Walker County Gains an Advantage in Business Recruitment, Job Creation

LaFayette, GA – The next time Walker County competes to land a new business, it will have an asset that no other community in Georgia can claim. Larry Brooks, Walker County Development Authority Executive Director, recently became the first professional to be certified in economic development by the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government.

Brooks received recognition over the weekend for completing 60 hours of rigorous training in economic development financing, tax incentives, workforce development and other components necessary to recruit business. The training is already proving valuable, as several large scale employers have expressed interest in locating in Walker County.

“Encouraging new investment into our community is never an easy task, as there is so much competition, both locally and state-wide,” said Brooks. “However with the resources gained through this certification process, we as a community can feel confident that we are now on a level playing field with other Georgia communities. Our authority now has a firm grasp on the incentives, programs, and relationships from differing agencies across the state, which can make the difference when encouraging a company to invest in Walker County.”

Over the past nine years, Brooks had a hand in recruiting Nissin Brake, Audia International, Labrie Enviroquip, Unique Fabrication and nearly a dozen other companies to Walker County. Those businesses invested over $122 million in the community and created or saved 860 jobs.

Brooks believes the economic development training he received will also help Walker County grow a more diversified economy. According to the Georgia Department of Labor, the Walker area has a labor force of 196,150 workers. Over 27% of all local jobs are in manufacturing.

UGA’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government introduced the Georgia Certified Economic Developer (GCED) program in 2016.

Walker County Opening Shelters, Opening EOC to Respond to Irma

Rock Spring, GA – Five public shelters will be opening at 4:00 p.m. today in Walker County for those in need of a safe location to stay as Hurricane Irma passes through the area.

Walker County CERT (Community Emergency Response Team) will handle staffing at the following shelters:

·         Walker County Civic Center, located at 10052 N Highway 27 in Rock Spring (this shelter will be equipped to handle crated animals with proof of current rabies vaccination)
·         Fire Station 14, located at 11471 East Highway 136 in Villanow
·         Cedar Grove Community Center, located at 5423 W Cove Road, Chickamauga

Good Samaritan shelters will also be established at the following locations:

·         Elks Lodge, located at 3158 N Highway 27 in LaFayette
·         Old Doctor’s Office at the end of Highway 2, located at 2367 Chattanooga Valley Road in Flintstone

Those in need of help getting to a shelter should call 706-375-7810 for assistance. This number should also be used to report non-life threatening events, such as downed trees and blocked roads.

In addition, all county buildings will close at 3:00 p.m. today, and will not reopen until 10:00 a.m. Tuesday.

Walker County Emergency Services will also open an Emergency Operations Center at the 911 Center in Rock Spring at 6:00 p.m. for county and city services to coordinate operations during this potential weather event.

UPDATE at 11:00 p.m.: We are condensing our CERT operated shelters. The Walker County Civic Center will remain open overnight for those in need of a safe location to stay as Hurricane Irma passes through the area.

Ironman Bike Route Event Notes for Walker County

LaFayette, GA – Chattanooga, Tennessee and Walker County, Georgia play host to over 4,500 athletes competing in the Ironman 70.3 World Championship this weekend. 91 countries, regions and territories will be represented by those taking part in the two day race.

Walker County hosts a good portion of the 56-mile bike course. Cyclists will enter Walker County on Red Riding Hood Trail, near Rock City Gardens, around 8:06 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. They will then hang a left onto Lula Lake Road, ride about 15 miles and then cut over to Highway 341, via Lookout Mountain Scenic Highway/Highway 136.

This route will take cyclists through historic downtown Chickamauga, past Gordon Lee Mansion and Coke Ovens. Triathletes will then venture up Highway 341, before turning right onto Highway 193 and heading back into Chattanooga. This is estimated to occur around 1:50 p.m. on Saturday and 2:16 p.m. on Sunday.

