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JULY 21, 2004


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OPINIONS
Jackson County opinion page


SPORTS
Tiger Sharks enjoy successful day at district meet
Jackson County’s lone competitive swimming team sending 12 to state meet
Call it a break- through day at the pool for the Tiger Sharks.
Three Commerce swimmers are now district champions while a dozen will extend their seasons this summer after qualifying for the state meet.

Jefferson all stars still alive in state tournament play
A pair of Jefferson all star teams remain the only local squads still playing in state tournament action.
Both the Jefferson 10-and-under boys and the 12-and-under boys begin Class B state tournament action.
The elder squad is set to begin state play today in Americus, while the younger of the two teams will play in Carrollton today. Both tournaments are a double elimination format.


News from
BANKS COUNTY
Popphan, Mote in magistrate run-off
Chapman wins over Anderson
Winford Popphan and Ivan Mote will be facing each other in a run-off for the magistrate judge’s seat on August 10.
Popphan came away with 912 votes in Tuesday’s election, while Mote had 750. Frankie Gardiner had 644 votes; Luke Parson had 318; and Danny Lord had 276. Incumbent Henry David Banks did not seek re-election.

New BCMS nearing completion, Erwin says
School system’s construction project ahead of schedule and under budget
Construction at the new Banks County Middle School is nearing completion. Superintendent Chris Erwin said Monday the project is two weeks ahead of schedule and under budget.


News from
MADISON
COUNTY
BOC vote on shopping complex set for Monday
Zoning board divided 3-3 on proposed development
Madison County commissioners will vote “yes” or “no” Monday on whether to approve a shopping center in a largely rural area of Madison County.
It’s a hotly debated topic, pitting two opposing views of what’s best for the county.

Runoffs set for Aug. 10
Bellew, Chandler to face off for chance to run against Nash in November
Skipper, Mason runoff set for BOE District 5 seat. Lavender retains DA’s seat; Thomas, Scoggins claim primary victories

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.

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PAT BELL, ALL SMILES ELECTION NIGHT
AFTER VICTORY.

Click Here for
Local Election Results

Landslide!
Bell boots Fletcher 84% to 16%. homason ousted by political newcome. Crow elected to BOC without a runoff in 4-person race. Benton looks to have unseated Elrod in a squeaker
Other local election winners: Thomas, Chandler, Wheeler
A loud voice calling for change echoed across the Jackson County political landscape Tuesday night as voters ousted two incumbent county commissioners. One lost by the largest margin in the county’s history. The other fell to an unknown political newcomer.
By the end of the night Tuesday, Jackson County voters had radically changed the balance of power on the five-member Jackson County Board of Commissioners. In addition to throwing out those two incumbents, voters elected a third new BOC member in a race that did not have an incumbent candidate running.
In addition to those hot races, a previously low-profile race developed into a squeaker that has not yet been finalized. In the state representative’s race, Tommy Benton appears to have upset incumbent Rep. Chris Elrod. But that race is so tight it may be decided only later in the week by ballots arriving from overseas servicemen.
BELL-FLETCHER
In the county’s most controversial contest between incumbent county commission chairman Harold Fletcher and former state representative Pat Bell, voters ousted Fletcher by an unheard of margin, giving Bell 84 percent of the vote to Fletcher’s 16 percent. Bell will now face Democrat Roy Grubbs in November’s General Election.
The BOC, under Fletcher’s leadership, had been controversial over the last three years on a wide variety of issues. Bell said Wednesday morning that her stunning margin of victory was because citizens were “just tired of being left out of the process.”
“I think this was the people’s race,” she said. “They have spoken and I believe they were just tired of being left out of the process. I think this reached far beyond the courthouse issue.”
A call to Fletcher for a comment had not been returned as of press time Wednesday.
THOMPSON-THOMASON
While the margin of Fletcher’s loss was stunning, just as shocking was the defeat of incumbent District 2 BOC member Sammy Thomason by Jody Thompson, a political newcomer who was little known in that Commerce area district.
Although Thomason was often an ally of Fletcher’s on the BOC, many observers had predicted that he would retain his seat on the board due to having an opponent with little name recognition. But Thompson took 54 percent of the vote, 732-615, to oust the incumbent.
Wednesday, Thompson said the results should “send a message.”
“I want to thank Jackson County for making a good decision, not only in my race, but all the way across the board,” he said. “It’s a positive move for Jackson County. It sends a message out to a lot of people.”
For his part, Thomason said a “lot of promises were made” in his race.
“I want to thank the people of my district and Jackson County who have supported me, but the people have spoken and time will tell if they get what they expect,” he said. “A lot of promises were made.”

