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AUGUST 11, 2004


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OPINIONS
Jackson County opinion page


SPORTS
Young Lady Panthers look to make strides in ‘04 season
With her first year roaming the sidelines now complete, Jackson County head volleyball coach Heather Bruce is a bit more experienced when it comes to knowing what it takes to win in Region 8-AAAA.

Lady Dragons beat Clarke Central in inaugural game
If things continue to go as well as they did Monday for the Jefferson fast-pitch team, they might well wonder why they’ve waited until this season to take part in the sport.


News from
BANKS COUNTY
Mote wins county’s magistrate seat
Ivan Mote came away a winner Tuesday night and will take over as magistrate judge in Banks County in January.
He had 1,069 votes, while Winford Popphan had 699.

Back to school
Classes resume Fri. in Banks County
After what seems like a short summer break, it’s already time for kids to return to the classroom. All students in the Banks County School System head back to class on Friday, August 13.


News from
MADISON
COUNTY
Bellew edges Chandler
... To face Nash in November

Skipper tops Mason by 13 votes for BOE seat. Only 13 percent of eligible voters turn out for runoffs.
Just hours after the death of his father, John Bellew was victorious in the Democratic Primary runoff for the right to face incumbent Republican Wesley Nash in the race for Madison County Chairman of the Board of Commissioners.

IDA to re-bid portion of water contract
Less than a week after accepting it, the industrial development authority threw out its bid award on the second portion of the upcoming $2 million Colbert Grove Church water main extension project Tuesday afternoon, agreeing to begin the bid process all over again.

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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‘Sumo wrestlers’ visit JHS

Hirotaka Ito, Tsukasa Ohashi and Yusuke Iwata, three high school students from Shimon Private School, Osaka, Japan, gave a costumed demonstration of Sumo wrestling at Jefferson High School Thursday morning. The students, along with two teachers, are visiting Jefferson for 12 days. A middle school group will visit August 18-30 and will give a Bon-dancing demonstration while dressed in summer kimonos on August 19 at East Jackson Middle School. The Shimon School has a house in the Arcade area — Shimon School of Georgia. See this weeks Jackson Herald for more photos and a story.

