About 25 people attended the SPLOST Citizens Advisory Committee meeting in support of a $1.18 million proposal to extend the Kingfisher Trail in Rome along an abandoned railroad bed to Lindale.
TRED, the local trails advocacy group, is pushing the project as a way to expand transportation options, offer a healthy lifestyle, draw tourists and attract millennials to live and work in Floyd County.
“This is an opportunity for us to get some connectivity,” said Harry Brock, who made the presentation to the committee.
The budget includes $450,000 to acquire the land, $500,000 for the paving and the balance for engineering and contingencies. Brock said the path would link residential areas with places like Southeastern Mills, Kellogg, and Georgia Northwestern Technical College before ending at the site planned as a rail viewing platform in Lindale.
County Manager Jamie McCord said it could enhance the community’s revitalization program.
“I’ll be frank. Lindale’s struggling. … They will take any improvements they can get,” he said.
However, just one of the supporters present was from the community, and SPLOST committee members voiced concern that none of the property owners abutting the rail had been contacted yet.
A county resident, Bill Burk, also said he feels the project is not a wise use of tax money.
“I don’t see how we can have a conversation about a trail when we have so many needs, especially in law enforcement,” Burk said. “This is a very divisive issue.”
But several supporters said the proposal has real benefits. John Johnson of Cave Spring pointed out that the path would be a healthy and inexpensive way for people to get to work or school. And former city commissioner Buzz Wachsteter said it would bring in tourism money to offset property taxes.
“I don’t walk or bike, but I know about economics,” Wachsteter said. “This is an economic engine.”
Brock also pointed out that TRED members are a voting force in the county.
The committee is tasked with narrowing about $170 million worth of projects to a package of no more than $61 million. Voters will decide in November if they want to extend the 1-cent special purpose, local option sales tax to fund them.
The final projects were presented Thursday night:
Floyd County Justice Center, $22,800,000
Employees at the current judicial center off Fifth Avenue are using closets for offices, the U.S. Department of Justice recently cited the facility with 151 violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, courts are averaging a 25-percent increase in usage, a fourth Superior Court and two specialty courts were recently added, the Probate Court will be required to offer jury trials in 2019 and there are only 36 public parking spaces in the parking lot.
“The goldfish has outgrown the bowl,” Juvenile Court Judge Greg Price said.
Judges and the district attorney — who all attended the Thursday presentation to the SPLOST committee — are asking for a $22.8 million earmark to build a new Hall of Justice.
The budget includes $4 million to temporarily relocate some offices in order to expand the Superior Court area. The new building would take about two years to design and construct.
Price said the current facility is 70,000 square feet and the court needs are calculated to reach 100,000 square feet over the next 20 years. A new site has not yet been pinpointed, although he said he favors the former Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital grounds.
“It would attract law firms, businesses that provide food and services to people who use the court,” he said. “The county could make some money out of that deal.”
Historic Courthouse renovations, $4,000,000
The historic courthouse in downtown Rome is the largest of its period remaining in Georgia and one of the few that is used daily. Chief Appraiser Danny Womack said an average of 500 people a day come in to the tax commissioner and tax assessor offices.
Yet, there’s a kiddie pool in the attic catching rainwater — and the ceilings, brickwork, windows, walls and mortar are moldy and deteriorating.
“If we can get the building sealed, maybe we can move forward on using it better,” Womack said.
Plans are to hire an architectural firm — Carter Watkins Associates — to draw up a complete preservation plan. The firm has restored historic courthouses in more than 20 Georgia counties, including Bartow, Polk, Douglas, Jackson, Jasper, Madison and Oglethorpe.
“The historic courthouse has to be preserved,” McCord said. “It’s an icon.”
Womack said October would mark the 124th anniversary of laying the cornerstone and plans are forming to pull it in a ceremony to see what the locals of the time put in there as a “time capsule.”
State Mutual Stadium improvements, $3,462,000
McCord and Rome Braves General Manager Mike Dunn are seeking $3.4 million for “a refresh” of the county-owned stadium built with SPLOST money in 2003.
“Our facility is first class and we want to keep it that way. We want to keep the Rome Braves,” McCord said.
The county uses its share of ticket sales for major repairs. The Braves are responsible for daily maintenance and have spent more than $3 million so far on enhancements such as digital signage and scoreboards, high school All Star games and the adjacent Miracle Field for challenged athletes.
“We’ve been here 15 years and we’ve invested daily, yearly into the community,” Dunn told the committee.
Plans include renovations and new construction, including the addition of locker room space, storage, expansion of the store, a new banquet pavilion and a ticketing and restroom area on the end near the Armuchee Connector.
