Districts 1 and 2 commissioners Mitchell Smith (left) and Scottie Pittman bid the Dade County Commission adieu at its Dec. 6 meeting.
Sand Mountain residents crowded into the Administrative Building on Thursday for the last Dade County Commission meeting of the year to say emotional goodbyes and thank-yous to Scottie Pittman, the District 2 commissioner who represented them for 16 years and who will leave the commission this year after losing his reelection bid for a fifth term.
"The last time we had this many people in the room, we were talking about raising taxes, and not everybody was friendly," joked Pittman during his monthly report to the commission and public.
During that address, his last as commissioner, Pittman reminded the audience of the commission's accomplishments during his tenure, including building a kitchen for the county jail that he said has halved Dade's bill for feeding inmates, plus, said Pittman: "According to what people say, the food's quite a bit better."
(Editor's note: Which might be considered a slap in the face to Randy's, the since-closed restaurant that catered Dade's jail and made its lockup cuisine a local legend with its home-baked bread; but presumably Pittman has not sampled the prison provender personally, and anyway there's no accounting for taste.)
The county has bought and upgraded paving equipment, went on Pittman, allowing it to bypass high bills from contractors. "We can pave twice as many roads as we did in the past for half the cost," he said.
Pittman also touched on the flourishing and refurbishing of the county's Four Fields athletic complex, which has been his committee responsibility, the county transfer station--"You can't compare it to other counties'"--and the new walking track in the Davis community. He thanked animal welfare activist Ann Brown for helping the county deal with its stray animal problem and expressed regret the county had failed during his four terms in office to build an animal shelter. "It's something the county dearly needs," he said.
And he reminded all that Dade had on his watch finally managed to legalize liquor by the drink, though he admitted, "That's still a work in progress." He suggested the county should in going forward consider Sunday alcohol sales, and said he'd been told by the owner of the new Jefferson's in Dade, who also operates one in Alabama, that Dade's licensing fee was double the one there. "The [alcohol] ordinance was never in place to keep people out," he said, urging citizens to give the commission time to improve it.
Pittman concluded that he'd learned during his 16 years that women were just as good at cussing him out as men, and he wished his successor, Phillip Hartline, all the best.
The cheering section for District 1's Mitchell Smith, who will also be leaving the commission this year after deciding not to seek reelection. was smaller but no less vocal at the Dec. 6 meeting.
As he did at several recent meetings, Smith made stands against Dade's proposed reservoir and in favor of reforming the Dade Water Authority board of directors (see previous article). Otherwise, he pointed out that his term had included tornadoes and floods in Dade, and that during his eight years the commission had managed to stash some money in the bank in reserve funds.
On the subject of the county's financial health: "This is good news for a change," said Dade County Clerk Don Townsend. He said the county had received $401,000 in income it hadn't expected, consisting in an insurance dividend and repayments and grant money from the Federal Emergency Management Authority trickling in from the tornadoes of 2011. Applying that to the current budget not only erased this year's deficit, said Townsend, but resulted in a $132,620 surplus.
The commission will, however, be shelling out more than it expected to refurbish the playground at the Four Fields athletic complex after hearing an informative talk from park manager Stacy Stephens on the ups and downs of various ground covers. The days of sand on playgrounds are over, he told the commission; that had been settled long ago. In question now is what to replace it with, and how much it is going to cost.
New playground equipment is up at the Four Fields, but sand and the piles of gravel visible in the middle ground will make way for Barky Beaver wood mulch.
Rubber mulch was Stephens' first choice, but cost ruled that out, he said. It ought to be affordable, as it's made from recycling old tires, but if all trace is not removed of the steel belts that fortify tires the shreds can cause injuries to children playing in the mulch. Thus the process of getting all the steel out with magnets and the cost of defending and insuring against lawsuits have driven up the cost.
So wood mulch wins by default, said Stephens, but: "We can't just go buy mulch and put it on the playground." It has to "engineered wood fiber," specially processed so as to avoid sharp edges, he said. Luckily, a firm called Barky Beaver could supply a 12-inch layer of the stuff for $6597. The mulch will have to be replaced periodically, said Stephens, but should be easier to maintain than the old sand.
The commissioners approved Barky Beaver's bid unanimously. "I like the name," said District 3 Commissioner Robert Goff, who presided over the meeting in the absence of Executive Chairman Ted Rumley.
Public Defender David Dunn asked the commission as he does every year to approve his office to handle constitutionally mandated indigent legal defense for the county. "Having our office in place saves a considerable ton of money," he said. He said the contract this year was the same as last year's with only dates and names changed, although: "In terms of case load, you guys have had a considerable jump this year."
He warned he might have to charge more next year, especially as the 2019 Dade Superior Court calendar contains an additional January criminal term. Dade usually only holds criminal trials twice a year, in April and October. The special January term starts with a calendar call on Jan. 10, then criminal trials beginning the 14th.
Commissioner Smith recommended resubmitting bid requests for a new roof for the North Dade firehall. The commission also routinely approved an application for its annual FTA (Federal Transportation Authority) grant for public transportation. Clerk Townsend explained that the local match for the $377,785 total cost of the Dade Transit program is $151,941 for the July 2019-June 2020 period the grant app covers. Additionally, the commission passed an amendment to the FTA procurement policy to make it consistent with state and federal versions.
In his address to the public, District 4 Commissioner Allan Bradford, as has for several months running, reiterated that Tire Amnesty Day, the grant-funded day to bring scrap tires to the county landfill for free, is Saturday, Jan 12. He also said that the transfer station had handled 557 tons of garbage in November.
Commissioner Goff had good news: "For the six month in a row, we had over $200,000 in SPLOST [special purpose local option sales tax]."
The commission reappointed Darrell Pardue to the Alcoholic Beverage Control, or so-called "beer," Board; replaced Dr. James Cantrell with Bobby Lee Walters on the Dade County Board of Tax Assessors; and reappointed Charles Breedlove to the Dade Water Authority Board of Directors and Buford Stephens to the Limestone Valley Resource, Conservation and Development (RC&D) Council.
Manager Marshana Sharp reported for the Dade County Public Library that the library is kicking off its new Teen Leadership Council on the 18th. "We'll be teaching a different leadership skill each month," she said. If interested, readers may call the library at (706) 657-7857.
Donna Street spoke for the Dade Historic Preservation Society, explaining, as had Clerk Townsend earlier, that Dade had become a "certified government" and organized the preservation committee as it had in order to qualify for grants to, among other projects, renovate the historic county courthouse. "Our building is a treasure and we've got to figure out how to turn it into a center of commerce," said Ms. Street. She urged other residents to use their brains and energy to help with such projects rather than giving the government hell full-time.
But citizen John Huffman had some to deal out, reminding the commissioners that the last time he'd stood up to ask questions Chairman Rumley had promised him he'd have all the information he wanted in a couple of months. Now that time had elapsed and: "I thought there'd be this big reveal and I haven't seen that." He complained that Dade had stopped making its employees' salaries public in 2014 and had not yet acted on making its resolutions available available for public perusal before commission meetings.
Citizen Patrick Hickey stood up to thank Dade for its hospitality on behalf of the family of a young Louisiana girl who was killed during the county's weird and tragic string of fatalities just before Thanksgiving.
The Dade County Commission meets the first Thursday of each month at 6 p.m. in the Administrative Building. The next meeting is on Jan. 3.