Splat! Trenton City Commission Shoots First Squirt in Water (Board) Fight

January 15, 2019

Trenton Mayor Alex Case and City Commissioners Terry Powell, Jerry Henegar and Monda Wooten in a file shot.


A great deal of the Trenton City Commission's Monday night meeting was devoted to discussion of matters touching the city's joint meeting with the Dade County Commission and governing board for the Dade Water Authority, slated for 6 p.m. tonight. And if comments at the city meeting are any predictor, that joint meeting tonight should be lengthy and lively. 


The matter of reforming the water board--the subject of tonight's confabulation--was not even on the evening's agenda, but when it became clear the city commissioners were spoiling to cannonball into the water question anyway Jerry Henegar, Trenton's Fire/Utility commissioner, requested the agenda be amended to include it, then dove on in: "We've had hydrant issues," he said.


Henegar said firefighters needed to know, when racing to a fire, where they could attach a hose to a hydrant. But these days, he said: "You look over there and that hydrant's gone."


He said the Trenton Water Authority, Dade's independent water company which is governed by the water board, does not communicate with the city about what it is doing hydrant-wise. Moreover, he said, it does not maintain water hydrants in the city. On the north side  of town, a hydrant in front of Gross Furniture was sitting with a bag over it, said Henegar, and southward, not one hydrant was working between the CVS and Case Hardware. One had been damaged in a car accident and never repaired, he said. "That's been out what, one year? Two years? Three years?" asked Henegar.


And furthermore, said the commissioner, whose purlieu includes not just firefighting but the sewer plant, which the city operates, Dade County and the water company had in the past extended the sewer system into the county without consulting Trenton. "We need to say yea or nay, we can handle it or we can't," said Henegar.


Trenton Mayor Alex Case, who has also argued the case that the city needs more input into the water board, leapt right into the issue as well. "They've told us in the past they were not in the fire protection business," he said.


(Or should we say "SPLOSH?")

And he made another splash when he claimed the water company had used money from SPLOST--the special purpose local option sales tax money collected by local businesses for use by the city and state for capital projects--to pay for 87 fire hydrants that now sat unused outside the water company.


The Planet this morning asked Doug Anderton, manager of Dade Water, if there were really 87 fire hydrants sitting unused outside the water plant. "I was thinking there were about 60," said Anderton.


He said the water company bought the hydrants in lots of 100, and that they were usable according to what size line they would tie into. Some were older and some were just not the right size to replace missing ones, said Anderton. "They're inventory, so to speak," he said. 


Anderton said the mayor was wrong about the hydrants costing SPLOST money. "He should know this," said Anderton. The procedure had been that the water company bought the hydrants, then applied for reimbursement from SPLOST when a hydrant was installed, so that the ones that hadn't been installed had not cost any SPLOST dollars. "The water authority paid for those hydrants, not SPLOST," he said.


Anderton said the hydrant in front of Gross Furniture needed parts that had had to be ordered and that his crew would be out to fix it "any day now." He said the staff had been kept busy fixing leaks recently and just hadn't gotten to it. And he said a hydrant was missing from South Main because of a leak caused when a gas main was put in when the new Fred's store went in. The city had been supposed to give him a new location for the hydrant but had never gotten back with him, said Anderton.


At the Monday night meeting, Mayor Case had said the water company needed more equipment and to double its staff. "I guess it depends on what they're willing to pay for," said Anderton, asked to comment on that.   


Anderton said the fire hydrant misunderstandings between the city and the water company had a simple and very human root: Preston Daniels. Daniels was Trenton's longtime maintenance chief and general factotum and when he retired no one stepped in to do all he'd done: "All the years he worked for the city, he took care of the city's hydrants," said Anderton. 


Anderton could not remember exactly when Daniels left but thought it was, what, one year? Two years? Three years ago?  


Mayor Case explained that before the water board was reshaped in 2010, members were named by a grand jury. After the 2010 reshuffle, appointments to the board were made by the county commission. The city hopes this time to have a say on the water board.


 New Trenton City Clerk Russanna Jenkins poses with Mayor Alex Case.


