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SEPTEMBER 8, 2004


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OPINIONS
Jackson County opinion page


SPORTS
Offense clicking, defense dominating and Dragons 3-0 for first time since 1995
FOR THE first time in a long while there are two teams from Region 8-A ranked in the Class A Top Ten this week, and neither of them is the Commerce Tigers.

Round One Goes To Tigers
CHS Holds Off JHS In First Fast-Pitch Meeting Between Rival Schools
The Commerce fast-pitch softball program secured the biggest win so far of its brief history with a wild one-run victory over Jefferson this past Thursday.

Lady Panther mistakes prove costly against rival Raiders
It hasn’t happened often this season, but last Thursday mistakes cost the Jackson County fast-pitch team a ball game.
Up against rival Madison County in Danielsville the Lady Panthers dropped an important subregion game that could come back to haunt them later this season.


News from
BANKS COUNTY
Proposed subdivision sparks dispute
Planners take no action on Brooks’ request
A rezoning application brought before the Banks County Planning Commission Tuesday night by Tim Brooks erupted into public dispute.
Brooks filed an application with the county to rezone 159 acres on Hebron Road from Agricultural Rural Residential to Single Family Residential for the placement of 120 houses.

Vendors will need permits for Gillsville festival
Vendors who want to set up a stand during the annual Hewell Pottery Turnin’ and Burnin’ Saturday, October 2, will be required to have a vendor’s license, no matter where they set up.


News from
MADISON
COUNTY
Medical Mission
Local effort focuses on doctors in need in Iraq
Light bulbs, lead pencils, oxygen and medical journals.
These things may not appear to have much in common, but for the citizens of Iraq they all represented things in short supply during sanctions imposed by the United Nations following the Gulf War in 1992.

Fitzpatrick retires after nearly 30 years
Last week Margie Fitzpatrick ended more than a quarter century of working with handicapped adults in the community.
Fitzpatrick had worked for Advantage Behavioral Health Systems for 28 years and eight months to be exact when she retired last Tuesday.

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Tara Dillard, left, talks to Jacque Craven in her garden as cameraman Cliff Yeargin films for an episode of “Better Gardening” to be aired this fall.


Commissioners adopt tentative 2005 budget
No tax hike in plans, but no funds allocated for new courthouse lease payment
The proposed 2005 Jackson County budget may be more notable for what it doesn’t have as for what it does include.
The budget, proposed last week by the Jackson County Board of Commissioners, does not include any funds to make lease payments on the new courthouse. The county didn’t budget those payments because officials said they believe a planned special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) vote will be approved by voters and generate the necessary funds to meet that obligation.
But that SPLOST vote, which had been scheduled for November, was postponed last week after officials ran out of time to get the issue on the November ballot. That means the earliest SPLOST which can be voted on will be in March 2005 under a new county administration (see other story).
In addition to the absence of the courthouse note payments, the county does not yet have a clear picture of the overhead costs associated with the new courthouse. While some funds were allocated in the 2005 budget for utilities and the extra cost of insurance, officials expect those expenses to be higher than budgeted.
The 2005 county budget is also absent any pay increases for county employees. Officials said that a 16 percent hike in the county’s health insurance costs would have to be considered a pay increase this year.
And the margin for error in the 2005 budget is razor thin. No contingency funds are in the 2005 budget and most departmental expenses are budgeted at close to the current year’s budget. In addition, the county’s cash reserves are at their lowest point in years. At the current pace of expenses, the county will likely end the year with well under $2 million in reserves. The county began the current year with $2.9 million in reserves, but has spent those funds in costs related to the new courthouse.
The only departments to see major increases were the sheriff’s department and jail which combined adds 24 employees, many related to the operation of the new courthouse. Together, the sheriff and jail budgets were up $1.2 million over the current year.
But the proposed budget did not include any funds for the housing of county prisioners in other jails, an expense that in the current year will total around $400,000. The lack of jail space has been a crushing problem on the county for several years and while there has been talk about building a new jail, little planning for that has been done.
NO TAX HIKE
While the proposed budget left out some key expenses, it also does not call for a millage rate increase. Officials project that due to an increase in the tax digest, the county will take in an additional $620,000 in property taxes this year.
County staff members were instructed to keep the millage rate the same next year. Finance director John Hulsey said he “pushed the revenues to the limit” to make the budget balance after being told not to include a tax hike in the planning.
“It wasn’t the budget we wanted, but we made it work,” he said Friday afternoon. “It’s not something we can’t live with.”
He added that he is optimistic that the reserves at the end of this year will be enough to amend the budget next year.
Overall, the budget calls for the county to take in $2 million more for 2005 than the 2004 budget, a 10 percent increase in revenues. Expenses are projected to be $904,000 for the year.
COURTHOUSE
PAYMENTS
Hulsey said half of the new courthouse payment is due in April, with the remainder due Oct. 1. The payments total $1.1 million and are for interest only. The first principle payment will be due in 2006.
Hulsey said cash flow shouldn’t be a problem early next year because most of the taxes would be collected early in the year. He said this money could be used to cover the first payment and then he could adjust the budget after the SPLOST funds start coming in in June.