CROW WINS IN FOUR-WAY
In the BOC District 1 race, Tom Crow won a four-way contest without a runoff by taking 61 percent of the vote. Incumbent Stacey Britt didn’t run for re-election in the district. Like both Bell and Thompson, Crow had been a vocal critic of the current BOC.
Crow had served on the county water authority for a term, but was kicked off by the BOC when he refused to help that board take over that independent authority. And Crow has been a critic of parts of the county’s property appraisal system and is currently facing a lawsuit from the county in a move he believes was politically-motivated.
Wednesday, Crow said he looked forward to working with county citizens.
“I just want to thank all of the people who supported me and my family in the election,” he said. “I look forward to working with the citizens of Jackson County over the next four years and making Jackson County a better place to live.”
OTHER CONTESTS
In addition to the high-profile BOC races, three other contests for county offices were decided Tuesday.
In the race to replace retiring clerk of court Reba Parks, Camie W. Thomas had an overwhelming 4,398-2,030 win over Michael Carrol.
“I’m looking forward to working with the public the next four years,” said Thomas. “I appreciate the overwhelming support of the voters of Jackson County. I’m excited about this new opportunity in my life.”
In the District 4 Jackson County Board of Education race, Lynne Wheeler defeated Kenneth Cotton 529-447.
“I want to thank my supporters and all the voters,” said Wheeler. “I’m excited about this opportunity to serve. I want to serve all the people. I would like for everyone to be on board so we can together provide the best education for all the children in Jackson County.”
For Magistrate Judge, Billy Chandler was returned to office, defeating Barry King 4,665-1,747.
“I would like to thank the voters of Jackson County for their overwhelming vote of support and confidence in allowing me to continue to serve another four years as chief judge of the magistrate court,” said Chandler. “Our goal is to continue to provide professional assistance to the general public, all law enforcement agencies and attorneys.”
In state races, Jackson County supported Johnny Isakson for the U.S. Senate and Bobby Baker for the PSC seat.
(For election chart, see the this weeks Jackson Herald.)


