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Ringgold PD deploys new LIDAR to combat speeding

After receiving a traffic safety grant in late 2018, the Ringgold Police Department now has new LIDAR equipment in place to help combat the growing speeding issues in town.

In October, Ringgold PD received an $8,400 grant from the Governor's Office of Highway Safety (GOHS) to help the agency further its ongoing efforts to reduce traffic accidents related to speeding and distracted driving.

Then, in November, the department decided to spend $6,485 of that money to purchase three new LIDAR guns.

"We bought three in total with what we received from GOHS," Captain Chris Faulk said.

Faulk says a fourth unit could also be purchased soon thanks to a possible donation.

"We have somebody wanting to donate some money for us to get the fourth one, but that hasn't happened yet," Faulk said. "The grant funds we spent were for the device itself, the batteries, the charging devices, and a couple of other things to run them plus shipping."

Lately, the department's focus has been on the excessive speeding going on along I-75 in the construction zone between exits 348 and 345.

"We've put a lot of emphasis on the interstate this year, especially because of the construction zone," said Chief Dan Bilbrey. "The more visible you are out there, the more effective you're going to be in getting traffic slowed down."

As for the in town focus, both Chief Bilbrey and Captain Faulk said Tennessee Street has been a big area of concern recently.

"Tennessee Street is where we get most of our complaints about speeding from residents," Faulk said.

Speeders have a habit of coming off Ooltewah-Ringgold Road and into town on Tennessee Street where there's a school zone for Ringgold Middle, residential areas, and where street runs right into the business district in the heart of downtown.

Faulk also said speeding numbers have increased over the course of the past three years within the city.

"In 2016, of all our speeding citations, 4.07 percent of those were at speeds of 20 mph or more above the speed limit," Faulk explained. "In 2017, that number rose to 17.05 percent, and in May of 2018, those numbers had risen to 40.93 percent through the first half of 2018. In the middle of May we found that we were at 40.93 percent of speeding citations being over 20 mph or more for the first half of the year."

Based on the statistics from over the past couple of years, the speeding has gone down overall, but the speeding that does occur is excessive.

"From 2016 to 2017 the department saw roughly a 21-percent decrease in speeding overall, but with the significant increase in speeding that was 20 mph or more over the speed limit from, which jumped from the 4.07-percent (2016) to 17.05-percent (2017), and subsequently the 40.93-percent number (first half of 2018).

Chief Bilbrey says he hopes the new equipment and a stronger emphasis on the problem areas will help remedy the issues moving forward.

"They LIDAR are great tools for us and we're hoping it will help with the enforcement of speeding in our city," Bilbrey said.


Catoosa to buy large home as fire station

Catoosa County officials approved an outside-the-box purchase Tuesday night, Jan. 15, when they agreed to buy a large residential home off Alabama Highway and convert it into a new fire station.

County Attorney Chad Young and Fire Chief Randy Camp both spoke on the matter during the first Board of Commissioner's meeting of the new year, explaining both the need and the cost benefit of using an existing structure.

"The proposed agreement is to purchase an 11-acre tract of land and the home and improvements located on that land at 178 E. Nickajack Road," Young said. "That property adjoins current property owned by the county that is used as a part-time fire station and for recreational purposes. The purchase price in the contract is $480,000 with a closing date on or before Feb. 28, 2019."

Currently, Fire Station 2 exists in that area, but doesn't really meet the standards needed to provide proper services to that area.

"The Station 2 that we currently have — there's not really adequate facilities to house people 24 hours a day," Camp said. "There are no shower facilities and one bathroom, so we don't have separate male/female bathrooms or sleeping quarters."

Camp added that the current building is landlocked, which offers little to no room for renovations or expansion.

"The property lines are right on the building, so there are no field lines at that location," Camp said. "Any time we really start using water; toilets and stuff like that, it starts to back up. There's also no way to tear it down and start over because you just don't have the space."

One of the biggest reasons behind Camp and county staff pursuing the residential property is because of its proximity to the existing station.

