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By: Robin Ford Wallace, Reporter

 

The Dade County Commission’s Aug. 1 meeting, an unusually long one, was in large part devoted to dealing with financial pain (see accompanying stories), following as it did on the heels of the county’s final budget process. The commission had pared departmental budgets countywide in an effort to keep the tax rate constant – the millage rate was adopted on the preceding Monday, July 29 – only to find after the numbers were all in that a further three percent had to go.    

“We’re still looking at about a $300,000 shortfall,” County Clerk Don Townsend told the commissioners at the Thursday meeting.   

Townsend brought up another possible money-maker: Selling land the county owns on Back Valley Road. He said he didn’t believe the property would fetch that amount – and nor would the aforementioned three percent cut balance the budget, he added – but with employee furloughs, Friday office closures and resultant utility savings he thought the county might make it through, though he reminded the commissioners: “We can’t go on think-so.”

Also on the subject of finances, the commission approved a “revenue bond for emergency road repairs” after County Attorney Robin Rogers explained that though it carried no obligation, the move was a necessary first step toward procuring a loan to fix damaged roads. “Basically it’s an expression of intent to borrow money,” he said.

Dade County Executive Chairman Ted Rumley put in a word for the resolution, explaining that it would apply to the Dade Industrial Authority, which may also soon need to issue bonds to build roads at the county’s new industrial park expansion. Interest rates would be low, said Rumley, and the money would certainly be needed as the county replaces culverts laid in the 1960s. 

Recent torrential rains have wreaked havoc with Dade’s mountain roads, washing away two on Sand Mountain even as the county toiled to shore up one on Lookout. “These roads are hurting us a lot worse than the tornados,” said Rumley. 

Evan Stone, who represents Dade on the four-county Joint Development Authority, urged the county to get busy on roads at the industrial park expansion. He said in the current economic climate, with local governments competing to attract industry with its accompanying jobs, businesses can pick and choose. “They want public land,” he said. “They want it more than likely for nothing.”

So counties must offer competitive deals, said Stone. In Dade’s case, the land is there, which puts it ahead of other nearby counties, but now that acreage needs roads to be “camera-ready” for occupancy. “We’ve got everything else in place,” he said.

The Joint Development Authority is a regional body whose purpose is to promote industry and jobs in the Northwest Georgia area, as opposed to Dade’s own Industrial Development Authority, which performs a similar service for the county exclusively. During recent budget hearings, District 1 Commissioner Mitchell Smith had questioned the $24,950 annual dues Dade pays to JDA, and the commission had accordingly resolved to ask JDA for regular updates as to what the county was getting for its money.

Stone had brought with him Keith Barclift, project manager for JDA, and one-half the staff – the other is executive director Jeff Mullis, the area’s Georgia state senator – and Barclift also addressed the commission. He showed commissioners a brochure that JDA had come up with to promote the region and also drew their attention to the body’s website, nwgajda.com, which he said had gotten hits from as far away as Russia and the Ukraine.

Barclift recounted JDA’s history: It was formed in 1998 by Dade, Walker and Chattooga counties. “Catoosa County joined in 2008 and that’s actually given us a little bit more money budgetwise to go out and actually market,” said Barclift. “Beforehand, it was just basically paying for staff and expenses and that kind of thing.”

Barclift and Stone explained that JDA meets quarterly and will continue to update the county commission at the monthly commission meetings immediately following its own sessions.  

Dade Emergency Management Director Alex Case addressed the commission about ongoing negotiations toward a proposed lease of Hutcheson, the county’s designated public hospital, by Chattanooga’s Erlanger Medical Center. 

Dade commissioners have made it clear their support of a bond to refinance Hutcheson’s estimated $50 million in accrued debt is contingent on the lease, which would ease their minds at least for the short term about Hutcheson’s ability to make the payments.

Case, one of Dade’s representatives on the Hutcheson board of directors, said the board is still negotiation with Erlanger on due diligence for the deal, establishing a fair market value of the hospital property. “We’re in the attorneys’ hands right now,” he said.

Case said that all parties are working feverishly to meet the drop-dead date set for the deal of Aug. 9, which is this Friday. “Even if it’s done, the lease probably can’t take effect until Jan. 1,” he said.

Dade owns a percentage of Hutcheson but uses it less than the other two counties the hospital serves, Catoosa and Walker; with Lookout Mountain in between, and I-59 offering a straight shot into Chattanooga, Dade residents more commonly go to Erlanger or Memorial hospitals. 

But with rules expected to change with the coming effectuation of the Affordable Care Act, the county commission elected to make sure it had an in-state source of indigent care lined up and voted grudgingly to back the refinance bond with the other two counties, on the condition that the Erlanger lease goes through.    

In other business, the commission voted to declare two heavily-used sheriff’s department patrol cars surplus property. Surplus vehicles are routinely offered for sale online.

Commissioners also reviewed routine budget amendments already required for fiscal 2014 brought to their attention by County Clerk Townsend, and approved a county seat belt policy Townsend said was necessary for insurance purposes. “This is a state law,” he said. “It’s probably not a bad idea.” But he specified it was a formality and county employees were already buckling up.

Chairman Rumley began the formal business meeting with a resolution declaring Aug. 1 through Sept. 7 Dade’s “Paint the Town Purple” month and a presentation by American Cancer Society volunteers – including his wife, Diane – on Dade’s local version of the annual Relay for Life fundraiser for cancer research.

Ms. Rumley and the other volunteers kicked off activities after the meeting by turning Trenton purple with colored lights at the town gazebo, in preparation for a five-kilometer “color run” on Saturday during which participants were splashed with purple body paint. The gazebo will remain purple all month leading up to the all-night Relay for Life walk/run on Sept. 6.

The commission also proclaimed Aug. 4-10 Primary Health Care Center Week, and reappointed Ruth Goff to another four-year term representing Dade on the Workforce Investment Board.

Debbie Tinker of the Dade County Chamber of Commerce reminded all that the Chamber is still recruiting entertainers and vendors for its upcoming Duck Race Social on Sept. 21 at R Haven Overnite Family Park. There is no vending fee. Interested parties may call the C of C at (706) 658-4488.

Marshana Sharp of the Dade County Library announced new hours for the library: Tuesday, Thursday and Friday the library will open at 9 a.m. It will close at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, 6 p.m. on Thursday, and 5 p.m. on Friday. The library can no longer afford to open on Saturdays, though the library’s nonprofit Friends group is working on that, she said.

Local historian Donna Street stood up to announce the library would, however, open Aug. 31 courtesy of the Dade Historical Society, as part of that group’s festivities highlighting the county’s role in the Civil War. “One-hundred-fifty years ago Aug. 31, we had some people visit us,” she said.

Union troops graced Dade for about a week, she said, stopping on their way up Lookout Mountain where they would ultimately fight the Battle of Chickamauga.  

Ms. Street said other features of the 150th anniversary celebration would include talks and tours by historian Jim Ogden as well as by local buffs Ken Pennington and Chairman Rumley himself.

She also pointed out that this Christmas, Dec. 25, is Dade’s 176th birthday, and expressed hope the county will honor it as it forgot its 175th. 

In his legal update, County Attorney Rogers reminded the commission that a hearing in the TAS Properties bankruptcy is scheduled for this Thursday. Dade is owed half a million tax dollars and counting from acreage at stalled development the Preserve at Rising Fawn, land that was protected from auction by the December 2011 bankruptcy filing.    


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