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JUNE 2, 2004


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OPINIONS
Jackson County opinion page


SPORTS
Jefferson’s Senter takes first in Pro Late Models
Turner takes checkered flag in Super Late Models
Dawsonville’s Ricky Turner saved his best for last as he scrambled past Wayne Willard for second, then chased down and passed leader Jason Hogan during the closing stages of the Southern All Star Super Late Model 150-lap event Saturday night at Lanier National Speedway in Braselton.

JCCHS hoops camps set to begin June 7
Jackson County Comprehensive High School plans to host basketball camps beginning in June. Boys’ camps will begin June 7 and run through June 10. Girls’ camps are scheduled to run from June 21 through June 25.

Spring football brought 28 new recruits
Spring football practice brought 70 hopefuls to the field May 4 through 14.
Banks County’s head football coach Greg Moore said the group worked on fundamentals. Official practice begins July 19.


News from
BANKS COUNTY
Memorial Day service held in Homer
Banks County honors fallen soldiers
In an honored tradition, veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam and their families gathered to memorialize those who did not come marching home. The annual Memorial Day service was held on a rainy Monday morning in Homer.

Tax rates going up for county, schools
BOE plans 12% hike in millage rate for schools
The Banks County Board of Education is planning a 12 percent hike in the county school millage rate this year. In a called meeting last Thursday, the BOE set a tentative rate of 13.75 mills, up 1.5 mills from the year before. Officials said that equates to about $60 per $100,000 in property value.


News from
MADISON
COUNTY
Hwy. 29 widening to be discussed Mon.
A proposed Hwy. 29 widening project will be among the road improvements discussed at a public hearing Monday night.
That hearing is set for 7 p.m., Monday, June 7, in the public meeting room of the county government complex.

Tax assessment notices to be sent out
Tax Board votes to mail new assessment notices for 13,000 taxable properties
The Madison County Tax Assessment Board voted to mail new assessment notices for approximately 13,000 taxable properties on June 9.
Mailing of the statements is contingent on the county administration releasing funds for postage for the notices.

Our Time and Place:
A History of
Jackson County, Ga

A complete history of Jackson County, Georgia from 1796 to the present. Written in narrative style for easy reading. Includes material not found in other books about Jackson County.

Order this book online

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CLASS OF 2004 MARCHES INTO STADIUM

The 2004 class of Jackson County Comprehensive High School marches into Panther Stadium for Friday night’s graduation service. More than 260 students graduated. For the story and additional photos, see this weeks Jackson Herald.


IDA rips BOC on Toyota road project
Business leaders want to know why key road isn’t built
Saying that the county’s “integrity” is on the line, members of the Jackson County Industrial Development Authority said Friday that they want a meeting with the Jackson County Board of Commissioners to find out why a key road for the $60 million Toyota/ MACI industrial project has not yet been started.
IDA chairman Scott Martin said this week that the IDA has invited members of the BOC to a meeting Friday, June 11, at 10 a.m. in the Grand Jury room to ask why no work has begun on the road, which was supposed to have been completed by June 1.
At Friday’s IDA meeting, several members voiced concern about the lack of progress by the county in the road project.
“I am concerned about whether or not the county and therefore, the IDA, is living up to the terms of the (Toyota) agreement,” said IDA member Jim Shaw about the lack of road work. “...Our integrity is on the line.”
At issue is the building of Concord Road, a planned industrial development road near I-85 off Hwy. 129 next to the Quick Trip service station. The road is a key part of the 2002 agreement between the BOC and Toyota to lure a subsidiary firm, MACI, to Jackson County. The Toyota subsidiary makes automotive air compressors. Although the BOC agreed to have the road built by June 2004, no work has yet begun at the site.
Since January of this year, Toyota officials have reportedly been expressing concern about the lack of progress on Concord Road.
At a May 24 meeting, Toyota officials were said to be outraged to learn that no work had yet begun on the road and that work on another road project had just been started.
County manager Al Crace, who represented the BOC at the meeting, reportedly couldn’t give company officials a schedule for work on Concord Road, or explain to their firm’s satisfaction why the project hadn’t yet begun.
FRIDAY IDA MEETING
At Friday’s IDA meeting, chairman Martin said that the IDA had done all that it is responsible for, including securing grants and financing, in a timely manner. He added that the county water and sewerage authority is on schedule to deliver the services it promised.
The Concord Road work is apparently the only part of the deal that is not on schedule. Martin said it was a “point of disappointment” at the May 24 meeting with officials from the firm.
“What was even more disappointing is that we did not have concrete plans as to when they are going to be done,” Martin said.
The IDA members said they don’t know when the county made the decision to not work on the road or not live up to the June deadline.
“The plan is not worth anything if we don’t get it done,” Martin said. “...In the Japanese culture, honor is everything and they expect you to live up to what you say you are going to do.”
Said Shaw: “I thought honor was important in our culture too... Our honor is at stake at the moment, not just with the prospect, but with the state of Georgia, with industry and trade and with economic developers...”
FLETCHER
DEFENDS DELAY
BOC chairman Harold Fletcher admitted this week that the county had on purpose delayed working on Concord Road, but said that was because the Toyota/MACI project was itself delayed. Fletcher said the county decided to work on other road projects in the meantime.
“So, consequently, that (Toyota delay) gave us an opportunity to postpone or to change our construction date because this is a very expensive road,” said Fletcher.
Fletcher also said that the BOC had been working with Toyota on the road building schedule.
“We are coordinating this with Toyota’s schedule and working it around their schedule,” he said. “Our understanding initially was that they were going to start (construction) last year.”
The chairman said that despite the delay, the county was committed to building Concord Road.
“Our commitment from the very beginning has been that we would have those roads ready when Toyota was ready,” he said. “We are sticking by that. We have had the opportunity to advance some of our other projects for the needs of our citizens. We have done so.”

