Wildwood resident Russ Campbell speaks to the commission about keeping Dade "clean and green" and safe from outside companies that would take advantage of it. Also visible is Dist. 4 Commissioner Allan Bradford.
Last Thursday's regular September meeting of the Dade County Commission turned into a kind of launch party for Dade's maiden voyage into the unknown waters of zoning. Wildwood residents swelled attendance at the Sept. 5 meeting to thank the commissioners for their recent stopgap ban on heavy industry permitting and to speak in favor of an ordinance the county attorney is drafting as a more permanent solution to their problem--a fear of having their property devalued and way of life blighted by the incursion of chicken processing plants no longer welcome in Chattanooga.
Katie Bien, organizer of the citizens group Wildwood Preservation Alliance, urged the commission to be smart about how the county grows, protecting the environment that makes Dade attractive to residents as well as tourists. “Once it’s destroyed, it’s not coming back," she said. "There’s no way to get it back.”
The commission's permitting ban and the embryonic ordinance came about because of Widlwood's plea to the county government to protect it from the perceived threat of a chicken processing plant on a recently purchased parcel of the old Dave L Brown farm. But Ms. Bien, Brown's great-grandchild and a resident of another portion of the old farm, told the commissioners and the audience that uncontrolled growth was everybody's problem: “Heavy industry doesn’t affect just one community.” she said. "Polluted water runs downstream."
If Dade is going to be smart about how it grows, said Ms. Bien: "It’s going to take ordinances. It’s going to take zoning.”
The other speakers were overwhelmingly on her side. Allen Townsend, a local attorney, a Wildwood resident and, incidentally, the son of J.M.C. "Red" Townsend, the late Georgia Supreme Court justice venerated locally as Dade's patron saint, spoke about how his old neighborhood in Atlanta had grown past all recognition during the time he lived there. “I don’t think anybody in Dade County wants that to happen here,” he said.
"I would like to see Dade County clean and green,” said Russ Campbell. “My fear is that people from outside the county will come and take advantage of us, and I don’t want to see that happen.”
"Zoning is bad and good," said Joanne Reynolds, reminding the commissioners of an earlier push to turn Lookout Parkway into a national parkway, which she said would have imposed rules on what color residents could paint their houses and what kinds of trees they could plant in their yards. She suggested the commissioners make rules for industry the way they had for developers. [The commission made such rules after, following the housing market crash, developers in Dade fled, bankrupted or in a couple of cases went to jail, leaving roads unpaved, electricity and water uninstalled and homeowners high and dry in their abandoned subdivisions].
Other speakers did not wait to introduce themselves but shouted against the threatened chicken plant from their seats: "No one wants it.” and: "It smells!"
(Photo: Among the unusually heavy attendance Thursday night was Dade's former voice in the Georgia House of Representatives, John Deffenbaugh--who was not noted for showing up much when he was in office. Neither is his successor, Colton Moore, who hasn't showed his face since the nasty 65/5 fracas last winter.)
District 2 Commissioner Phillip Hartline, the only commissioner who voted against the permitting ban--but also the only commissioner who has spoken in favor of zoning in general--protested that he'd had only 20 minutes to consider something that could affect Dade for years to come. He urged caution. "We have to educate ourselves," he said. But he also seemed to acknowledge the need to protect the county. "Chattanooga’s coming and we all know that," he said. "They’ve got nowhere else to go.”
Only one speaker, Norma Womack, seemed opposed to the proposed ordinance, and her objections were vague if accusatory: "Your true colors are showing about the way you’re speaking about the people coming in,“ she said. She said everybody deserved a second chance, even convicted felons. She didn't say anything about chickens.
Citizens who missed the chance to have their say about zoning will get a second crack on Sept. 30 at a public hearing on the proposed ordinance. Or, rather, three public hearings which County Attorney Robin Rogers explained were required for the three prongs of the proposed ordinance but which he said are allowed to be held back to back on the same night. Those three parts, according to the Sept. 5 meeting agenda, are: "(a) Adoption of an ordinance to regulate siting, development standards and operations of industrial land uses in the unincorporated area of the County; (b) Standards to exercise authority; and (c) Policy and procedures for conducting hearings under said ordinance."
Clear as mud? Curious readers may learn more by attending the public hearing at 6 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 30, in the Administrative Building. Commissioner Hartline said he would have one in his own district before that date.
Speaking of portentous public gatherings, another is upcoming that was not announced at the commission meeting but which community relations director Carey Anderson later confirmed: the first joint meeting of the Trenton City and Dade County commissions and the board of directors for the Dade Water Authority. After the water board was recently reshuffled, it was resolved to have joint meetings among the three bodies once a quarter, but the initiative is a new one and the September one is the first the three boards managed to arrange. That meeting is at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 26, also in the Administrative Building meeting room.
SPLOST! SPLOST! SPLOST!
Another round of public hearings and meetings may or may not kick off soon about SPLOST. That's special purpose local options sales tax, the 1-cent tax Dade voters have historically voted on themselves to pay for local roads, building, police cars and sundry equipment. The county and Trenton city governments depend on it heavily, and it is up for renewal soon. If voters don't choose to renew the penny tax in 2020, it will expire June 30, 2021.