IDA tells BOC it is ready to finance Toyota roads
The future of a $100 million industry coming to the county is now in the hands of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners.
Monday evening, the county industrial development authority agreed to send a letter to the BOC saying it was ready to proceed with financing $7.6 million in roads for the Toyota industrial project and for other industrial land just north of I-85 near Pendergrass.
While many observers would think such a deal is a no-brainer — what county wouldn’t work to bring a committed $100 million high-profile industry to the community — politics in Jackson County is so volatile today that there is no assurance the BOC will actually agree to finance and build the two roads at the heart of the Toyota project, although it has a contract with Toyota to do just that.
In fact, the two roads were supposed to have been completed by June 1 of this year. But it was only after concerns raised by several IDA members in June about the status of the project that the BOC actually began working on the roads.
WANTS LARGER DEBT
At issue today is political pressure from the BOC and other local governments for the IDA to finance a much larger package of debt, some $20 million in road and other projects across the county, and not just the two Toyota roads.
BOC member Emil Beshara alluded to that in comments to the IDA Monday.
“What this is is not addressing anything else but only Toyota,” he said. “You are essentially getting the monkey off your back and putting it on ours.”
Beshara argued for the IDA to finance all the projects on the BOC wish list, including three industrial roads in Commerce, two roads in Braselton and the recent purchase of the old Bi-Lo shopping center in Commerce for $1 million as a campus for Lanier Tech.
Beshara said the advantage of having one bond for all of the projects would include a lower interest rate.
“All of these projects will lower residential property taxes,” he said.
Beshara was joined at the IDA meeting by officials from the City of Commerce and Braselton who said they wanted their road projects financed along with the Toyota roads.
Commerce Mayor Charles “Buzzy” Hardy and councilman Bob Sosebee spoke on the need for the Steven B. Tanger Boulevard Extension, Progress Road II and Bana Road. Hardy said there has been talk about these roads for 12 years and that the city needs help on getting them completed.
“We’ve got to have some help,” he said. “We need it now. The way to invest in economic future is to build these roads...All three roads are not more than three and a half million dollars. Add that to your bond issue. It will pay you back before you know it.”
Sosebee added that if the roads aren’t completed, there won’t be any economic development in the eastern part of the county.
“It’s essential for our school system and city to have these roads,” he said.
Braselton mayor Pat Graham spoke on the need for county funds for the Braselton Industrial parkway access and Zion Church Road improvements. She said the county also has a contractual agreement on the Braselton parkway access and pointed out that the developer paid $3.4 million to put in the road.
Graham also spoke on the safety concerns on Zion Church Road and said the federal highway board is looking into placing a median on the road. She said this would lead to a grid lock in Braselton.
IDA RESPONDS
While the BOC, Commerce and Braselton argued strongly for all their projects to be part of an IDA financing package, the authority only agreed Monday night to proceed with the overdue Toyota roads. That need was acknowledged by Beshara, whose district covers the site of the Toyota plant.
“We’ve got a pressing commitment to Toyota,” Beshara said. “Money has got to start being spent...We have to do it. If we don’t, the county is in breach of contract...Everybody wants Toyota here. Everybody wants the jobs. Everybody wants the tax base. We have to have Toyota here. I’m concerned about how we’re going to get the money. No pressure, but I’m counting on you...”
IDA chairman Scott Martin acknowledged the need for the Toyota roads and has in both public and private been a strong supporter of all the proposed industrial development road projects. But Monday, he told Beshara and the city officials the timing wasn’t right to proceed with a larger debt than the Toyota project.
Martin said many of the phone calls he has received about the bonds have been from citizens who are concerned about the current BOC administration.
“If you don’t trust government, we can’t take on the responsibility of being the watchdog,” he said. “This has become more than a business decision. It has become a hot political issue... We’re not geared up for all of this politics.”
In part, that politics stems from the overwhelming ouster of two BOC members in the July 20 primary, one by an 84 percent margin. Critics of the current BOC say they do not trust the board to handle $20 million in new debt for the proposed projects.
The letter from the IDA to the BOC reads in part:
“The county is obligated to keep these commitments to Toyota and the IDA will assist in those endeavors. The IDA has been informed that significant progress is taking place on the Toyota road projects and that the county is about to begin spending a significant amount of money as these roads are being constructed.”
Martin said he wanted to make a “public statement” that the IDA is ready to move on the Toyota roads so that the group can’t be accused by the BOC of holding up the projects. Martin also said that discussions on the other projects would also continue.
“In the last few weeks, the IDA has learned that many citizens of Jackson County are concerned about the temporary debt that this project could cause us to experience,” he said. “Some citizens do not understand the need for these projects and others question the timing. It is our belief that it is important for our county leadership to educate the public on these matters, so that they can be assured that there money is being spent wisely and that the projects are assured of sound management. It is the IDA’s understanding that some of these discussions are taking place and we are waiting to see the results of these efforts.”
CONCORD ROAD COST LOWER
The projected cost of one of the Toyota roads, Concord Road, was lower Monday night than some previous numbers projected by the BOC.
The cost for Concord Road was estimated at $3.8 million Monday night, much lower than the $8.7 million that was originally estimated by the county. Project manager Mike Alligood said the estimate is lower because the plan calls for the county road crew to assist with the project. But Beshara pointed out that the BOC had not authorized the county road crew to do any work on Concord Road. He added that he would support that idea, however, if the crew has the time.
The timeline for completion for the north side of Valentine Industrial Parkway, formerly Possum Creek Road, is Sept. 10. Both roads are on a timeline to be finished in the spring of 2005.