Walker County to Open Horse Barn and RV Area for Hurricane Irma Evacuees

Chickamauga, GA – As a potentially catastrophic storm takes aim at Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas, Walker County Sole Commissioner Shannon Whitfield made arrangements to extend some county resources to answer the call to help.
Walker County will open the horse barn and offer RV slots at cost at Mountain Cove Farms Resort to those fleeing the storm. The county has 20 stalls available for horses and 25 slips for RV’s.

Horses must be geldings or mares, with paperwork showing they are negative for Coggins. Stalls are available for $10 per day, for as long as needed. Owners must supply bedding, grain and hay. Mountain Cove Farms Resort also has horse trails on site available for riders.

In addition, horse owners and others fleeing the storm may stay on site in their RV at the reduced rate of $20 per day. RV slips have hook-ups for water, power (50 amps) and access to an onsite greywater dump station and garbage dumpster.

A country store, restaurant and disc golf course are available at the resort, as well.

Hurricane evacuees should contact Jenna Stevens by phone or text at 423-315-7828 to reserve a spot. Mountain Cove Farms Resort is located at 994 Dougherty Gap Road in Chickamauga, GA.

Additional details about the resort and onsite restaurant can be found online at www.mountaincoveresort.com and facebook.com/mountaincovegrill.

Walker County Creates Plan to Pay Down Erlanger Debt

LaFayette, GA – Walker County Sole Commissioner Shannon Whitfield called for the formation of a special district to generate funds to pay down the county’s debt owed to Erlanger Health System. Whitfield created and established the Walker County Public Health Facilities and Services District during his regular meeting tonight.

A judge recently 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.

Whitfield says “This special district will generate at least $2.5 million a year to pay down our debt to Erlanger. I’ve asked their management team to remember it’s the people of Walker County who are ultimately paying the price for the mistakes of the past. As we continue to work with Erlanger on a payment plan, my hope is they will show some compassion to our citizens, who are also their patients.”

The special district allows for a special assessment to be charged on each parcel of property, beginning October 1, 2017. The annual fee will be 0.14% of the fair market value, up to a maximum of $1,000. The special assessment on a home with a market value of $75,000 would be $105. Property valued at $200,000 will be charged a $280 fee.

The Walker County Public Health Facilities and Services District will terminate in three years.

Covenant College Students Answer the Call to Serve in Walker County

LaFayette, GA – 300 Covenant College students will take advantage of service opportunities in Walker County today, as part of their new student orientation. Students began arriving at the Lookout Mountain college last week for orientation, which includes a class on the purpose of a college education and the impact faith in Christ has on working together.
The Mark 10:45 projects build on the scripture passage that says in part the “Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.” Students will work in groups of 60 at three locations in Chickamauga, one site in Rossville and another in LaFayette. The five groups will tackle projects like disposing of garbage and junk, painting and cutting grass.

Walker County has refocused efforts this year to bring property up to code throughout the county. Codes Enforcement Officers have found 997 violations since April, a 351% increase over the number of cases worked throughout the entire year of 2016.

Chris Robinson, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Covenant College, coordinated with Walker County Codes Enforcement to identify residents in need of a helping hand to comply with local property standards. Robinson also serves as Director and Founder of P52, a local faith-based service organization.

You may recall P52 coordinated efforts earlier this Summer to bring hundreds of middle school students to Walker County for mission work. P52 got its name from Isaiah 52:7, as a way to glorify God through service.

Walker County Adds Two Additional Public Hearings on Proposed Property Tax Increase; Fiscal 2018 Budget

LaFayette, GA – Walker County Sole Commissioner Shannon Whitfield announced two additional public hearings concerning the proposed property tax increase and fiscal 2018 budget. The newly announced meetings will be in Rossville and Rock Spring, and are in addition to three previously scheduled public hearings.

