A new, $5 million Department of Family and Children Services (DFACS) building is planned for the old county school board office in Danielsville, but a rezoning for that facility remains on hold.
The Danielsville City Council postponed a decision on a request by the Madison County Board of Education Feb. 10 to rezone 7.38 acres at the old board of education office off Mary Ellen Court from residential to commercial to open the door for the construction of a DFACS building off Hwy. 29. The group will take the matter up again at its March meeting.
Several neighboring residents voiced concern at the council meeting that the entrance to the facility, across a 20-foot easement at an adjoining property, is not sufficient for the amount of traffic that will be in and out of the DFACS property. Neighboring residents also worry that the location of DFACS next to their residences will hurt their property values.
Council members looked out at a packed meeting room with audience members lining the wall and some standing in the lobby. The council received some conflicting information with surveys related to the easement at the site. The council unanimously agreed to table a decision in order to seek clarification on the surveys and additional information.
“We definitely need clarification on the easement before we move forward — where it sits and its impact on citizens and property owners,” said council member Joe Federico.
Local attorney Al Stone represented a neighbor of the proposed facility, who requested that the DFACS entrance be put on the 7.38 acres, not across adjoining property by way of easement.
Don Chandler of Municipal Development Services explained that his company was awarded a state contract to construct a DFACS facility in Madison County. He said the state is covering the entire expense of the facility.
“This is a $5 million building they (the state) are trying to put here for you,” he said to the audience and the council. “Basically, there’s a $5 million check sitting on the governor’s desk. Do you want it or not?”
Chandler said Tuesday that the facility could be operational “within the next 10 to 11 months.” He said records show that the property has an established easement and thus whoever owns the property has the right to the existing entrance. He said it is cost prohibitive to put a new entrance on the property.
School board chairman Robert Hooper said the school system will seek a rezoning whether the land is used for DFACS or not, adding that the schools don’t want to see the old school board office sit and become dilapidated. He said the school board would prefer to see a functional use for the property.
Chandler said he has found no record of when the old school board office was rezoned to residential. The board of education is in the process of selling the property to Chandler’s firm. After the payments are made on the facility, the structure will be deeded to the county, becoming county property.
The DFACS building will be 13,800 square feet and sit slightly farther back on the property than the old school board office. The old building will be demolished to make room for the new structure. Chandler said there will be a 75-foot buffer, where no vegetation will be disturbed, from the creek at the back of the property and a neighboring property. The developer said the facility will include 28 initial employees and 39 when full.
Julian Brown of Transwestern, who is serving as the realtor on the project, told audience members that he anticipated adjoining property values going up, not down, by having a $5 million facility in close proximity to their homes.
There has been some recent friction in relations between the city, the schools and the county. The city provides water and sewer services for the school system and the county government. It has an old sewer system and city leaders have said the sewage pond is in need of serious attention. They have approached the county and schools about financial help in dealing with the situation. The financial assistance the city sought has not materialized.
In January, the council dramatically increased water rates on the school system, by 148 percent, and the county government by 42 percent (according to a comparison of pricing on old and new rates for December 2019 usage). City clerk Susan Payne explained that the difference in the increase is due to the fact that the schools are within the city and some of the county services are in the out-of-city zone, which already had higher rates.
Those rate increases included sticker shock for both the county government and school system. And leaders for both the school system and the county were on hand Monday. The water rate issue was not directly discussed during the council’s consideration of the school board’s rezoning request, but commission chairman John Scarborough referenced the matter when he asked the council to consider the rezoning and not let the other matter — the water rates — come into play on that decision.
New mayor Michael Wideman responded that “no one said anything about the water and sewer rates.”
Payne and other city officials have cited engineering sources in saying that the city sewage pond is near capacity and needs upgrades. Chandler said he has talked with city engineers and received word that the pond can handle sewage from the DFACS facility. Scarborough said that until he gets data backing up the assertion that the pond is near capacity, he can’t consider it a fact.
Wideman asked why the DFACS building needs to be within the city limits. Chandler said the state wants the facility to be near a courthouse and to be close to the existing building which is on the old courthouse square.
In other business Monday, the council agreed to consider how to re-invest $60,000 in a trust fund from Christine Burroughs for the upkeep of the Old Danielsville Cemetery at its Feb. 24 work session.
