Originally created 04/27/01

Teens observe tax dollars at work



AIKEN - Something happened on Robbie Bachelder's field trip Thursday that never happened to him before and he hopes never happens again.

He was booked at the Aiken County jail. And fingerprinted. And photographed with a number across his chest. And searched for contraband. He was surprised to hear that Robbie is considered a "street name" in jail-house parlance, too.

The Batesburg-Leesville student was admittedly sorry he volunteered for the demonstration that took so long his group went on without him. It was all part of a close-up look at county government for students from high schools throughout the county during National County Government Week.

"I can tell this is one place I wouldn't want to come," the 18-year-old said, walking away with a mug shot for his mom to treasure.

About 20 students toured the detention center Thursday, gingerly staying clear of cell bars while some prisoners made rude remarks and others urged the teens to "be good kids and stay out of here." They also saw the Sage Mill Fire Station and ambulance substation, the museum at Banksia mansion, the animal shelter and the Savannah River Research Campus.

This is the seventh year that Aiken County government has invited students to learn what tax money provides. The week's observances also have included an open house at county facilities, storytelling sessions for children, a demonstration of emergency procedures and - on tap today from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. - a video introduction to the museum.

"Everybody complains about the amount of taxes they have to pay, but if they could see where the money goes to so many useful services, they'd see why," said Brittany Garvin, 16, who attends Wagener-Salley High School.

The detention center was just one gritty reality for the clean-cut students, all chosen by their schools. Another was the shelter, where fuzzy puppies and friendly dogs stood a chance of adoption, but an older, skittish basset hound cowered in a corner, face to the concrete block wall. For that dog, the shelter would be temporary, a canine death row, a worker explained.

The group arrived too late in the day to catch the excitement - Tiger, the tabby cat who is a shelter pet, had caught a 2-foot-long snake.

Ellen Chapin, 17, of Aiken High School, noticed a contrast. The research center, she saw, was nearly empty, although the county plans to have more tenants soon in the building it constructed near New Ellenton in hopes of luring Savannah River Site contractors. But the animal shelter was packed.

Crystal Robinson, 18, of North Augusta High School, was struck with a sense of Aiken County's history while in the museum.

"I liked knowing that it used to be somebody's house," she said, wondering out loud what it would be like to live in such a huge mansion.

"I don't think most people realize the variety of things a county has to deal with," Ellen said. "There's such a diversity."

Chris A. Caesar, the county's public information officer, said the annual student tour is one way of getting residents to recognize the role their local government plays in their lives. It's geared to youths who will take that message home and carry it through life, she said.

Reach Margaret N. O'Shea at (803) 279-6895.