Keep Rome-Floyd Beautiful

A student poster art contest is expected to kick off the Litter and Blight Task Force’s outreach phase, but members learned in their first two meetings it’s going to take much more than that.

“We’ve got a monumental task ahead of us, trying to make a difference and change attitudes,” said David Mathis, who co-chairs the public/private coalition with Ralph Davis.

Mathis briefed the Floyd County Commission Tuesday on what they’ve discussed so far. Most eye-opening, he said, was to hear that county public works crews pick up about 10,000 pounds of litter each month. Most frustrating was to learn that there’s always more trash when crews go back on the next circuit.

“You’ve got to get it right away,” said County Commissioner Allison Watters, a member of the task force. “When people see litter in an area, they’re going to throw theirs.”

But, much like the blighted properties the group is tasked with battling as well, adding more crews is not the answer, Mathis said. Code enforcement officers explaining how they address overgrown yards and unsafe structures also expressed frustration.

“They said they can get it cleaned up, go through the legal process, and go back two or three months later to see it’s just like it was ... It’s not working. We have to look at new ways,” Mathis said.

A change in behavior — “a change in culture,” he said — is needed to have a long-term, sustainable effect.

The task force plans to talk with school system officials about a curriculum like the fire-safety courses in elementary grades and boost the new Rome-Floyd Recycling Center as a field trip destination.

The environmentally-themed poster art contest, expected to be finalized at the group’s next meeting, is a first step. The winning art will be printed up as posters for a community-wide awareness campaign.

Mathis said they’re working on some recommended ordinance tweaks, but that will come later. Another early step will be to ensure the abandoned or condemned properties that come into city and county hands are well-maintained before they turn the focus on others.

“It’s expensive,” County Manager Jamie McCord said. “Every time (Tax Commissioner) Kevin Payne has a tax sale we gain more properties. It takes money.”

But Commissioner Wright Bagby noted that, left unchecked, blighted properties can bring down a whole neighborhood.

“We need to suck it up and do it now or you’ll be doing more 15 years from now. It’s like a cancer,” said Bagby, who also serves on the task force.

Mathis said that among the ideas emerging from brainstorming sessions is to post signs on properties that are in the process of being cleaned up. They’ll give hope to neighbors, he said, and help educate people on what’s unacceptable.

“We’ve got to be innovative. We’ve got to be non-traditional ... This blight and litter affects us all,” Mathis said.

Task force volunteers represent a range of public and private sectors. Watters and Bagby are serving ex officio — as nonvoting members — along with Rome City Commissioner Randy Quick and Rob Ware, who is unopposed to become Cave Spring’s mayor in January.

Jennifer Coles of F&P Georgia represents the economic development sector. For healthcare, it’s Ben Simmons of Harbin Clinic and Mai Lee Payne, owner of Advance for Kids. Lucy Burnes of Johnson Elementary and Stephanie Dean of Main Elementary are educators. Brooke Brinson of Hardy Realty and Harry Brock of Brock Appraisal represent real estate.

Sheriff Tim Burkhalter and Chief Magistrate Gene Richardson add the law-enforcement and judicial perspectives.

Rounding out the team are marketing expert Kristi Kent with Georgia’s Rome Office of Tourism, Emma Wells, director of Keep Rome-Floyd Beautiful, and Assistant County Clerk Amy Dawkins as secretary for the task force.

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