News from Madison County...

AUGUST 25, 2004


Madison County
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OPINIONS
Frank Gillispie
It is up to us to control gas prices
The latest predictions suggest that gas prices will reach $3 per gallon by next year. Everyone is looking around for someone to blame for this boost in gasoline prices. Some of you want to blame the radical Muslims in the Middle East. Others blame the president, the vice president and the big oil companies.

Zach Mitcham
The strange acceleration of time
Fed up one day with the seeming never-endingness of childhood, I declared myself an adult as my father and I rode home. He laughed.
“No, you’re not. You’re ten.”
“Why can’t that be considered an adult?”
“Well, it just can’t.”


SPORTS
Short, but enough
Raiders win rain-shorted, three-quarter battle with Franklin Co.
Owens: ‘Given the alternative, we’ll take it’


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
JACKSON COUNTY
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.

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.

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‘Let’s go Raiders!’

Madison County High School students stand by the football field in Franklin County cheering for the Raiders during MCHS’ 15-7 win over the Lions Friday night in the season opener. See this weeks Madison County Journal for coverage of the game.

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.
About 1,100 appeals have been filed so far with the county board of assessors. And property owners who feel their land has been valued too high have until Sept. 4 to officially file a challenge.
Property tax notices were mailed out July 21 and many land owners have complained that their land values inexplicably skyrocketed.
Madison County anticipates an overall 29 percent increase in the county tax digest (or overall land value) — which will be officially set this fall — but some individual land owners have seen their property values double and triple, according to the latest assessments.
So does this mean some property owners will actually have to fork out two and three times what they paid last year in taxes?
Possibly, but not necessarily.
Simply put, determining at this point whether every property owner’s taxes will increase — and by how much — is not possible. Because a tax bill is contingent on both the assessed value of an individual’s land and the county’s overall tax rates.
And right now taxpayers have only part one of the equation: The assessed value of their land, which was mailed to them on July 21 by the county tax assessor’s staff. (It’s the tax assessor’s department — and not the tax commissioner’s office, or the BOC, or any other agency — that determines land values for property owners. Those upset by the assessments can appeal to the board of assessors, followed by the board of equalization and eventually, if necessary, the county superior court.)
Once an overall land value (a tax digest) is set, the second half of the tax equation is determined. This is when the BOC, the school board and the industrial authority determine the millage rates, or tax rates. These tax rates will be used with the digest to determine how much property tax money will be necessary over the next year to run the county government and school system.
If the overall digest increases as expected, then the county’s three tax-levying boards must either roll back their tax rate to offset the digest increase or hold three public hearings before keeping the tax rate steady or approving a rate hike.
If the BOC, BOE or IDA roll back their rates, some people with increased land values on their assessment notices this summer may not see any actual increase on their tax bill later this year. However, even if the governing boards roll back their rates, some property owners with significant land value hikes — such as a doubling or tripling of value — may still get hit with a hefty increase on their tax bill.
POLITICAL CONFLICT
While landowners deal with the lingering headache surrounding their tax situation, a battle between two county departments continues. For the rest of this story see this weeks Madison County Journal.


