The Rome-Floyd County Development Authority formally ratified an intergovernmental agreement with Rome and Floyd County to assume the role of lead agency for the recruitment of new industry to Rome Tuesday.
The change has been in the works for nearly six months. However, during the agency's meeting Tuesday, City Manager Sammy Rich and Floyd County Manager Jamie McCord both indicated it was reasonable to continue funding the Rome Floyd Chamber's efforts to bring new jobs to the community until a new executive director of the Development Authority is brought online.
That would amount to approximately $70,000 for the first six months of the year, according to McCord.
He said it could go a little longer, or possibly not quite that long if a new executive director is hired quickly.
Once the new director is hired, the city and county will transition their funding from the chamber to the authority.
"Jamie and I haven't talked about a timeline," Rich said. The city manager suggested it might be practical to expect someone could be hired and on the job within 120 days.
The job posting for the position is expected to be out within a matter of days.
"We'll know a lot in about 30 days," said Jimmy Byars, chairman of the authority. "There are people out there that may have interest in us."
In the meantime, Heather Seckman and Ken Wright at the Rome-Floyd Chamber are continuing to work leads and respond to the existing industry about potential expansion. Seckman is in meetings with site selection consultants in Chicago this week.
McCord told authority members Tuesday that Georgia Power had submitted a list of about 60 properties in Floyd County that might be available for acquisition for industrial development purposes. Of those 60, McCord said he believes as many as a dozen might be viable sites, and that he has started very preliminary talks with some of the property owners.
Several years ago, county commissioners decided to cash flow the 2013 SPLOST package and the bulk of the money for acquisition of the land was set aside on the back end of the collection schedule. McCord said at the end of 2018, about $900,000 was in the account and he anticipated that close to $5 million would be available by mid-summer.
"We've got a lot of land in Floyd County, but there's not a lot that is available," McCord said.
The county manager said a little over $3 million of the 2013 SPLOST money for economic development had already been used for acquisition of smaller parcels and grading work. The 2013 SPLOST collections end on March 31.
Auditor Kirk Jarrett pointed out a lot of land in Floyd County has been set aside in conservation easements and cannot be developed. Floyd County and Thomas County lead the state in land set aside for permanent green-space, he said.
While state-authorized easements can be broken under certain conditions, authority member Elaine Abercrombie said breaking any conservation easement could be a public relations nightmare.
Authority member Mark White, chairman of the Greater Rome Existing Industries Association from The Fairbanks Co., asked the panel about any interest in construction of a speculative industrial building. Byars said both land and a spec building are something that will be the focus for future conversations.
"It's expensive but it's something that we've got to talk about," Byars said.
Promoters of the Georgia Steeplechase have pulled the plug on the 2019 event which had been scheduled for Saturday, April 6, at Kingston Downs between Rome and Cartersville.
Anthony-Scott Hobbs, who organized the 2018 event, announced the demise of the event in a one- paragraph posting on the event's website. Its predecessor, the Atlanta Steeplechase, folded following the 2017 races after a 52-year run.
"Unfortunately, due to competing with spring break, it has proven difficult this year to raise the $100,000 for the purse from corporate sponsors. We consulted with the National Steeplechase Association to see if there was a possibility to reschedule to another date this spring or fall, but unfortunately, they gave us no option," reads the statement.
Veteran trainer Jack Fisher said the Georgia race has been one of his favorite meets every year and he was planning to bring five horses this year.
Fisher said the cancellation of the event less than a month out throws a bit of a wrench into the schedule for his horses.
"It's tougher on me because I had eight going to Camden (South Carolina), five there, 12 to Middleburg (Virginia) so it's hard to add them on to the next week," Fisher said.
Fisher responded to the sponsorship issue by giving the Hobbs-led group credit for trying.
"Getting sponsorships to me is like going to a friend of mine that owns a company. I say to him, guess what you're doing this weekend, you're going to sponsor this race and they say okay. You have to know the people," Fisher said. Horses trained by Fisher have won purses totaling over a million dollars each for the past four years.
Fisher said he believes the facility is among the better courses on the steeplechase circuit, with easy viewing for fans and a good turf for the horses. Its location, an hour away from the major population base in Atlanta, was also seen as a problem, according to Fisher.
