Jackson County Opinions...

NOVEMBER 10, 2004



Column
By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
November 10, 2004

Rush To Grow Will Destroy Our Quality Of Life
Sometimes it seems as if there is a race to eliminate all the open spaces in Jackson County. Not a week passes without some proposal for a hundred-lot or thousand-lot subdivision. There is truly a land rush, and it is likely to last for many years.
Today, the property is being sold and the developers are approaching the planning commissions. In a few months the earth-moving equipment comes in and in six months or so, the sale of lots begins. In a year to three years the houses start going up.
The developments don’t occur overnight, but the developments that are being put together and proposed today will change life in Jackson County. A plan to put 2,000 houses on the 1,068-acre 4W Farm south of Arcade is exciting to contemplate – for Arcade. But it is scary to the people who realize that at one child per house, that single subdivision would require the construction of two to four new schools. Subdivisions of 1,000 lots or more have been proposed for the Talmo-Pendergrass area and Nicholson. Subdivisions with more than 100 lots spring up every week virtually all around the county.
They will not built out this year, but by the time they are, there will be 200 more just like them in some phase of development unless some new force arises to put the reigns on population growth.
The first institution to be affected by growth is the school system, which is why Jackson County School Superintendent Andy Byers plans to form a blue-ribbon group to take a really close look at growth trends and their likely ramifications.
The $70 million bond referendum the school board got passed will take care of the growth that is already under development. All of these other developments will require more schools funded by some other mechanism. With the last bond referendum barely passing, one can no longer assume that the voters will provide the money to keep school construction current with population growth.
Officials in Arcade, Talmo, Nicholson, Pendergrass and Braselton may welcome the growth. After all, they will not be held responsible for the cost of educating children. They may be stunned later, however, when the newcomers demand more police protection, recreation and other services that cannot be funded without property taxes. In short, they will demand services and amenities that cost more than revenues from sales taxes, franchise taxes and other income the cities now eye with enthusiasm or outright greed.
The unchecked growth will be most felt, as Byers understands, in education, not just in the facilities, but in the county school system’s ability to fund its basic programs. As the state continues to shift the cost of educating children back to the local level, the burden upon the taxpayers will become increasingly heavy. How long will Jackson County be able to offer its excellent fine arts program under these pressures? At what point will it resign itself to housing a substantial percentage of its classes in trailers?
Every little town in Jackson County has visions of being bigger and more important. Without control, those visions will become nightmares for the county school system and the taxpayers.


Editorials
The Commerce News
November 10
, 2004

Local Situation Shows Need For Regulations
To the casual observer, the new requirements placed on Commerce’s new waste treatment plant and upon its commercial sewer customers may seem like just more burdening requirements that make it hard for businesses to make a profit.
Such is the view often taken by groups that consider themselves “business friendly.” Indeed, the Bush administration is already talking of basing environmental policies on their effect on business.
Commerce will soon impose tighter regulations for materials entering its sewer system. Local businesses that prepare food might find it more economical to dispose of grease down the kitchen sink instead of operating and maintaining grease traps, but the city, which has to deal with the results, does not see it that way. Grease clogs up the collection system, increasing the city’s costs and making the waste treatment plant less efficient.
Environmental regulations protect the public. In the case of Commerce, the new regulations protect both the operation of the public’s waste treatment facility and the citizens who rely on water from the Savannah River watershed. The reality driving environmental water quality regulations is that what happens in Commerce affects everyone downstream. As the state’s population grows, Georgians create more wastes and more Georgians rely on the state’s waterways, so by necessity the water quality regulations must be more stringent.
Population will increase. So will the number of manufacturing plants and municipal waste systems. What will not increase is the amount of fresh water, so as more waste treatment plants dump waste into our streams and rivers, it is essential that the quality of the treated materials continue to improve.
It would be nice if all wastes could be washed down the rivers or emitted into the air to disappear forever, but the cold, hard fact is that as long as more people are using the same finite resources, the need for environmental regulation of business, industry and government operations will become greater.
The same model holds for protecting the air. As more people share the same amount of space and depend on the same air to breathe, and as more businesses emit pollutants, public health depends upon reducing the amount each emits.
It is short-sighted to view environmental regulations strictly on some cost-benefit ratio. The finite amounts of water, air and land will continue to require increased protection as the population of the people – and the potential polluters – grows.



A Disturbing Reversal
The rezoning for a 114-lot subdivision on White Hill School Road over the objection of the Commerce Planning Commission and on a 3-2 vote by the city council is disturbing on two points.
First, the developers changed the project between their meeting with the planning commission and the city council meeting. In that case, the request should have gone back before the planning commission for a recommendation on the revised version before it went to the council. In essence, it can be argued that the planning commission never got the opportunity to make a recommendation – as the process dictates – on the project as submitted to the city council.
Second, the motion to rezone the project was made by Councilman Bob Sosebee, who is a real estate agent. While Sosebee indicated that neither he nor the company that employs him has a connection with the developer, he has complained in city council meetings that Commerce does not have a suitable “inventory” of R-1 houses for him to show clients. That suggests a conflict between Sosebee’s function as a city councilman and his job as a real estate salesman.