Tax hike looming?
Projected 2004 deficit, on top of 2003 hit, may drive taxes up
AN ANALYSIS
BY MIKE BUFFINGTON
Will Jackson County citizens face a major tax hike this year from the board of commissioners?
That question hangs over the county following the release of the 2003 county audit which showed the BOC was $5.1 million in the red last year and that the county’s reserve funds had been lowered to its lowest level of the past five years.
The worry is, the BOC might also find itself again on a short financial leash at the end of this year. Indeed, the 2004 county budget, approved by the BOC last fall, was a deficit budget with a projected $1.1 million net loss for the year. That means the county will again have to use up a chunk of reserve funds this year to make ends meet.
Several of the key hits on the 2004 budget are expenses related to the new courthouse. On top of that, overall county spending has been growing in the past three years faster than the rise in income.
The BOC is also pushing for the county industrial development authority to issue over $20 million in bonds for several road projects and other items. That move alone could add up to one mill in county taxes.
And then there is the uncertainty of a planned November SPLOST vote. The BOC wants to use that vote to generate money to pay for the new courthouse and to expand the county’s recreation department, among other items. But given the controversy surrounding the new courthouse, and the widespread distrust of the BOC which was evident in Tuesday’s election, passage of that SPLOST is far from certain.
Indeed, in September county citizens outside the towns of Jefferson and Commerce will be asked to approve a $70 million bond referendum to build new schools in the county school system. If voters approve those bonds, cost of that will add 2.25 mills in taxes. One of the key concerns county leaders face is attempting to sell voters on two major tax referendums back-to-back.
FUNDS TIGHT
The BOC ended 2003 with only $2.9 million in reserve funds, but only $2.29 million is “unrestricted” and can be used to cover general cost overruns, according to the recently-released audit. At the end of 2002, the county had $5.6 million in unrestricted reserve funds.
In addition, the audit showed a large growth in accounts payable at the end of 2003, up to $3.8 million compared to just $466,000 at the end of 2002. Those payable may be items that have to be paid in 2004 that were rolled forward out of the 2003 spending.
And among the new expenses, the 2003 audit showed a capitol lease payable of $1.1 million, most of which is payment for the new courthouse lease. Also, a projection of lease payments in the audit show that in 2004, $2.3 million is due for the courthouse payment. In addition, furniture for the new courthouse will be purchased in 2004 and is expected to exceed $1.1 million. Furniture for the facility was not part of the lease deal. Also, the cost of the road project for the new courthouse is $1.2 million of which $823,000 is due in 2004.
All of that, along with the general upward trend in county expenses in other departments and the opening of the new courthouse with its much larger overhead costs, could lower the reserve funds down even lower than was projected in the 2004 budget, perhaps to a level dangerously low for the fiscal health of the county. Indeed, at the current rate of county spending, the BOC may have to borrow money before the end of 2004 just to meet current expenses. But such a loan would have to be paid back by Dec. 31, 2004 with property tax money, meaning that income for 2005 would be short.
To avoid that, the BOC may be looking to raise taxes this year to generate more income to offset the increased spending.
Among other highlights from the 2003 county audit:
• The county health department had a cash balance of $490,000 at the end of 2003. Still, during 2003, the county subsidized the health department with $138,200.
• The Jackson County Airport Authority received a subsidy of $250,000 from general county funds in 2003.
• While building fees and other non-tax sources of income were generally up in 2003 over 2002, income from court fines actually went down slightly to $581,000 from $583,000 the year before.
• Tax income to the county government was up $1.4 million in 2003 over 2002.
• Expenses for most of the county’s major departments went up in 2003 over the previous year and one new department, Information Technology, was created
 


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Largest County Departments
Ranked by Expenses in 2003
(Only departments above $150,000 expenses in 2003)
Rank Department Expenses Expenses
2003 2002
1 Sheriff $3.34 million $2.56 million
2 New Courthouse $3.32 million $2.66 million
3 Roads & Bridges $2.99 million $1.83 million
4 EMS $2.35 million $1.6 million
5 Correctional Institute $2.26 million $1.96 million
6 Jail $2.1 million $1.6 million
7 E911 $1.12 million $944,000
8 Recreation $914,000 $772,900
9 Admin. Building $856,000 $278,000
10 Zoning & Inspection $788,000 $643,100
11 Airport $457,000 $5,300
12 Senior Citz. Center $426,000 $375,500
13 Clerk of Court $406,000 $364,300
14 Maintenance $391,000 $280,400
15 Finance Dept. $398,000 $326,500
16 Tax Commissioner $397,000 $346,800
17 Board of Commissioners $386,000 $529,600
18 Tax Appraiser Dept. $376,000 $360,700
19 Fleet Maintenance $375,000 $326,900
20 District Attorney $309,000 $256,500
21 Superior Court $222,000 $174,000
22 County Manager $213,000 $206,900
23 Public Defender $204,000 $184,400
24 County Marshall $179,000 $103,800
25 Information Technology $171,000 $0
26 Magistrate Court $165,000 $155,000
25 Human Resources $153,000 $124,900


Jefferson voters OK bond
Jefferson voters approved a $5.25 million recreation bond in Tuesday’s election that will build the first phase of a new recreation facility.
Some 346 voters, or 60 percent of those who cast a ballot, supported the bond, while 230 voted against it. Some 576 of the 2,522 registered voters participated in the election.
The 20-year general obligation bond would primarily be used to finance the first phase of the recreational complex planned for nearly 100 acres located off Old Pendergrass and Old Swimming Pool roads. The funds would also be used to pay off the remaining $725,000 owed on the property.
Phase one of the new recreation complex would include “baseball and softball fields, gymnasiums, football/soccer fields, parking lots, roadways, and other related park facilities,” according to the notice of election.