|News from Banks County...||
JUNE 9, 2004
Waddell paid $96,000 to leave
Explosive growth expected for Comer
BOC loses methadone clinic lawsuit on zoning
To appeal ruling
The Banks County Board of Commissioners lost the lawsuit Sylvanus Memorial Treatment Center filed against it for the zoning decision that denied the companys request to locate a methadone treatment center in the countys industrial park.
The county plans to appeal the ruling. The BOC met in closed session 45 minutes last week and agreed to proceed with the appeal.
Sylvanus sought a conditional use permit in order to locate the Robert W. Dail Memorial Treatment Center on Industrial Boulevard to provide treatment for an estimated 300 people addicted to opiate-type narcotics. The clinic in the county is deemed necessary for the treatment of John Doe, a Banks County resident, according to the lawsuit.
The United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Gainesville Division, ruled in favor of Sylvanus, granting a permanant injunction, commanding the county to issue the necessary permits, the conditional use permit and the business license.
Sylvanus Memorial Treatment Centers Inc. and John Doe, filed the complaint on February 12, 2004, taking action under the Americans with Diabilities Act (ADA) Title II and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Potential clients of Sylvanus are drug addicts, who are considered persons with a disability under the ADA.
The parties stipulated at a hearing held April 16, that addiction to opiate-type drugs is an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activites. Sylvanus, as a treatment center, says they require potential clients to provide evidence of at least one year of narcotics addiction before they are admitted to the program.
The court finds that Banks Countys application of its zoning laws in this case to be unconstitutional and in violation of the ADA and Rehabilitation Act, the court ruled. Therefore, the court hereby enjoins and restrains the defendants, their agents, employees, attorneys and those persons in active concert or participation with them who have notice or knowledge of this order, from applying or enforcing the Banks County zoning regulations or other rules in such manner as to preclude or prevent the plaintiff from operating a methadone treatment center at 232 Industrial Park Drive in Banks County, Georgia.
The court granted Does motion to proceed anonymously. The plaintiffs argue that because there are only 15,000 people in Banks County and because of the stigma attached to being a recovering drug addict, Doe should be allowed to proceed anonymously. The court said: while those seeking treatment for drug addiction may not be a stigma in some societies, it certainly is in others and it appears that Banks County is one of those communities in which it is a stigma, before granting the motion to proceed anonymously.
The defendants allege that their actions were taken for the public health, safety, morality and welfare of the countys citizens.
Robin Rathbun, secretary of the corporation seeking to open the clinic, testified at the April 16 hearing. She said that she has personally seen how methadone maintance treatment (MMT) can make a difference in helping a recovering addict.
MMT is rigorous, and since patients cannot usually drive, traveling to and from a clinic is one of the most difficult aspects of gettig treatment, Rathbun testified.
She said Doe currently travels more than 50 miles to a treatment center in Athens. She said people are being harmed by not recieving treatment in Banks County, according to the court transcript.
The founders of Sylvanus looked at where there was the greatest need for a treatment center and what would be the most convienct location for potential patients, accoding to Rathbuns testimony.
To open the clinic, the plantiffs filed the necessary applications with the state and federal agencies that regulate methadone treatment clinincs, leased a building in Banks County, applied for a business license with the county, made a few changes to the buildings interior so that the physical structure could accomodate the patients need for privacy, and arranged for the necessary staff, according to Rathbuns testimony.
Dr. Gene Barum, a doctor at Alliance Recovery Center, Decatur, said there are 15 methadone treatment centers in metro Atlanta, two clinics in Athens, one in Ringgold and one in Cartersville. He said if an addict is deprived for as little time as a few hours, withdrawal symptoms include gastrointestinal problems, vomiting, tremors, dialated pupils, runny eyes, profuse sweating, rapid heartbeat and elevated blood pressure. He also said if addicts dont recieve treatment, they often have problens with the law; overdose on narcotics; get into dangerous situations beccuase of drugs; spend all of their money on drugs; have difficulty working due to fear of withdrawal; and have difficulty caring for themselves and children, providing a strong link between addiction and child neglect or abuse.
Methadone maintance becomes virtually a life-long treatment, according to his testimony.
SOUGHT BUSINESS LICENSE
On September 3, 2003, the plantiffs attempted to obtain a business license from Banks County. Keith Covington, county marshal, reviews business licenses for Banks County. He told the plantiffs they had to first obtain a conditional use permit, then they needed a certificate of occupancy from the building department, and then they could get the license.