Jefferson ties for top system SAT scores
JCCHS also shows increases in scores
With a score of 1077, the Jefferson City School system tied with Oconee County for the top system SAT score in the state. The top 10 list was posted on the Georgia Department of Education website. Jefferson High School was also named as one of the top 10 schools for math scores. With a score of 560, JHS ranked eighth in the state.
The scores that put JHS in the top 10 lists were those of all 52 students who took the test, with a verbal score average of 517, math, 560, and the total, 1077.
For the 38 JHS college prep students, the 2004 scores were: verbal, 525, math, 589, and total, 1114. The JHS totals have climbed over the past two years, from 996 in 2002 to 1032 in 2003 for all students who took the test. College prep totals decreased from 1082 in 2002 to 1069 in 2003, before climbing again this year.
All JHS scores exceeded the 2004 Georgia and national scores. JHS saw improvements in all areas over its 2003 scores.
JCCHS
Jackson County Comprehensive High School also saw gains over its 2003 scores, with the exception of college prep verbal scores.
The numbers for all 102 students who took the test were: math, 495, and verbal, 487, for a 982 total.
The numbers for the 83 college prep students who took the test were: math, 525, and verbal, 508, for a 1033 total.
The 2004 scores for all JCCHS students who took the test are up from 2002 and 2003. The scores for college prep students are also up from both years, with the exception of a drop in verbal scores between 2003 and 2004.


BOC condemns land for roadwork at new courthouse
The Jackson County Board of Commissioners agreed in a called meeting Friday afternoon to authorize the condemnation of 2,753 square feet of right of way and easement for roadwork at the new courthouse.
The BOC agreed for attorney Daniel Haygood to move forward with the condemnation of the “Barrett property,” located on the left side of the road at the entrance to Jackson Parkway. The property is needed to widen the lane, as required by the DOT.


Renovation under way at Admin. Building
Walls are being torn down and glass plate windows are being put up as part of a renovation project at the Jackson County Administration Building in Jefferson.
The former State Courtroom is being renovated to serve as the planning commission and board of appeals meeting room.
The former Grand Jury room, located adjacent to the EMS and 911 offices, will be used as an EMS training and conference room.
The former solicitor’s office is being used by the personnel and purchasing departments.


Three on ballot in Maysville mayor’s race
Maysville’s incumbent mayor, Richard Presley, and Ward 3 councilman, Andy Martin, will both be facing opposition in the Nov. 2 city election.
Presley will be pitted against Catherine Daniel and Jerry Baker in the mayor’s race.
In the Ward 3 race, Martin will face Richard Parr and Rebecca McNeely.
In Ward 1, Ken Mize was the only one to qualify. Incumbent Andrew Strickland is not seeking re-election.
Trent Strickland was the only one to qualify for the Ward 2 council seat. Incumbent Marion Jarrett is not seeking re-election.
In Ward 4, incumbent Scott Harper was the only one to qualify.
The polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on election day, Tuesday, Nov. 2.


