The County Commission is currently debating raising the millage rate 1.4%. Essential services to run the civilization we call home are important, but this is a time for bold leadership, fiscal conservatism and thoughtful stewardship of the people’s money (it’s ours not the county’s). It’s time to demonstrate restrained government spending before you tax us again.

Our county and most cities for that matter, continue to live off the Boom Time…. now BUST. While businesses have taken draconian 20-30% cuts, government continues to live LARGE. A 5% here and there reduction is appreciated, but it’s time like the rest of Hall County to cut into the bone and show us the beef.

Consolidate departments, cut back hours, reduce personnel, defer maintenance, postpone public works, shut down offices, eliminate double dip employment retirement policies, scale back pension 401K and adjust employee healthcare co pays. Private industry did that and more three years ago. Squeeze a dime out of our tax nickel.

All government departments must be part of the solution. For example excesses in the Sheriff’s kingdom are legendary. It’s time to run the jail like a business not a Ritz Carlton for out of town incarcerated guests (rent a prisoner). Moth ball the portions of the jail that doesn’t house Hall County offenders. The concept that “we” make money off of “them” is a bunch of hocus pocus.

Gainesville’s magnanimous statement “We don’t plan to consolidate” is also a vale cry in the wind. All cities are broke without the burden of sales tax dollars, every increasing property taxes and excessive fee revenue. It was previously announced that Gainesville’s 6 million dollar budget “surplus” is being spent on other excesses rather than returning to the people. If it’s really there, roll it back, give it back.

A declining tax base, minuscule splost tax revenues, the stagnant growth industry and financial institution meltdown will be with us for at least 3 years forward. A tax increase this year? A tax increase next? A tax increases the next? That just puts lipstick on the pig. It’s time to address the issue head on, have strong meaningful reorganization and get Hall County’s house in orde. Then and only Then, Raise Taxes.

The businesses and citizens have done their part, now it’s your turn. We’re watching.


Norton reacts to census numbers showing growth

By Katie Highsmith Staff

GAINESVILLE - Census numbers released Thursday show the Hispanic population doubling in Georgia over the past 10 years, and the president of The Norton Agency said that's been reflected in North Georgia's real estate market.

"Somewhere between five and seven percent of all houses sold between 2001 and 2006 were to a Hispanic family," said Frank Norton, Jr.

Norton said a segment of the Hispanic community did leave during the latter part of the decade as the economy faltered and immigration enforcement became stricter.He said the segment of the Hispanic population that stayed during the past several years has become Americanized.
"Their kids go to our school system, they are shopping in our stores," Norton said. "We need to understand they are a part of our community that is going to be with us for a long time."

In addition, Thursday's census numbers also show the populations of Hall, Forsyth and Gwinnett counties outpacing the population growth in the state overall. Norton said that spectacular growth in North Georgia was expected by him and others who closely track these numbers.

"We are a very attractive community with relatively low housing costs, good strong labor rates, access to the labor markets... and all of that is a soup that mixes very well for population growth," he said.
Norton said he would need to do more research into the census numbers before he could draw more complete conclusions about what the numbers mean for this area.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Forsyth County's population is put at 175,500. That's compared to 98,407 ten years ago. Hall County added 40,407 people during that time which is an increase of 29 percent. Gwinnett County also saw its population increase 36.9 percent since 2000.



Over the last 10 years, the cities and counties across Georgia, like across the nation, without really understanding the full dynamics or unintended consequences have been building “holographic” infrastructure on the backs of the local taxpayers (individual & business) . We now shockingly realize that taxes have been the government’s version of crack cocaine. Bright, gleaming police cars, gluttony pension plans, 5 weeks of paid vacation, double dipping retirement and employment policies. Soaring facilities, city halls, jails, police & fire stations, courthouses and a legion of recreational “country clubs” and state run golf courses stand as monuments to the glory of the politicians and the excess of the roaring economy.

It’s now recognized that tax bases were annually inflated by the economic rising tide, splost revenue was inflated by overzealous consumer expenditures and outrageous services fees on top of more outrageous services fees fueled the political governmental mentality akin to a “spring break – gone wild” movie. But in the words of investor Warren Buffett:

”now that the tide has gone out, we can see who’s been swimming neked!”

