After a July meeting that may have set records in the yawn department. the Dade County Commission's regular August meeting Thursday night was a virtual Indiana Jones adventure, complete with a cautious foray into the perilous area of zoning and a bolder exploration of the sale not just of spirituous beverage but of spirituous beverages on the Sabbath Day.
First, zoning: Dade is a rural county whose denizens treasure the right to do as they please with their property to a level that county boss Ted Rumley once opined that a politician can get crucified faster for uttering the Z-word than for raising taxes. Nevertheless, the specter of a chicken processing plant in scenic Wildwood evidently proved stronger than fear of anti-zoning blowback, because Rumley and the district commissioners voted 4-1 to pass a "resolution opposing poultry, swine, and other animal slaughterhouses and processing plants in residential areas of Dade County."
Rumley and the commissioners made it clear that what they were passing was a resolution as opposed to a law. “This is not an ordinance," said Rumley. "This is what you could call voicing our opinion.”
County Attorney Robin Rogers explained that the resolution simply puts the county commission on record as opposing meat processing plants in Dade by reiterating positions already laid out in Dade's county/city joint comprehensive plans and solid waste management plan as well as metro planning organization positions adopted by the city of Chattanooga and surrounding regional governments. “It brings all those together for someone who is interested in looking at that,” he said.
"I think it’s a good first step to protect the citizens of Dade County," said District 1 Commissioner Lamar Lowery. "We want to welcome industry with open arms," he added--but not the sort of industry that would be detrimental to the citizens of the county.
The resolution refers to "noxious odors and other effects emitting from such facilities" as harming the "existing enjoyment and use of the agricultural and residental areas" of the county and being "contrary to the development plans previously adopted by Dade County."
District 4 Commissioner Allan Bradford had some thoughts on "noxious odors." A lot of counties are requiring a 1000-foot buffer zone for animal processing plants, he said; and what about requiring them to plant cedar trees? Cedar trees take away the odor. Anyway, he said: “If we pass this, would it hold up in court?”
District 3's Robert Goff, looking fiercely around at representatives of the Local Press, expressed dread lest he be quoted as speaking in favor of zoning, but acknowledged that chicken plants were a real worry in Dade since “Chattanooga run ‘em all out.” In a previous case, said Goff, the commission had failed to prevent the establishment of a methodone clinic in Dade because “We started too late.”
[In point of fact, Dade's 2011 anti-methadone-clinic ordinance, according to The Planet's long and merciless memory, also faced some opposition of the Z-word variety but was ultimately shot down by the clinic's attorney on the basis of the Americans with Disability Act. But back to our story:]
In this case, said Goff, he was cautiously in favor of the resolution despite a general disinclination toward land-use restrictions “I can vote for this but again, where do you stop?” he said.
It was District 2 Commissioner Phillip Hartline who cast the sole vote against the resolution, though his was also the only voice speaking up for zoning. "The more and more we talk about this, the more and more I’m for zoning,” he said. Without it, said Hartline, there was no way the commission could control the way the county grows. As it is, he said, what Is a residential area? What is an agricultural area? "How do we differentiate?" he said.
Also, what was an animal processing plant? A guy on Highway 11 processed deer for hunters, said Hartline. Was the resolution against him? What about the clean, sanitary slaughterhouse in Flintstone he used for his grass-fed cattle? Was the resolution aimed at facilities like that, that benefit small local farms? If Dade did have zoning, it could allow certain facilities in areas zoned agricultural and prohibit them in areas that were not. But: "Right now I don’t agree with this because we don’t have zoning," said Hartline.
The others outvoted him, though, and the anti-chicken-house resolution is on the books--though what kind of teeth it's got will not be tested unless or until a processing plant tries to move in and the commission opposes it.
Moving on to Booze
If the Aug. 1 meeting was an Indiana Jones adventure, Phillip Hartline definitely got the Harrison Ford role. It was Hartline who took on the next ancient monster in the dusty tombs of Dade: the county's enduring blue laws. Specifically, he suggested putting a referendum as to Sunday sales of alcohol sales on the upcoming 2020 ballot.
“I don’t think it’s going to make a huge difference in how many people have it on Sunday,” said Hartline. But keeping Sunday sales illegal in Dade means people will keep going to Chattanooga and spend their booze money there, he pointed out.
And while we're at it, said Hartline, why not legalize package sales of alcohol in the county? Currently, beer and wine may be purchased in grocery stores or gas stations in Dade, but hard alcohol only by the drink in restaurants.
If these intimations of a brave new world, in which a denizen of Dade can stop on the way home from church and buy a bottle of whiskey, have given the reader culture shock, be comforted: Hartline, the newest commissioner, was careful to add the same familiar disclaimer as all his peers and predecessors on the commission who have ever taken up the booze question: “It has nothing to do with me because I do not much care for liquor,” he said.
County Attorney Robin Rogers said the Sunday sales issue could be decided by a resolution from the county commission leading up to a referendum by the people. Package alcohol sales, however, would have to start with a petition signed by around a third of the registered voters before it could go to referendum. An effort to do this is currently underway in the city of Trenton. “You’re more likely to get that in the city than in the county," said Rogers, because of the fewer number of voters.
Commissioner Jones, er, Hartline also took issue with a clause in Dade's liquor ordinance referring to areas within two miles of a highway exit. No action was taken on that at the Aug. 1 meeting.
