Rossville, Georgia, activists push for self-imposed fee to light Wilson Road

Rossville, Georgia, activists push for self-imposed fee to light Wilson Road

June 14th, 2019 by Tyler Jett in Local Regional News

Wilson Road is seen on Wednesday, June 12, 2019, in Rossville, Ga. The Wilson Road Neighborhood Group is requesting a special tax district to fund streetlights along the road.

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

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ROSSVILLE, Ga. — Every night when he leaves work, Bobby Davies is on edge.

The self-described "second in line to the boss man" at Xtreme North Georgia Auto, located at 1000 Wilson Road immediately south of the state line, Davies can see about 45 feet in front of his car after the sun sets. The road — a stretch of small, old houses, auto shops and manufactured home communities — isn't lined with street lights.

Residents walk the couple of blocks down to the Discount Market for snacks and cigarettes. Rather than stroll through the grass, some stay on the street. Davies can't flip on high beams, with drivers coming from the opposite direction.

"I can barely see them until I'm right on top," he said. "If there's a car coming in the other lane, you're kind of caught between a rock and a hard place. I've had to hit my brakes pretty hard."

He added: "Any time there's a possibility of hitting a pedestrian with a vehicle, it puts fear in you."

Davies supports adding lights here, an initiative pushed by members of the Wilson Road Neighborhood Group. The group will host meetings at Rossville Elementary School at 6:30 p.m. Thursday and on July 16, explaining why residents should get behind the plan. Specifically, group co-founder David Roden will ask his neighbors to support a self-imposed $3.61 annual fee to fund the lights. (Street lights are normally funded by the city or county. Walker County has not funded streetlights anywhere in the unincorporated area.)

Roden gave the Walker County property appraiser's office a map of a proposed special tax district in which 1,095 parcel owners in Rossville would pay the added cost on their tax bills. The county would collect the money, spokesman Joe Legge said, and pay a light bill from EPB. Utility workers would install 33 lights on power poles from Wilson Road's intersection with Happy Valley Road to the state line, where Davies works.

The electric bill for the lights would be about $4,000 a year, overall. Walker County already has a "special tax district" — albeit, one that applies to every piece of property — in the form of a public safety fee. This 10-cent-per-square-foot fee (with a minimum price tag of $90 and a maximum fee of $400) helps fund Walker County Emergency Services, including the fire department.

Since August 2017, the county has also had a special tax district to pay back Walker County's $8.7 million debt to Erlanger Health System. That fee was supposed to be in place for three years. But in April, Commissioner Shannon Whitfield announced he would end the district this year. The tax produced almost as much for the county in two years as Whitfield said it would in three.

Legge said Whitfield would support the Wilson Road Neighborhood Group's request for a new special tax district if enough people in the area want it. Roden, owner of the Mountain View Estate manufactured home community on Wilson Road, will distribute a petition at the meetings this month and next.

"We're looking for a strong majority of support in order to move forward with this effort," Whitfield said in a statement last week. "The public meetings and signed petitions will help us determine the level of support from the property owners. This would be a great value for the citizens by pulling their resources together and working as a group to address a safety concern in their community."

Roden has advocated for a large-scale cleanup effort at the north end of the county for several years. In addition to co-founding the neighborhood group, he requested a "clean and lean" ordinance with stricter codes — and stricter penalties. He was an early supporter of Whitfield's 2016 campaign.

In a phone interview last week, a worker at Bohanon Used Auto & Truck Properties on Wilson Road said adding lights is a waste of money. The worker declined to give his name before hanging up. But he told the Times Free Press, "I'm not going to bother. They're killing me on property taxes now. They went up on property taxes around here. Walker County's broke."

Sheriff Steve Wilson supports the plan.

"It would certainly enhance the visibility in that neighborhood," he said. "And when you enhance the visibility, you enhance the safety."

Roden said members of the community have asked for lights since he formed the Wilson Road Neighborhood Group in March 2016. People worry a car will hit a child. He thinks a small fee for each property owner is a sound investment. He did not ask Whitfield to fund the lights from the county's general fund, believing a request like that would force the commissioner to also pay for lights in other communities — money he doesn't believe the county can afford to spend. (Legge said the county doesn't pay street light bills anywhere else.)

"Is it worth less than a pack of cigarettes for a year?" Roden asked, rhetorically. "We're going to pay for enhanced safety for less than one pack of cigarettes. That's a great investment."

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


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