The council also heard a report from City Police Chief Jonathan Burnette, who reported that there were 275 calls for service in January. The department issued 22 citations and 65 verbal warnings for the month. The department handled five incidents, including a motor vehicle accident, a report of terroristic threats, possession of marijuana, harassing communications and a prisoner transport. Jacob Hill was welcomed to the police department in January.
“Hill is a highly motivated officer and a welcomed addition to our staff,” said Burnette.
The skies over Madison County had some abrupt mood swings over the past week.
There was rain — lots of it. There was snow. There was even some sunshine and balmy weather.
The South lived up to its crazy weather reputation during the second week of February. Locally, several roads were significantly damaged by water runoff. The dust on old snowsleds was wiped off for a rare day of hill riding. Short sleeve weather made an appearance, followed by more rain.
The real precipitation got going Feb. 6 when the skies opened up major flooding.
County 911 director Brenan Baird reported 64 weather-related calls between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. that day.
“We had at least six wrecks in that time and two vehicles that got swept away by water (Osley Mill Road and Roy Woods Road),” he said, adding that both drivers escaped from their vehicles before the water took them. “We had numerous trees, power lines, bridges, and embankments fall down during the storm as well as several culverts and roadways that were washed away by flood waters.”
The following roads were completely or partially impassible due to flooding and road damages: New Haven Church Road, O’Kelley Road, Harry Pauls Road, Planter Gunnell Road, Frank Bird Road, Long Peeples Road, Hannah Creek Church Road, Lake Deerfield Road and Roy Woods Road.
Baird emphasized that whenever water is covering roads, it’s important to remember that while the water may not appear deep, the road may have washed out. So if you try to drive through a “puddle,” you may drive your car into a washed-out road, leaving yourself vulnerable to the flash flood.
“Call 911 for emergency assistance getting in or out of blocked residences,” he said. “Do not attempt to drive through standing water or a flooded roadway.”
Madison County Cooperative Weather Observer Mark Jenkins said the “persistent weather pattern seen in our area since mid-December brought a new 24-hour record of 5.29 inches for rainfall in February.”
Jenkins said the deluge Feb. 6 “had its origins all the way down in the eastern Pacific off the coast of El Salvador and streamed across the very warm and moist Gulf of Mexico.”
“It was the perfect set-up for very heavy rains in north Georgia,” said Jenkins. “Not to be out-done, ‘Old Man Winter’ decided to make a snowy appearance just two days later. What was originally forecast to be a weak system bringing little more than light rain ended up tapping into more moisture than expected and brought one-to-three inches of snow across the county last Saturday, with four-to-seven inches north of Canton to Commerce.”
Madison County leaders have long tried to reach a solution on the “high-hazard dam” at Seagraves Lake, where one home sits within a flood zone.
Now, an action could come through legislative means. State Senator Frank Ginn, who also serves as the Madison County Industrial Development and Building Authority Executive Director, has introduced Senate Bill 319, which would allow for homes and other inhabitable structures to be built in a dam’s inundation zone. The state would require that structures have to be built to withstand a breach of the dam and receive certification from an engineer approved by the state Environmental Protection Division’s Safe Dams Program.
The proposal was unanimously passed out of the Senate Natural Resources and Environment Committee and could go soon for a full vote in the Georgia Senate.
The county took ownership of Seagraves Lake off Seagraves Mill Road in the western portion of Madison County in 2007 with the intention of repairing the dam and using the lake as a water source.
Brian Kimsey and Clayton Hunnicutt of Carter Engineering gave a presentation to the county industrial authority in January, explaining that the dam is considered a Category I “high-hazard dam” and that the lake is not a feasible water source for the county. But the IDA remains stuck with the responsibility of upgrading the dam to mitigate the potential hazard in the event of a dam breach. Ginn said that according to auditors, the county has already spent over $400,000 on the dam since taking ownership of it.
Category I dams must undergo regular inspections and meet certain requirements because a breach of those dams is considered a potentially life-threatening situation. Category II dams don’t have inhabitable structures in their flood zones.
Ginn said the legislation could provide another option in dealing with the Seagraves Lake dam issue.
“If it passed into law, and only if, it may give another option if someone wanted to purchase the one house in the breach zone,” said Ginn. “If they raised the house, or moved it, then the dam would become a Category II dam. If the law was in effect, the only inhabitable structure that could be built in the breach zone would have to be ‘hardened’ so that Seagraves dam would never be a Category I dam again. Not the lowest cost option but if there was enough desire from someone or a group of people, they could spend the money to move the house.”
