Smartboards Stand Out at Dull Board Meeting

July 17, 2019

Central to The Planet’s mission is the concept that local democracy is the purest and most immediate kind. The corollary is that boredom—which is what keeps most people from participating in their local governments—must be a basic building block of democracy. The Dade County Commission’s July 11 meeting had the comforting effect of proving these foundational tenets sound: Not a lot was shaking.

 

One development that stood out in the absence of bigger ones to eclipse it was that the county had acquired a couple of Smartboards. The commission had been urged by critics in recent months to use visual aids like these to allow the audience to follow along with the commission’s discussions, including the columns and pages of numbers commissioners traditionally reference in mumbles, monotones and grunts. The Smartboards helped with the numbers but alas, no critics attended the meeting either to witness the triumph of a suggestion adopted or to spew hellfire about what 

else the guys were doing wrong.

 

As often happens when all else fails, the weather was a useful subject of discussion—it had rained too much on the mountain to get much paving done, said District 4 Commissioner Allan Bradford, while in the valley it had been too hot and dry to do much at the ballfields, said District 2 Commissioner Phillip Hartline (though he spoke of a possible tournament to be scheduled when the weather breaks).

 

The commission tabled, at the request of Fire Chief Rodney Ross, a measure on the agenda limiting eligibility for driving county vehicles to those who had attained legal adulthood. “We’re running into a lot of issues with volunteers,” said Ross. Hard as it is to get firefighters, said the chief, it seemed a bad idea to rule anybody out.

 

The commission announced a special called meeting for 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 8, in the Administrative Building to approve the county’s fiscal year 2020 millage rate, then to approve the Dade County Board of Education’s separate millage rate for school taxes. This is a yearly ritual. The B of E will have its own meeting just prior, at 6 p.m., to set the school tax millage rate. Then its representatives will appear before the commission at the 6:30 meeting for the commission’s blessing amid, usually, polite cries of mutual love and respect. It is a formality in that the county government, though it collects taxes for the schools, has no ability to change its rate or alter its decisions. (It has tried.)

 

But taxes do not seem a source of much drama this year. The county’s 2020 millage rate will be 8.233 for unincorporated Dade, 10.948 for inside the city of Trenton. That’s rolled back a tad from this year’s 8.484 and 10.952, so that the county will collect about the same amount of tax revenue as this year and will not have to hold public hearings, which it does in years when growth in the tax digest generates more tax revenues even though the commission has not raised the rate. Dade County Commission Executive Chairman Ted Rumley said the digest growth would have been enough to raise revenues more had there not also been a surprising uptick in exemptions claimed. “That’s the first time that’s happened since I’ve been commissioner,” he said, “that exemptions were enough to offset growth in the digest."

 

The B of E’s millage rate has not yet been announced. There will be a second public hearing on its budget Monday, July 22, at 4:30 p.m. before the board’s regular monthly meeting at 5 p.m.

 

The Commission did approve a grant application for a second Dade Tire Amnesty Day and Commissioner Bradford announced a tentative date for it: Sept. 14. A tire amnesty is a state-environmental-agency-underwritten event when county residents can dispose of scrap tires free of charge. Dade has a serious tire dumping problem—county boss Rumley said the EPD’s been in town all month about the issue—and an amnesty day this spring was well enough attended to keep the transfer station’s access road clogged all day. Watch these pages for more on the amnesty as details emerge.

 

Photo: Commissioner Allan Bradford (left) supervises as jail trusties and "Your Dade Helper" John Huffman (right) load scrap tires into a truck trailer at the Tire Amnesty this spring. A second amnesty is planned for Sept. 14.

 

District 3 Commissioner Robert Goff announced that SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax) collections for June had been $232,784. “You’d have to go back 12 years ago for a June that good,” he said. SPLOST pays for cars and computers for county government and law enforcement, said Goff, expressing gratitude that recent collections remain healthy after a spate of lean years. “I hope that one day we don’t get the air let out of us,” he said.

 

In his monthly address to the public, Executive Chairman Rumley spoke of the coming replacement of the bridge over Lookout Creek on 136 East and one north of Trenton “in the next couple of years.” He spoke of more immediate action on the county-v.-state problem with the Lookout Lake dam, an issue as old as the dirt of which the dam is made. He had a meeting scheduled in Atlanta for next week with the state Safe Dams office, and hoped correctional construction could start by the end of August. But again, the problem has been discussed for 14 or 15 years now, and the county boss tends toward wild optimism about time estimates.  

 

Rumley also mentioned a meeting he’d attended about problem with Puckett EMS, which provides  ambulance service to Dade along with Walker and Catoosa counties in Georgia and Sequatchie and Marion in Tennessee. “We were all at the table and we’re all having the same issues,” said Rumley. He did not detail either issues or outcomes.

 

Rumley covered the recent resignation of County Coroner Johnny Gray and the appointment to replace him of Courtney Gross, the nurse practitioner who had run for the job against Gray in 2016. Rumley said Fire Chief Rodney Ross had first been named deputy coroner but had learned it would interfere with his retirement. Instead, Trenton’s fire chief and assistant fire chief, Jerry Kyzer and Ansel Smith, will be Ms. Gross’s deputies.