Camp explained that the station provides services to residents of the Woodstation community and that moving too far from the current location would impact services and subsequent insurance costs for residents.

"We cannot move the fire station more than four-tenths of a mile in any direction," Camp explained. "If we do that, we'll throw some of our citizens over the five road miles. Catoosa County has four ISO ratings. The citizens over the five road miles would go from a class 3 to a class 10. That class 10 means no fire protection, which means fire insurance rates would be extremely high. That strategic location of the Nickajack fire station ... it's imperative that it stays in that vicinity."

The house as a station

As far as turning the 4,800-square-foot residence into a fire station, Camp explained that a lot of stations are already like second homes anyway.

"In the fire stations, we do everything that you do in your house — we live there, we cook there, we eat there, we use the restroom, we take a shower, and we do sleep at night," Camp said. "I've always jokingly said in my 42 years as a firefighter that my fire station is a house with a garage attached to it with a fire truck in my front room."

In addition to the $480,000 purchase of the house and property, Camp explained that approximately another $400,000 would have to be spent to build a garage for the fire trucks.

Camp said that if the county were to just build a brand new fire station exactly like Station 3 in Graysville it would cost an estimated $1.3 million.

"We would build a two-bay station to be constructed next to the home," Camp said. "We're looking at $880,000. Now, $880,000 for a fire station to me is a good deal, especially when compared to what we were proposing with the $1.3 million (for building brand new station).

Camp says he's already put out notice to hire new firefighters that would man that station.

"Hopefully we'll have them in the door and get them started by April, and then have them in that area in June or July," Camp said.

Camp says the need for more firefighters in that area high due to four volunteers manning that station. The fact that those volunteers work their regular jobs during the day has resulted in an average response time of 15 minutes in the Woodstation community.

Another plus of the purchase is that the 11 acres of land would create more training space for the department as a whole.

"There are a lot of possibilities for this property," Camp said.

The board unanimously approved moving forward with the purchase. However, Young said the sale would be contingent on appraisal of the home and property.

"An appraisal will be ordered," Young said. "We didn't want to incur the expense unless it is approved, but if for some reason the appraisal is less than the purchase price, the county is under no obligation to purchase the property."

Details of the house and property can be viewed on Zillow (www.zillow.com/homes/for_sale/50507569_zpid/34.81361,85.131447,34.793982,85.160758_rect/14_zm/1_fr).


Residents ask for dog-tethering ordinance

A passionate group of residents attended the Catoosa County commissioners' meeting Tuesday night, Jan. 15, to voice their concerns over improper treatment of outdoor pets.

Several residents ad - dressed the Board of Commissioners during the public appearances portion of the night's agenda, explaining that a number of dogs are constantly tied up outside homes in their neighborhood, with little or no care.

"I, along with many other residents of this county, have concerns about the lack of laws regarding the safety and welfare of dogs in the community," said Kimberly Hull, who resides on Bluff View Drive. "There are way too many examples of dogs that are suffering because of not having adequate food, water and shelter. Our main concern is that they are being tethered outside 24 hours a day in extreme weather conditions."

Hull said that she's contacted animal control on several occasions, but that little or nothing has been done.

Another resident said she contacted the Humane Society and was told that as long as there are water and food bowls and a dog house, there's nothing that can be done.

"What animal control deems appropriate is not what I feel that a reasonable person would deem appropriate," Hull said. "Chains and ropes can cause injuries to the neck due to constant pulling trying to get loose. There are deaths due to dogs getting their chain or rope hung that can lead to asphyxiation. Dogs need interaction with people and it's up to us to advocate and protect them."

Hull also maintained that some tethered dogs can become territorial and aggressive regarding their limited space, which can sometimes result in attacks on children who try to pet them.

She also asked the room to consider how they would feel in the dog's situation.

"Imagine having to eat, sleep, urinate and defecate day-in and day-out in a 6-foot area," Hull said. "I think most of us are pet lovers and it hurts to think about it."

