge Road from ARR, Agricultural, Rural-Residential to CAD, Commercial Agricultural District; and Chuck Walls to rezone 363 acres on Highway 52 from ARR, Agricultural, Rural-Residential to CAD, Commercial Agricultural District.
Qualifying opened at 9 a.m. Monday and will end at noon on Friday.
Others to qualify as of Tuesday were:
•Sheriff — Allen Venable, Republican.
•Board of Commission, District 1 – Gene Hart, Republican.
•Board of Education, District 1 — Neal Brown, Democrat.
•Board of Education, District 2 — Ron Gardiner, Democrat.
•Board of Education, District 4 — John Williams, Republican.
•Clerk of Superior Court — Tim Harper, Democrat.
•Coroner — John D. Reinke, Democrat.
•Tax Commissioner — Margaret Ausburn, Democrat.
•Probate Judge — Betty Thomas, non-partisan.
•House of Representatives, District 28 — Jeanette Jamieson, Democrat.
•Senate District 50 — Chan Caudell and Nancy Schaefer, both Republicans.
The election schedule for the year is as follows: July 20, primary election; Aug. 10, primary run-off; Nov. 2, general election; and Nov. 23, general run-off.


Developers connect to Baldwin without city’s approval
The ears of the owners of Apple Pie Ridge may have been burning Monday night as the Baldwin City Council frankly expressed their displeasure with an unapproved water hook-up to the city’s system.
The developers had appeared before the council at the work session earlier this month proposing the city provide water service to a new phase of the Apple Pie Ridge development, a private community of high priced homes with very restrictive covenants and a controversial private water system fed by Baldwin. The stumbling block was that the developers were contracting out the water system installation that included underground storage tanks, booster pumps and individual water meters paid for by the developers. The water system and roads would be maintained by the homeowners association, which would also pay any costs involved with leaks.
Councilman Ray Holcomb had no qualms about expressing his objections and said such an agreement was in violation of the city ordinance.
City attorney David Syfan suggested the covenants be submitted for examination. The council agreed and requested the list.
When the council was told Monday the developers had reportedly already laid the water line, had tapped onto the city’s main and had failed to submit covenants, all the members voiced their objections.
Scott Baum, public works director, then revealed that the contractor had laid the lines for water, sewer, power, telephone and gas all together in the same ditch. He showed a few pictures to the council that he had managed to take before the ditch was filled in.
City engineer Fred Hawkins said the power line that had been installed just inches away from the water line presented a danger if a leak developed.
Councilman Robert Bohannon asked who had given the approval to hook up to the city line. The council had only discussed it briefly during the work session and gave no indication of approval.
Mayor Mark Reed, however, said the council had given a tentative approval and that was why the project had moved forward.
Holcomb challenged Reed’s statement and firmly said he remembered no agreement on approval or any commitment.
Hawkins told the council the environmental protection division had approved the lines, though he questioned their decision. He explained: “The plans call for underground storage tanks, but they are small and cannot hold enough water to serve the community if something goes wrong. The plans call for six 31-gallon tanks that are not sufficient. They need a water tower.”
Baum replied: “That would cost a lot of money. It’s cheaper to go with their system. It would also lower land values if they put up a big tower.”
Bohannon said he would not agree to any system that was not built to the city’s code and was not inspected by Hawkins.
Holcomb said he would not approve it under any circumstances.
“We got burned on the original phase,” he said. “I’m not going along with this.”
The council voted to table the matter and discuss it further at the May work session. The developers were to be contacted and told to stop work.
In other business, the council:
•approved economic incentive grant draws of $48,993 and $6,400 for the sewer system at Anderson Village.
•approved a community development block grant draw down of $9,054 for the inner city sewer system.
•tabled a discussion on the new road to the water intake plant.


Qualifying ends Friday
With only two days of qualifying, the chief magistrate post in Banks County had the most candidates to throw their hats into the ring.
Those who have qualified for the magistrate post as of Tuesday afternoon were: Danny Lord, Luke Parson, Winford Popphan, Frankie Gardiner and Ivan Mote. The race is non-partisan and Henry David Banks is the incumbent.
Qualifying opened at 9 a.m. Monday and will end at noon on Friday.
Others to qualify as of Tuesday were:
•Sheriff — Allen Venable, Republican.
•Board of Commission, District 1 – Gene Hart, Republican.
•Board of Education, District 1 — Neal Brown, Democrat.
•Board of Education, District 2 — Ron Gardiner, Democrat.
•Board of Education, District 4 — John Williams, Republican.
•Clerk of Superior Court — Tim Harper, Democrat.
•Coroner — John D. Reinke, Democrat.
•Tax Commissioner — Margaret Ausburn, Democrat.
•Probate Judge — Betty Thomas, non-partisan.
•House of Representatives, District 28 — Jeanette Jamieson, Democrat.
•Senate District 50 — Chan Caudell and Nancy Schaefer, both Republicans.
The election schedule for the year is as follows: July 20, primary election; Aug. 10, primary run-off; Nov. 2, general election; and Nov. 23, general run-off.