Jackson County Opinions...

AUGUST 11, 2004

By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
August 11, 2004

Commerce Has A Case In Arguing For 3 New Roads
Commerce city officials feel picked on again as the Jackson County Industrial Development Authority struggles over bond financing of the roads to the Toyota project.
You could see it in the quotes in last week’s paper as the city council discussed the possibility that the county would build almost $13 million in roads to serve Toyota, opening up large tracts for industrial development, while putting on the back burner $3.5 million in roads that would open large tracts along Interstate 85 near Commerce for development.
Several factors come into play.
First, as the county develops from west to east, the Commerce area is the last to develop. West Jackson and the Jefferson area get all of the industry and Commerce gets none.
Second, voters are leery of public debt following the commissioners no-vote financing of the courthouse. Third, the IDA distrusts the current board of commissioners. Fourth, there is a consensus that the Toyota roads should be built (a) because Toyota is investing $100 million and (b) because we told Toyota we’d build them.
Still, most people believe all the road projects will pay off handsomely and relatively quickly in new business and industry.
The second phase of Progress Road, now Steve Reynolds Industrial Boulevard, would open up the south side of I-85 from Banks Crossing to Maysville Road. With the extension of the Commerce sewer line to Georgia 98 already budgeted and planned, development is inevitable. Ditto with the extension of Tanger Boulevard down to Ridgeway Road, right through the property three local men say will have $120 million in development, boosting the sales tax bonanza Tanger II now provides.
At Bana Road, a developer has promised to put a $15 million building or to pay to the county each year a sum equal to what the taxes on a $15 million building would produce. When looked at from a cost-to-return standpoint, says Commissioner Sammy Thomason, Bana Road would come out ahead of the Toyota roads. Just one more industry on the 500-acre tract would produce a positive cash flow.
City officials do not oppose the Toyota projects, but they see the $3.5 million for “their” roads to be as good an investment. They fear Commerce taxpayers might have to pay off a bond issue from which they will derive no benefits.
Roads, like water and sewer, are critical to development. Commerce officials reason that if public money is going to be spent to enhance development, some county dollars should be invested in roads that will help bring to the city school system the resources Haverty’s, Toyota, Caterpillar and others provide for the Jefferson and Jackson County school systems.
The city viewpoint is that the roads should be built now, not at some time to be determined later that is subject to change when another project in Braselton or Jefferson comes up. They remember when the second phase of Progress Road was the top county road priority, only to be moved back.
The mayor and council see the whole discussion as just another round in a Commerce vs. Jefferson contest Commerce perpetually loses. It’s not that simple, but a decision to omit or delay the three area roads will certainly reinforce the idea.

The Commerce News
August 11
, 2004

County Must Fund All Roads In Bond Package
The ability of the Jackson County Board of Commissioners to secure bond funding for $11-$18 million (depending on who you ask) in roads needed for economic development has encountered a major obstacle. Call it the Jackson County Courthouse.
The commissioners want the Industrial Development to sell bonds to finance the roads, up to $13 million to serve the new Toyota plant, nearly $3.5 million for Commerce area development and some for a Braselton project. The roads are all worthy investments of public funds, and while the IDA would like to sell the bonds, a public uproar about more county debt has the bond issue in limbo.
The commissioners’ method for locating the new courthouse and their no-vote method of financing it angered the Jackson County public. The humiliating defeat of incumbent chairman Harold Fletcher by a 5-1 margin and the upset of incumbent District 2 Commissioner Sammy Thomason by a political newcomer demonstrated the level of voter disdain and distrust. To the public, providing this board of commissioners with another $11-$18 million to spend and accepting millions more in debt is unthinkable. Had there been no courthouse controversy, the bonds for roads would probably have been approved with little debate or public interest.
Commerce officials are adamant that their city share in the road work, pointing out the benefits to a part of the county where industrial and commercial development has been slow. It may be that the Toyota-roads-only sentiment is a political payback to Commerce officials for supporting the location of the new courthouse.
That’s a shame, because the all of the road projects are solid investments in this county’s future. They will result in the industrial growth Jackson County needs to help finance the costs of our population surge. They will provide new jobs, more sales taxes, new revenue for our school systems and new opportunities for county residents. The county very much needed a new courthouse, but unlike the courthouse, the roads will pay for themselves – and will help raise the money to pay off the “lease” on the courthouse, the cost of the jail, the debt on the regional reservoir and the costs of educating children, all costs we will still have to pay if the roads are not built.
As of Monday, the IDA indicated a willingness to issue bonds immediately for the Toyota project. That is appropriate because of the county commitment and the value of the project, but there must also be an ironclad commitment by all parties to provide funding for the Commerce area roads within a reasonable time frame. Voters here rejected the petty politics of one group of officials; they’ll not sit still and let another group pour taxpayer funds into roads that will benefit Jackson County and Jefferson to the exclusion of the Commerce area.
There are yet questions to be resolved about the road package. What is the real cost? Can the county road department handle the construction in a timely manner? What will the debt add to the tax rate and what affect will the cost of operating a new courthouse have on property taxes? Also, how does this debt affect the chances of the county building the new jail it also desperately needs?
When those questions have been resolved, Jackson County must build those roads. The taxpayers should, with reasonable cost estimates and construction schedules made public, demand it. We build infrastructure every day to accommodate houses; it’s time to invest in roads that will bring commercial and industrial development to Jackson County – including Commerce.

