The Floyd County Magistrate Court will end its longstanding tradition of using constables and rely on the sheriff's office to handle security, warrants, writs and evictions.
Chief Magistrate Gene Richardson signed an order late Tuesday abolishing the three constable positions in his court, effective Sept. 1.
As a constitutional officer, the decision is his by law.
Richardson said Thursday that few Georgia counties the size of Floyd still use constables and he wants to focus solely on judicial matters.
"I've been looking at it for about a year," Richardson said. "The sheriff's office is a law enforcement agency trained to do all that. We're a court. The citizens are going to get better protective service this way."
Magistrate Court is essentially a smallclaims court where financial disputes of less than $15,000 are handled. It's where a motorist can sue a driver who dented his car, a customer can seek restitution for faulty workmanship or a landlord can evict a tenant who is not paying the rent.
Richardson has a budget of $722,480 this year.
Just over $600,000 is for personnel expenses, including benefits and pension allocations. Nearly $8,000 is earmarked for uniforms and vehicles used by the constables.
"I expect the money for those constables, their vehicle maintenance, weapons – all that will be transferred to the sheriff's office," he said.
That's still unclear, said Sheriff Tim Burkhalter, who met with Richardson and County Manager Jamie McCord before the order was signed to go over options.
"It's still in flux, how it's going to work," Burkhalter said. "We'll figure out a way to do it, but how it happens is still up for debate."
A point Richardson makes in his order is that constables are paid less than deputies. The added duty of handling evictions also means the sheriff will have to revamp his civil and court services division.
"We were fortunate that the Magistrate Court handled that. Nobody liked doing it," Burkhalter said. "They're not very popular, but we will do what we have to do."
It's also not as simple as just hiring Richardson's constables.
Burkhalter said his agency has its own vetting process that applies even to police officers transferring over.
"We also could have a nepotism problem," he added.
Constable T. Roberson is the wife of Maj. Dave Roberson, commander of the field services division.
"Our policy is one spouse can't work for another, and with him being the No. 3 in our agency it will be tough to figure out," Burkhalter said. "We would love to have experienced officers come work for us. ... The turnover rate here and in law enforcement in general is pretty high right now."
McCord said the county's personnel policy spells out what happens when an employee finds their position eliminated.
"If there are openings they'll be offered comparable positions, if they're qualified," he said. "If they're not, they can take a demotion to an open position they're qualified for."
He said he expects to be able to place the three constables in new positions this fall.
"We've got openings," he said, referencing an ongoing struggle to fill positions in a tight job market.
The Floyd County Human Resources Department is holding a job fair in conjunction with the Georgia Department of Labor on July 25 from 8:30 a.m. until 4 p.m. at the Rome Career Center, 462 Riverside Parkway.
There are more than 20 positions to fill, including in the sheriff's office and the police, fire, recreation and water departments.
Applicants can create an account at EmployGeorgia.com to save time during the interview process. They are encouraged to bring their resumes and driver's licenses and dress business casual to improve their chances to be hired.
Floyd County is getting its first R-CUT safety median at the intersection of the bypass and Black's Bluff Road.
"Crews are mobilized and on site," County Manager Jamie McCord said.
The acronym stands for Reduced Conflict U-Turn intersection. The configuration has been shown to reduce the number and severity of crashes by about 50%, according to the Georgia Department of Transportation
Once it's done, instead of driving straight across the bypass or making a left turn onto it, motorists on Black's Bluff will turn right onto the bypass.
They'll then make a U-turn through a median cut and either continue on the bypass or turn right onto Black's Bluff, depending on their destination.
GDOT is funding the $570,726 project through its Quick Response program. District spokesman Mohamed Arafa said the program is for projects that can be done in a short period of time and typically cost less than $200,000.
"The money comes from the state motor fuel tax and is primarily used for small projects on the state route system," he said.
The R-CUT was broken up into three contracts, which all went to Rome-based Spriggs Construction Co.
Arafa said the first contract is construction of a northbound turnaround lane on the bypass at a cost of $196,396. The second is for $177,715, to build the R-CUT concrete island, and the third – at $196,615, is for the southbound turnaround lane.
"This Quick Response safety project will help improve the flow of traffic in the area, make it safer, and help the public get where they need to go in Floyd County," Arafa said.
