Walker County Newsletter  Issue 10
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In this issue:
  • Debt Deal: Walker Co. & Erlanger Agree to Settlement
  • A Timeline of Negotiations with Primary Healthcare
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  • Save the date: Animal Control Ordinance Input Session, January 30th, 2018
  • When Winter Weather Strikes, Public Works Strikes Back
  • Free Smoke Alarms Available from WCES & American Red Cross
  • 2017 - Year in Review
  • Quick Hits
Debt Deal: Walker Co. & Erlanger Agree to Settlement

On January 4th, officials with Walker County and the Erlanger Health System agreed to settle an $8.7 million debt stemming from a loan commitment made by the previous Walker County administration. Former Walker County Commissioner Bebe Heiskell pledged taxpayer dollars to cover this loan to Erlanger in 2011, as part of an intergovernmental agreement with the Hutcheson Medical Center board.
As part of the full settlement, Erlanger will waive interest and attorney fees awarded in its federal judgment against Walker County, and the County has agreed to make payments of $650,000 for 12 quarters, starting in January 2018.  Walker County will make a 13th and final payment of $900,000 to Erlanger by the end of 2020, according to the terms of the full settlement. Commissioner Whitfield confirmed the first payment was made on Friday, January 19th.
"I am deeply appreciative for the empathy shown by Erlanger toward the people of Walker County," said Sole Commissioner Shannon Whitfield.  "Our citizens didn't get the county into the financial mess we are working to correct, but they are being asked to help dig us out.  By allowing Walker County to pay off this debt over three years, we understand that Erlanger recognizes real people are making real sacrifices," he said.
Erlanger President & CEO Kevin M. Spiegel, FACHE, said, "With Walker County's commitment to repay the full amount due today, Erlanger is pleased to conclude these negotiations and waive both the interest and attorney fees.  We remain committed to caring for patients from Northwest Georgia, and will continue to look for opportunities to partner with Commissioner Whitfield and the good citizens of Walker County."
Jack Studer, Chairman of the Hamilton County Chattanooga Board of Trustees, also expressed his gratitude for the settlement agreement between Erlanger and Walker County.  “I am appreciative of the leadership from both Commissioner Whitfield and CEO Kevin Spiegel for putting our two great organizations on more solid footing for the future." Studer added, "Erlanger is honored to serve North Georgia, and looks forward to continuing to provide world-class care to everyone in Walker County."
Commissioner Whitfield said, "This agreement will save the county nearly $580,000, and gives our taxpayers peace of mind. We have reached a full settlement that allows us to make payments and brings closure to an issue that has concerned our community."
A Timeline of Negotiations with Primary Healthcare
Walker County continues to talk with Primary Healthcare Centers about lease terms for their Rossville operation on Suggs Street. If you're just beginning to follow this story, here's a look at what has happened up to this point.
  • February 2017: Commissioner Whitfield started looking into the lease agreement for this building after receiving an electric bill for this property. The Commissioner discovered a 5-year lease giving Primary Healthcare (PHC) use of this facility for $1 a year, with the county covering utilities and maintenance. The lease was originally initiated on January 1, 2007 and renewed on September 1, 2012. It expired on August 31, 2017.
  • April 2017: Commissioner Whitfield sent a letter to PHC about the lease for the Rossville property expiring on August 31, 2017.
  • May 2017: Commissioner Whitfield met with PHC’s CEO to inform her that Walker County could no longer rent the property for $1 a year after the lease expires. The last time the property had been appraised was 1998. It was decided the property should be appraised again before either side talked numbers. Also during this meeting, Commissioner Whitfield informed PHC that the lease on the building in LaFayette that PHC uses for its corporate offices expires on January 31, 2018.
  • July 2017: Rominger & Associates turned in an appraisal based on comparable land sales in the area and buildings in the region being used for similar services. The appraisal valued the property at $1,110,400. The appraisal offered high, low and average rent suggestions for the property based on market trends, location, condition, building class, square footage and age. The rent estimates, per square foot, were $0.83 - low; $1.07 average; $1.43 - high. The appraiser suggested rent should be set at $1.17 per square foot on this property or $9,595.83 per month.
  • August 2017: Commissioner Whitfield forwarded the new appraisal to PHC's CEO and offered several options for continued use of the property: 1) Purchase the building 2) Lease the building at the reduced rate of $1.07 per square foot. The building has 8,225 square feet. $1.07 X 8,225 sq ft = $8,800.75. 3) Go month to month at $8,800.75 until they can find a new location.
  • September 2017: Commissioner Whitfield waived the rental fee in September to give PHC's board time to review their options, but contended every month after September would be $8,800.75. PHC officials responded saying they couldn't afford $8,800.75 rent, but refused to release financial documentation showing why. Tax filings from 2015 show PHC had $6.5 million in revenue and $6.2 million in expenses. PHC offered to pay $2,500 a month in rent or $0.30 per square foot. PHC started paying utilities on the building and sent a check for $3 to the Commissioner's office to pay past due rent.  
  • October 2017: PHC quietly purchased the old Hutcheson hospice building in Fort Oglethorpe for $280,000. This move came without any offer to purchase the Rossville property.
  • November 2017: Commissioner Whitfield sent a three-year lease agreement document to PHC to review. Notice of past due rent sent to PHC for October & November.
  • December 2017: Notice of past due rent sent to PHC for October, November & December.
  • January 2017: Attorney's for Walker County and PHC's met. On January 30th, a revised lease offer with reduced rate options were sent to PHC, along with a 60 day notice of cancellation, in case a new lease agreement cannot be reached within the next two months.
Additional notes:
  • The former Health Department building was renovated in 2007/2008 using a Community Development Block Grant that required a local match. The total project cost was $900,080. Funding sources included: $465,923 - Federal; $231,249 - Georgia Baptist HC Ministry Foundation; $202,908 - Walker County
  • The building must be used for an eligible activity for 20 years or a portion of the grant must be repaid. Eligible activities are directed toward neighborhood revitalization, economic development or improved community facilities and services.
  • PHC also rents a 4,000 square foot county owned office building in LaFayette for the below market rate of $1,000 a month. The lease on that property expires on January 31, 2018. 

