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Staff Editorials

Public, officials should support library expansion

    Libraries are important. And as the Pickens County Library’s current building celebrates its 20th year, the community needs our local and state representatives to get behind a proposed expansion that would add 8,000 square feet to its footprint.
    That’s 8,000 square feet of more book space, more computer space and more space to find a quiet place to read or participate in the many programs offered there each week. From LEGO robotics to bingo nights, teen advisory groups, story times for young kids or the fiction book club, our library provides great opportunities to get involved and stay intellectually active.
    Our library, which was built in 1996 and has nearly 40,000 books, is a cornerstone of our community providing people the opportunity to explore history, experience new ideas, get lost in wonderful stories, while also giving a sense of place and spaces for public gatherings.
    The library here is often the only readily available source of comprehensive information for personal, family and job-related questions. Over summer vacation - or last week’s fall break - evenings and weekends, the county library is the only library available to school children; for preschoolers it is simply the only library available. The Pickens County Library is a lifeline to the world and all the information in it.
    As the library continues to struggle to keep up with the many changes in technology, rising costs of books and other materials and a growing demand from patrons for more information, its board is working to make sure they see to the needs of the community.
    According to Susan White, library board member and a board member of the support group Friends of the Pickens Library, they are seeking to expand the current 20-year-old facility. The board has hired an architectural firm and put forth preliminary plans for the much-needed renovations. Local money to fund the project is currently being collected from the SPLOST, but local officials are waiting for a needed $2 million from the state to continue with the project. 
    We’d like to encourage Representative Rick Jasperse and our two senators, Charlie Bethel and Steve Gooch, to speak up on our local library’s behalf and support the project when the legislative session begins in January.
    When Representative Jasperse, the county commissioners and our senators meet next week for a tour of the library to see the plans, please remember that state support is essential to getting this project on more than a drawing board.
    A significant proportion of the population – 23 percent according to the Office of National Statistics - does not have an internet connection at home.  The people most in need of our library services are the unemployed, those on low incomes, senior citizens and other who may not have internet access at home. Students who don’t have internet access at the library simply could not complete some assignments.
    Americans read an average of 12 books per year, according to the Pew Research Center. A renovated Pickens Library is the best spot to get lost among the shelves searching for stories from Rowling, Keats, Grisham, King or Hawkins. 
    A library is not just a place for picking up a book; it is the social experience of reading, talking about the books, browsing. Libraries open doors to new worlds, new possibilities. So as our representatives will tour the facility next week and see it as it currently is, we’d ask you to think about something more. Think about what the library could become with these much-needed renovations and expansion. Our library needs to remain a place for learning and intellectual socializing.
    Don’t forget: The Friends of the Pickens Library book sale is set for Thursday, October 27th (for members) through Saturday, October 29th. Come find your new favorite book while you browse thousands of titles.

Jasper needs public spaces

By Dan Pool
Editor

    It was on one of the fairly pleasant evenings we’ve had recently that I noticed the young couple sitting on the bench under the oaks in front of the courthouse as I was leaving work.
    They could have been waiting for their attorney for some late court business or they could have been waiting on some friend before going to a nearby restaurant.
    Or, maybe they were just hanging out, but this is a stretch and also why they caught my attention: No one ever just idles along Main Street. Occasionally, you see out-of-towners stop and a take a few pictures of the Old Jail or check out the Oglethorpe Monument.
    But you never spot anyone reading a book or eating a sandwich or just sitting in any public space in Jasper, GA. It would truly be shocking if you came along the far end of Main and saw someone had put down a blanket to enjoy a picnic at the water fountain park. Incidentally, the fountains may not please many artistically, but that sliver of space with the adjoining brick area and gazebo connecting to the historical area with the cabin and Old Jail is very nice.
    Now parents with kids and walkers do make solid use of the town’s duck pond area off Pioneer Road, and serious fitness walkers and joggers navigate the trails and sidewalks all over town.
    But most of these people are not out for socialization; they are not looking to engage in conversation with their fellow townspeople.
    Perhaps the spaces we have are not inviting. Certainly the courthouse lawn is a little too open for someone to throw a blanket and stretch out on it without making a public display.
    Seeing the solitary young couple reminded me of a quote that I read somewhere, but Google could not turn up again, that we will never have another revolution in this country as there is no where for the people to gather.
    The first American Revolution was fomented and discussed by people in taverns and on the streets in Boston. Many of the European cities and early American towns had public squares where people congregated to talk politics, commerce and gossip. Some towns even had small speaker stages where freedom of speech was heartily encouraged. Universities still have this.
    But in Jasper and Pickens County where do you go if you just want to socialize with neighbors and hear the latest opinions on issues like the tax increase or Trump v. Hillary. Walmart’s parking lot? Facebook?
    There are neither taverns nor public squares here where you can see your neighbors. And from all appearances, this feature is now extinct in most small towns.
    One contributing factor is clearly the housing patterns. Spread out subdivisions throughout suburban and rural America create a lifestyle of driving home, away from public areas at the end of the day and, to be honest, that is a very comfortable lifestyle.
    In this case, if they built it  [more attractive public spaces] would people come? Probably not, is my guess. The limited sidewalks here have never had an issue with overcrowding, though in all fairness the duck pond is crowded many days.
    But still, when the city is addressing their new transportation ideas we’d encourage them to include a few public spaces, and who knows someone might sit down on a bench one day and start a conversation.
    We don’t want another revolution,  just the opportunity to socialize.   

