By: Robin Ford Wallace, Reporter
The Trenton City Commission voted at its regular August meeting Monday night to keep its present millage rate constant at 3.5 for the coming year.
The motion to adopt the millage rate came seemingly out of the blue – Parks and Recreation Commissioner Chuck Cannon made it when called upon to deliver his monthly department report, having no more to offer in that regard than the observation that it had begun to rain, and that the grass was growing – but it passed unanimously, with only Fire and Utilities Commissioner Tommy Lawson not present for the vote.
After the meeting, Mayor Anthony Emanuel accounted for the lack of discussion by explaining that he had for some months conferred behind the scenes with the city commissioners one by one. “It’s a share of knowledge with them individually,” said the mayor.
And on the subject of matters budgetary, Emanuel began the meeting, as he generally does, with a number-by-number stroll through Trenton’s financials, which he said were not as grim as they have been in the past. “As long as we do the job controlling expenses, I think by the end of this year we will have recovered,” he said.
He said that, though some tweaking is still in order, the city is doing that job – July’s numbers, while still a loss, are a marked improvement over last month’s, with revenues down seasonally but lower expenses partially offsetting the dip. The month’s $99,000 revenues were below the budgeted figure of $149,000, but so were $116,000 in expenses versus the projected $148,000.
Emanuel said an expected $100,000 insurance payment is expected to boost the revenue side of the balance sheet shortly. “Then, when the property tax notices go out in October, we will have a resurge of funding that will bring these numbers back in line,” said the mayor. “So we’re not, at this point, at least, overly concerned about shortfalls in revenue.”
He said he expects Trenton to be back in the black by yearend.
Otherwise, the main focus of the Aug. 13 meeting was on implementation of the city’s new eyesore ordinance. Emanuel presented a flow chart detailing the process of ridding Trenton of unsafe or unsightly buildings, from identification to demolition. “It is a rather detailed and formal process that we have to follow,” he said.
First, a building is identified, either through complaints from neighbors or by formal petition from five citizens. That’s where the city is right now, and the mayor says the City Hall phone keeps ringing with new complaints. “The list is up to 34 and climbing,” he said.
At least one eyesore building adorns every part of the city, apparently. “No neighborhood is excluded,” said Emanuel.
The mayor said most calls are coming not from owners confused about what the city requires of them but from neighbors concerned about high grass and weeds, rats, drug activity, or what abandoned buildings are doing to their own property values. “A lot of them are in the shape they’re in because of the April-a-year-ago tornados that swept through the city,” said Emanuel. “But some of them have been with us a long time.”
After a report is received, the property will be investigated by the city housing inspector to determine if it is unfit for human habitation or, if nonresidential, for commercial use; if it complies with applicable building codes; or if it is vacant and being used for the commission of drug crimes. “If the answers to these questions are no, then nothing happens,” said Emanuel.
But if the answer is yes, the city issues a complaint to the owner of the property if an owner can be found. If not, Trenton may go after the property in rem, a legal concept that speeds things up by allowing the city to act against the building itself as opposed to against its owner. “Sometimes you can’t find the owner, or sometimes it takes months to find the owner,” said the mayor.
A hearing in municipal court ensues anywhere from 15 to 45 days after the complaint, he said. After hearing the case, if the court determines the property is indeed unhealthful, it issues to the owner, if one is known, an order to repair the place, if it seems amenable to repairs within reasonable limits of time and expense; or if not, an order to demolish it.
If the owner fails to comply with the order, the city will place a placard on the building condemning it and prohibiting occupation. If the owner still fails to act, the city will in due time demolish the building itself. Emanuel said that the time frame for this eventuality will be determined by the court but that there is a minimum of 45 days.
The city’s cost in demolishing a building will then be attached as a lien to the property.
Asked if the process applies to rental property that is occupied but has been allowed to run down, the mayor said certainly. “Somebody owns that rental property,” said Emanuel. “It’s their responsibility to maintain it to code.”
In her department report, Police Commissioner Sandra Gray asked for and received approval of $9,470 in special purpose local option sales tax (SPLOST) funds for an infrared camera the Trenton PD had purchased. Streets Commission Greg Houts asked for and received approval of the adoption of Ashton Lane as a city road. Ashton Lane is off McKaig Road.
Ms. Gray reminded the commissioners that a drug-seizure house the city owns, which has been granted a minimum value of $85,000, is still up for bids. For more information on that house, prospective bidders may contact City Hall at (706) 657-4167.
Melanie Parrish spoke on behalf of the Dade County Library, announcing that the renovated facility will, thanks to the many generous donors who chipped in during the past few weeks’ fund drive, open at the 30-hour-a-week level leadership had hoped for. Eloise Gass for Tree City said that some trees transplanted recently had perished in this summer’s heat and drought but that planting would resume in November.
Speaking for the Dade County Chamber of Commerce, Debbie Tinker reminded the audience of the Sept. 15 Duck Race Social at R-Haven. Tickets, which may be obtained from the Chamber – (706) 657-4488 – are $5 a “heat,” or $25 for a duck in each heat.
Ms. Tinker also invited all to the C of C’s regular luncheons on the third Friday of each month. Upcoming speaker for Aug. 17 will be Matt Pierce of Small Business Development at the University of Georgia.
William Back, speaking for the Trenton Arts Council, announced the group had been awarded a $500 grant for its ArtScape project. He explained that ArtScape means public art – specifically, sculpture – on private property, with the aim of making Trenton more interesting to tourists as well as to residents. If you have a property that fronts Highway 11 or 136 and are interested in displaying sculpture there, Back may be reached at (706) 996-0236.