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AUGUST 25, 2004


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OPINIONS
Jackson County opinion page


SPORTS
First Region-Play Games Upon Fast-Pitch Team
Prior to the start of her team’s inaugural season, Pam Canup pointed to the 12-game region stretch as time she’d naturally like to have her squad start pulling things together since those contests dictate the postseason picture.

Warren Co. expected to give Dragons a firm test
After an impressive road win in their season opener, the Jefferson football program will be opening up the home schedule Friday night against Warren County.

Panthers hope infamous streak ends vs. Winder
When the Jackson County football team opens up its home season Friday against Winder-Barrow, the Panthers will be playing a squad that mirrors them in many ways.


News from
BANKS COUNTY
BOC chairman faces sexual harassment suit
$400,000 sought in damages
Banks County Board of Commission chairman Kenneth Brady was served Monday morning with a $200,000 civil lawsuit claiming he sexually harassed a courthouse employee more than five months ago.

Banks, Jackson tune up for Chamber Challenge
The chambers of commerce of Banks and Jackson counties will again be facing off against each other at the Atlanta Dragway on Thursday, August 26.


News from
MADISON
COUNTY
A look at the...Property tax process
Many land owners seeking answers on how much they’ll actually have to pay to local gov’t
1,100 appeals filed so far; deadline set for Sept. 4
Property tax notices have many in Madison County scratching their heads now wondering how much money their local government will actually take from them this year.

Fine Finish facility flaws
County leaders may sue to have problems corrected, but they don’t anticipate any new expenses to taxpayers
Shortly after the Advantage Behavorial Services (aka Fine Finish) staff and clients moved into their new building on Hwy. 98 West, they noticed a “hairline” crack in the tile floor of a front hallway.

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BYERS SPEAKS

Jackson County School System superintendent Andy Byers spoke on the Sept. 21 bond vote at the East Jackson Elementary School PTO meeting Monday night. Byers has been speaking at PTO meetings across the county to give information on the bond vote.

JCWSA votes to sue BOC, municipalities Conflict arises over service territory; fire truck purchase a political leverage?
The ongoing battle between the county water authority and board of commissioners has heated up again, this time with threats of a lawsuit and of political retribution hanging in the air.
Monday night, the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority voted 2-1 to sue the board of commissioners and the county’s nine municipalities over a water and sewerage territorial map expected to be finalized this week. That new map takes away a large swath of service territory from the county authority and gives it to the various towns, a move authority members contend will endanger the authority’s bond obligations.
A meeting on this agreement will be held at 4 p.m. Thursday in the conference room adjacent to the 911 center in Jefferson.
But while the authority voted to pursue that lawsuit, one authority member apparently stayed away from the meeting following threats of political retribution from the board of commissioners.
The chief of the South Jackson Fire Department said he was called by county manager Al Crace and told that the impending purchase of the department’s new fire truck could be endangered if authority member Dean Stringer attended Monday’s meeting. Stringer is a member of the SJFD and has long been viewed as the lone county fire department representative on the water authority.
In addition, commissioner Tony Beatty reportedly told Stringer the same thing — that it would be best for him to stay away from Monday’s meeting because other commissioners were threatening to kill the purchase of a $150,000 fire truck for the department.
“Tony Beatty called me Monday morning and told me he didn’t think it would be a good idea for me to go,” Stringer said. “He said he had been working with the other commissioners to (get the fire truck) and said he didn’t want to do anything to put that in jeopardy.”
Stringer added that he’d told Beatty, who appointed him to the authority four years ago, that he would do “whatever you want me to do.”
Fifteen minutes after that conversation, Stringer said, South Jackson Fire Chief Eddie Williams called to say Crace had issued a similar warning.
“The way I took it was that if Dean showed up at the meeting, the powers that be would make sure the fire truck we’re looking at purchasing would be on the chopping block,” Williams recalled. “He was just letting me know this was something that could very well hurt the fire department.”
Williams said he got the impression from Crace that “anything Dean was associated with could be put on the chopping block or back burner if he attended that meeting.”
Williams said he called Crace back later to express the feeling that “I don’t like that way of doing business.” Stringer said South Jackson firemen “are pretty hot about it.”
But Crace termed the call not a “threat,” but the passing of information that the project, which the fire department has been working on for years, might become collateral damage in the latest BOC/water authority tiff.
“All this (controversy) erupted again, so I called the chief and told him, based on the conversations I’d had, that everything involving Dean Stringer was going to be reviewed and the new fire truck was part of that,” said Crace.
WHO ARE AUTHORITY MEMBERS?
At issue in the BOC’s desire to keep Stringer away from Monday’s meeting is a question of just who actually sits on the water authority today. Earlier in the summer, the BOC voted to replace two authority members, Stringer with Saverne Varnum and Elton Collins with Hunter Bicknell.
However, the water authority has taken the position that the terms of those two officials doesn’t actually end until October. The BOC contends the terms ended June 30.
Monday night, the water authority refused to seat Bicknell at its meeting. Varnum didn’t attend that meeting.
The question of who actually sits on the authority is important because the addition of Varnum and Bicknell could shift the balance of power in favor of a pro-BOC authority. That would be in contrast to the current authority, which has been more independent and has not catered to various BOC demands over the past three years.
Stringer said he wouldn’t comment on the reported threat to SJFD, but that he would meet with that department this week to discuss the situation.
“I can’t talk about it now — I’ll tell you about it later,” said Stringer, who also said he planned to meet with SJFD members Tuesday night. “I want to make sure that cool heads prevail. A lot of them are real hot right now.”
Stringer conceded that he was asked by commissioner Tony Beatty not to attend Monday’s meeting. He also said he is consulting with some of the incoming commissioners to see how they want him to handle the situation.
Collins said Monday that the meeting would be his last one for the authority.
“I’m out of there. He (Bicknell) can take over this afternoon as far as I am concerned,” Collins said. “I was there because I was asked to be there. The lawyer and the chairman say I am a member and the county said they appointed someone. Mr. Hulsey (Julius Hulsey, the authority’s attorney) said, ‘no, you are an official member until October.’ That’s why I stayed and did business. After that meeting and the hullabaloo going on over there, I will not be back to the water authority.”

