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July 27, 2006 Issue

Small Town Bluegrass...
Mitchell offers free food, company and entertainment in monthly first Saturdays' Music in the Park. Mitchell's own Small Town Bluegrass opens and closes each show which features other talent from across the area. Band members Glenda and Aaron Lamb pictured at right. Click here for story









Other Top Stories
'The lowest millage rate in five years'
Wrens council abolishes HPC; votes to turn down grants

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'The lowest millage rate in five years'

• Both county and school board lower their millage rates to 12.62 and 13.25 respectively

By Jessica Newberry
Intern

The two entities responsible for taxing Jefferson County property owners have both decided to decrease the millage rate for the 2006-2007 fiscal year. The Jefferson County Board of Commissioners decreased the millage rate from the 2006 rate of 13.64 to 12.62 while the Jefferson County Board of Education (JCBOE) decreased its rate from 13.60 mills to 13.25.

“This is the lowest millage rate in the last five years,” said County Administrator Paul Bryan. “This year, the commissioners have reduced the millage rate to compensate for growth in the tax digest and in an attempt to let the budget be covered by user fees.”

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Due to recent property revaluation, the current gross tax digest for Jefferson County totals $486,624,992, a $27 million increase over last year’s digest. Since 2005, the values of real and personal property and mobile homes have increased while the values of motor vehicles and timber have decreased.

Properties totaling $86.418 million qualify as exemptions, bringing the net maintenance and operation digest to $400,206,130. The majority of these exemptions are due to Jefferson County property being placed under conservation.

Despite the $12.2 million increase in the net digest, there will be a $241,184, or 4.56 percent, decrease in the amount of net taxes levied for the current year. Of the $5,050,601 net taxes levied, .75 mills will go to the Development Authority of Jefferson County.

The JCBOE voted in a called session on Monday, July 24, to decrease the millage rate to 13.25 mills, representing an increase of 3.91 percent over the rollback millage rate.

“We regret that we couldn’t do the complete rollback,” said Jefferson County School Superintendent Carl Bethune.

Despite a predicted cut in state revenues for the fourth consecutive year, the JCBOE has lowered the millage rate by .35 mills, which will result in a $26,782, or .51 percent, increase in net taxes levied.

The JCBOE will be employing eight additional teachers, as well as facing rising fuel and utility costs with approximately the same amount of local funding. The majority of the budget consists of personnel salaries, including teachers who have been hired for the next school year based on the number of students expected, and on state maximum class sizes. For the first time, state schools will not be allowed to do site-averaging, requiring the addition of new teachers.

“I think the board did a good job being as fair and considerate to the citizens as possible,” Bethune said, “but the new state regulations on class size and increasing fuel costs prohibited a complete rollback.”

The Jefferson County Board of Commissioners will meet on Friday, July 28, at 8:30 a.m. at the commissioner’s office to set the millage rate.



Wrens council abolishes HPC; votes to turn down grants

• Councilmen say that while they feel the Historic Preservation Commission could have been good for the city, but citizens didn't want it

By Parish Howard
Editor

Citing numerous calls from their constituents, Wrens’s city council effectively abolished its Historic Preservation Commission, turned down a $2,600 grant and essentially closed the door on a number of future preservation projects.

The issue was added to the agenda, discussed and voted on during the city’s July 11 meeting.



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City Administrator Donna Scott Johnson said the issue, which has been hotly debated since a February public hearing when a number of citizens came forward to oppose the creation of a designated historic district, appears to have been reignited when the city voted last month to match a $2,600 grant to create voluntary historic preservation guidelines.

“The grant was for a consultant to come in and create design guidelines that would have been purely voluntary,” Johnson said. “The guidelines would have been available if someone had bought an older home they wanted to renovate and come to the city for guidance, or if businesses wanted ideas.”

Mayor Dollye Ward first broached the subject, which had clearly been discussed among council members previous to the meeting.

Once it was on the agenda, she warned the council that the repeal of the ordinance would dissolve the commission, which has been working on a number of historic preservation projects since it was established in 2004, as well as cost city its Certified Local Government (CLG) status which was granted earlier this summer.

According to Johnson, the CLG status would have given the city “a lot of preference when it came to seeking historical preservation grants and projects.”

“It’s also an added bonus on other grants as well,” Johnson said. “The council felt it wasn’t what the right time for it, that the city’s money and energies would best be spent on other projects right now.”

Discussion

“I’ve had pro and con feelings on it,” McGahee said. “I felt more comfortable with it after the last meeting when we decided it would be a voluntary thing. I have had calls in the last week or two from people who just want it abolished. I represent the people, so, therefore, I feel like I have to vote to abolish it.

“Personally, I feel comfortable keeping it since it’s not a mandatory thing, but I’m here to represent the people.”

Councilman Willie Huntley said that he was “personally not against it,” he had been surprised by some of the calls and that “personally I [he] would rather keep it.” However, he joined the unanimous vote to abolish the board and seconded McGahee’s motion to reject the grant.

“I think it would be a good thing for the city,” Councilman Erskine Lane said. “I don’t think the people were informed about it like they should have. People thought something was going to be forced on them as far as their property, their houses.

like that. It was going to be an individual thing. From the get go, people were misinformed. They got it in their minds that we don’t need this, so it’s kind of hard to turn people around.”

Councilwoman Ceola Hannah said that she had not received a single call about the commission or the grant.

“But I think we should listen to what people have to say, because they’re living in this community,” she said during the meeting.

Mayor Ward said that she had not received any calls either.

Councilman Lester Hadden had spoken against the commission in the past and moved to abolish it in April in a vote that failed 2-3.

“I’ve had a good many calls,” he said in the more recent meeting. “From the first meeting they really got upset about it. I represent the people.”

Councilwoman McGahee moved to repeal the city’s Historic Preservation Ordinance effective Oct. 1, effectively dissolving the board and thereby wiping out the city’s eligibility for Certified Local Government status, a designation which it had only just received earlier this summer. The motion was seconded by Hadden and passed unanimously.

McGahee then moved to recind a June vote to accept a matching grant to pay for the creation of voluntary design guidelines for the city of Wrens. This motion was also passed unanimously.

What’s next

Over the next two months the city will have to read a new resolution dissolving its historic preservation ordinance before it will be final Oct. 1.

Johnson said this way the city should be able to be fully reimbursed for the Historic Resources Survey which is due to the Department of Natural Resources Historic Preservation Division Aug. 15.

The city will be getting $4,800 back for the survey and is planning a September information session at the Wrens McCollum Public Library to present its results.

“The survey will be beneficial regardless,” Johnson said. “It should be a useful tool, cataloging what historic properties the city has. It will be a good source anytime anyone wants to look back at what we’ve had, at our history.”




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