News from Jackson County...

JULY 14, 2004

Jackson County

Jackson County
Jackson County

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Local high school football teams ready for preseason training camps
First week of preseason practice starts Monday; Jackson County, Jefferson each headed to training camp
W ith the first day of summer practice in helmets set for Monday, Georgia High School Association football teams are preparing for those grueling preseason workouts that help to define a team.

Two Tiger Sharks Place At Pentathlon Sat.
Two Tiger Sharks proved proficient in a number of events this weekend with both Josh Totherow and Jeremy Dermer finishing in the top 10 overall in their age groups in this past Saturday’s Pentathlon in Gaineville

News from
Baldwin developers seek water, sewer service
Wishing for water
Developers of a proposed 40-home subdivision on Alto-Mud Creek Road are hoping that the City of Baldwin will be able to provide water and sewer service to the first phase of a 72-acre housing project.
Greg Kelly, Carol Lovell and their project engineer Rick Wallace attended the work session last week to see if the council thought the idea was feasible.

Hearing ahead Thursday on Steel Horse
The Banks County Board of Commissioners has set a hearing for 9 a.m. Thursday at the courthouse on the reported violation at the Steel Horse.

News from
It’s back!
Proposed business center at intersection of Hwy. 98, Hwy. 172 on the table again
A planned business center at the intersection of Hwy. 98 and Hwy. 72, which was shot down by commissioners in a 3-2 vote last October, is back on the table.

Danielsville to contract with county for building inspections
The Danielsville council wants to contract with the Madison County government for building inspection services for city residents.

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
The Jackson Herald
Jefferson, Georgia
Telephone: (706) 367-5233
Fax: (706) 367-8056


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MainStreet Newspapers, Inc.
All rights reserved.
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Derrick Thomas, Jefferson, and Polly Holt, Jefferson, are shown taking advantage of the early voting. They are among those who visited the Jackson County courthouse on Tuesday to cast their ballot in the July 20 primary election. Advance voting is allowed through Friday of this week.

Fletcher, Bell to face-off in Tues. vote
BOC chairman’s race tops local balloting bids
Seven local races up for decision
Two Jackson County political heavyweights will face-off in next Tuesday’s primary election in what has been one of the most heated political campaigns in recent years.
Incumbent county commission chairman Harold Fletcher will face former state representative and former BOC member Pat Bell for the BOC chairman’s seat. Both candidates are running on the Republican ticket and the winner will face Democrat Roy Grubbs in the November General Election.
A total of seven local races will be decided on the Republican ballot next week; three are county-wide and four are in specific voting districts. There are no locally contested Democratic races in Jackson County.
Several other state contests will also be on the ballot next week (see sample ballot in this weeks Jackson Herald)
Polls will open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. next Tuesday. But voters who will be out-of-town or unavailable next Tuesday can vote this week during regular business hours at the county voter registration office in the courthouse. Early voting will be allowed through 5 p.m. Friday.

In addition to those individual contests, City of Jefferson voters will decide the fate of a $5.25 million bond referendum to build phase one of a new recreation facility, to be located on Old Pendergrass Road west of the Jefferson bypass.
Those wishing to vote on that issue will need to vote at the Jefferson Fire Station No. 1 next to the Jefferson City Hall. That means that those also voting on the county ballot will need to walk about 100 yards to the county administrative building, which serves as the Jefferson precinct voting site for county elections.
For more information on the bond issue, see page 17A. of this weeks Jackson Herald.
Results of the county’s balloting will be posted during the evening next Tuesday on The Jackson Herald’s web site at Results will be updated throughout the evening as returns are tabulated by county officials.
Of the seven local races voters face next week, the marquee event will be the BOC chairman’s contest between Bell and Fletcher, one of only three races in which all county citizens get to cast a ballot.
In the weeks leading up to the balloting, Bell has challenged Fletcher’s leadership of the county in the past three-and-one-half years, since he took office in 2001. During that time, a number of controversies have roiled county government, including several attempts by the BOC to take over the independent county water authority, a controversial locating and financing of a new courthouse, the failure by the county to build two roads for a $60 million industry, and a state ethics probe into Fletcher’s state reporting. This week, a hearing on that ethics probe was postponed until next Tuesday, although Fletcher has said he has agreed to pay a $7,400 fine in the case (see full story on page 17A).
For his part, Fletcher has defended how his administration sited and financed the new courthouse, said the industrial roads would be built by the time the industry needed them and claims it was under Bell in 2000 that the water authority became “politicized.”
Fletcher has also attacked the local news media in his campaign and has portrayed the chairman’s job as being too big and important for Bell to tackle, with an ad saying it would be “over Pat’s head.”
In campaign disclosure reports filed this week, Bell has nearly a 3-1 advantage in fund-raising for the race, having received $22,000 in donations, including $8,328 in contributions of $100 or less. Fletcher reported $8,000 in donations, including $4,200 in donations of $100 or less.
For a complete rundown on all candidate donations and expenses, see this weeks Jackson Herald.

