Jackson County Opinions...

DECEMBER 1, 2004



Column
By Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
December 1, 2004

Don’t Forget Your Public Servants At Christmastime
With Thanksgiving over, it is time to get serious about Christmas shopping, and nothing is more serious than making sure our elected officials and other public servants don’t find their stockings empty Christmas morning.
In my annual public service to public, here is Mark’s 2004 Gift Guide for Public Officials.
Commerce Mayor Charles L. Hardy Jr. would still like that big industry that was on last year’s Christmas list. He came close this year, but Jefferson Mayor Jim Joiner was the lucky recipient – as usual. Commerce Councilman Bob Sosebee needs a 2,000-lot subdivision built on 175 acres, which councilmen Archie Chaney and Riley Harris will get for him if they get a chance. Larry White, superintendent of the Commerce City Schools, wants a new school board chairman, while Chairman Steve Perry could use a copy of Dale Carnegie’s “How To Win Friends and Influence People.” Perry’s brother, Greg Perry, who chairs the Commerce Planning Commission, would like a reversal of the smoking ban in city buildings and to have his colorful commentary published in the next edition of “Bartlett’s Quotations.”
Commissioners Sammy Thomason and Harold Fletcher would each appreciate framed pictures of the new Jackson County Courthouse signed by Pat Bell and Jody Thompson. Commissioner Stacey Britt could use free county water or at least an official announcement that his water theft charge will not be prosecuted. For Commissioner Emil Beshara, how about the name of another ex-girlfriend of Jerry Waddell to appoint to the county water and sewerage authority?
Speaking of the authority, don’t bother to get former manager Jerry Waddell anything for Christmas. After all, the commissioners and the authority gave him an early present of $96,000 to quit his job. County Manager Al Crace would like Waddell’s severance package, and incoming commissioners Pat Bell, Jody Thompson and Tom Crow need someone to interpret Crace’s explanations related to county spending and finances.
Arcade Mayor Doug Haynie could use a load of raw sewage to help Arcade “control its destiny,” while Nicholson Mayor Ronnie Maxwell wants the 4W Farm annexed into his town. Commerce City Manager Clarence Bryant would like a cold winter and hot and dry summer to sell more utilities, but that’s what he always wants. Sheriff Stan Evans wants E.C. Brogan’s car - oh, I forgot, he already got that. Never mind. Commerce Police Chief John Gaissert is still looking for a Humvee for a mobile command post necessary in the post-9-11 world.
Jim Yarborough, CEO at BJC Medical Center, would appreciate a strong flu season or better Medicare reimbursements, while county school superintendent Andy Byers could use a full-time in-house construction crew. David Oppenheimer, chairman of the Jackson County Republican party, wants a re-count of the presidential election.
There you have it. Some of these are hard to find, so you’d better get started. There are only 24 shopping days left until Christmas. Good hunting.


Editorials
The Commerce News
December 1
, 2004

Need To Learn From Flu Shot Experience
If local public health officials had it to do over again, they would probably find a way to administer a limited amount of flu shots so as to avoid the scenes of last Monday, where hundreds of elderly residents waited two or more hours in the rain for their shots.
The situation was unusual. A shortage of flu vaccine was a large part of the problem in that the weeks of publicity about the shortage created more interest and awareness. When the health department got its 700 shots and made them available, folks quickly flocked to the health clinics to get shots before supplies ran out.
As a result, hundreds of people stood in line for two or more hours, many of them elderly. The health department staff gave some shots outside to patients who were unable to stand for any length of time and managed the crowd as best it could, but too many elderly people had to stand for too long in the rain awaiting their shots. In addition, the large number of vehicles spilled over into the public safety complex, raising concerns about possible problems should a fire or police emergency arise.
Had the crowd been anticipated, the Health Department could have found another location with an indoor seating capacity sufficient to accommodate the crowd or arranged for drive-through inoculations at the adjacent public safety complex. With this experience under its belt, the health department will be expected to have a better system in place should a similar problem arise in the future.


Find Way To Keep Jackson County Beautiful
A new board of commissioners will come into office in January and right away will be faced with the difficulty of balancing a budget in which the expenditures are substantially higher than the revenues. Incoming Chairman Pat Bell has said every expenditure is subject to discussion.
That kind of situation bodes ill for new spending, like the Keep Jackson County Beautiful program implemented last year. To many, using taxpayers’ money to reduce litter at a time when other crucial needs cannot be met appears to be frivolous spending. To many, the very idea that government must even discuss the issue of litter is absurd.
In an ideal world, government would not have to exert any effort to reduce or eliminate litter. Responsible citizens would do that on their own. Of course, in that same world, there would be no crime, no poverty... The fact is, Jackson County has a litter problem, from roadside trash to junked vehicles. In addition to enforcing the laws and ordinances relating to those items, this county needs an organized effort to reduce litter. That is a role suited for the Keep Jackson County Beautiful program.
Keep Jackson County Beautiful is largely a volunteer organization. It gets a small amount of money from the county government, most of it in the form of an executive director who spends a portion of her time directing Keep Jackson County Beautiful but most of it performing other county functions, so the cash outlay is not high. As they struggle to balance the budget, the commissioners may need to reorganize personnel and cut funds, but surely they can spare a few hours a week for an executive director who, in turn, may need to ask that the KJCB membership pick up more of the load.
In short, the commissioners should look at every alternative and keep this program alive. Keep Jackson County Beautiful seeks to educate citizens on stewardship, utilizing volunteers to do most of the work. It is a means of encouraging citizens to take charge and to change their habits so we can indeed keep Jackson County beautiful.

