Walker Rocks Start Up Challenge Seeks Applicants for Round 2

Rock Spring, GA – Dozens of companies with a household name have been started with a great idea and a little seed money.  If you have a winning concept, the Walker County Chamber of Commerce wants to hear from you.

Round 2 of the Walker Rocks Start Up Challenge kicks off today.  The grant competition returns with another $5,000 in funding to help a recreational, tourism or hospitality related business get started or expand services in Walker County.  “This year, we will also consider other types of businesses, non-profits, civic and community organizations which add to the quality of life and contribute to the cultural vibrancy of the local economy,” said Lacey Wilson, President of the Walker County Chamber.

David Bridges, owner of Battlefield Outdoors, won last year’s contest after he pitched adding a passenger van to his business to transport outdoor enthusiasts to hiking, biking and kayaking destinations in Walker County.  The van was also wrapped with the Walker Rocks logo, creating a mobile billboard to promote tourism in Walker County.

Applications for the Walker Rocks Start Up Challenge, including rules and judging criteria, are available online at WalkerRocks.com.

Schedule:

  • August 14thApplications available
  • September 23rd – Application deadline
  • October 1st – Finalists announced
  • October 17th – Pitch Competition

The $5,000 start-up grant is funded by a partnership between the Walker County Chamber of Commerce and Peach State Federal Credit Union. Grant funds will be distributed in the form of a reimbursement for documented expenses.

Walker Rocks highlights the scenic and stunning destinations available in Walker County for rock climbing, caving, kayaking, hiking, biking and other outdoor adventures. The award winning tourism initiative embraces the county’s environmental assets and invites outdoor enthusiasts to come play.

Walker County Refinances Bonds, Saving Taxpayers Nearly $4 Million

LaFayette, GA – A plan put in motion two-months ago to refinance a series of previously issued revenue bonds will save Walker County taxpayers nearly four-million dollars.

Moody’s Investor Services assigned an A1 credit rating to Walker County for the Series 2019 bonds, which replace Series 2015 bonds.  Four years ago, the county’s credit was considered to be junk by the financial industry, which resulted in a high interest rate and additional fees.

Moody’s based its rating on “the county’s recovering financial position following years of structural imbalances that substantially eroded the county’s reserves and liquidity, resolution of the county’s outstanding liability with the hospital authority,” and other factors involving economics and local government finances.

The improved credit rating, along with an increased demand for bond products in the market this week, helped the underwriter sell the Series 2019 bonds at a low rate of 2.64%, a significant improvement from the original rate of 5.2% tied to the Series 2015 bonds.

“The taxpayers of Walker County are the real winners today,” said Commissioner Shannon Whitfield.  “Together, we’ve worked hard to restore our county’s credibility by targeting debt reduction.  The fruits of that labor are starting to be realized.  We reduced the term on this bond by nearly five years, which will save the taxpayers $3,921,475.”

The Walker County Development Authority (WCDA) issued the Series 2015 bonds on behalf of Walker County Government, in order to fund the completion of infrastructure at the Walker County Industrial Park and provide funding for basic county government operations.

Commissioner Whitfield signed off on the $14.5 million bond purchase agreement during a called meeting today.

How Walker Works – Taxing Authorities

LaFayette, GA – Local governments rely on property taxes to provide a substantial portion of the funds necessary to offer services that enhance the quality of life and safety of its citizens.

Every year, property owners receive a bill in the mail spelling out their total taxes due.  The amount differs based on where you live, due to the number of taxing authorities in each community and the funds each entity needs to operate.

In Walker County, there are eight main taxing authorities:

-Chickamauga City Schools
-City of Chickamauga
-City of Fort Oglethorpe 
-City of LaFayette
-City of Lookout Mountain
-City of Rossville
-Walker County Board of Education
-Walker County Government

A Downtown Development Authority also has taxing authority.

In Georgia, each taxing authority has the ability to raise or lower taxes on its own, without approval from any other authority.  For example, school systems — which make up the majority of taxes owed in most communities — do not need the approval of a city council or county commission, in order to set their portion of the millage rate. 

So, what do you get for your property taxes?  Schools use these funds to put teachers in every classroom… and pay for things like technology, supplies and buildings.  Cities and Counties use property taxes to fund law enforcement and courts, animal control, land use planning and zoning, fire protection, road and stormwater maintenance, code enforcement, transit and library and health department operations, among other services. 

Not every citizen will use every service available… but the combined offerings help build a community we can be proud to call home.

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Walker County to Refinance Previously Issued Bonds, Saving Taxpayers Over Two-Million Dollars

Rock Spring, GA – A proposal to refinance a series of revenue bonds could result in over two-million dollars in savings to Walker County taxpayers.

The Walker County Development Authority (WCDA) issued the Series 2015 bonds on behalf of Walker County Government, in order to fund the completion of infrastructure and dirt work at the Walker County Industrial Park.

Four years ago, WCDA issued the bonds contingent on the county being financially obligated for all fees, interest and payments.  WCDA also made obtaining over $17.5 million in Series 2015 bonds contingent upon receiving a rate not to exceed 7.5%.  This year, based on Walker County’s improved financial conditions, WCDA proposes to refinance the remaining balance of the bonds contingent upon receiving a rate not to exceed 4.9%.

