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November 21, 2002 Issue

One Jefferson County citizen presented a conceptual three dimensional model he had created representing what a regional landfill could look like by the year 2027.

Outside landfill management out, three officials say

Around 80 area residents attended meeting to share opinions on issue

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

Meetings of the Jefferson County Commission are usually sparsely attended and almost always low-key. But any resemblance to that norm was obliterated Nov. 12 as when many of the 80 residents in attendance at the regular session left commissioners with no doubt about their opinion on the future of the county's Mennonite Church Road landfill. Three of five commissioners put residents' minds at ease at the end of the meeting by promising they would not vote to make the facility a regional landfill.

Several residents were on the agenda to speak against any future action by the commission that would result in selling, leasing or allowing the landfill with its spiraling costs to be put in the hands of any company that would bring in trash from outside the county. The result, they said, would undoubtedly create a regional landfill that would pose problems for both Jefferson County High School and the new Sandersville Tech campus, located less than one-mile downwind. Neighbors in the immediate area and would risk future environmental and liability consequences. Residents reminded commissioners of the board's 1996 resolution promising that it would not allow trash to be brought in from outside the county.

Commissioners Tommy New, Isaiah Thomas and Wynder Smith told the audience near the end of the meeting that they would not support any vote to sell, lease or allow any company to manage the landfill. Chairman Gardner Hobbs followed-up their comments, saying that he appreciated the comments and that in due time the board would make a decision about the future of the landfill.

Hobbs and Commissioner Paul Boulineau were asked at the end of the meeting if they would state their current position as the others commissioners had done.

"We never voted to sell the landfill," said Boulineau, referencing the board's September 2001 unanimous vote not to sell the facility. "It's been stated before. If you missed it before, you'll miss it again. You've got to wait until it comes before the board to vote. At that time the views will be expressed and that might be after Jan. 1. So why should I worry about what's going to take place later?"

Hobbs chose not to make a comment.

Residents speak up

Comments made by New, Thomas and Smith were preceded by those of several residents. As with all residents on the agenda, Louisville resident Rusty Logue told commissioners he was opposed to having the landfill become a regional landfill. Like the sludge issue three years ago, he asked commissioners to consider the consequences of allowing different management to bring in vastly greater quantities of trash than the county can generate alone.

"What will be our claim to fame, that we have a regional landfill and we are the sludge capital of Georgia?" he asked.

Logue referenced events earlier in the meeting when Ben Benson made a point-of-order request to extend comments past five minutes and was denied, as was a request by one scheduled speaker to give his five-minute allotment to another scheduled speaker.

"I must say, sitting back here listening to an issue as serious as this, that when the first order of business is to limit the citizens to five minutes makes me wonder how concerned you really are to address this situation," said Logue.

Louisville resident Tom Austin reviewed the two 1996 board resolutions stating that the landfill would not accept trash from outside the county. The resolutions represented the board's agreement with the Mennonite community and residents countywide. Austin told commissioners he had been chairman of the citizens committee addressing the possibility of establishing the facility. Now, several years later, the losers have become the people of Jefferson County and their children who attend Jefferson County High School.

"(At that time) we said we couldn't afford a landfill," said Austin. "Now, a few years later, you all are saying we can't afford a landfill. We tried to get you to haul the garbage out of the county in 1994 but we couldn't afford to do that. Now you say we can't afford the landfill.

"And who wants to send their children out there to public school next to the landfill that's got God knows what in it if you turn it into a regional landfill. You can't monitor that stuff; you're not monitoring it now. So are you going to go by these agreements and do what's right?"

Austin told the board that people throughout the county helped draw up the 1996 agreements. It was apparent then that commissioners did not listen to the people. Though citizens are sometimes looked down on by the board when they present issues, commissioners should remember that there is another election coming, he said.

Moxley resident and Jefferson County Concerned Citizens, Inc. President Kay Heilig asked commissioners to put future of the landfill in the hands of the people by putting the options on a public referendum. That approach would be the only way commissioners' actions could reflect that desire of the people.

"The landfill issue is probably the most important decision that will be made over the next decade," he said. "I urge you not to do what you feel is best but to do what the citizens of the county want. And the only way you can do that is to ask them what they want in a referendum. Please respect the citizens who elected you enough to ask them what they want."

Matthews resident George Cale asked commissioners to consider covering the cost of running the landfill by assessing a fee to each business and to each building that had a kitchen. The fee would depend on the volume of trash and the type of trash it produced. Alternatively, much like county auditors who first suggested some type of user fee more than three years ago, the suggestion was made to add a $10 per month to county taxes, collected annually, to accomplish the same goal. Such a method would allow for a more uniform participation, with rental adjustments being passed on by property owners. Cale also asked about possible upcoming millage rate meetings and was told the public would be informed if those meetings became necessary. The commission failed to inform Cale and the audience that a meeting was scheduled three days later to set a tentative millage rate.

Louisville resident Geary Davis referenced several issues pertaining to the landfill and its future, including management of waste streams, tonnage and profitability and the 1996 resolutions adopted by commissioners.

"This continuing landfill issue is about money, a lot of money," he said. "But if it is such a good idea why are so many counties getting out of the landfill business?"