County buys old shopping center for $1 million
Commerce site houses Lanier Tech programs
Jackson County, now the owner of the old Bi-Lo Shopping Center in Commerce, is hurriedly renovating the old grocery store section to accommodate Lanier Tech’s projected enrollment this fall.
The county acquired the 16-acre tract in May for almost $1 million. Lanier Tech had an enrollment of 30 students this summer, but that is expected to increase to 100 by fall, according to director Lisa Maloof.
County leaders hope the enrollment will continue to grow and Lanier Tech will build a campus in the county.
“The way technical schools get started nowadays is that the local community has to provide the facilities for these centers,” commissioner Sammy Thomason said when the BOC agreed to purchase the site in May. “The business schools come in and staff them. Once they become successful, then they go to the state and get a budgeted item for a brick and mortar facility. We’re in the process now of building a successful operation.”
Thomason said the project would help the BOC bring industries and jobs to the county.
“A lot of the stuff we do is to create economic development in Jackson County,” he said. “One of the important factors industries look at is a well-trained work force and close locations where people can be trained. Having an institute of higher learning will be a big plus for Jackson County when it comes time to recruit industry.”
Lanier Tech currently uses a small portion of the north end of the facility. By the end of September, however, it plans to move into the more spacious portion at the south end.
To make that happen, the county is serving an eviction notice to Best Connections, a store that sells carpet and furnishings, said Al Crace, county manager. Badcock Furniture, another tenant, will stay.
“We expect eventually there will be 25,000 to 40,000 square feet of actual instructional space,” said Crace.
Three diplomas, nursing, business office technology and microcomputer specialist, are currently offered at the Commerce campus. Several short-term certificate programs offered include business computer application, Internet communications, computer repair technicians, general office assistant, horticulture maintenance technician and website fundamentals. Basic core classes, such as math and English, are also offered.
Maloof asked county residents to contact her at (770) 307-1190 with suggestions for other programs they would like to see offered.
“The largest program is our nursing program,” she said. “It is a part-time practical nursing program which allows students who have families and jobs to go to school part-time in the evenings and work toward their nursing diploma.”
Most of the classes now meet in the evenings but plans are to add more day classes when the new space opens up.
The county had hoped to get reimbursed for its cost of acquiring the property through the industrial development bond package being considered by the Jackson County Industrial Development Authority. However, the IDA reportedly struck the Bi-Lo reimbursement from the county’s list of needs since it did not relate directly to economic development.
The eviction of Best Connection may have complications as well. The owner has indicated he will contest the eviction and may sue the county over damage to his inventory that allegedly occurred from a roof leak caused by county workers last May.
ALSO TO LOCATE IN CENTER
The Jackson County Health Department’s Commerce clinic is out of space and the county also plans to make part of the shopping center available to it.
The BOC also offered the county chamber of commerce a 5,000 square foot area in the shopping center that is currently being used by Lanier Tech. The chamber has not announced whether it will take the offer.
The chamber will have to relocate soon because the building it is located in in Commerce has been sold.


Arcade citizens ‘want out’ of QCPC
City council member supports planning commission’s concept
By Jana A. Mitcham
As the spokesman for a group of Arcade citizens Monday night, Albert Walker, better known as Ricky Walker, proposed that the city withdraw from the Quad Cities Planning Commission (QCPC).
“No other town should run our town,” Walker said. “This is Arcade. We’re Arcade...Let Arcade and Arcade citizens run theirs.”
The suggestion came after Jefferson and Talmo QCPC members recommended in July that Joe Sikes be given a conditional use permit that would make his existing Arcade garbage collection service a conforming use under the city’s new light industrial zoning. It could also allow him to add a facility, pending a buidling permit, to expand his business with a garbage transfer station (see separate in this weeks Jackson Herald).
John Swaim and John Motley, the Arcade QCPC representatives, voted against Sikes’ proposal at the July meeting.
But Arcade City Council member Ron Smith, while not supporting the recent QCPC recommendation, showed support for the concept and general work of the “tri cities’ planning commission, which now includes Arcade, Jefferson and Talmo. Pendergrass recently withdrew from the group.
The council took no action on Walker’s proposal.
‘WE WANT OUT’
Standing at the podium to address the Arcade City Council, Walker told the council members that “a lot of citizens, like y’all, expressed a lot of concern about the way Quad Cities voted this thing (Sikes’ request) through.”
“We’ve tried Quad Cities, it don’t work,” he said. “We want out. Pull us out of Quad Cities...Pendergrass is actually making money out of Quad Cities. They are doing good without Quad Cities.”
Walker called for a show of hands from the audience — standing room only in the Arcade City Hall — for those “who want out.”
“About half and half, I reckon, and the people I talked to, it’s a lot more.” he said.
“Nobody can figure how it will ever get done with an even vote (at QCPC),” Walker added, speculating that “back rubbing went on to get this thing through.”
“You don’t put something like this sitting up at the head of a subdivision like this,” he said. “You just don’t do it.”
But Smith, who voted against the Sikes proposal along with the rest of the council, offered support for the QCPC concept.
“I believe in Quad Cities,” Smith said. “I was present at the planning for the zoning. I believe there are a lot of people who have not only Arcade’s best interest, but also have the best interest of Jackson County at heart. It’s tri-cities now, it’s not Quad Cities. But I think — I think — that the withdrawal of Pendergrass will not pay off for them...It’s like making a bad decision and having to admit you made a bad decision. Not to say, it may work out.” Smith pointed out that “there’s a lot more to Quad Cities than making the recommendations to the city council.”
He likened it to a system of checks and balances, with the city council able to analyze the QCPC recommendations and act upon them.
“We’ve accepted a lot of them, we’re rejected some of them,” Smith said. “Yes, it’s an experiment. We’re the first in Georgia to try it, but I think we need to give it some time.”
City council member Cindy Bone added that the council has the final vote.
LIST OF CONCERNS AND COMPLAINTS
Walker also had a citizens’ list of concerns and complaints about Sikes’ property, including that the buildings there “don’t sit 40 feet off the right of way” and that “junked tankers, trucks and gas tanks are steadily being drug in...it’s looking like a scrapyard.”
Walker also questioned the hours of operation for the garage on Sikes’ property and cited noise, junked cars, oil spills, alcohol drinking, cars parked over the right of way and the use of the Rock Forge Road subdivisions for “test drives” as some of the concerns with that business.
He suggested that the city get in touch with the EPA to look into the porous, cinderblock walls he said Sikes is using for his oil tanks. Walker told the council that Sikes has rusted tanks holding oil.
“We’re heading for a disaster,” he said.


