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ECO Center celebrates 10,000 student visitors this year
• A celebration will take place all day Wednesday.

Ben Winkelman

Mike Hackett

The Rome-Floyd ECO River Education Center will celebrate a major milestone Wednesday for hosting 10,000 students during the calendar year.

"We're very proud of that number," said ECO Center Director Ben Winkelman. "Are we going to try to do that year-in and year-out? Realistically 8,500 is a great number."

The ECO Center is encouraging people to drop by between 8:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Wednesday to enjoy a hot chocolate and coffee bar to help celebrate the 10,000 student milestone.

"The educational value and the philosophical benefit of having these students engaged in an understanding of natural resources is huge," said Winkelman. The goal was to reach at least 2,500 students each year. He said the Georgia Environmental Protection Division has been very excited with the numbers that are coming through the center each year.

Mike Hackett, director of the Rome water and sewer department said the ECO Center was instrumental in allowing Rome to meet the educational requirements for being designated a Water First community.

"If we apply for a Georgia Environmental Finance Authority loan we get a one percent reduction on the interest rate," Hackett said.

"The ECO Center helps the public understand the value of maintaining clean water system and protecting the watershed."

Winkelman said the numbers are great but he is even more proud of the quality of education and field trip experience that is very tangible for the children.

The ECO Center has a regular program that is tied to Georgia Performance Standards. The center work closely with the STEM program, making sure that as a third grader grows and develops into a fifth grader they are getting grade level appropriate programming.

"The older they get the more in-depth we can get as far as conservation and ecology," Winkelman said.


Legislature could boost 911 fees
• A new bill to codify a central authority under GEMA is expected to include provisions to increase revenue.

Provisions for a bigger stream of revenue for 911 services across the state are in the works for the Georgia General Assembly session set to start in January.

"Michael Nix is optimistic, and that makes me optimistic," said John Blalock, director of the Floyd County 911 Center.

Nix was appointed earlier this year to direct the newly formed Local Government 911 Authority. Gov. Nathan Deal created the board under the Georgia Emergency Management Agency after vetoing legislation that made it a stand-alone body.

The bill passed by the House and Senate also contained the funding provisions local officials hope will be in the new legislation codifying the authority.

Blalock said all money collected from 911 fees would be sent directly to the authority for distribution based on zip codes. That would eliminate the administrative cost-recovery fee governments currently pay to carriers for handling the distribution.

"Last year we paid about $57,000 in cost-recovery fees," Blalock noted.

Another provision would have bumped up the 75-cents-a-month 911 fee on prepaid phone cards to $1.50 — the same as it is for landlines and monthly plans.

Blalock said the Floyd County center got about $193,000 from prepaid phone card fees in 2016. With parity, it would have been twice that amount. However, collections this year were down to $145,000 and the Georgia Department of Revenue would say only that it was "part of the ebbs and flows" of commerce.

"Every 911 center in the state lost 25 percent of their prepaid funding and we don't know why," Blalock said.

County officials are asking that a provision be included in the new bill to allow local jurisdictions to get information from the GDOR about fees collected on their behalf.

Blalock said the added revenue would likely be enough to fund the Floyd County 911 Center through phone fees. The center doesn't use tax money now, but it is drawing each year from a previously established savings account.

" Fees haven't increased, but technology has gotten more expensive. We didn't have text 10 years ago," he said. "But we think our operations would be fully funded. We still wouldn't have enough to put back for special projects, though."

The local center is, however, slated for modernization through a $257,000 earmark in the 2017 special purpose, local option sales tax package. Collections don't start until April 1, 2019, but Blalock is already researching the best deals.

"We're taking our time to be sure we get the biggest bang for our buck," he said. "We have plans in the works and I'm hunting for prices, but I'm not lobbying to be moved up on the priority list."

The bulk of the project will be replacement of the nearly 20-year-old consoles that dispatchers use to take calls and send help.

A new lighting system, laminate flooring, some painting and remodeling the layout also are planned. Blalock said he'll also be including some security improvements, including shutter mechanisms for the windows, which face west and catch the full force of winds during heavy weather.


Shooting victim in stable condition
• Police are investigating the Sunday shooting on Branham Avenue.

Rome police are investigating a shooting on Branham Avenue that left the victim with five gunshot wounds, none of them fatal. Capt. Roy Willingham, who is heading the investigation, said Monday that the victim — Terangi Ayinde Mass, 40, of 20 Morningside Drive — was in stable condition.

"He was supposed to go into surgery today," Willingham said. "He's stable but unable to talk, although he was talking when they took him to the hospital."

According to Willingham and Rome Police Department reports:

Mass was shot once in each shoulder, twice in the hips and once in the elbow as he ran from a gunman to a relative's house.

The incident took place at around 7:05 p.m. Sunday in front of 528 1/2 Branham Ave. The first officer on the scene found Mass inside the house, covered in blood, but alert and conscious. Mass said only that a man started to shoot at him and he ran. Police initially believed he was shot inside, but a witness pointed them to the street, where they found five shell casings near the mailbox.

That's when the Criminal Investigation Division was called in and the street was temporarily blocked to preserve potential evidence. Willingham said Monday there were few clues and interviews had produced no solid leads as of Monday afternoon.

"We got no real help from the neighbors and witnesses," he said. "They haven't been very forthcoming."

Patrol officers first on the scene took a report from a witness who had been walking down the street at the time of the shooting. He said Mass had been talking to another man about a Dolphins game when the man pulled out a gun and yelled, "Give it up!" Mass started running toward the house and the man fired a number of shots.

The man then pointed the gun at the witness, who also ran. He told police that he was looking back and saw the assailant get into the passenger side of a small dark car driven by a woman. Another man suspected of being the shooter was temporarily taken into custody, but Willingham described him Monday as a witness.

He matched the description of a man seen running away from the scene by emergency medical services personnel waiting for police to ensure it was safe to go in. An officer found him in the area within 10 minutes of the shooting.

The man was reportedly evasive when approached by police and was handcuffed when an officer saw blood on his hands.

"Supposedly he was in the house, ran out to help the victim in and got blood on his hand," Willingham said.

The man was taken for questioning by CID and later released without charges.


Police: Polk man commits suicide after killing girlfriend

Kenny Dodd

Polk County police provided additional details this morning on the death of a Rockmart man alleged to have killed his girlfriend in Cobb County.

According to Polk County Police Chief Kenny Dodd:

44-year-old Tandy Borders told a Rockmart police officer on the phone as he was driving back to Polk County to kill himself around 11 p.m. Sunday.

"Police received a lookout for a suicidal suspect heading to a church on Prospect Road to commit suicide, possibly been involved in the death of his girlfriend in Powder Springs," Dodd said.

Officers went to Prospect Road church and found no one there.

Officers eventually spotted Borders driving on Highway 278 and tried to stop him at the intersection at Coot's Lake Road.

Borders made it to the turnoff for Atlanta Highway and the chase ended at McDowell Road, where he took his own life, Dodd said.

"According to the information we received, he told someone that he had killed his girlfriend, but not local law enforcement," Dodd said.

Police say Borders shot and killed his girlfriend in Cobb County around 9 p.m., then traveled back home to Polk County to find a secluded area to kill himself.


TODAY'S YOUNG ARTIST

Today's artwork is by Unity Christian fourth-grader Moses Abston.