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Staff Editorials

Penny For Your Thoughts -- SPLOST A Fairer Way to Pay

With little fanfare ahead of next Tuesday’s election and one of the lowest early voter turnouts in memory according to the election office, residents should take a cue from world events and exercise their right to vote. And we encourage them to vote yes in support of the latest school system sales tax referendum.

Since November of 1996 when Georgia voters approved a constitutional amendment approving the use of a one percent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax to make capital improvements for schools, school officials here have asked voters for three SPLOSTS. Tuesday’s vote will mark the fourth, and that penny tax is far and away the fairest way to pay for school projects. Previously money for improvements came solely from property tax coffers, with a limited number of people paying for something utilized by many.

School Board Member John Trammell has said SPLOST is a great tool for allowing the local school system to keep property tax rates low while meeting operating costs. Since a school board’s revenue is limited to either property taxes or sales taxes, Trammell said it makes sense to fund maintenance, new technology, and infrastructure with the sales tax.

If approved Tuesday, the SPLOST would likely save property owners almost a mil on their tax bill.

Recently installed School Board Chair Wendy Lowe also voiced support for the SPLOST. While new and sitting board members butted heads earlier this year on some issues, both sides agreed a yes vote on Tuesday’s SPLOST question is important for their operations.

Critics of sales tax referendums often say that those pushing them use scare tactics  -- “if you don’t give us the SPLOST, then we’ll raise your taxes.” The fact is, scary or not, this is mostly a true statement. One way or another the schools must pay the bonds on the high school (which it should be noted was built several boards and superintendents ago).

No new schools or other large scale projects are planned with this SPLOST, which is not a new tax but rather a continuation of the penny tax that’s been in place since Georgia voters approved the use of them in the late 90s. Language has been included on the SPLOST ballot referencing potential property purchases or buildings, but this was done as a safeguard according to school officials. If for any reason (can you say student population boom) the schools suddenly find themselves needing more classrooms in the next five years, they would have been unable to pay for them with SPLOST money if the language wasn’t included on the ballot.

If approved, the first priority for the school system is to pay the $4.48 million in bonds still owed for the high school built in 1996. In addition, SPLOST funds may also be used for much needed technology upgrades for students and teachers, something that has been neglected at the schools over the past two years due to the budget crisis.

SPLOST 4 is expected to bring in around $30 million over its five-year span and after paying off the high school bonds, additional projects amount to upgrading and maintaining campuses throughout the county. New technologies like white boards in more classrooms, upgraded computers, new roofs or new cafeteria equipment when spread across seven schools don’t take long to add up to major costs and SPLOST is a great way to keep those costs from being a one-sided burden on property owners.


Sunday alcohol sales versus local control

For a conservative-controlled statehouse, proposed legislation involving Sunday alcohol sales presents quite a conundrum.

On the one hand, legislators such as Pickens County’s Rick Jasperse, have expressed aversion to supporting legislation that involves selling beer, wine and liquor from convenience stores, grocery stores and liquor stores on the Sabbath.

On the other hand, the legislation now muddling away in Atlanta doesn’t by itself allow anyone to sell 12-packs on Sunday. What it’s about is local control.

Governor Nathan Deal has struck the correct tone: he has said he would sign legislation if passed by the house and senate and let local people decide for themselves if they want Sunday sales.

Georgia is one of only three states that doesn’t leave Sunday alcohol sales up to local communities.

If passed, the legislation in Atlanta would only open up the question at the county and municipal level. By itself, the legislation will not allow any new sales of alcohol. One outcome could be that when state government gives up control over alcohol sales, local governments or voters could still say no if they choose to.

That said, more conservative communities than expected might approve Sunday sales. Jasper (not exactly a libertine Atlanta enclave) passed Sunday pouring rights for restaurants in November 2008. Pro-alcohol voters posted 664 of the 1,164 votes cast.

As for actual Sunday sales by the package, there are pros and cons to that question. Opponents to the selling of alcohol on Sunday generally take their stand based on religion, tradition and public safety. The strong tradition here against Sunday drinking is one hard to ignore. We’ve gotten along fine in Georgia for years unable to buy 12-packs on Sunday. If it seems good in the sight of God and family counselors to have a day set aside for family time without alcohol, why not stay with that?

Still, it just doesn’t seem realistic to suggest the prospect of being suddenly allowed to buy Sunday beer would destroy what’s left of the modern American family ideal.

The idea that Sunday alcohol sales by the package would increase drunk drivers sounds tenuous as well. In the first place, hardcore drinkers can easily stock up the day before Sunday. Folks hosting big parties for Sunday sports events always plan ahead. To cut down on drunk drivers, missed family time, and debauchery on Sunday, maybe legislators should look at banning broadcasts of big games and races that day instead.

Grocery lobbyists point out, from a DUI standpoint, it may be safer to allow people to buy beer, wine or liquor at a store and take it home instead of encouraging them to drive to a restaurant to drink and then drive home.

