Streetscapes Project, Budget, More Holidays On City's November Agenda

The Trenton City Commission hears from citizens Audrey Clark and Sharon Morris (left and right at end of table), who wished the city to take over the road at the old Payne Cemetery.

The Trenton City Commission on Monday was unusually well attended and unusually focused on city beautification. Besides hearing from a nonprofit group about new signage for the town (see preceding article), the commission also got an update about the longstanding and long-delayed Streetscapes project begun under a previous administration.

Peter Cervelli (left) was there to preside over discussions. The Streetscapes initiative began in his years as Trenton’s Better Hometown manager, when the transplanted New Yorker was installed at City Hall chasing economic development opportunities and grabbing grants for the town. Streetscapes was originally meant to spiff up the entire downtown area by burying power lines, with grant money paying the largest share of the cost and the city contributing a smaller matching portion.

The project had seemed to die with Cervelli’s ouster from City Hall. His position was eliminated in 2012 under Trenton’s previous mayor, Anthony Emanuel. But Cervelli didn’t go away entirely—he was snapped up by the Dade Industrial Authority (IDA) and is now ec. dev. czar for the whole county—and neither did Streetscapes. The project last surfaced at a city meeting in July 2016, when Mayor Alex Case announced he had signed a memorandum of understanding to provide $72,000 in matching funds for $369,000 of work.

In the interim, grants changed and money was diverted for other uses, so that now the figures have changed to $288,000 in grant funds with $95,000 local matching, and the scope has shrunk from the entire downtown area to the town square around the historic Dade courthouse. Here is an ARCADIS map of the target area.

The mills of Streetscapes will continue to grind slowly if not exceedingly fine: the mayor said work was not slated to begin on the beautification project until September 2019.

Mayor Case’s recent illness had postponed scheduled budget work sessions and he had no figures or schedules printed out to share with The Planet, but he proposed and the commission approved a tentative 2018 city budget of $1,684,000, setting a public hearing on it for 6 p.m. on Nov. 30. The mayor said anyone who liked could view the budget beforehand at City Hall; but it remained unavailable by this writing on Friday.

The mayor said projected revenues for the 2018 budget were up $165,495 over this year’s. He said the sewer budget was $340,700 and that $2000 a month was to be put back into the general fund for contingencies. He said the budget included an increased amount to be paid to Trenton’s out-of-town city attorney, explaining that three workers’ compensation cases against the Trenton government had generated a goodly hike in legal fees. Expenses were also up for health insurance, he said, owing to new hires taking family coverage. “It was a big hit,” he said.

Other interesting developments at the Nov. 13 meeting included the reappointment of City Clerk Lucretia Houts (with Case, left). “As you all know, we had a charter and legislative change for our city clerk,” announced the mayor.

In fact, if that is a generally known factoid it is not the doing of Mayor Case. This was his first (public) mention of the commission’s stealth removal of the clerk job as an elected office. Without prior (public) discussion, the commission slipped onto its November 2016 a resolution asking the Georgia legislature to change the Trenton City Carter to make the city clerk an employee serving at the commission’s pleasure as opposed to an elected official answerable to the voters. The measure was enacted in May, without (public) acknowledgement or announcement by the mayor or commission.

Now, though the commission has secured itself the right to oust Ms. Houts, and though presumably her elected term will not end until Dec. 31, Case announced on Monday that she will continue to serve in the position she has held since 1990 “until we decide she don’t.”

Citizens Audrey Clark and Sharon Morris addressed the commission during its work session to ask that the city adopt the road around the old Payne Cemetery north of downtown. Volunteers did what they could to maintain the road, said Ms. Clark, but their means were limited. “There’s no grant money for cemeteries,” she said.

Mayor Case was sympathetic—“That’s where my family is buried, too”—but the citizens received little hope the city would help. “We can’t go in and take over a road that’s not already fixed,” said Fire/Utilities Commissioner Jerry Henegar. He offered to sit with the citizens and go over the pertinent city ordinance. “That road has been in existence for longer than any current ordinance,” said Ms. Clark.

Streets Commissioner Monda Wooten was absent, having informed the mayor she was stuck in traffic while on a business trip.

Other items on this month’s consent agenda included approval of $9056 in SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax) funds for licensed software for records management. The commission also moved $500 from its sidewalk fund to purchase capital equipment. Also approved were three more holidays to the city’s calendar, bringing the total of off-days from 11 to 14 yearly.

