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FRONT PAGE - AUGUST 18, 1999 - HOMER, GA

EDUCATION

The big move: New BCHS opens its doors Friday to students
BY SHERRY LEWIS
New equipment has been coming in by the truckloads while other items have been hauled from the former Banks County High School on Hwy. 51 to the new home on Hwy. 441.
When classes begin on Friday, August 20, the important part is that the classrooms will be ready for students. Only the gym and auditorium are not ready. But school leaders say there is still a lot of adjusting to do.
"When school begins, it will not be perfect, but it will get better every day," said superintendent Dock Sisk. "We need to do whatever it takes to get this year started smoothly, and it may take more effort than usual."
The total cost of the entire new high school, including the building, grading, paving, the land and everything else, is around $13 million, according to Sisk. A majority of that money will come from a bond referundum to be paid by the one cent Education Local Option Sales Tax (ELOST), along with state and local money.
The school can handle up to 970 students, with an expected 565 coming in this year. The breakdown is as follows: 182 ninth graders; 139 10th graders; 154 11th graders and 90 12th graders.
The huge high school has a science wing, a social studies wing, a language arts wing, a math wing, a vocational wing and a fine arts wing, in addition to the gym and 600-seat auditorium.
Jan Bertrang, principal, said a major plus is the amount of room at the school. Students are used to dodging each other to get down the hall, being split into two lunch periods and bidding for parking spaces. At the new facility, these will not be problems.
In the new facility, the teachers have adequate storage space, more planning rooms and students and teachers have many more restrooms, Bertrang continued.
"These may be little things but they are just wonderful," Bertrang said.
Bertrang said the new facility has given the school system an opportunity to enhance the quality of education.
"The students will take so much pride it will carry over into the work they do every day," said Bertrang.


Lula asks residents to clean up property
BY SHERRY LEWIS
The Lula City Council is still searching for ways to get some residents to clean up their property.
The council has sent letters to Chiquitta Holland, on Athens Street; Sam Roberts, on Carter Alley; and David Looper, on Athens Street, and asked them to clean up their property. At the council meeting on Monday, Mayor Tim Allen reported that Holland and Looper have made an effort and Roberts reported that he has sold that property.
As long as they are making an effort, city attorney Brad Patton did not advise the council to take further action.
During the meeting, Angela Hickman, a new citizen, asked the council for assistance in getting the area around Fifth Street and Hammett Street cleaned up.
Hickman reported that children are playing in a dilapidated trailer at the corner of Fifth and Spring Streets.
"That is dangerous and I know kids are playing in there," she said. "I have seen them."
She also asked that some of the items in the ditch on Hammett Street be removed.
The council agreed to find out who owns the property where the trailer is located.
In other business, the council further discussed sending a West County Line Road property owner a letter of intent to purchase a well for the city. Last month, the council discussed purchasing the well at a cost of $15,000. The man said he further checked into the matter and would now sell the well for $30,000.
"That still beats paying $200,000 to have one bored," said council member Milton Turner.
The council talked about making the agreement contingent on the amount of water the well can produce per minute and getting it approved by an engineer.

COMMUNITY

State to pay Baldwin tuition
BY SHERRY LEWIS
Baldwin children who live in Banks County will be able to attend their local elementary school at no cost to their parents instead of being bused to Banks County schools. And the state has agreed to pick up the tab for the $1,300 tuition charged by Habersham County to each of the students.
Rep. Jeanette Jamieson recently met with Gov. Roy Barnes on the matter and he agreed for the state to cover the tuition costs for the children.
Baldwin Mayor Mark Reed said he truly believes God answered his prayers through the work of Jamieson.
"We were lucky to have Jeanette Jamieson on our side," he said. "It was one of those things that seemed so simple but no one could solve it. Without Jeanette Jamieson's involvement, it would have never happened."
Jamieson said she took the action because she recognized how serious the problem was.
"I was concerned that instead of the children going to school across the street and down the road from their home, they were going to ride a bus an hour or an hour and a half," she said.
Jamieson said that by the next school year, she believes the problem will have been permanently solved by the education review committee. Jamieson said "school choice" may be the answer. In the past, school choice gave parents a choice to send their children to an alternative school because the school in their district was an "under-producing school." Jamieson pointed out that in this case, it is being considered because of a geographic situation.
"In this situation, the geographic location carries the threat of being detrimental to those children," she said. "You can't tell me that a child is better served riding a bus for more than an hour rather than walking half a block to school."
END OF CONTRACT
The Banks and Habersham County boards of education agreed two years ago that the attendance contract which allowed students to cross county lines at no cost would end in 1999. This meant that 27 Baldwin children would have to be bused to Banks County or their parents would have to pay to have their child educated in Habersham County. It was coming down to the wire when Reed got Jamieson involved.
"This is the first time that I asked for help from a legislator," he said. "She came through for us and the children of Baldwin in a big way. There are no words to describe my appreciation for her helping us."
Jamieson said the move shows Gov. Barnes' commitment to education.
"The support from the governor's office once again recognizes Barnes' committee to education and to Georgia children," said Jamieson.



