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Staff Editorials

At airport-tech park, failing to plan is planning to fail

    In the first place, let’s be clear: From the World English Dictionary— “Bond –finance, a certificate of debt issued in order to raise funds. It carries a fixed rate of interest and is repayable with or without security at a specified future date.”
    So when the commissioners say they have a $3.9 million bond for the “horseshoe” portion of the airport, it means they have borrowed that amount. There is nothing fancy about a government saying bond, rather than loan, that absolves them of acknowledging the debt.
    The county has had this aviation-tech park bond for a decade, during which time they have paid $1.3 million in interest ($11,000 per month). They have paid back none of the $3.9 million principal, nor have they generated a dime of revenue.
     The county intends to refinance its debt so they can keep paying favorable terms to the bank. If the next decade is like the past, we are looking at a potential $2.6 million spent on interest on a $3.9 million debt.
    There is also hope the federal government will give $1 million to the county to pay down this debt. Apparently none of our financially conservative Republicans in office are the least bit squeamish about taking federal funds. We’ll help Rush Limbaugh and give him the lead, “And now the Obama administration is giving a $1 million in our tax dollars to an airport business park, where there aren’t any businesses.”
    The need to re-finance isn’t the problem itself, it merely illustrates the problem: the absence of any defined business plan and a disgraceful lack of leadership going back the entire decade regarding the tech park in the horseshoe.   
    This lack of clear direction was most evident during a meeting years ago at the airport when Ed Marger, who served on an advisory committee, expressed hopes that a major shipping hub might locate there. During the same meeting then sole commissioner Rob Jones said they weren’t looking to see anything too large locate there. Neither Marger or Jones acknowledged the huge contradiction in the statements made during the same meeting, leaving the public wondering which path we were aiming for. Unfortunately neither sized business showed up. When you don’t know what you want, it’s hard to attract anything.
      The economy has been blamed for the poor airport prospects, but this doesn’t seem to be true. In Savannah, well-known luxury jet company Gulfstream is expanding. From  Savannah’s Channel 3 website, “Gulfstream Aerospace has had a significant and growing impact on Savannah.  In the last several years the aircraft manufacturer has not only brought thousands of manufacturing jobs to the area, but they’ve even helped create what many call the ‘aviation corridor.’”
    Other stories online showed a small airport in Louisiana breaking ground on their third corporate hangar on June 6th. Aviation is not as dead everywhere as our local officials would say.
    The idea of airport commerce still sounds as solid as when it was robustly touted by past commissioner Billy Newton. It was thought that owners of expensive aircrafts would use facilities here to refurbish and maintain their multi-million dollar planes and some companies would base them here, rather than in the crowded metro-area, generating a considerable amount of revenue.
    One local pilot who worked with corporate jets responded immediately in a Progress followup citing a list of reasons why this plan wouldn’t work here. He was widely denounced at the time, but a decade later the stage may be set for an I told you so.
   From the first, things didn't go well with the business side of the airport. The property purchase by commissioner Newton had a weird twist where a business partner of his became the seller right as the deal went down, though the price to the county was judged reasonable. Then work on the airport was constantly delayed. The same person who was one of the property sellers, Lee Mullins, had difficulty completing the work through his contracting firm.
    Construction has now been completed, which is a solid step forward. Even though it took years longer than expected this is something to move forward on.
    On the business-side nothing, literally nothing, has happened in a decade. The county is only marketing the project through word-of-mouth and, not surprising, the airport manager doesn't recall the last serious inquiry.
    We expect more from our commissioners and airport authority. Like a pilot and co-pilot, a clear flight plan is needed. Borrowing  more money and hoping someone wanting a corporate hangar will show up isn't a plan.
    After a decade, you might say it is time for a Plan B, but we never really had a Plan A.

