Mayor Case shows commissioners a map of drainage problems at the city park.
The Trenton City Commission voted at its delayed September meeting on Monday to take the “rollback” option on city property taxes as opposed to “accepting growth,” as did Dade County and the Dade Board of Education, the other two local taxing authorities, for the upcoming budget year.
“Accepting growth”—which means keeping the millage rate the same, but allowing it to generate a little more in tax revenues when multiplied against a tax digest that has expanded slightly this year—allowed the county and B of E a modicum of wiggle room in their next year’s budgeting, but required them to hold three public hearings each, since taxes were technically going up even though the millage rate remained constant. The rollback option means lowering the millage rate a fraction so that taxes remain at the previous year’s level.
From the discussions Monday night, Trenton opted for the rollback not so much because it didn’t need the extra money but because the extra money wasn’t projected to be enough to justify the headache of the public hearings. “Is that $2000 in the millage rate going to make that much difference?” said City Clerk Lucretia Houts.
Mayor Alex Case and the four city commissioners, after some eye-crossing repetition of the numbers, decided it wouldn’t. Case said after meeting with most of the commissioners he had determined Trenton was $100,000 shy of making ends meet as matters stood. “We’re big-time short with the budget,” he said. “We’re going to have to do some whittling.”
Case said local option sales tax collections were down—“Nobody’s buying much anymore,” he said. “It’s scary”—that the town’s health insurance obligations were up, and that he hadn’t had enough time to crunch all the numbers. “I’ve been just too busy with storms and emergencies and real-life work,” said the mayor, whose day job is as Dade County’s emergency services director.
The commissioners decided to hold a special called workshop Saturday morning—that’s at 10 a.m. Sept. 30 at City Hall if any members of the public care to attend—to wrestle with the budget and decide what has to go, a proposed 2 percent raise for city employees or something else.
Meanwhile, though, the commission voted to keep the 2018 millage rate steady at 4.50, rolling it back to 4.475 to adjust for the tax digest growth. Clerk Houts quoted projected collections at about $342,000 with the accepting-growth option and $340,000 without.
Artzy To Get Alky
Another interesting item on the city consent agenda was the approval of an application for a alcoholic beverage license for the Artzy Café on Main Street, pending approval by Georgia of a state liquor license.
Currently, Trenton issues only licenses to serve beer and wine. A referendum allowing residents to decide if hard liquor shall also be served within city limits--changing Trenton's ordinance to match Dade's--is on the city's ballot in the upcoming November election.
In other business, the mayor updated the commission about damage done to a city police cruiser in last week’s high-speed chase of a joyriding Alabama teen that had culminated in Trenton. The damage was mostly cosmetic, said the mayor, and the city had received estimates of $2657, $2067 and $5911. The insurance adjustor will take it from there, he said.
Police Commissioner Sandra Gray reported monthly police fine collections of $14,254,29 for a total of $151,400.53 year to date. She said that the Trenton Police Department had received its new K-9 and that the dog was still training with K-9 Officer Eric Hartline. She said Trenton officers had received new shotguns as well. And she said the department’s benefit gospel singing benefit the previous Saturday had been a success. Various items as well as cash donations had been collected for the PD’s Christmas event for city elderly, she said. “I think we’re going to end up with around $700,” said Commissioner Gray.
Parks and Recreation Commissioner Terry Powell reported $15,868 in total 2017 revenue for the city pool, which closed for the year in August. Concessions revenue was $2,767.50, he said. Powell asked for, and was granted, up to $15,000 for work and materials, probably including a culvert, to fix a drainage problem at Jenkins Park.
Fire and Utility Commissioner Jerry Henegar didn’t have much to say this month, and Streets Commissioner Monda Wooten said her department had purchased a new leaf and brush vacuum machine. “Hopefully we’re going to clean up the streets a little more,” she said.
In his own monthly address, Mayor Case briefly discussed Dade County’s proposed participation in a LIDAR, or aerial photography, project by several northwest Georgia counties. Dade’s last aerial photography was in February 2011, he said, before three tornadoes tore through the area. The mayor also touched on possible improvements to local internet access discussed at a recent regional meeting. Dade still doesn’t have internet coverage in some places, he said, or only DSL, which is not fast enough for modern needs. They may change as: “Other companies are coming into the county,” he said.
He discussed economic development, and plans to pave the road to the new Vanguard plant in the Dade industrial park with an ARC (Appalachian Regional Commission) grant. “We’re waiting for the money to be turned loose to do that project,” said Case. The grant would be $150,000 from the feds with $150,000 local matching funds that the city and county hope to furnish “in-kind”—in labor and equipment use.
Case said regular industrial park traffic may also be diverted to Vanguard Road, which besides easing congestion in Trenton would have the advantage of ensuring trucks wouldn’t be blocked by trains stopped on the railroad tracks. But the road should be paved before that happens, he added.
Besides the millage rate decision, also on the city consent agenda were various adjustments and transfers to and among SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax) projects, and a waiver of the difference between the city’s old 5 percent and new 8 percent accommodation tax for the period since the change was approved. Mayor Case explained after the meeting that administrative complications since the tax was changed made it impractical to collect the increased levy for the few months affected. In any case the tax base was tiny, he pointed out: Trenton has only one motel.
Case also explained after the meeting that the excavations on the sides of Highway 136 East at the junction of Highway 11 are not for sidewalks, but are for sensors for modernized traffic lights to be installed by the Georgia Department of Transportation.
The Sept. 25 meeting, rescheduled from Sept. 11, when tropical storm warnings had shut down most of Georgia, was sparsely attended even by Dade standards. Not even the local library or chamber of commerce sent representatives, and none of the challengers for city commission seats in the upcoming Nov. 7 election showed up, either.
(Photo: Streets Commissioner Monda Wooten confers with the mayor at left while City Clerk Lucretia Houts, standing, and Police Commissioner Sandra Gray chat.)
Sandra Gray has two challengers for her police commissioner position, and Terry Powell one for the parks and rec seat. Historically the city commission has also elected the city clerk at this stage of the election cycle, but the mayor and commission quietly moved last year to change the clerk job to an appointed position through altering the city charter by state legislation. That change became effective in May, though the commission has never announced it.
No Public Announcement of Ballot Change; City Unveils Website
Asked if he and the commission would ever make a public statement about removing the clerk job from the ballot, the mayor said that last November’s regular meeting--when the commission without prior public discussion slipped the resolution to request the legislation onto its consent agenda—was notification enough.
And if it seems that communication with its voters is not the city government’s strong suit, Mayor Case said that an agenda, anyway, might shortly be easier to get hold of now that the city’s website is finally online. Readers may find the new site at trentonga.gov, though not much is on it as yet. “[Web designer] Brian Wooten is going to teach us to use it,” said the mayor.
The Trenton City Commission holds its regular monthly meetings at 6 p.m. on the second Monday of each month at City Hall.