Banks County Opinions...

AUGUST 18, 2004


Column

By:Angela Gary
The Banks County News
August 18, 2004

Relaxing in paradise
Blue-green water for as far as you can see...A huge hammock surrounded by palm trees...A steady breeze cooling things off as the soothing sound of the waves hitting the shore calms my nerves.
A recent five-day trip to San Juan, Puerto Rico, was just what I needed to escape the stresses of everyday life. I had never thought about visiting Puerto Rico, but a friend asked if I wanted to go and I didn’t have to think twice.
There’s lots to do in Puerto Rico. You can explore a rain forest, go on a historical walking tour of Old San Juan or try snorkling or other water sports. I didn’t do any of this. I have been to a rain forest in Hawaii, gone on historical walking tours of more towns than I can count and watched as friends went snorkling in Mexico (I can’t swim!).
Instead, I spent an afternoon lazing in a hammock, soaked up some sun one morning and didn’t even bother to get up from my lounge chair when a brief rain began to fall another day. I did venture into Old San Juan but not on one of those walking tours. I rambled around on my own, buying a few souvenirs and trying some authentic Puerto Rican food.
Sometimes, you need to get away and just do nothing. I like tours and sight-seeing as much as anyone, but I also enjoy being lazy some times. On a trip to Hawaii a few years ago, I squeezed two weeks worth of sight-seeing into one week. Not this time around. I just enjoyed relaxing by the beach and letting my troubles drift away with the breeze.
The breeze is what makes Puerto Rico such a great place for soaking up the sun. It is really hot but there is always a breeze blowing. You don’t realize how hot it is. Of course, the breeze is not great for your hair. I just forgot about “fixing” my hair and wore it pulled up most of the time. I guess the people of Puerto Rico are use to it.
One of the most impressive things to me about the Puerto Rican people is their language skills. The young people and adults alike switch back from English to Spanish without skipping a beat. I was envious of the ease in which they could speak both languages. I would love to be fluent in another language.
Some people may not realize that Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States. You may feel like you are in a foreign country but those familiar United States Post Office signs and offices are located across the island.
The next time you need a break from everyday life, plan a vacation where you don’t do anything. Throw a few pair of shorts in your suitcase, along with sunscreen and “beach” books and head to a tropical locale.
Angela Gary is editor of The Banks County News and associate editor of The Jackson Herald. She can be reached at AngieEditor@aol.com.

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Column

By: Kerri Testement
The Banks County News
August 18, 2004

Impact fees should be used to help schools
It’s a shame when new subdivisions are making our school hallways exceedingly overcrowded and new developments won’t help pay for a remedy.
Georgia’s local school boards are quickly going broke fighting to keep up with an explosive housing market. New houses bring more students — but state law prohibits developers from paying impact fees for increased student populations at our schools.
And that’s hitting your pocketbook with higher property taxes and never-ending sales tax packages.
A message you’ll hopefully start to hear more about soon is that it’s only fair that new developments pay for a larger school infrastructure through impact fees.
Impact fees are one-time charges on new developments that can only be used for very specific projects — one of which doesn’t include new schools.
The Georgia Department of Community Affairs states that impact fees can only be used to help equitably fund services for libraries, recreation, water supplies, roads and bridges, public safety (police, jails, fire and EMS), wastewater treatment and stormwater management. Any community considering approving impact fees must also complete an assortment of other requirements, such as amending the comprehensive plan.
Gwinnett County is certainly the ideal spot to test the state law on rapidly-growing school systems.
Gwinnett County Public Schools started the 2004-2005 school year with 130,000-plus students and ten new schools. Despite opening 19 new schools in the past two years, the school system still has 1,530 trailers on its campuses.
Developers and community leaders across the state are watching one case that is challenging Georgia’s law when comes to approving or denying residential projects.
The case involves the denial of a rezoning request for a residential development (not a significantly big project for Gwinnett County, but one located in a fast-growing school cluster) by county commissioners. The rezoning request was denied on the sole basis that the project would continue to over-populate schools — a statement that isn’t allowed under the existing law for planning officials.
That’s the funny thing about Georgia law — local planners can’t deny a rezoning request on the simple fact that schools will become more over-crowded. They can deny it for affecting other aspects of public infrastructure — roads, and water and sewer systems, etc. — but not for schools.
So, the Georgia Supreme Court is expected to hear this Gwinnett County case and determine whether the law is fair for existing taxpayers to help fund new schools supporting new developments.
But without impact fees helping to fund new schools, local communities only have two funding options — property taxes and SPLOST.
Surveys show that new residential developments don’t pay for themselves with property taxes alone. If these developments continue to be approved, another financing tool for new schools must be considered.
But critics in the development community of the proposal to allow impact fees to help give a buck to new schools claim local communities are using impact fees to offset poor planning and financial decision-making. They argue if government starts passing impact fees for schools, where will it stop?
Developers have also said that impact fees unfairly tax new-home buyers and will work against affordable housing.
The current law, however, provides detailed formulas for new developments providing their share of project improvements (libraries, parks, etc.), while existing taxpayers also pay their fair share.
Other funding options for new schools are badly needed to prevent school boards asking for higher taxes every year.
Gwinnett County Schools officials are also looking at other sources of cash, without impact fees. They watched the Georgia Supreme Court hear testimony during the summer about the controversial lease-purchase agreement used to fund the new Jackson County Courthouse. The state’s largest school system plans to use a lease-purchase plan to fund $300 million for new schools, according to news reports.
Ask your state legislator to change Georgia’s impact fee law for new schools.
In the meantime, as our local school systems continue to raise our taxes for new schools, keep an eye on what the Supreme Court will say about Georgia’s law on rejecting residential projects. That decision will certainly affect your wallet.
Kerri Testement is a reporter for MainStreet Newspapers. Her email address is kerri@mainstreetnews.com.


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