NWGA Regional Commission: Dade Representatives Meet With Surrounding Counties
By LYDIA BERGLAR
On the third Thursday of each month, county executives, mayors, and other county representatives travel to Rome, Ga. to meet with the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission. The Sentinel attended the March 16 meeting to learn more about the regional commission and Dade County’s presence in the group.
County Executive Ted Rumley and George Williams attended. City of Trenton Mayor Alex Case was unable to attend this month, but Rumley noted that he usually attends. Each county sends the mayor of the largest city in the county, but Dade only has one city, making things simple for us.
With 15 counties participating, this is the second largest regional commission in Georgia, second only to metro Atlanta. Each county pays a fee (on a per capita basis) to be part of the commission. Don Townsend (Dade County clerk and CFO) reported that Dade paid $14,125 for fiscal year 2023 participation.
Williams explained that the purpose of the commission is to encourage workforce and economic development. The commission addresses the question: How will Northwest Georgia continue to develop the workforce, replacing the aging population with well-equipped employees? Other issues that impact the workforce, such as transportation and affordable housing, are also discussed.
According to Williams, “It’s the whole spectrum of how we help Northwest Georgia move forward economically. Lesia Lambert heads up the Department of Workforce Development, and I’m going to talk to her to see what they might be able to do to help us with the job fair we’re hosting at Dade County High School.”
He noted the importance of relationships between the counties. “One day, [other counties] might say, ‘Hey, they’re doing this in Dade County. We should go see what they’re doing and use it to help improve our county.’ It’s a cooperative effort. Instead of Dade competing against Walker or Catoosa, how do we make it better off for the area as a whole?”
The commission’s website lists its services as: Area Agency on Aging; Planning, Community & Economic Development; Transportation Services; Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act; NWGRC Revolving Loan Fund Program for Small Businesses.
Before the regional commission meets at 11 a.m., the Council of Chief Elected Officials meets at 10 a.m. Rumley currently serves as the chair of this board.
The 10 a.m. chief elected officials meeting discussed budgets, contracts, grants that support workforce development, organizations, roles intended to aid workforce development, and business operations.
Just under 40 people (and about ten guests) attended the 11 a.m. commission meeting. Rumley said, “Sometimes, we have millions of dollars funneled through this commission. This is the most important meeting that a county commissioner can attend.”
Regions of Georgia have varied concerns, although some issues affect nearly all counties. Rumley explained, “One shoe don’t fit all. In South GA, they’ve got a lot of farming, so some of the things they deal with are different from what we deal with. Overall though, we’re all looking at poverty in our communities and workforce development. Whether you’re a woodworker or a welder or whether you’re going to the lineman school, that’s what all this money goes to support.”
Meeting together in person (and sharing a meal afterward) allows these representatives to discuss what has helped their communities while also bringing issues to the table. They are able to contact state representatives, collectively voicing the concerns of North Georgia.
The major topic at this month’s meeting was a federal mandate regarding lead pipes. Lisa Golphin, a representative from Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA), spoke to the commission, explaining that all counties must complete a lead service line inventory to meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s deadline of Oct. 16, 2024.
GEFA has $66.8 million per year for the next five years available to help communities with this project. Golphin said, “We understand this will be a very cumbersome task. We’re here to help you meet your compliance needs. Every single service line will need to be individually identified. Sampling of lead lines is also required. Schools and daycares will have to be tested for lead service lines.”
Several attendees expressed concerns about how costly and difficult this project will be for communities, noting that the funding won’t be enough to alleviate the burden. Rumley noted that while most water authorities are already aware of this issue, it is important for representatives to connect with their water authorities.
Executive Director of the commission, Boyd Austin, noted that the 2014 water crisis in Flint, Mich. and the 2022 water crisis in Jackson, Miss. spurred federal concerns about water safety and may have instigated this mandate.
Rumley was recognized for his previous service on the GEFA board, with chairperson Shannon Whitfield (from Walker County) saying, “Ted’s a great resource for us.” Rumley encouraged his fellow commissioners to reach out with any questions about this major undertaking, saying, “We’ve got a great group of people who work for GEFA.”
Rumley and Williams believe that the resources, information, and connections of the regional commission are highly valuable to the elected officials of Dade County.