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News
Elections headed toward finish line

The 2020 voting is headed toward the finish line as the Nov. 3 General Election comes to a close next week.

Through Saturday, Oct. 25, a little over 20,100 Jackson County citizens had voted either by absentee ballot or by early in-person voting. That represents around 37% of the county's registered voters.

HOW TO VOTE

Voting by in-person continues through Oct. 30. In-person early voting is being held at three locations:

• Jackson County Elections Office in Jefferson from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

• Commerce Parks & Rec in Commerce from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

• Braselton Police & Municipal Building from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Absentee ballots may be mailed or put in drop boxes at the following locations:

• Jefferson Elections Office

• Nicholson City Hall

• West Jackson Fire Department, Braselton

Voting on election day, Nov. 3, will vote at one of Jackson County's four precinct locations from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Those locations are:

Jefferson/Central Jackson — Hope Crossing Church on Old Pendergrass Rd.

South Jackson — Southside Church on Hwy. 129.

Braselton/West Jackson —Free Chapel Church on Cherry Drive.

Commerce/North Jackson — Mt. Olive Church on Mt. Olive Church Rd. Commerce.

ABSENTEE COUNTING

The county has added a second scanner to help handle a flood of absentee ballots this year.

The county will open and begin counting absentee ballots on Oct. 26 at 10 a.m. 

In the past, the county had waited until election day to open and scan absentee ballots, a situation that became difficult this year given the large number of absentee ballots being cast due to the COVID virus.

THE CONTESTS

In addition to voting for president, two Senators and a Congressman, Jackson County voters also have several local races of interest:

• State House District 31 — Incumbent Republican Tommy Benton faces Democratic challenger Pete Fuller. The district covers Jackson County. Both candidates live in Jefferson.

• State Senate District 47 — Incumbent Republican Frank Ginn faces Democratic challenger Dawn Johnson. The district covers part of Jackson County. Both candidates live in Madison County.

• State Senate District 50 — An open seat, Republican Bo Hatchett faces Democrat Dee Daley. The district covers part of Jackson County. Hatchett lives in Habersham County while Daley lives in Rabun County.

• Jackson County Commissioner District 1 — Incumbent Republican Jim Hix faces Democratic challenger Jamie Mitcham. Both candidates live in Jefferson.

• Jackson County Commissioner District 3 — Incumbent Republican Chas Hardy faces Democratic challenger Brodriche Jackson. Hardy lives in Commerce and Jackson lives in Maysville.

BY THE NUMBERS

Data for voting in Jackson County through Oct. 25:

• Early in-person voting = 14,061

• Absentee/mail ballots = 5,996

• Overseas ballots = 44

• Outstanding absentee ballots not yet cast = 2,237

• Outstanding overseas ballots = 40

• Absentee ballots canceled when person voted in-person = 1,027


News
breaking
ITC delays ruling in SK Battery lawsuit

Officials will have to wait a little longer to find out if the SK Battery facilities in Commerce will be affected by an International Trade Commission decision.

According to a Reuters news report, the ITC delayed a planned decision on Oct. 26 until Dec. 10.

The ITC is reviewing a lawsuit by LG Chem, a rival EV battery-maker, that SK illegally stole trade secrets about manufacturing electric vehicle batteries.

An adverse ruling against SK could affect the company's plans to produce batteries at its $2.6 billion facilities in Commerce.

The move to delay a ruling could signal that the ITC wants to give the two companies more time to reach a settlement. Some industry observers believe LG will settle with SK if SK pays a large sum to use the technology it allegedly stole.

In a statement following the delay, LG Chem said it was still "confident" the ITC will rule in its favor.

"Today's delay notwithstanding, we remain extremely confident that the commission will hold SK Innovation responsible for their threat and issue appropriate remedies to make LG Chem whole," the company's lawyer said.

For it's part, SK said it plans to move forward with its Commerce facility.