Jackson County school board calls for $70 million bond referendum
Approval would increase millage rate 2.25 mills
The Jackson County Board of Education voted Thursday to put a $70 million general obligation bond before voters during a September 21 referendum. The money, which will go toward new facilities and the renovation of existing school facilities, is needed to keep up with growth, said superintendent Andy Byers.
If approved, the bonds would increase the county bond millage rate by 2.25 mills, officials said.
“This will give the voters the choice between mobile home parks and mobile home additions to our facilities, or continuing the excellent tradition of Jackson County facilities,” Byers said Thursday.
On the agenda for the funds are a new high school at $37 million, a new middle school at $15 million, a new elementary school at $9 million and additions to other schools hit by growth.
Byers, who recommended the resolution’s approval to the board, said he feels strongly that the referendum will pass because citizens understand the importance of keeping the school system’s facilities on par with the population growth in Jackson County.
BOE chairman Kathy Wilbanks agreed.
“It’s going to seem like we’re asking for a lot, but looking at what we’re doing we can’t do it on SPLOST,” she said. “We feel like the people really need the opportunity to make this decision and they really know we’ve got to educate folks.”
Officials stated that borrowing the money now will help to avoid rising costs and allow the system to lock in rates now, so as to minimize the debt. Because of the rising costs and recent interest rate increases, Byers said that getting future building projects going as quickly as possible will be a priority in the coming years.
“If we anticipate that interest rates are going up, we’d like to get the projects going as quickly as possible,” he said.
The board’s resolution was in favor of a plan that will have an overall leveled millage on 1998, 2003 and the proposed 2004 bonds and will thus minimize tax increases to citizens. That option was chosen over one that would have seen the money in bonds with a leveled millage rate on proposed 2004 bonds only. While the difference amounts to some $5 million, the net increase in millage levy to taxpayers amounts to just one mill, as the other option would have had a 3.25 mill increase.
The amount of money the system would be borrowing if the referendum passes, was figured using growth rate data dating back to 1998. Between 1998 and 2003, the county’s growth rate was 13.7 percent. In 2003 alone, the rate was 8.12 percent. In the next 10 years the projected growth rate is six percent.

County government in the red $5.1 million for 2003
BOC eats into reserve funds, leaving lowest balance in five years
The Jackson County government was in the red last year to the tune of $5.1 million, according to the county audit released this week. A large part of that deficit was due to some $3.3 million used to purchase land for the new courthouse on Darnell Road. A growth in expenses in various other departments accounted for the rest of the $5.1 million deficit.
The result of the deficit was that the county had to dip into its reserve funds to balance its spending, leaving the county with the lowest reserve fund balance of the past five years.
At the end of 2003, the county had only $2.9 million left in reserves. At the end of 2002, the county had $8.04 in reserves.
Generally, local governments want to keep around 25 percent of their total budget on hand as cash reserves. The use of reserve funds last year lowered Jackson County’s reserves to around 13 percent.
In the last five years, the lowest amount of reserves for the county was $4.29 million in 2001.
Ironically, the current county board of commissioners has in the past been very critical of reserves in 2001 because they had been lowered due to a tax cut the year before by a previous administration.
Two weeks ago, the issue was again raised by incumbent BOC chairman Harold Fletcher in a campaign advertisement. In the ad, he again blasted his opponent, Pat Bell, for her role in a 2000 tax cut and the result of having lowered the county’s reserve funds to $4.29 million. However, last year’s reserve balance fell $1.4 million under that amount and is lower than the 1999 balance of $4.8 million when the county’s overall budget was smaller.

Michael A. Carroll
For Jackson County
Superior Court 2004

in the
Republican Primary!

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Commerce To Give Taxing Authority
To School System
In a reversal of a decision reached a year ago, the Commerce City Council voted Monday night to pursue local legislation to amend the city charter so the board of education can levy property taxes.
Ward 4 Councilman Bob Sosebee made the motion, which carried unanimously.
“They’re elected, just like we are and I don’t have any problem turning our taxing authority over to them,” Sosebee said.
City Attorney John Stell will begin drafting local legislation, which presumably will be taken under consideration by the Georgia General Assembly next winter.
The vote is a complete turnaround for the school system, which last year sought council approval for taxing authority, then abandoned the request when it appeared that the cost of levying taxes would be too high. Things have changed since then.
What set things in motion was the city’s notification to the Commerce Board of Education that, because of its own budget difficulties, it could no longer pay in advance a half year of the school system’s local budget, which has been a historical necessity since the money the schools get comes from property taxes that begin arriving in late December at the earliest.
The city suggested that the school board use a tax anticipation notice to borrow against those taxes. But the school system soon learned that since it is not a taxing authority, it cannot issue a tax anticipation notice. Superintendent Larry White sent the city council a letter seeking both the continuation of advanced funding this year and taxing authority for the future.
In addition, at this time last year, both groups assumed that the Jackson County tax commissioner would charge a six-percent collection fee as it has done for the Jackson County School System, but this year found out that the county will print and mail the bills and collect and distribute the funds for $1.50 per bill. The city council had already decided to farm that work out to the tax commissioner.
Historically, the city council has had to pass the local portion of the school budget and set the tax rate necessary to fund it. At times, it has rankled the board of education to have to come before the city council for that approval, but for the past decade at least, the council has voted unanimously to approve whatever levy was needed to fund the school budget – $1.99 million this year – with little or no discussion.
The council also voted unanimously to open a line of credit to make monthly payments of about $166,000 to the school system until tax revenues come in. The interest costs will be taken into consideration when the tax rate is set, said City Manager Clarence Bryant.