A Danielsville man was given probation on family violence charges in Madison County Superior Court recently.
Christopher James Evans was sentenced by Judge Chris Phelps to serve 20 years of probation on charges of aggravated assault family violence and battery-family violence. Charges of false imprisonment, robbery by force, simple battery-family violence and third degree cruelty to children were dismissed.
In other action, Ashely Nicole Guest, of Hull, was sentenced by Judge Phelps to serve three years, with the first 60 days to be served in confinement and the remainder on probation on charges of possession of methamphetamine, possession of drug-related objects and driving while license suspended. A charge of no tag was dismissed.
Other recent action in superior court included:
•Jonath Terrell Barnett, of Hull, was sentenced by Judge Jeff Malcom to serve 21 days of confinement on a charge of battery-family violence.
•Eric Thomas Simmons, of Martin was sentenced by Judge Malcom to serve 24 months with the first 30 days in confinement and pay a $600 fine on charges of DUI/drugs and driving while license suspended. Charges of possession of drug-relate objects and weaving over roadway were dismissed.
•Brent Haley, of Comer, was sentenced by Judge Malcom to serve 12 months of probation on a charge of simple battery.
•Kevin Dwayne Turner, of Hull was sentenced by Judge Malcom to serve 36 months of probation and pay $300 in fines on charges of battery, obstruction and public drunkenness. An additional three counts of obstruction were dismissed.
•Shantel Lynn Byrne, of Danielsville, was sentenced by Judge Malcom to serve six months of probation on a charge of obstruction.
•Craig Daniel McCarty, of Carlton, was sentenced by Judge Malcom to serve 24 months and pay a $500 fine on charges of DUI (less safe) and failure to maintain lane. Charges of DUI (per se), littering highway and open container were dismissed.
•Matthew Ivan Crisp, of Hendersonville, NC, had his charge of battery-family violence moved to the dead docket and will be dismissed in 12 months by Judge Malcom if the defendant has no violent contact with the victim, undergoes an anger management evaluation and successfully completes treatment and counseling, along with 24 hours of community service.
•Glenda Ann Suits, of Hull had her charge of battery family violence moved to the dead docket by Judge Malcom because the defendant has a far more serious case pending involving the same parties.
•Jasmine D. Deason, of Comer, had his charges of reckless conduct and obstruction of an officer moved to the dead docket by Judge Malcom because it will be dismissed after the defendant provides proof of 24 hours of community service.
•Samuel Art Chandler, of Danielsville, had his charge of child molestation dismissed by Judge Phelps because the state proceeded with another charge arising out of these circumstances.
•Ashely Elise Maddox, of Lexington, was sentenced by Judge Phelps to serve three years of probation and pay $1,250 in fines on charges of possession of a Schedule I Controlled Substance and possession of drug-related objects. A second charge of possession of drug-related objects was dismissed.
A Madison County deputy was arrested on one count of felony possession of methamphetamine by Georgia Bureau of Investigation officers (GBI) following a traffic stop by a Georgia State Patrol trooper in Hull Saturday, Feb. 8.
According to a press release from the Madison County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO), Deputy Gabriel Dalton, 31, of Elberton, was off duty and in his personal vehicle at the time of the arrest, which occurred after information was received by the sheriff’s office from another agency. Information pertinent to the arrest was turned over to the GBI for “a fair and impartial investigation,” the press release stated.
After his arrest, Dalton was immediately terminated from employment by Sheriff Michael Moore and booked into the Madison County Jail. Following a bond hearing, Dalton was released on a $8,350 bond. The case was turned over to the Northern Judicial Circuit District Attorney’s Office.
“There is no evidence at this time that there were any violations of Georgia law while Dalton was on duty with the sheriff’s office,” the press release stated.
Madison County Sheriff’s Captain Jimmy Patton said Dalton has served with the sheriff’s office since 2016, minus a one-year tour of duty in Afghanistan.
Patton declined to name the agency who provided the information that led to Dalton’s arrest.
District Attorney Parks White was asked Monday if Dalton’s arrest would affect prosecutions in cases worked by Dalton.
“We will have to examine each case to determine whether the prosecution is compromised by these allegations,” said White. “In many cases, there is body cam which corroborates the officer's account. More than anything, we hope that Deputy Dalton is able to get the treatment he needs. He is a veteran and has served his country honorably.”