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Catoosa County Chief Financial Officer Carl Henson gives a SPLOST overview during a work session Monday, July 31, 2017, at the Catoosa County Colonnade in Ringgold, Ga. The Catoosa County Commission, Ringgold City Council and Fort Oglethorpe City Council held an Intergovernmental Work Session to discuss how to divide sales tax revenue, the county jail and more.

RINGGOLD, Ga. — Catoosa County commissioners plan to decrease the property tax rate this year.

County CFO Carl Henson presented a proposed budget during a commission meeting Tuesday night, showing that the elected officials plan to keep expenses almost flat across the board for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. The county plans to take in about $225,000 more in revenue, though not by increasing property taxes.

Overall, with the assessed value of some properties increasing this year, the millage rate will decrease 4.7 percent, down to 6.95. By comparison, the millage rate is 10.94 in Walker County and 9.561 in Whitfield County. The proposed rate for this upcoming fiscal year is 10.825 in Dade County and 19.138 in Chattooga County.

The Catoosa County Commission will hold a public hearing on the budget on Aug. 19 at 6 p.m. The elected officials will vote on the budget on Aug. 31 at 9 a.m.

County Manager Jim Walker said most departments have a steady budget for next year, though department heads can present potential changes to the commissioners at the Aug. 19 meeting. He said Clerk of Court Tracy Brown has floated the idea of hiring an extra employee to help handle all the added case files from the county's state court, which opened last year to handle some of the superior court's former misdemeanor and civil court cases.

"We told [department heads] early on this was going to be flat," Walker said.

"We were pretty firm," Commission Chairman Steven Henry said.

The only significant change Walker could think of was a $50,000 decrease for the fire department's contracted services. Much of that money is set aside for volunteer firefighters. Walker said the county has continually budgeted more money than the fire department needs in that area.

Instead, it will set that money aside for an added benefit for firefighters' health insurance. A state law passed this year requiring local governments to cover potential forms of cancer that firefighters can fall victim to as a result of their careers working in heavy smoke and flames.

 

HEALTH CLINIC AGREEMENT

The commissioners voted to approve a $17,500-a-month contract with One to One Health to staff a new clinic for county employees and their family members.

The clinic, which will be located off Alabama Highway, will be open throughout the days, allowing employees to get blood work done, lab tests and receive some medications. Employees' children can also get sports physicals.

In addition to the contract with One to One, the county will pay for the medications and rent of the building. Overall, it is budgeting $300,000 this year. Henson believes that cost will be offset by a drop in the county's insurance premium, which is a little short of $5 million.

Over time, he thinks, the savings will increase. Employees should be seeing a healthcare provider faster with the clinic than they did in the past. The clinic's staff will catch potential problems before they get out of control.

"One thing you can't put a price tag on is the health of your employees," Walker said.

George Battersby, a resident, protested the deal, saying $300,000 is a significant expense. He added that county officials don't know what insurance markets are going to look like next year, with the will-they, won't-they struggle on healthcare reform.

"Nobody but God knows how health insurance is going to be over the next four years," Battersby said.

 

SEWER COMPLAINT

Ed Morgan and Cheryl Rudd, both of Melody Lane, came to the commissioners' meeting to speak out about problems lingering in their yards from the city of Ringgold's sewer line extension work that ended last year.

Rudd said the contractors for the project installed curbs in front of her house that sit in such a way that, when water hits them, it runs up to her driveway, creating big puddles. She added that the sidewalk has high lips and a 1 1/2-inch gap in it.

Morgan, meanwhile, said the contractor moved dirt during the project and put it into a ditch that runs behind his and his neighbor's houses. The dirt still sits back there, filling the old ditch. And as a result, any rain leads to a swampy backyard.

Morgan said he started a mission to fix the problems three weeks ago after an "epiphany": He found a letter he wrote his late mother in 2010, promising to protect the neighborhood where she raised him. He said he called Ringgold City Manager Dan Wright, but Wright told him the city did not cause the problem.

In turn, Henry told Morgan and Rudd on Tuesday that this isn't a county issue, either. But, he said, "we are aware an issue is there," and he wants to see if the county can help him find a solution.

"They're fighting like kids over a remote for a TV," Morgan said, "trying to decide who's to blame for what."

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or tjett@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.

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