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Staff Editorials

Jasper government should be limited by fiscal responsibility -- “imagination” not a proper budget

We want to immediately rail against the inept, incompetent, unconscionable tax hike that is being foisted on the citizens of Jasper.

Jasper’s mayor has encouraged others by saying the city’s future is only limited by their imagination -- to which must be added emphatically “and its bank account.”

But before we get to the jaw-dropping proposed 56 percent increase in property taxes, we must address some misunderstandings heard in public dialogue already:

• These are the city of Jasper taxes; they are not the county government. It’s the Jasper mayor and city council who will set the tax rate, not the county commissioners.

• This is not an election year in the city – the tax hike absolutely can not be blamed on election-year politics. The commission chair election has no bearing on this regardless of who wins. Mixing the city and county together in tax issues is like blaming the Braves’ coach because of the Falcons’ poor play.

• The tax increase will apply to all properties in the city limits of Jasper. It has no effect on anyone living outside the city limits. Unincorporated county residents do not pay city taxes. Residents in Jasper, Talking Rock and Nelson all pay city taxes in addition to county taxes. City residents are under both county and city governments and, in theory, receive services from both.

• Commercial and residential properties are taxed at the same rate.

• It’s only the city tax bill that may go up 56 percent. It is NOT the whole combined city, county and school bill that is going up – thank goodness.

• The county and school will send their combined bill at one time; the city will send their bill at a later time.

The most commonly misunderstood part of tax increases:

• Every year the county reassesses some property values through the county tax assessor’s office – this includes city properties. If your property value assessment went up, then your taxes will go up. (At its simplest, a tax bill equals the tax rate multiplied by the taxable value of your property). So, if your property value went up, even though the county is rolling back the millage rate, you may pay more. Each case is different depending on how much your property value rose versus how much the tax rate decreased.

We’ve had more than a few people object that our stories about the county/school cutting millage rates are wrong as their tax bills are going to be higher. We understand the confusion. When a government rolls back a millage rate, it sounds as though they are lowering taxes -- as in everybody’s taxes. What they really are doing is lowering the tax rate because values rose so much they’ll still wind up with more revenue. So to the people who say their taxes have gone up, that is correct. The government will get more money from you in taxes and will have more revenue at the end of the year – even though technically they lowered the tax rate.

• There are state rules, formulas and procedures that must be followed by counties in assessing values. And there are numerous different points of view of whether it’s a fair system and how it should be restructured. But that is a subject for another editorial.

 

Back to the Jasper tax hike. No matter how they try to spin it, the city failed to keep their spending in check and now are forcing the taxpayers in the city limits to bail them out – during a pandemic when businesses and property owners could be facing tough economic times ahead.

The new administration in city hall has gone to great length to issue positive statements about all their exciting plans - “Hurray, we have new picnic tables.” But apparently no one was watching the checkbook in this collaborative tax and spend approach to government.

Instead of the council constantly seeking to get others on board with their plans, maybe they should have sought some contrarians to apply the brakes. Their projected $550,000 deficit without the tax hike shows a serious failure in their ability to govern efficiently.

We haven’t seen a tax increase in 20 years in Jasper and this is not the year to start, especially not at 56 percent.

It’s time for Cinderella to head home from the spending ball because even the fairy godmother won’t abide this level of government taking.

 

Children are more a chip off the block than you realize

The old adage, children will do what you do and not what you say is, apparently, resoundingly true.

According to the latest research from the Pew Research Center, teenagers in the United States take after their parents in one key way: religious attitudes. Teens more often than not mimic their parents in terms of their religious views, and that includes how often they attend church.

The new study, released earlier this month, found that most U.S. teens (ages 13 to 17) share the religious affiliation of their parents. Just over 1,800 teenagers were surveyed with one of their parents and about half of those teens (48%) said they have “all the same” religious beliefs as their parents. Another 30 percent of the teen-parent pairs said they hold “some of the same” beliefs while nearly a quarter of parents and teens do not have the same religious beliefs.

The Proverb that says: “Train up a child in the way he should go; and when he is old, he will not depart from it” was born out in this study. 

Clearly, children not only take after their parents in terms of whether they reach for an apple or a candy bar, but also on the more important matter of religious belief. 

About a third of U.S. teens (32%) say they are religiously unaffiliated, according to Pew, including 6% who describe themselves as atheists, 4% who are agnostic and 23% who say their religion is “nothing in particular.”

Not surprisingly, Protestant parents are likely to have teens who identify as Protestants and Catholic parents have children who consider themselves Catholics. Parents who are “religiously unaffiliated,” according to the study, have teens who describe themselves as atheists, agnostics or “nothing in particular.” 

Teens attend religious services - at least in the pre-COVID-19 world - almost as often as their parents, with 44 percent of teens saying they go to religious services at least once a month. That figure mirrors their parents’ attendance.

For parents who say religion is “not too important” or “not at all important” in their life, their teens feel the same, the study found.

