Walker County set new benchmarks in emergency services, codes enforcement, public relations, home construction permits and a number of other areas in 2017. But first, let’s follow the money.
Sole Commissioner Shannon Whitfield walked into his office on January 1st
to find $3.5 million dollars in past due bills sitting on his desk, and only $800,000 in the bank. With payroll costing about a million dollars a month, Whitfield initiated several budget cuts and turned to the Bank of LaFayette and First Volunteer Bank of LaFayette to borrow $7.5 million dollars to fund basic operational expenses for the year. On December 22nd
, Whitfield hand delivered checks to both banks
to pay off the loans… and anticipates another TAX Anticipation Note won’t be needed until summer 2018.
Another money management move initiated by Commissioner Whitfield resulted in a balanced budget for every department and division of county government. After months of working on the budget, a comprehensive 100-page revenue and expenditure report was released to the public and made available online on the county's website
in October. This detailed document also contains financial data for 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017. This information eclipses the basic three-page budget released in prior years.
As part of a review and reorganization of department staffing at the beginning of 2017, Code Enforcement received greater attention and focus. In April, Walker County began a targeted campaign to address out of compliance properties and make the public more aware of several commonly violated codes. Code Enforcement Officers visited
over 6,000 pieces of property and found nearly 4,700 in compliance. However, they did discover over 1,400 violations… things like high grass, junk and household garbage. Faith based groups like P-52 pitched in to help clean-up property for homeowners in need of a helping hand. The iWorQ Service Request app
was also launched to give residents a mobile tool to report code violations.
Emergency Services found ways to improve their response without spending additional money. The department repurposed some seldom used brush fire trucks to add Quick Response Vehicles to its fleet. Firefighters responded to 65% of all calls in a QRV, which is faster, lighter and more fuel efficient.
Reshuffling existing resources also allowed the department to double the number of 24/7/365 fire stations from three to six, improving response times
in the Flintstone-Chattanooga Valley, Villanow and Cane Creek communities. An automatic aid agreement with Whitfield County
will also improve services. In addition, the Public Safety Fee became more equitable, the hyper reach alert system added 1,700 contacts and firefighters even saved a pregnant dog who gave birth to several pups in a drainage tile. The department participated in a blood drive in support of Walker Prison Fire Chief Michael Mann, who was seriously injured in an early January wreck, as well.
The Walker County Animal Shelter
started working with Target Zero, a non-profit organization, to connect with area rescue groups, make adoptions easier and reduce the cycle of unwanted pets. The county adopted a policy to spay or neuter animals before sending them home with their new owners too. In 2017, 909 dogs and 327 cats were saved. That’s 224 more than 2016. Also, the number of animals euthanized significantly declined, dropping 52% versus 2016.
On the job front, the county sponsored a job fair in May to help area companies fill 800 positions… while a local developer announced plans to construct a $100-million luxury resort hotel
and conference center on Lookout Mountain.
Among the other highlights -- a tire amnesty day
brought in over 5,500 tires to be recycled… voters approved a Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax
(TSPLOST) to address road concerns… Emergency Management opened a command center and shelters during two storm events… the county launched a new facebook page
, Youtube channel
and this e-mail newsletter to make government more transparent… Mountain Cove Farms
more than tripled its bookings… the litter crew picked up 123,000 pounds of roadside trash… and the county helped host the Ironman World Championship and Walker County Ag Festival.