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Staff Editorials

2018: time to look at new ideas

By Dan Pool, Editor

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An article in the New York Times recently caught my attention about how most everyone is resistant to change.

The article, Why Trying New Things Is So Hard to Do by Sendhil Mullainathan, gave an example of trying, just once, a cheaper food product of something you regularly consume. If you judge it to be as good or better than your standard, then you save thousands over the rest of your life. And if the taste is appalling, all you are out is a couple of bucks. Huge potential upside with almost no cost of failure.

The article also offered an example of places to eat. You have a favorite, but maybe there is somewhere you would like better or something that is almost as good and cheaper or healthier. But when it’s time to eat out you go to the same handful of places and most likely order the same thing. At the McDonald’s drive-thru it’s always “the number 1.”

The article argues that people stick with the same-old-same-old largely because it’s easy. You don’t have to engage the brain if you never look for something different. Change causes upheaval, which might cause work.

While this article was directed to individuals, it hits the bullseye with the way we too-often operate in Pickens County. 

“The way we have always done it,” makes a pretty standard answer and is much easier than shaking things up.

Our school board hired a new superintendent who brought years of experience in the local system. Yet, instead of embracing the status quo, Supt. Carlton Wilson has essentially said anything is up for discussion. From the length of the school year to which grades are grouped together, it’s all subject to adjustment.

Hats-off to him and the school board for embracing a philosophy that is open to new ideas. The plan to shuffle grades around appears to have direct financial and, hopefully, academic rewards. No, the idea of cutting back the number of days in the school year didn’t seem right at this point.

Same to the city of Jasper, while the dust is still settling over the chaos in city hall, there is nothing wrong at looking at how you operate. If a better path, system or manager is found, great. If not, we can always go back to what has been in place for most of the past 50 years. Just because it’s the way we have always done it, doesn’t mean there’s not a better system.

Needless to say, with both the schools and governments there is a lot riding on their decisions. Unlike soda decisions or fast food, with school remodeling or hiring city managers there could be massive downsides for a poor decision. Clearly more planning and input  is required, but open discussion remains worthwhile.  

We’d encourage all our government bodies to be open to calculated risk-taking, particularly our county government, which appears to pride itself on stability over innovation. We are not advocating change for change’s sake, but also not maintaining status quo simply because that’s the way it’s always been.

We surely don’t want to scrap systems on a whim that have served us well, but in 2018 it would be nice to see some thinking outside the box. 

What we’d like to see in 2018

Last week we reviewed what we wanted in 2017 (some small progress such as a reinvigorated Marble Festival) but mostly we saw the status quo keep a tight grip here. 

Undaunted, we again suggest improvements and wishes for Pickens County. 

 

• More parks – Like a present you hadn’t expected, Pickens County got a top-notch mountain bike park in the last quarter of 2017, all thanks to a private group with private money. Nothing from local sources/governments, other than words of appreciation (after most of the work was done) moved The Talking Rock Nature Preserve along.

Unfortunately this new park with benches, fields and walking area at the Gilmer line is a lonely beacon in new recreation options for this county. Talking Rock has a nice park; Nelson has upgraded walking trails, and Jasper started and then mostly abandoned their own wooded trails on Hood Road. What’s missing is the county adding anything significant to our recreation facilities. When the community center opened at Roper Park in late 2011, it was as though someone strode out and declared “mission accomplished.”

You actually can’t say we want more focus on improving parks/recreation as there is no focus except for maintenance. We’ll simply ask for any attention to recreation. 

Lesser request in same category -- More classes at rec. center at Roper Park. How about some new offerings? It seems we don’t even fully utilize what little we do have.

Chattahoochee Tech playing a vital role here again – In December we reported that the dismal usage of our tech school had blown up with everyone from the speaker of the state house to our chief magistrate judge exhorting the college to get back into the education game. 

At the most fundamental level we need a strong technical college. Courses meet the needs of industry; this encourages expansion and attracts new businesses. The growth in industry will drive residential growth which drives commercial growth. Imagine what a steady stream of educated, young people coming out of a local tech school could mean for the county? 

Fill the buildings – The rise of several boutiques in the retail sector, a new restaurant in the massive Sidebar building beside the courthouse gives a little hope, but there are simply too many empty buildings in Jasper and around the county. The former home of Day’s Chevrolet, the NAPA building on Main Street, the former Hallmark store across the street from it all sit empty -  not to mention the empty acres and acres of graded property on the four-lane.

Whatever it takes to help developers/owners get these spots into action, we would support it -- tax abatements, incentives, help with utilities. In cases where a property is sitting empty, we would happily urge the local governments to defer some immediate taxes to see a vital business there hiring and paying sales tax.

A few other items:

• A healthy discussion and open-minded approach on both sides for the coming debate on senior school exemptions. Rather than both sides seeking exactly what they want (full exemption versus no additional exemption), let’s  find what satisfies the community as a whole and for the long term.

