Heated Dade County tax debate sparks police call

Heated Dade County tax debate sparks police call

February 16th, 2018 by Tyler Jett in Breaking News

Dade County Executive Ted Rumley

Dade County Executive Ted Rumley

Photo by Tim Barber /Times Free Press.

Dade County, Ga., commissioners and residents argued about taxes Thursday night. Stands were made. Fingers were pointed. And in the middle of it, just in case the fight got physical, deputies flocked to the scene.

Before the feud, commissioners voted 4-1 to put a transportation special purpose local option sales tax on the May 22 ballot, with Commissioner Mitchell Smith providing the one dissenting voice. If approved by voters, the county will levy an extra 1 percent burden at the cash register, with that money earmarked for roads, bridges, sidewalks and any other projects that cover the movement of people. County Chief Financial Officer Don Townsend is still crunching numbers, but he thinks the new revenue stream would bring in about $6 million.

After the vote, County Executive Ted Rumley let residents share their thoughts. It turned out, some of those thoughts were negative. Rex Harrison said the referendum shouldn't be on the May ballot. The commissioners put the same item on a ballot in November, when 55 percent of voters rejected it.

Rumley reasoned the last vote wasn't a good measure of the county's opinion. With no other countywide races on the ballot, only about 900 people showed up then. That's about half the turnout of a presidential or midterm primary vote in Dade County.

"Y'all had the choice to wait till this time and put it on the ballot," Harrison said. "But y'all chose, knowing it was going to be a low voter turnout."

"If you're against it," Commissioner Scottie Pittman said, "get out and vote against it. Rex, if you're against it, get out and vote against it."

People in the audience and commissioners began talking back and forth. It was hard to understand what everybody was saying. Then, Pittman began pointing at Harrison. His voice rose.

"I know how your opinion is!" he said. "That's right. You got an opinion of what to do with my family!"

Pittman did not explain what he was talking about. He told a reporter Friday morning that he couldn't talk because he was at work. Rumley said he heard Harrison posted on Facebook a couple of years back, criticizing Pittman for skipping a meeting while he was at Disney World with his family.

Harrison, who is active on a Dade County Facebook group called The Village Idiot, told the Times Free Press he never mentioned Pittman's family online. Instead, during a July 2014 special called hearing to raise property taxes by 44 percent, Harrison told the crowd Pittman was absent because he had gone on a Mickey Mouse vacation.

He told the Times Free Press that he was happy Pittman missed that meeting. He believes Pittman would have voted for the tax increase. The commissioners ultimately decided not to even take that item up for a vote four years ago, as an angry crowd shouted at them.

On Thursday night, Rumley tried to end the disagreement.

"We're not going to argue this," he said. "Calm down. I'll entertain a motion to adjourn."

Instead, more people shouted over each other. Pittman said something about Harrison's criticism of his family vacation.

"What are you going to do?" Harrison shouted back. "I want to know what you're going to do."

Pittman stood up, but Rumley urged him to return to his seat. He did. The debate continued. A woman in attendance called the police, said Alex Case, Trenton's mayor and the county's director of emergency services. As the debate continued, Pittman apologized to Harrison for losing his cool.

"There's been a lot of pressure on me lately," he said.

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or tjett@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.