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Op-ed, blogs and columns

Reaching the "New Normal"

By Ron Barnes

Associate Broker – Prudential Georgia Realty

In my ongoing search to satisfy my curiosity about how real estate is “doing” in Pickens County, I came across some interesting information. It loosely falls in line with the latest forecast by the National Association of Realtors.

I remember reading in 2007 that someone had predicted home prices would have to return to the levels we had prior to 2005 before we would see what the “new normal” would be in the marketplace. That seemed preposterous at the time, since it would be a roll back of something like 25-30 percent at the time. I’m not really sure if the person who came up with that prediction actually did any research, or if someone said it and the talking heads picked up on it like the “double-dip housing market” last year. (How can you have a double-dip in real estate when there hasn’t been a recovery yet?) In either case, it turned out to be pretty realistic.

I recently showed readers a chart that graphically illustrated the housing market spiraling out of control beginning in the late ’90s and really firing up between 2002-04. That’s when the government started artificially stimulating the market with bad loans that increased buyers and demand for homes. When I read the results for real estate in Pickens for November, I saw that we only had 429 active listings, down from highs well into the 600’s over the last several years. I decided to go back to see how long it had been since we had fewer homes for sale in the county, and the answer is May of 2004 when there were 427 active listings. That is well over six years!

Furthermore, in May 2004 we sold 34 homes, wrote contracts on 32 more, had almost 14 months of inventory based on sales, and the average sale price was $155,000.

In November 2011 we sold 29 homes, wrote contracts on 37 more, had 14.8 months of inventory based on sales, and the average price was $222,000. Admittedly, the sale price can fluctuate from month to month, but sales and pending contracts are what they are.

We thought times were pretty good in May 2004, so why does it not feel so good right now? Unemployment is higher, and there are still too many foreclosure sales in our current numbers to say our market is good. However, because the number of homes for sale is obviously shrinking, and there is little happening in the construction of new homes, it would appear that the worst is behind us and the market might be poised to make some positive movement.

I recently saw a cartoon that had a house for sale, with a sign saying “Price Reduced – Now Only $1. Zero Down with Zero Percent Financing!” A couple of “buyers” were talking to the real estate agent saying, “No thanks. We’re holding off to see how much lower the market will go before jumping in.”

So for those of you looking for the bottom of the market, this might be it. If you snooze, you lose!

Ron Barnes can be reached at 678-520-6648 or Prudential Georgia Realty is an independently owned and operated member of Prudential Real Estate Affiliates, Inc., a Prudential Financial Company. Equal Housing Opportunity. Statistics furnished by Trendgraphix.


Governor's water plan ignores conservation

By Joe Cook

Executive Director Coosa River Basin Initiative


            The $300 million that Governor Nathan Deal has dedicated to increasing the state’s water supplies will not support  the most cost-effective projects available to local communities and, when all is said and done, may not secure one drop of new water, according to members of the Georgia Water Coalition (GWC).

            On Nov. 17, the Governor’s Water Supply Task Force approved a plan that excluded water efficiency measures from the list of projects eligible for funding under the Governor’s multi-year initiative. Instead, it appears the funds will be allocated primarily to the promotion of reservoirs and other high cost water supply sources.

            Local governments and water utilities are expected to begin competing in January for low interest loans and grants that are being made available under the program.

            “In a time when state resources are limited, it appears this program is destined to waste tax dollars,” said Joe Cook, Executive Director & Riverkeeper with the Coosa River Basin Initiative in Rome. “We’re going to invest in proposals for multi-million dollar reservoirs that may never be built when a fraction of that investment in water efficiency projects will get us the same water, faster.”

            Georgia’s Environmental Protection Division estimates that water conservation and efficiency measures can cost $0.46 to $250 per 1,000 gallons secured while new reservoirs can cost $4000 per 1,000 gallons secured.

            GWC, a consortium of more than 180 conservation-minded groups representing more than 300,000 Georgians, is urging the Task Force and Governor to level the playing field, allowing water efficiency projects to compete for these new state grants and loans. 

            Projects eligible for funding under the  program include new reservoirs, expansion of existing reservoirs, new wells, interconnections between water suppliers, indirect potable water reuse and “emerging” projects such as desalination and aquifer storage and recovery.

            GWC contends that the certainty of funding for the Governor’s water supply program is questionable--dependent on appropriations from the legislature and bonds to be paid from receipts from water sales from completed projects.

            It is highly unlikely that any project could be completed in the four-year time frame envisioned by the program, and even if the full $300 million is ever appropriated, it is insufficient to construct any new reservoirs, according to GWC.  Only $74.25 million is available in the program for FY 2012.

            Two proposed reservoirs in North Georgia (Shoal Creek in Dawson County and Glades in Hall County) have a combined expected price of $950 million. The recently completed Hickory Log Reservoir in Cherokee County cost $100 million, nearly five times the originally projected cost, and has strapped the City of Canton with such debt that it has been forced to raise water rates by 30 percent. And, the reservoir has yet to supply any water.

            “Lobbyists, lawyers, engineers and real estate interests are all at the front of the line to receive the funds set forth under this program,” said Sally Bethea, Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper. “People with strong records as campaign contributors stand to benefit from this proposal long before any water flows from any of the projects so hopefully contemplated.”

            The Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA), the lead agency on the Task Force, has defended the exclusion of water efficiency projects, saying that other financing programs exist for such projects and that local governments are not fully utilizing these state and federal loan programs.

            However, GEFA records show that the agency has distributed $65 million in loans for conservation and efficiency projects during the past five years.

            And while GEFA’s conservation and efficiency loans have been effective, there is currently no mechanism that allows for direct state investment (grants) in such projects. The Governor’s new program will provide grants for reservoirs and other projects, but communities wanting to implement conservation and efficiency projects will not be able to compete for those same grants. 