After all, alcohol is still being served in Georgia on Sunday. It’s just a matter of how far you make someone go to consume it and, more importantly, how far they must drive home afterwards.

Those in favor of Sunday sales by the package argue:

• There is unfairness in allowing restaurants to serve alcohol on Sunday by the drink (in many areas) while grocery stores cannot sell it by the box.

• Grocery store lobbyists say Sunday is one of their highest volume shopping days in the state. They argue it is a matter of convenience for working people to be allowed to buy their beer and wine while they are out, instead of requiring a second trip.

• Financially the state would benefit from the extra day of alcohol sales but probably not by a tremendous amount. The AJC looked at that and concluded there would be some additional revenue, but it might not be to the extent some proponents are claiming.

Ultimately there are points to be made on both sides of the package sale question. But at this round, we support moving the question to the local level. We may or may not need alcohol sales in Pickens County on Sundays, but we should at least be allowed to decide for ourselves.

Animal shelter the cat's meow


The Pickens County Animal Shelter is just weeks away from its grand opening on March 1, and after taking a tour of the impressive facility last week we feel praise should be given where praise is due.

The county and the sheriff’s office have not only joined heads to construct a quality, 120-bed shelter, they found creative ways to fund the project, saving taxpayers hundred of thousands of dollars and providing a service that has been sorely needed in this community for years.

The shelter is located on Camp Road in a building that was previously used for Pickens County Fire Station #11/EMS Station # 1, which was relocated to another building on Airport Drive. While it’s true the county paid out-of-pocket for the building near the airport in order to relocate, the needs of the station were outgrowing the facility and plans were in place to move stations 1 and 11.

The sheriff’s office also used nearly 100-percent inmate labor for construction and renovation, with Commissioner Rob Jones, who was an electrician prior to entering into local politics, stepping in to do wiring for the building pro bono. Without sacrificing quality, cutting these corners brought the cost of renovating the facility to just $115,000. Estimates for hiring the same job out were in the ballpark of $350,000 and constructing a building from the ground up would have cost well above half-a-million.

In an economy where hundreds of commercial and residential buildings are sitting empty across the county, we like seeing our local government use what’s already here rather than wasting resources on something new. The county’s approach was practical and responsible.

In the future taxpayers will save even more money because the county has opted to use inmates to clean the facility seven days a week, keeping just one full-time employee on staff, the shelter’s manager. Having inmates interact with animals on a daily basis will also act as a rehabilitation tool for those fortunate enough to work with the animals.

While we certainly understand the need for euthanasia at times and feel that a no-kill policy would be too idealistic and difficult to enforce, we were happy to hear that the shelter manager is working closely with Pickens Animal Rescue, other in-county, out-of-county and out-of-state rescue groups to keep the kill rate to a minimum.

We were also happy to hear that the shelter is going to enforce strict adoption policies, with all animals that are adopted out being required to receive the rabies vaccine, a microchip and to be either spayed or neutered.

Over time having this spay/neuter policy in place will go towards controlling overpopulation and unwanted animals in the county, but we would like to remind residents that this is no substitute for having your own pets fixed. The shelter does not replace the need for responsible pet ownership.

The Pickens County Animal Shelter is really the culmination of a long three-phase process, and we applaud county officials for following through in a timely and cost-efficient manner. The county first implemented animal ordinances, followed by the installment of animal control officers and finally, of course, the shelter itself.

Now when Pickens residents call animal control to report a stray or problem animal, officers will have somewhere to put them. Prior to the shelter’s opening many frustrated residents were put on lengthy wait lists.

What’s more, residents who want to add a little fluffster to their family can adopt a cat or dog and save a life in the meantime.

There’s no doubt in our mind that the new shelter is a win-win-win for the county, the residents and the animal population of Pickens. So after March 1 we encourage you to take a trip over to the facility and see what can happen when government is working for the people (and in this case, the animals) like it’s supposed to.


