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City Schools need more time on speed cameras

Alvin Jackson Sr.

After listening to both Rome police and a representative from RedSpeed USA, Rome City Schools decided to hold off on voting to approve the installation of speed cameras in front of Rome High School until they can discuss it further.

Greg Park with RedSpeed USA, along with Rome Police Department Chief Denise Downer-McKinney and Capt. Chris DeHart, had a 30-minute question and answer session with school board officials during Tuesday night’s caucus at the city schools’ central office.

Board members aired their concerns and asked questions about when the cameras will be operational, how the tickets will be enforced and why Rome High School was chosen.

“I have had more people ask me about this than anything I’ve had since I’ve been on the school board,” Will Byington, city school board member, said.

DeHart told the school board these cameras were necessary for the stretch of highway in front of Rome Middle and High due to the number of wrecks recorded since January. The 2-mile stretch of road between the Ga. 53 intersection and Riverside Parkway has seen over 100 wrecks with one of them resulting in a fatality, DeHart said. Rome High School sits in the middle of the corridor and with the cameras law enforcement should see a decrease in those numbers, he said.

Board Member Elaina Beeman questioned the nine-hour study conducted by law enforcement and RedSpeed USA, which documented 274 motorists traveling at least 11 mph over the speed limit of 45 mph. Beeman said she and others she has talked to feel like this study is targeting the students and families of the schools.

DeHart replied while some students may get ticketed, the main focus is to get people to slow down. If the schools can’t get the kids to slow down and neither can the parents, then it is up to the police, he said. Also, DeHart pointed out, city police only have six officers covering school zones with seven schools needing the coverage.

“Speeding in front of a school is dangerous,” he said. “People don’t like being told that they cannot do something.”

Tickets will only be issued during school hours, Park said, beginning an hour before school begins and ending an hour after it ends. The high-tech cameras will run 24/7 and can notify police of drivers who are wanted by police, potentially violating restraining orders by being too close to the school or if they are a registered sex offender.

Police would be able to live-stream the cameras or play them back at any point necessary.

If a speeding violation is registered, it will be sent to RedSpeed USA who will review it twice and then send the video footage and license plate photo to the police. The police will then decide whether or not a ticket should be issued.

Park said in response to a question from Jill Fisher, vice chair of the board, that once a ticket is sent, drivers will also have access to the video and photo evidence against them. They will have the option to pay a $75 fine or have their violation tried like a normal ticket.

“Which you have every right to do,” Park said. “Only about 3% take that option though.”

DeHart said the fine is much less of a penalty than if an RPD officer pulled a speeder over in a school zone. Officers can write tickets for 1 mph over the limit he said, and the tickets written by an officer put points on licenses, which usually results in raised car insurance costs.

This program puts no points on a driver’s license nor affects insurance costs and will only ticket speeders for going 11 mph over, Park said.

“So, is this a cash cow or a speed trap,” board member Alvin Jackson asked.

“Neither,” DeHart replied.

RedSpeed receives the money from the citations and takes 35% for their services and sends the remaining 65% to law enforcement for public safety purposes only. The cameras have been approved by the Georgia General Assembly and are being used in other counties as well, Park said.

If approved by the Rome City School Board, a permit from the Georgia Department of Transportation would need to be granted. State law requires RedSpeed USA to post warning signs for 30 days before tickets can be written. However violators will still get warnings by mail.

DeHart said if this program is successful and a reduction in speeders is seen, the department will consider moving the cameras to in front of Main Elementary, which was not in operation when the study was done.

City school board members decided to wait until the next board meeting before they vote on allowing or denying the cameras.

Beeman said she wants to see the study before she makes a decision.

Wings Over North Georgia air show back in 2020 and bringing air racing to Rome

It’s official — air racing will become a part of the Wings Over North Georgia air show in 2020.

The event received its sanctioning from the Federal Aviation Administration and will be a part of the AirShow Racing Series next year on Oct. 24-25.

John Cowman, president of JLC Air Show Management, said this is a project that he has been working on for more than two years.

“I felt like, from an excitement standpoint, we have no winners and losers at air shows, so I was looking for what we could develop and bring to the table,” Cowman said. “Air racing is something that I’ve always had a desire for but there was no way of doing that at an air show.”

He looked at the National Hot Rod Racing Association model and was able to develop a course that involves navigating pylons within the standard aerobatic box, he said.

Once the course was developed, Cowman had to win approval from the FAA which changed a lot of rules and regulations for the industry following a crash at a show in Reno, Nevada, in September of 2011.

During that incident, a highly modified North American P-51D Mustang racer crashed into spectators, killing the pilot, Jimmy Leeward, and a number of people on the ground.

