The Jackson Herald - July 28, 1999
Within the coming weeks, county leaders
will have to pin down exactly how the ballot will be worded in
November's vote for a special local option sales tax. Several
proposals have been floated about how the funds should be split.
The Jackson County Board of Commissioners has said it would allocate
20 percent of the money toward a new courthouse, but the other
80 percent is still up in the air.
But there is a worry that no matter how the money is split, county
voters will again turn down the sales tax. Last year, voters
killed the tax, which had previously gone toward road, water
and recreation projects in the county.
The killing of the sales tax wasn't a vote against roads, water
and recreation - most citizens view those as worthy projects
to support. That vote was, more than anything else, a rejection
of county leadership.
Many voters are angry at the county government and cite rising
property taxes as their main complaint. Although voters are often
powerless to stop increased property taxes, they can, and often
do, vote against sales taxes.
The SPLOST, however, is the wrong target for voter wrath. With
the development of the new Tanger Outlet Center near Commerce
and the likelihood of additional commercial growth in the coming
five years, much of the SPLOST would be paid by out-of-county
residents who shop in Jackson County.
The truth is, many Jackson County shoppers are going to pay a
SPLOST no matter what the outcome of November's vote. Everytime
a Jackson County resident buys something in another county, he
is probably paying a SPLOST tax to that county. And given that
Jackson County's location is between several other major shopping
areas, a lot of dollars flow out of the county to other communities.
So it really doesn't make any economic sense to turn down a SPLOST.
But try telling that to angry voters who look for any way possible
to send a message to their county government.
Why are voters angry? They are angry about the problems in the
tax assessors office and the perception that the county's property
tax system is unfair. They are angry that no one has run a water
line down their road yet. They are angry that the county's recreation
programs are often haphazardly run. They are angry at the courts
which seem to be a revolving door for criminals. And they are
angry at rising property taxes.
But the real anger is at what many consider a lack of leadership
in Jackson County. Citizens sense no direction from their elected
officials. If anything, the bitter infighting that has come to
be a part of the county government in recent years has made them
even more suspicious of the decision-making from our elected
That's a valid complaint. No leader has really articulated a
vision for Jackson County or addressed openly the many concerns
bubbling up from the citizenry at-large.
But the blame for that failure of leadership rests only partly
on the shoulders of those who now occupy our top elected positions.
The truth is, we are using a horse-and-buggy county government
in a turbo-jet world. Our system is not just breaking, it is
broken. The structure of our government is inefficient, unwieldy
and often incomprehensible. County leaders are so busy fighting
day-to-day fires that there is little time left to put their
arms around the larger issues that are so important to county
And that is the second important issue on the ballot in November
- a chance to change our county government into a structure that
can better deal with the issues we face. Paramount in that change
is a move to a professional, county manager form of government.
But even a better government structure won't get us very far
if it's hands are tied by the defeat of the SPLOST vote. Without
that source of funding, even a new government won't be able to
pave roads or lay more water lines or build more recreation facilities.
Without a SPLOST, even a professional county manager can't build
a new courthouse or provide additional fire protection.
Anyone who reads this space on a regular basis knows I'm no great
fan of how our county has been run in recent years. No one wants
to see that system changed any more than I do.
But even a new form of government can't move forward without
the tools to make those strides. One of those tools is a reasonable
SPLOST that can be used to address some of the county's most
pressing infrastructure needs.
So if you're angry at the county government, vote in November
to change it. But at least give the new government a chance by
approving the SPLOST. Without it, even professional leaders can
do little more than watch the problems grow.
Mike Buffington is editor of The Jackson Herald.
The Jackson Herald
July 28, 1999
County did right
In a dramatic move last week, the county
government condemned a waste water facility that had just been
purchased by Water Wise, a private waste water firm. The county's
move halts that company's effort to get a state waste water treatment
permit for the facility and the condemnation powers that come
with such a permit.
While we support the privatization of government functions where
possible, sewerage services is one that should remain firmly
under local government control. Consequently, we support the
move by the Jackson County Board of Commissioners and the county
water and sewerage authority in acting boldly to protect the
interests of all citizens in Jackson County.
We have concerns both short and long-term about Water Wise's
efforts to get into the sewerage business. For one thing, the
firm's leaders have misrepresented themselves in several meetings,
claiming, for example, a deal with the county school system that
really doesn't exist. Good business people don't misrepresent
their client list.
Then last week came the scheme with Pendergrass. Although the
company says it will build a sewerage treatment facility in the
town, we think all it really wanted was the city council's signature
on a bond so it could get a state permit for the Texfi mill water
treatment facility. Unless the Pendergrass City Council forces
everyone in that town to abandon their septic tanks and pay $2,400
to hook onto a sewerage system, we see little potential customer
base to support such a venture. Putting sewerage in Pendergrass
just doesn't make good business sense.
Compounding the deal with Pendergrass was lack of objective legal
scrutiny it received. The same law firm, Tolbert & Elrod,
represents both Water Wise and the Pendergrass City Council.
When a public agency signs such a major deal, it should have
objective legal advice and not allow such an obvious conflict
of interest. On top of that problem, two members of the council
also had business or personal conflicts of interest with Water
Wise, but neither abstained from supporting the move.
But even more profound than the Pendergrass shell game are the
long-term implications of having a private firm deciding where
to put sewerage lines in Jackson County. Although county leaders
have for several years contemplated moving into the sewerage
business, it was always considered for industrial and commercial
developments along the I-85 corridor.
But having a private company with such powers could be a disaster
for county planning. When a sewer line goes down a road, it changes
the nature of the property on that road. It allows higher density
residential projects and additional commercial and industrial
In short, a private company providing sewerage service in Jackson
County makes moot local zoning and land use planning. The county's
future development would, to a large extent, rest in the hands
of one firm, a firm that would not have to take into account
the larger interests of the county or its citizens.
We don't take lightly any government action that takes property
away from private citizens or businesses. When such an action
is taken, it should be because the larger community interests
We believe last week's move by the county government does meet
such a standard. All available evidence suggests that Water Wise
massaged the political process to further the firm's own narrow
interests with little regard for the interests of Jackson County
County leaders are to be applauded for acting decisively to stop