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JULY 7, 2004


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OPINIONS
Jackson County opinion page


SPORTS
Back-To-Back:
Junior League All-Stars Going Back To State After Claiming Second-Straight District Title
Thanks to a pair of clutch wins, the junior league district title crown won’t be going anywhere but back to Commerce.


News from
BANKS COUNTY
Sheriff pulls alcohol license at Steel Horse
BOC to set a hearing on reported ordinance violation at the Banks Crossing bar
Banks County Sheriff Charles Chapman pulled the alcohol license at The Steel Horse early Saturday morning following an undercover operation at the Banks Crossing bar.

New bill helps Georgia’s poultry growers
After years of political wrangling, Georgia’s poultry farmers now have rights under House Bill 648 that previously were denied.
Georgia Poultry Justice Alliance president Barry Edington spread the news at a recent gathering in Maysville of poultry growers from the Banks/Jackson/Franklin area.


News from
MADISON
COUNTY
On Race and Justice
Murder case put Madison Co. at center of Civil Rights storm
A lone wooden chair sits in the jury section of the old Madison County Superior Courtroom. The back of the seat is split apart from the frame, all buckled and curled forward. The forgotten chair is like the dusty relic of some violent storm of the past.

No Crime
GBI finds computer glitch was source of tampering concerns
See this weeks Madison County Journal for summary of recommendations from a state revenue committee
A review by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation determined that irregularities in the county property tax records were not the result of tampering, but were caused by a computer glitch.

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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The Jackson Herald
Jefferson, Georgia
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PRESENTS PLAQUE FOR SERVICE

Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority chairman Warren Walker (L) presented a plaque to manager Jerry Waddell at last week’s meeting in appreciation for his service.

Fletcher to settle ethics complaint
Jackson County Board of Commission chairman Harold Fletcher said Tuesday that he will settle the ethics complaint filed against him.
The ethics commission alleges that Fletcher violated 74 counts of the Ethics in Government Act between 2000 and 2004 for failing to disclose his interest in several businesses and properties. The settlement includes a $7,400 fine.
"I recognize that I did fail to do that," Fletcher said. "They allowed me to acknowledge that it was not intentional."
According to the state ethics commission, Fletcher supposedly didn't report his fiduciary relationship with an entity on 29 occasions, failed to report a direct interest in an entity on 24 occasions and failed to report property of a net value of more than $20,000 on 21 occasions.
Fletcher said he wasn't aware that he must disclose holdings by his self-directed IRA account.
Phillip Davis, Pendergrass, filed the complaint against Fletcher.


No help with tax values?
Board of Equalization chairman says BOC wouldn't help with fair property tax values.The chairman of the Jackson County Board of Equalization says that the county board of commissioners refused to support efforts in 2001 to make sure property tax values are fair in the county.
Equalization chairman Willie Hughey said in a letter to the editor this week that the board of commissioners refused a 2001 request for help in fixing problems with one Jefferson area tax map. In addition, Hughey said the county has taken away a computer used by the equalization board that had helped spot inconsistencies in local property assessments.
The board of equalization is appointed by the grand jury and is an appeals board for citizens who believe their assessed property values are incorrect. Property values for tax purposes are set by the board of assessors, which is appointed by the BOC. The board of assessors oversees the assessors' department within county government.
If a taxpayer believes a property value is unfair, he can appeal to the board of assessors. If the property owner isn't satisfied with the results of that meeting, he can appeal to the board of equalization. Beyond that, citizens can file a civil lawsuit against the county in Superior Court.
The flap between the BOC and board of equalization stems from a 2001 effort to correct "Map 69," which covers the south Jefferson area of Jackson County. An example given by Hughey involves Norcross Tag Company, which is located within that map area and in 2001, appealed its assessed value.
According to Hughey, the board of equalization discovered that the firm had been given a "neighborhood influence factor" of "2." That number is a value designed as a multiple for tax valuations. In the case of Norcross Tag, the firm had purchased land in the county-owned industrial park for $10,000 per acre, but because assessors had given it a neighborhood influence factor of "2," the company was having to pay taxes based on a value of $20,000 per acre.
Hughey said the board of equalization found other problems of a similar nature on "map 69." He said that the issue was discussed with BOC chairman Harold Fletcher and commissioner Stacey Britt, but the two "did nothing to assist the taxpayers."
Following that, on July 24, 2001, the board of equalization ordered that all property on "map 69" be adjusted to show no property be given a neighborhood influence factor above 1.0. The letter to the assessors was signed by Hughey, Tom Crow, Jerry Fletcher and Pat Hodsdon, all members of the board of equalization.
Under state law, the board of equalization can order the board of tax assessors to take action to correct any problems with the uniformity of property tax values.
Despite that, on August 28, 2001, an unsigned letter was sent to the board of equalization by the tax assessors refusing to change the neighborhood influence factors.
"The Board of Assessors has reviewed the request to remove the neighborhood influence from map 69 and has voted not to remove the neighborhood influence," said the one-sentence response to the board of equalization.
Hughey said that after action, the board of equalization talked with the state department of revenue about how to enforce its order and was told that the board could sue the assessors in court.
But Hughey said the board of equalization has no independent funds to use in court to enforce its order. Moreover, Hughey said that a computer being used by the board of assessors to link with county data during equalization hearings was taken away by the board of assessors.
"The computer had made it easier for us to spot problems," he said.
Because of having no funds and of a lack of support by the board of commissioners, no lawsuit was ever filed in the matter.
It was about this same time that commissioner Emil Beshara complained at a public meeting about the board of equalization.
"The board is appointed by the grand jury and they answer to nobody," complained Beshara.
RETALIATION?
Hughey said that he believes some of these tensions between the board of equalization and the BOC were behind a move in 2002 by the assessors to take away Tom Crow's conservation use status. Crow is a member of the board of equalization and is now a candidate running for the board of commissioners.
In 2002, the board of assessors denied a request by Crow to renew his conservation use status for his timber and fish farm. That status lowers the tax value of property that is involved in agriculture.
Crow appealed that action to the board of equalization, stepping aside as a sitting member for that hearing. The equalization board agreed with Crow and overturned the assessors' decision.
With apparent BOC support, the assessors then filed suit against Crow, a move that is highly unusual for the government. The assessors also filed suit against several other conservation use property owners whom Crow had vocally supported.
One of those property owners was Ethel Bay of Tucker whose family owns property in Jackson County. In a June letter to The Herald, Mrs. Bay said she wasn't treated fairly by the county.
"I too feel that I have been 'treated unfairly by an abusive county administration,'" she wrote following an editorial page column about Crow's lawsuit. "It now appears to Mr. Crow that we may be unfairly targeted because of his assistance."
Mrs. Bay said she had followed all the rules for conservation use. Both her lawsuit and the one against Crow are pending in the Jackson County Superior Court.