While most U.S. teens identify with a religion, they are modestly less likely than their parents to do so - particularly when it comes to Christianity. The new survey finds that 63% of U.S. teenagers ages 13 to 17 identify as Christian, compared with 72% of their parents. White teens, the study found, are more likely than their non-White counterparts to be religious “nones.” 

Among U.S. adults, women tend to be more religious than men. But among U.S. adolescents, there are virtually no differences in religious composition by gender. While church membership  in Pickens County may not be moving the needle like it did in our past, church plays an important role in the lives of so many here. Parents remember that while it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day living of working, grocery shopping, cooking and cleaning, if you found solace and peace in church  growing up, you should give your children that same opportunity. They follow in our footsteps in so many ways.

There is strength in community, especially as our society becomes more fragmented and individualistic. We need others to not only survive but to thrive and our churches can be that for us if we let them.

Doublecheck that e-mail

By Dan Pool

Editor

This is a simple subject and one that may strike many as stating the obvious. However, of any business/communication issue, this may be the most frequent source of irritation: lost e-mails. Do not assume your e-mails always reach the intended recipient’s inbox.

For example last Wednesday we got ready to send the weekly  reminder that our latest e-edition was available online.

We use a product that is specific to newspapers called “The Paperboy” that allows us to send a link out to the subscribers who prefer to get their copy of the Progress on a tablet or computer.

But last Wednesday, an error message popped up, saying we couldn’t send with  an active link in the e-mail. We have used The Paperboy for 10 years and we’d never seen this message. In fact we had never seen any error message and never had any problem sending the weekly notification. Some people’s do wind up in various spam traps, but it definitely leaves our server.

Of anything we worry over with our technology, being able to paste a link into a weekly e-mail was not even in our top 100 fears. Why would something that has worked for a decade decide one week to stop? Who knows - it’s technology. We contacted the vendor saying essentially “What the heck is going on?” The vendor, who has provided exemplary support for the past decade, replied quickly that unfortunately there was indeed a problem and not one they could quickly remedy.

The issue should be fixed for this week’s edition but with computers/internet, once something breaks, it makes you nervous.

Aside from this weekly mass e-mail, we get and send a lot of e-mails at this relatively small newspaper. It’s simply how people communicate for business. I advised a potential high school intern recently that the first thing he needs to do, whether he lands a spot on this staff or not, is establish an e-mail account to use when dealing with the adult world. No, you can not be notified by Snapchat or TikTok regarding a loan application or job prospect.

E-mail is what the old landline telephone was 50 years ago, an essential business communication avenue.

But, and this is what we want to note with our tale of woe regarding The Paperboy last week, e-mail is not nearly as reliable as you think. There are all sorts of pitfalls and spam-killing measures that may sidetrack that very urgent business you are conducting via e-mail.

Last month, we discovered that one particular e-mail account at this newspaper and one e-mail at city hall had a very high failure rate. Maybe it was some security feature, where one account had unintentionally blacklisted the other. We worked around this by being sure to duplicate e-mails to more than one receiver for meeting notices and other business. We also backed it up by recognizing the problem and checking to see that the e-mail did get sent.

A simple, “got it” works fine as a response. And if you don’t see that “got it,” then maybe they didn’t get it.

We know from talking with other local agencies that missing e-mails is not unique to us. It’s common among small businesses/groups.

The point of all this grumbling about technology is to remind others that you can’t assume every e-mail you send is received. Even more so when you send mass or group e-mails or attach numerous photos, say for an advertisement. And even more so when you are trying to attach photos using a phone and then send by e-mail.

Nothing fancy here, but please make sure to look for replies, send replies and keep in mind that e-mail is not guaranteed to get where it’s supposed to. 

Doublecheck that your receiver got itwhenever sending something important .

 

No visitor rule at hospitals unethical

By Angela Reinhardt

Staff writer

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Last week my grandmother, a widow who lives in Alabama with her brother and sister-in-law, had a stroke. A blood clot traveled into her brain and, among other issues it created, her vision was severely impaired. All she can see are shadows.   

But the powers that be decided it was best – because of dangers posed by the threat of COVID-19 – that she (and any other patients admitted) not have visitors. Not even one. No, the powers that be feel that leaving a scared, blinded, elderly woman alone in a hospital room where she can’t get out of bed or see to pick up the phone is the better option - you know, for the “greater good” and our collective health and all. 

Visitation rules vary from hospital to hospital and some are beginning to ease up, but my grandmother’s incident was recent. Schools are back in session in her district and people are eating at restaurants, but hospitals there think it’s too dangerous to let her have a single visitor at such a critical time? Unacceptable.  

A different family member who had a highly-invasive surgery earlier this year was recently admitted to a different hospital with a related and serious breathing issue - but his wife wasn’t able to stay with him or even come inside. My relative, who is over retirement age and also has hearing problems, was alone, in an emergency situation, trying to absorb what doctors and nurses were telling him. Also unacceptable.

