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OPINION PAGE - OCTOBER 27, 1999 - JEFFERSON, GA



Editorials
The Jackson Herald
October 27, 1999

A double 'YES'
Seldom do voters get the opportunity to make major changes in their local governments. For the most part, elections are simply a way to "fine tune" an already established system.
But next Tuesday, voters in Jackson County will get the chance to determine the direction of their county government and to actually restructure the government itself.
While these are two separate issues on the ballot, they are linked because the outcomes will forever change how the Jackson County government operates. We believe both measures deserve a "YES" vote by Jackson County voters. Here's why:
SPLOST
Of paramount importance in the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax is the need to complete the county's water system. Earlier SPLOST funds have taken this effort a long way, especially when you consider that the county didn't even have a water system until the late 1980s.
While even this tax won't get water lines to every nook and cranny in Jackson County, it will vastly extend the system, adding some 142 miles of water lines. With most of the basic trunk lines now in place, this additional mileage will go to areas that are in need of water because of low ground water tables, or water quality problems.
Why is it important to extend the water system with this SPLOST? Because the county water system must extend its customer base and thus its financial resources. Within a couple of years, payments on the regional Bear Creek Reservoir project will come due. Without a sufficient customer base, there is no way the county can meet those payments without imposing a major property tax increase.
In addition to the county water system, six of Jackson County's towns will also get a share of the SPLOST for their city water and sewer systems. Those funds will help our fast-growing towns cope with the growth they're experiencing.
In addition to the water funding, the SPLOST will also put money into road maintenance and construction, parks and recreation facilities and toward the construction of a fire training facility for the county's volunteer firemen.
No one likes taxes, but Jackson County is facing tremendous growth pressures and has some legitimate infrastructure needs. Without the SPLOST, which will largely be paid for by out-of-town shoppers, many of those needs will have to be paid for from higher property taxes.
We believe a sales tax is a much fairer way to fund those projects and we encourage a "YES" vote for SPLOST.
COUNTY GOVERNMENT CHANGE
It's been nearly 100 years since Jackson County created its board of commissioners. Although the board has been tinkered with a few times since it was created in 1901, it remains virtually the same as it was in those horse-and-buggy days.
After 98 years, it's time for a major overhaul of our county government and next Tuesday, voters will get that chance. On the ballot will be the option for us to create a five-member board of commissioners with a hired county manager who would run the county on a day-to-day basis.
We can't emphasize strongly enough how desperately this change is needed. The existing three-member board with a full-time chairman is a broken system. It may have been fine in 1901, but it does not work today. Because of the small number and the structure of a full-time elected chairman, personality conflicts often dominate the agenda.
Jackson County cannot have a professional government if it doesn't have a professional government system. A five-member board with a county manager won't resolve all personal and political squabbles, but it would make such antics less likely.
There are many things we like about this new government structure: It creates a five-member board; it mandates the hiring of a county manager and sets standards for that individual; and it clearly outlines the duties of the manager and of the board so that most issues of who-does-what will be minimized.
Actually, the county government change will be in two parts on the ballot. The first question will simply be to ask if voters want to change from the existing three-member system to a five-member/county manager system. To that we answer a resounding "YES!"
The second part will be a choice on how four of the five members of the board would be elected (the chairman is elected county-wide in both options). Option Number One would have four districts in the county with representatives from those districts voted on by all voters in the county. Some have labeled that the "100% Option."
Option Number Two would also have four districts, but under this choice, only voters living in a particular district could vote on the representative from that district. Some have labeled that the "40% Option."
We're glad the ballot is worded so that voters will have a choice on how to elect their representatives, but it is really of secondary concern to the first question. Without voting "YES" on the first question, the outcome of the second issue is mute.
Frankly, we don't have a strong opinion for or against either option. While an at-large voting system as outlined under Option One would keep the board from simply representing particular factions, it does dilute the representative process of having districts and might discourage some from running for office. Option Two does offer a lot of local representation, but many of the issues Jackson County faces are county-wide in nature and so board members have to be concerned about more than just their local districts.
Our take on this choice is this: Option One suits Jackson County better today with a population of 40,000, but Option Two will suit Jackson County better in the future when our population climbs to 70,000 or 80,000 people. Voters can decide which of those two views they prefer. As long as there's a "YES" vote on the first part of the ballot, we're willing to live with either option on part two of that ballot.
We have one final thought on the SPLOST and county government change issues: They are linked because they represent our county's vision for the future. Both issues revolve around planning for the 21st century - approval of the SPLOST will help fund the "hard" infrastructure needs our county faces in water, roads, parks and fire training; approval of a five-member board of commissioners with a county manager will address our "soft" infrastructure needs in terms of leadership. Having the SPLOST funds available without the right leadership system could leave us with misapplied resources. On the other hand, having the right leadership without funding to do the job would simply be a waste of talent and human resources. All the leadership in the world won't solve our growth problems if there are no funds available to pay for the basic needs.
So we encourage voters to say a double "YES" - "YES" on the SPLOST vote and "YES" on professionalizing our county government. Taken together, these two votes could improve both our quality of life and the political climate around which so many important issues revolve.