JCWSA audit shows increased revenue
The Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority spent 35 minutes discussing its 2003 audit last Wednesday morning without the year-end numbers ever coming up.
Instead, the authority devoted its time to a pair of auditor's exceptions relating to bond repayments and the use of sales tax proceeds to make payments on the Bear Creek Reservoir debt.
The meat of the audit showed that the authority increased its net assets by $2.6 million, had operating revenues of about $900,000 more than in 2002 and had substantially improved its operating cash flow.
But what arrested the authority's attention in a called meeting to approve the audit for submission to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs were a pair of "mistakes" in which the authority inexplicably quit making monthly deposits into a pair of bond sinking funds, opting for quarterly payments; and the payment of seven sinking fund payments for one of the same bond funds from the wrong bank account.
The result of the first was that bond payments totaling $505,000 that should have been made in September, October, November and December of 2003 were not made until Feb. 24, 2004.
"We issued it as a finding, so I would say it does (raise concern)," said Duane B. Schlereth, a CPA with Bates Carter & Co. who prepared the audit. "But because the bond payments were actually made, it is much less of a concern."
Schlereth was not at the meeting; his comments came in an interview the following day.
The bond was set up to make semi-annual payments to the bond holders, but the authority was required to make monthly payments into a sinking fund held by the Bank of New York.
"The money was to be paid into a sinking fund before the (semiannual) payment was due. In the bondholders' view, they get paid on time; also, you like the money being set aside so there are no surprises," said Schlereth.
From an auditing standpoint, the delay had no affect on the bottom line, Schlereth said, merely moving money from one line item in the statement of cash flows to another.
Bookkeeper Lisa Ledford indicated to the authority that the move from monthly to quarterly payments was made as part of an attempt to better understand the status of SPLOST revenues.
The second was more of a technical failure to leave the paper trail required by the bond documents.
The 2000B bonds were issued in anticipation of $3 million in SPLOST revenue so the authority could build water lines more quickly. That revenue went into a construction account. Meanwhile, a portion of the monthly SPLOST revenue was to go into the sinking fund to repay the bonds and it is from that fund that bond checks should have been written.
Typically, the authority would write a check from its construction account to the sinking fund and then make the bond payment with a check from that fund.
"We're not really concerned about that," said Schlereth. "What I am trying to say is let's make the one extra step. When all is said and done, the money was disbursed properly and used properly."
Ledford said she discovered that the payments were made from the wrong account and alerted the auditor to the mistake.
The second exception also noted that the authority made three payments of $149,086 on the Bear Creek debt from the 2000B construction account.
Member Wanda David was surprised by that revelation. When former manager Jerry Waddell noted that the authority voted to use funds left over from an earlier round of SPLOST to make the payments, she replied: "We voted for that?"
"We sure did," Waddell answered. "We got a legal opinion from our attorney and from the county attorney."
"Did anybody realize that this was not following out bonds when we did this?" asked David, who was not on the authority when that decision was made.
"The Bank of New York is the custodian, and if we had been in default, they would have notified us," Waddell answered. "They didn't notify us."
The authority voted 3-1 to accept the audit. Walker and members Elton Collins and Dean Stringer voted in favor of the motion, while David voted against it.


