Jackson County Opinions...

AUGUST 4, 2004

By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
August 4, 2004

The Horrors Of Sending Kids Back To School
OK, summer vacation is over. It’s time to get back to work if the school year is to be successful.
I’m talking to parents, not kids.
Some parents are glad to get their kids out of the house and back into school where somebody else has to put up with them. That’s a viewpoint most parents share, come to think of it, but I speak for a sizeable minority when I say that back-to-school time means more pressure on Mom and Dad too.
During the summer, the kids sleep until noon, then stare at the TV or computer screen for 14 hours, taking breaks to eat junk food, trash the house and occasionally set something on fire. As long as the power is on and 911 is on the speed dial, it is manageable if unpleasant.
Then school starts. That means rousting grumpy kids out of bed, often when it is still dark, getting them to school on time and remembering to pick them up after school.
I seldom had a problem getting them to school. It was the after-school part that challenged me. I had my watch alarm set for 3:08, which would give me adequate warning so that I might arrive at 3:15, by which time traffic was thinned sufficiently for rapid ingress and egress.
Except for two problems: One, sometimes I was not in Jackson County when the alarm went off. Or, it went off, I resumed what I was doing and didn’t remember again for 20-40 minutes. I confess that on more than one occasion I had to drop what I was doing and bolt out the door to pick up Steven and Laura before Mrs. Savage went home for the day at about 5:00. I usually got them on the same day, however.
Then there are the after-school responsibilities. The trip to Presto’s for a healthy snack of Coca-Cola and a candy bar, getting them to help you do their homework, putting the homework in the book bag, trying to find the often-sent-but-seldom-received correspondence from the schools, thinking up creative responses to same, attempting to decipher the logic of assignments and, worst of all, listening to them read.
I love my kids now and I loved them then, but the endless hours of listening to first and second graders read plotless books written by people of zero imagination, life experience or expectations was a test. It must work, because both of my kids are avid readers, but if American soldiers read first-grade books to Iraqi prisoners of war, Amnesty International and the International Red Cross would demand prosecution for war crimes.
Back-to-school means the quest for college-rule paper, number two pencils and whatever color folders and style of composition books the teachers demand. If you have a supply list, you’ve probably wondered about the variety of candy elementary school teachers demand. If you had to work with 22 8-year-olds, you’d demand a ransom in sugar too. Just buy it.
We were lucky in that our kids were never caught at any serious school crimes, although Steven once plugged tweezers into an electrical outlet in a science class at CHS. Fortunately, the circuit breaker did its job, no one was electrocuted and since it was pre-9-11, no arrest was required.
I hope you’re as lucky. And may your kids be as patient as mine when you forget to pick them up by 4:30.

The Commerce News
August 4
, 2004

Authority Should Seat Two New Appointees
The Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority has rightly criticized the board of commissioners for its political machinations over the past four years. Now the shoe is on the other foot and it is the authority that is playing political games.
Chairman Warren Walker refused earlier this month to allow newly-appointed member Saverne Varnum to participate in the meeting for purely political reasons; she was appointed by a board of commissioners for whom Walker has little regard. The chairman took the position that since Dean Stringer, who she was appointed to replace, was appointed in October 2001 that his term does not expire until then.
In the past, board appointments to the authority have officially started July 1 and lasted three years from that point, even if the appointment of a new member was made months after the previous member’s term expired. Technically, there may be merit to Walker’s position that Stringer’s term does not end until October, but a two-month difference of opinion does not merit preventing Mrs. Varnum from assuming the position to which she was duly appointed. Walker’s action just makes the authority look petty and consumed with politics. While the authority may be at odds with the board of commissioners, the BOC is within its rights to fill vacancies on the authority. Mrs. Varnum should be accepted and treated with respect – as should Hunter Bicknell of Braselton, who was appointed last week to replace long-time member Elton Collins. Neither Stringer nor Collins is fighting to remain for two more months.
Voters in Jackson County demonstrated distaste for petty politics July 20. The authority should not assume that voter distaste is limited to the politics of the board of commissioners and should devote its energies to meeting the water and sewer needs, the purpose for which it was created.

