Jackson County Opinions...

JULY 7, 2004



Column
By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
July 7, 2004

Fletcher Has A Hell Of A Chance At Re-Election
Imagine my surprise last week when I got the call on my direct line.
“Beardsley, Satan. Grab a pen.”
“Al, I recognize your voice,” I replied.
“Shut up and listen,” said the voice, which now sounded exactly like the chairman of the Jackson County Republican Party. “Write everything down that I tell you.”
“Who is this?” I asked.
“Satan,” the voice repeated, now sounding creepy and thundering over the phone, which suddenly turned into a snake and then back to a phone before I could cry out or drop it. “I’m calling to endorse Harold Fletcher for re-election.”
He’d gotten my attention. “So, why call me?”
Satan: Buffington’s line was busy.
Me: Just a question, but didn’t Fletcher get a church endorsement last week? How can both sides endorse the same guy?
Satan: You thought that was God? When was the last time you saw anything godly in politics? That’s my turf and Fletcher is one of mine; you can take that to the bank. C’mon, land speculation and politics – almost as good as a lawyer/journalist. And remember, Hell is full of people who passed themselves off as Christians. We practice ethnic, religious and cultural diversity.
Me: So, why do you care about the chairman of the board of commissioners in Jackson County? Don’t you have more important positions?
Satan, with the voice of Dick Cheney: You’ve got to pay attention to the details to succeed in this business. Just call me an extra-special interest group. The man does good work for me.
Me: You mean the courthouse?
Satan, laughing thunderously: Who cares about the courthouse? Fletch is setting the ethics standard for county government. Seventy-four violations isn’t bad for a first term; the man has promise. He’d make a great governor. I need him.
Me: Alleged violations, you mean.
Satan, still laughing, but sounding like Emil Beshara: Journalists are such suckers. Why do you think my guy wants to pay the fine rather than go through the hearing? He’s unethical, not stupid.
Me: I hate to break it to you, but your man’s going down faster than Bill Clinton’s zipper. He’s going to get creamed in Jefferson and “Elect Harold Fletcher” signs are as rare as California condors in Commerce.
Satan: Oh, ye of little faith. Watch and learn.
Me: God uses prophets and preachers to spread His word. Do you always use the press?
Satan: @#%&# no; the press has no credibility. The Fox network is among my holdings, but, frankly, I like the Internet better. I’m all over it. You just happen to be handy. Don’t get the big head.
Me: Who do you like in the District 1 race?
Satan: Don’t bring that up. I’m still mad at Britt for not running again.
Me: And in District 2?
Satan: It doesn’t matter. With Fletcher in office, I’m in control.
Me: Gotta run. Al Gore’s on the other line.
Satan: That loser. OK, but remember, vote for Fletcher. And I’m keeping your seat warm for you.
Me: Oh, hell...
Satan: Precisely.


Editorials
The Commerce News
July 7
, 2004

Joe Griffeth Touched, Affected Many Lives
Commerce – indeed, Northeast Georgia – lost a beloved physician and community leader last week when Dr. Joe L. Griffeth Jr. died after a long illness. Dr. Griffeth was a prominent physician for decades, but he was also much, much more.
Read his obituary in this week’s edition and you see the evidence of a man who was dedicated to his community. His service includes the military, the local school system (as a principal) and 42 years of medical service, much of it in the days when doctors still made house calls.
He provided leadership at the hospital both as chief of staff and as a member and chairman of the hospital authority. He was active in fraternal organizations and as an alum of his college, was team doctor for the Commerce Tigers, was a leader in the First United Methodist Church of Commerce, worked for the Boy Scouts and was known throughout the world through his service to Kiwanis.
And there’s more. The man who served his community so well was best known as a physician. He delivered more than 3,400 babies, but the number of lives he touched as a healer and helper is beyond reckoning. He was renowned for a kindly bedside manner and for his love of his patients, and those characteristics were just as evident in his other pursuits and interests. People just liked Dr. Griffeth at first glance and learned to love him as they got to know him.
His illness may have robbed Dr. Griffeth of his retirement years, but few people live long enough to win the friendships, love and respect that he earned during four decades in Commerce. Rare is the person whose life touches so many other people and who generates so many warm memories as that of Dr. Joe L. Griffeth Jr.


