Jackson County Opinions...

NOVEMBER 17, 2004



Column
By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
November 17, 2004

Officials Try To Cut The Need For School Tax Subsidy
One of the points of debate used locally when considering rezoning requests for subdivisions is the effect the children in those subdivisions will have on the school system.
In Commerce, it has been argued that a house must be worth $231,000 to generate enough taxes to pay for the education of a child.
To get the cost of educating one child, divide the total local school tax levy of $1,994,337 by the number “full-time equivalent” students (1,421 last week) and the dollar figure you get is $1,403.47. I’m not in journalism because I do math well, but my calculation is that a house valued at $218,600 would generate that and change. So, should we require each new house to be worth $218,600 before allowing its construction?
In Georgia, the average household has 2.65 residents, which suggests that not every house has children to educate. In my neighborhood, I estimate that there are 14 to 15 school-age children in the 15 houses. Six of those households will produce no children to be educated, the children having grown and gone. Others will produce six to seven more as time passes.
From the standpoint of school taxes, my neighborhood is in the red.
During the years my two kids were in school, the city lost money on our house because school taxes were insufficient to cover the costs incurred in educating my children. Now, with the children gone, the taxes on the house are catching up the debt. Our house is an asset, from the standpoint of school taxes. Its value is appreciating and the city school system can look forward to no expenses coming from it unless we sell or rent it to someone with children.
The threshold figure cited for tax generation versus taxes required to educate assumes that (a) there is one child per household and (b) there always will be. In reality, there may be no school children or, more likely, a number of years in which the house shelters school-age children and a number when it does not. School taxes are collected every year, however, without regard to whether if or when a house shelters children in the public schools.
Business and industry produce no children and are considerably more valuable than houses. They also pay school taxes. They, and houses which contain no children or which send their kids to private schools, subsidize the households whose children attend public schools but which do not produce sufficient school tax revenue. If the new CVS goes on the books at $1 million, it will cover the education of 4.5 children. There are also households outside the city and public housing in the city which produce no school taxes but which send children to be educated at $1,403 per head.
Owners of existing houses, mobile homes and apartments are, generally, not paying city school taxes at a rate of $1,403. Is it fair to ask that all new houses should? Yet if we allow hundreds of new houses without new business and industry to subsidize them, we’ll see local school taxes going up dramatically.
The problem defies a formula, but it boils down to not expanding the cost of operating the schools faster than we’re increasing the revenue to pay for schools. Toward that end, officials are trying to force the building of homes that will require less subsidizing to educate the children they will house.


Editorials
The Commerce News
November 17
, 2004

Take Close Look At
The Effects of Growth
Is Jackson County outgrowing its ability to provide services?
In the public sector, we just built a new courthouse but a new jail is desperately needed. The county just passed a $70 million school bond issue to accommodate the children who will move into the thousands of new houses that are proposed.
But at the rate subdivisions and houses are being created, by the time a jail and the $70 million worth of new school construction are completed, the county will have enough newer yet subdivisions and lots to fill another five or 10 schools and another jail, all of which not only require funds for construction, but for operations as well. The effects on traffic, law enforcement, social services and other areas that contribute to the quality of life cannot be fully known.
That’s why Andy Byers, superintendent of the Jackson County Board of Education, wants local governments and school systems to take a long, hard look at the future. What do the numbers mean in terms of future needs and effects on the communities? At the current rate of growth, what will life be like here in 10 years or in 20?
As quickly as we think the area is growing now, the speed of development will hasten in years to come. There’s too much money at stake, too much pressure to expand. What Jackson County needs is a more comprehensive means of determining the effect of 1,000 or 10,000 new houses so those who plan and make policy will understand the ramifications of their actions.
Byers is taking the lead because the school systems are the first public institution to be affected by growth, but every other aspect of government also feels the effects. What will the additional 3,000 lots already approved for Jefferson mean in terms of services and quality of life? How will the development of huge subdivisions in Pendergrass, Talmo, Arcade and other areas affect schools, traffic, taxes, law enforcement and emergency services? Should a city government with no school system have the freedom to promote residential growth at the expense of the schools? At what point will we need more drinking water and waste treatment and when will the demand on fire and rescue services get to the point that volunteers can no longer handle the load? Is it time to start requiring wider rights of ways to accommodate future road widening?
The nine municipalities, three school systems, 11 fire districts, two water authorities, eight law enforcement agencies and a county government all face similar challenges. For this county to avoid the chaos of unrestrained growth, it’s going to need a lot more coordination among these entities and consideration of each other. Byers’ panel might be a start.