City Should Demand
Roads, Exhibit PatienceJudging from Monday night’s work session, the Commerce City Council plans to lobby hard to get three roads valued at $4 million included in whatever bond issue – if any – the county industrial development authority approves for the board of commissioners.
The city council sees the expenditure of $13 million to accommodate the Toyota plant as an expenditure to benefit Jefferson’s economic development. To partially balance that, the city fathers say, Jackson County should also immediately fund Bana Road and the extensions of Stephen B. Tanger Boulevard and Steve Reynolds Boulevard. All are I-85 frontage-type roads.
The city council overlooks one fact. Toyota has bought land and is building a $100 million plant, for which the county promised the road work. On the three Commerce area roads, we have prospects, proposals and potential, but nothing committed.
The IDA should issue the bonds for the Toyota road package after it verifies the costs and builds in assurances that the money will be used as specified. At the same time, it should make a commitment to fund the three Commerce area roads with a similar bond once the Toyota roads are done.
The city council is right. Economic development should be encouraged in this area too. All three roads are valid projects that will boost the city and county tax digests, but the top priority is to live up to the commitment to Toyota.
Commerce officials must be patient and realize that the Toyota roads are the top priority, but the IDA should make a commitment to fund the Commerce area roads once the Toyota roads are done.

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By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
August 4, 2004

County in high-stakes financial game
A high-stakes financial game is being played within the Jackson County government and the outcome will affect all taxpayers in the pocketbook.
At issue is a push by the Jackson County Board of Commissioners to have the county industrial development authority finance over $18 million in new debt for a variety of road projects.
But the real story here is much more complex than just a few roads. The truth is, the BOC initially wanted the IDA to finance over $24 million on a laundry list of projects, but for that money to be “flexible” in how it was accounted for.
The reason for that is that the BOC has virtually bankrupted the county government with its new courthouse and has been looking at IDA financing as a way to keep the county government operating with an influx of fresh cash flow.
But fortunately for county taxpayers, IDA leaders have so far refused to go along with such a financial scheme.
Several weeks ago, the IDA cut some $6 million in pork-barrel projects from the BOC wish list, projects that had no merit for industrial development. In addition, the IDA told the BOC that any funding it agreed to do would operate through a sinking fund and only with IDA approval would funds be drawn out to pay specific bills. On top of that, the IDA insisted that any excess funds not needed for a project would go back to pay off the bonds and not into the county’s general treasury.
Those stipulations reportedly made BOC members angry — how dare anyone tie their hands with such rules! The BOC balked and the issue was put on the back burner for several weeks.
That is how the discussions between the BOC and IDA stood until the election July 20 when 84 percent of county voters rejected the current BOC administration. IDA leaders recognized that with such a resounding public rejection, there was little support for giving the BOC more projects and the taxpayers additional debt, even if some of the projects were worthwhile. Indeed, to give the current BOC $18 million in new debt, on top of the $25 million courthouse debt, would not just be unpopular, but fiscally irresponsible. The BOC’s credibility is gone and the county’s finances are in questionable condition.
Still, in the days after the election, BOC members began pushing anew for the IDA financing. But given the political atmosphere and the lack of leadership credibility, the IDA balked and sent word to the BOC that the only projects it would consider financing today would be the two roads for the Toyota project and a small access lane to an industrial park in Braselton — and those would only be considered with tight financial controls in place. The other industrial development roads, while good for the county in the long-run, would have to wait. And the pork projects would not even be considered by the IDA, ever.
Some BOC leaders were reportedly furious. Indeed, one of the pork projects on the BOC list, the purchase of the old Bi-Lo center in Commerce for $975,000, had already been completed by the county. The BOC had thought that the IDA would just roll over and finance that deal on the back end. Now the county is out $975,000 at a time when it has little cash on hand.
Reportedly, a couple of BOC leaders issued an ultimatum to the IDA: “Give us all we want, or nothing.”
Implied in that was a very specific threat — if the IDA didn’t give the BOC all the projects it wanted, the BOC would further stall the Toyota roads and then blame the IDA for the resulting mess.
The threat had an impact. Last week, a meeting between the IDA and BOC was scheduled to discuss the financing deal further. But word began to leak out that a couple IDA members were considering going along with the BOC on most of the funds it wanted. In addition, IDA chairman Scott Martin was on vacation, leading to speculation that the timing of the meeting was designed to exert maximum pressure on the IDA while its leader was away.
One of those who got wind of the meeting was candidate Pat Bell, who trounced BOC chairman Harold Fletcher in the July 20 Republican Primary. Bell was upset that the IDA would even talk about giving the BOC millions of dollars for the projects in an atmosphere where the public had rejected the current administration’s leadership. She began to rally a large number of citizens and soon had over 100 people lined up to attend the meeting. And although she is on the record in support of many of the proposed road projects, she believed the timing was wrong to take on that new debt.
When IDA and BOC members learned of the Bell backlash, the joint meeting was canceled. Nothing would be accomplished, they believed, with such opposition.
That’s where the situation stands today. IDA members say they are willing to work out something on the Toyota roads, but don’t want to finance any of the other projects until later. An IDA meeting has been set for next week to discuss the Toyota roads further.
There are several possible outcomes to this issue, and some of them could be very bad for the county. Of prime concern is to get the Toyota roads built, roads which are already overdue. And while everyone agrees on that part of the discussion, there is a danger that those roads could get caught in the crossfire between an obstinate BOC and a more fiscally-responsible IDA.
Indeed, a lot of money is at stake in the outcome of this power struggle. But it is clear that the public will not support giving this BOC a backdoor financial bailout by manipulating IDA financing.
The IDA is doing the right thing in agreeing to the Toyota roads. Now let’s see if the BOC can rise to the occasion and do the right thing as well.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.