County Clerk Don Townsend presented this time table and explained that the state government allows counties to pick from several approved dates one for their SPLOST referendums. Dade was opting for the presidential preference primary on March 24 because, historically, that primary is the biggest one for voter turnout.
The next steps, said Townsend, are to discuss the SPLOST project list with the Dade Industrial Development Authority and water board and work out an intergovernmental agreement with the Trenton city government. "In that process, we will need to start some public hearings,” he said.
Dade County Executive Chairman Ted Rumley said the individual district commissioners could decide when and where to hold their own public meetings on SPLOST. “It’s up to y’all," he said.
Rumley made an almost identical statement about TSPLOST, the proposed additional penny tax to be used specifically for transportation projects, at the beginning of 2018 when it was announced TSPLOST wold be on the November ballot. No public meetings were ever called by any commissioner and TSPLOST was rejected decisively by the voters.
Another important item that came out of the Sept. 5 meeting is a date for Dade's next tire amnesty day: Oct, 12, with a makeup day on the next Saturday, the 19th, in case it rains. District 4 Commissioner Allan Bradrord, whose committee assignment the county transfer station falls under, said the first tire amnesy in the spring was so well-attended, "the line went all the way up to the Bank of Dade," and he suggested coming early to beat the crowd. Hours will be 8 a.m.-3 p.m.
Like last time, scrap tires may be brought to the transfer station without charge during the amnesty, but only 20 are allowed per household. You must have a Dade driver's license to participate. Pickup truck and motorcycle tires as well as regular car tires will be taken this time, but still no tractor-trailer or heavy farm machinery tires. Bradford said signs will be up directing traffic to the dump site--it's behind rather than inside the transfer station--and help will be available for the infirm and elderly.
In his monthly report at the meeting, County Executive Rumley also addressed the tire problem. "It seems like every other week we get another call about people having thousands of tires," he said. Tires are perfect for breeding mosquitoes, so they're not just a cosmetic but an environmental problem that keeps the Georgia Environmental Protection Division agent in our neck of the woods more or less constantly. Rumley said when the agent asked property owners, "How did you get yourself in this mess?" they almost all answered: "Craig’s List."
One ad, said Rumley, offered to deliver 100 tires and let the recipient pick through them and keep the good ones, after which the rest would be picked up. Another was more straightforward and offered to pay to dump a certain number of tires. Of course in the first case no one ever picked up the unwanted tires and in the second case thousands more tires would appear once the deliverer had found a sucker.
Rumley advised caution and said midnight dumping of tires on county roads also continued to be a problem. “They’re coming more out of Tennessee than Alabama," he said.
In other business
The commissioners approved SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax) funds for $9262.90 in new LED lighting for the Dade County Public Library, but County Clerk Don Townsend pointed out Dade's share would only be $3,942.95 in matching funds--the rest was courtesy of a grant the library had attained.
A bigger SPLOST allocation was $42,054.93 for new equipment for the volunteer fire departments. Chief Rodney Ross explained this represented a combined list of needs from all the departments, which had decided to band together and buy as a group to get costs down. Their wish list included lights, struts and extrication equipment. “We go out on a lot of wrecks with tractor trailers and everything,” said Ross.
The commission also amended its driver policy for the fire departments, limiting fire engine drivers to 21 and above. The measure had been tabled at previous meetings--the fire departments, always hurting for volunteers, hadn't wished to limit their options--but Ross said the firefighters had acceded to the county attorney's advice.
Rex Blevins was reappointed for another term to the county/city historic preservation committee, and a request for proposals from Cumberland Applied Research to act as consultant for Dade's upcoming historical survey was approved. Clerk Townsend explained that it had been thought earlier that Dade's resident archeologist, Lawrence Alexander, would do the work, but that Alexander was retiring and that this group was one that had worked for him.
Also approved was Dade's annual application to the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) for LMIG (Local Maintenance and Improvement Grant) money. “This is something that’s very critical," said Rumley, explaining that LMIG money is how the county pays for a lot of its constantly-needed roadwork. “We’ve got a rolling list of roads that we add to,” said Townsend, who elucidated that the application usually went in later in the year but that GDOT wanted it earlier these days.
Dist. 1 Commissioner Lamar Lowery holds up his reusable drinking cup, giving "Dade Tree Hugger" Jennifer Blair credit for changing his single-use styrofoam habit. Also visible is Dist. 2 Commissioner Phillip Hartline.
Additionally, the commission approved budget amendments for last fiscal year as well as this one, Townsend explaining that nothing much had changed but that by law the numbers had to be adjusted so revenues would match expenditures. Another red-tape-only resolution was one amending the county and city's joint comprehensive plan to add language about broadband readiness.
Townsend sought and received approval for an agreement with financial advisor Raymond James to consult with the county in matters such as SPLOST calculations. And the commissioners agreed to designate certain aging county property as surplus and auction it off on govdeals.com, a website Rumley recommended as an interesting one the public might enjoy.
The Dade County Commission meets at 6 p.m. the first Thursday of each month in the county Administrative Building.