No SPLOST vote on the Nov. ballot
May be slated for a March election
A November vote on a special purpose local option sales tax to fund the new courthouse, recreation projects and the fire training center will not be held.
The Jackson County Board of Commissioners had planned to call for the Nov. 2 referendum in the next few weeks, but plans were halted Friday when it was announced that the final wording of the ballot would be needed by 4 p.m. that afternoon.
The BOC had called the Friday meeting to meet with mayors and hammer out the allocation of the SPLOST funds. More than 40 city and county officials, and a few citizens, were at the new courthouse for the meeting.
Commissioner Emil Beshara opened the meeting by asking the timeline for calling a SPLOST referendum. Staff members said while they have enough time to meet the legal requirements for calling for the vote, they didn’t have time to get the information to the printers. County leaders found out late last week that the final wording for the ballot, including exactly how the SPLOST funds would be distributed, had to be to the printer by 4 p.m. Friday.
The meeting with the city officials began at noon and those present said they wouldn’t have enough time to get the information together by the deadline.
Mayor Jim Joiner stood and said he didn’t think the SPLOST referendum would pass in November anyway and would have a better chance in March. He was apparently referring to the dissatisfaction with the current BOC. Three of the members will no longer serve as of Jan. 1.
Beshara said there was no reason to continue with the Friday meeting since an election wouldn’t be held in November.
“I don’t understand what we are doing here,” Beshara said.
County manager Al Crace said the county would still need to “begin the dialogue” with the towns if a vote is to be held in March.
Commissioner Sammy Thomason pointed out that if the SPLOST fails in March, the county would have “budgetary problems.” The current BOC is proposing that the SPLOST funds be used to make the courthouse payment, pay for several road projects for economic development and repaving of current county roads.
“If it (SPLOST) passes, these budgetary concerns are settled,” he said.
In addition to the courthouse payment, the county proposes allocating $1.5 million for the fire training center and equipment; $5 million for parks and recreation; $5.5 million for economic development roads and facilities; $1.7 million for road resurfacing; $.15 million for airport runway; $800,000 for library improvement grant match; $1 million for public safety, Plainview and Nicholson EMS. Some $9.9 million would be distributed to the towns based on population, to be used for the projects they designate.
Jackson County Water and Sewer Authority chairman Warren Walker sent a letter to BOC chairman Harold Fletcher requesting 50 percent of the SPLOST revenue. There was no discussion on this.
If the vote is held March 15, it must be finalized by Jan. 13. There was some discussion as to whether the new board members would have time to do this after taking office Jan. 1. It was pointed out that the new board members could begin meeting, unofficially, after the November election.
The current SPLOST ends in March 2005, with checks coming to the county through May. If another SPOST passes in March, the county will begin receiving revenue from it in June.


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TV Show To Tap Expertise
Of Local Gardener, Cook
Local garden enthusiasts who watch Tara Dillard’s “Better Gardening” show at noon Saturdays will see a familiar face this fall.
Dillard and a camera crew from Channel 46, the CBS affiliate in Atlanta, were at the home of Ron and Jacque Craven Friday doing a segment on herb gardening and cooking with herbs. Parts were filmed in the yard and parts in the kitchen.
Dillard, who is president of the American Hydrangea Society, met the Cravens earlier this year when she lectured on growing hydrangeas.
“That was something. Eighty people came out on a Thursday. You don’t get that kind of crowd in Atlanta,” Dillard said.
That started a new friendship.
“I bonded with them. We hit it off,” she said. “We were not only talking about plants, we were talking about food.”
The Cravens are well-known locally for their horticultural and culinary skills. They operate a landscaping company and are the former owners of a nursery in Indiana. Their home off the Yarbrough-Ridgeway Road features numerous large garden beds holding hundreds of different varieties of herbs, flowers, shrubs and small trees. They also have a greenhouse.
Dillard was accompanied by producer Earl Gray and cameraman Cliff Yeargin. The date for airing the episode has not yet been determined.


Advance voting set Sept. 13-17 for school bond referendum
Advance voting will be offered next week for the $70 million bond referendum called by the Jackson County School System.
Voters will be able to go to the voter registrars office, located in the old county courthouse in downtown Jefferson, from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, Sept. 13-17, to cast a ballot.
The election will be Tuesday, Sept. 21. On that day, all county polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
The school system called for the bond referendum on $70 million in new school projects.
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.
Top on the priority list is a new high school in the East Jackson area, near East Jackson Middle School and East Jackson Elementary School.
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.
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.