A new online experience for Walker County Government launched this month. is the new home for government services, records, news, information, recreation and more.  

Here are some of the big changes:

Joe Legge, Walker County Public Relations Director, said, "I wanted to create a storefront that was inviting and well organized. This site is one of the first places a family considering a move to Walker County or a business interested in locating here will see. It's also becoming a primary source of information for residents to learn how their government operates." During this month's winter weather event, a running tab of schedule changes was posted on the homepage, which hundreds of people viewed for updates.

Legge designed in house, saving taxpayers roughly $10,000. He'll continue to update and expand the site as part of his job responsibilities. "In the near future, you'll be able to apply for a marriage license and weapons carry permit online, view a countywide points of interest map and watch a new video series currently in the development stage." 

Municode, which maintains the Walker County code book, is in the process of updating the code book. In 2019, look for a searchable codes database to be added online, as well.
SAVE THE DATE: Walker County plans to update ordinances dealing with domestic animals this year. A public input session will be held to seek suggestions on whether new regulations should be considered, as well as review existing county ordinances and state laws addressing the welfare of dogs and cats. The public input session will be held on Tuesday, January 30th at 6 p.m. at the LaFayette-Walker County Public Library, 305 S Duke Street in LaFayette.
When Winter Weather Strikes...
Public Works Strikes Back

During times of inclement winter weather, our public works crews stage in various areas of the county to address things like snowfall on our roads.

Two trucks salt and treat the curves along Nickajack Road, trucks are stationed on the northern and southern end of Lookout Mountain and work toward each other, at least one truck is assigned to the northern end of the county near Rossville and one truck works Villanow.

We also address our main arteries like Marble Top Road, Mission Ridge Road, Johnson Road, Hogan Road, Lakeview Drive, South Crest Road, Lake Howard Road, Ringgold Road, Round Pound Road, West Cove Road, Hog Jowl Road and Straight Gut Road. We have up to seven additional trucks to break off and work more remote, less traveled areas once the main roads are addressed.
Free Smoke Alarms Available from WCES & American Red Cross
Walker County Emergency Services (WCES) and the American Red Cross of Northwest Georgia are sounding the alarm to save lives. The two organizations have partnered to provide free smoke alarms to Walker County residents in need of these life saving devices.
WCES received a donation of 150 smoke alarms from the Red Cross to distribute throughout the community. Residents can call 706-539-1255 and press #2 for the Fire Marshal’s office to request one. Smoke alarms will be given out and installed on a first come, first served basis. Once the supply is exhausted, WCES will place residents on a waiting list to receive an alarm as additional inventory becomes available.
Special smoke alarms for hearing impaired residents are also available.
December, January and February are peak months for residential fires, due to increased use of home heating equipment.

During a Commencement Ceremony this month, Walker County Emergency Services welcomed seven new recruits to the fire service and one new member to Company 8 at Walker State Prison.

In addition, WCES recognized Capt. Garry Goodman, Assistant Chief Thomas Sisson and Assistant Chief Waymon Westbrook for their years of dedicated service. Three students graduated from the Explorer program, as well.
2017 - Year in Review
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.
Quick Hits
The Walker County Development Authority (WCDA) issued a Request for Proposal (RFP) from those interested in the former Coats American site in Rossville. RFP documentation must be submitted by February 28th.

Questions? Contact Larry Brooks at (423) 240-1378 or
Stephanie McTaggart took over management duties at the Walker County Animal Shelter & Adoption Center in January.

In 2015, McTaggart joined the Shelter staff as a Rescue Coordinator, working with animal rescue groups to place dogs and cats in good homes. Her efforts helped save 825 animals last year.
Find the next love of your life at the Walker County Animal Shelter & Adoption Center, 5488 N Marbletop Road in Chickamauga.

Now through February 15th, adopt a dog from us for just $25. Want a cat instead? Our frisky felines are just $14 during this sweetheart of a deal.
Copyright © 2018 Walker County Commissioner's Office, All rights reserved.

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