Facebook & kids

      During her recent appearance on the Today show, First Lady Michelle Obama stirred up public discussion regarding children using social networking sites like Facebook. The First Daughters, ages 12 and 9, are not among the half billion Facebook users worldwide, Mrs. Obama said.
      Obama said she is “not a fan of young kids having Facebook. It’s not something they need.”
And, according to some recent polls, many parents agree. A Pew survey reported that 93 percent of teens ages 12 to 17 are online, and 73 percent of those do use social networking sites like Facebook.
      While a recent ABC News poll revealed that most parents think 15 is an appropriate age for kids to begin online social networking, it should be pointed out that a sizeable minority, 43 percent, say social networking sites aren’t appropriate at all for kids under age 18.
      For its part, Facebook does require that users be at least 13 years old. Following Obama’s statements, a spokesman for Facebook, Andrew Noyes, responded, “This (age) restriction is both for safety and to comply with the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. Facebook has systems in place at the point of sign-up to prevent people who identify themselves as under the age of 13 from creating accounts. It’s a violation of our terms to provide false birth date information, and we have community verification systems after sign-up to help ID people who are doing this so we can take appropriate action.”
      Of course, most regular Facebook users sometimes get “friend requests” from an elementary school child who has “officially” listed a date of birth long enough ago to not only get past the security requirement but to allow them to buy beer, to vote, and in some cases to apply for Social Security. Needless to say, though Facebook can provide a forum where 100,000 can simultaneously report they enjoy Fridays, their “community verification system” doesn’t foil a 12-year-old who simply lists their age as 21.
      Critics say parents who allow underage kids on Facebook are teaching them it’s OK to break the rules. Others believe Facebook is OK as long as there are guidelines.
      Some parents require anyone seeking to befriend their children online to become their friend as well, allowing the parent to see anything being discussed or posted online. Knowing what your child is posting and what others are posting about your child is a key concern for many parents. Others simply allow their children access to their personal Facebook account and accept friend requests from their kids’ friends. The drawback here is the same as when people let young kids answer their phones. Not only are the conversations frustrating for adults (possibly for the kids as well) but you are never sure that parents actually get messages left for them.
      Critics say despite rules over Facebook use for underage kids or even teenagers there’s no way a parent can supervise their kids on social networking sites, especially when practically every cell phone is accessible to Facebook. Mom and dad can’t look over their kids’ shoulders all the time.
      And what does this constant connectedness do to our children? No longer are “friends” only the other kids your kids meet at school. Prior to cell phones and Facebook, kids maneuvering through the daily struggles of growing up could at least look forward to home as a safe haven. Now days, friends and enemies can text, e-mail or Facebook chat all day everyday.
      Of course, on the other hand, if you have a shy child who is a big fan of some book, film, or game, they may find a community of other fans to join that wouldn’t be available here in the real world.
      So while there may be valid concerns over what is or is not appropriate for kids and social networking sites, ultimately it is the parents’ choice. But we would caution the adults to take responsibility to see what their child and their “friends” are into online.

Clean your does us all good

Often the latest environmental/social cause du jour comes across as some flaky idea dreamed up by a bunch of college grad students with too much time on their hands.

But one of the latest ideas, now trumpeted by various pundits, relates almost solely to your kitchen. Turns out it could save you a few bucks while it’s no more elaborate than your mother’s old exhortations to “get what you want but want what you get” when you sit down to mealtime.

A new book, American Wasteland: How America Throws Away Nearly Half of Its Food (and What We Can Do About It) by Jonathan Bloom, pretty clearly indicates its message in the title.

While the author puts forth research that 40 percent of the food in this country ends up uneaten in the trash, that figure is open to some debate. But looking over the ample research on the Internet, it appears that between a quarter to half of the food produced in America does indeed expire unconsumed.

At it’s most basic level, the waste results from the fact food is not valued in this country. Due to advances in agriculture, ingredients become so cheap who worries over the fate of a few donuts, a 99-cent hamburger, or a box of cereal?

Imagine explaining to someone from the Great Depression how in this Great Recession many restaurants cook extra food ahead of time and throw away whatever goes unsold as part of a standard operating plan.

Or tell your farm-born grandmother how often you forget those fresh veggies you bought until you find them all mushy in the back of the refrigerator several weeks later. The worst food wasters are the final consumers: us. We buy stuff we never cook or fix. We order larger meals than our families eat and then trash the leftovers.

This waste does have a financial cost for your household. According to a University of Arizona study, about 14 percent of the food purchased for American households goes into the trash. Nationwide, that amounts to $43 billion yearly in squandered grocery dollars, about $590 per family. We could all use that $590 back, so here are several tips to reduce what goes into the garbage uneaten.

Home economists advise planning total meals before you shop at the grocery store. That way you don’t end up with odd ingredients pushed to the back of the cupboard until they are finally trashed.

A second hint is, oddly enough, to stay away from cheap food. Impulse purchases (like packaged cookies from a gas station) form a high percent of the stuff that gets trashed. Who ever throws away a pack of T-bone steaks or fresh trout fillets? If you pay a little more at the store, presumably you become more mom-like: “Clean your plate. You’re lucky to have that!”

Nutritionists will add that the more expensive foods (meats; fresh produce) are better for you than cheaper “junk foods.” So see, this same contributor to food waste (high quantity/low quality) also relates to the obesity problem in this country.

Another simple suggestion to cut waste and stretch your cash is to take leftovers seriously. In the bigger picture, a whole spiral of inefficiency-related issues flow from wasted food scraps.

On the front end, much of the success of American agriculture depends on the liberal use of irrigation – more water goes to agriculture than anything else in America. Because of that, every wasted food ingredient represents a sizeable amount of water wasted–with water a resource running short in many areas.

On the back end, all that wasted food has to go somewhere. Most often it goes into a municipal landfill. It’s thought that 13 percent of all municipal waste is food from either restaurants or homes.

Unlike impending climate change, this is not one of those issues where the guy on the street is left to read the science with no way to take action. Who can argue that fewer wasted groceries can lighten the stress on your wallet and on landfills that serve your area?

So, as per normal, we’d do well to heed the words of our mothers: “Better clean your plate.”