News from Banks County...

DECEMBER 29, 2004


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OPINIONS
Angela Gary
Another Christmas with a toothache
I have decided to start saving now for may annual holiday “tooth fund.” Some people have a fund where they set aside money for Christmas shopping each December. I shop for the holidays year-round, so I don’t need this fund. What I need is to save for that dental bill that hits me every December.

Shar Porier
Teachers can make a big difference
Maybe it was all the reading I did throughout my life that prodded me toward writing. I liked to write.
My Dad always liked to read my meanderings, my poetry. We even wrote a few songs together.


SPORTS
11th annual Battle of the States
BCHS basketball teams play in Hiawassee over the break
The Banks County varsity basketball teams spent three days in Hiawassee Monday, December 27 through Wednesday, December 29, playing in the 11th annual Battle of the States Tournament.
On Monday, the Leopards fell to the Warriors from White County, TN, in a low scoring game. Banks County lost the game, 58-32.


News from
JACKSON COUNTY
Pendergrass policeman slain
A Pendergrass policeman was shot and killed Wednesday night following a chase and shoot-out on Hwy. 129 near Talmo.

Sheriff Stan Evans weathers political storms to win a sixth term in office
It was 1973 when the cult classic B movie “Walking Tall” became a surprise hit at the box office. The movie was based on the true story of a Tennessee sheriff who came back to his home county and attempted to clean up a vast array of local corruption.
Audiences cheered when the lawman kicked-butt, and cried when his wife was murdered.


News from
MADISON COUNTY
2004 A Year in Review
Top 5 headlines of the past 12 months
Tornado, political storm top the list
Ivan "the terrible" roared into Madison County in 2004, with twisters spawned by that powerful hurricane ripping a path of destroyed homes and government property.

Judge rules against terminating assessors
A Superior Court Judge recommended last week that the county commissioners not fire three members of the board of assessors: chairman John Bellew, Gerald Coutant and John Mallonee.
Whether county commissioners follow that recommendation has yet to be seen.

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Homer, Georgia
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SPENDING TIME WITH STUDENTS

Rep. Jeanette Jamieson met with Banks County students in November to address their concerns. She is shown with Jesse Major (L) and Cody Garrish (R).

— Newsmaker of the Year —
Rep. Jamieson brings state dollars to county
Veteran legislator Jeanette Jamieson serves county wellRep. Jeanette Jamieson has been described by one of her colleagues as “one of the most tenacious legislators” at the capitol.
Another fellow legislator at the state capitol says she’s “always been an independent thinker who votes her conscience and does what’s best for her district.”
As one of the most senior members of the Georgia House of Representatives with more than 20 years of experience, Rep. Jamieson continues to be a force for Banks County at the state capitol, whether it’s fighting for state dollars for county projects or addressing citizen’s concerns.
Rep. Jamieson made the headlines throughout the year, including stories on her bringing more state dollars to the county, photographs of her speaking at chamber of commerce or other functions and meeting with school children. The work she did for Banks County and continues to do will reap benefits for its citizens for years to come. For these reasons, she has been named the Newsmaker of the Year for 2004.
Rep. Jamieson serves on many legislative committees, including serving as chairman of the state planning and community affairs committee, one of the House’s most influential committees that oversees the passage of all local legislation for Georgia’s 159 counties.
In making the appointment, House speaker Terry Coleman said: “I have served in the legislature with Jeanette for many years now and have always found her to be a hard-working diligent legislator. She’s always been an independent thinker who votes her conscience and does what’s best for her district.”
It was Sen. Ralph Hudgens, speaking at the Banks County Chamber of Commerce picnic, who called Jamieson “one of the most tenacious legislators in the House.” He praised her for her service to Banks County during her many years in the legislature.
The chamber picnic was only one of the many events Jamieson spoke at in Banks County in 2004. In April, she spoke at the Georgia Department of Transportation ceremony in Homer dedicating the new bypass as the M.E. “Buster” Garrison Bypass. Later in the month, she spoke at the dedication ceremony for the new four-story training tower in Baldwin, which she was instrumental in obtaining state funds to help finance.
Rep. Jamieson also spoke at the Memorial Day service in Homer in May and thanked those who served the military for their country.
RECEIVES AWARDS
Among the many awards Jamieson has received over the year is the “Champion for Georgia Cities Award,” which was presented to her by the Georgia Municipal Association at the October Homer City Council meeting. Mayor Doug Cheek joined in thanking her for her service to the city and county.
Jamieson’s support in changing the special purpose local option sales tax law to include cities and her willingness to discuss municipal concerns with the GMA throughout the session were cited as the main reasons for the award.
Jamieson was active in passing House Bill 709 which gives cities a permanent place at the table with SPLOST referenda are considered.
Jamieson has also been recognized as “Legislator of the Year” for her work on behalf of the mentally ill and physically handicapped and for sponsoring legislation which exempts wheelchairs, hospital beds and oxygen from sales tax.
Jamieson will continue to represent Banks County and its citizens for an 11th term in office, as she was re-elected this past year. She was one of the few Democrats to win across the state.
One of the issues she has fought strongly for over the years and plans to continue to fight for is to protect Banks Crossing.
“We must continue to guard against efforts by Commerce to annex our retail area at Banks Crossing,” she said when she announced she would seek re-election. “Any dilution of the sales tax revenue from this part of Banks County would create a property tax increase which would be astronomical.”
It’s obvious she plans to continue to put Banks County’s needs as a priority as she begins a new term in the legislature in January.


