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By the numbers: Earth, U.S., Georgia, Catoosa County in a few numbers

Almost everyone loves numbers and statistics, from sports scores to restaurant report card scores and how much money the neighbors make to population data. Operating on this premise, here are some numbers about our planet, country, state and county, courtesy of the U.S. Census Bureau.

• 7.5 billion people live in the world. 329 million of them call the United States home. We have 10 million humans here in Georgia and around 66,500 of them right here in Catoosa County.

• Only two countries – China and India – boast more people than the U.S., but it's a lot more. China comes in at 1.38 billion and India at 1.29 billion.

• One person is born every eight seconds in the U.S. and one dies every 12 seconds.

• Only seven states have a larger population than Georgia. They are California, Texas, Florida, New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio. That leaves 42 states with fewer people than the Peach State.

• It might surprise people to know that Georgia has an overall younger population than most states. We are one of only five states where under 14 percent of our population is age 65 and over. The precise number for Georgia is 13.2 percent. Our companion states in this category are Texas, Colorado, Utah and California.

• How about this? For all our rural space in Catoosa County, we have a much denser population than the state as a whole. We pack the folks in at 394 people per square mile while the state as a whole runs 168 per square mile.

• The Census Bureau found that just over 662,300 veterans live in the state of Georgia. Over 4,100 of them live in Catoosa County and of those, 521 of them own businesses.

• That's probably enough to mull over for one week. For those who thrive on numbers, you can watch the world's population increase in real time at census.gov/popclock.


TSPLOST agreement
Catoosa County, city officials in agreement on proposed transportation sales tax

Catoosa County commissioners and elected officials from the cities of Ringgold and Fort Oglethorpe gathered for a town hall meeting Thursday night, Nov. 29, where they presented an agreement for the proposed transportation sales tax.

Over the past few weeks, discussions and meetings have taken place to map out how a Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (TSPLOST) would be split between the three governments if approved by voters.

The 1-cent tax, which generates revenue for road and transportation upgrades, will be placed on a referendum and residents will have the opportunity to vote on the matter in March.

"It's not official yet, but all of us have agreed on a plan, and it will be up to the public," Commissioner Jim Cutler said.

Thursday's meeting offered Q&A opportunities for the residents to evaluate what they would be voting on.

Catoosa County Public Works officials, as well as the city managers and some City Council members from both Ringgold and Fort Oglethorpe had presentation boards set up chronicling each government's recent projects and ideas for potential use of the funds.

"This could really help us fix and maintain a lot of our roads," said Jeremy Bryson, Projects Inspector for Catoosa County. "It's taking around $350,000 a mile to fix some of these roads that we're trying to do complete fixes on. With the growth and kind of traffic we're getting, you can see the before pictures; that's the shape some of these roads are in."

Bryson's presentation boards included recent projects in various stages of the resurfacing process, which gave residents better insight into what and how much it takes to repair roads.

Bryson added that the county has produced three informational videos that'll be released to better inform the public.

"Were putting out the videos about how we're evaluating roads and things like that," Bryson said. "We have over 400 miles that we (the county) have to maintain. Fort Oglethorpe has about 50 miles, and I think Ringgold has close to 30."

If the TSPLOST is approved, officials project it will bring in roughly $60 million over the course of a five-year cycle.

Of that revenue, the three governments have agreed on a proposal for a 70-percent cut for Catoosa County, and then 20-percent and 10-percent for Fort Oglethorpe and Ringgold respectively.

That breakdown would equate to $42 million for Catoosa County, $12 million for Fort Oglethorpe, and $6 million for Ringgold.

The vote on the referendum will take place March 19, and if approved, it would take effect July 1, 2019.

Once implemented, the funds would be collected throughout the county from not only residents but anyone making purchases in Catoosa County.

Of the 159 counties in the state, 81 of those counties currently have a form of TPLOST in place.

"It's a lot of money that we can do a lot of needed work with," said Commission Chairman Steven Henry.

Moving forward, the cities of Ringgold and Fort Oglethorpe will both vote on the proposed intergovernmental agreement during their next City Council meetings on Dec. 10. After that, commissioners with have the opportunity to approve their end of the agreement during their Dec. 18 meeting.

Thursday's meeting was more informal than a normal public meeting, but offered residents the chance to talk to officials about the proposal. However, the meeting was lightly attended, with only a handful of voters present during the 1.5-hour session.


Ringgold, Catoosa eyeing courthouse streetscape
• Plans include making Maple and Jail streets one-way, new and revamped crosswalks, green spaces, and more parking.

Ringgold officials are discussing plans for a streetscape improvement project around the Catoosa County Courthouse and will now seek input from the county's sheriff and Board of Commissioners.

The project was first presented to the public during Ringgold's Nov. 12 City Council meeting, at which time Councilman Randall Franks presented first drawing of changes to the block surrounding the courthouse.

"The council is supporting this particular project that was brought to us through our visioning plan that the EDA (Economic Development Authority) and the Lyndhurst Foundation helped us with as part of the Downtown Development Authority's overall plan," Franks said.

Preliminary details of the plan include making Maple and Jail streets one-way, plus new and revamped crosswalks, green spaces, and more parking.

"This will make a tremendous improvement in the traffic flow around the courthouse," Franks said. "We'll be adding additional parking on all of these streets around the courthouse, with a tremendous amount of additional parking on Jail Street, as well as along Lafayette Street and on Maple Street."

The parking along Nashville Street (U.S. 41) would remain essentially the same under the current first plan.

