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Potential ad valorem distribution changes may affect city schools

Money is a consistent topic in local school systems, especially since both the city and county school systems are looking at a number of possible cuts from the closure of Plant Hammond.

Rome City Schools’ latest potential cut comes from House Bill 779, a bill in the Georgia General Assembly that changes how much money an independent school system in the state will get from ad valorem taxes on motor vehicles.

Right now, the tax is distributed among county governments, city governments and the board of education for each county school system. When there is also a city school system, a portion of the city government’s cut goes to fund that school system.

HB 779 would increase how much of the ad valorem sales tax goes to the city government, but the city school system would get a smaller share of it. The county school system wouldn’t be affected.

“I could go and complain and say that’s not fair,” Rome City Schools Superintendent Lou Byars said. “It depends on each district and municipality. It’s never going to be perfect, but the way they’re talking about changing it would be really unfair to RCS.”

If the proposal is passed, Byars said city schools are looking at losing a significant amount of money.

According to Byars, RCS received around $130,000 from the tax in October, and Floyd County Schools got $246,000. With the cuts, he estimates receiving around $65,000 a month — which he said does not add up to him, since the Floyd County school system only has 50% more students than Rome’s.

“(Overall) funding is pretty much level or declining,” Byars said. “With all the extra needs that our students have, it makes it very difficult to accomplish what we need to, and we would potentially lose funds and have to make up for it elsewhere.”

He is hoping to speak with the local legislative delegation near the end of the month to discuss his concerns.

“I just want to tell them there’s only 21 city school districts in the state of Georgia,” he said. “Trying to fix a problem that exists in another district is creating another problem here. Why don’t they change the formula to make it more for us?”

Floyd County Prison inmates build dog houses and beds for Pup-a-Palooza 2020

One of the biggest spring events in Rome last year was Pup-A-Palooza, drawing over 400 dogs to the Ridge Ferry Dog Park in one day.

Since then, PAWS, Rome-Floyd Parks & Recreation and Friends of the Dog Park have been planning for this year’s dog social event and trying to figure out how to top last year.

Jeff Mitchell, director of the county’s Public Animal Welfare Services facility, contacted Floyd County Warden Michael Long and asked if the inmates could make some prizes for a silent auction or raffle.

According to Long, the prison received a state-funded education grant, which they used to fund the carpentry shop.

“We like to give each inmate a project so that they can become personally invested in it,” the warden said.

Mitchell ended up requesting five dog houses and the men got to work. With the leftover material from the construction, they built two dog beds that will also act as prizes.

“We’re in the process of meeting with Friends of the Dog Park and deciding on a silent auction or raffle,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell and Friends of the Dog Park are planning on meeting next Tuesday to discuss Pup-A-Palooza.

The five dog houses range in size from one extra-large house, two medium-large houses and two small houses

The styles of the doghouses vary as well, with one having built-in food and water dishes and another with a University of Georgia logo over the entryway.

The beds are box-shaped and have room for a pillow or dog mattress to be placed inside.

The funds raised from the raffle or silent auction will be split between PAWS and Friends of the Dog Park.

Right now, the dog houses and beds are on display at the PAWS, 99 North Ave. Mitchell said they may be moved to the Parks & Recreation headquarters on Shorter Avenue, depending on the foot-traffic.

Pup-A-Palooza will take place on May 3 at Ridge Ferry Dog Park on Riverside Parkway.

Aiken-Freeman gathering input from community on homelessness in first phase of her United Way work

A mom calls for help from an emergency room in the middle of the night. They won’t let her leave with her children unless she has somewhere safe to go.

A homeless man is released from the hospital after being in a diabetic coma. He has nowhere to recover and rest.

A child falls asleep in class because her family doesn’t have a stable place for her to live.

These are all real Rome residents in real situations over the past year. Their stories are summarized on giant sticky notes hanging on Cathy Aiken-Freeman’s wall at her United Way office of the Interagency Council on Poverty & Homelessness at Rome City Hall.

Those large yellow squares are joined by about 13 others and most of those have smaller sticky notes posted on top of them with possible resources or solutions.

“I’m a very visual person, so this helps me see the specific situations people have brought to me over the past month,” Aiken-Freeman explained Monday. “I feel like it makes the problem less huge and esoteric.”

It’s all part of Phase I of her part-time job funded by the United Way of Rome-Floyd County, the City of Rome and Floyd County to help figure a way out of poverty and homelessness for Rome’s neediest citizens.

This “community input” phase will run until the end of March, followed by the building of a holistic, collaborative model centered on those who are homeless or in need of a more stable place to call home.

That second phase will occur from April until the end of June and involve the full Interagency Council.

“The plan is layered and situational, but gives us a starting point that’s relevant,” Aiken-Freeman said. “Then from there, what are the resources? What do we need? How do we put them together in a cohesive, impactful, sustainable way? In reality, any model needs to be fluid so it can be edited and tweaked often — not set in bullet points and left that way. That’s how we get bogged down.”