Senator-elect Schaefer meets with county leaders
Property taxes, school funding and infrastructure improvements among topics
Newly-elected Republican senator Nancy Schaefer, 50th district, stopped by the Banks County courthouse Wednesday, December 22, to discuss issues important to the county. Schaefer said she was traveling to each of the eight counties in the district to identify issues relevant to the area. Schaefer will represent Banks, Franklin, Habersham, Hart, Rabun, Stephens, Towns and White counties.
“It doesn’t matter whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, I am going to do the best that I can for Northeast Georgia,” she said to open the meeting.
Banks County commissioners Pat Westmoreland and Rickey Cain and chairman Kenneth Brady, along with chairman-elect Gene Hart, were present at the meeting. Also in attendance were: Margaret Ausburn, tax commissioner; Tim Harper, clerk of court; Chris Erwin, school superintendent; Rick Billingslea, chamber of commerce president; Betty Thomas, probate judge; Henry Banks, magistrate judge; Doug Cheek, City of Homer mayor; Bob Adamson, Superior Court judge; Jerry Boling, chamber of commerce; and Michael Fischer, county administrative officer.
School taxes and employment
School property tax and employment opportunities for graduates was an issue discussed by several of the county leaders present at the meeting.
“There is a bill coming up to transfer the property tax burden over to sales tax and I’d like you to support that, relive some of the tax burden from the property owners,” Westmoreland said.
Ausburn said: “The school tax is our biggest issue.”
She said over 75 percent of the larger acre tracts of land are owned by residents 65-years-old or older.
“It is hard for some of them to pay their taxes,” she said.
Hart said during his campaign a lot of citizens were talking about school taxes. He said many Banks County residents are retired and they are receiving retirement payments on money they made in the 50s and 60s, which isn’t enough to pay the taxes.
“They are a large portion of our citizens and we need to help them out,” he said.
Hart said creating more jobs within the county for residents could help.
“We need jobs for high school graduates, tech school graduates and college graduates,” he said. “We need industry and we need help with the infrastructure to locate industry.”
The budget was the topic of conversation from superintendent Erwin. “Obviously with education being the largest portion of the state budget, education is taking the biggest hit,” he said. Austerity reductions in Banks County totaled $1.5 million over the past three years. This year, the state school budget was cut $600,000 from the previous year, but a two percent salary increase was mandated to the schools.
“I support the raise, but it is difficult when we lose it twice,” he said.
Erwin said the state government is asking for more and more out of the system for less money. He said the No Child Left Behind Act and the new state attendance policy are unfunded mandates that are costing the county school system a lot of money. Erwin said it was easier for schools in Gwinnett County and Atlanta to provide services to its students because less funding comes from the state.
“I’d like to see an equal education, across the board, where where you live doesn’t dictate what kind of education you receive,” he said. “We want our students to have the best education in the state because our kids deserve that.”
Erwin said he wasn’t opposed to the sales tax funding of the school, but worries it wouldn’t “even out.”
“Sales tax is a floating number depending on the economy,” he said. “In the past few years, with the economy, we’ve been getting pressure for more support to come from property owners and less from the state.”
Billingslea agreed that education was a big issue in the county, but that more jobs need to be created in the county for graduates.
“I think the next Bill Gates will come out of Banks County High School, but we need to have opportunities for our students to come back and work here,” he said.
When Home Depot decided to locate in Banks County, 650 applications had been filled out by the end of the first day. He said most residents have to go outside the county to find employment.
“We need to be proactive and seek business, we need to create businesses that will benefit our county,” he said. “It is going to take support from everyone.”
Infrastructure improvements
While most leaders agreed Banks County needs to be proactive in seeking businesses, the county has to upgrade the infrastructure first and needs help from the state. Delays imposed by the Environmental Protection Division due to state regulations were mentioned by several administrators present.
“I have a pet peeve with the EPD, I hope you can help counties out with issues,” he said. “We are doing things now we started eight years ago because we are having to deal with the EPD.”
Brady said : “The EPD is God and we have to bow to them and it shouldn’t be that way.”
Brady also said opening up trade with Cuba would help poultry and beef farmers in the area.
Westmoreland agreed with Brady’s comments on the EPD. He suggested cutting the EPD budget to limit the amount of restrictions placed on farming.
He also mentioned a need to expand the sewer system and water supply as well as installing a traffic signal next to Wal-Mart.
“We need all the general help we can get from the legislation,” he said.
Schaefer said the current Georgia government is “pro-rural”.
“It’s the first time I’ve ever seen the government this supportive,” she said.
Westmoreland also asked for aid in completing a project that was stopped several years ago. He said he wanted a new Department of Family and Children Services building for the county. Funding from the state was approved for a new building, but budget cuts forced the funding to be taken away.
“If you’ve ever visited that building, you’ll see what the need is, they need that building to handle all of the clients they have to serve,” he said.
Cain agreed with the other commissioners that one of the biggest issues in the county is working with the EPD.
“Our number one business is farming,” he said. “The EPD is forcing so many regulations some of the smaller farmers are forced to stop farming.”
Required setbacks and stipulations on litter spreading were among the regulations mentioned. He is also concerned with the agriculture programs offered at the high school.
“It is really sad that he has to turn down kids who want to be in those programs,” he said.
Boling said: “I have an interest in all of these things.”
Boling is a farmer and business owner and worries that development will change agriculture in the county.
“We are losing some of our prime farm land to subdivisions and part of the reason is taxes,” he said.
He said agriculture has lost a voice in the state legislature.
“We don’t have the voting power, I would like to see more farmers on state boards to have a voice,” he said.
He said he supported environmental issues, but some are too stringent and force farmers out of the business.
“The majority of the people in the state don’t view agriculture as an important industry, in my opinion,” he said.
Agriculture remains the largest industry in the state of Georgia. Tourism is second.
Other issues
Other issues discussed at the meeting include:
•Harper discussed streamlining the fee structure for the court system. He said it would make things easier on those who collect and those who receive the funds.
•Thomas said the cost of holding early elections is an unnecessary expense. “I’m for anything we can do to help voters, but it is costing the county,” she said. “We need to be real - it costs a lot of money to run an election.” The state is proposing each county create an election division, which would serve as a voter registration department and would handle elections. If the division were created, Thomas said it would cost the county a lot of money. “I think we need less government, there are so many laws passed we can’t keep up with them, we need less control,” she said.
•Judge Adamson is concerned with changes to the public defender system. “I have no complaint with unifying the system, but adding on fees - hidden fees and taxes,” he said. “I can see where the public defender system is going to be a rathole with an unlimited amount of money.” The budget for the public defender system is placed within the budget for the judiciary system. “Our budget is growing exponentially and we have no control over it,” he added.
•Cheek said he is concerned with the budget. Next month, the city is looking to build a new city hall. The department of corrections will help cut up to 40 percent of the cost by furnishing labor for the project. “We are counting on that as part of our budget,” he said.