SERVICE TERRITORY
One of the reasons the control of the water authority is important today is the impending change to its service territory by the BOC. The “old” water authority doesn’t want its prime territory to be diluted and given away to the county’s towns, hence the vote for a lawsuit to stop that action.
The suit, which would also list the Georgia Department of Community Affairs as a defendant, would contend that Jackson County violated the terms of bond agreements related to the financing of the Bear Creek Reservoir and that the shared services map creates the very duplications of service that it is supposed to eliminate.
The authority – at least two out of three of those recognized members who were present Monday – believes that the county government gave away Jackson County service territory in the ongoing House Bill 489 negotiations to the extent that the authority will be unable to repay its bonded indebtedness.
The proposed water and sewer map shows the creation of a new service territory for Arcade and the expansion of territories for Maysville, Braselton, Hoschton, Commerce and Jefferson — all at the expense of the county water authority. The map has been approved by all of the municipal governments except Maysville. The board of commissioners has yet to pass it. Thursday’s meeting of the water and sewer “steering committee” is to handle what amounts to an amendment to the agreement.
Since the county government guaranteed the authority’s various bond issues totaling more than $50 million, should the authority default, it will be up to the board of commissioners to make the payments.


Bond vote looming
2.9 mill increase would be needed to fund $70 million in new school projects
Jackson County school system officials estimate that the system will need to double its classrooms in the next six years to accommodate growth in Jackson County.
To do that, the system has called for a bond referendum next month on $70 million in new school projects. It is the largest bond referendum in the county’s history and the first one for the county school system since 1994, a decade ago.
To help sell that vote, school leaders have been traveling around to various PTO and other school groups to answer questions about the proposed projects.
And despite the size of the projects, and the resulting 2.9 mill impact on property taxes, county school officials appear confident that patrons of the system will approve the referendum.
From his office in Jefferson, Jackson County School System superintendent Andy Byers has kept a close watch on the high number of large-density subdivisions popping up across the county. And the long-time educator also has statistics and charts in his office on the growth in the county and what it means to the school system.
Of key concern to Byers is the number 12,000 — the expected number of students in the system in 2010, just six years away.
Byers and board of education chairman Kathy Wilbanks have been speaking at PTO meetings in recent days to tell parents of the need for the Sept. 21 bond vote to pass.
School leaders anticipate the bonds can be paid with an additional 2.9 mills. For an average home with a market value of $150,000, this would be $174 per year in additional taxes. Some senior citizens will get a break, depending on their yearly income and value of property they own.
HIGH SCHOOL TOP PRIORITY
Top on the priority list is a new high school. In fact, Byers is set to get the ball rolling on the construction of a new high school in the East Jackson area the day after the bond vote is held. He said it would take two to three months to get the soil and other environmental permits needed and one year to get a sewer permit.
The situation is critical at Jackson County Comprehensive High School, which was built to accommodate 1,250 students. There are more than 1,621 students enrolled at the school this year and the numbers are expected to continue to increase rapidly.
The Gordon Street Center is already being used by the high school to handle the overflow and it is also filled to capacity, Byers said. Mobile units are also in place at the high school.
If the bond doesn’t pass, Byers said the system will have to consider “double sessions” at the high school, which will mean splitting the day up and having some students attend a morning session, while others attend an afternoon session. More mobile units will still be needed at the high school and at other county schools as the student population continues to grow at the county elementary and middle schools.
Construction on the new high school was scheduled for this year, but it was delayed due to the revenue from SPLOST falling under projections. The school had estimated it would receive $500,000 a month from SPLOST, but that wasn’t the case the economic decline following 9-11-01 and the opening of two new malls in nearby Gwinnett County. The SPLOST funds have averaged only $300,000 a month, Byers said.
NEW MIDDLE SCHOOL
In addition to the new high school, another priority will be a middle school in South Jackson. Other projects to be funded with the bonds include: Classrooms, offices and bus loading area added to Maysville Elementary; classrooms added to South Jackson Elementary; classrooms added to North Jackson Elementary or a new school in the North Jackson area; offices and bus loading area at West Jackson Primary; possible new elementary school in West Jackson; and land acquisition for future school sites.