Column
By Mike Buffington
October 27, 1999

Q&A on SPLOST, BOC changes
With two important votes looming next week, many citizens are struggling to learn about both the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax and the proposed change in Jackson County government. The following is an effort to answer some of the key comments and questions I've heard about both issues:

The SPLOST is just another tax and I don't like taxes. Why should I vote for another sales tax?
Nobody likes taxes, but not all taxes are equal or equitable. The issue is, how should we pay for some much-needed water lines, road construction, parks and a fire training facility? If we only use property taxes to pay for those items, then only property owners pay. A sales tax hits everyone equally and spreads out the "pain" of taxation.

Property taxes won't go up if the SPLOST is defeated, will they?
It's very likely that property taxes will go up if the SPLOST is defeated. Notes will soon come due on Jackson County's share of the Bear Creek Reservoir. If the county doesn't sell enough water, it can't meet those payments without a property tax hike. The only way to sell more water is to hook-on more customers, but to do that there has to be additional water lines and those can't be built without the SPLOST.

I don't like growth and defeating the SPLOST will stop growth.
With or without SPLOST, Jackson County will continue to grow. The difference is, that growth will tap more and more into the sub-surface water table. At some point, that could affect everyone who depends on well water. While it's true that the lack of water and sewer can slow industrial growth, it's not the same with residential growth. People move for a variety of reasons and as long as there is water in the ground, they will continue to build houses in Jackson County. Only when all the wells go dry would growth come to a halt.

I'm a volunteer fireman and I don't like the SPLOST because it didn't give more money to the fire training facility.
The items on the SPLOST were decided after months of debate. Actually, the fire departments do get additional funding in the SPLOST because the addition of water lines and fire hydrants will directly benefit the various county fire departments and help them lower ISO ratings in some areas. In addition, unlike the other parts of the SPLOST, the fire districts in Jackson County can raise their own taxes to pay for various equipment needs. The water authority can't do that, nor can the road department or the recreation department, all of which also benefit from this SPLOST.

I'd rather have just three county commissioners like we do now rather than five because with fewer people, there'd be less squabbling.
Hardly. The issue isn't just the number of people on the board of commissioners, but also the structure they work under. The current three-member board structure is old and inefficient. While there can be squabbling with three or five commissioners, the reality is that the more power that is diffused, the less tension exists on the board.

Well, what about the county manager? Aren't we just creating another high-paying job in county government?
It's true that to get a good county manager it will cost, but that is partially offset by a reduction in the salary currently being paid to the elected full-time county commission chairman. But the issues isn't just costs, it's putting in place professional management that will hopefully save money in county administration over the long run.

But I want to elect the people who run my county government and not have a hired person doing the job.
OK, here's a counter-question: How many people in Jackson County are qualified to run a $20 million business with over 150 employees? Of those people, how many are willing to run for public office and give up their regular jobs? The truth is, the county government is too big and complex to manage by the ballot box. While we need elected board members, that doesn't mean we should elect the person who runs the county on a day-to-day basis. If we follow that logic, then the public should elect every employee in county government as well.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.


Letters
October 27, 1999

Arcade mayor offers thanks for
help with Oct. 19 wreck
Dear Editor:
The mayor and council of the City of Arcade would like to express our deepest appreciation to the following people for their assistance during the investigation of the tragic accident which claimed the life of Tierra Wilson on Oct. 19, 1999.
To Darren Glenn, chief of the Jefferson Police Department, the assistance and support provided by your officers and the STAR team were invaluable to us. Their professionalism and perseverance are to be commended. I hope that our cities can continue to work together to mutually benefit the citizens of our respective cities and Jackson County.
To the citizens of Arcade and Jackson County for their willingness to "get involved" and provide information which helped solve the investigation of the accident. Also, to the many citizens who called and contributed their support to the family of Tierra Wilson. This proves that compassion and humanity are flourishing in Jackson County.
To Dennis Bell, chief of the Arcade Police Department, and the Arcade police officers for their dedication to the citizens of Arcade and Jackson County. Their performance during the investigation was professional and diligent, allowing a quick resolution to a difficult investigation. We thank you for a job well done.
Sincerely,
Mayor Gary Black
City of Arcade



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