Dade County Commission: Taxes, Transit, Secret Dope Gardens

July 10, 2017


Besides setting the county’s fiscal year 2018 millage rate for property taxes and scheduling  public hearings for the same (see previous article), the Dade County Commission at its regular July meeting on Thursday solidified plans to put the proposed county TSPLOST (transportation special purpse local option sales tax) on the ballot for the combined Trenton city/Dade County election in November and changed the due date for property taxes.


Which sounds dull, but Dade County Executive Ted Rumley also described finding a field of marijuana growing wild and free off New Home Loop, and retired educator Donna Street sent out feelers toward revisiting the controversial “65-5” tax break which indemnifies senior citizens from paying school tax on their mansions, however stately.


Read on.


First, TSPLOST: Earlier, the commissioners had approved an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) with the city of Trenton to combine city elections in November with a countywide referendum on the proposed new 1-cent sales tax. This month, they approved the TSPLOST referendum itself.


Dade shoppers and gas tank fillers currently pay a sales tax of 7 cents on the dollar. Of that, 4 cents goes to the state of Georgia. The remaining 3 cents are county taxes: 1 cent for LOST, local option sales tax, which is channeled back into the general fund to reduce property taxes; 1 cent for SPLOST, special purpose local option sales tax, which can be used for fire trucks, police cruisers, renovating the old courthouse or buying land for a Lookout Creek reservoir, et cetera; and 1 cent for ESPLOST, the education SPLOST, which the local school system uses for everything from musical instruments for the school marching band to this summer’s renovation at the high school.


If the November referendum passes, the local sales tax will go up to 8 cents. The extra penny will be divided 75/25 between the county and city for roads, bridges, highway exits, sidewalks--anything transportation-related. “We can even give it back to the taxpayers as a decrease in the millage rate,” said Chairman Rumley, who is championing the TSPLOST.


Rumley said some Georgia counties that have adopted the TSPLOST have been able to eliminate their normal road budget--a major expense for counties. Citizen Donna Street, present at the meeting to represent the Dade Public Library, reminded all that the tax could be used to help Dade and Trenton comply with advice for promoting tourism, to “clean up our front porch and get our city walkable” with sidewalks.


The referendum is Nov. 7 at the county Administrative Building. It is combined with Trenton’s city referendum on changing its liquor ordinance to match the one the county adopted this year after last November’s referendum. The county referendum gave the nod to hard liquor in Dade restaurants though the commission with its ordinance regulated such sales virtually outside the realm of possibility. Currently, Trenton’s ordinance only allows wine and beer.


Keeping question of 65-5 alive

Before we leave the subject of the combined referendum entirely, we should add that the aforementioned Donna Street asked the commission if the Board of Education might be allowed to put a straw-poll question on the ballot regarding the controversial 65-5 tax exemption.


A straw-poll question is a non-binding asking of public opinion. The Dade liquor-by-the-drink referendum began life as a straw-poll question in 2012. The 65-5 tax exemption is a local tax break enacted in 2005 that lets homeowners 65-and-better off the hook for the school part of real estate taxes on their homes. The school tax is about 75 percent of the county property tax; some residents have built some fairly stately mansions on the brow property with which Dade’s long flat mountains abound; and everybody who doesn’t die that year gets one year older; so that 65/5 is costing Dade’s schools a fair piece of change which only gets larger with each passing year.


“They [the school system] need to find out what the people feel about it,” said Ms. Street. County Attorney Robin Rogers said he would find out whether such a straw poll question could in fact be placed on the November ballot.


 Angie Galloway (end of table) of the Dade Tax Commissioner’s office appeared before the commission to ask that the due date for property taxes be changed from Dec. 20 to Nov. 15, moving it away from its Grinch-like proximity to the Christmas holiday. Of course, that bumps it up a month earlier, but Ms. Galloway also asked and was granted permission to show leniency for tardiness the first year.


The change will not take effect until 2018.


County Clerk Don Townsend said he had received only one bid so far for the renovation of the historic Dade County courthouse downtown. So far, observers may have noticed work done on replacing the old building’s windows and installing an elevator. Out for bid is a more comprehensive reno of the stairways and first and second floors. Bid opening is scheduled for 2 p.m. this Wednesday, July 12, at the administrative building.


The commission approved SPLOST expenditures of $48,000 for a used fire and rescue truck requested by South Dade volunteer firefighter Roger Woodyard and $28,600 for resurfacing of the walking/runnimg track at the county’s Four Fields athletic complex on Highway 11 South.


Fishing for businesses

Peter Cervelli (right) spoke before the commission about his new role as economic development director. The city and county commissions as well as the quasi-governmental Industrial Development Board had all voted recently to combine their economic development functions into one entity. “Unfortunately, that entity is me,” said Cervelli.


