The Dade County Commission (Commissioners Robert Goff, left, and Allan Bradford visible) heard from a number of anti-TSPLOST citizens at its March 1 meeting, including Joanne Reynolds, who also spoke in September before the first TSPLOST referendum.
Not much was on the agenda for the Dade County Commission’s regular March meeting last Thursday, but one or two items of note did arise, and the ongoing parade of citizens standing up before the commissioners to protest the reintroduction of TSPLOST—the transportation local option sales tax that would raise Dade sales tax from 7 to 8 cents on the dollar—was enough to keep proceedings lively.
First, Stacy Stephens, Dade’s parks and recreation director, stood up to ask for regular SPLOST funds to build four pavilions at the county park. (SPLOST, for the uninitiated, is the regular special project local option sales tax already in effect, which the county uses for capital expenditures such as buildings or vehicles, including roads but not specifically designated for transportation, as TSPLOST would be.) As noted in the previous Planet article about the pavilions—see the Planet homepage to access—the commission approved Hartline Construction’s bid of $15,720 per pavilion, with a discounted bulk price of $56,500 for all four.
Next, Maj. Tommy Bradford of the Dade County Sheriff’s Office patrol division asked and received final approval for SPLOST funds to pay for the three new patrol cars he had requested last month. The commissioners approved the low bid Bradford had obtained from Prater Ford for $26,336,18 per vehicle, plus $579 for an auxiliary rear air conditioner for the one to be used as a K-9 unit. Dade Executive Chairman Ted Rumley noted that the county tries to buy three new patrol car each year, and the major stipulated it may take several months to receive the new cruisers.
Next came Alex Case, Dade’s emergency services director and incidentally the mayor of Trenton, asking for final approval for SPLOST for the county’s portion of two new emergency warning sirens to be largely funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The cost breakdown is a federal share of $62,211, state, $8,295, and Dade’s matching funds, $12,442. The county had already placed one of these super-duper alert systems outside the government building complex in downtown Trenton in December 2016 (right). The next two, explained Case, will be installed near the county athletic complex known as the Four Fields and at Davis School atop Sand Mountain.
The units transmit a piercing warning siren that can be heard over a considerable distance—Executive Rumley said the one at the Four Fields should easily carry to all the campuses of the nearby Southeast Lineman Training Center as well as up Lookout Mountain—and can also be used to impart voice instructions in emergency situations. Case noted that two of the tornado shelters he discussed at a previous county commission meeting will be installed at the same sites. When? He couldn’t say. “The shelters are still in FEMA’s hands for approval,” said Case.
District 4 Commissioner Allan Bradford asked when the West Brow community could expect its own shelter. Case said he was working on it but at present West Brow didn’t have the required space to accommodate the building and adequate parking. “North Dade is in the same boat,”’ he said.
On the subject of emergencies, Case (left) urged all to get signed up for emergency text and phone warnings from Hyperlink, which anyone can do at either the county or city of Trenton website. “You have to opt in to get that,” he warned. Those sites are dadecounty-ga.gov and trentonga.gov.
The commission approved county equipment to be surplussed and auctioned off at govdeals.com, including an old fire truck, tanks and some printers. It also agreed—grudgingly, specified District 2 Commissioner Scottie Pittman—to extend its agreement with S&ME Inc. for groundwater testing of the long-closed Back Valley landfill. The county is still required to test for toxins coming from the old dump, at a cost of $14,000 this year, though it maintains that only traces remain of any contaminants from the site.
Also on the agenda were agreements with Dade’s volunteer fire departments, but County Attorney Robin Rogers advised tabling them until after a meeting with the fire chiefs scheduled for this Monday, March 5. He similarly advised postponing a resolution establishing a joint Trenton/Dade historic preservation committee, pending further actions by the city. That resolution has been delayed from month to month for some time now.
County Clerk Don Townsend said the county’s budget-planning cycle is now kicking off. “Hopefully we’ll see something probably by May 3,” he said.
During the formal part of the meeting, District 1’s Mitchell Smith commented solemnly on the national school-violence spree which recent events testify is now touching Dade. “It’s here,” he said.
Commissioner Pittman (right) of District 2 reported that four inches of rain had delayed much ball getting played at the Four Fields but said the park was ready to rock when the weather breaks. He also commented on the siren and tornado shelter Case had mentioned to be placed there. “We’re taking protective steps hoping we’ll never need it,” he said.
District 3’s Robert Goff, reporting for sales tax collections, said long-sagging revenues were slightly higher for a three-month period. “Maybe we’re on an upward trend,” he said. He also reminded all of the Trenton/Dade Optimists’ annual bowling tournament on March 25--$20 entry includes shoes, he said.
Allan Bradford of District 4 said Jamie Blevins will be starting new Boy Scout activities this month in the Scout Building in Jenkins Park, and reminded all of the West Brow benefit dinner at 6 p.m. this Thursday, March 8. In his monthly State of the Dump report Bradford said the Dade transfer station had handled 540 tons of garbage—but he wants it to handle more.
“If you have garbage in your yard, it don’t cost you anything to take it to the transfer station,” he reminded. So don’t let it pile up and get unsightly, he urged. “I’m getting a lot of complaints about it,” said Bradford.
