The Dade County Commission's regular August meeting on Thursday was mostly devoted to shoving numbers around on county balance sheets, but there were a few interesting moments.
Dade County Chamber of Commerce President James Cantrell announced the C of C has a new director, Charlie Gray of Rising Fawn. Gray (left, with Dist. 4 Commissioner Allan Bradford in background) is a retired store detective who worked at K-Mart and Big Lots. Originally from the Saint Louis area, he has lived in Dade since 2002. His main goal? "I just want to see new business here," said Gray. Gray replaces current director Zach Stone, who is leaving to take a new job.
Citizen Rex Harrison (below, right), who so regularly attends commission meetings that an absence causes Dade County Executive Chairman Ted Rumley to inquire after his health, took the podium during the citizens' participation part of the meeting. Harrison's complaint: a Wildwood resident, he'd witnessed Dade County Transit vans dropping off passengers at the methadone clinic there, which he found an improper use of taxpayer funds.
The facility in question is the Tristate Treatment Center off Highway 299 at the I-59 Wildwood exit. It opened in 2012 amid fierce local opposition. Methadone clinics treat opiate addiction with a program that includes administering doses of the narcotic methadone hydrochloride, which proponents say stabilizes recovering addicts and helps them kick their habits and rebuild their lives. Opponents characterize methadone as an addictive drug itself and methadone clinics as a way to bring addicts into their neighborhoods.
In 2012 the Dade County Commission, presumably taking the latter view, tried to block Tristate's opening with a land-use ordinance but learned after a brief skirmish with opposing counsel it could not legally do so. Furthermore, the commission ran into hot water with the local anti-zoning faction for drafting restrictions as to what county residents could and could not do with their property. The ordinance was quietly ditched and the clinic opened without further incident.
Questioned after the meeting, Chairman Ted Rumley described a similar legal situation with the county transit vans. "It's the law," he said. The county transit vans are public transportation, he said, and there is no reason they shouldn't take riders where they wanted to go. "It's just like taking a bus," he said.
Rumley referred The Planet to Annette Cash, who manages the transit program for the county. Ms. Cash was in the audience because, coincidentally, reapplication for the federal grant that largely funds Dade Transit was on tonight's agenda.
Ms. Cash (left) explained that Dade County currently operates six transit vans available to any county resident who needs a ride. Originally the vans were associated with the Dade Senior Center and served only senior citizens, but about five years ago the service was opened to the general public, she said.
The fare to ride the vans is $3 one way and $6 round trip to Chattanooga, $2 one way and $4 round trip within the county. The vans regularly take county residents to doctors' offices, grocery stores, pharmacies and sundry locations to pay their bills, locally and in Chattanooga, picking them up at their homes. Ms. Cash said the vans take riders to downtown Chattanooga and the major hospital areas there. Residents wishing to take advantage of the service are asked to book three days in advance and the drivers do what they can to oblige them, though there are limitations. "We're not a taxi service," said Ms. Cash.
The rules and fares are spelled out at the transit page of the county website. Here's the link:
http://www.dadecounty-ga.gov/transit-schedules-and-fares.cfm Or readers may call (706) 657-7324.
As to delivering riders to the methadone clinic, Ms. Cash said the vans currently have one rider who goes there. In the past there have been as many as two or three, though seldom more than one using the service at a time, said Ms. Cash. "We're here to help," she said.
Some number shuffling
The commission, as it does every year, voted in favor of applying for the grant that funds the transit program. The total program cost is $260,919, with $130,459 kicked in by the Feds and the other half in local matching funds.
The commissioners also voted to approve County Clerk Don Townsend's proposed amendments to fund allocations for the county's 2009 and 2015 SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax) projects. Counties and municipalities use local option sales tax to pay for certain capital projects—buildings, renovations, fire trucks—specified in each year's SPLOST, but Townsend explained that the original amounts set aside for certain projects had to be adjusted to reflect the actual amount of tax revenue that had come in to pay for them. "They have to agree for the math to work out," said Townsend. He said no SPLOST he knew of had ever avoided such amendment.
