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August 9, 2007 Issue

County faces $66,735 in fines
Chamber offers program for entrepreneurs, small business
To the beat of a new director

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County faces $66,735 in fines

• State claims 2006 ag land assessments were based on incorrect averages

By Jessica Newberry
Intern

Jefferson County was notified last week that it faces a $66,735 fine from the Georgia Department of Revenue (DOR).

In a letter dated Wednesday, Aug. 1, the county’s 2006 tax digest was conditionally approved by the DOR under the condition that assessment errors be corrected by 2009.

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The fine of $5 for each of the county’s 13,347 parcels punishes the county for incorrect assessments on agricultural property.

The penalty may be appealed within 30 days; otherwise it will be paid out of the county’s general fund.

“Our area is growing so fast it’s hard to for anyone to keep up,” said county administrator Paul Bryan, “but we’re looking at all avenues to appeal this assessment.”

Jefferson County’s Chief Appraiser George Rachels attributes the incorrect figures and subsequent penalty to rapidly changing land prices and understaffing.

“The problem was with rural land,” Rachels said at Monday’s county commissioners’ work session.

“Land prices are changing so fast we can’t keep up with them with the number of people we have.”

Property values have increased every year except 2001 since 1999, according to Rachels. Average values for rural land for 2007 are $1,800 per acre compared to 2006 values at $1,200 per acre.

“Our assessed land values were lower than what the state said our fair market value was,” Rachels said. “It wasn’t a mistake; it was a lack of personnel.”

The Jefferson County Tax Assessor’s Office currently employs seven people, a chief appraiser, one personal property appraiser, one real property appraiser and four field appraisers.

Three of the field appraisers were hired in January, replacing two employees who were hired in 2004 and left the office in March 2005 after receiving Appraisal I certification.

The new employees are currently completing basic coursework needed for certification.

“You can’t send inexperienced people to the field,” Rachels said.

“It takes about three years to get someone fully qualified with enough experience.”

Under state law, the department of revenue audits the county’s tax digest every three years with one year in which to complete the audit.

In August 2004, the county received a warning for errors on agricultural assessments and was given until the next audit to correct them.

The error on the 2003 digest revealed a lack of uniformity in land values because of a large difference between high and low sales prices according to the coefficient of dispersal (COD).

“Our grouping wasn’t small enough this year,” Rachels said. “We have improved between 2003 and 2006, just not enough.”

The state requires a COD of no more than 15 percent to keep property values uniform. In 2003, the county had a COD of 29.41 percent, and the recent fine was for the 2006 COD of 21.01 percent.

“We corrected our problem in 2004 and 2005, but we slipped back outside the tolerance in 2006,” Rachels said. “We knew our numbers were wrong.”

Other problems with last year’s digest include a price related differential (PRD) that was above the reasonable range, revealing a bias in property values. PRD demonstrates whether higher or lower priced properties are more accurately assessed.

“The state says that our 2006 PRD shows favoritism to higher-priced property,” he said of the county’s 120.58 bias rating that fell outside the allowed limits of 95 to 110 percent.

The state’s review also found that the average 2006 assessment in Jefferson County was 33.44 percent of fair market value, falling outside the required 36 to 44 percent.

“We did the best we could with what we had, but we’ll be under a magnifying glass from now on,” Rachels said.

A countywide revaluation will be conducted in 2008 during which appraisers will visit each parcel of land in the county. Jefferson County’s tax digest will be reviewed again by the department of revenue in 2009 by which time the COD error must be corrected.



Chamber offers program for entrepreneurs, small business

• County seeks entrepreneur friendly status from state, program planned for Aug. 20

By Carol McLeod
Staff Writer

The Jefferson County Chamber of Commerce will sponsor an Entrepreneur Resource Forum on Monday, Aug. 20, from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Pansy’s Restaurant in Louisville.

There is a statewide initiative to recognize communities that are entrepreneur friendly, according to Lil Easterlin, the chamber’s executive director.

