Vice Chairman Robert Goff, presiding at the Aug. 2 county commission meeting in Ted Rumley's absence, waves an "urgent announcement" from USDA inviting rural counties to apply for loans for water infrastructure.
An announced public update on the Dade County Commission’s controversial Lookout reservoir project was a no-go at the commission’s regular August meeting last Thursday.
“There’s nobody that knows any more about this than our chairman--who is not here,” explained District 3 Commission Robert Goff, who presided as vice chairman at the Aug. 2 meeting in the absence of Executive Chairman Ted Rumley.
Rumley, who in his 10 years as county boss has barely missed a commission meeting, did so Thursday when severe chest pains sent him to the hospital emergency room. Goff said it had been determined Rumley’s heart was fine and that the pains had resulted from an accident the week before, when Rumley fell against his truck door. He had fallen in just such a way as to fracture his sternum at the site of open heart surgery he had last year.
Rumley had been sent home by the time of the meeting but under pain medication and with orders to rest, said Goff. (At the time of this writing, the Boss had returned to work and was doing fine, reported his office.)
Sans Rumley, though, the reservoir update wasn't much of an update. Goff carried on as best he could, saying supplying a reservoir update had been his idea in the first place. “I know that there’s people out there who thinks that nobody wants it [the reservoir],” said Goff. “That’s not the facts. There are people that think it’s a great idea. There’s people that don’t. The reason for some of it is a matter of not enough information, no information or misinformation.”
But information-wise Goff was able to speak only in general terms: “Water will never be less important than it is now.” And: “Everywhere you look, water’s an issue.” He said the proposed Dade reservoir had been mentioned in the Dade/Trenton Joint Comprehensive Plan adopted in March 2017 “before we ever did anything from this table here.” (The commission voted in June 2017 to approve $50,000 to option land for the reservoir.)
He said most people asked first how much it would cost to build a dam for the reservoir. “First of all, it wouldn’t be a dam,” he said. “It would be more of a levee or a berm.”
Reservoirs, said Goff, are all around us, in Fort Payne, Ala., and in neighboring Walker County. He waved a memo from the U.S. Department of Agriculture inviting counties to apply for federal loans for rural water infrastructure projects. “They’re the ones that handle all the grant money for such things as this,” said Goff.
The memo said that billions of dollars had been set aside for water projects nationally, $4 million in Georgia alone.
And Goff touted the recreational side of reservoirs. “There’s people who spend every weekend on a lake,” he said.
He addressed criticism that the commission had agreed to pay too much for the Sells Lane acreage it has optioned for the project, saying state authorities didn’t think $500,000 was steep for that much land. “Are we getting a bargain?" Goff asked. "Probably not. But in their eyes, we are.”
He also responded to accusations that dead cows had been disposed of on the land or in the water: “That happens all up and down the creek," he said. "I pulled a deer out of it myself.”
Anyway, he said, Dade can either plan for its future water needs or sit by and wait until an emergency comes up. “It’s a reservoir for the future of Dade County,” he said.
District 1 Commissioner Mitchell Smith, who is leaving the commission this year, pointed out that the commission had not voted to extend the option to buy the land, and that anyway the option had already expired when boss Rumley extended it unilaterally, with the payment of $25,000 he'd gotten a grant for. But Smith opted not to argue the point with Goff. "I'll save my questions for Ted," he said.
A conceptual drawing of the reservoir by the Santech engineering firm was on display for the public (left).
In other business, the board heard a request from Chris Lowrance of the North Dade Volunteer Fire Department for $9006 in SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax) funds for 11 repaired air packs. He explained they'd be $80,422 if bought new, and that they lasted a long time. "We've got some in the the truck we're still using from 1970," he said.
He got no argument from the commissioners but County Attorney Robin Rogers expressed the concern that SPLOST can only be used to buy equipment, not to repair it, and thus the repaired air packs might not be kosher SPLOST fodder. "They're new to us," pointed out Lowrance, but the attorney said he'd better check on it.
Superintendent of Schools Jan Harris (left) and Carolyn Bradford, chairwoman of the Dade Board of Education, appeared before the commission to finalize the B of E's budget process this year. The commission had to formally approve the school board's rolled-back millage rate of 15.323 since the county tax office is responsible for collecting it. This formality was duly accomplished amid mutual exchanges of courtesy between the two taxing bodies. "Our money is your money and your money is our money," said Goff.