Police Commissioner Sandra Gray, though present at the meeting, was suffering visibly from a cold or flu and Trenton Police Chief Christy Smith (right) stepped in and spoke up to give the commissioner’s monthly report. Chief Smith said police fines in October had amounted $16,744,44 for a year-to-date total of $187,533.41 so far.

She said the police department had done well collecting Christmas gifts for Trenton’s children and elderly but: “We can use a little extra of everything.”

She said church safety had been on the PD’s radar since the recent mass shootings at a Texas church. Dade Sheriff Ray Cross held a meeting on the subject earlier this week and now a more comprehensive meeting is planned for 8:30 a.m. on Saturday, Feb. 10, at Trenton United Methodist Church. Chief Smith was worried about copycat murderers—“The next person just wants to outdo the last”—and suggested as one simple safety measure that cops should attend their own church services in uniform.

Commissioner Henegar said his own house of worship had addressed the issue already by packing more heat into the pews. “We have on the average eight to 10 people that are carrying at each service,” said Henegar.

Readers wishing more information on either the church safety meeting or donating Christmas gifts for children and the elderly may reach Chief Smith at City Hall—(706) 657-4167.

Commissioner Gray did strain her flu-ravaged voice long enough to introduce a newbie at the TPD; K-9 Officer Evo. Evo, a springy adolescent black German shepherd, was on duty that night with his human handler, Eric Hartline, and both popped in to say hello. “This is his live-in partner,” said the commissioner, explaining that Evo goes home with Hartline and shares his life 24/7.

Parks and Recreation Commissioner Terry Powell said that with evenings closing in for the season, Jenkins Park is now closed at dark, when the bathrooms will be locked. Powell also said work is being done toward installing new sidewalks at the park. And he reported that the Trenton Civic Center had been rented out 131 hours in October.

Commissioner Henegar said October had been Trenton’s busiest month for fire. He delegated Trenton sewer super Dewayne Moore to tell the commission about an even busier period for sanitation. “We took a big hit last Friday,” said Moore, exhibiting a ruined and mysterious object. “This was a sheath for one of the pipes and it actually melted it.”

Lighting strike, explained the sewer chief (right). It had happened Nov. 3. The city’s whole sewer system was affected, and crews worked tirelessly through the night. Environmental laws preclude a cessation of operations. “We just had to kind of triage it,” said Moore grimly.

Moore said it is still unknown how much the disaster will cost. Clerk Houts said she was filing an insurance claim.

In his own address, Mayor Case said he was attending a regional meeting with Dade County Executive Ted Rumley later in the week and that Rumley is exploring grants to buy land along Lookout Creek and build a reservoir and lake there, a project the city, county and water authority are cosponsoring, and for which the county has paid $50,000 to option the acreage. “Water is a life necessity,” noted Case.

Tree City President Eloise Gass said her group is presently planting pansies in public places. Dade Public Library manager Marshana Sharp told the commission the library’s Food for Fines program is in effect for November, so overdue fines may be paid in canned foods. The library is under construction with a major grant, she reminded: “We’ll have a recording studio by the first of next year,” said Ms. Sharp. Also coming is a new emergency generator so the library can be a community center in case of disaster.

Cheryl Painter of the Dade Chamber of Commerce reminded all of the Dade Small Business Expo, Dade Discount Days and Christmas parade, all on or beginning on Dec. 9. “We’re giving away thousands in prizes,” she said. With 62 local vendors at the Dade Expo, which begins at 10 a.m. in the Dade High School gym, local Christmas shopping—the whole focus of Dade Discount Days—should be easy and convenient. School choirs will perform and Santa will be on hand. In a fascinating aside, Ms. Painter promised that this year’s fat man in red will be less creepy than the 2016 avatar.

Larry Marshall has been named grand marshal of the Christmas parade. Call (706) 657-4488 to register for floats, said Ms. Painter, or don’t. “Most people just show up,” she said.

After the regular meeting, the commission went into executive, or closed-door, session until 8:45 p.m. Returning, the mayor had no actions to announce but said he had updated the commissioners on the status of the three workers’ comp cases against the city.

The Trenton City Commission meets at 6 p.m. on the second Monday of each month at City Hall.

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