The list goes on and on. Outside of my own family, strict no-visitor policies have left families helpless outside hospital walls, unable to see dying loved ones. They’ve had to watch over a videoconference call as their mom or dad took a last breath, in a hospital bed alone. Mothers have had to deliver babies, alone. Granted, a patient’s family members can call and speak with doctors and nurses but it’s not the same. These family members aren’t just “visitors” there to shoot the bull, they are caregivers and crucial parts of the treatment and end-of-life/beginning-of-life processes. 

Back in April, at the height of lockdowns, disability advocacy groups rightly filed a complaint about hospital visitor restrictions. The complaint argued “that when family and support workers are banned, many elderly and disabled people can't make informed medical decisions, which can affect their care,” according to an NPR report.

  John L. Marshall, M.D., founding director of the Otto J. Ruesch Center for the Cure of Gastrointestinal Cancer and the clinical director of oncology for Georgetown University Hospital, comments on how crucial patient advocates are in an August 24, 2020 video “No-Visitor Policies are Bad Medicine,” posted on MedScape.com. 

“We all rely on them,” he said. “…They help quarterback and navigate us as we see our patients. They help us coordinate care and they help us understand what that patient's life is really like. Sure, technology bridges that to some degree, but it's just not the same. We all know that. As a consequence, I think the quality of our care is falling a bit because no caregivers are around.”

He goes on to aptly call hospitals the “loneliest place on Earth,” and further that patients in need of medical treatment are now choosing not to seek it out because they’ll have to be alone.

This drastic no-visitor policy is one of the many COVID-inspired decisions that goes far beyond the realm of reason into absurdity - and in this case is downright cruel and draconian. I understand and agree with taking safety precautions for the sake of patients and medical workers (my sister is an RN at a nearby hospital) - but a more reasonable, humane solution could have - and should have - been found. Hospitals need to do what is ethical and let patients have at least one visitor. 

 

Pickens not a tourist destination, but is a great place to live

A few weeks back, the magazine Southern Living released their list of the South’s Best Small Towns for 2020.

Jasper didn’t make it into the top 20 spots across the region.

No surprise, of course, as most of the towns on the list were small cities that really stand out with unique features. 

Besides inspiring travel desires, one thing the list (available at southernliving.com) does very well is give a yardstick to think about what Jasper has and doesn’t have, and for what we could be versus what’s unlikely here.

We point out the following observations not to denigrate efforts to improve Jasper, but to set a realistic starting point – to better define where we are on the yardstick.

Right off the bat, it has to be made clear that most “best of” towns have an awesome natural wonder to work with - places like the Beauforts (towns with that name in both North and South Carolina) made the list as “coastal gems.” Clearly Jasper is not hitting that market. 

Closer to home, neither Ellijay nor Blue Ridge made the Southern Living list either - but they were closer than we were to making it. One undeniable fact is that both of our neighbors to the north, (which we are endlessly compared to) have us beat with natural attractions. We all share the same mountain chain, but our neighbors have more parks, public places, camping and hiking areas in the mountains.

Blue Ridge also has their popular lake and Ellijay has their river. Right now tubing on the Cartecay River is creating a controversy in Gilmer County as the thousands of people who come there ruffle the feathers of river homeowners. On the one hand, this is a problem we won’t have here, but, on the other hand, did you catch “thousands” of tubers. It would be like JeepFest every weekend, both the good and bad, during warm months if we had a similar water resource. We’d wager, the small Cartecay River brings more visitors to Gilmer in a weekend than Pickens sees in a month.

In public forums someone inevitably grouses, “Why can’t we be more like Blue Ridge?” To which a good response would be, “you mean spend millions and decades to build a massive lake?” There are things, like better signage to downtown, that should be done, but we aren’t going to ever make it big time with tourism without some geologic reshuffling.

On Southern Living’s list, several places did make it with a combination of historic areas and artsy downtowns. Here again, the towns in Pickens just don’t have that asset. There are nice buildings; Talking Rock has an awesome Main Street, but the towns that really thrive as historic tourist spots are those like Fredericksburg, VA, which according to Southern Living boasts 350 recognized historic structures, or Natchitoches, LA with its block after block of landmark homes (and the setting for the movie Steel Magnolias).

So what is Jasper, without a lake or ample historical buildings, to do?

In the words of every self-help guru on daytime television, love yourself the way you are because you are just perfect. Well, that may be overstating it. We’re not perfect and definitely not if you want to have a bustling downtown. 

But, there is one thing Pickens has going for it. We are a great small town to live in. A knowledgeable birder once described the winged wildlife at Talking Rock Nature Preserve with a line that perfectly describes this area, “You don’t get too many rare visitors but the local residents are really nice.”

So, for those groups pushing a more lively downtown based on tourism, we caution them to take a long look in the mirror. Small efforts to spruce up what we have will no doubt yield benefits. But rather than trying to be something we see elsewhere, we need to work with what we have, a great place to live.