In fact, the commission extracts a 2.5 percent fee from the school board's revenue for the service of collecting it, but--though relations between them have been cordial under the diplomatic tenure of Dr. Harris--the two bodies set their own budgets and county boss Rumley points out with increasing frequency that the school board gets 70 percent of property tax bills while the commission must run the county with the remaining 30. (The Planet's math makes the ratio more like 65-35.)
District 2 Commissioner Scottie Pittman, who lost his reelection bid to Phillip Hartline last month in the Republican primary runoff, made a kind of swan song of his monthly report to the public and the commission at the Aug. 2 meeting. "This is the first time I've been fired from a job since I was 16," he said. But he said Hartline would bring fresh new ideas to the commission and expressed no bitterness at leaving his seat after 16 years.
Rather, Pittman outlined accomplishments during his time at the table, including his strong support of Dade's beleaguered public library (from which the deeper-pocketed school board withdrew all support in 2012, and has yet to reinstate fully) and the repair of White Oak Gap Road in his Sand Mountain district. The mountain road used to need asphalt fixes three or four times a year but had now "stayed fixed" for three years after Rumley and roads chief Billy Massengale had figured out how to solve its drainage problems, said Pittman.
But Pittman seemed most tickled about one accomplishment: "Finally I get to announce that Davis has a walking tract," he said. "It's the best news ever."
The walking track around the inside of the "Bowl" at Davis School was finally paved this summer after years of delay. "We've had tornadoes get in the way, we've had economic disasters get in the way," said Pittman. "We've had floods."
Finally Pittman, whose committee assignment on the commission has been the county Four Fields athletic park, expressed regret at leaving without having managed to replace the playground equipment there, a project the commission has wished to accomplish 10 or 12 years, said Pittman, but delayed because of the prohibitive cost.
District 4's Allan Bradford reported the country transfer station had handled 308 tons of garbage in July, and District 3's Robert Goff was pleased to announce that SPLOST and LOST (local option sales tax that may be used for general purposes) were both up again this month. "I'm going to take it as a trend," said Goff. "I'm going to take it as a blessing."
Sales tax collections had been sagging alarmingly lately, and SPLOST broke $200,000 for the first time in several years the month before. June's number was $206,000 and July's was even better at $215,646.79, said Goff. "That's a lot of asphalt for walking tracks," he said.
Goff also mentioned he'd been to a conference on mental health and the rural problem of jails now doing double duty as mental hospitals was worse than ever. "Nobody was able to say this was going to be fixed," he said. "It's just something that's coming our way."
Trenton Mayor Alex Case said the city police department's "Touch A Truck" fete the weekend before had been a hit with local kids and invited all to the city commission meeting at 6 p.m. next Monday, Aug. 13, at City Hall.
And reporting for his day job as emergency services director for the county, Case said Dade was keeping its fingers crossed about another long-awaited wish-list item, three tornado shelters the county is shortlisted for by the state.
Alison Henderson reported for Dade 4-H, which from her report still seems to be going strong in the absence of a county agent though: "We're still having to direct our ag questions to other regions," she said. Dade's agent was promoted higher in the extension service this year. Ms. Henderson said interviews are underway to replace her.
Meanwhile, Ms. Henderson (left) invited all to 4-H's annual Ag Fair on Sept. 20, from 5-7 p.m. at and outside the Ag Building in front of Dade Middle off Highway 136 West.
Manager Marshana Sharp reported for the Dade Public Library that its popular Summer Reading program had drawn 1600 participants this year. She announced the library would host one of its regular beginning computer classes at 5:30 p.m. on Aug. 28 and reminded interested parties to call and reserve a place for the recurring free class--(706) 657-7857. And she announced that the recording studio the library has recently had installed is at last ready to rock and also roll, though she and the staff are still learning how to use it. (The Planet will report more on the sound studio later.)
Cheryl Allison (right) for the Dade Chamber of Commerce reported that the 1945-themed July 4 celebration staged in its name had been well attended with a "very low complaint level," and that it would continue next year.
Donna Street, who chairs the newly merged Trenton/Dade Historic Preservation Committee, had an unusual request: Contact her if you have or know of a local farm that has been around 100 years or more. "These are kind of a tourist opportunity," she said. "A lot of people will go on just a heritage farm tour."
She said the main Covenant College "castle" building is in the works to take its place on the National Historical Building register.
Ms. Street and other committee members will be attending a training session next week, after which she may have other interesting items to report.
The Dade County Commission meets at 6 p.m. the first Thursday of each month in the county Administrative Building. The next regular meeting is Sept. 6.