Nor was anything but discussion accomplished on the final suggestion of our action hero we will discuss here: enforcing Dade's building code. The days when people built a house and lived in it until it fell down or they died were over, pointed out Hartline; more commonly now, a contractor built a house, the owner lived in it a couple of years and then sold it to somebody else. As such it should be built to normal minimal standards.
What about the person who wants to be build his own house? asked Executive Chairman Rumley. "What is the issue about someone coming behind him?" said Hartline. This was just normal building stuff, he said: “If you’re building a quality house, you're not scared of somebody coming and looking at it.”
Again, no action was taken.
Nor was any taken on a proposal to limit drivers of county vehicles to those over 21 tabled last month at the request of Fire Chief Rodney Ross. This month, Ross agreed to confer further with the county attorney about the terms of the proposed measure.
In other business, Lecia Eubanks, regional director of the Cherokee Regional Library of which Dade's is a branch, came before the commission to ask for $3900 in SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax) to satisfy the local share of a grant for new LED lighting for the library. The commission sent her away to get more information. Specifically, Rumley said the county could probably handle installation of the lights itself more cheaply than the contractor Ms. Eubanks had lined up. If so: “Are we still eligible to get paid by this grant?” he asked.
Ms. Eubanks also had a proud announcement to make: The library had been awarded a $39,992 grant to further the Next Chapter program developed by Marshana Sharp, manager of the Dade library, and Joseph Chambers, jailer at the Dade County Sheriff's Office. Next Chapter is an anti-recidivism education program for inmates. (You can read an earlier Planet story on it by clicking the picture of Joseph Chambers and Ms. Sharp at right.)
Ms. Eubanks explained that Chambers frequently provides Ms. Sharp jail trusties to help with library projects and programs and that Ms. Sharp takes the responsibility of dealing with them to heart. “They always come away from the library feeling better about themselves,” she said.
Next Chapter offers inmates a curriculum of job as well as "soft skills" and life hacks--good manners, good nutrition, reading to children--aimed at helping them enter the job market and family life as opposed to reentering the convict population once they're paroled. The courses are offered online, and Ms. Eubanks said most of the grant will go toward hiring someone to put together coursework.
Ms. Sharp in her own report to the commission said that this school year's rendition of the library's popular Ready to Read programs kicks off Aug. 15 at 10:30 a.m. August at the library will be devoted to helping job-seekers and on Aug. 27 there will be a huge job fair with all Dade County's major employers attending. The job fair is from 1-7 p.m. at the library.
Also, on Thursday, Aug. 22, at 6 p.m. the library and "Dade Tree Hugger" Jennifer Blair will host the second in a waste management series that began this spring with "Wasted: The Story of Food Waste." Call the library at (706) 657-7857 about any of these programs.
Extension Educator Alison Henderson reported on Dade 4-H. She said she and Dade Middle School science teacher Fancher Nakhleh (pictured left, with Ms. Henderson at a prior 4-H event) had been forestry coaches at Rock Eagle this summer and are starting a forestry team for Dade students this fall. Dade 4-H-ers will also be helping out with the new aftercare progran at Davis School this fall. Aug. 12 at 6 p.m is Dade's awards night, and the State of Dade Lamb & Goat Classic is Aug. 31, the Family Ag Fair Sept. 26. from 5-7 p.m. so that parents can attend.
Ms. Henderson is looking for employers in Dade County to mount displays for 4-H's version of career day on Oct. 30, which helps students choose pathways toward eventual employment. “They’re not making the best choices because they don’t have enough information,” she said. Anyone willing to help should call Ms. Henderson at (706) 657-4116.
Donna Street reported that the Dade Historical Society will have a session at the library in October to let people know what's going on with historic preservation. Dates and times to be announced. Meanwhile, the society will have a "cave consortium" at the library on Sept. 5 with guest speaker Marion Smith, whose specialty is civil war caving history. “We’re the cave capital of Georgia, maybe the country,” she said. On Sept. 6, she said, the Trenton United Methodist Church will have a luncheon honoring veterans at noon. Dist. 4 Commissioner Allan Bradford also announced a veterans' benefit information session at the American Legion at 10 a.m the next day, Sept. 7.
On the financial front, Commissioner Goff reported that SPLOST collections are still healthy--“It’s our highest month yet in the year”--after years of sagging. County Clerk Don Townsend said tax collections may look slow right now but leave 'em alone and they'll come home, the late ones bringing in more revenue than the timely ones. “They’ll come in at more than 100 percent because of interest and penalties,” he said.
Here are a few more tidbits: Boss Rumley said the long-delayed fix at the Lookout Lake Dam may start by the end of August, and when it does it will keep the road across the dam closed for three to six months. “I should have a complete set of plans tomorrow," he said. Meanwhile, West Brow will be moving its polling place from the community center to the volunteer fire department because of safety and lighting concerns. Speaking of safety, several meeting participants reminded that school starts back next week, traffic will be worse, but drivers should please take care to keep school kids safe.
The Dade County Commission meets briefly next Thursday, Aug. 8, at 6:30 p.m. to approve its 2020 millage rate (a fraction down from this year's). Its regular meetings are at 6 p.m. on the first Thursday of the month. All its meetings take place in the Commission Room of the Dade Administrative Building.