Rep. Katie Dempsey is leading a legislative study committee aimed at heading off some societal problems before they start.
The Rome Republican said she expects to schedule the first meeting in August for the House Study Committee on Infant and Toddler Social and Emotional Health. The goal is to focus attention — programs and funding — on the needs of the youngest group of Georgians.
"We see children at 5 years old when they enter the public school system, but having a window to the brain from 0 to 5 can be so impactful," Dempsey said Wednesday. "A million new neuron connections are formed every second in those early years."
Dempsey, who's spent several years as chair of the Georgia House Appropriations human resources subcommittee, said she was convinced of the need to look at help for pre-schoolers by a number of advocacy groups such as GEERS, the Georgia Early Education Alliance for Ready Students.
Autism, dyslexia and traumas in the home such as substance abuse are among the problems that can be an impediment to a child's success in school and in life, she noted.
"It's easy to focus on the end result, the increase in jail population, homelessness and other challenges that come later in life," Dempsey said. "But with early intervention, the right diagnosis, and the proper treatment, some changes can be made. They can be redirected to a happy life."
The study committee will hear from a range of experts on child development and mental health regarding new research and best practices.
Dempsey said she expects to tackle the issue from a generational standpoint.
That means including the parents or caregivers along with pediatricians, daycare operators and school officials. She envisions public/private partnerships as part of the initiative.
A final report is due Dec. 1. Dempsey said she expects it to contain policy and legislative recommendations and "plant the seeds of funding" to improve the welfare of infants and toddlers. The state already is dealing with "the burden of care" that manifests later in life, she said.
"Of all the study committees I've worked on mental health and developmental disabilities, I really think this focus on the youngest children is the most important," she said. "Trauma in the home can greatly affect a child's coping skills. It definitely shapes their future."
Other members of the bipartisan House study committee are Reps. Wes Cantrell, R-Woodstock; Pam Dickerson, D-Conyers; Robert Dickey, R-Musella; and Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur.
A historic home at 1804 Gordon St. in North Rome sustained heavy damage in a fire at about 11:30 a.m. Wednesday. Fire Marshal Mary Catherine Chewning said it appears the fire was the result of problems with the electrical wiring in the kitchen.
Chewning said she could not pinpoint a specific location for the origin of the fire, but that homeowner Christopher Wampler confirmed to her the home had some electrical issues.
Jonathan Whatley, a neighbor, said he had come out of his home across the street and noticed smoke billowing from the roof of the building and called 911. After making the call he ran to the house to see if anyone was at home but could not get anyone to the door.
Part of the initial response by firefighters was focused on locating anyone that might have been home, however the house was empty except for a couple of dogs that were not injured during the fire.
"The family is just devastated," Chewning said. Christopher Wampler and his family moved to Rome from North Carolina and bought the house about a year ago. Chewning said Wampler had great plans for restoration of the home, built in the early 1890s, but those will have to be put on hold and probably combined with repairs to damages from the fire, smoke and water that was poured into the interior of the structure. All three floors of the old home sustained damages, however the exterior of the home was largely unscathed by the flames.
Capt. Kirk Rickman said when his team got into the home they found fire on the first floor that appeared to have involved the insulation and roof between the first and second floors. After getting those flames extinguished they found more fire directly above the kitchen in a bedroom of the home. After getting those flames out, firefighters proceeded to the third floor where all they encountered was heavy smoke.
Chewning said the family does have relatives in Rome who will be able to assist with housing while repairs are being made.
Efforts to remove four properties from the East Rome Historic District were placed on first reading by the Rome Historic Preservation Commission Wednesday.
All four of the residential parcels are located on East Seventh Street directly behind the Krispy Kreme on Turner McCall Boulevard.
A public hearing to consider their removal has been set for the July 17 meeting of the HPC and the Rome City Commission will conduct a public hearing Aug. 12.
Properties at 305 and 309 E. Seventh St. are owned by Gary Daniels. In his application, Daniels said the homes are in a heavily trafficked area of East Rome and surrounded by multifamily residences and businesses.
"I believe this request is necessary to protect my investment in this property and to allow the exploration of additional business opportunities in the future," Daniels said.
The home at 305 E. Seventh is one of the older homes in the district, having been built circa 1872.
Jerry Daniels, who owns 311 E. Seventh, said he does not believe his house has any historic or architectural value.
"The additional economic expense and time poses a hindrance to us with no advantages," Jerry Daniels stated in his application.
Wayne Robinson owns 315 E. Seventh, directly behind the doughnut shop. He said he was approached by both men to join their effort to be removed from the historic district and agreed without any hesitation.
"I don't like being in a historic district because I don't like being told what I can and cannot do with a property," Robinson said. Robinson said he was not aware of any specific reason for the Danielses' efforts to be removed from the district.
The HPC unanimously approved the construction of a new single-family home for Cheri Wade at 507 Cleveland Ave. on a vacant lot in the College Heights Historic District.
Unanimous approval was also given to alterations for a home at 3 E. Ridge Court in the East Rome Historic District for Amanda King, and changes to an addition to a home for William Warley at 401 E. Fourth Ave. in the Between the Rivers Historic District.
Members of the HPC bid farewell to Harry Wise who has completed his second term on the HPC.
"To see the variety of what has come before the commission, even to see the adversity, it's been fun," Wise said. The City Commission has not chosen a successor for Wise yet.
The Rome City Commission is poised to set the property tax rate for 2019, holding at the same rate it's been since 2017.
"When we reviewed the school budget there was no millage rate increase proposed, and there's none for the city," said Commissioner Randy Quick, who chairs the board's finance committee.
Rome City Schools must add a fleet of buses and drivers next year. However, Superintendent Lou Byars has said they'll pull from savings and other sources to cover the cost.
Commissioners have set three dates for public hearings before they adopt what they expect to be a rate of 27.536 mills. That's equal to a levy of $1,377 on a home valued at $125,000, less any exemptions.
The board will take comments at its regular 6 p.m. meeting on July 8; at 10 a.m. July 18; and again at its regular 6 p.m. meeting July 22. Adoption is scheduled for the July 22 session.
All three meetings will be in the commission meeting room on the second floor of City Hall, 601 Broad St.
City Clerk Joe Smith said the three public hearings are required because the total value of property in the city has risen and will bring in more revenue.
Some of the increased value is coming from new construction, which is starting to pick up after the recession.
Assistant Finance Director Toni Rhinehart told the finance committee that revenue generated by the building inspection department is up substantially from the same period last year.
"That's a good economic indicator," Quick noted.
Revenue and expenses through May are generally tracking projections, Rhinehart said.
The millage rate is a combination of 10.086 mills for city government services and 17.450 mills for the school system. Residents also pay county taxes — minus the levies for schools, fire protection and solid waste.