CRACE BLAMES PAPERWORK
But if a delay in the building of Concord Road was a planned action, it is not on the BOC record and it was not communicated to either the IDA or to Toyota officials.
Indeed, county manager Crace had reportedly assured Toyota officials that the project was on schedule. In April, he told Toyota officials that the project was going to bid, although he wouldn’t give officials a specific completion date. And in the monthly meetings with local, state and Toyota officials, Crace made no mention of changing the June deadline or of doing other road projects first, said officials familiar with the discussions.
Crace said this week that the county had not yet begun road work because all the paperwork hadn’t been completed.
“As for Concord Road, we had to get the draft rights-of-way and draft set of plans,” said Crace. “We used a different engineer to finalize those plans to the new DOT standards. They have basically finished that work. They are finishing that up so we can bid it.... We’ve kept pushing on it.”

BLASTS EDITOR
While there may not be a clear answer as to exactly why the road work has been delayed, Fletcher made it clear that he was tired of those who questioned his commitment to the road project.
In several conversations, one of which came to light in a letter to the state ethics commission on another matter involving the chairman, Fletcher reportedly derided Concord Road as a “Waddell Road,” a reference to his political rival, Jerry Waddell, who was BOC chairman before Fletcher took office. Fletcher has reportedly told several people that the Concord Road would never be built because it was associated with plans done by Waddell.
Herald editor Mike Buffington has written several editorials about the lack of work on Concord Road and quoted sources who claim Fletcher had, in private discussions, been dismissive of the Concord Road project.
Fletcher said this week that Buffington is a “liar.”
“Anyone who says that I have said that Concord Road would not be done is an absolute liar,” said an angry Fletcher to a Herald reporter. “You can quote me on that. You can tell (Buffington) that I’m talking about him. If he ever decides that he’s got b---- enough to meet me in public and discuss this, I’ll be glad to do it.”


Bear Creek under drought alert
Just when county water sales were sufficient to cover operational charges, Jackson County faces a mandatory cutback in water consumption.
The Upper Oconee Basin Water Authority voted last Wednesday to enter “Level 1” of its drought contingency plan effective June 1. That action is based on the state-approved plan and requires member counties to reduce consumption of water from the Bear Creek Reservoir by 2.5 percent over the two preceding months.
Locally, that means the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority must reduce consumption, or pay a 10 percent surcharge on its next water bill.
The basin authority’s contingency plan has four levels, each determined by a series of indicators including the water level in the reservoir, the flow in the Middle Oconee River and the Palmer Hydrologic Drought Index, along with rainfall forecasts and the Standard Precipitation Index.
Although the reservoir was full as of the meeting date, stream flow levels and other indicators over two consecutive months forced the authority to activate the plan.
Generally, Northeast Georgia has a rainfall deficit of five inches so far this year.
The drought contingency plan was approved earlier this year as a result of dissatisfaction with the method for managing the previous drought in 2002 – the first year of the reservoir’s operation.
Bear Creek serves Jackson, Athens-Clarke, Barrow and Oconee counties. While Jackson County is entitled to take 25 percent of the 51 million gallons per day (mgd) the reservoir can produce during normal times, its average daily consumption has been less than 2 mgd.
The reservoir has been the county water and sewerage authority’s primary source of water since it came on-line in 2002, but the authority also has a purchase contract from Commerce – which means it can continue to sell all of the water its customers want by purchasing the excess from Commerce.
Water sales are crucial to the authority’s financial solvency. Officials were looking forward to increased sales in the summer to help generate the revenue needed to, among other things, make the $149,000 monthly payments on the Bear Creek debt.