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By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
August 11, 2004

School danger criteria useless
The headline in a recent Atlanta newspaper was stunning: “State finds no schools dangerous.”
Really? No public school in the entire state is dangerous?
Obviously, such a claim goes against common sense.
Of course Georgia has dangerous schools. There are schools in this state that no concerned parent would let their child attend.
Just talk to some of the many Gwinnett transplants who are moving into Jackson County. In addition to leaving behind traffic and other urban growth problems in Gwinnett, many parents have told me a key reason they moved here was to get their children out of Gwinnett schools. In some of those schools, gangs are reportedly rampant.
The truth is, the state’s reporting on “dangerous” schools is a bureaucratic whitewash. The standard to be considered a “dangerous” school is so high that few, if any, school will ever get the label.
In addition, many school systems sweep campus crime incidents under a blanket of secrecy. Sometimes, serious incidents do not get reported to law enforcement and are handled “in-house” so that the general public won’t know what happened. And some law enforcement officials handle school crime incidents with a wink-and-nod, failing to produce a written report, or hiding such reports from the public behind a veil of “juvenile privacy.”
In Georgia, what makes a school “dangerous” is three years of serious incidents, such as murder, rape, armed robbery, aggravated battery or child molestation.
So in effect, a school can have a serious gang problem where students are intimidated or threatened and drugs are rampant, but still not be considered “dangerous” by the state.
One part of the problem is that federal law makes it very, very difficult to remove a student from public schools if that student is labeled as “special education.” There have been several incidents in Jackson County where students with that label have been accused of serious incidents on campus, yet were allowed to stay in school because of federal protection. In short, those students’ education rights trumped the right of school safety issues.
Schools are no different than the rest of our society. They reflect the same problems faced by any community, including crime. And if a school is in a high crime area, one can expect that the school will reflect that activity on campus as well.
All of this confusion over what makes a school “dangerous” is just another example of how the federal and state bureaucracy has created a slate of meaningless school standards. No parent or member of the public can take such a report seriously because it flies in the face of what we all know to be the reality.
The bottom line for parents should be this: Don’t depend on government bureaucrats to tell you how your child’s school is doing. Investigate for yourself. Walk around the school and see how students interact with each other. Ask other parents about what they hear regarding school safety. And most importantly, ask your child about what is happening in his or her school.
Schools should not be judged based on speculation or rumors, but neither should they be judged based on state or federal criteria which is meaningless.

Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.

The Jackson Herald
August 11
, 2004

Arcade council right on joint planning board
Members of the Arcade City Council, especially councilman Ron Smith, was right in his defense of the town’s joint planning commission that also does planning for Talmo and Jefferson.
Known as the Quad Cities Planning Commission, the group is now more of a “Tri-Cities” board after Pendergrass withdrew and set up its own planning commission.
Responding to a citizen’s complaint Monday night, Smith defended the idea behind the joint planning commission.
“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,” said Smith.
The councilman also said he believed that in the long run, Pendergrass’ withdrawal from the commission was a mistake.
We agree. For one thing, the four towns that made up the quad cities concept share the county’s major North-South corridor of Hwy. 129. That corridor will someday be a major commercial area in the county and it appears to us that having a unified planning system for that area will, in the long run, make for better and more uniform developments.
In addition, the ultimate decision on zoning issues continues to rest with the individual towns. While the QCPC makes recommendations, the final decision on a zoning issue falls into the lap of the Arcade or Jefferson or Talmo city councils.
That, as Smith pointed out, creates a system of checks and balances that we believe is healthy in local government.
Jackson County’s system of zoning is already a fractured system, made up of a variety of planning boards, city governments and the county government. There is little unity in all that.
We would hate to see that system fractured even further by the withdrawal of Arcade from the QCPC. Councilman Smith and his peers are wise to see the benefits of that system.

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