County spends year addressing issues
Polk County’s local government can end the year knowing one thing for sure: 2017 was a year that covered a lot of issues, and saw a lot of progress on many fronts.
It also was a year that saw a number of questions unanswered, such as what is to come of the Grady Road Landfill, and how does the Police Department attract and fill more vacancies?
These aren’t all the stories from 2017, but here’s a brief overlook of some of what was covered during a year that saw incumbent commissioners resign from their seats, new members join, and much more in between.
Here’s a rundown of what the year looked like:
It took six months for the Polk County Commission to come together and vote on a budget, and that was only after an incumbent left office and a new member took over the seat.
In January, the Commission voted 3-2 to allow for the budget first proposed in June 2016 to move forward, and also give way for County Manager Matt Denton to hire a new assistant county manager as well.
He did so after a number of months of searching, and Barry Akinson came on board to serve as Denton’s second-in-command before leaving in November for family reasons.
The budget was later amended to move around funds to cover certain expenses and utilize savings, and the 2018 figures were approved unanimously in June without any issues, though some movement of the numbers was required to balance everything out.
Building construction was one of the top issues for 2016, and those projects that were debated over and penny pinched were completed this year.
Commissioners got to celebrate the opening of the 911 Operations Center addition at the Polk County EMA office in February, when the center went online for the first time. Problems during the initial switchover prompted the county to fire former 911 Director Beth Byars, who spoke out about her dismissal at a personnel hearing in March, but didn’t get anywhere with the commission after they asked her why she hadn’t brought problems to Denton’s atten- tion earlier in the switchover, or ask for more time.
Longtime 911 employee and now director Crystal Vincent took over the department, and the center accommodates several dispatchers working together in a now smoothly operating environment.
The Public Works building was finished in 2017 as well, with the department moving in the fall, and a few additional purchases for equipment to fix brakes and for an upgrade on computer diagnostic gear were made as well.
The facility was set to be completed early in 2017 after a 2016 start, but wet weather hampered efforts to stay on time.
Additionally, the county approved and had installed a new fuel farm and gas pumps for employees to fuel up in house, with the hopes of gaining long term savings by buying gas at wholesale prices.
Of all the opponents of the Grady Road Landfill, two remained in front of the board month after month during 2017 and calling for the Commission to do something about it.
Ed Burnley and Glenn Campbell brought their complaints to the board throughout the year ranging from the smells coming onto properties around the landfill, to excessive truck traffic causing problems with the roadway near Grady Road’s intersection with the landfill and Highway 278.
The landfill — now colloquially called “Mt. Trashmore” by many local residents — is a top issue with the Commission for the year, with more specific problems cropping up at the end of the year. After the Standard Journal ran an ad in October reporting increased Molybdenum levels found in wastewater being processed from the landfill, Commissioners called in Waste Industries’ George Gibbons to provide an explanation on why they weren’t informed about the problem before seeing it in the newspaper, and then in November sought information as to why a re- port that was due in July hadn’t been completed.
That report was turned in, and Gibbons said in past statements that Waste Industries is working to figure out the molybdenum problem.
County Attorney Brad McFall during the commission’s November retreat did issue this statement on the landfill:
“The board met last night (Nov. 27) for 4 hours, and we conducted a fairly exhaustive review of items and issues concerning the board and the public, and we’ll narrow those down to a streamlined punch list and meet with representatives of the company that runs the landfill,” McFall said.
Later, Denton added during the December meeting in a long statement that “From a compliance standpoint, things that can and must be done. So, we anticipate having direct communication, before the end of the year, with waste industries. We will host them here in Cedartown with a meeting in January and go over these items and report back to the public. But it’ll (updates) come to you on a monthly basis.”
In May, Polk County Sheriff Johnny Moats sent a letter to commissioners that was later provided to the Standard Journal asking for an investigation into allegations made by current and former officers describing a number of issues within the Polk County Police Department.
That later prompted an audit by McFall after the commission voted to move in that direction instead of calling in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to look into the matter, since no specific criminal allegations had been made.
That was despite the objections of Commissioners Jennifer Hulsey and Scotty Tillery, who both sought an independent body to look into the matter in their comments. The Commission also sent a response back to Moats at the time, calling on him to engage the GBI into the matter if he could provide specific evidence of criminal activity in the department.
McFall interview current and former officers in the department, and told county officials in that he found no evidence of wrongdoing, but one complaint cropped up over and over again: officers need better pay, and more manpower.
( Note: The Standard Journal’s independent look into the matter has not been completed yet.)
Commissioners have discussed the need for increased salary levels for officers, including at the starting level, but haven’t come to an agreement about how to fund the issue. It has been an issue that newly appointed District 3 Commissioner Hal Floyd has brought up several times since he took office in late October.
Early in the year, Polk County Public Safety Director Randy Lacey and Denton had a plan all lined up to transition from an all-volunteer fire department to a mix of paid and volunteer force, which was to allow for around the clock coverage in the county and a restructuring of where fire departments are located.
That plan, after numerous meetings and sessions hearing from volunteer firefighters themselves, didn’t get across the finish line in 2017 after concerns were raised over the Federal grant that was applied for on how the funds were to be used, and what conditions the county would be liable for paying them back if ever they couldn’t sustain the department’s cost.
Initially the idea was to have a mix of full time and part time firefighters in the stations, but when looking at the fine print in the conditions of the grant and how the costsharing structure had changed in 2017 versus previous years, commissioners suddenly realized funding would be the main struggle in the years to come.
So the county withdrew itself from consideration for the grant, and shelved a plan to ask for a specific millage rate for the fire department.
Polk commissioners sought answers on a number of projects during a Nov. 28 retreat.