Ultimately, Hull asked commissioners to discuss and consider developing some type of ordinance similar to what other counties like Gwinnett, Cobb, and Fulton have in place, which provides restrictions that owners must be outside with their dogs when tethered.

Although there were numerous people in favor of such an ordinance, resident Reese Chambers stated a new law in that realm would impact him as a dog trainer.

Chambers explained he's owned bird dogs most of his life and has chained up the dogs at various times for training purposes.

"When I'm going to my house in Kansas, I've got a trailer full of bird dogs," Chambers said. "When I stop to air those dogs, I'm either going to chain those dogs to my trailer, which is manufactured with places to put those chains so I can feed and water those dogs; or I'm going to find a grassy place and I'm going to extend what we call a chain gang. It's exactly that — it's a big chain with little short chains on that gang so I get those dogs out, hook them up, feed and water them, get them taken care of, get them loaded back in the trailer, and here we go."

Chambers said he understands the public's outcry over mistreatment of dogs, but maintained that every owner doesn't treat their dogs the same.

"I just think that we should be really careful with a law that we might enact that would unnecessarily be detrimental to people that have been loving dog owners all their lives," Chambers said. "At any time during the year, someone might come to my house and I might have four or five dogs on chain gang watching me train another dog. I agree that there's a lot of abuse. Sometimes chaining or tethering a dog does go bad. All owners are not good animal owners."

Although he agreed with the concerns of the group advocating for an ordinance, Chambers says his lifelong work with dogs could be in jeopardy if something is put into effect.

"As meaningful as it is, and as understanding as I am with the other side of this, a broad-sweeping law that would limit my ability to train my dogs like I have done all my life would be detrimental to me," Chambers said. "We just can't always govern with our heart. We have to govern with our mind."

There was no action taken during the meeting regarding the matter, as it was addressed in public appearances, and was not an initial agenda item.

Now commissioners will consider the request and start researching and discussing how to address the issue.

Debbie Semkus, who says she drives by tethered dogs every day, said she even considered moving so she wouldn't have to see the mistreatment but decided to stay put and try to get something done to help the problem.

"Somebody's got to be a voice for those dogs," Semkus said. "I want to be voice for those kinds of dogs because I can't stand to see them done that way."


Gov. Kemp talks teacher raises, education funding, school safety

ATLANTA — On Wednesday, Jan. 16, two days after his inauguration and the day before his State of the State address, Georgia's new governor pledged $5,000 raises for each teacher in the state, a fully funded education formula and $30,000 for every school to beef up security measures as administrators see fit.

In an interview with Times-Journal Inc. (parent newspaper of both The Catoosa County News and Walker County Messenger) at the Georgia State Capitol, Kemp, who was sworn in as the state's 83rd governor on Monday, Jan. 14, talked about his new job and outlined some of his plans for his first 100 days in office.

In addition to creating a task force of prosecutors and investigators aimed at cracking down on street gangs and drug cartels throughout the state, Kemp vowed to follow through on his campaign promise of giving teachers raises, which he said are projected to cost the state an estimated $600 million.

"Forty-four percent of our teachers are leaving the field within the first five years. That's a huge problem, especially in more rural parts of our state, but it's a problem (everywhere)," he said, adding his team is budgeting "a historic pay raise for our educators."

The governor also said he expects the state's K-12 funding formula to be fully funded for the second consecutive year. The additional $167 in education funding last year put an end to austerity cuts, giving Cobb County Schools an extra $10 million that the district put toward raises and bonuses.

Kemp said maintaining his commitment to fully funding public education in Georgia is contingent on two things: a strong economy and the Legislature's ability to budget conservatively.

"It's easy to spend a lot of money in good times and when you get to tough times you have to start cutting," Kemp said, calling it a matter of time before the economy slows down again.

"Our plan is to keep fully funding education and work on lowering taxes."

The governor also announced plans to keep students safer by spending more on school security measures and increasing the number of counselors available in Georgia's high schools.

"We're going to have $69 million in one-time funds in the amended budget for our school safety plan," Kemp said. "It'll be $30,000 going to each school in the state — 2,294 of them."

