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School systems prep for teacher, staff COVID-19 vaccine administration

The Rome City and Floyd County school systems are prepping for on-site teacher and staff vaccinations as their eligibility opens up next week.

Floyd Medical Center will partner with both school systems as well as local private schools in order to administer the vaccines. Using an existing nursing contract with the Rome, Floyd and Polk school systems, their respective school nurses will administer a majority of those shots.

Most of those school nurses have already been trained to administer the vaccine, said Chris Butler, the director of corporate health at Floyd Medical Center.

“We’ve been pre-planning it for a while,” Butler said.

The vaccinations are voluntary and both school systems have sent out forms for staff members who will take part in the vaccination drive.

The offer has met with some skepticism, especially in the county. Both Rome City Schools Superintendent Lou Byars and Floyd County Schools Superintendent Glenn White said they hope their staff will take part in the free vaccination programs. White even took it a step further, saying he will be getting his first dose alongside other FCS teachers.

At this point an estimated 450 first doses are planned for the Rome school system and around 500 are planned for the county school system, Butler said.

Gov. Brian Kemp chose to allow child care workers and K-12 school employees and teachers to be vaccinated, but said that college teachers aren’t eligible for now. Community coaches and student teachers are also eligible to be vaccinated, FCS spokesperson Lenora Doss said.

On March 12, RCS employees will receive their first dose from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the College and Career Academy building on the Rome High School campus.

On March 13, Polk County School system employees will receive their first doses from 8 a.m. to noon at the College and Career Academy building on the Cedartown High School campus.

On March 19, FCS employees will receive their first dose from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Armuchee High School.

“We feel confident we should be able to get that done in less than eight hours,” Butler said.

The vaccination program dates coincide with either distance learning days or teacher work days because some people have experienced short term side-effects — like tiredness, Butler said. The Polk County School system’s event will take place on a Saturday to take advantage of having the next Monday out of school.

At this point, FMC has reached out to local private schools to offer vaccination services, FMC Spokesperson Dan Bevels said.

Because those schools have lower volumes of teachers eligible for vaccination, the hospital will work out times to bring them to P1 — a converted parking deck on the hospital campus being used for the vaccination program. Those doses will also be administered for free, Bevels said.

Pipeline work starts on Division Street, Charlton Street portion beginning next week

As Atlanta Gas Light contractors prepare to start digging trenches for a gas pipeline running under Charlton and Division streets, their main concern is the installation of steel plates on the roadway.

Rome City Engineer Aaron Carroll said it all depends on the type of soil under those streets. The construction workers won’t know what they’re working with until they begin digging, he said.

Based on what they’ve already done around that area for utilities, Carroll believes they’ll have to use more plates and keep them up longer than they did on Martha Berry Boulevard and Coligni Way.

They’ve already begun cutting the asphalt and digging trenches for the gas pipes on Division Street near the railroad tracks, while Charlton Street construction won’t start until next week.

Carroll said they want to minimize the impact on the residents on those streets as much as possible. AGL workers have already begun sending notices to homeowners and giving them contact information.

There will be some days where driveways are blocked by construction workers and they might have to park in their neighbors’ driveways.

However, construction will only be occurring during the day, between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m.

About 61% of the construction is complete on Shorter Avenue, but Carroll said it’ll probably go on longer than anticipated after workers found a storm drainage box culvert near the Taco Bell. They initially didn’t realize it was there and are unsure about when work will be finished on the road.

At Ridge Ferry Park, construction workers are continuing to bore under the river and hope to wrap up in the next month and a half, when the warm weather will officially kick in.

Night work will also be starting on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Kingston Highway this week.

The pipeline project is slated to be complete by June. The gas line will span 9 miles and finish at the International Paper plant on Alabama Highway out in Coosa.

$1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package bashed by Kemp as backers stress benefits

ATLANTA — A $1.9 trillion federal COVID-19 relief package moving in Congress that would send aid directly to cities and counties has drawn backlash from Gov. Brian Kemp, who says its funding formula shortchanges Georgia.

Dubbed the “American Rescue Plan,” the latest relief package would divvy up $195 billion to state governments based on how many people are unemployed in each state, departing from the formula in previous COVID-19 packages that distributed relief based on population.

Gov. Brian Kemp

Kemp slammed the funding formula on Tuesday, arguing it would send less money to states like Georgia that have kept businesses open through most of the pandemic’s tenure, while benefiting states like California and New York that have locked down more often.

But backers of the plan point out an additional $130 billion would be sent directly to city and county governments based on their populations and poverty levels, marking a new payment round that skirts state oversight unlike previous packages passed since March of 2020.

They argue Georgia’s share of the new relief funds should hand the state more than $8 billion in COVID-19 aid, of which a large chunk would go straight to struggling city and county governments and give them more flexibility to shore up their pandemic-struck budgets.

Kemp, a Republican eying reelection in 2022, estimated that tying funding amounts to unemployment would leave Georgia with $1.3 billion less in relief than if allocations were based on a state’s population – an amount other analysts in Georgia have not yet verified.

“The COVID-19 relief package, as currently written, is a slap in the face to hardworking Georgians, small businesses and countless families who struggled to make ends meet throughout the pandemic,” Kemp said in an editorial published Monday on Fox News.

“Congress should take action immediately by changing the bill to level the playing field for all states.”

The nonprofit Georgia Budget and Policy Institute disputed Kemp’s characterization of the Biden-backed package’s potential impact, though the group has not yet done a full analysis of the $1.9 trillion plan’s many funding branches, said GBPI Senior Policy Analyst Danny Kanso.

He highlighted previous aid packages, including last year’s $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, which pumped funding through state officials to apportion to local governments. The current package under consideration is both larger for local governments and partly cuts out the state as broker, Kanso said.