As part of the refinancing process, Walker County expects to receive an upgraded credit rating, due to the same improvements in the county’s balance sheet and financial outlook that would allow the lower interest rate cap.

“One of the top priorities of my administration has been to get our financial house in order.  Restoring Walker County’s credit rating makes lower rates like this possible for existing debt,” said Commissioner Shannon Whitfield.  “The latest audit shows our balance sheet in a much stronger position than in 2015.  This allows us to turn yet another page in our shared journey together toward freedom from crippling county debt. We are thrilled this will save the taxpayers of Walker County millions of dollars.”

WCDA approved the bond resolution at its meeting on Tuesday, June 11th.  Commissioner Shannon Whitfield will review the proposal at his meeting on Thursday, June 13th.  Once the bonding agency has received final interest rate terms, both government entities will make a decision on whether to move forward with the refinancing proposal.

Walker County’s Erlanger Fee to be Eliminated

LaFayette, GA – Walker County Commissioner Shannon Whitfield made an important announcement this morning that will benefit every property owner in Walker County.

Whitfield proclaimed an end to the Public Health Facilities and Services fee, the ordinance created to pay down the county’s debt to Erlanger Health System over the course of three years.  “We project we have collected enough from the Public Health Facilities and Services fee over the past two years to meet our obligation to Erlanger at the end of this tax cycle,” said Whitfield.  “This means the fee will not be charged on your next tax bill!”

According to the state of Georgia, the average home value in Walker County is $100,000.  The elimination of the fee will remove $140 from the average homeowner’s tax bill.

Walker County will take the necessary steps to formally end the fee in May by amending the ordinance that established it.  Those changes are scheduled to be finalized at the May 23, 2019 Commissioner Meeting.

In 2017, a federal judge ordered Walker County to pay Erlanger $8.7 million plus interest and attorney’s fees to cover its portion of a 2011 loan to keep Hutcheson Medical Center open.  Erlanger agreed to waive interest and attorney fees, as part of a settlement agreement in January 2018, provided Walker County made 13 quarterly payments.

“Dealing with this debt has been a tough chapter in our shared journey,” Whitfield added.  “I thank our citizens for the sacrifices made during this difficult time in our history.  Today, we turn the page.  Today, we start our own chapter in Walker County history.”

Whitfield Hand Delivers Checks to Pay Off Two Loans Early

LaFayette, GA – Walker County’s financial status continues to show significant improvement.  For the second year in a row, Sole Commissioner Shannon Whitfield repaid two Tax Anticipation Notes (TAN) well before an end of year deadline.

In August, the Bank of LaFayette and First Volunteer Bank agreed to loan Walker County up to $6 million, or $3 million each, to help fully fund government operations until budgeted revenue for FY 2019 started being received.

Today, Whitfield hand delivered checks to both banks to pay off the loans.  Walker County needed only $500,000 from each financial institution to cover expenses, due in part to improved efficiencies at county departments, leaner operations and the passage of a balanced budget in September.

The two TANs cost the county $8,062.10 in fees and interest this year.  In 2017, when Walker County needed up to $8 million in short term loans to meet obligations, fees and interest added up to $135,133.69.

“I know paying off debt may not be the most glamorous topic of conversation.  But getting our financial house in order and restoring Walker County’s reputation remain among my top priorities,” said Whitfield.

“When I took office on January 1, 2017, Walker County’s inherited debt was $70 million. As of today, we’ve reduced our debt by 29% to $50 million,” Whitfield added.  “We wouldn’t be able to reach this achievement without the support of all of our team members and elected officials.”

Walker County Finances Improving; 2018 TAN Need Reduced by $2 Million

LaFayette, GA – Walker County Commissioner Shannon Whitfield signed two resolutions Thursday authorizing the county to partner with two local banks to improve cash flow.

The Bank of LaFayette and First Volunteer Bank each agreed to loan Walker County up to $3 million through a Tax Anticipation Note (TAN). These short term loans, which must be repaid by the end of the calendar year, will help fully fund government operations until budgeted revenue is received.

“We originally thought we would need to do this in May. We’ve gone three months longer than anticipated, which means we’ve had good money management. Our entire county government team has committed to make sure every citizen’s dollar is spent wisely,” said Commissioner Shannon Whitfield. “We are getting our financial house in order and Walker County is earning its credibility back.”

In January 2017, Walker County faced an $8 million shortfall in operating expenses for the year. The county addressed the financial crisis through a series of moves to cut expenses, improve efficiencies and using $7.5 million of an $8 million line of credit, which was paid off early on December 22, 2017. This year, TAN’s are $2 million less than the amount authorized last year. Commissioner Whitfield aims to reduce the need for TAN’s by $2 million each year until the cycle is broken.

“I cannot say enough positive things about The Bank of LaFayette and First Volunteer Bank,” added Commissioner Whitfield. “They both stepped up last year and stood in the gap for this county when everyone else was running for cover. Their boards took a risk, but they also took pride in their community by doing their part to support the direction the county is moving in.”

Walker County remained committed to continuing its relationship with these local lenders because of their steadfast support last year. The Bank of LaFayette will charge a 3.10% interest rate on its TAN, while First Volunteer Bank will charge 3.25% interest.