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County families get $10 million in state, federal aid
Banks County families received over $10 million in assistance in the fiscal year of July 1, 2003, to June 30, 2004.
Banks County Department of Family and Children Services director Renota Free gave board members the county totals in the recent meeting.
Temporary assistance for needy families (TANF) incurred a 13 percent increase for a total of $119,364 for 50 cases representing 91 recipients, 12 adults and 79 children.
Food stamp funds distributed increased by eight percent, totaling $1,011,380 to 1,103 recipients in 468 cases.
Medicaid disbursements in the amount of $8.898 million were granted to 3,896 people, up five percent.
Employment services under the “welfare-to-work” program, including childcare, totaled $40,443, a slight increase over last year.
Statewide, TANF totals were $153.9 million; food stamps were $874 million and the total Medicaid disbursement was $6.342 million.
Some 173 families received $36,864 in the winter energy assistance program. Free said the state is anticipating an increase this year since colder weather has been predicted for this winter.
“Banks County DFACS works to ensure individuals and families needing our services are given the opportunity and support necessary to achieve healthy, independent and self-sufficient lives,” Free said.
In the child protective services report, Free said the staff worked 340 reports of child abuse. Of those, 88 cases were substantiated; 175 were unsubstantiated and closed; 33 transferred out of the county; and 44 were dropped.
The county had permanent custody of seven children, six of which were awaiting adoption. One was in long-term foster care and four were placed in adoptive homes.
“Adoption services are focused on meeting the needs of children by finding them permanent homes,” Free said. “We are continually recruiting adoptive families, as there are many children in the state who need a home and a family. Foster care provides temporary out-of-home care for children whose families are unable to nurture, care for or protect them. The mission of Georgia’s foster care program is to give children the care they need to feel safe, secure with families that offer such stability. We want to strengthen families, but not at the risk of the children. We generally try to place a child with other family members first, but if that is not possible, they are placed in foster care.”
Banks DFACS has 14 full-time staff members and Free said they had performed well considering the case load of the year.
State totals in child protective services totaled 95,999 reports of child abuse. Some 32,069 were substantiated; 48,819 were unsubstantiated; and15,111 were screened out.
Children are not the only victims of abuse the department has to investigate. Abuse of the elderly, while not as prevalent, still occurs and must be remedied. Free said 15 reports of adult abuse were investigated. Two were substantiated; 12 were unsubstantiated; and one transferred out of the county.
The total of adult abuse reports statewide was 4,862.
In other statistics, Free reported the county population grew by 7.36 percent from 14,442 in 2000 to15,483 in 2003; the state population rose by 6.09 percent from 8,186,453 to 8,684,715 in the same period.


 mainstreetnews.com
The Banks County News
Homer, Georgia
Telephone: (706) 367-5233 Fax: (706) 367-8056
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