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Column
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
November 17, 2004

Byers is right, but Jefferson was ‘dumb’
How should Jackson County manage its resources to accommodate growth? That is the fundamental question being asked by Jackson County School superintendent Andy Byers.
Byers has suggested that once the new board of commissioners takes office in January, a county leadership “summit” meeting be held to discuss growth policy decisions.
High on Byers lists of issues to discuss is the future allocation of water and sewerage resources in the county. As Byers knows, both can be used to encourage or discourage various kinds of growth in the county.
Of particular concern to Byers is the potential use of county resources to encourage high-density housing in the county. He was outspoken on that issue at a recent meeting between Arcade city officials and county water authority officials.
Byers warned that what Arcade wants to do in using water to bring a high-density housing development into the county will harm the county school system. He bluntly told the group that despite the recent passage of a $70 million bond referendum, the county school system couldn’t meet the needs of students coming from such a project.
Byers further warned that officials should not allow all of the county’s water resources to be used just for residential growth. In the future, Byers said, there would be a need for water to service commercial and industrial projects in the county. But if all the water is destined for residential projects, the ability to serve those businesses will be limited.
All of those are legitimate issues that need to be discussed in the forum Byers proposes. Indeed, all of this is a balancing act for county water authority leaders. On the one hand, they must sell enough water and sewerage treatment to make payments on various bond debts.
On the other hand, county officials know they must hold some of their resources in reserve for the future, as Byers pointed out. If they don’t, those resources may be squandered in ways that could do more harm than good to Jackson County.
Making matters worse is the recent growth in resource greed by some local small town officials, especially Arcade.
There was a time not long ago when the biggest long-term threat to the county school system was annexation by Jefferson and Commerce, both of whom have independent school systems. That annexation ate away at the county school system’s tax base.
But that issue is now virtually non-existent. Instead, the biggest threat to the county school system today are high-density developments being encouraged by some of the county’s greedy small town leaders.
Byers is right. County leaders need to openly discuss these issues. He should be encouraged in that endeavor.

***

I still don’t understand why Jefferson leaders recently agreed to help the current BOC and Arcade in an effort to hurt the county water authority.
Jefferson leaders could have stopped that effort. Instead, they joined hands with a lame-duck BOC and voted to help take territory away from the county water system and give it to Arcade.
There’s a word for those kinds of political decisions: Dumb.
Dumb because in taking such a stand, Jefferson leaders have put in jeopardy their own upcoming school bond vote in the city for a new elementary school.
There has been a growing reluctance in Jefferson of building new facilities to accommodate students who live outside of the city. Why, some Jefferson residents are asking, should they be taxed for new buildings to educate kids who live outside the city and whose parents don’t pay taxes in town?
By agreeing to side with this BOC, Jefferson leaders only added fuel to that fire. If Arcade is successful in its efforts to take territory away from the county water system for a high-density 2,400-home residential project, where will many of those kids go to school?
Some would go to South Jackson elementary, but others would no doubt find it just as easy to zip up the bypass to Jefferson city schools.
So in effect, Jefferson leaders voted to help Arcade get a high-density housing project whose kids could further overload Jefferson elementary school.
Jefferson’s March school bond vote could revolve around questions about that decision.
Jefferson leaders also made a politically dumb decision to ignore a majority of the new incoming BOC members who strongly opposed the move to hurt the county water system.
Despite a request from incoming chairman Pat Bell and other incoming BOC members, Jefferson refused to wait and work with the new board to find a compromise.
But it gets worse. This week Jefferson suddenly had a couple requests for “help” on the outgoing BOC’s agenda.
A coincidence?
The appearance suggests that Jefferson agreed to a secret deal with the lame-duck BOC: If Jefferson would help them undermine the county water authority by taking territory away and giving it to Arcade, then the BOC would “help” Jefferson with some grading projects.
Jefferson leaders, however, overlooked one small detail: That BOC will be out of office in about six weeks. The new BOC, the one Jefferson ignored (or as kids would say, “dissed”) will be in office, pushing the buttons on county road equipment.
Does Arcade have a bulldozier Jefferson can borrow?
What were Jefferson leaders thinking?
Wrong issue. Wrong allies. Wrong timing.
Dumb.
There just ain’t no other word for it.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


Editorials
The Jackson Herald
November 17, 2004

Arcade may go dry because of politics
It might be a good thing in the long run if 411 households in Arcade go dry for a few days.
And no, we don’t mean from the booze. We mean from water.
No drinking water.
No water to wash clothes
No water to take a bath.
Nada. Not a drop.
Maybe if the citizens of Arcade get a little thirsty and stinky, they will be motivated to take action about the odious decision of their city government in its grab of a water service territory by taking away from the county water authority.
The truth is, Arcade leaders don’t have the foggiest idea of what they’re asking for. Some developer has stroked their ego and got them believing that if they have their own water system, they can make a pile of money.
What the developer would get in return remains unknown, but it may be higher density zoning.
Do Arcade residents really want a 2,400 home project in their city?
The problem is, Arcade officials are wanting to rob the county water system to do this dirty deal. What Arcade wants, and has been given by the current politically discredited board of commissioners and its allies, is a deal to take over the existing water territory around Arcade currently being served by the county water authority.
Trouble is, Arcade doesn’t have a water system.
It has no water, no meters, no meter readers and no way to send bills.
But if the state signs off on the Arcade water grab, the county water authority will no longer be able to legally pump water to its 411 customers who would be in the new Arcade service territory. That will be the responsibility of Arcade, but Arcade doesn’t have the ability to deliver a drop of water. Not today. Not for many months.
For its part, the county water authority, which may litigate the entire mess in court, has no reason to help Arcade serve those 411 households. Indeed, to do so might undermine its legal standing in court.
The county water authority’s hands are being tied by Arcade and the current BOC, but the people who will really hurt will be those 411 county water system customers who won’t get water because of Arcade’s grab for territory.
Yes, things are a little smelly in Arcade these days.
And given the politics involved, it looks like the stench may get a lot worse.


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