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FRONT PAGE - SEPTEMBER 1, 1999 - HOMER, GA

WINS FIRST IN VACATION PHOTO CONTEST
Cheryl Sewell, Maysville, took the first place winner in the people category of the vacation photo contest sponsored by The Banks County News. Sewell took this picture of her daughter, Alexandria Nicole, and her husband, Marvin Sewell, while visiting a park in July at Chattanooga, Tenn. She wins a $50 prize for her effort.


GOVERNMENT

Private road or not?
Debate continues on whether Charity is county road
BY SHERRY LEWIS
If the majority ruled, the Banks County Board of Commissioners would have no choice but to deem Charity Road/Drive a public road.
During a meeting with landowners on Friday, all of the landowners present said they want the road to become county-maintained. The BOC vowed to make a decision in the matter by its next meeting on Sept. 14.
Ray Seabolt, who bought property on the dead-end road, contends that it has been a public road in the past and there are maps to back up his claim.
In 1977, a map shows the road extending to English Road; in 1983, the map states the bridge is out and it is a county road to the river; and in 1993, the map indicates it is a county road until Charity Road forks with Charity Drive.
The portion of the road in question is where the road forks, the part of the road where resident David Tolar put up a gate. While some maps refer to the section of the road as Charity Road, others refer to it as Charity Drive.
Seabolt told members of the BOC about the numerous problems he has had with Tolar since he moved in and told Tolar that he didn't want a gate across the road.
"I told him that I did not agree with the gate and, from that point on, I was the bad guy," Seabolt said. "I even left him a note on the gate one time and he left me a note saying, 'I hope you enjoy your short stay there.'"
Seabolt also complained about the private drive sign.
"It is a constant intimidation to me and my guests," he said. "It is not fair."
These are just some of the problems that have occurred on the road. Banks County deputies have answered numerous calls about harassment and threats on the road. Earlier this year, residents L.T. Moon and Steve Moon were indicted by a grand jury for allegedly hiring an undercover agent with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) to kill Tolar and his wife, Edna.
With this kind of history, BOC chairman James Dumas said he feels like a "pawn" in a much bigger game being forced to deal with the road issue.
One of the key matters to solve is whether the road was ever actually a county road beyond the fork. Dumas contends that former chairman Milton Patterson advised him that it was not a county road, he said.
Douglas McDonald, an attorney representing Steve Moon, questioned Dumas as to whether the road had ever been formally closed. Dumas said after research he determined that the road was never officially closed, although he said formal procedures to close roads were not put in place until 1974. Before that time, a road was considered abandoned if the county quit working it. McDonald cited recent case law where the courts have ruled that a road must be formally closed before it can be officially abandoned.
Dumas was also questioned as to why he would allow Tolar to put up a gate on the road. He replied that Tolar came to him and said he had the consent of other residents and since he believed it was a private road, he had no problem with it.
"If you want to point your finger at someone, I am the one," Dumas said. "He told me that you all wanted the gate up for security reasons and you all would have a key."
Tolar said at that point in time, he did have the consent of L.T. Moon, John Sewell and Ann Pierce, but evidently Moon and Sewell later changed their minds, he said.
Tolar said he is not against the road becoming a public road if the county is ready to widen and pave it. Otherwise, he said all single-lane roads ought to be maintained by the county. If the road becomes county maintained, he said it would set a far-reaching precedent for Banks County concerning other roads.
Dumas stated that he would not say the road is a public road until advised to do so by county attorney Randall Frost. He is expecting a ruling from Frost this week.
"Until he tells me it's a public road, it's a private drive," said Dumas.
If the road is deemed public and the county begins maintaining the road, residents asked Dumas whether Tolar would be required to take down his gate.
"It is according to if it is in our jurisdiction," he said. "A gate cannot be closed across a county road, but could hang on the post if it is not in the right of way."
The county only has a "prescriptive right of way" (ditch to ditch) on the road, Dumas said.
Tolar contends that that portion of the road was merely a "jeep trail" when he bought the land from Larry Cagle. He said he paid extra for his land so Cagle could get the road passable. Tolar estimates that he has spent $10,000 to maintain the 2,000 feet of roadway.
"Every rock in that road is mine, and the county would owe me something for that," said Tolar.
Dumas said he believes this matter will be litigated whichever way the BOC rules.
"I feel like this will be litigated either way," he said. "We want to make a decision based on state law so I will be in a position to sit on a witness stand and say I followed the law."
Tolar said he has asked the BOC to hold off on making any decisions on the road until all criminal investigations and trials are finished.
"The road has been abandoned for 30 years," Tolar said. "Why make a rash decision now?"
Sewell just asked the BOC to "do the right thing."
"This is not a Tolar road," Sewell said. "This is not a Seabolt road. It's a county road. Make your decision based on what is best for the county."