On September 23, the plantiffs applied for a conditional use permit.
Covington recommended approval to the commissioners because the use was in conformity with the countys land use plan as a C-2 conditional use.
Covington said Tony Vento, couty building inspector, addressed parking considerations when he issues a certificate of occupancy.
At the November 4, 2003 meeting of the zoning and planning commission, the commission recommended approval after asking a few questions about the program.
The board of commissioners met on November 11, 2003. One of the topics discussed at the meeting was the methadone treatment center. Comments were made in opposition to the center that specifically addressed the nature of the methadone treatment. At the hearing, the plantiffs attorney advised the board that the Americcans with Disabilities Act (ADA) covered the plantiffs and those they would be treating. The topic was tabled for further investigation, no vote was taken.
The commissioners met again on December 9, 2003. They denied the conditional use permit. Brady cited traffic and parking concerns as reasons for denying the permit during a deposition on March 31, 2004. Brady testified that there is currently minimal traffic on the road, although the county intends to take action which will increase the traffic soon. The county is constructing an EMS station and fire department facility (on Industrial Drive), it will eventually put in a traffic signal.
The plantiffs alleged that the denial was based on unfounded fears and stereotypes of persons with disablilities. The defendants argued that if the other potential clients are persons with disabilites, they had no actual or constructive knowledge of their disabilites before they denied the permit.
Commissioner Rickey Cain said in a depostion on March 31, that he recieves lots of calls from voters about various issues and that he probably recieved calls over the methadone treatment clinic.
The plantiffs argue that discrimination was a motivating or significant factor in denying the conditional use permit or even requiring a permit to be obtained before getting a business license. Banks County issued business licenses to three medically-related businesses without requiring them to obtain a conditonal use permit, according to reports. Covington said that he should have but did not require them to obtian a permit. He said that he should but did not require a permit for both Elite Physical Therapy and CoCo Health Spa.
According to the court transcript, this was the only conditional use permit denied by the board of commissioners in the past five years. The plantiffs allege that this limits disabled persons access to programs and services in Banks County in addition to limiting the availabilty of treatment for narcotics addictions.
Because the county classified the center as a medical facility, the plantiffs would still be required to apply for a condional use permit to operate the MMT center. In Banks County, both C-1 and C-2 zoning districts require medical or health care facilites to obtain a CUP.
Tax bills finally near for 2003?
Final public hearing on tax rate set for Thurs.
After months of delays and waiting, Banks County property owners may soon get a tax bill for 2003.
The third and final public hearing on Banks Countys proposed 2003 tax rate will be held Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in the conference room at the courthouse. After that, the county may be able to move forward in billing for 2003 taxes.
Late last year, Banks County property owners were offered the option to voluntarily pay their taxes before December 31, according to tax commissioner Margaret Ausburn. The county has collected just $472,000 in 2003 taxes. Ausburn said those who paid voluntarily will be billed for the difference, or refunded what is owed.
The Banks County Board of Commissioners is proposing a net four percent increase in county taxes for 2003, a .183 mill increase. The increase equates to an $18 increase for $100,000 in assessed value. The county stands to collect $2.7 million in property taxes.
While only sheriff Charles Chapman attended last Thursday mornings hearing, several people attended the evening hearing. Bobby Parker, Della Wiles, Jim Wiles, Allen Venable and Dianne Brady were present.
We dont like having increases, but our services are requiring this increase, said Kenneth Brady, BOC chairman.
County resident Bobby Parker said, Im satisfied, thats kind of a small increase.
Brady said the millage rate in Banks County is the 11th lowest out of Georgias 159 counties, as of 2003.
But not everyone was happy with the increase.
We have 95 acres and four poultry houses, so this is a big increase for us, J.Wiles said.
Brady said the commissioners tried to keep the rate as low as possible.
We are trying to hold it down as much as possible, be assured of that, he said. We dont want to pay them and we know you dont, but we need the money to offer the services. If you want less services we can drop it down, if you want more, its gonna cost you.
J.Wiles questioned the board on the delay of the tax bills, fearing that Banks County citizens will have two tax bills due in one year. Brady said personnel issues caused the tax assessors to fall behind.
Theyve worked hard, Brady said about the tax assessors. They hired additional staff and finally got us a digest. They worked a lot of overtime and a lot of Saturdays.
Brady said he didnt think the county would be in the same position next year.
The Department of Revenue said they were not giving any extensions this year, the 2004 digest must be in by August, Brady said.
Commissioners still discussing county agent option
Maysville council appoints election