Jackson County Opinions...

AUGUST 25, 2004



Column
By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
August 25, 2004

On Driving Defensively – Commerce Style
We’re lousy drivers in Commerce.
If you don’t believe me, answer the following questions:
-When did you last come to a full stop at a stop sign when there was nobody close by on the other street?
-Have you ever driven 25 mph going downhill on Scott Street?
If you’re honest, the answers are “can’t recall” and “never.”
I figure I’m not quite that bad because I very definitely came to a full stop once at the corner of Scott and Clayton, even though there was no other vehicle in sight. As far as I can tell, I’m the only driver who’s ever done that, except those young people learning to drive and accompanied by a parent or driver education teacher and drivers whose vehicles stalled at that intersection.
The basic problem is that we don’t read traffic signs the way the DOT and others intend we should. We have our own traffic signage “dialect,” so to speak, so that when the DOT puts a sign up that says “Stop,” what we read is “Slow down some if you think police might be watching.”
There are other variations too:
•“25 Speed Limit” means 38
•“No U-Turn” means “No, you turn.”
•“Drug-Free School Zone” is interpreted as “School zone; drugs are free.”
•“Slow, children at play” means the children in the neighborhood aren’t bright.
In addition, “RR Crossing” and “Yield” signs are invisible to Commerce motorists, although we generally do not try to cross the railroad tracks when they are occupied by a train.
We also like to cut corners, literally. At many places where driveways intersect roads, particularly around the schools, Commerce drivers making right turns prefer to begin anywhere from 10 inches to 10 feet in advance of where the two sections of pavement meet. It is also the preferred practice that after making such a right turn to drive 50-100 feet with the two right wheels on the shoulder of the road. The result is a colorful orange trough that assists in drainage when it rains.
Dare I mention the railroad tracks? The consensus among Commerce drivers is that the huge directional arrows on the pavement are markings left by alien beings. Half of us disregard them entirely and the other half do exactly the opposite of what the arrows indicate. The First Rule of RR Driving in Commerce is that the method of crossing is up to the first driver on the tracks and all subsequent drivers must adapt to that pattern until the grade crossing is empty, whereupon the next driver is free to be creative.
Part of the blame belongs to the DOT which every two years “improves” the intersection near Hardee’s with the result of further encouraging drivers to improvise. A decade ago, the DOT gave up and built a bypass to reduce traffic there, creating four major intersections where we ignore traffic signal devices, thus boosting the cash flow of local hospitals and body shops.
We do drive defensively – which is to say we drive real fast so we’ll get where we’re going before we have an accident.


Editorials
The Commerce News
August 25
, 2004

In Future, County Needs A Priority List
As Jackson County struggles to determine if, when and how it should build a series of “economic development roads,” perhaps the current and future officials could borrow part of a system used by past county commissioners regarding road work.
While the county’s technical abilities and needs have changed a lot over the past 30 years, the politicians of old did have a way of communicating to the public what they planned to do regarding roads. They had a “road priority list,” which indicated to anyone with an interest where the county’s road money would be used.
Four years ago, we were told that the second phase of Progress Road was the top county priority, but in spite of all the sales tax (SPLOST) revenue and a commitment from the Department of Transportation for funding assistance, that road remains, at best, a line drawn with a Sharpie across a county map. There are no engineering drawings, conceptual plan or data-based cost estimates. The county allowed the DOT funding to lapse and right of way easements to expire. The road, since declared to be Steve Reynolds Industrial Boulevard, is a fine concept, but nothing more than a concept.
The desire to build that road died when the commissioners focused their energies (and money) on the new courthouse and the new road to serve it. Interestingly, as the county government was working without a master plan, it criticized the Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority for, among other things, the alleged lack of a long-range plan. The authority – which is on time with its work for the Toyota plant – does have a long-range plan and a priority list of water projects, which it has worked down in an orderly fashion as the money became available. County government should do the same, not only with roads, but with other major capital projects.
Today we have several key roads whose construction it is universally agreed would attract the business and industry needed to balance our tax digest and provide good jobs, but there is no money to build them because there was no county plan for their construction. We also have a recognized need for a new jail and no location, time frame, cost estimate or plan to build it.
The county government should prioritize its roads and other major capital projects and make the priorities public, including the cost, time frame and method of financing. Even if emergencies or sudden new needs occasionally interfere, the public will have more confidence in the government’s intentions if it publicly lists and prioritizes and proceeds in an orderly fashion with road and other capital projects.


A Life Of Its Own
The proposed Jackson County Water and Sewerage Authority suit over the proposed “shared services” agreement in which a lot of the authority’s territory was given up is an example of how this board of commissioners’ political machinations will be harmful long after they are out of office.
Unable to take over the authority, the BOC set out to ruin it by giving away territory and diminishing its ability to operate efficiently. The county gave Arcade the right to operate a water system where the authority has one in place and gave it a territory half the size of Jefferson’s.
City governments – including Commerce – will benefit, but all taxpayers could wind up paying if the move cripples the water authority. At best, there will be legal expenses; at worst, taxpayers could wind up footing the bill for the authority’s bonds if it defaults because of this action.
The board of commissioners’ enmity for the county water authority has assumed a life of its own. We’ll be paying the price for their political vendetta for years to come.