The project has been in the works for about a year – one of the last ones put in train before his retirement by former district engineer DeWayne Comer. McCord said at the time there had been 27 wrecks and three fatalities at the intersection in three years.
The Floyd County Commission had sought a traffic signal at the intersection but GDOT backed the R-CUT configuration instead. It reportedly will add about 20 seconds to a trip.
Paulding County has an R-CUT intersection near its busy government complex, on U.S. 278 at South Main Street and GDOT intends to install more around the state, according to an informational flyer it released in November.
When classes start in three weeks Rome Middle School will have over 1,000 students walking its halls and to accommodate the growing number of students the system has had to find a way to create more space for the school.
When students return to class in August there will be a string of five mobile classroom trailers along the practice field next to the middle school. The units once sat outside of North Heights Elementary to hold the students from Main Elementary while construction on the new school was underway.
The need for the units stems from keeping class sizes down Superintendent Lou Byars said. The original plan was to build additional class spaces on the middle school campus, however the system has had to put those plans on hold due to having to purchase 35 new school buses.
The middle school has been seeing gradual growth since the 2016-2017 school year, according to data provided by Byars during the board of educations spring planning retreat. but this year will be the first time the school will go over a thousand students. RMS holds only the seventh and eighth grades for the city schools, the systems sixth-graders are spread out among its six elementary schools.
The data provided by Byars shows a history of student growth in the RCS system since the 2010-2011 school year and projected growth in the next four years. Estimated growth from Rome Middle will taper off by 2023 while growth at Rome High School will continue as middle school students move up.
According to the numbers, by 2022 Rome High School will be holding 2,049 students. The new College and Career Academy will help take some of the pressure off of the growing school, Byars said during the retreat.
Other ways the school is adjusting for the influx of students is by changing lunch schedules. During Tuesday's board meeting Byars informed the board that lunches at the middle school would begin earlier in the day — during the last school year some were as late as 1 p.m. Extra time will also be added to the lunch schedule which will extend dismissal by 10 minutes.
The Rome Downtown Development Authority has been seeking to find new ways to introduce visitors to the downtown Rome area for months but still has not locked in on a design and specific locations for new welcome signs.
Design committee Chair Megan Watters presented the DDA board with a series of proposals from an Atlanta consultant on Thursday but said, "I don't think any of them are exactly what we were thinking."
Not wanting to replicate a design that was already in place, the Sky Design team created a series of gateway signage options that were probably a little more contemporary than the downtown design team is looking for, Watters said.
Potential locations for the signs include the intersection of Riverside Parkway and Turner McCall Boulevard and somewhere along Second Avenue in the area of Barron Stadium.
DDA Chairman Bob Blumberg said he thought the first signage should go at the intersection of Turner McCall and Broad Street.
While location is a priority, Watters said, logistical issues related to the buildings and existing utility infrastructure on all four corners of the intersection complicate development of appropriate signage at that location.
Rome Commissioner Jamie Doss asked Watters about a timeline for getting something in place.
"As soon as we get a design that we like," Watters said things will start moving forward
Parking Services Manager Becky Smyth said acquisition of right of way could delay the project if the city needed to acquire property outright, or obtain easements.
Changes to first Saturday
Promotions committee Chair Connie Sams suggested that the Spirit of the Sun festival on the first Saturday in June might be better served by removing the event from the outright sponsorship of the DDA.
Many of the downtown businesses did not see as much of a benefit from the event as they had expected, Blumberg said.
That conversation evolved into a discussion relative to the entire Downtown Saturday series, which was formerly known as the First Friday series.
Consumers and business owners alike would benefit by having something that was in fundamentally the same location each month, Blumberg said. He pointed to the success of having the concerts on Broad Street, while at the same time agreeing that some of the downtown merchants felt certain blocks benefited more than others.
The idea this year was to move the downtown Saturday programs around so events would be on Broad Street twice then once at the following locations each — the Town Green, Bridgepoint Plaza and in the new River District across the Oostanaula River.
The DDA board indicated that it would quiz downtown merchants, and shoppers as well, to see what they would prefer in the future.
The DDA also approved a $1,000 facade grant for Tim and Molly Vicchrilli at their Pro Performance building at 100 Broad Street. Much of the work is being done to the back of that building which is very visible from East First Avenue.
Abbigail Gresham, a fifth-grader at Model Elementary
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