The proposed fiscal 2018 budget includes a property tax increase of 2.00 mills in the unincorporated locations of the county and 2.189 in the incorporated areas. The proposed annual tax increase on a home with a fair market value of $100,000 would be $76 in the unincorporated locations and $83.18 in the incorporated areas

Hearings will take place on the following dates/times and locations:

·         Thursday, August 17th at 6:30 p.m. – LaFayette-Walker County Public Library (305 S Duke Street)
·         Saturday, August 19th at 10:00 a.m. – Walker County Civic Center (10052 US-27, Rock Spring)
·         NEW – Tuesday, August 22nd at 6:30 p.m. – Rossville Civic Center (400 McFarland Avenue, Rossville)        
·         NEW – Wednesday, August 23rd at 10:00 a.m. – Walker County Civic Center (10052 US-27, Rock Spring) 
·         Thursday, August 24th at 6:30 p.m. – Walker County Commissioner’s Office (101 S Duke Street)

The millage rate will be set during the August 24th meeting.

Walker County Updates Fire Fee; Realigns Emergency Services to Expand Full-time Career Fire Stations

LaFayette, GA (August 16, 2017) – Walker County Sole Commissioner Shannon Whitfield announced plans today to update the county’s fire fee schedule to offer improvements in fire protection and public safety efforts. The fee will now be known as a “public safety” fee and will fund fire and emergency management operations, along with contracted ambulance services.

The county will replace the existing flat rate with a minimum/maximum fee based on the square footage of each building. The move will create a more equitable system and result in thousands of property owners with smaller homes actually paying less each year in unincorporated Walker County and the City of Chickamauga.

The new rate calls for a $0.10 fee per square foot on all buildings, with a minimum of $90 and maximum of $400 to be charged on a residential house, mobile home, duplex or triplex. This will lower fees on roughly 10,000 residential properties. For example, someone living in a 900 square foot home will now pay $90, instead of $130. A neighbor with a 1,200 square foot house will now pay $120, instead of $130.

Residents who live in homes with 1,301 square footage space or more will notice an increase in their public safety fee. Revisions have also been made to the fee for agricultural, commercial and industrial buildings.

Commissioner Whitfield said, “Throughout the campaign, many citizens voiced their concerns about the fire fee not being equitable for someone living in a mobile home or small house, compared to residents that live in larger homes. It’s clear by restructuring this fee, we can create a rate that’s fair for all citizens of Walker County that also allows us to expand services and provide faster response times across the county.”

At the same time, improvements in fire protection and public safety will spread across Walker County as the number of full-time career fire stations will be increased from 4 to 6. Station 14 in Villanow and Station 15 in the Cane Creek Community will transition to 24/7/365 operations. Full-time firefighters will also be relocated from Station 11, just west of LaFayette, to Station 20, near Highway 136 and Cove Road.

Walker County Emergency Services Chief Blake Hodge said, “We believe it’s possible to significantly improve response times to 12 districts, based on recent improvements seen at Station 2 in Flintstone. The biggest impact will be in the Villanow area, where staffing Station 14 with full-time firefighters is estimated to reduce our response time from 24 to 9 minutes.”

Station 2 in Flintstone transitioned to a full-time station in July. The county’s other full-time stations are in Rock Spring and Chickamauga.

Commissioner Whitfield said, “I commend Chief Hodge for reviewing our call volume and developing a plan to reach residents faster, utilizing existing manpower and equipment.”

The fire station restructuring will take place October 1, 2017, the same day the updated public safety fee schedule takes effect.

Walker County to Test Hyper-Reach Community Alert System on August 1st

LaFayette, GA – Walker County will conduct a test of its Hyper-Reach Community Alert system on Tuesday, August 1st at Noon. The test will provide the public with an opportunity to verify they are registered to receive the alerts.

Hyper-Reach provides phone and email notifications to the public during times of emergency or community concern. It can even pinpoint specific people to send alerts to based on their location, so only those impacted receive a message. It was last used to provide alerts about the recent boil water advisory.

Community members must subscribe to the free service in order to receive the community and weather related alerts. Walker County Sole Commissioner Shannon Whitfield strongly encourages the public to sign-up now before the August 1st test to insure they are getting the messages.

Those interested in receiving community alerts can register online or by calling the Walker County Commissioner’s Office at 706-638-1437 and ask to be added to the list.