Dade County Commission Thinks About Thinking About Hotel-Motel Tax

September 6, 2016

                    Rising Fawn Fire Chief Roger Woodyard petitions the county commission for a new

                    fire truck. Response: Try again later.

 

County Clerk Don Townsend dispensed information packets about a possible hotel-motel tax to Dade County commissioners at their regular September meeting Thursday night—but not, he explained, with any request that they pass an ordinance authorizing such a tax.  

 

"It's to prepare you to start thinking about an ordinance," he clarified.  

 

Dade is one of the few counties in Georgia that does not have a hotel-motel tax, said Dade County Executive Chairman Ted Rumley. "We're missing out on a tremendous amount of money," he said.  

 

Townsend said the primary purpose of a hotel-motel tax—the name of which has changed since Dade first started discussing it to "accommodation tax," he added—was to promote local tourism. The city of Trenton uses its hotel-motel tax to fund the Dade Chamber of Commerce, he said. Trenton Mayor Alex Case, attending the meeting in his capacity as county emergency services director, confirmed that about $20,000 of the city's hotel-motel tax goes yearly to the C of C. 

 

Dade doesn't have that many hotels today, said Townsend, but passing an ordinance now would make matters easier in the future.  

 

In point of fact, unincorporated Dade has no hotels, but Chairman Rumley says rental cabins, including lodgings for students at the lineman college, would count. Townsend said the county could tax rentals of the cabins at Cloudland Canyon only if it reinvested 100 percent of the tax into promoting the state park, but "Why would we not want to do that?" he said. Dade wants as many tourists at the park as possible, and they should buy some gas and a burger while they pass through, he said. 

 

No action was taken on the accommodation tax.  

 

Another for-information-only subject was the "D-TIP," the proposed Dade Transportation Improvement Program. In 2012, the TSPLOST, a 1-cent addition to the sales tax across Georgia to pay for transportation projects like roads and sidewalks  was roundly rejected by state voters in a referendum. But since July 1, 2016, said Townsend, small, rural counties like Dade have the right to propose their own transportation-specific local-option sales taxes of half-a-cent to—if they partner with their cities--a whole penny. 

 

Some of the projects the county penny would pay for must be big, major ones the state approves, but the long-discussed second Trenton exit off the interstate fits that bill neatly, said Townsend.  Furthermore, he said, that transportation penny would allow the county to shift other funds around for other purposes, such as helping its volunteer fire departments (about which more later). Townsend also noted that Dade was the only northwest Georgia county that voted for TSPLOST.  

 

In any case, said Townsend, it's as well to plan big projects now in case the new president to be elected in November starts out his or her administration by spewing stimulus money. "I'm all about having shovel-ready projects this year, because we got left out a couple of terms ago," he said. 

 

The T-DOP is in its embryonic stages. The Planet will report on any developments as they occur. 

 

In other business, the commission approved SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax) funds for  the county's share of eight emergency generators and the cost of installing them, subject to agreements with the other entities sharing use of and responsibility for them, the Dade County Water Authority and city of Trenton. The generators will keep water and sewage pumped in the event of power outages such as the extended one after the tornadoes of 2011 that left Dade briefly without safe drinking water. A bid by local vendor Lawson Electric was approved for the generators' installation. 

 

The bulk of the cost—85 percent—will be covered by the state and federal emergency management agencies, though Dade's 911 director, Alex Case, warned the commission the funds will be reimbursed to the county by the agencies rather than paid up front. The numbers provided by County Clerk Don Townsend were $1,130,181.90 for the generators plus an installation fee to Lawson of $209,500, for a total of $1,339,681.9. Dade's 15 percent of that comes to $200,952 and change. 

 

"It's a lot of money but it's an unbelievable deal," said District 2 Commissioner Scottie Pittman. 

 

The commission also OKed $27,926 in SPLOST funds for a Ford 350 truck for Public Works. 

 

Trenton volunteer fire departments did not fare as well in the SPLOST department this month. Rising Fawn and New Salem fire chiefs Roger Woodyard and Rodney Ross appeared before the commission to ask for new  fire trucks. Two in the county were over 20 years old, said Woodyard, and had already been taken out of service. A new basic edition, no frills, bells or whistles, just a tanker that could cart 1800 gallons of water, can be had right now for $250- to $260,000, he said, while cost was expected to go up to $305K shortly.  

 

Could it wait until the next SPLOST, said Chairman Rumley? SPLOST collections are down, said Clerk Townsend. The commissioners also asked: How much could the cost be defrayed by selling the old tankers as surplus? How about leasing as opposed to purchasing? Or buying used? 

 

"We're not in it just to grab trucks," reminded Woodyard. "We were able to lower the ISO rating for most of the community."  

 

In the end, the firefighters were not refused outright but invited to come back with specific figures. 

 

 

Entrepreneur Nathan Roberson (left) had the misfortune of following that act with a presentation of his firm's "pictometry" service. This is enhanced aerial photography that Roberson said could benefit a county's police, emergency services, transportation, tax assessment, court and utility functions by giving officials a clearer idea of what the county looked like. "What you guys would get is literally five views of every square foot in the county," said Roberson.   

 

The commissioners agreed it was a valuable service and promised to discuss it with department heads, but declined to come up with the asking price of $94,000 after having sent their volunteer firefighters away empty-handed. 

 

 

Up next was Paula Duvall, Chief Appraiser of the Dade Tax Assessor's office (pictured here with County Attorney Robin Rogers). She agreed that "pictometry" would be a great tool for her department, though not great enough, she replied to Ted Rumley's inquiry, to give up any member of her staff for. 

 

That's not what Ms. Duvall had come for. She had appeared before the commission to report on the performance of Dade's tax assessing function. She reported that Dade's tax assessments had been judged even-handed and consistent with actual real estate sales for 2015, the latest data available. "We're right in line," she said.  

 

The commission also approved a pay hike to its trash vendor from $26.76 to $26.86 a ton.  

 

In his monthly address to the public, Chairman Rumley discussed city-county plans for a traffic light in front of Dade High on Highway 136 East—after the meeting he said he hoped to have it in service by the first of the year—and said the county had hired a new environmentalist to replace retiring Joe Lee. In his capacity as mayor of Trenton, Alex Case reported that all the work being done in town at the intersections is to bring sidewalks into compliance with ADA (the Americans with Disability Act), making them wheelchair friendly.  

 

Appearing for the Dade Public Library, manager Marshana Sharp announced that the library will hold a basic computer class at 6 p.m. on Sept. 27. This is National Library Sign-up Month, she said, so if you don't have a library card, stop by the library and sign up for one and you may win a $25 gift certificate. She also reminded all that the library has practice tests for the SAT and many job tests you can take for free at the library. 

 

 

Charlie Gray (at left, standing, with Commissioners Robert Goff and Allan Bradford), the new director of the Dade Chamber of Commerce, announced that this Saturday, Sept. 10, is the C of C will host its Dade Days festival in the Trenton town square from 3-8 p.m.  

 

Robert Goff of District 3 said a local couple who enjoy playing tennis at the county's decaying tennis courts have volunteered to repair them themselves. Meanwhile, Goff reminded all that the high school's tennis courts are open. District 4's Allan Bradford said that the big hole on Highway 136 has at last been filled, and that the road will be resurfaced "later." 

 

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

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