Bad Apple

    Apple Inc. apparently didn’t get the memo: There are only two certainties in life – death and taxes.
    Or perhaps as one of the world’s most recognized, and profitable, corporations, neither death nor taxes are that certain for them, or other large companies.
    For those not following business news, Apple has been ordered to pay $14.5 billion in back taxes to Ireland by the European Union.   
    That amount, they say, represents the  taxes the tech giant should have paid over the past decade.
    Among the finer points that may have been missed, Apple didn’t do any chicanery to avoid the taxes. They cut a legitimate deal with Ireland, which has tremendously benefited the Emerald’s Isle’s economy and given a ridiculous boost to their employment and income averages. The deal has clearly benefited Ireland, but at the expense of countries that might have collected the taxes.
    The Europe Union’s regulation enforcer said that Apple’s deals with the Irish government allowed the technology giant to pay virtually nothing on its European business in some years. Apple paid an effective corporate tax rate of 1% in 2003 and just .005% in 2014.
    The deal allowed Apple to create Apple Operations International, a company that does not legally exist anywhere. Apple has said they will eventually get around to paying taxes from that company, possibly to the U.S., but only if the tax rates here are changed.
    And, yes, someone can rightly point out that Apple already pays a lot of taxes, but look at the proportion compared to what they make. They freely enjoy the protections that our nation and European nations enforce to maintain their profits. If an Asian company blatantly copied all Apple products and services, who would be called upon to enforce their copyright protections?
    The amount they are being asked to pay back ($14.5 billion), while seemingly staggering to regular folks, is a mere drop in the bucket for Apple, which, according to The New York Times, has a total cash pile of more than $230 billion.
    Unfortunately, Apple isn’t the only large corporation double dipping in Ireland. American firms are increasingly clever at finding ways to pay (or not pay) taxes in other countries. Facebook and Google (along with Apple) have saved about $8 billion in recent years through their deals in foreign lands.
    Stopping this shell game of finance is incidentally a point both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump generally agree.
    According to visualeconomics.com the amount not paid by Apple, Facebook and Google could pay for the federal government’s entire share of the children’s health insurance program, which covers about 4 million kids; fund the salaries of nearly 200,000 elementary school teachers, buy a year’s worth of groceries for 770,416 families of four.
    The average American, according to visual economics, takes home about $37,000 after taxes, but if we paid our taxes like Apple does – paying a .7% rate would save us about $3,575 each year.         What reeks of unfairness is the avenues that big companies and some unpatriotic individuals awash in cash find to not pay taxes, thus shifting the burden to all us Main Street operations that lack the schemes.
    A small landscaper can’t very well claim he’s not ready to declare whether his crew actually owns equipment in Pickens or Gilmer so he’ll hold off on paying his taxes.
    And could you imagine the response of the IRS if an individual said his weekly paychecks really go into a holding company in the Caribbean (another prominent place to park wealth) so he’s not going to pony up his share for defense spending this year?
    Come on. We love our iPhones and iPads but we regular Americans have to pay taxes. And the largest portion of Apple’s business comes from the U.S. It’s not fair that Ireland is willing to cut a sweetheart deal, to help an American company avoid paying their fair share.
    Maybe this election year will really strengthen the spines of some candidates to put a stop to this perk given to the biggest companies at the expense of the rest of us.