"SK Innovation remains confident in the merits of our case and that the final outcome will be in our favor," said spokesman Steven Jahng. "We appreciate the ITC taking the time to provide careful consideration of the case and the full impact of this decision."

The delay is the second time the ITC has postponed ruling on the case. The commission was slated to rule on Oct. 6 but delayed to Oct. 26.

The December date put the ruling past the Nov. 3 elections, a move that could untangle the issue from its political overtones. A number of local and state political leaders have been lobbying the ITC for a ruling that lets SK continue with its operations, arguing that the 2,600 jobs being created by the firm outweigh the allegations of intellectual theft.

If the ITC rules against SK and imposes tough sanctions, the issue could end up on the president's desk. Only the president can override an ITC ruling.

In addition to the trade secrets issue, LG Chem also alleges that SK destroyed evidence of its misdeeds by erasing emails after the ITC judge ordered a forensic inspection of SK's computer system.

The ITC has earlier signaled it would side with LG Chem in the suit. That position got a boost last month when the ITC's Office of Unfair Import Investigations submitted a report to the judge backing LG Chem's position.

WHAT IT MEANS FOR COMMERCE

What all this means for Commerce and Jackson County is still unclear, but industry officials believe a ruling against SK could disrupt its plans to produce EV batteries in Commerce.

LG Chem is asking the ITC to sanction SK by not allowing it to import key machinery it would need to manufacture the batteries.

SK batteries are slated to be use in a new SUV by Volkswagen being built in Chattanooga, Tenn. and by Ford in EV F-150 trucks.


News
COVID update: Local situation seems stable for now

The number of COVID cases has remained stable over the past week with the number of deaths remaining at 40.

Some 2,361 people have tested positive for the virus since March and 192 have been hospitalized as of Oct. 26.

But the rolling average of positive cases remains around 13 per day, down from a high of over 26 per day in early September.

While some states are now seeing major outbreaks in the Midwest and West, Georgia has mostly remind stable in recent weeks.

In Northeast Georgia, nearby Franklin County has seen an uptick in cases per 100,000 people in the past two weeks as have some counties in south Georgia. 

Nationally, health officials are warning of possible problems in the coming months as the flu season begins, perhaps bringing additional complications to COVID patients.

The Jefferson City School System saw its first flu case last week, officials said.

While much of the local economy is open, wearing a mask, social distancing and avoiding large crowds seems to have become a routine part of daily life in Jackson County. 

Some large events, such as Jefferson's annual Halloween Walk, have been canceled, but schools and sporting events continue with modifications. Most churches are back to in-person services and most restaurants are again serving in dining rooms.

In addition, most local government meetings that had been done remotely online are now transiting back to in-person meetings. 


News
Jefferson looking to expand middle, high schools

 An expansion of Jefferson Middle School and Jefferson High School will be among the topics the Jefferson City Board of Education will discuss at its two-day retreat meeting Nov. 12-13.

The board heard a brief overview of the issue at its Oct. 22 meeting. Officials said growth and the need for additional CTAE classroom space at the middle school are the most pressing problems for system facilities.

Former superintendent John Jackson has agreed to oversee the expansion projects on contract with the school system, officials said.

Once the details for an expansion at JMS are completed, the actual work likely wouldn't begin until the summer of 2021.

Work at JHS would probably not take place until the following year.

In a related move, the board approved an application for state capital outlay funds to help pay for the expansion projects.

OTHER ACTION

In other action Oct. 22, the board approved:

• the purchase of 200  Chromebooks.

• the purchase of a new school bus.

• new lighting for the system's baseball and softball fields to be paid for from SPLOST funds.

• a sewer easement across property the system owns on Hwy. 11 for the city to do work at a pump station.


News
Pendergrass panel recommends annexation

A panel of citizens in Pendergrass recently recommended the city annex 213 acres into the town for future commercial, industrial or distribution center development.