• For the Dawgs to bring that national championship home later this month. (One reader has requested a front page headline in the Progress if this happens. We’ll see.)

• To see our Pickens schools post scores on state tests that reflect the quality of the system. Last year, the students here beat the national and state averages on the SAT (the most reliable indicator of a system’s competency) but Pickens students still struggle on other required tests. Not acceptable.

• Let’s have some fun and well-attended events across the county. This is a two-way street. Organizers need to raise their games like the Marble Festival did last year. But the public must support them. Shop local also means attend local. You can’t expect a group to shell out resources for a fickle public that may or may not show up.

Finally, we wish for 2018 to be a great one for Pickens County and the people who call this place home.

Merry Christmas from the Progress staff

Christmas arrives in a few short days and by then we will have survived all the rushing around and preparing for the big day. With all the hustle and bustle to get ready for Christmas, it’s nice to notice the collective quiet throughout our town on Christmas morning. No more running around, buying  gifts and groceries, just that once-a-year calm that only comes on the morning of Jesus’ birth when practically everyone is at home relishing in the best gifts of all -  loved ones, the gift of family, and Christmas’ namesake, Jesus Christ.

Wise Men brought gifts to the newborn Savior and we still offer gifts today. But as Christmas approaches this year, perhaps the best thing we could give each other is our time. As long-time Progress contributor Ann Parks said in her Happy Ramblers post this week: “Have a wonderful Christmas with as many friends and family as possible and remember what Christmas really is about.”

Giving someone our time and our company is the most wonderful gift, this time of year and all year long. This Christmas, we should make a point to tell those we love why they matter to us. Reminding friends and family of the conversations that have meant so much to our lives, the memories we’ve shared, the laughter, and even the tears we’ve had through the years, are true treasures. 

This Christmas, we should tell those we love how special they are. From the parents who took care of us as children, made us laugh, kissed and hugged us and showed us how to take on the world, to that favorite friend or spouse whose daily comments and gestures support us as adults, there’s no better time than this Christmas to tell those around us just how much they enrich our lives. A spoken kind word can fill someone’s heart and mean so much more than a gift bought without much thought.

So as we gather around the table to celebrate the Savior’s birth with family and friends, make time for a thoughtful word to the person sitting next to you - the aunts and uncles we may see only once or twice a year or the mothers and fathers we see daily. Enjoy this time with those we love and this year - and all the ones going forward - we can remember that the quiet of Christmas morning surrounded by those special people is really what we long for in the first place.

Gifts will always be a part of America’s Christmas celebrations but we would be wise to know that a gift doesn’t always come wrapped in a box with festive bows. Our best holiday memories are centered around faith, family and traditions. If we really think about it, very few childhood memories actually include the gifts we’ve received but rather celebrations with family and friends. We remember less the Christmas we received that diamond bracelet and more that Christmas that aunt Sue almost set the kitchen on fire when she burned the cookies. It’s not so much about the gifts and more about the experiences and the memories of those experiences.

We remember the challenges of trying to get the children to sleep on Christmas Eve, rather than the gifts Santa left under the tree. As time goes by and we collect more and more Christmases, it’s the memories of being with family and friends more than the gifts – no matter how big or expensive. When we recall Christmases past, we usually find that the simplest things give offer the greatest happiness.

Nowadays, we often feel cheated by Christmas. So rushed, so busy, that we can’t relax and enjoy the season. Next week when we sit down with our families why not talk of the memories of Christmases past because it’s the memories of those that will sustain us, not the gifts.

Christmas is the better for being a simple place with loved ones.

Our annual you can’t always get what you want list

Ah, year’s end, time for a little ritual to Janus, the two-faced Roman God who looks both forwards and backwards. This week we’re looking backwards at how we fared with what we wanted in 2017 - as published in this space a year ago. Next week’s we’ll look ahead.

 

• Give us a sign – We sought curb appeal on Highway 515 showing that Jasper is here and welcomes visitors. Nope. Looks the same as it did at the start of the year. Surely, we can muster a sign at the Highways 515/53 intersection and some landscaping. Both Ellijay and Blue Ridge have made the four-lane through their burgs attractive and do well with tourism.

 

• Don’t Facebook, be happy – Social media hasn’t collapsed under the avalanche of lies, nasty comments and inane pet/food photos, but we can still hope. Even the Facebook company blog recently acknowledged that too much time glaring at their feed is detrimental to your mental health.

 

• Tax cuts for the county – Both the county and schools cut taxes slightly and now the GOP has delivered some tax relief for all Americans. We’ll take small victories where we find them. NOTE:  before you start e-mailing, we understand some people may have seen their properties re-assessed and higher tax bills. But in general taxes were cut.

 

• Fewer legend deaths – The deaths of Tom Petty, Glen Campbell and Gomer Pyle (Jim Nabors) plus Hugh Hefner made news but 2017 didn’t  hit as hard on the celebrity death notices as prior years – unless you count those who sexual misconduct figuratively killed.