Property tax increase too much to bear

    We’d like to pose a question to our county’s elected leaders and government department heads: What do you think has happened to the average American’s income over the past decade?
    As county officials are slated to put their seal of approval on an astronomical 13.8 percent millage increase for 2016, (yes that’s 2016 as in the money’s already spent. 2017’s budget process will start in October) we believe they are unaware of how the private sector is faring.
    We’d bet they would say wages have risen –  it’s the only way we can see that they would regularly offer government workers raises. But they’d be wrong. According to Pew Research, from 2000 to 2014, middle-income households saw a loss of four percent in their incomes annually. Sadly though, according to Pew,  lower-income households - of which there are many in Pickens County - saw their median income fall by nine percent from 2000 to 2014. The US Census on Tuesday said in 2015 Americans real median household income finally saw an increase by 5.2 percent between 2014-15. The median household income in the U.S. in 2015 was $56,516, up from 2014’s $53,718. Adding almost 14 percent to a budget that’s being funded by folks who’ve had drops in their income over more than a decade doesn’t sit well with anyone.
    Even if the department heads and county commissioners can present completely valid reasons for their spending (as in jailers making only $29,000 a year), this large increase is just too much to swallow in one gulp.
    First off, the county’s whole budgeting process needs to be brought under control. There is little accountability when they set a millage rate in September to fund money already spent. The county is setting a millage rate now and the taxes due by December will go to fund a budget they’ve already spent through their yearly addiction to the Tax Anticipation Notes they take early every year and spend before the taxes are collected. The horse is already out of the barn every year when we gather to gripe about taxes. Then a month later the county officials set budgets after the anger has subsided.
    County department heads have the option each year of increasing their employees’ salaries by zero, 2.5 percent or 5 percent - elected officials can give whatever raises they want. At least they can ask for the increase. Commission Chair Rob Jones, who never seems to want the buck to stop with him, and Commissioners Becky Denney and Jerry Barnes are the only three votes that really count when approving the millage. Elected officials may ask for additional money, but they sure can be told no by commissioners
      Go to a local bank or Walgreens and ask how much they have increased their employees’ salaries over the past few years.
    When the economy slowed earlier this decade, private business cut salaries and benefits as there was no other way to keep the doors open. But government pay raises did not slow down a similar amount. It would appear based on the salary study, our county employees are generally fairly compensated. Nobody is getting rich there - but no one is getting rich working in garages, landscaping or raising chickens either.
    Back to our original point, we’d like to reiterate:  most Americans in the private sector haven’t been getting raises over the past decade. American firms in small towns are just now expanding and if the economy keeps rolling, hopefully we’ll all see raises.
    Unlike with county jobs, regular employees know you can exceed expectations every day but if your company doesn’t turn a profit, you’ll likely not see a pay bump. We have no doubt most county employees work hard and are truly public servants, but unfortunately, the county’s economy isn’t turning a profit - yet. When we see a rise in all our boats, then we should talk raises for our government workers, but not before.   

Compassion. What does it look like to you?

    James Forbes, in a Ted Talk, discussed what compassion meant to his family of 10 growing up in the South. The talk is titled ‘Compassion at the dinner table.’ Google it. It’s worth your time.
    In the talk, Forbes laid out an old Southern family ritual from his North Carolina childhood. Every night at the dinner table when something significant had happened to any one of them (with 10 children you can imagine something was always going on) - everyone took five or 10 minutes to “make over” that person. That is, according to Forbes, the family made a fuss over the one who had been honored. “For when one is honored, all are honored.”
    During these family dinners where they learned to show compassion and support to each other, they also had to report on the people they had helped over the past week. Forbes said family dinners meant telling about the ones in their extended family or those sick and elderly neighbors they visited during the past week. According to his mother, “To be family is to care and share and to look out for one another.” They learned these things through the actions of visiting and being with each other, showing support, throughout the week.
    So every evening at the dinner table, Forbes was taught an essential lesson, perhaps without even recognizing it - compassion. Compassion for the people you live with, compassion for those in your family and community, and compassion for the elderly.
    All large religious traditions hold fast to the tenent of “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you,” a.k.a. the Golden Rule. The Dalai Lama once said, “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.” Popular self-help books and research aimed at helping us be more joyful, often tout that the way to achieve it may not lie within yourself, but in your relationships at the dinner table (like the Forbes’ family) and interactions with others.
    A major component of compassion is giving back - being supportive when someone you know gets a promotion or is named Student of the Week. Compassionate people act on their kindness - with their words and actions - whether it be through volunteering or by being there to listen when someone needs you.
    “Compassion is a piece of vocabulary that could change us if we truly let it sink into the standards to which we hold ourselves and others, both in our private and in our civic spaces,” says journalist Krista Tippett who hosts the show On Being.
    Compassion can express itself through just being there, just showing up. Compassion is visible. When we see it, we recognize it and it changes the way we think about what is doable, what is possible.
    Compassion is the local husband and his wife who, a few months ago, took in a child whose family was living homeless in our community (yes, Pickens County has homeless people). They took her into their home, provided her with food and shelter and care. It seemed horrible at first, from the outside, to see her taken away from her family. But today, she is thriving thanks to a roof under which she gets a full night’s sleep, dentist visits to fill numerous cavities that went unchecked for years, and tutoring that is catching her up in school. That is compassion expressed in a very real way.
    Compassion is every volunteer who walks in the door at the local animal shelter to spend time with a helpless animal who needs love and kindness. Compassion is CARES and the Talking Rock Baptist church that both give out food no questions asked. Compassion is the Good Samaritan volunteer who stays later than she is scheduled in order to help make sure that patient has someone to sit with while they wait. Compassion is the many teachers in our community who are unsung heroes to so many children who need a  role model to look up to.
    So while compassion may be described by Merriam-Webster as “a feeling of wanting to help someone who is sick, hungry, in trouble, etc.,” these people define compassion for us.