New safety checks for custom modified aircraft and rules about the safe distance from race spectators are among the changes that have been made. Cowman said the safety of everyone concerned, from the pilots to the spectators, has always been his top priority.

The course features inflatable pylons that are spaced apart down a straight line course. The racers drop to below 75 feet in the air and maneuver through the pylon course two and half times with a sprint to the finish.

Races will be held in two divisions with eight racers in each division.

Organizers of other air shows will be in Rome to witness the event and determine whether or not it is feasible to incorporate the racing in their shows, he said.

The air show will pay the pilots to come to Rome to participate and earn points as part of the AirShow Racing national series, Cowman said. At the end of the series, the top pilots will have a pool of funds donated to the charity of their choice.

The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds will also be a part of the 2020 air show in Rome. The 2019 show was canceled this year after efforts to attract a major international headline act fell through.

Emily Nails, a fifth-grader at Pepperell Elementary School

Board OKs Auger Monster installation at Floyd County Jail

The Floyd County Jail is getting a new Auger Monster, but the cost of the sewage filtration system gave officials a bit of a jolt.

Floyd County commissioners awarded a $238,000 contract to Powder Springs-based Willow Construction to install an Auger Monster sewage grinder and piping at the 2526 New Calhoun Highway facility.

County Manager Jamie McCord said it’s about $75,000 more than expected, but just two companies expressed interest in the project that’s been deferred about a year.

“It’s a high bid, but it’s the only one we got,” McCord told the board. “No. 2 didn’t bid. He said it’s not a big enough job.”

An Auger Monster system is a wastewater screen that captures and pulls cloth, trash and other solids out of the sewer system. It shreds them into fine particles, sprays them down to separate the fecal matter and compacts them for disposal.

McCord said the county bought the machinery in late 2017, “but we don’t have crews to do the installation.” The project includes running about 300 feet of new sewer line while keeping the jail system secure and operating without a hitch.

“We’re spending about $5,000 a month on sewer-pumping now,” he said.

The bulk of the funding, $189,500, will come from the jail surcharge fund. The County Commission is paying the additional $48,500.

Also on Tuesday, the board approved a $15,000 expense for materials so the public works department can build a brining system. The equipment will make a saltwater solution used to pre-treat county roads before a snow or ice storm.

Commissioners also adjusted the budget for PAWS, the public animal welfare services facility at 99 North Ave., to reflect donations of $4,500.

McCord said the money would be used to buy dog beds, water pails and other amenities for the animals awaiting adoption.

Fire chief monitoring dry conditions ahead of NWS drought forecast

Rome-Floyd Fire Chief Troy Brock is hoping for the best when the National Weather Service issues its new drought information statement Thursday.

“We’ve had dry conditions. We’re monitoring that closely,” he told members of the county public safety committee Wednesday.

An outlook map issued at the end of September indicated conditions in Northwest Georgia were likely to worsen this month.

Floyd County’s rainfall was 1.4 inches below average for the summer months according to the previous drought statement, issued Sept. 26. And NWS climate data for September shows the county received 0.31 inches of precipitation compared to the norm of 3.41 inches.

Restrictions on outdoor burning were lifted Oct. 1, but Brock said the Georgia Forestry Commission is issuing permits on a day-by-day basis. On Wednesday the online permit site cited “hazardous fire danger” in rejecting all applications.

“Hopefully we won’t have to do another emergency resolution,” Brock said.

Floyd County commissioners enacted an emergency burn ban in November 2016 after firefighters battled about 200 blazes in a span of two months, including a wildfire in late September that burned nearly 700 acres northwest of Cave Spring.

An ordinance adopted in December 2016 gives the emergency powers to the fire chief, in consultation with the city and county managers.

Directors of the county’s public safety agencies presented activity updates Wednesday at the committee meeting chaired by Commissioner Larry Maxey, with Commission Chair Scotty Hancock as the second board member.

Amy Fowler, commander of the Rome-Floyd Metro Task Force, reported that the joint agency made 47 arrests in September.

Task force members last month confiscated 10 vehicles; eight firearms; 27 grams of cocaine; 3,761 grams of marijuana (equal to a little over 8 pounds); 101 grams of methamphetamine and 28 prescription drugs such as hydrocodone and oxycodone, Fowler said.

Assistant County Police Chief Tom Ewing said the department has two fundraisers planned in the coming months.

The annual golf tournament, set for Nov. 1 at Stonebridge Golf Course, will benefit Elevation House. The local nonprofit connects people living with mental illness with opportunities for friendship, employment and education. Information and registration is available at the FCPD web page.

Ewing said they’re also planning a smoked Boston butts sale in mid-November to buy Project Lifesaver transmitters for families in need. The $375 transmitters can be used to track adults with dementia, children with autism and other residents at risk to wander off and get lost.