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Georgia Highlands Assistant Director of Athletics David Mathis (right) lists the achievements of the Georgia Highlands men’s basketball program under head coach Phil Gaffney (left) during a ceremony at halftime of the women’s game Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019, at Georgia Highlands College. / Jeremy Stewart

Inflation in construction materials affects Rome's CHIP housing, repair program

The high cost of construction has taken a bite out of the city of Rome’s Community Home Investment Program.

Two new CHIP homes have been completed on Peachtree Street. But construction of a third, on Grover Street, was canceled after the contractor said the cost went up by $30,000.

The sale of a home at 7 Peachtree closed Monday and one at 10 Peachtree is slated to close next month, Community Development Director Bekki Fox told the city’s Community Development Committee on Tuesday.

The homes are being constructed through a partnership with the South Rome Alliance. Funding comes from the sale of previous homes built with CHIP grants from the state.

As homes are built and sold, the income is funneled back into the program to build more housing for qualified low- to moderate-income purchasers. The city has constructed more than 30 of the homes over the last couple of decades.

Unable to build within the cost parameters — typically right at $100,000 — the city and South Rome Alliance sold the lot on Grover Street to a private developer, who will build on the site.

The city’s minor and moderate home repair program has also been impacted by the increasing construction costs.

Fox said she only has a handful of contractors who participate in the program, and they’re so busy right now that she’s having a difficult time getting bids for work.

“They usually don’t want to fool with us except when they don’t have anything else to do,” Fox said. “We have one house that is under contract and the contractor is replacing all of the windows in the home. Well, the windows have been on order for almost 16 weeks.”

In lieu of more extensive, and expensive, repair programs, Fox said her office is considering the addition of a home painting program. She said a budget of $5,000 per home would help the look of some neighborhoods in the city.

“We’re not going to paint a house that the roof is caving in on. There would be some parameters,” Fox said.

Rome’s Community Development Block Grant allocation for 2021 was increased by about $6,800 and Fox won approval from the committee to put those funds into the East Rome sidewalk rehabilitation budget. She hopes to get some sidewalk work along the Maple Street corridor under contract by the end of July.

Rolling over some leftover funds in the 2019 and 2020 CDBG budget, the city has right at $300,000 for the sidewalk work.

Kids work on STEM projects at RCS Young Scholars program

For some gifted students at Rome City Schools, classes don’t end in mid-May. They continue into the summer through the school system’s Young Scholars program.

The program is a week long STEM — science, technology, engineering, math — camp for students who have earned As and Bs throughout the school year and shown good behavior in class, according to LeAnn Goya, who is a gifted certified sixth grade English Language Arts and Social Studies teacher.

Goya oversees the Young Scholars program for rising fifth graders in Rome City Schools.

“We focus on engineering, mainly,” she said. “It’s the kind of things you want to do in the classroom, but you don’t have the time to do them.”

The program is offered to upcoming fifth graders, upcoming sixth graders, upcoming seventh graders and upcoming eighth graders.

During the day, the kids get some outdoor time playing soccer or frisbee, but also spend time in the classroom learning about environmental science, time, chemistry and engineering.

On Tuesday, some of the students were building their own clocktowers, while others learned how to clean up an oil spill. Other students were working on making the perfect playdough.

“My favorite part is probably testing myself and learning how to do more,” rising fifth-grader Isabelle Spencer said.

Aiden Rounds said he enjoys the extra time he gets to spend with his friends as well as to meet new friends in the program.

City school system uses reduction in state budget cuts to increase teacher positions

The Rome City school system will fund 28 additional teacher positions, using money replaced in its Fiscal Year 2022 budget from last year’s state austerity cuts.

Those positions amount to $2,125,000 of the $2,747,110 in FY 2021 cuts restored by the state to the city school system’s budget.

“We lost a lot of money last year when (the state) took austerity measures,” Rome Superintendent Lou Byars said on Tuesday.

The school system originally planned to cut three instruction days to recoup the lost funding, but federal CARES Act funds helped balance the state level cuts. However, the school system is still down $1.5 million in funding this year because of state cuts, Byars said.

The majority of the 28 new teacher positions will be in the middle and high schools, where the system is seeing the most growth, Byars said. Others will be in elementary schools and positions for virtual school.

The largest chunk of the school system’s $85 million budget goes to instruction — including teacher and counselor salaries and benefits as well as supplies and technology.

“Seventy percent of our budget goes to direct instruction. Really, more than that,” Byars said.

On top of that, the school system is budgeting $500,000 in salaries because of pay increases due to salary schedule changes or teachers acquiring an advanced degree.

Some of the cuts or adjustments to programs in the past school year, for instance foreign language programs in the middle schools, will be reinstated.

Other increases in expenditures when compared to FY 2021 will cover added bus drivers, for additional buses purchased with CARES Act funds, as well as custodians and a maintenance position.

The budget also includes the one-time cost of approximately $275,000 to move mobile classrooms. Several classrooms will go from the high school to the middle school and others will be moved from the middle school to East Central Elementary and West End Elementary to account for increased student populations.

As far as local revenues go, the school system is projecting an increase of $2,992,383 over FY 2021 and is not recommending a millage rate increase.

The school system’s millage rate has stayed flat at 17.45 mills for the past 12 years.

The school board approved the budget after a second public hearing and vote at its Tuesday meeting; the first public hearing was held in May.

Kaitlyn Cole, a student at Model Elementary School

Vanessa Waddell recommended for Chief Elections Clerk position

The Floyd County Board of Elections recommended on Tuesday that interim Chief Elections Clerk Vanessa Waddell be appointed to the position on a permanent basis.

Waddell has been working in the elections office since 1994 and up until November 2020, served as the elections clerk in the office.

After former chief elections clerk Robert Brady was terminated, she stepped into the interim role and oversaw the Jan. 6 runoff election in Floyd County.

Waddell said it felt good to be offered the position of chief clerk and she plans to make sure the office runs smoothly and follows the state’s election laws.

“I want to make sure everything is up to high standard and integrity, like the office is normally run,” she said.

The Floyd County Commission still has to approve the recommendation before Waddell officially steps into the position.

During the meeting, Waddell also made the announcement that all poll workers from now on must register with the Cartersville-based temp agency Express to work during the elections.

Floyd County government is using the agency for all temporary or seasonal positions, such as lifeguards at the pool.

Elections Board Chair Melanie Conrad said an Express representative would be present at the poll worker training in August and September so that all poll workers for the Nov. 2 city election, whether returning or new, can register at the same time.

Conrad also mentioned that they still haven’t made a decision about a new location for the elections office, which is currently tucked in a corner of the basement in the County Administration Building.

“We anticipate making a final decision hopefully at our next meeting,” Conrad said.

The next elections board meeting will take place on July 13 at noon.