COMMUNITY

Baldwin City Council says 'No' to a vote on liquor matter
BY SHERRY LEWIS
Liquor by the drink will not be flowing any time soon in the city of Baldwin.
By a 3-2 margin, Baldwin council members voted against allowing a special referendum to give voters a chance to approve liquor sales by the drink in the November election.
While councilmen Mitchell Gailey and Robert Bohannon voted in favor of the issue, Jeff Bohannon, Deloris Thomas and John Thomas opposed.
The council did agree to talk about the matter later and set a date for a public meeting to hear how the people feel about the matter.
"I moved here from Florida because this was a dry county," D. Thomas said. "I object to even allowing the public to vote for it. I see no purpose for it unless you want to make revenue, and that is a bad reason."
Gailey told the council that he thought it would help to bring a "nice restaurant" into the city. Mayor Mark Reed said he had been approached by a company inquiring about some land on 365 and he had to tell them there are no liquor sales by the drink in the city.
"I am not talking about people going to a bar to get drunk," Gailey said. "I am talking about people having a drink with their meal."
D. Thomas said: "It is a shame that you have to have alcohol to get a nice restaurant. I'll just drive to Gainesville to eat."
City attorney David Syfan said it would be possible to tie food sales to alcohol sales to keep the "honkey tonks" out and give the restaurants a chance.
"Drinking is wrong and I will fight it tooth and nail," said D. Thomas. "I am not in favor of allowing people to drink here when we ticket them for doing so."
Councilman J. Thomas said he was surprised that the issue was dropped on the council at the meeting without first being discussed in a work session.
Syfan said he had been approached by a council member and asked what it would take to get liquor by the drink into the city. After researching the matter, he found out it would take a special referendum to let the voters decide. With the window of opportunity to get it on the November ballot close to expiration, he decided to talk about it at the meeting.
"I realize I dropped a controversial bombshell on you tonight, but I felt like I needed to do so," said Syfan.
COMMUNITY

Baldwin moves on privatizing water, sewer systems
BY SHERRY LEWIS
If the price is right, the Baldwin City Council is ready to privatize its water and sewer system. Without any legal red tape, the takeover could be complete as early as October.
Representatives with Aqua Source Service Technologies Inc. spent Monday in Baldwin gathering information. Company officials will present council members with a 20-year proposal at its next meeting on Sept. 27.
While the privatization of the sewer plant is expected to go off without a hitch, the water system could be a different story, council members agreed.
But they are ready for the fight.
"I think we are ready to do whatever has to be done to make this work," said councilman John Thomas. "It may cost us some legal fees."
The city entered into an agreement with the city of Demorest in 1987 and employees of Demorest have operated its water system ever since. As a part of the agreement, Demorest agreed to take 75 percent of the water capacity. Both cities purchase water at the plant at a wholesale rate of 80 cents and then resell it to customers. But Baldwin is the sole owner of the plant, which is located on Hwy. 105. The two entities do have a management agreement, but city attorney David Syfan said he has a viable way to terminate that agreement, possibly through the payoff of a Rural Development loan which amounts to approximately $2 million. Richard Bryant, with Aqua Source, said the company could retire that debt for the city and the city would pay them back instead.
Doug Horton, a water/waste water expert with Aqua Source, said the proposal will be divided into two parts, the water system and the sewer system, so legal problems with the water system will not hold up progress at the sewer plant.
Aqua Source has the financing available to go ahead with the planned renovation project at the sewer system, leaders said. The city agreed for the renovations of the facility in March of this year and it has one year to begin construction. City engineer Fred Hawkins pointed out that this union between Aqua Source and the city may be the only way to get that project done.
A major concern for the council has been retaining some control over the system.
In essence, the city would be hiring a management company to oversee the day-to-day maintenance and operations of the facilities, Horton responded.
"You still own the system," he said. "You still set the policy. We file a report to you, you set the budget and you decide if the rates go up or down. We just carry out your policy and get the job done."
Council member Deloris Thomas asked the group exactly how they made their money.
"Through efficiency in operations," said Bryant.


The Banks County News - Homer, Georgia
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