Avoiding the “summer slide” at the Pickens County library

    As the library kicks off its summer reading program this week, we’d like to salute the board and staff for continuing this most important of all programs.
    Public libraries, through their summer reading programs, put books in the hands of children. This is the single best way to prevent the ‘summer slide’ in reading achievement many kids experience each year as they head back to class in the fall. Access to books over the summer means more kids can continue reading and keep their reading skills sharp. But aside from sharpening our skills (who wants to consciously do that over the summer?), we simply believe in reading and in its power to transport and transform us.
    Summer vacation is upon us and it’s a time when children can enjoy lazy mornings, being outdoors, playing video games or a host of other fun things. Time free of class projects means more time to find a new great author or favorite characters (yes we mean you Augustus Waters and Hazel Grace Lancaster).
    Studies continue to show that children who keep their minds engaged by reading during the summer are better poised for achievement when school resumes in the fall. Without reading, it’s estimated that school summer breaks  cause the average student to lose up to one month of instruction, with disadvantaged students being disproportionately affected. Researchers conclude that two-thirds of the 9th grade reading achievement gap can be explained by unequal access to summer learning opportunities during the elementary school years.
    And the Pickens Library’s summer reading programs are a great way to keep your skills honed while simply finding your own favorite Sherlock Holmes/ Professor Moriarty duo, or other multi-layered, complex characters like Alaska Young, Ignatius Reilly,  Jay Gatsby, or Hazel Motes.
    The program offers children opportunities to receive prizes in exchange for reading a certain number of books. Throughout the summer the library will also feature story hours, performances, and other special events. These programs aren’t just for small children either. The library has summer programs geared toward teen and adult readers as well. (Look for information every week in the Between the Bookends column in this paper)
    Use our local library to break the trend that shows reading for pleasure is on the decline. While in school, our students may have to read books of others’ choosing but during the summer the choice is fully theirs. Take advantage of it.
    A new report by Common Sense Media showed that 30 years ago, only 8 percent of 13-year-olds and 9 percent of 17-year-olds said that they “hardly ever” or “never” read for pleasure.
    Today, 22 percent of 13-year-olds and 27 percent of 17-year-olds say that. Fewer than 20 percent of 17-year-olds now read for pleasure “almost every day.” Back in 1984, 31 percent did. What a marked and depressing change.
    More access to books results in more reading and thanks to our library we have plenty of access. Studies show that students’ who read more, read better; they also write better, spell better, have larger vocabularies, and have better control of complex grammatical constructions.
    So this summer, take advantage of the great resource we have here in Pickens County - our library. Thousands of free books, hours of free entertainment, and an air-conditioned, safe place for our kids.

Port Royal Water Park the talk of the town

    Since Port Royal leaders were the featured program at the chamber of commerce last week, all talk in Pickens has been water park.
    Public discussion boils down to potential  jobs versus potential disruption of small town atmosphere.
    Below are some of the comments received online, at our Facebook page and in e-mails to our office and  some face-to-face.
    We would offer one cautionary note, no official plans have been submitted nor property purchase finalized.

Pros -- much needed jobs and tax income
    This is an unbelievable opportunity for Jasper and the surrounding area. It could actually bring growth and vitality to this area. We must “think out of the box” and move this area forward! It is an AWESOME idea for our county!!!!!!!
-- from our website comments

    One person said they had been to other, similar water parks in the northern states and they were very nice family places where kids from age 2 to age 19 could enjoy spending a day, while grandparents relaxed in other parts of the resort. 
-- in-person comment

    What y’all must not understand is this is not being built for the locals to enjoy. It’s a ‘destination resort and conference center’. Think: Orlando, FL.
    The local residents are not the people expected to keep this place open. According to the developers who spoke yesterday, there will be discounted rates for Jasper/Pickens residents. What this place will do is provide much needed jobs and tax income.
-- Dwayne Martin from Facebook

    I’m looking forward to the change. It’s about time something came to Jasper to give more people jobs without having to drive a long ways. And I believe it will give outsiders a great chance to experience the country & small town stores.
-- Tara Townsend Caylor from Facebook

    Jobs, tax revenue, more money for services to improve for resident citizens. Sounds good to me. Way to go city of Jasper. I applaud you for seeing potential when county officials didn’t.
-- Jake Reppert from Facebook

    Jasper is about to be on the map. Property values will increase, more restaurants, more everything. Yeah come on. 
-- Jay Simmons from Facebook

Cons - the small town feel will be gone
    If Pickens had some experience with tourism as does Dawson County and Blue Ridge, maybe they would be more prepared for something like this, but they don’t and the county is so needy for something to turn around the economy they are easily dazzled. All that glitters is not gold.
-- From e-mail to editor

    Regarding the palm trees in the artist rendering -- “Just something to make you go hmmmmmmm.”
-- From another e-mail to editor

    Think about what has happened to Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge Tenn.? You People want Jasper to turn into those places?
-- Jason Christensen from Facebook

    Yikes, hope they plan to add lanes to 515. Traffic is already horrible.
-- Crystal Harvill Roberts from Facebook
    So much for retiring and moving up to Jasper in the future. The small town feel will be gone, your bread and butter retirees that pay property taxes will sell and move away to a more quiet area.
-- K Jackson Vallese from Facebook

    Sooner or later they will use the B word ... BONDS. That is where the rubber meets the road. One thing is for certain, and that is that life in Pickens will never be the same. Just a couple of years ago, we touted that people moved here because of the lifestyle. That will be gone, and apparently that is no longer important.
-- From e-mail to editor

    I’m surprised so many want this in Jasper. I like the small town feel, but to each his/her own.
-- Jesse Horne on Facebook

Words to graduates

    The benefits of failures, finding what you love, choosing what to think about, and being kind

      If you Google “Best commencement speeches,” you’ll find a list of very recognizable names. Names like Steve Jobs, Neil Gaiman, J.K. Rowling, Winston Churchill, George Saunders, Oprah Winfrey, and, of course, the much applauded David Foster Wallace address at Kenyon College.
    In 20-minute addresses these great innovators, thinkers, and writers attempt to inspire graduates to “find what you love,” “be responsible,” “be your own story,” and “become kinder.”    
    In his speech,  Infinite Jest author David Foster Wallace said the freedom of real education and learning to be well-adjusted is consciously deciding what has meaning and what doesn’t.
    He said, “learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you can not or will not exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.”
    We hope our PHS graduates will find the  the following speeches something to rely on after your final student walk on the campus Saturday. 