“The CARES Act sent $150 billion out of the $2.2 trillion plan, so Georgia is currently getting both more raw dollars, and a higher share of the funding is directed specifically to state and local governments,” Kanso said, noting the latest funding round will send $350 billion to state and local officials.

The nonprofit Georgia Public Policy Foundation, meanwhile, sided with Kemp in questioning the unemployment-focused funding formula, agreeing that Georgia’s aid share would be higher with a more population-centric calculation.

Kyle Wingfield, the foundation’s president and CEO, also noted many state and local governments have not spent all their funds from previous rounds of COVID-19, even as revenues have rebounded in states like Georgia that have kept businesses more open than elsewhere.

“To throw the unemployment rate in there as a new thing is certainly going to distort this allocation in favor of states that have kept their economies closed versus those that have tried to strike a balance between public health and keeping their economies from going into a free-fall,” Wingfield said.

Kemp, who has long touted Georgia’s economic recovery by keeping businesses open during the pandemic, called on recently seated U.S. Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock to “use their considerable influence” in the Democrat-controlled Congress to revise the relief package.

Both Ossoff and Warnock – the first Democrats to capture Georgia’s two Senate seats in 15 years – plan to vote in favor of the new relief package that has backing from President Joe Biden’s administration, their offices confirmed Tuesday.

Jon Ossoff

Raphael Warnock

In a statement, Ossoff said the relief package would help bolster “smaller cities, counties, towns, and rural communities have not received the federal support they need and deserve.”

Separately, Warnock called the package “robust relief” that can now clear the Democrat-controlled Congress “so we can finally get these federal investments out the door and into the hands of Georgians who’ve waited too long for help.”

Beyond state and local government funding, the relief package contains dozens of aid measures including billions of dollars to fund COVID-19 testing and vaccine production, emergency rental assistance, extended higher unemployment benefits and $1,400 stimulus checks for most Americans.

The Biden administration confirmed Tuesday that $350 billion of the relief package would go toward state, local and tribal governments, plus another nearly $130 billion dedicated for reopening schools across the country. 

Of that amount, Georgia’s state and local share would be $8.3 billion, plus another $4.5 billion for K-12 schools, an administration spokesman confirmed. That’s on top of a $1,600 tax credit for more than 1 million low-income Georgia families, a $27 bump in supplemental nutrition benefits per person and a roughly $1,000 earned-income tax credit for adults. 

“We can disagree on the precise way this money is allocated to state and local governments, but President Biden’s plan put forward $350 billion to keep cops, firefighters and teachers on the job, and the Republican proposal was for $0,” said White House spokesperson Mike Gwin. 

“And when Republicans had a chance to support this funding in the House, they voted against it unanimously.”

The package gained House passage on Feb. 27 with Georgia’s six Democratic members voting in favor and eight Republican members voting against.

Lucas Price, a student at Model Elementary School

Rome City Commissioners ready to move on River District improvement plan

Rome city commissioners are ready to get plans moving for the River District.

The Public Works Committee agreed Tuesday to work with members of the Downtown Development Authority and Redevelopment Committee to develop a plan to make the Fifth Avenue Bridge a more pedestrian friendly entrance to the area.

Even with the anticipation of what the area could be, there are still items to consider.

When it comes to doing anything on the bridge other than the existing sidewalk on both sides, it would require a structural analysis of the bridge, City Engineer Aaron Carroll said.

“Any additional weight needs to be minimal above the weight of the cars that are on it right now,” Carroll said.

Doug Walker 

Rome is hoping to make some cosmetic changes to the Fifth Avenue Bridge to make it an attractive gateway to the River District on the west side of the Oostanaula River.

The conceptual plan includes some new parallel parking on the bridge and narrowing it to two lanes of traffic.

The weight on the bridge isn’t the only issue. Public Works Director Chris Jenkins said the sidewalks on that bridge are high and may not allow a person who parallel parked to open their door.

The committee reached a consensus that they’re ready to see work in the district completed sooner rather than later. However, coordinating that work may be an issue.

Rome has a $600,000 grant from the Appalachian Regional Commission to relocate water and sewer lines. That grant will also cover moving overhead utility lines underground.

New 10-inch or 12-inch water lines will greatly improve service to that section of the downtown district, Carroll said. Plans involve burying both the water lines and utilities underneath the sidewalk on the west side of Fifth Avenue.

“If we’re going to do this, then there is no cheaper time to do this than now,” said Public Works Committee Chairman Mark Cochran. “In a lot of ways it doesn’t make sense to piecemeal it.”

The whole government funded streetscape issue is complicated somewhat by private developers’ plans for redevelopment along West Third Street.

Representatives of FSRE IMPACT Rome River District LLC are scheduled to present their plans to the full city commission on March 8.

The Redevelopment Committee forwarded to the full commission the FSRE redevelopment plan for a 2-acre tract adjacent to the Courtyard by Marriott Rome Riverwalk hotel. That plan includes an event plaza that doubles as a food hall. That’s just part of the development group’s overall plan for the property between West Third and the Oostanaula River levee.

FSRE Impact Rome River District LLC 

An artist’s rendering of the event plaza/food hall proposal submitted by FSRE Impact Rome River District LLC for a 2.2-acre tract on West Third Street.

They’re also proposing to construct housing valued at approximately $37.5 million in the first phase of their redevelopment along West Third and another $15 million in multifamily housing during the second phase.

Commissioners Wendy Davis and Jim Bojo — both members of the Redevelopment Committee — stressed the importance of timing the water and utility work in concert with private development.

“This is an opportunity that communities don’t get very often,” said Planning Director Artagus Newell.