HOMER — Banks County Sheriff Carlton Speed is seeking the help of the county commission to deal with a Banks Crossing lodging establishment that has become a resource-consuming problem for the county’s emergency responders.
Speed called Scottish Inn at Banks Crossing “a business in the county that has become, pretty much for the sheriff’s office and the county as a whole, an eyesore. It has become a haven for illegal activity. It has become a place where vagrants are staying for months at a time.”
Investigative Analyst Katrina Willis presented statistics based on calls for service made to the Banks County 9-1-1 Center regarding incidents at the 14 Banks Crossing area hotels from 2013 to March 2018.
Those statistics show that 1,040 calls for service were directly related to Scottish Inn — 567 more calls than the number at any other lodging facility.
Of those, 176 were dispute calls — 112 more than at any other lodging facility. Medical calls also were at least 30 more than at any other establishment.
“You can clearly see that the Scottish Inn, we are spending a lot of resources going out to that hotel for different types of calls,” Willis said.
Speed asked commissioners to work with him to find a solution to the problem.
“The resources the sheriff’s office and this county expend on that establishment is very, very detrimental to us as a community as a whole,” Speed told commissioners. “We’ve had drug dealing, we’ve had domestic disputes, we’ve had one case of stabbing recently. I come tonight as not only the sheriff but as a taxpaying citizen of this county asking you, the commission, to start looking at some things that we can do to change that establishment and the way they do business.”
Speed said he is almost certain one couple has been staying at the lodging establishment for more than a year, and that the couple is taking advantage of Banks County residents and visitors.
“They run a ruse in the county,” Speed told commissioners. “They go around the county and talk to people and tell them that they’re stranded here, their truck is being worked on at one of the local car dealerships, and they’re trying to get back to South Dakota. Then they ask them if they will buy them some dinner and feed them. I know for a fact I can’t count on my fingers and toes the number of folks that have fed those folks.”
Speed said activity observed at the Scottish Inn almost any time of the day or night is not consistent with those temporarily staying in a motel or hotel.
Sheriff’s Lt. Scott Crane, who has worked in code enforcement and is a fire inspector and fire marshal for the State of Georgia, provided commissioners with his input on the problem establishment.
“In your Banks County ordinance, you have a definition of what a hotel is,” Crane told commissioners. “Obviously, this is not reaching the level of a hotel; this is reaching the level of the extended stay.”
That ordinance, passed in June 2017 and enforceable in June 2018, requires any extended stay lodging establishment to have a sprinkler system and a hard-wired smoke alarm system, Crane said.
“The Department of Public Health for the State of Georgia, in their code, says that you cannot use a hotplate — anything but a microwave and a coffeemaker — in a hotel,” Crane told commissioners. “Just a walk-through yesterday with the curtains that were open as I walked through the establishment, I looked at four different hotplates. That not only is a fire safety hazard, that can be a cost of life and that’s one thing we don’t want.”
Crane said some of the fire extinguishers at the Scottish Inn are expired and some are wired shut so they couldn’t be used if needed.
“Dilapidated, I think, would be a strong enough term for the Scottish Inn,” Crane said.
Both the Banks County School System and Commerce City Schools run a bus to the lodging facility, Speed and commissioners said.
“I come tonight asking that we come together collectively to see what we can do to either close this establishment – whatever it takes to make them come up to code and make the clientele that they’re allowing to stay for an extended period of time go away,” Speed told commissioners.
The four commissioners present said they understand Speed’s concerns and share those.
“We’ll get with you and we’ll take care of this problem,” Commissioner Charles Turk told Speed. “That’s the reason we put the ordinance in place because extended stays are not going to be able to come up to code. It’s just too expensive for them.”
Sheriff: Not the Banks County we want portrayed
Speed said travelers often conduct an online search for the lowest lodging rates at a facility close to the interstate, then arrive to find conditions they were not expecting.
“In keeping with the area which y’all have tried to create at Banks Crossing, we have people that show up and they will Google the Scottish Inn and get off the interstate not knowing what they’re about to encounter when they go there, so their first experience a lot of times with Banks County is not one we want portrayed,” Speed told commissioners. “Having said that, I think the sooner that we start down this path and make something positive happen, then we’re all going to be better off.”
Speed said not all the calls related to Scottish Inn were included in Willis’ research, because they were not entered in the computer-aided dispatch system as originating at that business, but he added many can be traced back to the facility.
“I’m asking tonight as sheriff that we come together as a group and see what we can do on this establishment down here,” Speed told commissioners. “I know for a fact the two people that lost their life walking across 441 last week were staying at Scottish Inn.”
Vice chairman: 'We have ordinances in place'
Following the meeting, Commission Vice Chairman Sammy Reece told AccessWDUN the county is committed to finding a solution to the problem created by nuisance lodging establishments, but they want to start with the most problematic.
“There is extreme concern, and I’ve been talking with the sheriff’s office about it for over a month,” Reece said. “I asked him to put this program together and present it to the commissioners. There are some motels down there it would be unreal if people knew what was going on down there, how people were living. You see some of the people standing on the road begging — they live in the motel across the road.”
Reece said the county is about to ramp up preparations to handle ordinance violations at the county’s lodging establishments.
“We’re going to have to start enforcing them come June 1,” Reece said. “That’s when they kick in, I guess you might say. There’s no telling how many hundreds of thousands of dollars this county has spent on running calls on about four motels at Banks Crossing, not to count the school bus picks up kids there.”