As has become screamingly obvious, particularly in the immediate aftermath of the Floyd County School System “reduction in force” and the latest County Commission budget involving scraping the bottom of the barrel for stray funds to raid and a warning that, come next time, really bad things would have to happen. The commissioners probably mean a property-tax increase, something the schools couldn’t do to plug their $10 million hole because the system is already quite close to the maximum permitted by law.
At the same time, with pretty much identical percentage declines in revenues and state supports facing them, the Rome schools just restored two “furlough days” from the previous slash of 10 (which the county had also been doing) and, fingers crossed, even voiced a small hope of being able to hire/add again in the future. The City Commission on its part doled out some small raises, added an employee clinic that the county begged off from joining, and offered some modest improvement decisions.
Why, when it comes to “rainy day money,” which one would suppose should be all gone by now given the economic monsoon, the Rome entities actually seem to have been able to tuck more away in case this troubled period enters Noah-and-the-ark stage while the unincorporated entities are bailing, bailing, bailing.
HOW IS THIS possible? How can the major components of what statistically is known in federal eyes as the Rome Metropolitan Statistical Area, where the same people live and work and cross paths daily with the only fundamental variation being where their bedrooms are, have governmental approaches toward dollar stewardship that wind up so remarkable different?
Of course, truth is, if one looks at the percentages of budget change over the past five years or so (not the actual dollars, as the “county” gets to play governmental Monopoly starting with considerably more) there’s really no remarkable difference.
The surface result seems to be due from a sharp variation in approach. While neither city nor county has been in doom/gloom depression, one could say the leadership of the county entities have been optimists who expect the clouds to break and the sun start shining at any moment. They were, in a sense, trying to ride out a storm that did not stop and to large degree has been generated by state-level pessimists who kept cutting their funds and increasing their mandates.
The various city officials, at the same time, appear to have clearly been pessimistic from the outset although in the wise manner of: Things are bad, we think they’ll get better but ... just in case ... let’s get ready for even worse.
THUS, FOR ONE example out of many that could be offered, the Rome schools reacted by reducing (including staffing) each and every year. Other than furloughs and a bit of nip-and-tucking their county counterpart avoided inflicting major pain until, when the string ran out without their optimism being warranted, it had to perform a major amputation.
Why there is this sharp difference in city/county attitudes is the real puzzler. None of the humans at the steering wheel are throwbacks who walk around with knuckles dragging the ground and grunting. All of them, city and county, have a real love for the place where they live ... and often grew up.
All of them want the best for this place and people who live here. All of them volunteered for the often thankless (and low-paying) positions of responsibility that they hold.
So, what could be the cause of this striking difference in approach? In a sense, it may be the old story of the grasshopper and ant in environmental terms. The city is an anthill with close associations whether one wants them or not and there must be at least a bit of team/swarm effort to survive. The county is more like the wide open pasture in which the grasshopper jumps around while only on occasion bumping into others of its kind.
Even then, there are limited contacts and common bonds in the unincorporated areas. Those in the Model (Shannon) meadow don’t routine rub shoulders with those at the Pepperell (Lindale) grasslands. Indeed, when their high schools met in intense rivalry their supporters are not unknown to shout nasty things at one another.
IN ROME, where both economic, social and certainly racial differences are likely more marked, they all root for the same and single high school team and any hostilities shown are aimed at folks from far, far away they likely won’t see again and certainly won’t bump into in a grocery store.
There is insufficient space in a newspaper column to do a full social/psychological profile of any community and certainly it would be pretentious as well. However, there are observable fundamentals at work that generate some of the differences.
Rome very much tends to be a place with more team activity, spirit and enthusiasm for improving and adding. Anthills keep getting bigger, don’t they?
The unincorporated area leans toward not only individual self-reliance but a belief that it can tough it out ... even though perhaps not all neighbors can but, sad as it is, the herd must be thinned.
Some of this comes from handed-down family/clan training (in both city and county), some of it is the result of simple geography of which comparatively few are aware.
This columnist and the boss man, who we shall call B., often ride rather aimlessly around the entire city/county just to see what might be changing. B. was born and grew up here and must have had a misspent youth in strange activities in strange places as he knows every back road by heart, not GPS. My own youth was similarly misspent but in a geography now 1,000 miles away. I could find my way to Little Axe even now ... but not necessarily Wax.
THIS COUNTY is huge and very few have seen more than a fraction of it. It is also remarkably lovely and varied, though that’s another topic for a different day.
Floyd County, aka Greater Rome, is 513 square miles. Rome city proper is 29.8 square miles or only about 6 percent. One could drop all of the City of Atlanta proper (132 square miles) inside Floyd and still need directional signage to find it. There is space left to toss in Macon, Augusta and Athens as well and have room left over in which to raise chickens.
The Rome 6 percent holds about a third of the people in close proximity ... a lot easier to get together, plot progress, be aware of one hand rubbing the other. The unincorporated area (plus Cave Spring’s 1,000 folks) are found in the other 94 percent of land area with two-thirds of the population mostly spread out and, whenever they tend to go somewhere and mingle it is ... in Rome. Many of them work there as well, in the secret city of perhaps 75,000 in daylight hours.
In a broad and vague sense, Rome governments have something they pay close attention to because they know their very survival depends upon keeping what they have and improving/adding to it. County governments lean toward guarding what they already have and trying not to lose anything, even though sometimes unaware that a lot of the enjoyable and convenient stuff depends on Rome maintaining policies and practices that sail around stormy weather instead of hoping that the clouds will break.
THE POINT of all this is not yet another argument in favor of consolidation, although it could be. It is just to say all of us with a clearly shared interest in a single community need to know and appreciate and understand each other a lot better.
Divergent paths supposedly leading to the same goal are the result of residents who simply don’t know nearly well enough what the best things are that the other has to offer and how much their fates and futures are intertwined.
They both ought to be on the same page and approach and, at least so far as recent events have shown, it is Rome that appears to currently have had the better idea.