In our haste to spread our lotteryesque windfalls, no one took into account what it really truly cost to run and staff a 424 bed jail in Jackson County nor calculate the hvac and lifeguard bill to run community centers, the clipping and grass cutting bill for thousands of acres of parks , the security staffing cost for all of the new court houses, or the maintenance costs of expansive secondary schools and gymnasiums (better facilities than most college campuses), man all of the fire trucks or provide personnel to oversee hundreds of new ordinances and charges.

In a bloated economy, no one watches the store. The spin and hype of community boosterism overwhelms the psyche, envelopes the mind with well intentioned progress.

An invincibility mind set emerges: “never, no not here. We’re different.” The argument “well if we don’t use the state/ (federal) grant we’ll lose it” doesn’t stand muster either. That money isn’t free; it’s still the citizen’s hard-earned scrip. We now see future commissions/councils further shackling the local government budgets. So today we have roads that serve little to no purpose in South Georgia. We run small town transportation systems that have abysmal occupancy and full scale government video production facilities in many counties broadcasting meetings on cable TV to audiences of less than a handful. We have hook and ladder fire trucks following 2 police cars and an emergency response van to every fender bender when one response vehicle might do.

Alas, we have built a great gleaming monumental infrastructure called 21st century civilization, only now the taxpayer and local businesses are trying to hurdle a bigger mountain to financially support it.

No one wants to talk about, nor touch the declining values on a county’s tax base nor heaven forbid, approve an increase in millage rates, nor cut back on any departments budgets. In the eyes of most local government managers everything is sacred, everything is essential government services. While businesses have swallowed the bitter pill of downsizing, local governments have been impotent in their actions. It’s hard to fathom how they can pat themselves on the back and ‘hold’ budgets and taxes at “par” when most Georgia businesses have slimmed their overhead 10 15 to 30%? It’s too hard to take away an entitlement once it’s been given.

Raising user fees for services, permits, user fees, sprinkler fees, fire protection surcharges, water/sewer rates, garbage collection, and applications is not the panacea either. The citizens are too smart, businesses too savvy for those actions and are starting to wake up and voice their concerns, first privately in the coffee shops, then at the ballot box. The quiet pro business revolution is simmering. “How do we continue to feed the monster?”

Ronald Reagan said “when a business or individual spends more than it makes it goes bankrupt. When government does, it sends you the bill.”

It’s time to re-prioritize government services into two buckets – “must haves” and “like to haves” then strongly demand they shift financial resources accordingly. The pain for the most part will be temporary, the noise loud.

Other thoughts

We should be fully supportive of Splosts as funding mechanisms it’s the accountability and stewardship of the expenditures that’s gives us concern

Evaluate “gifts” or “grants” of state or federal money based on long term reoccurring costs to the citizens. Look carefully at employment stimulus grants for the same unintended consequences of forward financial commitments and long term tax payer burdens. Free is not free.

■all counties and the state need to find a way to improve the efficiency of the education delivery system to hold down cost (both secondary and primary). The lottery has been a miraculous windfall but we can no longer rely on that sustainable flow of income

Reduce planning, permitting and inspection departments to a sound solid core. County governments must face the reality that there won’t be a construction development boom for 8 to 10 years. They’re not needed for planning and zoning, but we also caution against shifting them to long range planning or new ordinance creation, that’s just playing a shell game with human resources.

■find a way to scale back, warehouse or eliminate services that no longer serve the masses. ‘If it doesn’t cash flow – let it go.”.

■face the reality that government does not exist for the sake of employees. It exists to assist and govern non-government employees.

■become business friendly, not revenue enhanced. Strip laws, ordinances and fees passed over the last 10 years to the bone. Look at the full ordinance cost of enforcement and implementation. Recently, it took Norton’s staff 3 manpower hours to fill out 3applications, produce a scaled drawing to permit a temporary “party” tent on our office front lawn, that’s private property. These applications were processed by numerous govt employees, and later once erected was inspected by a fire Marshall for safety. The same tent used hundreds of times in the city. The permit cost was $5.00. Permits for permit sake are just one word – bureaucracy.

The stark reality is that government got too big because we thought we had unlimited sustainable resources. In the boom times Georgia governments artificially pumped up tax collection rates and over spent. In 2007 -2009 as the revenues shrank many local governments’ depleted reserves to keep things in the status quo and now face empty coffers. We do note that some are attempting to replenish.

We have all enjoyed the fruits of a hologram government dazzling the citizens with virtual magic and little or no substance. Now it’s a time for a major fast.