LETTER TO THE EDITOR

Reader Rebuts Editorials
Regarding Commerce Gov’t
Editor:
In recent weeks, it has become very clear that there are several Commerce officials who do not like to have their “authority” questioned. It seems to me that they have forgotten who gives them this “authority” and whose lives they are affecting when using their “authority.” There also seem to be some citizens of this city who have become so accustomed to having these officials make every decision with no input from the citizens that even they take offense when a city official is questioned. Have we all forgotten that this is OUR city and we do have a stake in what is happening?
In the editorial section from June 30, there were two articles ridiculing questions and concerns raised by Councilman Donald Wilson. How many questions did your councilman ask? What is the point of having a city council if their only purpose is to simply approve anything that Clarence Bryant proposes?
In one editorial, the writer (since the article doesn’t identify the writer, I’ll have to refer to them as “the writer”) criticizes Mr. Wilson for questioning repairs to the city pool. In this case, Bryant answered that it will be paid for by money from SPLOST that must be used on recreation. If it were to be paid for by tax revenue from the citizens of Commerce, I feel that the answer would certainly be to close the pool, unless the writer would like to offer $60,000 for repairs. It would be extremely unfair to ask all citizens to pay for a pool that is used by very few. Since it is paid for by SPLOST, it is a moot issue; however, the fact remains that Mr. Wilson was criticized for making a perfectly logical point.
In the second editorial, the writer criticizes Mr. Wilson yet again for voicing his opinion on a subject. I am certainly not condoning the violation of any laws, but the fact is that our police department doesn’t even set a good example in following laws. Twice in less than one week, I was passed by a Commerce Police officer in the middle of town. I will admit that I was travelling around 30-35 m.p.h. in the 25 m.p.h. zone, but the officer in each case was going much faster than I. No lights, no sirens, and apparently no emergency, since in one case the car was simply hurrying to park beside another officer’s car to chat.
What about his other questions? He questioned the need for a city planner. I don’t quite understand how a city of roughly 5,300 citizens (according to the 2000 census) would need a city planner either. Maybe Bryant could address the public about this expense in a better manner than saying “We need some kind of professional staff to make recommendations. I think we’re all shooting in the dark sometimes.” What does that even mean? At what exactly are we “all shooting in the dark”? Mr. Wilson also made a motion to place city decals on city vehicles. Why would this even be an issue? From what I can tell, according to Georgia State Code 36-80-20, they should already have them affixed.
I am not in Councilman Donald Wilson’s ward, but I am very proud that someone has finally started listening to the people who gave him his position. Each of our council members must remember that they were not put in office to simply agree with every action proposed, but they are in office to serve the citizens and to protect the best interest of all of Commerce’s citizens. With our Independence Day celebrations still fresh on our minds, I suggest that you remember these words from our Declaration of Independence. “Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” We are the ones who give these people power over our city affairs and we must make sure that all of our elected officials ask questions and voice their concerns when it is in the best interest of the citizens to do so.
Dusty Slater
71 Ridgeway Road
Commerce

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Column
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
July 7, 2004

