Jackson County Opinions...

SEPTEMBER 22, 2004



Column
By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
September 22, 2004

E-Mail: Cheap, Quick And Gives Deniability
The Internet and e-mail make communications much faster and simpler, as recent hurricanes and far-away children reminded me, but they have an asset I’d overlooked that is just as important.
“I never got that e-mail” is a plausible excuse for procrastination or failure to do anything solicited by e-mail. When uttered, that disclaimer is universally accepted.
Part of the reason is that e-mail has nowhere near the successful delivery rate of the U.S. Postal Service. Sure, the neither-rain-nor-sleet-nor-snow folks do miscarry or even lose mail, but they’re remarkably accurate. E-mail, on the other hand, while as quick as light, miscarries with astounding frequency; everyone with a computer has experienced e-mails that never arrived and has sent those that vanished into the electronic void. In addition, every business has endured days when the e-mail system was “down” and all e-mails sent in or out during the down time simply disappeared. In fact, although our computers do amazing things and give us new capabilities, the system errors, crashes and software and hardware glitches cause more high blood pressure and cursing than anything (except management) in the work place. As a result, we are predisposed to accept technology-related failures.
Which gives all of us plausible deniability.
“I e-mailed you that picture. Why wasn’t it in the paper?”
I never got the e-mail. Are you sure you’re using the right address?
“You must not read your e-mail. I asked you twice to send me that information.”
I got the e-mail but I couldn’t open the attachment.
“I’ve e-mailed you six times. Are you ignoring me?”
Our system picked up the Destructor Worm from an attachment and all our records were deleted.
There are limits, such as when you use your e-mail during the commission of a crime and the prosecutor subpoenas your e-mail provider, as officials at the company formerly known as Enron could attest. If you REALLY want communications to stay private, e-mail is not a great idea. For dealing with people not likely to subpoena your correspondence, however, e-mail provides a wonderful combination of speed, convenience and low cost while allowing the recipient to deny having received any unwelcome message.
Talk about having your cake and eating it too.
For many of us, e-mail has not only replaced the bulk of regular mail, but has also eliminated a lot of phone calls, both to our advantage. It was pretty hard to weasel out of demands made by phone, but those sent electronically can be safely ignored and their existence denied – or occasionally acted upon.
The computer that provides us with opportunities to increase production also offers the ultimate excuse, of which e-mail denial is but a minor part.
Forget to write that report or take the baby out of the parked car? Just tell ‘em “my computer is down” and chances are you’re OK.
The technology was built to help us. Deniability is icing on the cake.


Editorials
The Commerce News
September 22
, 2004

Boys & Girls Club A Good Use For Grant
Commerce’s community development block grant consultant suggested last week that the city look for different uses in future CDBG grant applications. Among the possibilities, he said, is a building for a Boys and Girls Club.
What an opportunity to do something far-reaching for Commerce. The Boys and Girls Club of Jackson County needs a Commerce presence and Commerce kids need the Boys and Girls Club. Currently, access to the club in Jefferson is limited to local youths by its location, a fact that the Girls and Boys Club has recognized from its outset. In its long-range plan is a Commerce campus.
Commerce has many needs, but it’s hard to imagine a better use for a grant than a Commerce campus of the Boys and Girls Club of Jackson County.

We Need To Hear How U.S. Can End Iraq War
“You gotta know when to hold them and know when to fold ‘em,” say the lyrics to Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler.” When it comes to the war in Iraq, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the U.S. needs to “fold ‘em,” but nobody knows quite how to do it, let alone when.
In the beginning, the Pentagon warned that America had not committed enough forces to Iraq to occupy the country, but the Bush administration bet that we’d be hailed as liberators and cheered as we re-built the tattered infrastructure. They were right – for about a week. Today, with the death toll increasing as the number of attacks by emboldened insurgents soars, even the president’s national intelligence advisors paint a grim picture of the future.
A classified National Intelligence Estimate reports slim chances of democracy being achieved in Iraq. That report, prepared in July before the recent intensification of activity, represents a decidedly pessimistic consensus of the nation’s intelligence agencies. Of course, given those agencies’ pre-war estimations of Iraq’s ability to launch weapons of mass destruction, their analysis should not be taken as gospel.
Large parts of Iraq remain under militia control. Attacks by insurgents have grown from a few daily to more than 80 per day and have gone from crude roadside bombs to sophisticated and coordinated attacks. What the administration once wrote off as the work of a few Baath party members and terrorists from other countries is now largely viewed as an organized Iraqi-led opposition. Iraq is more dangerous today for Americans and Iraqis alike than it was a year ago. Reconstruction has faltered amid threats and kidnapping; only $1 billion of the $18.4 billion reconstruction funds approved last November has been spent and now more than $3 billion of that appropriation is being diverted for security. Those numbers do not inspire optimism.
President Bush remains committed to staying the course, but appears to have no plan to improve the situation. Senator John Kerry straddles the fence, saying he opposed the war and wants to bring the troops home, but has offered no strategy for achieving that. In short, the world’s most powerful country is bogged down in a nasty little war that it appears uncommitted to win but from which neither its leader nor its potential leader have a plan to escape.
Six weeks before the election it’s time for the candidates to quit debating their Vietnam era activities and tell us what they will do to end this war. America dealt itself a bad hand when it entered war under false pretenses, misread the mood of the Iraqi citizens, committed insufficient forces for the occupation and failed to secure the occupied territory. With that kind of hand, it’s time to come up with a realistic plan to fold ‘em.