Townsend also got approval for what he said he hoped would be the final amendment to the county's 2016 budget, explaining that grant money coming in for the Industrial Development Authority (IDA) and going right back out to fund an IDA project necessitated the formality on paper, though it did not in reality change the amount of revenue the county collected nor the expenditures outlaid.
As for FY2017, the commission will hold a special called meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 18 to adopt a millage rate for the year's budget. Since the rate is projected to remain constant—it's currently at 10.666—or even roll back minutely, Townsend said that public hearings are not required.
Jailer Joseph Chambers of the Dade Sheriff's Department sought and was granted the commission's approval of a bid by Southern Health Partners to provide health care for inmates at the county jail. He said the average population of inmates is around 80 at any given point, and the county is responsible for providing them health care as well as feeding and housing them. The bid provided by the health care provider detailed the annual cost of its service as $115,920, or a monthly premium of $9660. Chambers said this was a little cheaper than what the county had been paying previously.
The commission approved designating as surplus and auctioning off county property including a 2008 Chevrolet Impala.
In his monthly address, District 1 Commissioner Mitchell Smith reported on the progress of GDOT's project of replacing the I-59 bridge over Highway 299. Smith said the bridge was due to be slid into place in May of 2017 but he reminded the commissioners that delays are not unheard of in projects of this kind. Meanwhile, he said, watch for workers and: "Please be careful."
District 2's Scottie Pittman said that goalposts at the Four Fields complex were about to installed and he bragged that one of the fields had been rented there for a girls' softball tournament, not a huge accomplishment but a step in the right direction. "That's how you get started," he said. "This is something we've been talking about for a year, year and a half."
Commissioner Robert Goff of District 3 reminded all that a long-demanded referendum for alcoholic beverages by the drink would be on the ballot in November general election. Those "fer" and those "agin" will have their chance to vote yea or nay, he said, and: "It's not for us to tell you either one." Last day to register to vote in that election is Oct. 11.
Goff also said that the new Vanguard Trailer plant that IDA brought to Trenton has now begun training employees. "Some people are going to work and that's a good thing," he said.
District 4's Allan Bradford said he had spoken to GDOT and been promised that holes would be filled this week on Dade's troubled sections of Highway 136 East, and that actual resurfacing of the road should begin within 30 to 45 days. He said he'd pointed out that Cloudland Canyon, accessed via 136, is the state's most visited park, and that the road is in such shape that: "I wouldn't want to drive a fire truck over that too often."
Chairman Rumley thanked local driller Frank Wallin for helping with the aforementioned goalposts – Wallin's expertise was needed when it was found that the goalposts were to be installed in four feet of solid limestone.
The Boss also said that construction had started hot and heavy for the new Fred's "supercenter" on South Main, with a projected opening date of Jan. 1. "It could be earlier than that," he said. Rumley mentioned as well that the Jack's food chain had expressed interest in coming to Dade.
Fixin' to be Fred's: Doesn't look like much now but by
January this lot on South Main is slated to be a Fred's
Rumley encouraged all to check on elderly neighbors to make sure they were surviving this summer's relentless heat.
Donna Street, who is spearheading the renovation of Dade's historic courthouse, was not present but sent in a report via Clerk Townsend: Fundraising is going great guns, with $5200 deposited into the bank account and 16 windows "sold"—the capital campaign is asking for a $1000 pledge to name one of the courthouse's renovated windows for some honoree. Townsend said two more had been snapped up since Ms. Street turned in her report.
Ginnie Sams reported for the Dade County Public Library that summer reading had wound down there and that the preschool Ready to Read program would commence at 10:30 a.m. Aug. 18. Photos for the library's National Park Month contest should be turned in by Aug. 26 and a winner will be announced Aug. 30, when there will be cake, punch and a slide show on the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service at 7 p.m. Call the library for information on any of its programs at (706) 657-7857.
Audrey Clark of Trenton Telephone/TVN said the company had started installations of fiber optics in the Highway 301 area but still had no date to announce for launch its 1-gig-per-second internet capacity.
The Dade County Commission meets at 6 p.m. on the first Thursday of each month in the county Administrative Building.