The Jackson Herald
August 4
, 2004

We trust the IDA, but not the BOC
We applaud the strong stand taken by the Jackson County Industrial Develop-ment Authority in its refusal to give blank-check financing to the county board of commissioners.
The truth is, the BOC has mismanaged county spending for over three years and now wants the IDA to finance a bailout. Thankfully, honest and honorable men sit on the IDA and have refused to go along with such financial trickery.
That is not to say some of the projects on the BOC’s road list aren’t worthy. Indeed, we support several of the industrial development road projects in Commerce and Braselton.
But we do not support giving the current BOC funding to do them — except for the Toyota road projects near Pendergrass.
The truth is, the BOC had funds two years ago to do the Toyota roads. But it squandered that money on a $30+ million megalomania courthouse project.
Then, to make matters worse, the BOC redesigned the 1.2 mile Concord Road, increasing its cost to over $8 million. That move was little more than a backdoor attempt by a few county leaders to kill Concord Road by making it cost prohibitive.
Now, two years later, broke and disgraced, the BOC wants the IDA to rescue the Toyota roads before the $100 million project walks away in disgust with county leadership.
Losing Toyota would be a huge blow to Jackson County, so we support the IDA’s immediate financing of those projects. Even so, tight fiscal controls by the IDA should be put in place to make sure the BOC doesn’t divert those funds toward other purposes.
Financially, the Jackson County government is in a mess. It has lost all credibility with both the public and with industrial developers.
It should not be trusted to manage any additional taxpayer money unless those funds are tightly controlled by an independent group, such as the IDA.
As for the other worthwhile road projects, we believe funding for those should wait until the county’s financial crisis has eased and a new administration is in place.
It’s our money, taxpayer money, and frankly, we don’t trust this BOC administration to manage it.

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