CLARKESVILLE – Habersham County Commissioners say they want more information before supporting Banks County’s request to be transferred to the Mountain Judicial Circuit.
During a called meeting Monday night, Habersham County Commissioner Andrea Harper expressed reservations about authorizing Chairman Victor Anderson to sign a letter of endorsement without additional details, such as Banks County’s caseload.
“We have no basis to evaluate caseload information,” Anderson said.
Banks County leaders say they are requesting local legislation allowing that county of less than 18,000 people to join the Mountain Judicial Circuit, which includes counties closer to its size. The Mountain Judicial Circuit is made up of Habersham, Rabun and Stephens counties.
Banks County currently is in the Piedmont Judicial Circuit, which Banks County Commission Chairman Jimmy Hooper says places the county at an extreme disadvantage because Jackson County has some 60,000 residents and Barrow County has close to 100,000 people.
Anderson told Habersham commissioners that the Mountain Judicial Circuit judges, district attorney and other officials have verbally endorsed the transition, but want to remain neutral throughout the process.
That’s an issue for Habersham County Commissioner Natalie Crawford, who said she wants to hear from those judges and other officials before voting.
Habersham County Manager Phil Sutton said it would cost Habersham a net of roughly $5,000 to $8,000 if the state legislature choses to move Banks County into the circuit.
Harper expressed concerns that the number of drug and other cases made on Interstate 85 in Banks County could increase potential costs above the estimates provided to Habersham officials.
“Again, we’re not obligating anything,” Anderson stressed. “All we are saying is we do not have a problem or we would endorse them if the state legislature makes it happen.”
Harper, however, said that may not be possible for her.
“What I’m saying is I’m not sure I can endorse it … because I’m not comfortable obligating future revenue,” Harper said.
Of particular issue to several Habersham commissioners is the wording of a sample endorsement letter that states, “We see the financial and judicial benefits of Banks County joining the circuit …”.
Commissioners in Habersham say they don’t see the financial benefits of Banks County joining the Mountain Judicial Circuit, but do see potential judicial benefits. That could give the circuit a third full-time judge and additional courtroom and administrative space for traveling circuit personnel. That could allow the circuit to grow in population without prompting a requirement that Habersham build out judicial space on the unfinished fourth floor of its courthouse.
Anderson was asked to re-word the endorsement letter for a vote at the commission’s regular meeting later this month.
In the meantime, the Habersham County Commission voted to table the endorsement until that time.
Following Monday night’s meeting, Anderson recapped the discussion.
“It’s a big decision for Habersham County,” Andersons said. “At this point, our analysis looks like it should be pretty much revenue neutral to the taxpayers of Habersham County. There is some concern that going forward in the future, that may not necessarily be the case. We did not have consensus tonight, but we should have this a voting item on the regular scheduled October meeting.”