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“Entrepreneur-friendly is a designation to allow communities to encourage entrepreneurship to small business,” Easterlin said.

“As a community, we become entrepreneur- friendly if we have these things in place. The designation is from the Georgia Department of Economic Development, Small Business and Innovation Division.”

Easterlin said she has a steering committee with about 18 to 20 people from all over the county. “Because the designation is for the county,” she said.

Don Rhodes, Louisville’s city administrator and a member of the steering committee, said small businesses are vital to the cities.

“The way I look at that, is if we’re going to continue to have a viable downtown area, it’s generally the small businesses that continue to make a viable downtown,” Rhodes said. “This has to start at the grassroots. You have to recruit small businesses. You have to start with a program to interest people into opening small business. I think this is what this program is all about.”

Rhodes said he thinks this will be very important for small business people. “Even someone who’s never been in business before.

If you’ve got an individual who wants to go into business, this will give them a resource. It’s kind of exciting to see this getting off the ground.

We’ve had in the past resources that are available, but it’s good that we’re going to have people come to our town and talk about the resources that are available to help. This will also explain the resources that are available for existing businesses to expand.”

Patsy Jordan and husband Hubert Jordan own Magnolia Mornings, a bed and breakfast in Bartow. Both are on the steering committee.

She said when they first opened their business, a resource like what the chamber is establishing would not have made much of a difference to them.

“Each circumstance and reason for going into business for yourself is different,” Jordan said.

“My husband and I were not going to depend on this venture for our livelihood and that made the difference.

I had been told that I really could cook – we enjoyed meeting new people and I had an historical home that I wanted to share. If this combination was enough to get a business started then we were on our way – if not, we would discontinue it. I might say it has been the most rewarding experience.

We’ve met people from all over the United States and some foreign countries – people who return and those we still hear from.

It gives us the greatest pleasure to introduce our guest to the quaint towns and businesses of Jefferson County.

They love the uniqueness of small town USA.”

Jordan said that for people who depend on a business for their livelihood, then this type of service would probably be a big help.

“Businesses, large or small, are the core, the hub, the heart and soul of the community and because of this importance, the newly-formed steering committee will be a great asset to assist the business owner,” she said.

“Our committee can do the research for them in this geographical area, give them the statistics, the information and first-hand experience from the different people on the panel, etc. Also, we can give them a reality check.

When I say this I think about restaurants and eating establishments – how sometimes they come and go. They can be at their best – food wonderful, food presentation great, décor beautiful, etc. – but didn’t make it because in reality this area has trouble supporting too many restaurants.

There aren’t enough people. This information needs to be given and then the business owner can make the decision.”

Jordan said that although this information may seem negative, it makes people take a realistic approach to opening their business.

“On the positive side, a high percentage of people in Jefferson County dine out, U.S. 1 is close by and restaurants that also cater have an added dimension,” she said.

“As the businesses are the heart and soul of the community, then it is the responsibility of the community to be the backbone and foundation of these businesses.

We will do this through our encouragement and financial support. The newly formed Entrepreneur friendly steering committee will serve as a great liaison between the business owners, give growth to our lovely area and strengthen Jefferson County.”

“This is about a seven- or eight-step process,” Easterlin said. “I’m in step one of identifying the steering committee and talking with the city councils and getting the word out of what I’m doing.

The next step would be more of a continuation of setting up a strategy.”

Easterlin said she wants to create a booklet on how to start a business and other similar information.

She said that the members of the steering committee can be as hands-on and as involved as they want to be and as much as their time allows. “What started this was a realization of how much of the economy is based on small business rather than industry,” she said. “All communities want that 1,000-employee employer.

The reality is that strong communities have strong small businesses.

It doesn’t help our community at all to have someone open up who is ill prepared and then close in two months.”

She said this is not going to offer funding to small businesses but show them where resources are that can help them be successful.