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Column
By Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald
December 1, 2004

Business growth not the cause of residential boom
In a letter to the editor a couple weeks ago, a writer said that if Jackson County doesn’t want residential growth, it should stop working to bring new industry to the area.
But new industry really isn’t the cause of the county’s residential growth.
While people often look for work closer to where they live, that has not been the driving force behind Jackson County’s residential boom. Rather, the underlying cause is the result of geography and transportation.
To a large extent, Jackson County is getting “spillover” growth flowing out of Gwinnett County, and other Metro Atlanta communities. People are moving north along the I-85 corridor. And for the most part, they continue to work where they have been working, enduring a longer commute.
So why do people move to Jackson County if not mainly for jobs?
The answer to that is complex. Indeed, there may be as many reasons as there are families.
But a broad generalization would be that people move here based on quality of life issues.
They’re looking for smaller and safer schools.
They’re looking for lower land prices and often larger lot sizes.
They’re looking for less traffic.
And many new residents are looking for a sense of “community,” an intangible quality that has been lost in many urban and suburban areas.
As the letter-writer pointed out, local governments are aggressive in pursuing new businesses to the county. But the reason for that isn’t to lure new residents; nor would stopping new industry halt the residential growth.
There are two main forces at work in industrial development: First, there is a desire by civic and government leaders to create new jobs as a way to raise the overall local standard of living.
The second force is financial. Local governments know that a business will pay far more in taxes than it will consume in services. And it is that business growth which pays for new school classrooms, new roads, more firemen and policemen, new recreation programs and all the other needs which are created by more residents.
The truth is, most houses do not pay enough property taxes to cover the cost of local government services. The difference comes from taxes paid by businesses and industries.
So there is a huge incentive for local governments to work to attract those businesses to balance the county’s tax base. If a county doesn’t have business and industry and is only a “bedroom” community of residential developments, taxes would skyrocket.
Currently, commercial, utility and industrial businesses make up around 30 percent of Jackson County’s gross tax digest. That’s about the same ratio as Douglas County, another high-growth Metro Atlanta suburb. By comparison, suburban Paulding County has only 12 percent of its tax digest from the business sector and a whopping 71 percent from homes.
The letter-writer made another interesting point; that local governments are putting in place restrictive regulations which are forcing the cost of housing to go up.
That is partly true. Local government leaders worry about the cost of providing services to so many new residents. That pressure often leads to the imposition of fees and restrictions which directly, or indirectly, increases the cost of housing.
Of course, if all new houses in Jackson County were $500,000 homes, government leaders wouldn’t worry too much. But leaders do fear “starter” homes; low-cost houses which pay low taxes, but put demands on local government services.
That pressure often leads to requirements and restrictions which artificially raise the price of local housing.
But a bigger pressure on housing costs is the effect of growth on market demand. Housing prices go up in response to demand.
The long-term solution to housing prices, however, isn’t in government regulations. The best solution is to continue to aggressively attract good new industries to the community. Good industrial growth not only aides the tax digest of government, but also increases local wages and the overall standard of living. That, in turn, allows people to buy higher-priced houses and to pay more taxes in the process.
Anyway you measure it, good business growth in a community can be healthy for the local economy. And if that growth can provide new jobs for all those folks commuting to Atlanta, so much the better.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


Editorials
The Jackson Herald
Decembeer 1, 2004

Time to rethink NCLB
President Bush has been re-elected. He will soon be taking the oath of office for his second term.
But there are several items from his first term agenda that he should pause and reconsider. Topping that list is the federal No Child Left Behind Act that the president touts as the solution to America’s education shortcomings.
It isn’t. Indeed, the NCLB act is nothing more than another layer of federal government intrusion into local public schools.
The impact of NCLB has been to push additional standardized testing onto students. And the criteria NCLB sets to measure public schools is as illogical as it is complex.
We realize that some public schools in America may not be doing a very good job. Urban schools, in particular, have a poor record of producing high achieving students.
But many of the problems we see in public schools stem from cultural and family problems, not problems in how schools are teaching.
NCLB cannot fix a broken culture that doesn’t value education. It cannot mend broken homes, or stop gang violence, or stem teenage pregnancy.
But our biggest objection to NCLB is that it has allowed fringe elements from within the federal and state education bureaucracies to commandeer the curriculum in public schools. The result has been the adoption of some wacky education experiments infiltrating our classrooms.
How’s that being done?
Through mandated standardized testing.
By crafting those tests in a certain way, state and federal educrats are forcing local school systems to adopt some controversial curriculum and textbooks. All too often, that curriculum is nothing more than an experiment and our students are the guinea pigs.
For an example one need look no further than many of the new math curriculums which de-emphasize calculations in favor of an emphasis on “estimating.” If that weren’t enough, these texts shower young students with “theory” rather than understanding or competence.
The reasons those texts are being used by local schools is so that students will be able to take standardized tests, which are based on these “new” experimental theories.
We encourage President Bush to move away from his concept of NCLB.
He calls it “accountability.” We call it “intrusion.”
We should return public education to the states without federal mandates. And we should allow our local schools to make text and curriculum decisions based on what works, not on what is being asked on standardized tests.
To us, that would be the ultimate model of accountability.


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