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Column
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
November 10, 2004

Time to defend water authority from greed
Greed. There’s no other word that fits the attitude from Arcade officials when they say they want their own water service territory.
You can almost see the dollar signs dancing in their eyes when they proclaim they want to “control their own destiny.”
Hogwash.
What Arcade wants is money. Its leaders have apparently been stroked by a group of Gwinnett developers and promised a zillion dollars if they can wrangle their own water service territory away from the county water authority.
Many observers suspect the real motive is a secret deal — if Arcade can get its own water service territory by taking away from the county water system, it can collect the tap fees and other revenue from a proposed high-density project of 2,000-plus houses. In return, the developers may want to get a higher density of houses than they might otherwise be able to get. What other possible motive could have led the developers of a mega-subdivision to annex into the town — Arcade’s cultural offerings?
And Arcade officials don’t care that in taking service territory away from the county water system, it will be hurting the rest of Jackson County’s citizens.
Never mind that it was county water system leaders who took the risk, borrowed the money, built the water lines and invested in a regional reservoir while Arcade stood by with its hands in its pockets.
Never mind that water authority debts have to be repaid by growing the county water system and expanding its services. Otherwise, those debts will be thrown onto the backs of property taxpayers.
Never mind that Arcade had a chance to be part of the regional reservoir system, but declined.
Never mind that the rest of Jackson County helped finance those county water lines now serving citizens in Arcade.
Now that others have taken the risk, put in the lines and built the reservoir, Arcade officials want to step in and grab the dollars sitting on the table, the fruits of other leaders’ labor.
It’s greed. There’s no other word for it. Arcade leaders believe they can make a quick buck with little upfront risk or costs by becoming a water service middleman. (Left unspoken by Arcade leaders is the fact that Arcade water customers will pay more for their water with the town as a middleman.)
But standing in the way of this scheme are at least three members of the water authority who know they must protect the financial integrity of the county water system. And there is an incoming board of commissioners whose members know the county water system should not be cannibalized just to satisfy greedy small town politicians. Incoming BOC chairman Pat Bell has long been an outspoken critic of fracturing the county water system by giving away its service territory.
What is really unsettling about all of this, however, is that Jefferson officials agreed Monday night to sign off on the scheme. Jefferson could have waited until the new BOC took office and let the matter be renegotiated in January. Instead, Jefferson chose to cast its support with the current BOC, which devised the plan as a way to undermine the water authority with which it has been feuding for the past three years.
Jefferson’s motive for doing that is puzzling. Why would Jefferson want to ally itself with a discredited, lame duck BOC?
Why would Jefferson want to take an action it knows will harm the county water authority?
And why is Jefferson doing something that is clearly against its own self-interest? By agreeing to allow Arcade to have its own water service territory, Jefferson has committed growth suicide.
Think about it: Arcade officials are clearly willing to allow high-density housing by annexing property, but such projects will also have a huge impact on Jefferson and its citizens.
And Jefferson leaders also know that nearby Pendergrass, which has recently approved a controversial high-density housing project, will not be far behind in wanting to take territory away from the water authority as well.
That means that Jefferson will be squeezed between two towns that favor, indeed encourage, high-density growth.
Don’t Jefferson officials realize the long-term implications of that for Jefferson citizens?
Giving Arcade, and perhaps Pendergrass, the power to control water and sewerage placement, along with the power of zoning and annexation, is a growth train wreck waiting to happen. Self-interest, not public interest, rules the decision-making in those small towns. Just look at their history and record.
Jefferson leaders were in a position to stand in the way of this greedy grab for territory; they could have played a leadership role in doing what was right for all of Jackson County.
Alas, they caved to political pressure and became a part of the problem rather than a facilitator of a solution.
But that does not mean the rest of us should follow Jefferson’s inadequate and irresolute leadership.
Maintaining the long-term financial security of the county water system is of paramount importance to all Jackson County citizens.
The water authority cannot allow its very existence to be sacrificed on this alter of public greed.
It must fight back.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


Editorials
The Jackson Herald
November 10, 2004

Evans’ move needed to resolve issue
Monday’s move by Sheriff Stan Evans to impound the vehicles of the county marshal’s office should send a strong message to county leaders.
For two years, Sheriff Evans has been attempting to resolve differences with the marshal’s office over an issue of who has law enforcement powers.
But county officials diddled and dawdled for two years, ignoring Evans’ complaints.
At its core, Monday’s dramatic action was a move to bring the issue to a head and force county leaders to get off the dime and deal with the matter rather than just talking.
The way county officials handled the creation of the marshal’s office two years ago set into motion the events that led up to Monday’s action. Created by the board of commissioners, the employees of the marshal’s office began working at a pay scale higher than that of most county sheriff’s deputies, a move that was seen by deputies as an insult.
If that was not enough to create ill will, county leaders then outfitted the marshal’s office with new cars, guns and other accouterments that are unnecessary for a code enforcement agency.
Indeed, marshal employees pretended to be law enforcement officers, but Evans says they have no powers of arrest or other real law enforcement duties.
The marshal’s office is supposed to be a code enforcement arm for the county. It is not supposed to be a private police force for county officials.
The final straw for the sheriff’s department came when the head of the marshal’s office, E. C. Brogan, used his appointed position as a stepping stone to run against Evans for Sheriff. That was tantamount to pouring salt into an open wound.
Evans, of course, won that election last week by an 80 percent margin. With that mandate in hand, Evans took action Monday to deal with what has become an expensive, unregulated private police force in the county government which reported to no one.
And if it takes such an action to get the attention of county officials, so be it. After all, actions speak louder than words.


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