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OPINION PAGE - SEPTEMBER 1, 1999 - JEFFERSON, GEORGIA



Column
Mike Buffington
The Jackson Herald - September 1, 1999

The mobile home debate
When my friend and colleague Elliott Brack spoke to the Jackson County Area Chamber of Commerce a few weeks ago, he poked his finger in the eye of a long-simmering debate - mobile homes. As he said in that talk, he wanted to discuss issues that many people talk about in private, but are loath to discuss in public.
While Elliott set the housing debate simmering, it is sure to become even hotter at a Sept. 16 meeting where numbers nerd Doug Bachtel will do a public presentation. Sponsored by this newspaper and the chamber, Bachtel plans to outline various statistical data about Jackson County, including information related to housing. It is the first in a series of public meetings on evaluating where Jackson County stands at the dawn of the 21st century.
Many believe that most other issues in Jackson County revolve around housing. Of particular concern is the large number of mobile homes, or manufactured housing, that dot Jackson County's landscape. For public policy-makers, the growth in mobile homes locally has become a source of unending irritation. Because mobile homes are inexpensive and because they lose value over time, they are a very small and continually declining source of property tax income to local governments.
On the other hand, residents in mobile homes require just as many public services as those living in more expensive housing. Some believe that mobile home residents require even more services since many young families with school-age children live in manufactured housing.
What all this means is that the property tax burden in the county shifts to other residential homeowners, large landowners and commercial or industrial properties. Traditional homeowners and large landowners often feel that's unfair, that in effect, they are subsidizing mobile home owners.
Because of this imbalance, local government officials react in a variety of ways. For one thing, they seek to lure commercial and industrial projects to the county in an effort to keep up with the growing demand on services. But that growth has its own cost for new infrastructure, thus amplifying the growth in local government spending.
The way to slow that spiral, they believe, is to slow the growth in mobile homes. If more people would build homes, the values would stabilize and even grow, thus adding to the tax base rather than taking away from it.
That generates another government response in zoning controls to, in effect, discourage mobile home ownership while promoting traditional homes. But again, to have traditional homes that compete in price with mobile homes, local governments have to spend money on sewer and other infrastructure upgrades.
There are other implications in this issue as well. For one thing, local leaders have to be careful not to create a market of only expensive housing and thereby move many people from the local labor force to other counties. In addition, leaders should also acknowledge that there is value in having low-cost housing available for those who work in local businesses and who pay sales taxes into local merchants. Industrial growth requires additional workers, and without those workers, no industrial growth is possible. It is, to say the least, a tricky balance to achieve.
From the mobile homeowner's perspective, all of these problems perhaps seem distant. It isn't the mobile homeowner who designed the tax system - why not, for example, abolish property taxes in the state and replace it with a higher state sales tax that everyone pays? So even as local leaders attempt to address the housing and taxation issues, they have to be careful not to blame mobile homeowners for their choice of inexpensive housing. Who doesn't want lower housing costs?
On the other hand, mobile homeowners shouldn't be so defensive about the debate over housing in the county. All too often the reaction becomes a "rich vs. poor" debate that derails the key issues. The issue isn't "rich or poor," but rather achieving a fair balance in paying for local government services.
Mobile homeowners should also be open to the personal financial implications of their housing choice. Mobile homes do depreciate in value, although the land they sit on often goes up in value with the rest of the county. While inexpensive up front, mobile home ownership could cost more in the long run if the value of that property stays low. There's nothing wrong with taking an objective look at these issues or with local leaders encouraging housing investments that are good for local governments as well as for individual homeowners.
This issue won't go away anytime soon. There's sure to be a lot more discussion on housing before any general consensus is reached in Jackson County.
In the meantime, debate and discussion of the issue is healthy. Elliott Brack did us a favor by bringing it up in a public forum, but it's up to us to find the solutions.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.



Editorial
The Jackson Herald
September 1, 1999

A Hobson's choice
When county commission chairman Jerry Waddell flipped his county vehicle two weeks ago, then refused an alcohol test, he also set in motion a rolling controversy.
"What will happen to him now?" goes the typical line of questioning.
We cannot answer that question. What happens next is largely dependent on Mr. Waddell and on the outcome of his pending DUI court case.
If the chairman was indeed driving drunk in a county vehicle, there is no legitimate defense he can offer to the moral implications of the charge. As the county's top elected official, his actions must be above reproach, especially when they involve county property. Were an employee of the county to be in a similar boat, the ax would swiftly fall.
But as an elected official, Mr. Waddell answers only to the voters. Having announced earlier that he won't run again next year, the chairman has already set the date of his own departure.
There is, of course, the prospect of a recall against Mr. Waddell. But generally speaking, we are opposed to recalls. Recall efforts should be reserved for the worst of offenses, such as when a public official has embezzled taxpayer dollars, or committed some heinous felony. Outside of those situations, we're content to let the electoral process sort out our leaders.
Mr. Waddell could also resign from the office, thereby forcing a special election in November to fill his seat. A call for that action has some appeal and would no doubt satisfy some of the outrage.
But with the board of commissioners' seats up for election next summer, a special election now seems superfluous. Emotions aside, do we really want to muddy the important upcoming November referendums with a short-term BOC chairman's race?
We do not, in any way, shape, form or fashion, approve of Mr. Waddell's being behind the wheel of a car - his own or the county's - while intoxicated, if indeed that is what the courts should later prove. At the same time, we don't condone a rush to take any action that could weaken the county government unless that action is clearly in the best interest of the county.
There is some sentiment that Mr. Waddell should issue a public comment on this situation in an effort to either clear his name, or apologize for using bad judgment. But whatever his public stance on the matter, if he is found guilty of the DUI charge, Mr. Waddell should insure that no taxpayer money is spent to replace his county vehicle, for his legal defense, or for higher county automotive insurance rates.
For the citizens of Jackson County, this matter is a Hobson's choice: If he is found guilty, citizens could attempt to oust Mr. Waddell to satisfy outrage, but in doing that we could also weaken precipitously our county government. On the other hand, we could preserve a status quo county government with Mr. Waddell at the helm, but in the process have to stomach allegations that we find morally repugnant.
At this point, we aren't ready to make such a choice. We believe the judicial system should first be allowed to deal with the DUI allegations. Once that is done, perhaps the proper course for further action will be clearer.



Letter
The Jackson Herald
September 1, 1999
Defends mobile homeowners
Dear Editor:
I would like to respond to last week's letter, "Manufactured homeowners can be good neighbors." Carl Bergeron made a point as far as I'm concerned on behalf of all Jackson County manufactured homeowners.
I have lived in a mobile home all my life. When I got old enough to move out on my own, I could have gone into debt for 30 or 40 years for a house, but instead I chose to go in debt for 15 years for a home. For some reason, mobile homeowners have always been looked down on as "poor, low class" people. The only reason so-called rich people think this way is because most mobile homeowners are already home from work by the time the "rich folks" get home or they don't even go to work. So that makes us sorry trailer trash?
What the "rich folks" are failing to realize is that the mobile homeowners' monthly payments are probably not even a fourth of their house payment. So, this makes us homeowners by the time they are halfway through their mortgages. That doesn't mean that we are lazy and don't want to work, it means we are smart and ain't gonna have to work.
I figure the only reason people like Elliott Brack do not want mobile homes in Jackson County is because they want one themselves but are afraid of being criticized, so they vote us out.
I like to think of my manufactured home as a mobile home because if I ever get ready to move, I can take it with me!
Sincerely,
Tim Edwards and
Ginger Page
Braselton



Letter
The Jackson Herald
September 1, 1999



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