Rep. Jamieson moves to stop cross-county line annexation
BY SHERRY LEWIS
It is evident that Banks Crossing business owners do not want their property annexed into any city. At least, that is the consensus following a meeting between business representatives and Rep. Jeanette Jamieson last Wednesday night.
"Banks Crossing businesses have no desire to be annexed into any city," said Jamieson.
After being contacted by the Banks County Board of Commissioners and after talking to representatives of the businesses, Jamieson said she will introduce legislation to end cross-county line annexation without the consent of both parties.
"We cannot allow cities to arbitrarily annex to the detriment of the tax base of another county," said Jamieson.
Jamieson plans to introduce the legislation when the session reconvenes in January.
She says the legislation will be difficult to get passed but she pointed out that Banks Crossing is not the only area under the threat of a takeover. With that in mind, she said she believes the bill will have several co-sponsors. Jamieson said she plans to discuss the issue with the Georgia Municipal Association to address their concerns on the matter. The GMA and the Association County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG) have addressed the issue in the past, but talks broke down before any agreement was reached.
In the meantime Jamieson said she feels that Banks Crossing is secure. For an annexation to take place, 100 percent of the property owners must agree or local legislation would have to be passed. That legislation would have to be signed by Jamieson and she said that would never happen. Another "back door" approach would be for Commerce to annex contiguous property owners one at the time, but that would take some time, she said.
The chamber of commerce has agreed to begin a campaign to educate the people of Banks Crossing and Banks County to the negative impact an annexation could have on them and the county.
"They've got to know our school system would really be hurting," said Gary Freeman, vice president of the Banks County Chamber of Commerce and a local attorney. "It is critical for the future of this county not to allow this to happen."
PROPERTY TAXES WOULD INCREASE
If Commerce did annex the Banks Crossing area, property taxes for businesses would go up 37 percent, according to Freeman.
"If the property taxes go up, the tenant will pay it," he said. "Also, there will no longer be one government in the jurisdiction but two and they will no longer have one school system to support but two."
Many citizens do not realize the impact of such a takeover, Freeman said.
Banks Crossing is generating around $4.5 million annually in sales tax and 90 percent of that is coming from Banks Crossing, explained Freeman.
In 1998, Banks Crossing businesses paid 11.8 percent of the property taxes in Banks County or $375,000 in school tax and $280,000 in taxes to the county. Also, the hotel-motel tax generated $180,000; the alcohol tax generated $80,000 and permitting fees brought in $6,000.
"If Banks Crossing were annexed, we would look at losing a lot of that money," said Freeman. "We would be sharing that money with the city and must have their agreement for future SPLOST (Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax) projects."
The exact tax increase for Banks County property owners has not been determined yet but there is some speculation that their taxes would be much higher, according to Freeman.
Rumors have been rampant for years that the City of Commerce was developing a plan to take away Banks County's biggest tax base as a means to support its school system. That threat seems more possible than ever as the Wal-Mart Super Center is under construction and will relocate from Commerce into Banks County.
At one time, Rep. Jamieson thought annexing Banks Crossing into the City of Homer was the answer. She wanted to introduce legislation to do that during the 1997 session but county commissioners were unsure that was the answer. So she has changed her tactic and decided to introduce the legislation on cross-county annexation.



Back to the books
Students across Banks County will return to class Friday as another school year gets under way. A record enrollment of some 2,208 students are expected at the county's four schools.
A new high school, new programs, new faculty members and other changes are in store for students Friday. A calendar, meal prices and other stories are also included in a special four-page feature in our printed edition.



Qualifying set for Lula election
Qualifying dates to run for council member in the city of Lula have been set for September 13, 14 and 15.
Council seats up for grabs include Ward 1, currently held by Randy Worley; Ward 4, held by Perry Bridgeman; and Ward 5, held by Lamb Griffin. The council members serve a four-year term.
Qualifying fees for the council are $18. Applicants may qualify from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at city hall. The last day to register to vote in the November 2 general election is October 4.


The Banks County News - Homer, Georgia
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