 

Rumley also hinted that a prospective industry being wooed by the Dade Industrial Development Authority in its usual mystery-date mode—“It’s some sort of code name,” he said— might possibly have succumbed to whatever enticements IDA was offering. and move in soon. “Maybe in the near future Mr. [IDA director William] Back will have an announcement for us,” said the county boss.

 

Rumley made a brief and vague reference to another phantom-in-the-mists project that had piqued the county’s interest in recent months: an ambitious hydroelectric pump storage facility in the remote Cole City area of Dade. His message boiled down to: We’ll keep you posted.

 

Background: A FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) permit application had been filed by Adam Rousselle II as agent for Renewable Energy Aggregators (2113 Middle St. Suite 205, Sullivans Island, S.C., 29482, email address arousselleii@reaggregators.com, phone number 215-485-1708). The land on which the facility was to be built was shown on the permit application, a public document. But, Rumley learned when one of them called him in alarm, Renewable Energy Aggregators had never contacted the owners of the land parcels to ask about buying them for the project.

 

Renewable Energy Aggregators has remained unreachable by phone and email to answer the local press’s questions about its intentions in Dade. But, revealed Rumley when questioned after the meeting, the company’s father-and-son principals had visited Dade recently to meet with the disgruntled landowner in the county commission office. Rumley said he had understood the parties to be talking about a purchase price for the land in question but that he had left them to it, not feeling it to be his business. “She just wanted to meet in a public place,” he said of the landowner.

 

Rumley promised to make public anything he subsequently learns about the whats, whens and ifs of the renewable energy project.

 

Marshana Sharp, manager of the Dade County Public Library, reminded all of library events including a free series for diabetics at 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays, July 16, 23, 30. There is also a book signing and reception for select local authors this Saturday, July, 20 from 11 a.m.-1 p.m.

 

She further announced a monster job fair for Aug. 27 at the library, 1-7 p.m. Gill, Lake Region and other large local employers had urged the library to help them recruit workers, she said. “They’ve got a lot of jobs open in Dade County,” said Ms. Sharp.

 

Dade 4-H Educator Alison Henderson, reporting for the popular farm/school program, used the new Smartboards to show photos of the kids’ trips to Rock Eagle, Jeckyll Island, the U.S. Space and Rocket Center  in Huntsville, Ala., a livestock summer camp and the sheep Show.

4-H Educator Alison Henderson uses the new Dade Smartboards to show what fun the farm group kids are having this summer.

 

The Trenton/Dade Historic Preservation Joint Committee’s Donna Street invited the commissioners to a Sept. 5 “Cave Symposium” at the library led by “famous caver Marion Smith.” It is doubtful whether the commissioners, or in fact the local press, can take her up on the invitation since it coincides with their regular September meeting.

 

Ms. Street said the preservation committee had received the $15,000 grant it had sought to complete phase 1 of a historical survey of Dade, that being the Trenton area. If you live in a house that’s over 50 years old, she said, someone may arrive to take a photo of it. She’s looking for volunteers to help with the survey—readers may contact her at donnam.street@gmail.com.

 

Before completing a rather anemic consent agenda, the commissioners agreed to change the word “hay” to the word “agriculture” on their contract with Jack Sells, the farmer the commission and local water company paid half a million dollars for a Lookout Creek parcel he is allowed to continue farming. The county and water company plan an eventual drinking water reservoir on the property, but until construction starts lease the land back to Sells at a minimal rent so that he will keep it maintained by raising—what? There’s the rub.

 

The contract with Sells said he was to raise hay, and trouble arose with ratepayers resentful of what they saw as a sweetheart deal in the first place when he planted corn instead. This change of a specific word to a general word on the contract represents the culmination of an extended and often surreal discussion of what cows eat and what the contract allows Sells to grow for them that took place across two governing bodies and over months. But, like practically everything else at this uneventful July meeting, this denouement slid om by without making much of a stir.

 

In this drama desert, Dade soil conservationist Stephen Bonteroe stood up to introduce himself to the public and make known his works: helping keep water clean, directing farmers to USDA programs, controlling erosion. “Overall it’s about taking care of the natural resources we have in Dade County,” he said. He may be reached at (706) 657-4174.

 

Finally, the Bank of Dade’s Audrey Clark took to her feet to congratulate Commissioner Hartline on organizing his recent successful softball tournament at the Four Fields county park. “I think a lot of our businesses benefitted from that,” she said. “I just thought it was a benefit for our whole town.”

    

The commission held a brief executive, or closed-door, session to discuss real estate, but came back after only a few minutes to announce the no action had been taken.

 

The Dade County Commission meets at 6 p.m. the first Thursday of each month in the county Administrative Building. That schedule was skewed this month by the July 4 holiday. The next regularly scheduled monthly meeting is Aug. 1.

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