By REBECCA HAZEN
The Dade County Board of Commissioners debated what to do with the Sells Lane Property, which was originally purchased jointly with the Dade County Water Authority, with the intention of creating a water reservoir, during the Monday, July 7 meeting.
Commissioners Phillip Hartline and Lamar Lowery were both against taking over the loan, citing too much time having passed, and not enough studies were done.
“I am not good with taking over and assuming their loan. They agreed to the deal then. There’s only one water board member left that agreed to it. I was not on the board at the time when it was decided to purchase the property. There’s no new information given to us whether we can or cannot build this reservoir. I’m not for assuming their mortgage,” Hartline said.
“I personally feel like we haven’t done our due diligence to take over this loan. We’ve had some good engineering studies but then we had one from the water company with just nearly the opposite. Nearly everyone’s opinion is the first thing we should have done was had a hydrological study. I’ve been talking to engineers all over the state and in Tennessee,” Lowery said.
Commissioner Melissa C. Bradford noted that she was on the fence about the project, and that she has talked to a lot of people in her district about the issue.
“It is a piece of property that is an investment to the county. I don’t feel like that there would necessarily have to, at this moment in time, be a reservoir. It could be cleaned up. I know that there’s a small little section of the creek where the kids love to go swim. If the county was involved with it, it might be better kept. There could be some trails made through there. Anything like that is a positive for the county,” Bradford said.
“I think there’s been a lot of let down overall,” Commissioner Robert Goff said. “What they said is they don’t have the time; they don’t have the manpower and they don’t have the money. Nobody ever said that it couldn’t be built. I pleaded with them to please look at the future of Dade County, and not today. Water will never be any less important.”
Goff continued, “I’m a little put off by the fact that [the Water Authority] is not here, and they dropped the ball on this, but we’re going to take the brunt of it.”
According to Rumley, the majority of the people who talked to him about the property wanted it more so for recreational activities.
“I don’t know if I’ll ever see a reservoir there in my lifetime, but just the nature part of it, that property would bring a lot more than what was it was paid for,” Rumley said.
There was discussion of trying to sell the property or selling later on in the future.
County Attorney Robin Rogers informed the Commissioners that if the property was sold right away, the Water authority would get 80 percent of the total, and the County would get 20 percent, which was the original purchasing agreement.
“But if we assumed the property and then kept it a year but then decided to sell it, we would be sole owners of [the funds],” Rumley said.
“But if we let it go, it’s gone. We can’t go back in time. I don’t want to let the property go,” Bradford said.
Chief Financial Officer Don Townsend noted that the interest rate on the property is extremely low, 0.21 percent. Payments would equal out to be $1,412.22 a month, to be paid over 240 months. Both Townsend and Rumley said that the payments were accounted for in the recently voted on 2023 fiscal year budget, which went into effect on July 1.
Rumley suggested tabling the discussion until next month’s meeting. Hartline spoke out against tabling the matter.
“This property was bought the December before I came into office. It was turned over to the Water Authority, and it’s been in the process for six years,” Hartline said. “We discussed not giving our employees a three percent raise at the last meeting because of the money, but we’re going to buy a piece of property and let it sit there? I say we don’t table it. We’re not going to have any more information 30 days from now.”
The Commissioners voted 3-2 to assume sole ownership of the Sells Lane Property, with Lowery and Hartline voting “no.”
Also, during the meeting Townsend informed citizens that the county is now working on the millage rate process.
Two public hearings on the millage rate will be Thursday, July 21, at both 11 a.m. and 6 p.m., plus a third public hearing on July 28 at 6 p.m. There will be a special called meeting at 6:30 p.m. on the 28th, for the Commissioners to consider adoption of the millage rate.
“We said all along, we’re going to try to keep the millage rate the same. It was 8 percent in 2021 and maintaining 8 percent in 2022,” Townsend said. “Remember, we have two millage rates. The city residents that pay county taxes, that portion actually goes down a hair.”
The Commissioners also called for a ballot referendum to impose a one percent Transportation Special Local Option Sales Tax (TSPLOST) to be held Nov. 8.
Jamison Griffin, President of the Scenic Dade Development Company provided a report to the Commissioners on the ongoing Town Creek Trail project.
According to Griffin, there are two major phases of the project, and phase 1.1 in Jenkins Park has been completed.
“Phase 1.2 is the section behind the courts facility and behind Citizen’s Bank. The current plan is to break ground around mid to late July,” Griffin said. “We’re using Jeremy McDowell Construction Company, which is a Dade County business.”
Griffin noted that due to inflation and gas prices, the original $250,000 budget for phase 1.2 has now gone up to $281,000. To date, Scenic Dade has raised and reserved $261,000.
Griffin asked if the Board of Commissioners would be willing and able to consider a donation to help support the project.
The Commissioners said that they would discuss the matter and get back to Griffin at a later date.
Jamey Blevins, with Blevins Construction Management, Inc., gave a report on the historical courthouse project. Construction is expected to begin Aug. 1.
“We have had progress this month. All the contracts are out for mechanical, electrical and plumbing,” Blevins said.
The commissioners approved multi-gas detectors for New Salem, Trenton, New Home, and Davis Volunteer Fire Departments for $6,303.68, to be purchased with SPLOST funds.
The Commissioners also approved the purchase of three vehicles from Prater Ford for the Dade County Sheriff’s Office, for $38,757.34 each.
Kathy Page, Clerk of Courts, appeared before the commissioners to request American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding for the imaging and indexing of documents for the Superior Court Clerk’s Office. The total project request amount was $50,750. The Commissioners approved the funding request.
“It is my job to ensure the clerk’s office is not only properly maintaining records but making them easily accessible to the public and to ensure documents are being backed up to a system where they could easily be recovered in response to a natural disaster,” Page said.
Page noted that other county’s documents have been lost, for example, in a fire at the Hancock County courthouse, and because of a burst pipe at the Chattooga County Clerk of Court’s Office deed room. Page also said that 17 Georgia counties have already used ARPA funding for similar projects.
The Commissioners also approved the upgrade of Microsoft Dynamics SL software for administration, which will cost $15,910.
Also, the Commissioners approved the appointment of Adam Austin to the Industrial Development Authority.
Townsend presented the financial report. The general fund balance is $1,250,153 as of June 30. There is $762,693 available in the SPLOST V account. The general fund revenue is $921,068.53 as of June 30. $496,847.77 was budgeted for the month. Expenses for the month of May were $1,315,143.32.
The next Dade County Board of Commissioners meeting will be Aug. 4.