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BOC strapped for cash, officials report to IDA
One of the key concerns in the Jackson County government today is a shortage of cash, officials told the county industrial development authority Monday night.
County manager Al Crace told the IDA that the county will be facing a “cash flow problem” within 10 days.
“We’ll start having problems after two weeks,” he said.
The shortage comes from a $5 million deficit last year in which much of the county’s reserve funds were used to pay for expenses related to the new courthouse. This year, additional courthouse expenses have hit much of the remaining funds, along with the $1 million purchase of the old Bi-Lo shopping center in Commerce for a technical school campus.
County finance director John Hulsey reviewed the county’s finances at the IDA meeting Monday and said permanent financing is needed to fund the proposed road projects. If bonds are not approved for the projects, the only other way to pay for the roads would be to levy taxes, he said.
For the period ending June 30, Hulsey said the county had a $758,000 deficit. He added that the county had a $2.9 million reserve fund balance at the beginning of the year, but that a $580,000 courthouse payment is coming up in October.
So far in 2004, the county has spent $621,700 in capital outlay, $745,700 in debt principal and $1.1 million in debt interest. And since most of the property taxes were collected late last year and early this year, the flow of money into the county has slowed, forcing the county to use reserve funds to pay current expenses.
Late last year, the BOC approved a 2004 budget which projected a $1.1 million deficit at the end of 2004.


Vote on asphalt plant hours tabled
Decision delayed until Jefferson plant is operational
The Jefferson City Council postponed a vote Monday on a request from Pittman Construction Company to extend its hours on an as-needed basis for government contracts requiring night work.
C.D. Kidd III made a motion that action be tabled until the company is in operation.
The matter will be on the agenda at the Dec. 6 city council work session.
The company is located on 8.9 acres at 676 Academy Church Road, next to the Martin Marietta quarry, which will be one of its suppliers. According to the owners, the asphalt plant will only blend materials for liquid asphalt, with no crushing or blasting involved.
Residents who live on property adjacent to the plant spoke against the proposal at the July Quad Cities Planning Commission meeting and at last week’s city council meeting.
City council member Philip Thompson recused himself from Monday’s discussion.
In other business, the council:
•approved a resolution declaring the results of the recreation bond, which recently passed. The $5.25 million bond passed 346 to 230.
•named Beth Laughinghouse to the 2006 bicentennial committee.
•tabled a suggested amendment to the alcoholic beverage ordinance. Police chief Darren Glenn suggested an amendemnt to the alcoholic beverage ordinance that could make a store owner choose between beer and wine sales license or gambling machines.
•learned that the Georgia Environmental Protection Division has approved the Brockton Road water line project.
•learned that seven contractors were at the civic center site Monday. Bids will be taken until 2 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 26.


Making the move...
County offices begin move to courthouse
The first of the county offices to locate in the new courthouse began the move to the facility on Friday.
The sheriff’s security department and the district attorney’s office were the first to make the move. On Friday, security equipment and boxes of items from the old offices were moved into the new facility. They are located on the east wing of the first floor.
On Friday, Aug. 13, the public defender, state court officials, magistrate judge, juvenile judge and probate court will make the move. The final moving date will be Friday, Aug. 20, when the superior court judges and clerk of courts will move into their new offices.
North Avenue, the street beside the old courthouse, will be closed off on Aug. 13 and Aug. 20.
Plans call for September court to be held at the new courthouse. The address at the courthouse is 5000 Jackson Parkway, Jefferson.