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Column
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
August 25, 2004

SPLOST vote not a sure bet
The future of a SPLOST vote in Jackson County is the center of much behind-the-scenes talk among county leaders.
At issue is a plan by the Jackson County Board of Commissioners to put a SPLOST vote on the Nov. 2 ballot. The vote would be to replace the current SPLOST, most of which has gone to the county water and sewerage authority.
Under the new SPLOST proposal, a large chuck (20%-25%) of the sales tax would be used to pay the note payment for the new courthouse. In addition, a variety of groups are jockeying over the rest of the tax as everyone wants a piece of the pie. The county fire departments want a larger share, as does the county recreation department. And the county water authority also wants some of the funds to finish out its project list. (Under the current SPLOST, sales tax income has fallen and several of the county water authority’s plans had to be put on hold for lack of funding.)
But this SPLOST isn’t just a county issue. Each town in the county also gets a share of that money. And many of those town leaders fear that under the current county leadership, any SPLOST vote is destined to be voted down.
Hence a conflict is brewing where most of the towns in the county are pushing to postpone the SPLOST until March, when a new county administration is in place. They believe passage of the SPLOST will be difficult to sell in the current political atmosphere under the existing county administration.
It’s unclear if the county can call a SPLOST vote without the cooperation of the towns — certainly it’s not politically wise even if it is legally feasible.
But some town leaders claim that the county can’t call the vote anyway because it missed the legal time frame for initiating the process. County officials say they didn’t miss the deadline.
Now all the parties are scrambling to sort out the complex legal and political entanglements surrounding this SPLOST.
And if that wasn’t enough problems, the proposed November SPLOST vote would come at a bad time for several other reasons as well.
First, it will carry the stigma of the current board of commissioners, an administration which voters overwhelmingly rejected in the July primary voting. It’s difficult to see how this administration has the credibility to get any kind of vote passed, especially if the towns are splintered in the effort.
Second, the November vote will have a large turnout because of the Presidential election. Large turnouts are generally bad news for tax votes because marginal, presidential-only-type-voters tend to vote against any kind of tax.
Finally, if held in November, that SPLOST would come on the heels of a September bond referendum called by the Jackson County School System. That referendum is for $70 million and represents nearly a 3 mill tax increase.
Given the history of local school bond referendums, that issue will likely pass. Parents turn out in large numbers to support their kids’ schools.
But will they vote for two taxes back-to-back?
Indeed, will voters support this SPLOST even if it is already in place and is not a “new” tax?
Will they do that even if they are threatened with a massive county tax hike to pay for the new courthouse if they vote down a SPLOST?
Will taxpayers support a SPLOST under the current BOC administration?
Those questions are why many local town leaders are betting against passage in November and want the county to postpone the SPLOST vote until March 2005. If a November SPLOST vote fails, everyone will have to wait until November 2005 for it to come back up again.
Caught in the crossfire of all this are the new members of the BOC who will take office Jan. 1. They’re in a damned-if-they-do, damned-if-they-don’t situation.
If a November SPLOST vote is held, the new incoming administration will have to hope it passes, or otherwise be left dealing with a county that would be virtually bankrupt and with a huge hike in the millage rate.
On the other hand, it would be politically difficult for the incoming commissioners to support a SPLOST under the current administration. Indeed, there are some who believe the current administration is wanting to structure this SPLOST so that it will fail and leave the incoming board in even a deeper financial hole.
There’s a lot of smoke being generated on this issue and many of the legal issues will have to be resolved quickly if the SPLOST is to appear on the November ballot.
If it does move forward, the politics of the vote will get messy. The situation has a lot of “ifs” about it, and any time there is doubt or disunity, tax proposals tend to fail.
Stay tuned. This issue is one that will, in one way or another, hit you in the pocketbook.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


Editorials
The Jackson Herald
August 25
, 2004

High-density projects are not good for county
So now we know why Pendergrass pulled out of the Quad Cities Planning Commission and put its zoning under its police chief. A developer wanted to do a super-high density project and Pendergrass didn’t want an independent board asking too many questions.
The project, just off Hwy. 129 and Wayne Poultry Road, will allow 2.74 houses per acre, an amount that far exceeds the one house per 3/4 acre that would have normally been allowed.
As one of the conditions for the project, the developer agreed to pave the parking lot at the Pendergrass library. But that library isn’t anywhere near the project site, so why is that a condition?
Something doesn’t smell right about Pendergrass’ willingness to allow such a high density project. If that project is good for Jackson County, then why did the town feel the need to pull out of the QCPC when that group began asking questions about it?
We realize that the local housing market must cater to a variety of housing sizes and demands. And we’re all for affordable housing.
In addition, we understand that certain kinds of developments, such as golf communities, often have small lots to accommodate green space.
But if every town in Jackson County suddenly begins giving variances and allowing high density housing projects like this one in Pendergrass, we will become the kind of community we claim to abhor.
And now that Pendergrass has opened a loophole in its zoning, how will it ever say “no” to a high density project in the future?

Cost of staffing courthouse to skyrocket
We wonder, why does Jackson County want to hold all of its courts at the same time?
That idea is reportedly being considered by county officials for the upcoming terms of court, which will be held in the new courthouse.
But the cost of holding all the courts during the same week will be huge. Already, the sheriff’s department is having to hire a large number of people to provide security for that facility in anticipation of a super court week.
Could it be that county officials are attempting to artificially fill most of the courtrooms in an effort to hide the massive waste of that project?
To many citizens who show up for a crowded court day, the new courthouse will no doubt look like a beehive of activity. That’s how it will be — for that week of court.
But the remainder of the time, the huge edifice will stand like a silent tomb with too much space for too few people. And that’s something county leaders don’t want the public to see.


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