Hobbs took over what was known for decades as the Atlanta Steeplechase last year and re-branded it the Georgia Steeplechase, but the race day last year was brutally cold. That, coupled with a relatively short lead time to promote the event after organizers of the Atlanta Steeplechase folded, led to poor attendance.
Bartow County Commissioner Steve Taylor said it ultimately comes down to the steeplechase industry being a different cultural segment in Georgia than the Carolinas and Middle Atlantic states, which are the heart of the steeplechase circuit. Taylor said one could see the demise of the event unfolding when major corporate sponsors like Coca-Cola and Delta pulled out several years ago.
"I kind of suspected this might happen," said Taylor.
Cindy Williams, CEO of the Cartersville-Bartow Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber had not sponsored a tent at the event for several years, a decision that was made before she joined the chamber three years ago.
"It has always been an enjoyable event and I do hate it for those who have put a lot of work into it to try to make it a successful event," Williams said.
Similarly, the Rome Floyd Chamber had not been directly involved since 2014 and the Rome Office of Tourism hadn't been involved for an even longer period of time.
Another long-time trainer, Richard Valentine, said he was upset with the the loss of the event and hopes that someone can revive it in the future.
"It's a huge disappointment, the big picture here is that we've lost a meet that is crucial on our calendar," Valentine said.
He was planning to bring two or three horses to Kingston Downs, particularly some maiden fillies which do not get a lot of action on the regular circuit.
"I just hope we don't lose them for good," Valentine said. "I hope the steeplechase community and the NSA can all work together because we can't lose a meet like that. It's a great course."
Cave Spring voters overwhelmingly approved liquor sales Tuesday, clearing the way for a micro-distillery in a historic building in the heart of the city.
"It means a lot for downtown Cave Spring for tourism," said Sandra Lindsey, executive director of the Downtown Development Authority. "It means a lot that they're going to be rehabbing that building ... and it means Cave Spring is progressive."
There were four ballot questions, all dealing with distilled spirits.
Elections Supervisor Judy Dickinson said sales by the drink passed 165 to 34 and package sales passed 163 to 35.
Voters also approved Sunday sales by the package, 155 to 43, and by the drink, 152 to 45.
The City Council is scheduled to meet next week to draw up a regulating ordinance that will set the effective date. The city already allows beer and wine sales by the package and drink.
Council members have been reviewing ordinances from other Georgia cities with an eye to incorporating some of the elements such as food-to-drink sales ratios, special-events licensing and limits on locations and signage.
Permit fees and accommodations for new business models such as brew pubs will likely be part of the discussion.
Lindsey said she texted the "soon-tobe owners of the distillery" as soon as the votes were counted and they are excited to get to work.
"It will still be a while before they can open. They had to wait for the vote," she said.
Caney McStotts and Garrett Rothman plan to tap the city's famed natural spring to make flavored distilled spirits. They'll sell the product under the label Cave Spring Distilling Co. and offer tours and tastings onsite.
Out of 25 schools in Region 1, Kayla Hutcherson, a senior at Armuchee High School, was named the 2019 Professional Association of Georgia Educators STAR Student Region Winner along with her STAR teacher Seth Bates.
The ceremony was held at the Coosa Country Club Tuesday night and was hosted by the Rome Seven Hills Rotary Club.
Each student had their chance to introduce themselves and their STAR teachers and explain why they chose that teacher along with their future plans.
"We are very proud of Ms. Hutcherson and Mr. Bates and the academic excellence they exemplify," said Jimmy Gentry, president of the Rome Seven Hills Rotary Club.
For her future plans, Hutcherson plans on attending the University of Georgia to study music education. She chose Bates, her band director, because he is by far the most influential person in her life, she said.
"It was no surprise to me," Bates said of Hutcherson after it was announced she had won.
Hutcherson and Bates received a cash award from PAGE and will go on to compete at the state banquet April 29 at Sonesta Gwinnett Place Atlanta. She will compete against the winners of the 11 other regions. The 2019 PAGE STAR Student State Winner will represent the state of Georgia on a national level.
To obtain the 2019 STAR nomination, high school seniors must have the highest score on a single test date on the SAT and be in the top 10 percent or top 10 students of their class based on grade point average. STAR begins each year in participating high schools throughout Georgia when the STAR Student is named and chooses a STAR Teacher to share in this recognition.
Rome Seven Hills Rotary Club contributed to this report.
Today's artwork is by Nikolai Crenshaw, a first-grader at Model Elementary School.