BOC to pay Waddell to leave?
Serious negotiations are said to be under way between county water authority manager Jerry Waddell and the Jackson County Board of Commissioners on a deal to pay Waddell to leave his position before the end of this month.
BOC chairman Harold Fletcher reportedly made an offer to Waddell through a third party to pay Waddell part of his salary through February of 2006 if he would immediately resign from his position. The total cost of the buyout is said to be between $80,000 and $100,000, but it wasn’t clear if those funds would come from the water authority or from the BOC.
Waddell has been a frequent target of BOC members, who have tried numerous times to have him sacked. Later this month, two members of the authority’s board come up for appointment and many believe that in replacing those members, the BOC will control enough votes on the authority to fire Waddell.
Several water authority members, speaking off-the-record, said this week that they support paying Waddell a settlement, if terms can be agreed to. They said it would be better for Waddell to receive some payment now rather than wait and face being fired by an authority dominated by the BOC.
Some close to the discussion believe Fletcher decided to make the offer in an effort to clean up the long-standing controversy before the July 20 elections. One water authority member said Fletcher’s offer to pay Waddell to depart was “a shock” to the authority, given the record of heated exchanges and allegations made by some BOC members about Waddell and the authority.


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Plan B:
Move Into New CMS Is Pushed Back To Mid-June
For months, the plan has been to move into the academic wing of the new Commerce Middle School during the week of post-planning.
“You’ve always got to have a Plan B,” Superintendent Larry White observed.
That move has been delayed for a couple of weeks because the building, plagued by weather delays and the insolvency of the plumbing contractor, is months behind schedule.
“They’re making some progress, but they’re not ready for us to move in yet,” White said. “The contract calls for them to wax the floors first. We’re going to let them get it ready for us.”
The immediate focus is on the “academic” wing, which comprises 90 percent of the instructional space. Most of the floor tiling has been done, along with two of the three corridors, and the installation of the ceiling tiles is under way.
“We’ll be ready to move in in a couple of weeks,” White predicted. “The rest of the building – it’s going to be in July.”
The rest of the building includes the offices, gym, cafeteria, media center, band and chorus rooms and art labs.
The 2004-05 school year starts Aug. 2 for teachers and Aug. 6 for students. White expects the rest of the building to be ready for occupancy in the second or third week of July.
“We’ll make it, but it’s going to go down to the wire,” he said.
Fortunately, the board of education bought its furniture and equipment in a turnkey operation from Cooperative Purchasing, which means the school staff will not have to install or put together the computers, tables, chairs and other items it takes to furnish a school.
White has hired a crew to move the books and teaching materials from the current middle school to the new one.
“It’s coming together and it is going to be a pretty school,” he said.
Meanwhile, the system was able to remove four mobile classroom units from Commerce Elementary School. Since the school is being split into two campuses next year, the trailers that cost $185 a month apiece are no longer needed.
A double-wide unit used for a Pre-K class and owned by the school system remains in the front parking lot to be used as a meeting room – until it is needed again as a classroom. Likewise, a mobile classroom behind the middle school will remain in place.


GBI begins Britt probe
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has reportedly begun its investigation into Jackson County commissioner Stacey Britt and the alleged theft of county water at Britt’s Ethridge Road farm.
The probe comes at the request of the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority, which in April discovered an illegal water meter on a county line that had not yet been approved for use. The meter reportedly fed water into a barn on Britt’s property.
Last month, the authority sent a $4,300 bill to Britt for the stolen water and a penalty for tampering with a county water line. Britt’s lawyer has since questioned that amount in a request to the authority for additional details.
After discovering the illegal meter, the authority requested that district attorney Tim Madison ask the GBI to investigate to see if criminal penalties would apply in the matter.
This week, a spokesman for the GBI would only say that the investigation into Britt is “active and ongoing.”
When completed, the GBI will reportedly turn its findings over to Madison.