Consequences of the COVID pandemic for Rome and Floyd County government ranged from large fluctuations in revenue to — on the more surprising side — improved attendance at Juvenile Court hearings.
City Manager Sammy Rich and County Manager Jamie McCord reviewed the surprises and successes in the past year during their annual State of the Community presentation to the Rome Rotary on Thursday.
Both managers said 2020 was a surprisingly good year for sales tax collections, thanks in large part to the Marketplace Facilitator Act which has increased sales tax collections from internet sales. The measure was carried in the Senate by Rome Republican Sen. Chuck Hufstetler.
Rich and McCord also said that a state Revenue Department audit brought close to a million dollars in previously uncollected sales tax funds into the community.
On the other hand, McCord said the county is still looking for light at the end of the tunnel as it relates to other revenue streams.
“We did lose some things — court fines and fees. Fortunately or unfortunately, those are fees that offset our expenses,” McCord said. “Recreation is the same way. Registration for events and gymnastics is down because of activities that did not occur. We’re struggling.”
People don’t realize that you can’t just shut down government processes, Rich said, describing it as a “24/7 — 365” operation.
One of the most surprising tidbits, was the increase in participation at juvenile court hearings during the past year. All hearings, except those deemed essential, were suspended by Georgia’s high court in March.
Juvenile Court Judge Greg Price instituted virtual hearings to keep the caseload moving. And once hearings began virtually, participation went up noticeably.
“Some of his clients will actually show up on Zoom because they cannot be arrested on Zoom,” McCord said. “He had a better appearance rate on Zoom than he did in person and was able to process additional cases this year.”
Plans for the future
Rich and McCord said the former Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital site in West Rome is important to the future of the community. Both made reference to multi-use plans for the property without commenting on the proposed Global Impact HOPE Village concept, which would transition the site into a social services complex.
“My thoughts are, should HOPE Village not come to fruition, we as a community need to be prepared to respond to that and what we might could make of the property (if it) became available,” Rich said.
The state is going to be resuming grounds maintenance at the facility. The proposed budget released by Gov. Brian Kemp showed a $4 million line item regarding maintenance at the five former state-operated facilities.
Looking to the future, Rich said city officials would take a serious look at housing issues, the homeless problem, trail expansion and the donated former General Electric property in West Rome. The city just Thursday morning put “for sale” signs on a 12 acre strip of the property that fronts Redmond Circle.
“There’s a lot to do. There’s always going to be a lot in the pipeline for us,” Rich said.
A contract for grading and drainage work related to the 1,004 foot runway extension at the airport has been awarded to Bartow Paving. It’s still not clear when funds for the paving will be available.
McCord said Richard B. Russell Regional Airport is one of the county’s greatest assets.
The Floyd County manager also said he hopes work can start soon on a new outdoor amphitheater between the library and the Oostanaula River. The county will do site work while the Rome Area Council for the Arts will manage construction.
“We’re hoping to complete that this year and it will be another big asset — for the library, for utilization for music, poetry, plays, just about anything you could think of,” McCord said.