J.K. Rowling
(Harvard, 2008)
    “So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me.         Had I really succeeded at anything else I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had already been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”

Neil Gaiman
(University of the Arts in Philadelphia, 2012)
    “So be wise, because the world needs more wisdom, and if you cannot be wise, pretend to be someone who is wise, and then just behave like they would. And now go, and make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here. Make good art.”

George Saunders
(Syracuse University, 2013)
    “Do all the other things, the ambitious things – travel, get rich, get famous, innovate, lead, fall in love, make and lose fortunes, swim naked in wild jungle rivers (after first having it tested for monkey poop) – but as you do, to the extent that you can, err in the direction of kindness.
    Do those things that incline you toward the big questions, and avoid the things that would reduce you and make you trivial. That luminous part of you that exists beyond personality – your soul, if you will – is as bright and shining as any that has ever been.  Bright as Shakespeare’s, bright as Gandhi’s, bright as Mother Theresa’s. 
    Clear away everything that keeps you separate from this secret luminous place.  Believe it exists, come to know it better, nurture it, share its fruits tirelessly.”

Steve Jobs
(Stanford, 2005)
    “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something - your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.
    Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love.”

Vote yes on SPLOST even with some misgivings

    On Tuesday (or before with early voting) Pickens County will be asked to continue the one-cent sales tax by the county and cities. The plan would see most of this money going to the area roads with lesser but not insignificant amounts being directed to the library and emergency services.
    We’d encourage our readers to give this a favorable nod on the ballot, though we advocate this with all the enthusiasm north Georgia shows for hockey and modern art. Yes, to continue the tax is the best choice, but it’s something we do regrettably.
    A yes vote will give the county some substantial sales tax dollars to remedy potholes, cracked pavement and dirt roads. All it takes is a drive around the county and you will swerve, bounce and rattle over the evidence of need. The “hump” that forced the Ga. DOT to close the bridge on Jones Mountain escaped notice of most drivers as it seems about typical for north Georgia roads.
    As explained by proponents of the SPLOST, the local sales tax cents are needed as the state no longer funds county roads like they once did. And that is true, but it’s not really a full explanation or excuse. The state didn’t one day suddenly stop letting the all pork fly. They began scaling back and our county and the city of Jasper (like many around the state) failed to adapt, simply throwing up their hands and saying roadwork is just too expensive.
    Local leaders have yet to propose any plan that might have staunched the asphalt decay or  prevent us from being back in the same situation when the SPLOST dollars expire in five years. The governing agencies didn’t seek cutbacks elsewhere, look for more effective ways to accomplish road maintenance or propose new ideas for raising revenue.
    So, we are at the point that our roads are crumbling and cracking – a process greatly accelerated with the long, cold winter’s freezing and thawing.
    We need to address our road problem right now by approving this sales tax. You would have to go back more than a decade, before Rob Jones was elected sole commissioner, to find a period of time where the county was not seeking or using a SPLOST. A one cent sales tax isn’t  noticed on a daily basis. If it were to fail on Tuesday, it’s hard to believe shoppers would rejoice over the savings – keep in mind you only get taxed an extra $1 for every $100 you spend.
    Even a $1,000 shopping spree at the Bargain Barn would only cost you an extra $10 for the SPLOST. (Of course, the schools also have a SPLOST in place as part of their general business plans.)
    Individually the sales tax doesn’t impose much burden, but when you accumulate that penny-per-dollar for all commerce inside the county borders on every retail purchase, it adds up to some  nice working funds. The courthouse was built with it; different schools have been built using sales taxes. The sales tax is a great way to fund things.
    It is disappointing to see the commissioners using the “special” sales tax to fund routine maintenance. The position of commissioner used to be called the “road commissioner” back in the old days, and that former title should give office-holders a clue on what voters expect as top priority: keep the roads in working order.
    The voters should trust the local road departments to see that this money is well used and, in exchange, the county and city leaders should respect what they are being given and plan on how to take care of it -- do not borrow against it or bow to vocal minorities on how it is spent.
    For this SPLOST we agree the poor roads must be addressed. But come back again in another decade and ask for more special monies for routine work without some evidence of permanent stewardship plans and we’ll have a different answer.