“One of the first things we’re doing is to compiling a list of resources; who does what, where to go.

If you’re going to set up a business in Wrens, here is where you go to get your license; this is what it will cost you.

The other thing is to connect the local businesses with what the state has to offer, the department of economic development, the OneGeorgia Authority, the SBA, what we’re calling our Entrepreneur Resource Forum Monday, Aug. 20, 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at Pansy’s in Louisville.

All these state people will be coming to Louisville.

Each presenter will give just a blurb about what they do, what they provide.”

Easterlin said there will be no formal question and answer period, but each presenter will have a booth with their information.

“There’s no charge and anyone who is interested in starting a business or who already has a business is welcomed to come,” she said. “I want to encourage everyone who is interested to attend.”

Easterlin said by the time the forum is held, she should be in the third step of the process.

“The thing that comes up, I have to do all these things along the way.

Adela Kelly and I will actually go and interview people who are running small businesses about what they do and how they do, their pitfalls.”

The chamber will then have information available to help businesses address their various needs so the businesses have a better chance to be successful.

“I think this is really a very important thing to do. I think it’s a step that’s been missing.

I think it’s important for our community,” Easterlin said.



To the beat of a new director

Jefferson County band under new direction

By Keyon Wilson
Apprentice

Along with the new school year, Jefferson County High School will also be welcoming a new band director.

Marianne Carlton, hailing from tidewater region, Norfolk, Va., confirmed her decision of joining the Warrior tribe after hearing a recorded performance of the JCHS marching band.

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“They sounded really good, I wanted to be a part of that and grow it some more,” she said.

Carlton, who is very fond of music, is also a 20-year U.S. Navy veteran.

During her years serving in the Navy she was a music instructor. Carlton has taught music to students beginning in Pre-K through adults.

She has taught music courses in the classroom, including music theory at the School o

f Music based in Little Creek. She has conducted marching bands as well as orchestras including a 125 piece orchestra, the Bay Youth Symphony, comprised of high school students.

In 2006, she was selected Teacher of the Year for the music connection Young Audiences of Virginia.

Carlton, a fourth generation music professional who proclaimed music as her life, has allowed it to take her to many places, including over seas. She lived in Italy four years where she traveled with the U.S. Navy’s official Sixth Fleet Band based out of Naples, Italy.

During her travel she served as a pianist for ambassadors and kings. Through her traveling, not only has she picked up encores and learned new notes, she also was able to learn and polish off a couple of languages including Italian and French.

The Florida native was a graduate of Pensacola Catholic High School. She furthered her education at Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Va. There she received a Bachelor of Music, a Bachelor of Arts in Music History and a Master’s in Music Education.

Based on her accumulated skills and the eagerness of the JCHS marching band, Carlton has decided this year’s theme to be “A Latin Explosion.” “It is fun,” she said.

The bands began their work on the show Wednesday, July 25, beginning with the rookie camp and then adding the rest of the band in Monday, July 30. They wrapped things up Friday, Aug. 3.

Carlton said it’s not the marching that’s a hard music challenge but the ability to make a really fine production.

Making a fine production is what Carlton plans to do, explaining that her expectations are really high, crediting that mostly to her years in the Navy.

“I’m really excited about being here,” she said, adding that the freshman class was large and the whole band was “just a great bunch of folks.”

Carlton expressed that she found her new position to be really encouraging being that the band seems to have been going through transitions in the past year.

“I’m learning them and they’re learning me,” she said. (We’re) in a rebuilding stage. The marching band is really important, it’s the most visible. (We’re) trying to get instrumental music involved in the community.”

Another new face to JCHS’s entertainment section is Tynessa Howard, the flag corps director, who Carlton refers to as “the answer to her prayers.”

Seniors Rebecca McDowell and Brittney Tremble were named drum majors.

Senior Kayce Walden was appointed the Flag Corps Captain and senior Jessica Lewis as the co-captain.




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