            A March 2011 study conducted by Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper has shown that metro Atlanta communities could secure as much as 160 million gallons a day by fixing leaking pipes, replacing water wasting plumbing fixtures and appliances and by improving the way that water is priced.

            In addition to reservoirs, other controversial water supply projects are eligible for funding under the program, including desalination and aquifer storage and recovery.

            Desalination projects are highly energy intensive and produce problematic waste. Aquifer storage and recovery involves pumping surface water into underground aquifers.

            Georgia has banned its use in South Georgia and its viability as a dependable water supply for North Georgia is still unproven.

Hope. Energy. Life -- Mitochondrial Disease and a Pickens Woman's Battle


By Ceciley Bierman

I know this is a tad late, but I hope you'll consider sharing it regardless.  It regards Mitochondrial Disease Awareness Week and the very inspirational story of my best friend, Meaghan McConnell, as she fights this disease.

My hope is that maybe those who are affected by this disease(or any other disease for that matter) gain hope from this story.  And even if readers aren't affected by a disease, they'll be inspired to fight tooth and nail for what really matters to them.

An article about her was published in the Pickens Progress in November 2008, “Meaghan McConnell still Making Plans Despite Incurable Disease.”

Above, They said over and over that she'd only live another 6 months max,  Meaghan McConnell, left, with best friend and the writer of this story, Ceciley Bierman.

Our Sports Fanatic on the death of Monday Night Football

By Tommy Gartrell

Sports editorial writer

            A dear friend of mine is very ill and his passion and luster disappeared over the past few years. I fear his demise is eminent. This great and once loved friend took his first breath on Monday, Sept. 21, 1970 – eight days after my birth. My friend is called Monday Night Football, but I simply do not recognize him anymore.

            Seemingly, MNF stands at the pentacle of success by reaching an average of 12 million viewers weekly, but the show’s success is merely a by product of the league’s overwhelming popularity because professional football displaced baseball as America’s favorite game some years ago. The show itself is only a frail and barely breathing core of the icon once revered by fans everywhere.

            William Shakespeare said, “Sweets grown common lose their delight.”

            MNF is not even a sweet anymore and certainly not a delight. I recall declining meals or bathroom breaks to watch every second of each Monday night broadcast. I passed on dinner dates, movies, concerts, family functions and even coed study sessions because of this once magnificent delight. Now, MNF is like a succulent delicious apple which has impossibly grown under-ripe and become hard and sour. Once upon a time, changing the channel during the Monday night football game would result is fist fight, but I gladly switch to reruns of River Monsters or a 15 year old cable movie today.

Local Vet Advises: Be careful when following advice from Dr. Google

By Dr. Lyn Lewis

Wayside Animal Hospital in Jasper

We now live in an, “I want it now” age. We get our news online, we shop online, a lot of you even read this newspaper online. I went to an interesting seminar about the new power of the Internet about 2 weeks ago.  It really opened my eyes as to the power of the Internet now.

Did you know that 80 percent of people with a sick pet consult the Internet first? This is not even the scary part; most of these people try remedies from online first without consulting a veterinarian. These facts have really affected both me and a few of my patients this week.

The first case I had was a client who put down rat poison in his home, his dog ate a brick and he went on Google to see what to do. It told him to make his pet vomit with peroxide and if he did that in the first 15 minutes the pet should be fine.

When the owner brought the dog in 3 days later he was bleeding profusely from the rat poison, he died before we could even get a transfusion set ready.

The second incident was a client who I was talking to about using heartworm prevention.  She said that she was buying it online, at a site where she did not need a prescription at a really low price. I was very concerned and asked her to bring it in because I would love to see the product she was using. She came back the next day with a box of Heartgard, but the box felt too thin, the internal package was also wrong. We called the company and found that it was counterfeit. Pretty scary, because who knows what was in that product. We tested her dog and it was positive for heartworms. We will begin the long treatment process soon.

The final case involved a small wound on the leg of a small dog. The owner looked up some things online and thought it was a common wound. She had some of her own antibiotics at home and treated that way based on the advice off of some breeder’s Web site. When I saw the wound it had a lot of necrotic tissue and the wound was about the size of a silver dollar.  What the owner thought was a common wound actually ended up being a spider bite. With a change in antibiotics and aggressive surgery to remove the damaged tissue, the puppy should make a full recovery.

The Internet is a powerful tool, it is changing our world. It is putting information at our fingertips. Some of these changes are for the good, and some not so good. The real problem with the Internet is that it is full of OPINIONS, not facts. If you looked hard enough you would find credible facts that Elvis is still alive and sharing a townhouse with Tupac Shakur.

There is no major Web site that gives credible information for veterinary care yet. Instead, people find sites that give biased opinions, blogs from people with no training and some personal Web sites that are just flat out wrong.  On the human side a great Web site emerged as the voice of many doctors,  This Web site gave good peer reviewed information that helped people understand diseases and pointed them to healthcare professionals who could help.

We are yet to find such a well-known voice online for our pets, but hopefully soon we will, a new Web site called I think this site goes live sometime next month and will give good peer reviewed information to anyone who does a search for a multitude of ailments. So remember, I don’t mind anyone trying to become more educated on a subject but don’t try to treat on your own. I fully understand how bad our local economies are and at home solutions are a cheap way of dealing with things. But look at the three cases we went over, I guarantee we could have done better for our patients. Remember, we are here to serve our clients and their pets. There are many ways of dealing with problems. Always ask your vet for an estimate, they will be happy to provide one. If the cost is too high, tell them. There are always many ways to treat a pet; some can be very cost effective as long as you are willing to do more work at home. So feel free to use the Internet, it is a great tool to educate yourself. Please, just don’t put any treatments into effect before consulting your veterinarian.