North Georgia is rich with mountains, lakes, natural beauty — and plenty of bargains on attractive vacation homes.

Buyers have a unique opportunity to pick up a second home or retirement home in North Georgia, as sellers have lowered prices and banks have put foreclosures back on the market at a bargain. Despite the economy, the market is still moving and some submarkets are experiencing a healthy recovery, local real estate experts say.

“We have seen a pretty significant pick-up across the board,” said Faron King, president-elect of the Northeast Georgia Board of Realtors.Mountain cabins have been especially strong sellers, and there has been a resurgence in the market for upper-end lake properties, King said.

“Some of the strongest demand is for cabins in the woods from $120,000 to $250,000 or even $300,000,” said Frank Norton Jr., president of the The Norton Agency in Gainesville. “People are still looking for a recreational house in the woods.”Around Lake Lanier, the market for second homes has made a nice recovery, and Realtors are seeing “a super-strong market for lake homes under $500,000,” Norton said.
But some market segments are suffering.There is a 10-year supply of homes more than $1 million and that market remains soft, Norton said. In addition, about 65,000 vacant lots are for sale across the state of Georgia, he said.

“The market for second-home lots is very saturated, and that’s going to take some time to work itself out,” Norton said.

Prices have come down significantly throughout North Georgia.“It’s an incredible time to be a buyer — you’ve never had more to pick from and the prices have never been better,” said King, managing broker of Coldwell Banker High Country Realty.

There will soon be a new opportunity to buy in the exclusive Montaluce Winery and Estates, a community of European-style villages and Tuscan architecture set on 400 acres in the rolling hills of Dahlonega.At the heart of the community is a modern 25,000-square-foot winery that houses a tasting room, restaurant and wine-making facility. Montaluce is built around European culture.“You’re not buying into a home, you are buying into a lifestyle,” said Rob Beecham, chief operating officer of Beecham Builders LLC.About 60 of the 300 home sites have been sold, and home prices range from $600,000 to $1.5 million. But Montaluce is launching a new, more affordable option.“With the changed economy and changed mind-set, we are developing a weekend cottage in the low $300,000s,” Beecham said.

Beecham Builders is a family-run firm that has been building custom homes in Atlanta for four generations. It specializes in the $1 million to $5 million-plus range, but recognize the economy calls for new options.“The guy who wouldn’t have thought twice about buying a million-dollar second home — that buyer has probably changed,” he said.The weekend cottages will be targeted at people who want a weekend home to use five to 10 days a month. They are not being built yet, but are expected to start in the first quarter of 2011.Beecham is taking reservations now, and sales will start early next year.

Another new opportunity in Dahlonega is at Achasta, a residential golf community developed by Reynolds Signature Communities, the creator of Reynolds Plantation.Achasta features mountain views, walking trails, and a Jack Nicklaus Signature golf course. The development has about 200 homes, and will eventually have more than 700, said Mike Langella, executive vice president of Reynolds Development & Management Group.

Prices are from the low $400,000s to more than $1 million. However, Reynolds recently designed some single-family detached homes that will be built in the $300,000 range, Langella said.They also launched a financing incentive this year that allows buyers to make a small down payment and then Reynolds will pay their interest for 35 months.“That makes it really attractive to purchase a home site today,” Langella said.Beyond financial incentives, the Reynolds name goes a long way, Langella added.“People know the Reynolds brand and they know the quality that we develop,” he said.Reynolds is also marketing Lake Burton Club in North Georgia, which is a luxury community of second homes. About 123 of the 230 sites have been sold so far.Reynolds acquired the property, which features a golf course with striking views and other luxury amenities, in April and is repositioning it.

“Our expertise is adding value to communities via amenities and programming,” Langella said.Aside from high-end facilities, planned activities and a social network, planned communities offer other advantages. Owners enjoy green space and spacious lots, but don’t need to worry about what could be built next door.
Another benefit is enjoying the outdoors without having to care for it.

“There is a sense of privacy and lots of land, but everything is taken care of,” Beecham said.Beecham said Dahlonega is ideal for retirement and vacation homes because it’s a beautiful location that is conveniently close — about an hour’s drive — to Atlanta. It’s very different than spending several hours to get to say, Highlands, N.C.This means Atlantans can spend more weekends vacationing, and retirees can easily access Atlanta’s health care, shopping and entertainment.“You can enjoy the mountain life but still make it down to Nordstrom in 45 minutes,” he said




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