Jim Hill

Jim Hill, one of the founders of Wilson Road Neighborhood Group, believes a voluntary neighborhood tax of a penny-a-day-per-parcel for street lights would be well worth the lives it could save.

Wilson Road in Walker County runs nearly two miles. Dark miles at night, because there are no street lights -- and that’s what concerns the Wilson Road Neighborhood Group (WRNG).

David Roden, one of the founders of WRNG, says the group has been seeking solutions to the problem for a while. “People walk on that road at night,” says Roden. “They’re going to the convenience store, the Laundromat, other places. It’s hard to see them if you’re driving down the road. If you hit and kill someone, a life has been lost, that person’s family has been turned upside down and so has your life.”

Roden says that the past government of Walker County said it couldn’t afford to put up lights on all the hundreds of miles of roads in the county. He understands that. But the problem remains.

So WRNG has come up with a possible solution, something outside the box. What if, they asked themselves, the neighbors along the road agreed to tax themselves to pay for lighting?

Roden contacted the Electric Power Board. EPB assessed the situation, determined 33 lights would be needed, and gave Roden an idea of what the cost would be. “For about a penny a day from the owners of each of the 1,100 parcels along the road,” says Roden, “we could have a much safer street that would benefit everyone who lives here.”

Another of WRNG’s founders, Jim Hill, says he believes that if the plan goes through, it will be the first lighted county road that is not within a city limit. “If spending a penny a day would save lives, I would do it,” he says.

“The first step,” says Hill, “is to get people informed, let them know what it would take to make this happen.”

WRNG is holding two public meetings to discuss the idea. Hill says that if there is sufficient agreement, the next step would be a resolution drawn up by the commissioner. “Any money collected would have to go, by law, to the purpose stated in the resolution,” says Hill. Hill says Wilson Road residents would have the opportunity to review the resolution on a regular basis and to make changes if it seemed necessary.

Walker County Commissioner Shannon Whitfield says he plans to attend the public meetings WRNG is holding so he can “hear firsthand from the community about this opportunity for enhanced services.”

Whitfield says he’s interested in learning about this “truly grassroots effort” and seeing whether citizens want to “pool their resources and work as a group to address a safety concern in their community.”

Roden says that WRNG’s mission is to improve the community it serves and that means brainstorming and bringing people together. When WRNG asked for a sheriff’s office at the north end of the county, they were told it wasn’t in the budget. They found someone to donate building space. They’ve been instrumental in getting a crime-ridden apartment complex on the right path with a new owner. They’ve hosted public candidate debates and debates about the form of government in the county. They got a tree taken down at a dangerous intersection after being told it couldn’t be done. And they’re deeply involved in efforts to clean up trash in the community and help the less fortunate.

“I believe government should do its part,” says Roden. “but residents need to be proactive and get involved, too. It’s a joint effort.”

Tamara Wolk is a reporter for The Catoosa County News in Ringgold, Ga., and Walker County Messenger in LaFayette, Ga.