Property taxes are a thing of the past — so 20th century — for the city of Chickamauga.

In 2000, property taxes were eliminated for residents , and last week its city council voted to continue this millennium's norm and collect only school taxes in the coming year.

When presenting the proposed 0.0 millage rate to the council, City Manager Micheal Haney said residents have saved more than $6. 4 million over the past 16 years based on the 3.46 mills charged in 2000.

The operations budget for this city of slightly more than 3,100 is funded by revenue from its city-owned utilities and franchise fees.

The local government maintains more than 20 buildings, a water tower, pump stations, 29 miles of roads and hundreds of miles of utility lines — all without ad valorem taxes.

By way of comparison, Haney gave examples of millage rates levied by nearby municipalities.

• LaFayette: 2.82 mills

• Ringgold: 3.11 mills

• Fort Oglethorpe: 6.632 mills

• Rossville: 9:035 mills

• Lookout Mountain, Ga.: 9.35 mills

Haney also reminded those attending the Sept. 5 council meeting that Chickamauga provides garbage, brush and trash pickup without paying supplements from the general fund, while its water and sewerage rates are the region's lowest.

As for the rate it charges for electricity, the manager said Dalton is the only city in the state with a lower initial rate, though it is one that has usage increases that make Chickamaugans' overall bills less costly.

Residents are required to support the city's schools — Chickamauga Elementary, Gordon-Lee Middle and High schools — via property taxes. But even them, the rate of 14.25 mills is lower than most. Walker County schools set a millage rate of 16.62 mills and Catoosa County has a millage rate of 18.69.

The school tax was adjusted upward last year, as it was found the city must have a rate of at least 14 mills to qualify for state funds. This year's collection is expected to generate about $1.53 million, an amount that will be matched by about $1 million of state funds.

And even as this local government resists raising revenue through levies on property, it continues moving forward with long-term plans to improve infrastructure and quality of life for Chickamaugans. An example is the ongoing process of improving the city water and sewer service.

"It is starting to come together," Haney said of a water system plan that carries a price tag of about $2.6 million and has been in the works for nearly two years.

The city has had problems insuring sufficient volume and pressure throughout its customer base. Partly because of a mix of aging water mains and partly because growth, particularly commercial development along U.S. Highway 27.

Several years ago the city was hit by several near-catastrophic failures: lightning knocked out one the pump at one of the city's wells, a water main break in mid-winter disrupted delivery to a large number of utility customers and an undetected leak near the Food Lion shopping center led to the city purchasing — at great cost — water from the county water authority.

To remedy the root of those failures, the council contracted a consultant to help secure grant funding to fix the problem. The result is a plan that will provide a looped system, one where there are redundant means of delivery and that will assure steady water pressure.

Aside from the benefit to homeowners, these improvements are critical to maintain ISO ratings for fire protection that will allow retail and industrial growth.

Such plans don't come cheap, but by combining a number of grants the cost is bearable for a town of Chickamauga's size.

A CDBG (community development block grant) commitment of nearly $545,000 has been secured.

Several other grants have been applied for and officials are guardedly optimistic that they will be awarded. One Appalachian Regional Commission grants for $300,000 is in the works with the potential of gaining an additional $162,000 of ARC funds. An Economic Development Administration grant of $707,000 has been applied for. There is the possibility of gaining a Georgia Environmental Finance Authority in the amount of $700,000 (if approved, this GEFA grant would require 60 percent being repaid) and the city share of SPLOST (special purpose local option sales tax) receipts earmarks $143,000 for water improvement project.

All in all, cash has started to flow in and the water project is moving along — all with no new taxes.

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.