That entity sort of already was: Cervelli had directed IDA part-time for years and before that had done similar work for the city. When this new, full-time position was created, funded by all three entities, the county commission had said it would advertise the job in case other qualified candidates wished to supply. Cervelli said after the meeting if the agencies had interviewed anybody else, they hadn’t told him about it.


 Moving forward, said Cervelli: “We’re going to need to do some management of resources. What do we want to focus on?”


One area he expected would figure was recruiting retail as well as manufacturing businesses that “match our demographics.” He described the county’s disappointment when a Captain D’s franchise fell through. “They were hot to be here,” said Cervelli. But as it turned out, the franchiser had specific population and traffic guidelines and Dade apparently didn’t look like it could eat enough fish.


Cervelli said another focus was increasing tourism--“We’ve got things that people can’t buy”--and sussing out some way to encourage people to build more rental housing, for which there appears to be a great deal more demand than Dade currently has supply.


Donna Street, speaking for the Dade Public Library, reminded all the library could check out a free Zoo Atlanta pass good for the whole family. The library only has one of those but it also has four Georgia State Park passes, necessary for driving into Cloudland Canyon or any other state park.


She said anyone interested in obtaining a copy of the library’s Dade County history photograph book, completed this spring, may order and pay for it and collect it when the library’s new publishing operation catches up with demand. Call the library for more information at (706) 657-7857. On the subject of history, Ms. Street also asked anyone with copies of local newspapers from 1908-1928 to contact the library about it.


Talented Rabbits


County Agent Katie Hammond (below), giving the 4-H update, said 4-H-ers have now started a rabbit-keeping project and will stage a rabbit talent show in September. There will also be an Aug. 1 seminar about starting September vegetable gardens.


Chairman Rumley added that the county has recently accrued

 seven canners from Bradley County, which 4-H will take charge of for community canning projects. “I think it’s going to be big.” said the Boss. For more information on canning, rabbits or vegetable gardens, readers may call the county agent’s office at (706) 657-4116.


The district commissioners had a singular lack of much to say during their public addresses this month. District 1’s Mitchell Smith said, “Watch for falling trees in all this wet weather.” Looking it up, The Planet found an internet source that claimed 100 people in the United States die yearly from trees falling on them, and another that put the number at “almost 700.”


District 2’s Scottie Pittman had nothing to say, and District 3’s Robert Goff was absent. County Executive Rumley said Goff was doing well after having unexpected but minor and quite successful heart surgery.


Allan Bradford of District 4 said in his monthly State of the Dump address that the transfer station had processed 615 tons of garbage in June.


In his own report, though, Chairman Rumley more than made up for the sparseness of his compeers. The Boss reported on the continuing depredations of Norfolk Southern on Dade’s transportation system: “Now we’ve got back to the problem of them using our railway here as a parking lot,” said Rumley.


Once again, he said, idled trains are blocking crossings, particularly on driveways in the north end of the county, preventing residents from getting to and from their homes. It’s a public safety issue, said Rumley. What if there were a medical emergency? “I promise you we’re working on that,” he said.


The Boss also spoke of the long-awaited traffic signal at Highway 136 East at the high school. The lights, he said will soon be tested. “They will definitely be working before school starts back,” he said.


 And he mentioned plans for a broadband tower in the north end of the county, to facilitate high-speed internet that schools in particular increasingly depend on, and which students increasingly need to do their homework. Federal and state dollars are available for such a project, said Rumley. “We’re going to do what we can,” he said.


Close, but no reefer

 Finally, the Boss’s big dope find: Rumley reported that he was checking out a problematic culvert on New Home Loop--“Not too far from your house,” he told District 2 Commissioner Scottie Pittman--when he noticed healthy stands of what looked like marijuana growing on both sides of the road.


Questioned about the extent of the find after the meeting, Rumley said the plants were six to eight feet tall and “as big as my arm.”


Rumley speculated the stands had grown from someone scattering seeds out a car window--“It’s not something that grows wild”--as opposed to trying for a secret garden. “It was right there in the right of way,” he said.


What did the Boss do? Turned the whole matter over to the Lookout Mountain Judicial Circuit Drug Task Force, of course, and he had no idea what happened to it from there.


The Planet, of course, inquired. Task Force agent Matt Cole answered that in cases like this, in which no one can be charged with a crime, the task force routinely destroys the crop. In this case, though, it wasn’t a priority, said Cole, because the weed crop turned out in the end to be, well, weeds.


Cole said that Rumley’s marijuana ringers--which the task force acquired on June 29-- had passed two field tests for marijuana but in the final microscopic analysis had proved to be something with not quite so many tiny hairs on its leaves as cannabis.


“It was very close,” said Cole. “I’ve been testing marijuana for years and it was the closest thing to marijuana I’ve ever seen that turned out not to be marijuana.”


So: Sorry, Boss, close but no cigar--or whatever.


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

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