Pendergrass approves subdivision variance
Plans call for 374 houses on 153 ac.
The Pendergrass City Council approved a zoning variance at a called meeting Thursday that will allow 374 homes on 153 acres in a subdivision off of the bypass.
REL Properties, Decatur, was given approval for the high-density project following several months of discussions. It was during those discussions that Pendergrass decided to pull out of the Quad Cities Planning Commission and do all its zoning under its police chief.
The variance allows REL Properties to place 2.74 houses per an acre, versus one house per three-quarter acre, explained Rob Russell, the city’s planning and development supervisor.
REL Properties owners are Robert Lanier Sr. and Robert Lanier Jr. Steve Clark was the representative at the meeting.
Russell said city officials worked with the development company for more than six months to hammer out a compromise that includes “really strict guidelines on aesthetics of the houses.”
The variance approval has 44 conditions, including a measure that the development company must provide paving and curbing for a parking lot at the public library, which is not located near the residential project.
The ordinance states that paving the parking lot for the library and adjoining park will “promote governmental objectives related to increased greenspace, recreational services and library services to the citizens of Pendergrass and lesson project demands on the City infrastructure due to the increased demands that will be placed on the City’s library and Parks by a development of this size.”
Other regulations for the residential project include sidewalks on both sides of streets, two-car garages for each house; an amenities center with clubhouse, pool and tennis courts and buffer space. One story homes will have to be a minimum of 1,600 sq. ft. and two story houses 1,800 sq. ft.
A homeowners association will be responsible for greenspace in the development, which is about 26 acres, Russell said.
A representative with REL Properties said the houses will range from $130,000-180,000. The company agreed at the meeting to place natural walking trails through the greenspace areas.


New courthouse to use 17 deputies for security
Sheriff vows to pull detail if BOC doesn’t fund budget
The new Jackson County courthouse may be more secure than the county jail, following a move by county leaders to provide a massive amount of security at the new facility.
Sheriff Stan Evans said this week that he had been given the green light to hire 17 new employees, most of whom will be temporarily assigned to the new courthouse for security purposes.
But Evans said that if the county doesn’t fund the positions in the budget, he will pull the courthouse security detail.
“All of the people who have been hired have been hired for the Sheriff’s Office and are temporarily assigned to the courthouse,” Evans said. “That’s where the snafu comes in. We asked for 16 patrol officers and other employees in the 2004 budget and were given none. Then they (the board of commissioners) wanted the courthouse open and can’t open it unless it is secured, so we proceeded in hiring the officers requested in the 2004 budget.”
The catch, says Evans, is that if the county does not allocate the funds for those new employees, he will pull them off the courthouse.
“If we have to take them from the courthouse, that’s what we’ll do. My first obligations the protection of the citizens,” he said.
The sheriff said the combination of courtrooms in the new courthouse raises the possibility that several courtrooms could be in use at once.
“We never know who will be doing what at any given time, so we have to be equipped to handle it if they all hold court at one time,” Evans said.
According to Evans, there are plans by some judges to hold sessions of the Superior and State Court simultaneously – something that could not be done in the past.
According to a study of the new courthouse staffing needs, some 22 security officers will be needed when the facility is in operation.
Court officials insist that whenever the court is in session, whether for a trial or a hearing, that there be an officer in the courtroom or judge’s chambers. In addition, everyone who enters the courthouse will be screened and there are holding areas that must be staffed, in addition to other security-related functions. Not all of the positions will require sworn officers, but many will.
Evans said he has proposed that a separate budget be created for courthouse security staffing “to show how much we’re spending on the courthouse.”


Teenager dies in wreck
An 18-year-old Hoschton woman was killed Thursday when state troopers say she crossed the center line of Hwy. 332 and hit a truck.
Sarah Ann Miller was killed around 1:15 p.m. after she hit a truck driven by Antonio Tyrone Dillard of Winder, according to troopers. The accident occurred just outside Hoschton city limits.
Dillard, 29, and a passenger in the International truck, 40-year-old Albert McKinney of Winder, were both injured and taken to the Barrow Community Hospital.
Troopers say no charges will be filed in the case.
Miller was a 2004 graduate of Jackson County Comprehensive High School. She was enrolled as a freshman studying forensic psychology at the University of Georgia.