"That's where were at," Franks said. "I think our plan was to take this to the courthouse and allow the commissioners to review it as well as the sheriff's office — let them give it a look to see what we've got in mind from our visioning plan."

The council unanimously approved the initial design, and the motion included submitting it to the county for review.

City Manager Dan Wright said there could be changes made, and Mayor Pro Tem Terry Crawford said Maple Street becoming a one-way might be an area of concern for county officials because of the gas pumps that are frequented by county vehicles.

"I don't think the county has signed off on which streets they want to make one-way," Crawford said. "The Sheriff's Department, plus some of the county ... fuel all their vehicles right there and we need to check with them to see which one is most beneficial to them. If they need it the other way, we may have to change something."

Franks added that initial discussions with Sheriff Gary Sisk left him feeling like the plan might be okay.

"The sheriff thought the design as described would be adequate for vehicles to get to the pumps and for deliveries," Franks said. "Our engineer has told us that he has accommodated that in this plan, the space that's needed."

The plans will now be reviewed by the county, which has its next Board of Commissioner's meeting slated for Tuesday, Dec. 4.

Mayor Nick Millwood said the main goal is to make the streets and walkways around the courthouse safer, more walker-friendly, and to create more parking.

"I think a lot of people will appreciate the extra parking around the courthouse because that's a big difference," Millwood said.


Helping the 350 homeless children who attend schools in Catoosa County

Imagine you're 8 or 10 years old. Or 15 or 16. For one reason or another you have no real home to call your own. No bed of your own, much less a bedroom. Your clothes and a few toys or personal possessions are in your backpack or a plastic grocery bag. Your family is staying with Aunt Jane and Uncle Joe, who are none too happy about it.

Or maybe you're all staying at a friend's house or in a motel. The holidays are coming up but there's nothing special in sight for you — not for Christmas and not beyond.

That's the basic situation of more than 350 children and young people in Catoosa County schools.

"There's a problem of invisible homelessness in our area," says Catoosa Schools social worker and homeless liaison Melissa Holcombe. "Families are living doubled up or in places not normally used for habitation because parents have lost jobs or have substance abuse or mental health problems. Children live in tense and unpredictable circumstances where they know their families could have to leave at a moment's notice. They're walking on eggshells. They see and feel the conflict and instability."

While all this turmoil is going on in children's lives, they're expected to keep up their academic performance, even in the face of changing schools once or more a year. Holcombe says that studies show that children identified as homeless lose three to six months of academic gains every time they must switch schools. This is one of many issues Holcombe and those she works with help to resolve for children already facing so much trauma in their young lives.

"If a child's family has to move to another school zone, that's one more major disruption in their life and education. We do all we can to keep them in the school they've become accustomed to. We see if there's a way we can bus them to their school of origin or we'll provide gas vouchers so parents can drive them to school."

Holcombe also works with the school system, social service agencies, churches and individuals to get clothing and school supplies for children, to pay for field trips and extracurricular activities and to provide food. "We have one church that gives students L.L. Bean backpacks as a way of saying 'You're worth spending extra on.'"

As needed, children in grades K-8 who are experiencing homelessness are also provided with one-on-one tutors. Even after a child catches up academically, they keep their tutor. The program has been marked a "Best Practice" by the Georgia Department of Education and is recommended to other school systems.

Another program started in Catoosa County schools and deemed a "Best Practice" by GADOE is Case Management for Seniors. "We have older students who have left home for various reasons," says Holcombe. "The chance they'll drop out of school is high. We've had students who were living in tents, drifting from one friend's home to another. One young man told us when he was at a friend's house he tried not to eat anything because he didn't want to be viewed as a burden and not welcomed back."

For these young people, the school system and its partners help with physical needs — clothing, food, etc. — but they also do all they can to help young people "graduate and get situated." That includes everything from tutoring to help filling out college or work applications, finding scholarships and paying for a student's graduation cap and gown.

"We also pay for a dental workup and treatment that's needed," says Holcombe. "Even if a student is eligible for Medicaid, it often doesn't cover dental work."

Holcombe says that the young people's emotional needs are kept in mind, too. They receive birthday greetings with gift cards in them, and donors never know the identity of the students they're helping. "We respect their privacy and dignity," says Holcombe. "It's hard to be on the receiving end so much. I tell students when they feel uncomfortable about all the help they're getting that we all need each other and we all need help sometimes. Their turn will come to help someone else. Some of them are already reaching out to help."

There are currently 15 Catoosa students, with up to 30 expected by the end of the school year, who are part of the Case Management for Seniors program, says Holcombe. "We have graduates who have been part of the program and are now in college or the military or working. Last year, one of our students got close to $100,000 in scholarships."

Holcombe says one problem in Catoosa County is that there isn't much affordable housing for families having financial problems. There are also no shelters families in crisis can turn to, she says.

"We're doing all we can," says Holcombe, "but we're also searching out other options and ways to help. I would like to see a homeless shelter for families and a youth hostel. We also need to look at ways to create more affordable housing."

In the meantime, says Holcombe, "programs through the schools and people and groups within the community will keep working to assure the success of our students experiencing homelessness."

To learn more about how to help, email mholcombe@catoosa.k12.ga.us.


Our hours for the holidays

The Catoosa County News office will observe special hours for the holidays:

• Monday, Dec. 24 - 8 a.m. to noon.

• Tuesday, Dec. 25 - Closed.

• Wednesday, Dec. 26 - 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

• Tuesday, Jan. 1 - Closed.

• Wednesday, Jan. 2 - 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.