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OPINION PAGE - DECEMBER 1, 1999 - JEFFERSON, GA

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Editorials
The Jackson Herald
December 1, 1999

Property taxes outdated
Levying a tax against real property in order to raise money for local government operations is an archaic and outdated system. No where is that more evident than in a county like Jackson where growth pressures and a multitude of taxing districts combine to paint a confusing and ultimately inequitable picture.
Property taxation is bad because it requires an ever-growing bureaucracy to manage and keep updated.
It is bad because it requires the intervention of subjective criteria in establishing property values.
It is bad because it can, and has been, amended with a slew of special exemptions for special interests, thus shifting the tax burden ever more toward homeowners and those who are not part of an organized lobby.
It is bad because it cannot be equitable no matter how much we attempt to make it so.
It is bad because from the desire to have a balanced property tax base, government officials are led to make a variety of other economic decisions that may not be in the best public interest.
And finally, property taxation is bad because it taxes a value even if property hasn't been sold, thus taxing people on speculative wealth. In economic boom times, that trend is always up as property values rise, but in recessions, the values do not drop on the tax books as they do in real life.
For taxation to work, it must be equitable. Unfortunately, tradition and a fear of change has led state lawmakers to continue propping up property taxation in Georgia.
It's time for that to change. As we get ready for another session of the Georgia General Assembly next month, lawmakers should move Georgia away from this inequitable system of generating local government revenue.
Our ancestors threw tea in the Boston Harbor for lesser concerns - would that we had a harbor into which property taxes could be tossed.



Letter
The Jackson Herald
December 1, 1999

Concerned that mobile home parks will hinder progress
Dear Editor:
Several months ago, I noticed some beautiful land on New Kings Bridge Road being cleared. I was sad to see this land opened up for road viewing, but reconciled myself to the fact that this is the price we must pay for progress.
As clearing proceeded, it became obvious that this acreage was destined to become a subdivision; hence, the name New Kings Bridge Estates was borne on a sign at its entrance. As I talked among friends, we grew excited because our end of the county was finally establishing its growth potential - a protective covenant built-from-the-ground-up-home subdivision complete with sidewalks was the hope. With the Bear Creek Reservoir plans progressing just down the road, Gwinnett County homeowners spreading toward Jackson County, we began looking forward to sharing the prosperity and increased tax base that other areas of the county have already experienced.
Well, so much for the excitement and so much for the built-from-the-ground-up-home subdivision. Guess what? It's going to become a trailer park (tp), or if you want the politically correct term - a "multi-sectioned manufactured home community." Within a five-mile radius of this new "subdivision," there are at least five other mobile home communities (tps). Why is it that the land owners and/or land developers seem not to have the foresight to realize that people who sell their homes in other counties do not want to relocate to Jackson County and have endless "mobile home communities" to choose from? As the owner, you may develop your land as you wish, but some owners need to use forethought and stop the economic revolving door of selling, repossessing, and then the re-selling of land/mobile homes. Prosperity breeds permanence. Let us not accept this cycle of transience.
Do we not realize that development calls for upgrading the surrounding community, whether it be in housing or business? An increase in the tax base has a trickle-down effect to all areas of our community - from bettering the education system for our children to increasing incoming revenue for the county, resulting in improvements in our local livelihood. A just-released 1999 report shows that Jackson County has become the second fastest growing county in our area, second only to Barrow County. Land developers and local rezoning should heed this growth call by not using more of our local lands for mobile home developments. Enough is enough.
Someone better wise up and realize that the majority of incoming people and long-time residents want built-from-the-ground-up protective covenant home subdivisions ­ not factory direct trailer homes that are pulled in by a truck.
Sincerely,
Rita Baggerley,
"Concerned for our community's
progress, not staleness"



Column
By Mike Buffington
December 1, 1999

Dynamics of county growth
Lawsuits against the county government over zoning disputes have become as common as dirt. Two more were filed last week and no doubt others will come in the future.
At issue is how far governments should go in regulating land use by private property owners. On the one hand, there is a compelling need for there to be some order in how raw land is developed. That's especially critical in a county like Jackson that is facing outside growth pressures.
On the other hand, private property owners do have some inherent legal right to develop their property as they see fit. Too much intrusion by government in that process begins to trample on those rights.
There are scores of books on this subject. Although new to Jackson County, growth and land use conflicts are old news in many places.
But although many want easy answers, simple solutions do not exist. The dynamics of growth evolve and change and it's impossible to have a plan today that will work forevermore.
As we prepare to enter the new century, there are a number of forces that are converging on Jackson County which will determine how the county will grow in the coming decades. Those forces may generate even more lawsuits if county leaders fail to understand the dynamics of change.
1. Topping the list of forces on Jackson County will be the start of the Bear Creek Reservoir. Not only does that project make additional water available in Jackson County, it also generates a tremendous pressure on county leaders to sell that water for debt service payments. Water sales require customers and the county needs lot of paying customers fast. The upside is that the situation may create an atmosphere for greater cooperation between the county government and its towns since the allocation of water resources is important to everyone. The downside is a pressure to lure high-volume industrial water users to generate income. That's a short-term solution, but could be a long-term problem.
2. Second on the list of forces hitting Jackson County is the move by the county government to get into the sewerage treatment business. While a necessary move, the long-term effect of sewer is profound. Although current county leaders have vowed to put sewer services only for industrial and high-volume residential projects, future leaders may decide to make that service available more broadly. But when a sewer line goes into the ground, it forever changes the value and direction of the property nearby. Management of sewer services will be a key to how Jackson County grows in the coming years.
3. The third force hitting Jackson County is the change of its county government in 2001. In the long-run, the change will undoubtedly be for the good. But in the short-run, the transition could be difficult. If the new board gets distracted by the transition, the other major issues facing the county could get put on hold. It will be critical in 2001 that the new board not get lost on an internal focus, but rather keep an external view.
4. The fourth force hitting the county will be the continuing need for additional classroom space in local schools. As more people move to Jackson County, the pressure for schools will grow. That is an obvious conclusion, but what's not so obvious is the effect such building projects have on school system leaders, both hired and elected. Building projects take a huge amount of leader time and thought, much of which distracts from the academic focus of those leaders. It's a tough balance, but somehow these infrastructure projects have to be put in balance with all the other day-to-day matters.
5. The fifth force hitting the county in the coming years will be with major changes in the local road systems. All local major roads are in the middle of changes, or will soon be. As new roads open, new land is opened for development. That could have a profound effect on growth in Jackson County, especially in terms of where major commercial centers will be located. New roads also redefine the limits of a community, both physically and psychologically.
All of these forces are very important to how Jackson County will grow in the future. But the most important force may be the one that currently doesn't exist - that is, a common vision by local leaders that ties together all of these issues in some manageable way. With nine towns, three school systems and a large county geographically, it may prove impossible to really have a true common vision.
But somehow, local leaders at all levels will have to come together more in efforts to respond to these forces of change. That is being done to some extent already, but it has a long ways to go to be effective.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.



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