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Column
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
September 22, 2004

A ‘geek’ report on taxes
They say confession is good for the soul, so here’s mine: I’m a closet “geek” when it comes to government spending and taxes.
I’m sure this confession will confuse and surprise many of my old school teachers who no doubt remember me as not having enough academic skills to spell “geek,” much less be one.
But that was before I bought a house and began to pay taxes. It suddenly dawned on me that trying to figure out why my taxes kept going up was important. And as a journalist, I should be able to explain that same information to readers.
Or so I thought.
What I found was a system which defies common logic. It is not simple, or obvious, or easily understood.
So my hidden deep-geek self emerged and I began to pour through mountains of government tax documents. Year after year, I look through the details of our local property tax digests; I read the details of government budgets and audits as though they were some kind of titillating novel; and in good geek tradition, I whip out my calculator and do comparisons and ratios to see what trends can be found in all the numbers.
So what trends have I found? Here are a few items which seem to me to be overall trends in the making:
• Governments generally grow faster than the underlying economic growth which supports them. The pressures of growth at any given moment exceeds the actual economic benefit of that growth. Governments have to build water lines, ballfields, roads and a host of other services before there is actually enough of an economic base to support that infrastructure. If growth were to run in cycles, say going up for a few years followed by a few years of being flat, there might actually be periods of government-growth balance. But when growth is relentless, governments will never be able to catch up. That’s why the cost of funding local governments tends to go up faster than the tax digest.
• The shifting demographics of our society will soon remake how we look at local property taxes. Currently, the largest impact on the Jackson County tax digest is how we value agricultural land under the conservation use program. That program, which is supposed to help keep greenspace in a community, currently cuts some $97 million off the Jackson County tax digest. But as property values rise, more and more land will develop and the amount under conservation use will begin to fall. But rising in its place will be more demands for property exemptions from an aging baby-boomer population. We already have some special exemptions for senior citizens, but the pressure on that will grow as more of us get older. We want our AARP discounts when we shop and by golly, we want a discount on our taxes too! That may be great for those of us approaching the AARP years, but it bodes ill for young families who will be left with the burden of government finance. (Of course, it is young families which place much of the burden on government services — schools, recreation facilities, and even law enforcement. So maybe that’s fair, or maybe I’m just getting old.)
• Jackson County is underserved by the commercial sector. Only 10 percent of the county’s net tax digest comes from commercial property. And while that has increased some over the last four years, it still isn’t the ratio public policymakers would like to see. For one thing, commercial growth nets additional sales tax dollars in addition to property taxes. But commercial growth is a double-edged sword: It generates lots of money, but it can also become an ugly eyesore and make traffic congestion terrible around the “mega-” centers that have become known derisively as “Sprawl-Marts.” Unfortunately, many governments don’t have the planning skills to mitigate such commercial developments.
• In Jackson County, the structure of the tax digest depends on where you live. In Jefferson, for example, the city tax digest is over half industrial and commercial. For the county school system, however, it is only about 25 percent industrial and commercial. That difference has always been a strong undercurrent in county politics, but will be even more important in the future as the county grows and the gaps between “rich” and “poor” tax districts widen. We’ve already seen this with the tensions between Commerce and the rest of the county over industrial development. Despite being larger in population, Commerce’s tax digest is only half the size of Jefferson’s. The only reason that isn’t a bigger issue is that Commerce gets most of its city funding from its utility system and not property taxes.
• It may not seem like it when looking at the local housing boom, but the rate of growth in the county’s tax digest is slowing. From 2001 to 2002, the tax digest grew 11 percent. From 2002 to 2003, that dropped to 9 percent growth. And from 2003 to 2004, the rate dropped to just 4 percent. Housing growth remains strong, up 12 percent from last year, but industrial and commercial have slowed. In fact, housing growth has remained stable for the last three years at around 11 percent per year. But industrial and commercial projects tend to run in cycles. And on major industrial projects, there is often a phase-in of taxes over several years. In addition, depreciation and some freeport exemptions impact the industrial and commercial part of the digest. From 2001 to 2004, the industrial and commercial part of the digest had a net growth of only 10 percent while housing had a net growth of 28 percent. In 2001, housing was 42 percent of the tax digest, but by 2004 had grown to 46 percent.
That’s the wrong trend and should be of concern to all public policymakers.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


Editorials
The Jackson Herald
September 15
, 2004

Jefferson should say ‘No’ to judicial rent
The citizens of Jackson County are being forced to pay for a $35 million judicial building they never had a voice in building or financing.
Now those same county officials want the City of Jefferson, and any other group holding a meeting at the facility, to pay for the right to use this building.
It’s a crazy idea and one that should receive a resounding “No” from city officials.
Because of renovations in the county Administration Building, Jefferson has lost its place to hold city court. A new location won’t be ready for another six months.
Thus, the city had inquired about using a meeting room in the new judicial building to hold its city court for the next few months.
But county officials say the city will have to pay around $1,000 per month for the right to use this public building. The reason is to pay for hiring four deputies to man the building while the town’s court held its hearings.
Let us be blunt: The new county judicial building isn’t the Pentagon. It isn’t CIA headquarters. It isn’t the White House.
But county leaders think this building is on par with those facilities and installed a super-high-tech security system that requires four deputies just to open the front doors.
It was a nutty concept from the start and just another example of how county leaders have wasted millions of dollars on that project.
There is no reason for the city to pay four deputies to man the judicial building during city court hearings.
For one thing, the room will be full of city policemen anyway who are there to testify on various charges being heard. Just how much security does one small city court need?
County demands to pay for four deputies is overkill, an example of how local governments spin out of control.
Our suggestion is simple: Just say “No.”


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