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County Considers Hiring Third–Party Rental Tracking Service, Discusses Agreement With A Hand Up Ministry

News Editor

The May 4 meeting of the Dade County Commission covered many topics in depth. Topics included a training facility for the county’s fire departments; an update on the historic courthouse restoration; hiring a company to track short-term rentals in the county; an agreement between the county and A Hand Up Ministry; and updates about building projects and recycling costs.

Fire Chief Jerry Kyzer and Assistant Fire Chief Ansel Smith of the Trenton Fire Department requested the use of two acres at the old landfill (near Daniels Road and Back Valley Road) for a Public Safety Fire Training Center. Kyzer proposed an agreement like the existing agreement allowing the Dade County Sheriff’s Office to house its firing range at this location.

Kyzer and Mayor/EMA Director Alex Case explained that this facility will improve the Insurance Services Office (ISO) rating. The departments currently use the Trenton sewer plant for training, but not being a certified facility, it doesn’t boost ISO ratings.

Case noted that city SPLOST funds would be used for this building. He noted that in working closely with ISO consultants, they reached the conclusion to focus funds on this project. The fire department must have land chosen before collecting cost estimates. The commission agreed with the project in principle and will readdress it once a cost is determined.

Jamey Blevins then gave an update on the historic courthouse restoration project, noting that they hope to finish the project by the end of this year. He noted that four rooms on the first floor have been completed. The request for proposal/quotes process continues.

Blevins noted that the portion of the courthouse retainer wall that was damaged by a car accident several months ago will be used as the access point for drain work. Once drain work is completed, the damaged portion will be repaired.

The commission appointed Kyle Gross to the Georgia Region One Emergency Medical Service Council and Tony Payne to the Water & Sewer Authority Board to complete the rest of David Pardue’s term. (Having resigned, Pardue left an open spot for the unexpired term.)

Captain Joseph Chambers, jail administrator, requested SPLOST funds for body cameras for the jail officers. (The Dade County Sheriff’s Office has previously requested funds for body cameras for patrol officers, but these are additional cameras for the jail division.) Chambers also requested ARPA funds for valve repairs in the jail.

For both of these requests, the commission suggested purchasing the amount immediately needed and staggering the replacement of all items so that expenses would be spread out over multiple years and new items could undergo a trial period.

Case also requested ARPA funds for information technology infrastructure. Case noted that hackers search for .gov and .edu email addresses and then attack the firewall. Therefore, technological defense is important to the county.

Don Townsend, chief financial officer and county clerk, requested ARPA funds to purchase software which would allow businesses to complete license renewal online. Currently, the process must be completed through mail and/or in-person.

Townsend also initiated discussion about hiring a third-party company to track short-term rentals to ensure that companies such as Airbnb and VRBO pay the hotel/motel tax. He reported that there are over 70 companies like the well-known Airbnb and VRBO.

Customers who stay at these rentals pay the tax, and it is supposed to pass through the owners/companies to the county. However, this often does not happen, meaning the county is collecting about $500,000 less than should be collected.

Marcy Williams, who serves on the board of the Alliance for Dade, explained that this tax is split three ways (as mandated in the state ordinance): to the county, to fund the Alliance’s welcome center, and to fund promotion of tourism through the Alliance.

Rumley questioned how the company would impact residents (and guests) of Dade County, saying, “We’re not going to turn this company loose. I agree you need to pay your fair share, but they’re not going to handle our people to death. If we start getting feedback from our people that’s negative, we need to cut it off with the company.”

Townsend confirmed that the companies do not contact the customers at all. They simply report to the county. One such company costs about $31,000 per year, which would be more than covered by the additional tax revenue.

The commission agreed to move forward with a third-party company to see how well it works.

Rex Mayo, director of A Hand Up Ministry, then proposed an agreement between the county and A Hand Up. Chambers added to Mayo’s report, noting that approximately 75% of reincarcerations in Dade County are drug-related. He noted that state-run rehab programs have a 12-14% success rate. “I don’t really call that worth bragging on,” said Chambers. “What we’ve seen coming out of A Hand Up has been greater than that.”

Townsend explained that there are federal funds available, designated to “the care, treatment, and other programs and expenditures designed to address the misuse and abuse of opiate products, treat or mitigate opioid use or related disorders, or mitigate other alleged effects of, including on those injured as a result of, the opioid epidemic.”

Robin Rogers, county attorney, brought up concerns that separation of church and state might prevent these funds from being used by A Hand Up, due to the ministry’s religious beliefs. The county will continue researching this question.

Lamar Lowery, commissioner for District 1, asked if these funds could be used for Narcan and fentanyl-proof glove purchases. Townsend confirmed that this is possible.

Townsend also noted upcoming budget hearings, starting on June 1. The Sentinel plans to cover the public budget hearing on June 8 at 5 p.m. in the county commission room.

The commission addressed two rumors which have been brought to their attention: First, the elections building is not moving forward. Rumley explained that Case and Lowanna Vaughn have been working on building plans.

Second, that the transfer station is shutting down. The transfer station is not shutting down, nor is the recycling program being disbanded. However, the commission recognizes that they need to address the recycling expense issue (as covered in the March 8 and March 15 editions of the Sentinel).

Discussion ensued, and Robert Goff, commissioner for District 3, mentioned an article in “Georgia Trend Magazine” titled “Let’s End Wishful Recycling: Why do we have all these companies making money from recycling, while the cities and counties collecting and sending the materials are losing money?”

Lowery reported that the 911 calls for April totaled 3,211:

  • EMS: 204
  • Fire & Rescue: 283
  • Law Enforcement: 2,724

Phillip Hartline, commissioner for District 2, reported that about 40 spaces are available to rent at the Dade County Sports Complex during Antique Alley (May 18-21) for $30 a piece. Hartline said, “There’ve been questions about why we’re charging $30. We have to pay overtime for employees to go down there and check the bathrooms and pick up the trash. I think they go twice a day to check everything. That’s pretty much where that fee goes.”

County Executive Ted Rumley reported that work was completed on two bridges in Rising Fawn (at Allison Creek and Crawfish Creek) after multiple vehicles were damaged by the poor condition of state route Highway 11 at these locations.

Rumley reported that progress is being made on the training facility for the sheriff’s office. (See the December 7, 2022 edition of the Sentinel for further information.) He reported that work continues on preparation for the elections building and animal shelter.

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