In other business at the Jan. 14 meeting, the mayor had a big personnel announcement: Russanna Jenkins will start work Jan. 22 as Trenton's new city clerk, training under current clerk Lucretia Houts until the latter's retirement at the end of February. Ms. Jenkins is now the deputy city clerk of Rossville and her new job will make for a shorter commute: She is a born-and-bred Dade resident who lives on Back Valley Road, said the mayor.



Ms. Houts held her job as an elected official for 29 years. She would have been up for reelection in 2017 but Mayor Case and the sitting commission under cover of executive session petitioned the Georgia legislature to change the clerk job to an appointed one under their control.


Another piece of Trenton city business was the denial of a rezoning request from a Scenic Drive landowner who wished his property to be changed from a combination of R1, or single-family residential, and R2, which allows for apartments and duplexes. He wished the whole property to be designated R2 to make it more attractive to prospective buyers. Two hearings had been held last week to allow the neighbors to weigh in. Mayor Case and the commissioners said the hearings had been well attended and the neighbors were uniformly against the change. "I think we all feel the same," said Case. Thus the land zoned R1 will remain that way.


After a brief discussion, the commissioners agreed to cash in a $250,000 certificate of deposit. Part of the money was immediately needed to pay bills, said the mayor. The commissioners elected to deposit the rest into the checking account until it became evident how much more they might need and how much could be returned to reserves.


Nevertheless, Mayor Case reported that Trenton was in good financial shape and had finished the year with $111,932.38 in the general fund, having come in under budget with a "net gain" of $6,700.


During his monthly report, Parks and Recreation Commissioner Terry Powell said winter was slow season at the city park but that the Trenton Civic Center had been rented 142 hours in December. He also said the city animal services department had handled 90 animals during 2018.


Monda Wooten, streets commissioner, said her department had spent the month cutting rights of way and cutting down beaver dams. Mayor Case interjected that with all the rain recently and the cold weather coming soon to make things worse, city residents should call at once if they see potholes on Trenton roads. The number for City Hall is (706) 657-4167.


Fire/Utility Commissioner Jerry Henegar said that the sewer department's backup generators had performed as billed Friday before last when electricity went out all over Trenton. "We never missed a beat," he said.


Reporting for the Trenton Police Department in the absence of a police commissioner--a lack which will be remedied by a special election March 19--Police Chief Christy Smith said collected fines for December were $19,427.69. Chief Smith did not give a year's total for 2018 but according to The Planet's feeble math that should be $286,248.17 when added to last month year-to-date report of $266,820.48. 


The chief said Trenton police had gifted 70 elderly city residents during its Silver Bells Christmas drive. And she asked residents to keep her officers in their prayers considering that barely halfway into the new year there had already been multiple police deaths in the region. "We know that at any time that could be one of us," she said.


Dade Public Library Manager Marshana Sharp invited any teen to report for the library's finance classes that will begin at 7 p.m. tonight, taught by Leisa Cagle. She invited any family with at least one child 6-10 years old to enroll in the library's Prime Time Family program, a six-week program that begins in February. The whole family is welcome at these programs, which include supper, activities and prizes. Both programs are free. Call the library for more information at (706) 657-7857.


Dade Chamber of Commerce President Kathleen Reed reported that the C of C was considering new digs on the Trenton town square that would allow it to move out of its current location in the old Trenton railway depot. "We are hitting this year with a new sense of vibrancy," she said.


But Ms. Reed would not say yet how the chamber would pay for its relo. When the C of C last year considered moving out of its obscure housing, which houses Dade's tourist information center but is a challenge for tourists to find, the fact that the depot belongs to the county, and is paid for, was a relevant factor in the dropping of the initiative. Ms. Reed said she could say more after the chamber board meets tonight.


She also announced the C of C's annual awards banquet will be on April 13 this year. A theme will be announced later.


No announcement was made at the Jan. 14 meeting of Trenton's rewriting of its alcoholic beverage announcement, which Mayor Case had said at last month's meeting would be discussed at this one. But questioned after the meeting about it, the mayor said the ordinance had been updated to include distilled spirits as permitted by the city's 2017 referendum. He said there was no reason any city restaurant wishing to apply for a license to sell hard liquor should not go ahead and do so now.


The Trenton City Commission meets at 6 p.m. the second Monday of each month. The next meeting is on Feb. 11. 

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