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Coming Into Town
Planning Panel Recommends Annexation Of 16 Parcels, 485 Acres
The Commerce Planning Commission voted Monday night to recommend zoning changes and annexation of 485 acres in 16 different tracts.
The Commerce City Council will vote on those recommendations in a called meeting Monday night, Aug. 30, at 6:30 p.m. at the Commerce Civic Center.
The largest tract is 323.9 acres owned by Dr. James Bouchard at the intersection of Maysville Road and Interstate 85. The land is zoned A-2 and B-2 in the county; Bouchard seeks A-F zoning in the city. Though the rezoning request is for an agriculture zone, the owner reportedly has plans to develop the land for commercial purposes.
In addition, the planning commission recommended approval of Daniel Wilson’srequest to annex 72.8 acres on B. Wilson Road, from A-2 in the county to R-1E in the city. It represents the second phase of Oconee Point Subdivision.
The other annexations are single-family houses and lots, including eight lots in Montgomery Shores and two in the first phase of Oconee Pointe, plus miscellaneous small tracts on Jefferson Road, Westwood Drive and Lakeview Drive.
The rush of annexation requests was spurred by the Jackson County Board of Education’s Sept. 21 $70 million bond referendum to finance the construction of new schools. Property had to be annexed by the end of August in order to avoid the estimated 2.25 mills of additional property taxes that would be levied if the bond referendum passes.
Requests that would have brought in another 127 acres along I-85 were withdrawn. The Norton Agency and Dewey White had asked that three tracts be annexed and re-zoned for uses ranging from commercial to R-4 for townhouses. The planning commission would likely have rejected the request because of the R-4 element in an area the city wants preserved for commercial or industrial development.
The planning commission also tabled a request by Eric Dorsey to rezone about six acres in the Stark Street area for an R-2 housing development that would also encompass another six acres still in the county. The panel is negotiating with Dorsey to improve the quality of the proposed development in exchange for allowing him more lots.
“We’d give you two more lots for four-sided brick houses,” offered Chairman Greg Perry.
Dorsey, who at one time had proposed duplexes for the property, was not sure that would work.
“My main concern is the marketability of the houses,” he said, pointing out that such houses would be much more expensive than other houses in the area.
In the end, the planning commission told Dorsey it would allow him four extra lots if he would build 1,600-square-foot houses with 60-70 percent brick exteriors and meet several other conditions, all designed to improve the quality of the neighborhood.
Dorsey is expected to calculate whether he can make the project work with those conditions and come back at the September meeting.
Also tabled – at the request of the applicant – were two rezoning proposals from The Sierra Group, owners of 94 acres on White Hill School Road near U.S. 441. The request had included 85.5 acres for R-2 commercial development and 8.5 acres for commercial development.

Girl in coma after heart attack
A 9-year-old Jackson County girls remains in a coma in an Atlanta hospital after suffering a heart attack two weeks ago.
Miranda Kelly, the daughter of Larry and Katina Kelly, had the heart attack on Aug. 10, and was flown to Egleston Hospital in Atlanta after being stabilized at an area hospital. She was born with a heart defect.
Her mother said that Miranda’s coma is due to brain damage suffered when she had the heart attack. She added that Miranda’s heart didn’t suffer any additional damage.
Miranda’s grandmother, Sandy Anderson, said this week that doctors have discussed sending her home in her current condition.
Mrs. Anderson said Miranda, a student at East Jackson Elementary School, had come home from school and was watching television with her mother when she had the heart attack.
“She said she felt sick and ran to the bathroom,” she said. “My daughter went after her and she said, ‘Mama,” and collapsed.”
Mrs. Anderson said Miranda received a new pacemaker two years ago. She had been on a waiting list two times for a heart transplant, but her grandmother said her heart improved both times.
“They are talking about putting another pacemaker in,” she said. “They don’t know. They are just speculating on different things.”
A fund has been set up for Miranda at Community Bank and Trust. Donations can be made in her name at any area Community Bank and Trust.


Developer looks at SJ for theme park
An entertainment developer planned to visit Jackson County Thursday in his search for a site to locate a 400-acre mystical theme park.
Michael Hamilton, Chattanooga, Tenn., said Wednesday that he wants to locate MythFaire in Jackson County. He was scheduled to meet with local officials at a South Jackson site.
Hamilton said the attraction would bring 2 million visitors a year to Jackson County and 1,000 people would be hired, including 600 actors. He added that the project would add $48 million to the local tax base.
Plans call for four of the amusement parks to be located in the United States with the first to be in Georgia. Hamilton has also reportedly looked at sites in Cartersville and Hall County.