County paving and infrastructure, $5,737,720
County Public Works Director Michael Skeen is seeking $5.7 million for infrastructure improvements deferred during the Great Recession.
“We have 735 miles of paved road in Floyd County. Prior to 2008, when the bottom fell out, we averaged 44 miles a year for a 17-year paving cycle. Since then, we’ve averaged 14.87 miles, for a 49-year cycle,” he told the SPLOST committee.
Most of the money would go to pave 75 miles of road, which would get the county on a 25-year paving cycle. The state’s putting in more money now, Skeen said, so they can start trying to catch up. He’s targeted about 50 miles of heavily traveled or neglected roads and wants to determine the other 25 miles on an as-needed basis.
The application also includes $1 million to repair or replace weight-restricted bridges that cannot be used by heavy vehicles such as school buses and fire trucks.
There also is $300,000 for Lindale road improvements, including the Dragon Drive intersection, and $200,000 designated for Riverside Village.
County public works facility, $3,150,000
The county’s maintenance facility on Black’s Bluff Road is set in a re-purposed building that dates to 1968, and the warehouse is even older, Skeen said. He works out of an administration trailer on a hill above the complex, which also houses the Floyd County Prison.
The shop has just five bays, the concrete floor is too pitted to clean, the ceiling and skylights are dim and the roof leaks in at least 10 spots. The storage area is overflowing, creating tripping hazards, he said, and there’s no room for required training.
“Admin has to vacate in severe weather, but I need to be there to respond,” Skeen told the committee.
He’s looking for $3.1 million for a new 15,000- square-foot shop; 5,000- square-foot warehouse; and a training center and administrative offices at 3,000 square feet each.
“The warehouse and maintenance shop need to happen,” he told the SPLOST committee when he was asked if he could cut the scope of the project. “I would stay in the trailer to get the shop and warehouse, but it would be easier to communicate with my staff if I could just walk down the hall.”
North Broad Youth Center recreation, $600,000
The center at 1141 North Broad St. offers after-school programs for children in the area through a foundation and network of volunteers. It is seeking $600,000 in the SPLOST package to add an outdoor recreation area.
The project would replace part of the paved parking area with a covered multipurpose pavilion for basketball, tennis and volleyball for an estimated $400,000. Another $200,000 would go for a small playground with bonded rubber surface.
Executive Director Terri Mayes, pastor of Greater Refuge Ministries, said the foundation would be responsible for the maintenance of the site. The property would be donated to the city of Rome, since SPLOST money can’t be used for private ventures.
Waterways for Play, $1,926,425
Dr. Frank Harbin is proposing several projects to enhance access and use of Rome’s rivers, building off a Florida plan that has turned their waterways into a water trail system. Harbin — and SPLOST committee member Doc Kibler — are among a group of local people who take paddle-vacations on the Suwanee River in that state.
The bulk of the funding, $1.4 million, would go to creating two paddle campsites where kayakers could stop for the night. They’d each have five screened sleeping platforms with electricity, for up to eight campers, and a picnic pavilion with outdoor grills and other amenities. It would be staffed by volunteers, who would take turns living in their RV there for several weeks at a time.
“They do this out west and there’s a waiting list for people who want to be hosts,” Harbin said.
Just under $100,000 would go to improving Brushy Branch, which is used by an estimated 200 people a week, Harbin said, many of them from out of state. Restrooms, a dock, a picnic pavilion, a fish-cleaning station and gravel parking would be added.
“And then we have something of a moon shot,” Harbin said, about the $20,000 that would pay for a feasibility study — to see if a spot in the river could be engineered to create whitewater rapids or a wave pool.
“We’re at the mercy of geology and I don’t know if it’s possible, but it’s worth exploring,” he said.
There also would be two launch sites added, likely at the stadium and Old Dalton Road, along with signage and a bike share program managed through an online app.
“For $2 million, Floyd County would basically own the river trail, and make sure people end up in downtown Rome,” Harbin said.
Veterans Memorial and Redmond interchange, no cost given
Resident Nathan Roberts is advocating for the elimination of the traffic signal at Redmond and Veterans Memorial Highway by using the abandoned railroad easement to reroute traffic.
Westbound traffic would travel under the bridge before merging.
“It’s wide enough for a couple of lanes, maybe even a bike path,” Roberts told the committee.
Roberts did not have a cost estimate, however, and he came without a commitment from Berry College, which owns much of the land where the traffic would be rerouted. McCord said it’s a good idea, but would also need approval from the Georgia Department of Transportation, since Ga. 1 Loop — the bypass — is a state route.