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County Commission Notes Mental Health Issues, Missing Fire Department Equipment

By LYDIA BERGLAR
News Editor

The December 7th meeting of the Dade County Board of Commissioners covered many minor topics and updates, with notable topics including mental health issues across the state, renewing the Emergency Medical Service (EMS) contract, missing equipment from the former North Dade Volunteer Fire Department, and the SPLOST approval process for county departments.

The board approved several reappointments and one new appointment to a number of county boards. James Eckhardt was newly appointed to the Board of Assessors. Working to become more involved in Dade, Eckhardt has attended a number of county meetings and participated in the sheriff’s office Citizens Academy class. Reappointments were: Wesley Bradford to the Board of Health, Shannon Henry to the Northwest Georgia Joint Development Authority Board, John Case to the Limestone Valley Board, George Williams to the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission Board, and Tony Payne to the Dade County Water and Sewer Authority.

The board approved a recommendation to Governor Kemp and the Georgia General Assembly to “continue efforts to reform and improve mental health services for the citizens of Georgia.” A portion of the resolution reads: “Whereas, the Dade County Board of Commissioners is grateful for the efforts of Georgia’s executive, legislative, and judicial branches in working towards mental health reform in recent years, such as the passage of HB 1013 (2022) and introduction of HB 520 (2023), Chief Justice Boggs’s work on jail diversion initiatives, and Governor Kemp’s commitment to expanding mental health resources in schools for children and young adults; and whereas, despite these prior steps and successes…there is still a tremendous amount of work for the citizens of Dade County and other citizens across Georgia to receive adequate healthcare for mental health and substance abuse disorders.”

Ted Rumley (county executive) explained that it’s a national and state-wide problem and that all Georgia counties are working on resolutions. He added, “Our local jail now, we’re getting to the point where [Captain Joseph] Chambers is kinda throwing his hands up…We’re not equipped to take care of numerous people who have problems.”

Robert Goff (District 3 commissioner) added, “The state closed the places to take these people…The jail became mental health, behavioral disorder. They’re not equipped to handle it.”

The board approved beginning the process of abandoning a small shortcut on Pleasant Hill Road on Lookout Mountain. Once the process is complete, one branch of the “Y” entrance to Pleasant Hill Road from Scenic Highway will no longer be maintained by the county.

Alex Case (Emergency Management Agency director) brought the board’s attention to the upcoming decision about an EMS transport agreement. He noted that in the coming months, preparation for the fiscal year 2025 budget will begin, and EMS needs will impact the budget.

He explained that our area is not profitable enough to be desirable to a private EMS company, so the county has a contract with Memorial EMS which will expire at the end of 2024. As part of the contract, the county provides the ambulances. Case explained that the ambulances will need maintenance (and eventual replacement), and he is concerned that Memorial EMS will increase f

Case is also working on proposals for antennae equipment for volunteer fire department calls. He will return with quotes in January.

Phillip Hartline (District 2 commissioner) brought up several fire department issues at Station 4 (previously North Dade Volunteer Fire Department), explaining that while this is not in his district, he made the motion last month to remove the previous fire chief from the North Dade station.

Hartline asked who removed the North Dade sign from the fire hall. Ansel Smith (assistant fire chief) reported that the sign was removed prior to the Trenton-Dade Fire Department going to the fire hall. Smith said “North Dade” will remain on the hood of these firetrucks, and they are working on a sign for the firehall which will read, “Dade County Station Four – Serving North Dade Community.”

Hartline asked if the plans are still to find a fire chief for that community after six to twelve months of the Trenton-Dade department taking over the station. Somewhat hesitatingly, Lamar Lowery (District 1 commissioner) and Rumley agreed that this is the plan.

Hartline then asked about fire trucks that were removed from the fire station. “Was it fire trucks for him to take?” The “him” in question is presumably the former fire chief at North Dade, although the commission did not mention him by name. Rumley said that the county is looking into the issue currently to see what legally belongs where.

Lowery added, “It wasn’t just trucks that disappeared. It was generators. A lot of stuff disappeared that I’ve got questions about.”

Hartline said, “This is my take…That stuff was given to North Dade Fire in faith for that community. It has been taken away from that fire hall and put on this person’s personal property. I have an issue with that.”

Rumley said, “You’re not the only one.”

Hartline continued, “I don’t care if he takes it and gives it to New Home, Davis, or South Dade; it is being taken from the North Dade community…No matter how he got it, it was not given to him himself. It was given to that community for that firehall.”

Hartline asked about the North Dade SPLOST allocation, which Ansel Smith explained is still allocated to that fire station, Station Four.

Hartline then addressed SPLOST spending requests from county departments. He asked what dollar amount requires approval by the commission, to which Don Townsend (county clerk and CFO) said all purchases require approval. Hartline asked if any departments are exempt from this process. No departments are exempt.

Hartline said, “I would like a letter sent out to all department heads to let them know that they need to come in front of us before they purchase items. There’ve been several items that’s been purchased that I’m aware of that did not come in front of us.”

He further explained, “We’ve even tasked Robin [Rogers] about calling it an emergency. If you’ve waited so long to where something breaks and you’re calling it an emergency, you’re not doing your job as a department head.”

Rumley clarified, and Hartline agreed, that there are some true emergencies (for example, essential equipment being destroyed by storms). In these cases, Rumley keeps the commissioners informed by phone in order to quickly address the situation without waiting for a monthly meeting and vote.

Lowery read the 911 calls for November which totaled 2,840:

  • EMS: 184
  • Fire & Rescue: 297
  • Law Enforcement: 2,359

Rumley reported that orange reflective signs will be put up at Burkhalter Gap and Hales Gap to warn truck traffic about the roads, “to really get the attention of these trucks and turn them around before they get that far up.” He said trucks have even gone up Newsome Gap, a dirt road.

Rumley mentioned that redistricting (a significant topic in Georgia politics these last few months) will not affect Dade County. He said, “We’re satisfied with our precincts…There’s no reason in Dade County. We’re not a metro county population.”

Lastly, the burn ban was lifted on December 4th.

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