In his own monthly address to the public, county boss Rumley issued as he did last month warnings about the thousands more semi trucks he says Dade may expect when Georgia’s new “Inland Port” opens this fall in Chatsworth. “It’ll be kind of like opening a gate up,” said Rumley. He said the long-planned and long-delayed “East-West Corridor," a new highway which he said should touch Dade, may alleviate the traffic. “I didn’t think I’d see it in my lifetime but I think it’s coming,” said the Boss.
He mentioned the Georgia Department of Transportation’s plans to raise two I-59 bridges, those at Daniels Road and the Rising Fawn exit, several inches, which will involve closure for two weekends at Rising Fawn and 45 days on Daniels Road—but neither of those until summer of 2019.
He touched on coming legislation to accelerate rural broadband internet expansion, a sore point in underserved Dade. “If it happens, it will be a big deal,” said Rumley.
Rumley also said he’d been contacted by Whitfield County about the fracking ban Dade passed in November 2016. He said Whitfield was considering modeling its ordinance on Dade’s. “They’re going to move on that,” said the Boss. “They want to try to protect their county, too.”
And he mentioned pending state legislation to change the county executive job in DeKalb County, Georgia. He explained that in DeKalb, the county boss had veto power over the commission, and DeKalb commissioners are fed up with his autocratic ways. But questioned after the meeting, Rumley said he didn’t think the legislation would change his own job in any way. Unlike in many other Georgia counties, in Dade the county executive is an elected official whose full-time job is to manage the county. Before Dade changed to this system, the county commission paid a hired county manager to run the county. Rumley says larger counties may have both an elected executive and a hired manager.
Reporting this time as mayor of Trenton, Alex Case said the parking lot the city bought behind the town square in 2016 is now open and has new gravel on it, plus new signs.
Audrey Clark gave the Dade Public Library Report in place of library manager Marshana Sharp. She reminded all of Read to Lead from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. on March 24 at the library and on the town square, in which local leaders including Rumley and Case will read to children. This year the book will be Charlotte’s Web. Festivities will include crafts, games and a petting zoo. “Everything that goes on that day will be free,” said Ms. Clark.
She also announced the Dade First Glow Run child abuse awareness walk/run on April 27. You can sign up at the library for that one, she said.
Katie Hammond reported on 4-H. She commended Carla Dyer, widow of Ms. Hammond’s predecessor as county agent, Ted Dyer, and mother of 4-H participant extraordinaire Brett Dyer, who graduates this year, for supporting 4-H for 34 years. “This marks the end of a very long era for her,” said Ms. Hammond.
Past Chamber of Commerce President Heather Cochran reminded all that the chamber’s biggest fundraiser of the year, its annual awards banquet, is at 6 p.m. on Saturday, March 17. Former banker John Bradford will be the “roastee” this year, the costume theme is movie stars, tickets are $20 and you can call the C of C for more information at (706) 657-4488.
She also mentioned that the upcoming chamber luncheon on April 20 will feature a talk by a state official on TSPLOST. That luncheon is at noon in the Administrative Building. The Planet will post more details as they become available.
Ms. Cochran also announced another notable county event, a July 4 gala still in the planning stages but to take place this Independence Day, entitled “1945 Dade County Fair.” There will be an old-time baseball game, old tractors and a knock-’em-dead fireworks extravaganza at dark. More on that as details emerge …
The meeting ended, as has become the custom since before the first TSPLOST referendum in November, in citizens standing up to speak against the new tax. Thw November referendum failed, but the commission put it back on the ballot for the May 22 primary this year, a move that has enflamed its opponents.
First on the roster at the March 1 meeting was Joanne Reynolds, who had spoken against TSPLOST-1 at the commission October meeting. “Did not the voters already decide about the TSPLOST?” she asked. “Why is it coming up again?”
Boss Rumley answered that voters had told him, “They thought it was a city election.”
“What are you going to do different this time?” asked Ms. Reynolds. And: “If you get another low turnout, are we going to vote on it again?”
Maybe in two years, was the answer.
Ms. Reynolds said voters were always threatened with property tax increases if they didn’t vote in a new SPLOST. “My property taxes keep going up,” she said. “So that’s not a good argument.”
She questioned the commissioners about their SPLOST project lists and their new hotel/motel tax. “Why do you still need more money?” she said.
John Huffman, who has also addressed the commission before, put his own commentary in the form of a children’s story he had written about the nature of democracy, and which he read to the commissioners in its entirety. It seemed to take issue less with TSPLOST than with the commission’s plan to acquire Lookout Creek acreage for the eventual purpose of locating a reservoir there.
Lastly, Ron Weeks, who is similarly no stranger to the podium of late, stood up to tell the commission: “If you want to know what the people want, you’ve got to ask.”
The commission last month resolved to hold community meetings out in the voting precincts on TSPLOST, but boss Rumley said after the meeting none had been scheduled so far.
As the meeting wound down, Commissioner Goff made a last-minute announcement: This year’s Festival of Life, Dade’s annual fundraising gala in benefit of its own seriously ill residents, will take place on April 14. The Planet will report further on FOL a bit later.
The Dade County Commission meets at 6.m. on the first Thursday of each month in the county Administrative Building.