The Dade County Commission as it now sits, left to right: Lamar Lowery, Dist. 1; Phillip Hartline, Dist. 2; Executive Chairman Ted Rumley; Robert Goff, Dist. 3; Allan Bradford, Dist. 4.
The only non-routine piece of business on the agenda for the Dade County Commission’s Jan. 3 meeting, restructuring the governing board for the Dade County Water Authority, was left over from last year: With two district commissioners departing at the end of December, it was deemed prudent to leave the matter to be voted on by the two incoming in January to replace them.
And it is not an issue that can wait until February: Unless the commission comes up with the desired changes pretty chop-chop, it will miss its opportunity to ask the Georgia Legislature to pass local legislation changing the water board at this winter’s session.
Nevertheless, the matter will have to wait a couple of weeks. Commission Executive Chairman Ted Rumley explained that Trenton Mayor Alex Case wanted the city commission to have input on the changes, since it operates the local sewer, and the water board itself is also of course an interested party. Thus the three bodies will meet jointly on Tuesday, Jan. 15, to hash out the changes. “The question is, how are we going to structure it,” said Rumley.
The water board was restructured eight years ago to provide for more county oversight after the commission was surprised to learn the Dade Water Authority had partnered with a developer to build a sewer at a luxury housing development mostly in Walker County. The developer went bust and the sewer became Dade’s. That’s when the county executive chairman, then and now Rumley, was also made chair of the water board.
But after the water board voted in November to pay $400,000 of the $500,000 price
tag of a piece of land that County Commission Chairman Rumley had negotiated for to accommodate his controversial pet project, a reservoir on Lookout Lake, many residents have complained that the water board now has a little too much county oversight, and outgoing District 1 Commissioner Mitchell Smith proposed a reorganization removing Rumley from the board.
County Attorney Robin Rogers emphasized that Smith's reorganization of the water board as proposed were fairly basic and needed some refinements; even Smith had thought so, he said. The attorney also emphasized the need for haste in coming up with a reorganization plan, but said he could draft a request for the legislature fairly quickly as soon as the parties agreed what precisely they wanted. Mayor Case explained that the joint meeting couldn’t take place this week because the city commission was holding rezoning hearings this Monday and Thursday.
The joint city/county/water authority meeting on Jan. 15 will be at 6 p.m. in the Administrative Building. It is open to the public.
In other business...
In SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax, from which local governments pay for a number of capital projects) requests, the West Brow Volunteer Fire Department was granted a total of $9,623.31 for equipment and improvements. “We love our firemen,” said County Clerk Don Townsend. But money for a new roof for the North Dade Fire Department will have to wait until someone proposes to build it—Dade County Clerk Don Townsend said the county had received no bids for the work yet.
In other business, Alicia Juhl of the Chattanooga accounting firm Henderson Hutcherson & McCullough presented audit findings for the county’s past fiscal year, giving the commission a clean bill of health. She congratulated the commission on its respectable $3,145,257 fund balance and said its asset-to-debt-ratio was in the comfort zone. “You’re well right in the middle of that range, which is a very positive place to be,” she said.
Lamar Lowery, newly-elected county commissioner of District 1, who had previously held the post for two terms 2003-2010, remarked how much healthier county finances were than in his earlier tenure, and Chairman Rumley agreed: “A lot of counties would give anything to get an audit like this here.”
But snug as its finances may be, the county commission voted as it does every year to seek an $800,000 tax anticipation note, or line of credit, that can be tapped in case of emergencies. Rumley said in a pinch it came out cheaper to borrow needed money and pay the fees than to cash in a certificate of deposit and incur penalties.
Also in matters financial, with Lowery and District 2 Commissioner Phillip Hartline new at the table, the commission passed a resolution allowing them as well as the other commissioners and county officials to sign checks on county accounts.
The commission approved the renewal of its understanding with the Family Crisis Center in LaFayette that serves Dade, Walker, Chattooga and Catoosa counties. Rumley clarified that the county’s financial support of the center came from court fees and fines rather than property tax.
Clerk Townsend said that Windstream Services' “application to amend a state franchise” on the agenda was actually a non-issue: No action was necessary, he said, Dade having made all requested changes in 2014, and collecting a straight 5 percent local commission.
Townsend also reported that the Trenton/Dade Historic Preservation Committee had managed to get the county’s application to be a “certified local government”—a requisite for certain grant applications—submitted on time, and that the state had okayed it; but that with the current federal government shutdown its ultimate approval might have to wait a while.
In his first monthly address to the public during his new term, District 1 Commissioner Lowery expressed his pleasure at being back in public life and his determination to serve. “I take it to heart,” he said.
Newbie Phillip Hartline of District 2, taking over his committee assignment of the county park, said with any luck the refurbished playground at the Four Fields should open in about three weeks, with the athletic fields reopening for the season not that long afterwards. “We’re hoping to hold more tournaments this year and get more people into the county,” he said.
