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FRONT PAGE - JULY 21, 1999 - HOMER, GA


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GROWTH

Real estate sales fall by $1 million over last year
BY SHERRY LEWIS
Real estate sales in Banks County have decreased by a little more than $1 million during the first six months of 1999 compared to the same period last year.
Real estate sales totaled $13.9 million during January to June this year compared to $15 million last year.


CONSTRUCTION FIGURES DECLINE
Real estate sales and new construction figures in Banks County showed a slight decline during the first six months of 1999 compared to the same time period last year. Still, there is plenty of new construction going on in the county. Above, Randy Haggard does the block work for a house under construction on Mount Bethel Road.


Likewise, residential construction also decreased but by a smaller margin. In 1998, the Banks County Planning Office reported $6.8 million in residential construction during the first six months. That figure fell to $5.6 million during the same period this year.
Those decreases are not alarming to local realtor Donna Ferguson.
"Real estate is doing fine and I am feeling good about it," said Ferguson.
She said there are some good reasons for the slight decreases which include the increase in property values in Banks County.
"There may be a little shell shock," she said. "At one time, the average cost for an acre was $1,800 or $1,900 and now it is going for $4,500 to $5,500. But those prices are still good compared to neighboring counties."
There are good reasons for the increase in property values, she continued.
"The increases have to do with the wonderful fact that the county has put in water and because of the widening of Hwy. 441," she said.
Ferguson said the lack of available property may have also impacted those figures.
"The availability of property in Banks County is somewhat low," she said. "If someone wants a house under $100,000, I have to look really hard."
There was an increase in the number of building permits from 58 to 62 and the number of mobile home permits fell from 87 to 86 during the same time period.

LOCAL GOVERNMENT

Lula considers paving projects
BY SHERRY LEWIS
With the new fiscal year now underway, the Lula Town Council is ready to disburse some funds from the budget for paving.
At their meeting Monday, the council voted to pave Mill Street and Harris Drive at an estimated cost of $17,000. The council also discussed paving the unpaved portion of Shockley Road and Thornton Alley but did not take any action. These are the only two roads in the city that are not paved, according to council member Milton Turner.
While the council talked favorably of paving Shockley during this budget year, the council must find out if the city actually owns Thornton Alley before agreeing to pave that road, Turner said.
The council budgeted $38,000 for paving during this fiscal year.
In other business, the town council:
·hired a part-time person to help with grass-cutting during the summer.
·asked the city engineer to complete a study on a well on West County Line Road. If the site is approved, the council agreed to purchase the well at a price of $15,000.
Alto looks at mobile home ordinance changes
BY SHERRY LEWIS
On the heels of a move by Banks County officials to strengthen the mobile home ordinance, Alto city officials are looking to do the same.
During a meeting last Tuesday, council members took a look at the ordinance in Banks and Habersham counties. Mayor Jack King said he will ask the council to consider the new Banks County ordinance. The ordinance has provisions to allow older mobile homes in the city if they are brought up to specs and that is what King likes about the ordinance, he said.
"The mobile homes that are brought in should improve the neighborhood and others cannot be brought in," he said. "The purpose of the ordinance is served and you can keep the slum lords out."
The council became concerned about the ordinance after a citizen asked for a variance on his moving permit to move a trailer more than 10 years old from the Habersham County side of Alto to the Banks County side. In 1998, Ronnie Cantrell received a permit to move the trailer for storage and then remodeled and rented it without notifying city hall, according to the minutes of the council meeting.
During the meeting last week, the council voted to fine Cantrell $250 for "obtaining a move permit falsely." King issued the storage permit and the council has asked him to never allow a controversial permit to be issued again.
In other business, King told the council that the water line project was on schedule and should be finished by August 31.

EDUCATION

BOE budget up $1.2 million
BY DREW BRANTLEY
Meeting the needs of a growing student population may cost Banks County residents a little more next year.
The Banks County Board of Education has added 13 new staff positions, which is the main cause for the proposed FY 2000 budget's jump to $13.8 million. Meeting the $1.2 million increase from last year's $12.6 million budget may require the board to raise the millage rate.
The board will meet Thursday to finalize the budget, which must be advertised in the legal organ for two weeks before being passed. The budget must be approved at a regular meeting. The board's next regular meeting will be Monday, Aug. 10.
Board members met last week to discuss the budget, paring slightly more than $100,000. The rest of the expenditures are necessary, superintendent Dock Sisk said.
"There's not a lot left to cut in this budget," Sisk said. "Anything that gets taken out now will be things that we really need."
During discussions on the budget, BOE member Len Dalton said the board should explore every chance to reduce expenditures before asking for a tax hike.
"What scares me is the bottom line," Dalton said. "I, of all people, want the instruction to be top notch. But I don't want us spending unnecessarily if we're going to have to ask the taxpayers to pay for it."
One of the substantial cuts made by the board was to lease a new bus rather than buy one. This delays a purchase cut of $105,000 from the budget.
The main increase in the new budget has come from the addition of new personnel and a four percent raise for all existing employees.
Teachers' salaries increased to $7.8 million from $6.9 million last year. Student services and maintenance costs added a total of $300,000 to expenditures.
The amount of local effort money Banks County had to turn over to the state also increased by more than $200,000. The local effort is determined by the value of the county's digest, which increased from last year.
After the tax digest is released later this year by the county, the board will set its millage rate.

COMMUNITY

Citizens request police protection in Lula
BY SHERRY LEWIS
After a request by citizens last month, the Lula Town Council is still undecided about how to provide more police protection to citizens.
The council and citizens met with a representative of the Hall County Sheriff's Department last month and asked for more police visibility-especially overnight. The citizens reportedly asked for the extra coverage due to vandalism and because teenagers roam the streets more during the summer.
Since that meeting, Mayor Tim Allen believes visibility has increased in the area.
"I believe they are a little more active in the area since our meeting," he said. "The fact that we asked last month may have been enough."
Members of the Lula Area Betterment Association also asked the council to consider hiring a part-time security person if it is feasible.
At the meeting Monday, council member Milton Turner said he would rather pay Hall County a fee for more coverage than get into the liability of hiring an off-duty officer to patrol the area.
"I don't want the liability of having court and paying the county to house prisoners," he said. "It we do that, those prisoners are not county prisoners but city of Lula prisoners."



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