The property is located across from the Quick Trip distribution center on the Hwy. 129 bypass.

The construction of an inland port in nearby Hall County is expected to have an impact on distribution center development along the I-85 corridor, officials noted.

The advisory panel also recommended the city put a 25 mph speed limit in the Brooks Village Subdivision.

The informal panel met Oct. 14 to give feedback to the city council about several community issues.

Attending the session were Billy Hendrix, Frank Paul, William Parsons, Kathy Rizzo, meredith Davison, Cheryl Fisher, Kay Weatherford and Tawnia Justice, along with city administrator Rob Russell.


News
Jackson Co. school board looks to add new westside elementary school

Needing to ease crowding issues at Gum Springs, West Jackson and North Jackson elementary schools, the Jackson County Board of Education is looking at adding another elementary school on the westside of the county.

The BOE discussed the matter during a near three-hour called work session Monday (Oct. 26). The board wants to locate the new school on the system’s Skelton Rd. property where a new high school is under construction.

“I think we know we need an elementary school,” superintendent April Howard said. “That is our priority right now.”

Howard said the system might already be behind in the process for a new elementary school with the rapid population growth on the westside.

There are two potential spots on the Skelton Rd. property to locate an elementary school. One is an area along Hwy. 332, which has long been considered an elementary school site. The other is a location adjacent to the new high school, which has been slated as the location of a new middle school. The site is already graded and has utilities.

Howard discussed the option of constructing the middle school building, but operating it as an elementary school first before transitioning it to a middle school when one is needed. 

The system has already been allotting SPLOST money towards a new westside elementary school, having reduced the scope of other construction projects and applying the saved money toward this project. The system, however, is still about $8.5 million short of the funds needed to construct the school, which would cost an estimated $21.34 million.

While the construction of new westside elementary and middle schools occupied most of the conversation in open session, the BOE met behind closed doors to discuss what it considers it’s highest priority in handling growth: The acquisition of land on the northwest side of I-85 for future construction.

The school board invited realtor Matt McCord of the Norton Agency into the closed session to discuss potential property to be purchased.

Before the board entered closed session, McCord pointed to the growth the county is experiencing, noting that two of the top 25 fastest-growing subdivisions in terms of absorption rate in metro Atlanta are located in Jackson County. Seasons at Pendergrass ranks as No. 1. Jackson County has four percent of the total market share in metro Atlanta, according to McCord.

“I feel like that’s pretty strong,” McCord said.

The BOE and Howard also touched on a variety of other facilities-related issues, including:

• review of the floor plan of the new Empower College and Career Center. The career center will operate at the site of Jackson County Comprehensive High School when the school relocates to the westside of the county. The Jackson County Chamber of Commerce could potentially relocate its offices to the Empower center, which was also discussed.

•discussion of how the county recreation department might use the athletic facilities at the old Jackson County Comprehensive High School once the school relocates.

•potentially moving the school system bus shop to County Farm Rd.

•discussion of the JCCHS wrestling program’s request for a building at the new high school. Multiple board members said they wanted to hold off on that for now, but add the building to the system’s list of potential SPLOST projects.

•discussion of a potential new central office building, though Howard said that’s a low priority currently.


News
Northeast Health District offers Halloween COVID safety tips

The Northeast Health District recently provided guidance for reducing the risk of COVID-19 during fall festivities.

Some lower risk activities include carving or decorating pumpkins outside at a safe distance, hosting virtual costume contests, decorating your home and yard, virtual movie nights and drive-through or drive-by events. Outdoor events that allow you to keep distance between yourself and people that you do not live with such as visiting an orchard or corn maze or attending a scavenger hunt are also lower risk.