Phase III in July and August will involve pinpointing the first priorities that will need funding from United Way. A formal presentation will be made to the United Way Board of Directors by the end of August, Aiken-Freeman said.

Alli Mitchell, CEO of United Way of Rome-Floyd County, has already has explained to the community her organization is setting aside monies for exactly this purpose.

Mitchell said Monday she has full confidence Aiken-Freeman will be able to accomplish these goals within the timeline she has outlined.

“It’s been fascinating getting updates from her,” Mitchell said. “I’ve loved hearing how the community is engaging with her because that’s the point. If you don’t have a plan built from community input, then you won’t have a plan that will work for the community.”

A vital piece to community involvement, Aiken-Freeman said, will be selling the model to invested members of the community to create a partnership between the nonprofit world and the for-profit world.

That would be the final phase, she said. And if she’s done her job right, this would be where her job would start coming to an end.

This is why she loves the idea of a tiny home community modeled after one in Detroit where the formerly homeless are able to earn equity toward their own home with the support of social services and the business community.

“One thing that happens is your faith-based, nonprofit do-gooder — that’s me — hands this plan over to a business head, to someone who runs it like a business. Because it needs to be rigorous, have return on investment and all that stuff I don’t know a thing about,” she said. “To make this something that eventually has a revenue arm, there’s got to be good jobs, so we have to have the business buy-in and jobs you can live off of and maybe start making payments on a home. We want to lift people up out of poverty and help them become independent.”

Ambree Jordan, a kindergartner at Glenwood Primary School

Rivers hold as rain expected to continue

As of 3 p.m., Floyd County's Director of Public Works Michael Skeen said there are still some road closings in the county.

The 900 block of Thomas Bluff Road near the county line is still closed. Collier Road past the 100 block and Old River Road between Highway 20 near the boat ramp are still closed. For access past the 100 block of Collier Road drivers should come from the north loop. Plemons Road near Wax Lake is also closed.

Flooding has been a regular part of life in Rome since, well, since before there was a Rome. The confluence of two rivers that attracted native people to this area centuries ago means that, every now and then, there are going to be issues with high water.

Laura Belanger, senior service hydrologist for the National Weather Service in Peachtree City, said high water at this time of year is to be expected in Northwest Georgia.

“We’re in the middle of a recharge period,” Belanger said. “To get this kind of rain this early is really healthy for summer river levels.”

Through 8 a.m. Thursday morning Floyd County received .96" of rain, according to the rain gauge at Richard B. Russell Regional Airport. 

The NWS late Wednesday said the rain forecast into Thursday probably would not have a significant impact on the rivers, unless the system stalls out. But if the expected high winds materialize, there could be a problem with trees toppling from the combination of wind and water.

There have been some isolated issues with livestock drowning in high water, said Todd Hice with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency. Another problem facing some farm producers is damage to fencing from the pressure — and debris — that comes along with rapidly rolling high water.

“It’s still too early for farmers to get concerned about planting conditions. We’re at least a good 45 days away from that,” Hice said.

His office is in the process of making sure livestock producers are aware of what the agency has to offer in terms of emergency assistance.

The Oostanaula River is measured by an electronic U.S. Geologic Survey gauge on the Turner McCall Boulevard bridge.

It registered a high of 27.09 feet around 2:30 a.m. Wednesday before starting to recede around 4 p.m. Flood stage for the river is 25 feet, which means that is when the levee gate on Second Avenue is closed. The river has been above flood stage since around 7:30 a.m. Monday.

Last week the river peaked at 25.85 feet before dropping to just over 21 feet over the weekend.

The Etowah River gauge closest to Rome is affixed to the Ga. 1 Loop bridge near Grizzard Park. The flood stage at that location is 32 feet. The gauge recorded a high mark of 29.93 feet Monday at 6 p.m.

Rain forecast for Wednesday night into Thursday was expected to be less than an inch and half, Belanger said, but the rivers should be able to handle that without any additional serious problems.

However, she said it is a little unusual for the rivers to be at or above flood stage for as long as they have been.

The Upper Coosa River Basin drains a vast area, more than 4,500 miles in Northwest Georgia and a little over 100 miles in southeastern Tennessee.

Any rainfall north of Rome on the western-facing ridges of the Cohuttas will ultimately end up in either the Conasauga or Coosawattee Rivers, which meet near Resaca to form the Oostanaula. The Carters Lake Dam holds back some of the water that originates in the Coosawattee.

Rainfall in north central Georgia runs into the Etowah, which finds its way into Lake Allatoona before ultimately being released through the Allatoona Dam.

After a couple of days of sunshine that are forecast for Friday and Saturday, the area is expected to get more rain Sunday and into Tuesday next week.