Week-long advance voting period available
Secretary of State Cathy Cox reminds Georgians that advance voting begins next Monday, July 12, and will continue until close of business next Friday, July 16.
Advance voting permits any eligible Georgian to cast his vote early, in person, at his county registration office, simply as a matter of convenience and without being required to provide the traditional legal reasons necessary for absentee voting.
The law now permits voters to simply visit their county voter registration office during business hours the week before the election, complete an application, and show one of the required forms of ID to vote their ballot.
"With busy family and work schedules and long commutes, thousands of Georgians find it difficult to make it to the polls between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on Election Day. Yet many don't meet the traditional requirements of absentee voting," said Secretary Cox, who serves as Georgia's chief elections official. "Advance voting gives citizens the opportunity to cast a ballot when it is most convenient for their schedules that week. It is a great way to reverse our long-term trend of declining voter participation and help reduce long lines at the polls."
The General Primary is scheduled for July 20 to select Democratic and Republican candidates for the November General Election and to elect Nonpartisan judicial officials. Since Georgia does not register voters by party, the Primary is "open" and voters may request a Republican, Democratic or Nonpartisan ballot.
Absentee voting, including receiving and returning a ballot by mail, is still an option for Georgians who meet certain statutory requirements. Absentee voting is restricted to citizens who will be absent from their precinct all day on Election Day, or are 75 years of age or older, disabled or meet other specific requirements.


Michael A. Carroll
For Jackson County
Superior Court 2004

VOTE JULY 20
in the
Republican Primary!

CarrollforClerk@alltel.net


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City Schools Again Seek
Tax Authority
City’s Cash Flow Problems Bring Issue From 2003 Back On To The Table Again
An old issue is due to resurface before the Commerce City Council Monday night.
The Commerce Board of Education wants to talk about how the city funds the school system – and the possibility of the city amending its charter to give taxing authority to the school system.
The city council meets at 6:30 p.m. at the Commerce Civic Center. Its work session, normally scheduled for the Monday prior to the regular meeting, was delayed until Tuesday night – too late for press coverage.
The two groups discussed that possibility last year and concluded that there was no benefit to the school system of allowing it to levy and collect its own taxes.
But things have changed.
The catalyst for the recent inquiry is the city’s announcement that it can no longer afford to advance-fund the school system while it waits for property taxes to begin flowing in early winter.
From the board of education’s viewpoint, the city can’t just cut off the spigot cold turkey since the city charter requires the city to fund the school system, and because the school system cannot borrow against its future tax income via a tax anticipation note as it is not a legal taxing authority.
“We’re asking them to continue to advance-fund us this year and if this (inability to advance-fund) is going to be standard operating procedure, to support changing the city charter to grant us taxing authority,” said Superintendent of Schools Larry White.
The cost of advance-funding the school system this year would amount to about $160,000 per month through at least November. Property tax revenues generally start accumulating in December.
When the issue arose last year, city officials pointed out that through the advance-funding, the school system had a reliable and steady flow of cash, was guaranteed 100 percent of the money it needed and had no costs associated with billing or collecting taxes.
At the time, it was believed that Jackson County would likely charge the city school system a six-percent fee to collect taxes. Recently, however, the county agreed to bill and collect taxes for the city at a charge of only $1.50 per tax bill. If that rate holds for the school system, the cost of levying, billing and collecting tax bills on its own becomes negligible.
A city charter change could not be effected until the 2005 session of the Georgia General Assembly.
SECURITY ITEM
The council will go behind closed doors Monday night to discuss security measures at its reservoir and water treatment plant.
City Manager Clarence Bryant said the city is “required to submit written documentation” to the state on ways it plans to prevent terrorist attacks on the facilities.
The discussion will be closed to the public under a recently-enacted amendment to the Georgia Open Meetings Act covering security measures. The amendment was enacted last year by the Georgia General Assembly in reaction to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

In other business, the council will vote on a resolution selling electrical generating capacity to Elberton for two years, Bryant said.
“We buy and sell electricity daily. For the next two years, we will have a little excess. We just bought some new capacity in that new MEAG (Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia) gas-fired generator,” he explained.