District’s 3 Robert Goff announced SPLOST collections were above $200,000 for the seventh straight month after years of stagnation. Goff was reinstated as both vice chairman of the commission and its monitor of the Georgia Legislature’s doings.
District 4 Commissioner Allan Bradford once again reminded all of this weekend’s upcoming Tire Amnesty Day, when Dade residents can get rid of old tires without paying a fee. It takes place this Saturday, Jan. 12, at the county transfer station on Sunset, and hours are 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Bradford repeated the rules: Only 20 tires per family are allowed, standard car and truck only, no tractor-trailer or commercial tires. Tires must be off the rim and must not be filled with dirt.
“We hope to have enough [jail] trusties there that you don’t have to touch anything,” said Bradford. “Try to get there by 3 o’clock because I’m sure I’ll be ready to go.”
Tire amnesties are paid for by an environmental grant and Dade’s has been long in the coming. The county has a recurring problem with illegal dumping of tires.
In his own report, county boss Ted Rumley also touched on the illegal tire dumping in Dade. Both the DNR and the sheriff’s office are working on it, said Rumley. Citizens can help, too, he said, by making some noise if they see anything suspicious—like, say, a truck laden down with old tires. “Jot the tag number down and call the sheriff,” urged Rumley. “Don’t feel bad about turning someone in like that, because it’s the only way to stop it.”
Send in the flying monkeys...
Rumley also warned that the epic-scale logging on Lookout Mountain that raised protests over the autumn has not really gone away. “When it dries up, they will resume cutting,” he said.
Rumley said, as he had earlier, that protests against the logging had only made the absentee landowners mad, so that they now intended to denude the mountainside entirely. “I’ve got to get back with them and try to calm then down a little bit,” he said.
He assured those concerned about the environmental damage and tourist-chasing uglification caused by the logging that the county was doing all it could, but that even the Georgia Department of Natural Sources seemed toothless in regulating logging, recommending more than ordering or forbidding. “There’s not really a fine,” he said. He mentioned a Fort Payne, Ala., ordinance aimed at protecting that area’s mountainside, but did not seem hopeful about that, either. “There’s got to be some kind of something we can do,” said Rumley. “We can’t stop it. We know that.”
The vengeful absentee landowner of whom Rumley spoke is Elsie Winchester of Boynton Beach, Fla., who inherited the acreage as part of a seven-state real estate empire accrued by her father. Members of the protest group were bewildered by Rumley's reference to their angering her, saying they had never contacted her.
As Hartline had, Rumley mentioned the refurbished playground at the Four Fields and said he hoped more pieces of equipment would be installed soon, possibly before summer.
Rumley brought up the county’s recurring Norfolk-Southern problems, saying trains had blocked crossings at both ends of the county—one delayed Dade’s annual Christmas parade when it parked on the tracks at the industrial park—but said on the bright side it wasn’t as bad as it used to be. “At least they listened and it’s not now like it was even six months ago,” he said.
Mayor Case reported for the city of Trenton that a new city clerk had been hired whose identity would be announced at the city commission meeting on Monday, Jan. 14. In his guise as emergency services director for the county, Case also noted that work would begin installing the new grant-funded new emergency warning towers at the Four Fields and at Davis School on Sand Mountain. The first of these giant alarms (locally known as sireens) was installed outside the Justice Builds in December 2016.
Dade 4-H had some glad tidings: Sarah Flowers, Dade’ long-awaited new county extension agent, had reported for work the day before. Ms. Flowers replaces Katie Hammond, who left at the end of last year. Besides answering farm and garden questions for local adults, an important part of the extension agent’s job is to run the popular 4-H youth program in the county schools. But since this was only day 2 in Ms. Flowers’ overwhelming first week on the job, extension Alison Henderson gave the monthly 4-H report. Ms. Henderson has been shouldering the whole program in the absence of an agent since the summer.
Marshana Sharp, manager of the Dade County Public Library, announced the library has 20 spaces available for its free, grant-funded “Prime Time Family” program and asked all to recommend it to eligible families. These are ones with children 6-10 years old. The program starts Feb. 5 this year and runs
Tuesdays through March 12 from 6-7:30 p.m. Dinner, reading, discussion, storytelling, activities, door prizes and books are provided. The program, explained Ms. Sharp, is proven to improve children’s scholastic performance and help families bond through reading. To join, call the library at (706) 657-7857.
Dade’s gravelly-voiced roads boss Billy Massengale stood up to describe the abrupt incidence of what in a B-movie might herald the beginning of a rural community’s terrifying siege by unknowable subterranean invaders: sudden, serious potholes in county roads. “They’re appearing overnight,” said Massengale. “These are potholes that are busting tires,” chimed in county boss Rumley.
No mention was made of missing livestock or strange nocturnal lights but Massengale and Rumley urged citizens in any case to take the holes seriously and not to wait for someone else to call. If your road has a pothole, please call the county at (706) 657-4625 and a road crew will be dispatched to fix it.
The Dade County Commission meets at 6 p.m. on the first Thursday of each month in the county Administrative Building. The public is encouraged to attend.