Like several others attending the meeting, Davis questioned the presence of Advanced Disposal Services representatives making presentations at various civic clubs around the county and the interest of some commissioners, the development authority and certain institutions after the board said last year the facility would not be sold. Despite the various opinions surrounding the future of the landfill, commissioners should not lose sight of the wishes of the citizens in 1996, and today. The citizens can only lose if the landfill is sold or put under outside management, he said.

Referencing comments made several times during the meeting about interactions between Advanced representatives and the development authority, economic developer Brad Day said Monday that, to his knowledge, the Development Authority of Jefferson County has taken no position regarding the future of the landfill.

It is in the best interest of the county that the problems surrounding the facility be solved, he said.

Tentative millage rate set

School board is currently not planning to raise millage rate

By Ben Nelms
Staff Writer

The two bodies responsible for levying property taxes in Jefferson County were split last week in their decision on establishing a tentative millage rate. The county commission decreased the millage rate from 13.73 to 12.69 mills while the Jefferson County Board of Education maintained its rate of 12.88 mills in response to cutbacks mandated by the state.

The recent property revaluation would have generated an increase to property owners even if the millage had remained steady. Left where it was after revaluation, the millage rate would have generated an additional $375,000 over last year's revenue total.

Chairman Gardner Hobbs, clearly pleased with the Nov. 15 decision, said the commission's move that reduced the rate by 1.04 mills will require tight control over expenditures but was needed to insure that property tax bills would be held at the same level as last year. Reducing the millage to the rollback rate of 12.69 eliminates the need for public hearings.

"I hope that will mean to them that we are trying very, very, very, very hard to operate an efficient government with a minimum amount of money," said Hobbs.

What would otherwise have been a tax bill increase to property owners was averted by a budget reduction and a Fund Balance account transfer. Commissioners reduced the Roads Department budget by $230,000 on the advice of County Administrator James Rogers and Finance Committee Chairman Paul Boulineau.

Rogers said the adjustment could be made due to decreased need for some of the personnel dollars included in the department's budget since it was adopted earlier this year. The remainder of the difference came from the fund balance transfer.

Boulineau said he was comfortable with the rollback, adding that the decision was effort by commissioners to show taxpayers that the board was doing something favorable for them.

The 12.69 millage established by the commission includes .75 mills for the Development Authority of Jefferson County. The rate represents a .02 mill increase but fell short of the .25 mill increase sought by the development authority.

The Jefferson County School board voted at the monthly meeting Nov. 14 to keep the millage rate at 12.88 mills, representing an increase of 8.28 percent over the rollback millage rate.

The board's decision came after the state mandated budget cuts totaling five percent of the school system's budget, said Superintendent Carl Bethune.

Those cuts in state monies represent more than $400,000 that the school system will not receive, he said. Maintaining the same millage rate will generate approximately $375,000 in additional revenue due to the recent property revaluation.

"We very much regret not being able to rollback like we did last year," said Bethune. "Our inability to rollback again this year is a direct result of a five percent cut in our budget by the state that is totally beyond our control. Being half way through the school year this makes the situation untenable since we really have no other funds other than local monies to bring the budget into balance."

The state-imposed cut came in two phases, said Bethune. A three percent cut in September specifically targeted budget line items such as transportation, electricity and staff development. The two percent cut, announced this month, mandates a decrease in all line items across the board, Bethune said. The combination of budget cuts coming nearly half way through the school year put the school board in the position of having to make up the difference locally. Local tax revenue makes up approximately 17 percent of the school system's overall budget.

Bethune said the budget cuts were enacted across all state agencies and were mandated by Gov. Barnes because revenue collections are down statewide.

Public hearings on the school board's tax increase will be held Dec. 2 at 8:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. and again on Dec. 10 at 8:30 a.m. The millage rate will be adopted in a called meeting following the Dec. 10 hearing. All meetings will be held at the school board office in Louisville.

What are you thankful for? We want to know.

Newspaper editor asks readers to share thanks in paper

By Parish Howard

Tradition, family, health and bounty--Thanksgiving means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, but for nearly everyone it means saying thank you to the people in your life who deserve it the most, saying thank you for all the blessings you've received.

Every year The News and Farmer/The Jefferson Reporter asks its readers to share these thanks in the pages of our Thanksgiving edition.

In the past we've had new parents share the stories of their new addition's birth. Some have told the stories of health scares or miracle recoveries. Others have shared losses, and shared thanks for simply having known a friend or family member who passed on.

Teachers have given thanks for their schools, students for their teachers, Christians for joining a church and finding Jesus Christ.

In the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks last year, at least one Louisville-area man gave thanks for being an American and for the freedoms that entails.

One lady gave thanks that her sons, who were in New York, across the street from the World Trade Centers during the attacks, had survived the ordeal.

In years past readers have shared stories of brushes with death in car wrecks and accidents. One student told how he nearly died when he was sucked down a metal drainpipe after a torrential downpour flooded a ditch near his home.

The newspaper seldom publishes poetry; however, Thanksgiving is one time of year that we do accept reader's thanks written in verse.

We ask that all letters of thanks be signed. Letters must be received by Friday, Nov. 22 at 5 p.m. to be included in the Thanksgiving edition.

They may be dropped by our Mulberry Street office in Louisville, Jay's Hardware in Wrens, Gibson Hardware in Gibson or they may be submitted by email to news@thenewsandfarmer.com.

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