Mom Asks Commission: Do Something About Playground

Rebekah Stoglin petitions the Dade County Commission for improvements at the county playground. Visible are, from left, Dist. 3 & 4 Commissioners Robert Goff and Allan Bradford.

With today’s referendum on the TSPLOST (transportation special purpose local option sales tax) looming closer, and the agins shouting louder about it than the fers, you might have thought the issue would dominate the citizens’ participation portion of last Thursday’s regular November meeting of the Dade County Commission. You’d have been wrong. The one citizen who participated at the Nov. 2 meeting had shown up not to protest the proposed sales tax increase but to ask the commission to spend some tax dollars on playground equipment.

“I never realized how bad the park was until they redid Jenkins,” Rebekah Stoglin said of the children’s playground at the county’s Four Fields athletic complex. “That playground is used so much more than Jenkins is.”

Parents with kids in sports often have no choice but to use the county park (left), she explained after the meeting. Younger children entertain themselves on the swings and slides while their older siblings play team soccer, baseball or football. Or that’s the theory, but actually there’s not much at the county playground to entertain a kid, she said. “It’s very outdated. It’s very boring,” said Ms. Stoglin. “It holds a child’s attention for like two minutes.”

​​She contrasted it with the new setup at Jenkins (right), the Trenton city park, which is tall and complex enough for a kid to disappear inside. She’s not asking for another Jenkins, she said, but couldn’t the county get a few more attractions in there? “It doesn’t have to be elaborate or anything like that,” she said.

“We’re working on it,” said County Executive Chairman Ted Rumley. In fact, commissioners discussed replacing the play equipment at last month’s meeting. The drawback is—surprise!—money. Trenton spent about a quarter million on its new playground last year. But the commissioners do realize what they have at the Four Fields is shot and needs replacing.

“What we’ll do is end up buying a few pieces at a time,” said Rumley.

The county—and city, and school board—all pay for physical things like playground equipment, police cruisers, musical instruments for the marching band, ambulances, buildings, roads and parking lots with SPLOST money, the two pennies-on-the-dollar currently in effect on Dade purchases. In Dade, the sales tax is currently 7 cents, with 4 cents going to the state, 1 cent for LOST—local option sales tax without the designation “special purpose,” meaning it can be used for operating expenses—1 cent to the school system and 1 cent divided between county and city. The TSPLOST, also to be divided between county and city, would also be restricted to capital expenditures and would be used exclusively on transportation projects.

“We depend on it for so many things,” said District 3 Commissioner Robert Goff of SPLOST money, reporting in his monthly address to the public that collections had been up in October over the month before, but still dismal when compared to previous years.

Dwindling SPLOST income has in recent months incited suspicion of Atlanta in local officials; the state is in charge of administering sales tax, collecting it and then redistributing it back to the counties where it was generated. But ever-smaller SPLOST checks even when gas prices are up and the economy seems good have county commissioners questioning how efficient the process is. “I did send a text and a screenshot to our senator,” said Goff.

Goff did some more financial grumbling about unfunded mandates from Georgia, rules that cost the counties money imposed by the state without supplying the funds to cover them. All of the candidates for next year’s gubernatorial election had promised no more of these, said Goff. He warned that if such really does come to pass, residents should watch their heads when they go outside. “When pigs go to flying they’re going to be falling,” he said. “It don’t matter which one gets elected.”

On that subject, Chairman Rumley said he’d met with Public Defender David Dunn who had told him that, as feared, Dade County is now required to pay for legal defense for indigents in probate court. “It’s not something we might do; it’s something that we’ve got to do,” said Rumley. “It’s another unfunded mandate.”

Rumley said the county would not necessarily hire for probate defense Dunn’s lawyers, whom Dade pays to defend indigents in superior court. The county has three other options, he said.

Most business at the Nov. 2 message was routine. As it does every year, the commission passed a resolution allowing the county to apply for a federal rural transportation grant to continue its county transit service, which operates from the Dade Senior Center. County Clerk Don Townsend clarified for the record that the total price tag of the program is $391,480.84, of which $222,567.67 is federal money, $8942.58 from the state, and $159,969.58 the county matching portion.

A separate resolution was made to enable the county to deal with a state contractor, Transit Alliance Group, which administers a supplemental grant that Townsend later clarified was for $41,086.25, to cover the fare for citizens over 60 or those who can’t afford the fare. There is no cost to the county for that.

Finally, the commission OKed an amendment to the county’s soil erosion ordinance, which County Attorney Robin Rogers explained changed it only minimally, in keeping with the county’s legal obligation to adopt the same language as Georgia used its state ordinance.

Another agenda item, an ordinance to establish a city/county joint historic preservation commission—the continuation of a process already begun—was not discussed at all. “We’re in the process of working with the city,” said Clerk Townsend. “We just have to table it tonight.”

In his address to the public, District 1 Commissioner Mitchell Smith thanked Billy Massengale of the county road crew for his vigilance in keeping trees off the roadways.

District 2’s Scottie Pittman said the Four Fields were bursting at the seams with fall sports. “It’s that time of year again,” he said. Jail trusties were helping keep the park up, said Pittman. The walking track is in the process of being patched and painted, said Pittman. “It should be done mid-November hopefully, weather permitting,” he said.

District 4’s Allan Bradford in his monthly State of the Dump address said the county transfer station was clean and gleaming and had handled 504 tons in October. He urged all to remember the Veterans Day parade Saturday, which forms up at Moore Funeral Home at 10:30 a.m. If anyone knows of World War II vets, please call him so they can be honored in the parade, said Bradford. His number is (423) 413-0245.

The commission made routine reappointments to community boards but still needs someone to serve out Dora Crisp’s unexpired year on the Dade County Board of Tax Assessors. Interested parties should contact the county at (706) 657-4625.

In Chairman Rumley’s own address, he said the county Industrial Development Authority had a hot prospect for a new manufacturing plant that would use so many millions of gallons of water and generate so much sewage that he had met with Tennessee Water and the Chattanooga sewage officials at Moccasin Bend to make sure Dade could handle it. Apparently Dade can, but the prospective investor remains wreathed in mystery. “They said it was not a food processing plant of any kind,” said Rumley.

The county boss also said federal money is now available for fixing or replacing residential septic tanks near Lookout Creek after a long slow study through a Clean Water grant. “We’ve got some pretty bad situations, and Lookout Creek is where we get our drinking water,” said Rumley. Those with eligible septic tanks should call the county—(706) 657-4625.

Dade County Public Library manager Marshana Sharp (left) told the commission that Trick or Treat Alley, the Halloween event the library cosponsors with the Dade Chamber of Commerce, was a huge smash, with about 1600 people walking through the library. She thanked jail trusties for helping put up decorations—yet another kudo to Dade’s Men in Yellow. Ms. Sharp said that in weeks ahead the library will be a construction zone, with parking spaces added outside and a small recording studio inside.

No one appeared from the C of C, a not infrequent occurrence in recent months.

But County Agent Katie Hammond (below) appeared to report on county 4-H, which she said is now teaching “adulating” classes. The ​​next one is on common tools and how to use them, she said. She said 4-Hers had recently carried away many bags of garbage in a big Lookout Creek cleanup, and would now be offering BB and 22 gun classes courtesy of the program’s valiant volunteers. Call her office at (706) 657-4116 if interested.

The Dade County Commission meets at 6 p.m. on the first Thursday of each month in the Dade Administrative Building.

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