 

• Fill the Buildings – Small change. A new pizza restaurant coming to the old SideBar/Crust building). Otherwise empty large buildings and vacant commercial properties still abound, though the former NAPA building downtown does look very nice.

 

• Rain – Pretty solid improvement with rainfall. Though no one here gets to claim credit, we were happy to go a year without serious drought issues.

 

• Marble Festival ReBoot – We’d consider this a full success. The Chamber of Commerce put new events and life into the October festival. Let’s get behind them to see it grow and improve again this year.

 

• Trump to Succeed – Last year we noted that regardless of how you voted, everyone should want the man in the White House to succeed.  Didn’t happen. At this point, we judge the nation to be slightly less great than when his term started. Let’s hope for a better sophomore year.

 

Some notable wish lists items 

from earlier years:

• Go Dawgs. For Kirby Smart to fire up the Dawgs. Didn’t make it in 2016 but we’ll take it a year later.

• Boys and Girls Club built and funded and open (2016 list). A big yes and continuing to meet needs.

• Revival of the arts in Jasper – Keep on dreaming.

• More focus on ways to capitalize on Pickens as a great bedroom community. No progress that we can tell. In fact we’re not sure there is any focus on any marketing angle of this county.

• Development around Walmart (2015 request) – Added the Murphy gas station, but certainly isn’t crowded out there or anywhere on the four-lane, though there is a whole new (empty) area near the Highway 108 intersection.

• Take off at the airport tech park (2014 list) – We wanted it first three years ago and it hasn’t happened. However, there are signs of life with the re-formed airport authority. Chances look good that we’ll finally see potential get airborne out there in 2018.

• Beat the national averages on SAT – In 2017, on the revived 1600 scale Pickens scored a 1092 average while the state average was 1050 and the national average was 1060 so mission accomplished. Way to go Dragons.

 

We wish all our readers a happy and prosperous New Year.

 

Invest now or cry later

Some people don’t want to stop working. They retire, piddle around a few months, get bored, then get a job to keep them occupied. But other people – most people we’d argue – don’t want to work after 65, into their 70s and even 80s. 

But the way Americans are saving for retirement, which is dismally poor by recent studies, people who don’t want to work may have to. With the holiday shopping season in high gear, money is on the brain. It’s a good time to remember that buying gifts and splurging at times can be fun - but without saving and planning now, the forecast for your golden years could be grim. 

ClarkHoward.com reports that 94 percent of seniors polled said the advice they  would like to give to younger people is to start saving earlier, save more during their career, find small ways to save that add up, and maximize work retirement programs – advice we should all take before it’s too late. Proponents for the local Seniors for Change movement, the group that wants to increase senior tax exemptions in Pickens County, argue that seniors on fixed incomes can’t afford to pay their property taxes, which is true in many cases (although not only seniors on fixed incomes would benefit from the additional exemptions).

 

Here are a few stats: 

•One out of every three Americans has zero dollars saved for retirement, ZERO, which means they would rely totally on Social Security payouts. A GoBankingRates Retirement Rates survey found that of those who do save, 55 percent have less than $10,000.  

 

•The average monthly retirement benefit is $1,371, or $16,452 per year. The overall maximum monthly Social Security benefit (which Money.com reports only six percent of people qualify) of those retiring at 65 in 2017 is $2,687, or $32,000 for the year. 

 

•People are living longer. According to the Social Security Administration, "About one out of every four 65-year-olds today will live past age 90, and one out of 10 will live past age 95. That means if you retire at 65, you might need money to live on for 25 years or more. 

What are we wasting our money on? 

Somewhere along the line, the American attitude about what’s required to live a decent life shifted. Older generations made things last and worked decades to build up to a new house or car. These days people want the big, fully-furnished house and expensive car right after they get married (with the average wedding now costing over $25,000), among other luxuries.

Here are just a few of the items we waste money on, in addition to things like lottery tickets, entertainment, clothes and other retail shopping, alcohol, and cigarettes:  

 

•Eating out and food waste: For giggles (or sobs) check out your bank statement one month and add up how much you spend on restaurants. Let’s say you spend $10 a day on lunch/dinner and $3 a day on a coffee/snack at the gas station. Over the course of a year that’s $4,745 for one person (The max contribution to a 401k is $5,500 if you’re under 50). This amount doesn’t even include what’s wasted throwing out food that could be eaten the next day as leftovers – which in America is estimated to be almost half.   

 

•Vehicles: The average cost of a new vehicles are on the rise, with the average now at $34,000 according to Kelly Blue Book. A NY Times report found that new cars are typically too expensive for the typical family, but they still buy them. The average term for a new-car loan is now 68 months, with some loans stretching as long as seven years.

 

We’re not advocating for super couponing or never splurging on entertainment or vacations – but with all our spending and dismal savings it’s in our best interest to put away now so we won’t be crying later.