How that money is spent, he said, will be left entirely up to the schools.

"Complete local control on that money so the local school boards, administrators, teachers, parents and students can all weigh in and say what's the best way to secure this school," Kemp said, suggesting the money could be used to hire additional school resource officers, improve security systems or even install metal detectors if communities deem them necessary.

Boosting the number of counselors in high schools, he said, should help students struggling with mental health issues or addiction.

"We've got to deal with the mental health problem that we have in our schools," he said.

Increasing access to trained professionals who can identify the signs of depression and drug dependence may help curb suicide and overdose rates among Georgia's youth, Kemp said, and pairing the counseling with the enhanced security may prevent mass shootings in schools.

"The reason for going after the mental health and doing the counselors is because the majority of school shootings happen by someone who is in the school and they have the right to be there," Kemp said. "It's a student."

He said giving students who need it additional access to counseling or psychological treatment is not a partisan issue, but something both Republicans and Democrats should get behind.

"We're being as fair as you can be, giving complete local control. It doesn't matter if it's downtown Atlanta or down in southwest Georgia or anywhere in between," he said. "They're all getting the same money and they can do with it as they please."

The governor said while he favors the expansion of school choice initiatives such as vouchers, charter schools and tax credit scholarships for private schools, he fully supports K-12 public education.

"I'm a strong supporter of school choice. On the vouchers, I think if you have failing schools that needs to be an option for those areas because they have no others," Kemp said. "I've been a strong supporter of charter schools ... but it doesn't mean that I won't 100 percent support public education, which I think we absolutely need to do."

'Too many standardized tests'

The new governor also made it clear that he believes the number of standardized tests students are forced to take each year hinders the ability of teachers to do what they do best — teach.

"We have too many standardized tests," Kemp said. "I want to free them up from some of this testing. ... One issue I've heard from parents and teachers alike is that we are spending more time teaching to the test than we are teaching our children. I don't think it's been beneficial."

Some districts across the state have taken efforts to do away with the annual state-mandated Milestones tests, pushing instead for their own methods of measuring student achievement that they argue won't be nearly as time-consuming.

Kemp says he's open to the idea of approving waivers for districts who pitch alternatives to the state tests but says there must be a way to hold teachers and students accountable without "tying their hands."

"We have to trust people at the local level to teach the children in their community," he said. "If they're not, people are not going to live there. They're going to move, they're going to send their kids to other schools and they'll vote with their feet."

School calendars

Kemp didn't hesitate to wade into the school calendar debate either, saying he campaigned on being "a local control guy."

An 11-member Senate Study Committee made up four Republican state senators and members of the state's travel and tourism industries recently recommended the Legislature put in place "guard rails" lengthening Georgia summers by requiring that school districts start class later in the year.

Recommendations included mandating that public schools start within seven to 10 days before the first Monday in September, with an end date on or around June 1.

The committee heard from the Atlanta Braves as well as top executives from Six Flags Over Georgia, Callaway Resort and Gardens, and Stone Mountain Park, who all pushed for later summers, citing the importance student labor has on Georgia's tourism industry as well as the impact a summer job has on youth development.

But board members from Cobb, Marietta and other school district across the state included in this year's legislative priorities a request to maintain control over their calendars. And teachers and families from both districts have grown used to the six weeks of breaks the existing school schedules afford them.

"I think there are a lot of good arguments for letting the locals decide their own calendar," Kemp said, citing the Richmond County school system's tradition of blocking out the entire week of the Masters when the tournament is played in Augusta each spring.

That said, Kemp called it "crazy" that some systems start at the end of July or the very beginning of August.

"But if folks don't like that they can run for their local school board," he said.

'We're going to have $69 million in one-time funds in the amended budget for our school safety plan. It'll be $30,000 going to each school in the state — 2,294 of them.'

'We have too many standardized tests. I want to free them up from some of this testing. ... One issue I've heard from parents and teachers alike is that we are spending more time teaching to the test than we are teaching our children.'

'I think there are a lot of good arguments for letting the locals decide their own calendar.'