The health district offered the following tips for making trick-or-treating safer:

  • Avoid direct contact with trick-or-treaters.
  • Give treats outdoors.
  • Set up a station with individually bagged treats for kids to take.
  • Wash hands before handling treats.
  • A regular costume mask is not a substitute for a cloth mask, so think of creative ways to make your cloth mask part of your costume instead.
  • Do not wear a costume mask over a cloth mask. It can make breathing more difficult.
  • Masks should not be worn by children under the age of 2 or anyone who has trouble breathing.
  • Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds when you get home and before you eat any treats.

If you have recently been diagnosed with COVID-19 or have recently been exposed to someone with COVID-19, you should not host or participate in any in-person activities until after the time period for your isolation or quarantine ends. If you are not sure about how long you should be staying away from others after a COVID-19 infection or exposure, you should call your healthcare provider. You may also call the Northeast Health Department’s testing hotline at 706-340-0996.

For more information about preventing the spread of COVID-19 during holiday gatherings, visit:

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/holidays.html.


News
breaking
Commerce planning board discusses accessary issue

The Commerce Planning Commission reviewed proposed regulations that would permit residential use of detached accessory buildings during a meeting on October 26. The city has seen an increase in requests to allow use of detached structures as residences for family members of the property owner.

“There is a whole generation of us out there that are raising our kids, but also taking care of our parents,” said board member Melinda Cochran.

Cochran said a challenge families are facing in the current economy is that not everyone has the financial means to keep up two homes.

“Having the small accessory building is nice for people who aren’t able to maintain two separate residents on two separate pieces of property,” said Cochran.

Chairman Joe Leffew noted in-law suites are already permitted in attached garages, basements or other areas of a home. But Leffew voiced concern regarding changes that would allow single family areas to transition into properties consisting of multi-family units.

“Family dynamics are changing,” said board member Andre Rollins. “We are living in a totally different world in terms of our resources and caring for our parents and our children.”

The draft ordinance presented to the board would allow one accessory dwelling unit per lot. The building would have to be located in the side or rear of the lot and would have to meet required setbacks and building height regulations.

The structure couldn't contain more than two bedrooms or 1,000 sq. ft. The exterior of the accessory building would also have to match the primary structure’s architectural style and only one parking space would be permitted on the driveway that serves the primary dwelling.

In addition, the property owner would be required to occupy the primary dwelling; all utilities would have to be connected to the primary residence; the property could not be subdivided; and the accessory dwelling could not be leased, rented or sublet. 

The commission will review the final ordinance draft at its November board meeting and the city council could vote on the final recommendation at its December council meeting.

OTHER BUSINESS

In other business the commission:

• tabled action on a request from Dakota Commerce LLC to annex and rezone property from A2 in the county to Manufacturing (M) in the city for 214 acres at Yarbrough/Ridgeway Road and Ridgeway Church Road. The applicant has plans to build an industrial park for up to five warehouses. During the annexation process, the county discovered a right–of-way easement that is owned by the county that was not previously reported. In order to annex the property without creating an island, the board agreed to table the request to give staff time to work with the county to resolve the right-of-way issue.

• denied a request from Sara Golden for a variance to place a mobile home at 198 Old Harden Orchard Road. Golden is requesting permission to replace a mobile home that was destroyed by fire in 2006. With recent zoning map and ordinance amendments, if an owner occupied mobile home is destroyed by natural disaster, the owner is allowed to replace the dwelling with another mobile home. This structure has not been occupied for 14 years and does not qualify for replacement under the terms of the new ordinance.

• tabled a request from Helen Venable and Gary Venable to continue a variance to allow use of an accessory building for a residential dwelling unit at 382 Elizabeth Street. The owner of the main structure is requesting the variance to allow a family member to live in the detached accessory building in order to care for an elderly family member. 


News
Submit your Halloween photos

Halloween festivities may look a little different this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The Jackson Herald would like to see the unique ways the community is celebrating Halloween this year.

Those who would like to submit a photo for an upcoming issue of the paper may do so by emailing mike@mainstreetnews.com. Include the name(s) of people in the photographs.

The deadline is noon on Monday, Nov. 2.