Chickamauga is not quite the small sleepy town of years past that locals liken to Mayberry.

There are now four — yes four — four-way traffic lights in this mini-metropolis of 3,101 souls (according to the U.S. Census Bureau's 2016 estimate).

Chain franchises have opened restaurants: McDonalds, Huddle House, Hardees, Domino's, Subway, Pizza Hut — and a Wendy's is on the way. Advance Auto and O'Reilly's have replaced the long-gone downtown Western Auto Store. Two Dollar General and a Fred's have filled a void left by general merchandise retailers. A new and busy Ace Hardware will soon have Medi-Thrift Pharmacy as a neighbor. Grocery stores Food Lion and Chappell's (formerly Shop-Rite) serve the city and surrounding communities.

And while changes large and small seem to occur like clockwork, one thing remains constant and unique: residents pay no property taxes.

A new and improved edition of the venerable Gordon Lee Memorial High School will open soon. But its multi-million cost is paid for with school taxes and state money, not by the city government.

In fact, the first class to graduate from the new school may be the last group whose parents paid property taxes as it was in 2000 — 18 years ago — that the city council eliminated annual levies on property.

City Manager Micheal Haney said the city has an operating budget that projects about $1.5 million in revenue and expenditures of about $1.45 million.

The 2018 budget includes about $77,000 to "cover any unforeseen expenses" but that amount, if not needed, will be added to the city's reserve funds which are already enough to cover a year's expenses.

And where does the city get its money? From franchise fees paid by companies wanting to reach this market. By the sale of utilities, water and electric, as well as trash and garbage collection service.

The county's other cities collect taxes with varying millage rates 1/1,000th valuation): Lookout Mountain's rate is 9.35 mills, Rossville's is 9.035 mills, Fort Oglethorpe (partly in Walker County but mostly in Catoosa) collects 6.632 mills and LaFayette has a millage rate of 2.82 mills.

Maintaining and operating those utilities, nearly 30 miles of roads, many more miles of power and water lines and about 20 buildings — including the Gordon Lee Mansion and Lee & Gordon's Mill — is an ongoing challenge, but one Chickamauga is proud of.

"Good leadership by the mayor and council, along with dedicated departmental staff makes it possible for us to thrive," Haney said.

Mike O'Neal is assistant editor for the Walker County Messenger in LaFayette, Ga. He can be reached at the Messenger office at 706-638-1859 and by email at moneal@npco.com.