2000 tax cut didn’t hurt county
There’s been considerable discussion in the chairman of the board of commissioners race about a one-time, 5-mill tax cut in the year 2000. Candidate Pat Bell, who was on the BOC that year, defends the tax cut as just a way to give back some money to the taxpayers. Current BOC chairman Harold Fletcher’s claims it was an “unethical” tax cut.
I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a candidate say a tax cut was “unethical.” Indeed, I’ve seldom heard any Republican candidate for public office say cutting taxes was a bad idea. Most Republican candidates say they want to cut taxes and trim the size of government.
Maybe taxes aren’t even an issue in the BOC chairman’s race. Maybe people are focused on other issues instead — and there are a number of other issues in that race.
But I’m always interested in how government spends money and especially, how much money they take from you and me to fund their pet projects.
So, for the record, here’s the real story about the 2000 tax cut and the impact it had on county government:
In 2000, Jackson County was in its last year of operation with the “old” county government with a three-member board of commissioners. In the fall of that year, the outgoing BOC (chairman Jerry Waddell and member Pat Bell) decided to cut the tax rate by five mills.
Why? Several possible reasons. For one thing, the year before, 1999, the county had come off a banner year of generating revenue, ending that year with nearly a $3 million “profit.” That was, in part, due to a growing county digest which in that one year increased property tax income to the BOC by a huge 33 percent.
The county already had some $6 million in cash reserves at the beginning of 2000 and with that $3 million “profit,” the county had around $9 million in total cash reserves.
With that cash in hand, Waddell and Bell voted to cut the county’s tax rate 5 mills for the year. That would, in effect, have the county use up some of the excess cash in 2001 to give property owners a one-time break.
At the time, the 2001 budget projected the county would use up some $4.5 million in reserve funds during 2001 out of the $9 million on hand.
But the new five-member incoming board of commissioners, which had been elected that fall, was livid about that tax cut. All during 2001, the new BOC complained about that tax cut, said it hurt the county and that the board had, in chairman Fletcher’s words, “inherited a bad deal.” On a number of occasions, Fletcher grumbled about the Waddell/Bell tax cut.
The new board looked at the old board’s decision as having been political, designed to hurt the new five-member board by forcing it to raise taxes the following year.
Indeed, the atmosphere was tense at the time because Fletcher and some other members of the incoming BOC had for weeks sneered and belittled Waddell and Bell. But it’s impossible to say if part of the motive for the tax cut was political. Maybe it was, or maybe it was just a good idea to give taxpayers a break.
Whatever the motives, the question remains, how did the tax cut affect the county government?
In 2001, the Fletcher administration claimed it had hurt county government and when that BOC set the 2002 budget, members said it was a “bare bones” budget. The Fletcher administration then used the tax cut as an excuse to raise the millage rate by 6.1 mills in 2001.
So did the tax cut hurt the county?
No, it didn’t, as the numbers prove.
While the county thought it would use up $4.5 million in reserves to fund the tax cut, due to continued growth, the county really only used up $2 million in reserves. And in spite of the tax cut, county spending continued to go up in 2001 and the county operated business-as-usual. The tax cut hurt no one.
But here’s the real kicker. Because of the Fletcher administration’s 6-mill tax hike the following year, the county’s cash reserves jumped from a modest $7 million in 2001 to nearly $12 million by the end of 2002.
And as for the “bare bones” budget in 2002, the truth is that the county government exploded in size that year, expanding its spending by 22 percent in that one 12-month period.
So in the end, the one-time, 5-mill tax cut didn’t hurt the county. Moreover, it has been under the Fletcher administration that the size and spending in county government has exploded and that tax rates have gone up.
But maybe you don’t want to know all these financial numbers. Even so, you have to consider the impact of the current political rhetoric about that 2000 tax cut.
Mr. Fletcher claims now that the tax cut was not only a bad idea, but also “unethical.”
To that notion, I can only say that any candidate who argues during an election season that cutting taxes is bad has to be very liberal or very foolish.

Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


Editorials
The Jackson Herald
July 7
, 2004

Equalization board complaints merit probe
The letter this week from the chairman of the Jackson County Board of Equalization raises some disturbing questions. In his letter, chairman Willie Hughey states that his board found some problems in how values were assigned to at least one county tax map. But when the board instructed the county office of assessors to make changes to that map, they were refused. Moreover, Hughey states that the equalization board did not receive support from the board of commissioners on the matter and that the assessors took away a computer that members of the equalization board had previously used to spot inconsistencies in county tax values.
All of this is troubling, not the least of which is the possibility raised by Hughey that some taxpayers may be paying far more than their fair share of property taxes.
There is always some tension between the various groups that oversee property tax values in a county. Government officials want the values to stay high because that generates more money for government without having to raise millage rates.
Members of the county assessors office, and the assessors board itself, often feel overwhelmed by the task of assigning values to property. The value of a piece of property is often subjective, a best guestimate. And then there is the potential for politically powerful officials to manipulate property assessments, in effect doing favors for some while increasing taxes for others.
For all those reasons, we have long said that property taxation is the worst form of taxes ever created. It is often unfair and it is so complex and convoluted that many taxpayers feel helpless to fight back when they believe they’ve been taxed unfairly. No system of taxes should require a college education to fathom.
But when the chairman of the county board of equalization says there is a problem, we listen. That is a board appointed by the grand jury to be an apolitical and impartial group that, in effect, keeps tabs on how public officials value our property for taxation. If that board believes something is amiss, then we should all take notice.
Nothing will happen, of course, until the current election cycle has run its course. But once the political atmosphere clears, we believe a thorough investigation of Mr. Hughey’s complaints should be done. If that requires the next grand jury to push for a probe, then so be it.
Whatever the outcome of an investigation, the allegations made by Mr. Hughey are serious and require a serious response. Sweeping this under a rug would be unfair to all property owners who pay taxes in Jackson County.


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