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With 24 items on the agenda, the last Walker County Sole Commissioner meeting saw a slew of approvals ahead of the new year and the installation of a new five-member board of commissioners.

Early on in the meeting, various community members paused Sole Commissioner Shannon Whitfield to request that he table some of his scheduled committee appointments until after the new board is installed, a common inquiry in recent weeks from citizens.

In a previous interview with the Times Free Press, Whitfield — who was also elected to serve as chair of the new commission starting in January — said that taxpayers employed him for a full four years and that the government has to keep moving forward, sentiments he also expressed during the meeting as he said the new board would likely not formally meet until Jan. 14.

"These are things that need to move forward to keep things moving in county government," Whitfield said before proceeding with the aforementioned agenda items. "We're going to continue on."

Among those approvals were the various appointments to committees: Shannon Beasley and Finley Johnson to the Walker County Animal Control Board; Scott Abston, William Cooke and Annette North to the Walker County Water and Sewerage Authority; Jeff Potts to the LaFayette-Walker County Library Board; Todd Holt to the Walker County Planning Commission; and Melba Powell to the Board of Tax Assessors.

There were also several items pertaining to emergency operations in the county on the agenda.

Currently, there are areas of the county where emergency officials cannot reach or be reached by the local 911 center or other first responders due to aging equipment and a lack of infrastructure.

There are even areas of the county where there is not only a lack of radio coverage but of cell service as well, making communication with 911 services increasingly difficult.

And the current radios are being phased out by their manufacturer, limiting replacement parts and repair possibilities.

Whitfield approved more than $1.7 million for new portable radios and a new 911 tower to upgrade the county's system, in addition to other emergency capital needs such as a coroner van and consoles for the 911 center.

The majority of the purchases will be covered by the 2020 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST).

While the improvements won't guarantee 100% coverage, according to the contractor, Sheriff Steve Wilson said they have guaranteed service across 95% of the county following the upgrades, a large improvement from the current system.

"It's been a problem for a long time, a safety issue for along time," Wilson said. "Yes, it's a lot of money to spend, but you can't put a dollar figure on a public safety officer's life who may need backup or other services that the dispatch can give them in time of need."

For his last approval as Sole Commissioner, Whitfield signed a resolution cementing the 2018 vote by residents to transition the county to have a board of commissioners.

The new commissioners who will join him were sworn in the day following Whitfield's final solo meeting, and took office Jan. 1, marking the first time the county has had a board governance format since 1940.

Another meeting was held on Jan. 4 to approve a vice chairman.

The first full board meeting will be held at some point later in the month.

Contact Tierra Hayes at tierrathejournalist@gmail.com.

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