Big aspirations and little money worries dominated Monday's monthly meeting of the Dade Industrial Development Authority (IDA), a familiar situation for this small but aspiring county at the center of the universe--and one not entirely unknown to the news outlet that reports on it.
George Nelson (left), IDA board member and founder of the Southeast Lineman Training Center, expressed his frustration sending SLTC students to the Georgia Department of Driver Services facility in Dalton to obtain their commercial driver's licenses (CDLs). The students are overwhelming the facility's capacities, he said, and he's been asked not to send any more. But the students need that license, obtaining it is part of the vocational qualification they pay for, and Dalton is the designated issuer. So what to do? What Nelson wants to see is a testing facility located in Dade County.
But he's not holding his breath. "That would be ideal, if we could," Nelson told The Planet after the meeting. "I talked to some people about it before, and like every other thing Dade County seems to get the short end of the stick. [Georgia State Sen.] Jeff Mullis is very willing to sit down with us and see about getting something done--but then it comes down to funding."
Can it be done? Currently even regular driver's licenses are issued in Trenton only two days a month, though all agree the need is greater than that. SLTC takes in upwards of 220 prospective linemen three times a year, all of whom require the CDL. IDA members agreed a CDL facility would be a grand thing not just for the lineman school but for Trenton and the county as well--but in the meantime, IDA Chairman Nathan Wooten promised to find out for Nelson where Covenant Transport sends its own trainees for their CDLs.
IDA executive chairman Peter Cervelli said IDA's cash on hand was $455,832.64 but almost all of that would be eaten by Norfolk-Southern bills. "Based on projections, we should end the year with about $27,000," said Cervelli. "That's about a half what we would need operationally."
Cervelli said the bills haven't arrived yet, that the railroad can sometimes take up to a year to catch up with invoicing. Besides: "We'll fight it for a while," said Cervelli. It could be argued, he said, that IDA was forced to build a new road into its industrial park expansion by the railroad's habit of blocking crossings at the existing road with idle trains.
IDA learned last year that the half-million dollars it had earmarked for infrastructure at the industrial park expansion wouldn't go as far as expected in the face of Norfolk-Southern's charge for new signaling--$420,000. Dade County and the city of Trenton have both since chipped in with cash, equipment and labor for roadwork for the Vanguard Trailer plant at the expansion. Cervelli said in fact that Trenton is shortly to receive a matching grant it will use to finish the road. "That'll provide the cash to pave that road," he said.
The board members also decided to fight a bill it had already received, one from its auditor. The Chattanooga accounting firm Henderson Hutcherson & McCullough had promised a price of $2500 and charged $4100 instead. "The reason they gave me was all the bond work was new," said Cervelli. Like a government, IDA is empowered to issue bonds, in effect borrowing money for big projects, a complex financial process rife with legal and accounting fees.
IDA did not pay that bill but it did approve $2180 for a survey of some incidental acreage behind the industrial park, to Northpoint Surveying.
Robin Rogers, the county attorney who also acts for IDA, brought up concerns with IDA's lease to Lake Region. IDA acts as landlord to the Trenton plant but prior to October had been bound by the lease to Hutcheson, the prior tenant, which specified the rent could be raised only by the Consumer Price Index. That had translated last year to .04 percent, which had not covered repairs to the roof and plumbing IDA was responsible for. Now IDA had proposed changes to up the rent to fair market value or 10 percent, whichever was less, but Lake Region had so far not agreed to these. The matter was left unresolved.
The board went into executive, or closed-door, session to discuss real estate and one other interesting item it had moved from the regular to the executive agenda: "Economic Director-Dade County."
What might that mean? Asked after the meeting, Cervelli would only comment, "Stay tuned."
Is an "economic director" a new IDA employee? Cevelli agreed that IDA couldn't afford to hire anybody new, and denied he was thinking of retiring himself.
"There are options about how to make that work for the future and that was talked about," he said. "It's looking at options. We'll have to see what happens."
Make what work for the future? Options for what?