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.
Soon the crack grew larger and other, even bigger cracks and separations began to show up around an office and a doorway on the right front side of the new building.
Those who work in the building were disheartened.
“We love our new building and we’re so proud of it,” social worker Judy Vaughn said. “We just hate that this is happening.”
Fine Finish director Bailey Grimes said the window cracks, as well as splits around the doorway have grown worse over time.
And he and Vaughn pointed out cracked brick work, as well as a door jam and sidewalk cracks that are also appearing at that corner of the building.
A rug covers the widening crack in the hallway and Grimes said some attempts have been made at repairing the tile, but to no avail.
“We’ve been told not to let anyone use the corner office during threatening weather for safety reasons,” Vaughn said.
And a sign has been posted on the side door to prevent its use.
This is Fine Finish’s fourth year in the new building, which serves 18 to 23 mentally and/or physically impaired adults at the facility each day. Another 25 plus are served each day in an outreach capacity — being taken to off-site jobs or other programs, or in their homes. A staff of 12 provides these services.
The sign on the front of the building says it was dedicated in February of 2000 but water line issues delayed their moving into the building from their old facility nearby. (Their old site has been refurbished and is now the county’s Emergency Medical Services Station One.)
Vaughn said county commissioners came out recently to take a look at the building’s troubles.
And on Monday, the BOC discussed the Fine Finish construction issue during a two-hour closed session to discuss “personnel” and “litigation.”
County attorney Mike Pruett said a lawsuit is a possibility.
“We retained a construction consulting company to evaluate the problem, and then brought in the construction attorney we have used in the past, John McManus, to confront the involved parties,” wrote Pruett in an emailed response to a Journal question about the construction problems Tuesday. “The county initially had to threaten litigation in order to get a serious response to its concerns, so while we are optimistic that the involved parties will now take responsibility, we are nonetheless preparing for that possibility.”
Pruett said the construction consultant “has recommended some additional steps as part of the process,” and the BOC agreed Monday night to authorize Pruett and the consultant to proceed with those recommendations.
The attorney said there is no evidence to suggest the structural problems pose a safety risk. Likewise, he said the county shouldn’t be burdened with any new costs.
“We have no information at present from which to conclude that the building is unsafe, but the consultant is monitoring that situation to be sure that remains the case,” said Pruett. “It seems clear that while the various entities involved in the construction process may now have disputes among themselves regarding responsibility, there should be no dispute that the county is entitled to have the problem corrected at no expense to it.”
Pruett added: “Obviously, this is not a problem anywhere near the scale of the jail situation in terms of cost; nonetheless, there is a construction defect here that the county is entitled to have corrected, and we intend to follow through to be sure that happens.”
The Fine Finish building was funded through a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant (CDGB) and constructed by Spratlin and Sons of Lincolnton, with Precision Planning serving as the architectal firm.
County clerk Morris Fortson said that prior to construction, the architectural firm hired someone to determine the boundaries of an old landfill on the Hwy. 98 property that went out of service years ago. The county, of course, didn’t want the new Fine Finish building constructed directly over the old landfill. However, the problems have revealed that the building may not be entirely off the former landfill site.

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To read more about the local events in Madison County, including births, weddings, sports news and school news, see this week's Madison County Journal.


Youngblood says county needs animal control
District 3 County Commissioner Mike Youngblood told fellow board members Monday that animal control is needed in the county, noting a recent incident in which a woman was bitten by a dog that had been playing earlier in the day with a 2-year-old child.
Youngblood noted the rapid growth in the Hull area and the increasing problem of dogs on the loose threatening pedestrians. He said he would like the county to implement laws by the new year to address the issue. He also suggested that the county consider splitting animal control into zones, with high-density residential areas having more stringent guidelines on containing pets than farm areas.
New guidelines could increase the government’s ability to address animal nuisance problems. District 5 commissioner Bruce Scogin has also spoke up several times this year about the county’s need for animal control guidelines.
Currently, county code enforcement officer Jack Huff is the county’s designated “dangerous dog officer” who is called out only to apprehend an animal that has bitten someone.
EMS STATION
IN HULL
In a separate matter, Youngblood asked chairman Wesley Nash about the planned EMS station in Hull.
“I just wanted to see where we stand and how long it will be before we see something,” said Youngblood.
Nash said he has a “tentative blueprint on the building itself” and that the county is currently seeking price estimates on construction.
“We’ll try to get you some prices and get moving on it,” Nash told Youngblood.
BOE, BOC, COUNCILS
TO MEET
In other business Monday, the commissioners heard from school board chairman Robert Haggard, who invited the group to a meeting of the BOE, BOC and a representative from each town council in the county. Haggard said the joint work session will give the groups an opportunity to talk about working together on county growth issues. The meeting is set for Thursday, Sept. 23, at 7 p.m. in the high school media center.
OTHER BUSINESS
In other matters Monday, the board took no action on the proposed abandonment of county road 336 (North Paoli Road). Several landowners along the road asked the commissioners to keep the road public, saying that they would be “landlocked” or denied access to their property if the road was made private.
The board approved a mileage reimbursement for county employees at 33 cents a mile. The group approved 45 mph speed limits on Sanford Nicholson, Lloyd Nelms and Leon Ellis roads.