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Fort Oglethorpe to use county's employee health clinic

Fort Oglethorpe officials have approved an agreement to join Catoosa County in utilizing its employee health clinic to lower insurance premium costs.

In October 2017, Catoosa opened its own employee health clinic off Boynton Drive in an attempt to lessen its premiums and save money each year.

Now, Fort Oglethorpe has agreed to pay a portion of the clinic's operating costs to use the facility and hopefully create the same type of savings for its premiums.

"Our goal is to encourage employees and qualified dependents to use the clinic and lower our insurance premiums," said Fort Oglethorpe City Manager Jennifer Payne-Simpkins.

In October, County Manager Alisha Vaughn reported that the approximate $300,000 cost of the clinic equaled what the six-percent increase would have cost the county in premiums.

"That 6-percent increase would have meant an approximate $300,000 increase in cost," Vaughn said Oct. 16. "However, due to utilization of the clinic, we were able to provide documentation to United Health Care. That's who we purchase our insurance from. Because we have the clinic, we were given a rate pass or discount and that discount equaled about the cost of the clinic, around $300,000. So, basically it was a wash. ... The clinic was able to pay for itself in the first year."

The clinic operates with one medical assistant, one nurse practitioner, and is available to employees 20 hours per week

On Dec. 10, Fort Ogle thorpe's City Council unanimously approved the agreement, which will pay for 20 percent of what it costs the county to run the clinic.

"The city will pay 20 percent of the fixed operating costs and monthly fees of the county's current program," Payne-Simpkins explained. "The county's current program has capacity, so this is an agreement with Catoosa County, not with One to One Health, to use up their remaining capacity."

Twenty percent of $300,000 comes to $60,000, but she says there could be additional costs, which is why there's $80,000 budgeted for the agreement.

"The cost will be about $80,000 and is included in the adopted 2019 budget," she said. "There are some unknowns such a prescription costs. The clinic offers free prescriptions for the top 25 prescriptions that are used by employees, so we would reimburse the actual costs of the prescriptions. There's a little bit of a buffer built into our budget because of the unknowns."

Mayor Earl Gray questioned how the city would proceed if employees chose not to participate in the program.

"It's strictly voluntary though. ... So we could pay it and nobody use it?" Gray asked.

Payne-Simpkins said the agreement does include an "out" in case that occurs.

"If nobody uses it, then I would recommend ending the intergovernmental agreement with Catoosa County," she said. "The city can cancel at any time with a 60-day notification."

Before the vote passed, Payne-Simpkins said she would be in continuous contact with Catoosa County to see how the clinic is being used by employees and report that information back to the board so it can evaluate how successful the program is for the city.

Catoosa County's Board of Commissioner's are slated to approve the county portion of the intergovernmental agreement Tuesday night, Dec. 18.

The agreement would then take effect Jan 1.

"If this works, then it saves a lot of money for the city," Councilman Jim Childs said. "It is for the county already."

"There are no co-pays either," Payne-Simpkins added. "It's a great employee benefit and it's great for the city's future as far as health insurance premiums are concerned."

TSPLOST decision
Catoosa approves transportation tax vote for March 19

Catoosa County officials have approved putting a new transportation tax on the ballot in the spring, giving residents the opportunity to vote on the proposed 1-percent tax.

The Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax is a way for the county to bring in a projected $60 million in revenue over the next five years to help pay for transportation work on roads and bridges.

The approval came Tuesday night, Dec. 18, during a Board of Commissioners meeting. The referendum vote will be on a special election ballot on March 19.

Over the past couple of months, commissioners have met with officials from the cities of Ringgold and Fort Oglethorpe and ultimately hashed out a 70/20/10 split of the projected funds.

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

All three governments met for a joint town hall meeting Nov. 29, but very few residents showed up to ask questions about the matter.

During the "appearances" portion of Tuesday night's (Dec. 18) meeting however, three residents spoke up against the proposed tax.

Resident Roger Nelson argued that the tax adds price to food rather than the fuel that is actually used for transportation, and that the tax could be a burden for those on fixed incomes.

"It's absolutely not a transportation user tax because no tax is going to be collected on gasoline or fuel, so it's not a user tax," Nelson opined. "It absolutely is an increase on the food tax. This increase will be the classic, regressive tax that hits our senior citizens, low-income, and fixed-income residents the hardest."

Resident Cherise Miller said her biggest issue is the cost involved with holding a special election for one item.

"There's only one issue on the ballot for March and it's this TSPLOST," Miller said. "To me, this is a big waste of money. ... We will have to open up every precinct in the county, have at least probably two workers working at each precinct. We'll have to pay those workers, pay the utility bills, and we will also have to have ballots printed up. To me, this is a lot of extra expense that we don't need just for one issue on a ballot. We don't need anymore taxes in this county."

The cities of Fort Oglethorpe and Ringgold both unanimously approved the intergovernmental agreement during their City Council meetings on Dec. 10.

County Commissioner Jim Cutler stated that even though the three governments are in agreement, the public vote will ultimately decide whether the tax is implemented.

"So in the truest form of democracy, what we're doing is allowing the citizens of Catoosa County to vote for the TSPLOST, or vote against the TSPLOST ... which ever they decide," Cutler said.

"That's right," County Attorney Chad Young replied. "It's got to pass by simple majority — 50-percent plus one."

Cutler added that both cities approving the agreement speaks to how much they believe the tax can help in funding the necessary projects.

"So they're both (Fort Oglethorpe and Ringgold city councils) saying to their citizens that 'we think this is something that everybody in the cities of Ringgold and Fort Oglethorpe should vote on,'" Cutler asked.

"Correct," Young replied. "They have blessed putting this proposal on the ballot and by entering into the intergovernmental agreement, they have essentially requested that this board pass the resolution and put it on the ballot."

The resolution passed 3-2, with Chairman Steven Henry, Cutler and Commissioner Jeff Long voting "yes," while commissioners Ray Johnson and Bobby Winters voted "no."

After the meeting, Winters said he voted "no" because his term is up and he was reluctant to vote for something this significant just before new commissioners take office.

Both Winters and Johnson were defeated in this year's primary election by newcomers Charlie Stephens and Chuck Harris, who will fill their seats beginning in January.

After the vote, Long said he didn't agree with Nelson's categorization of the TSPLOST as a "food tax."

"Just to clarify, this isn't just a food tax," Long said. "This is everything except motor fuel."

With a March 19 vote now pending, commissioner chairman Henry said the county will hold more meetings between now and the election to better inform residents of the plans for the TSPLOST funds.

"We just want to remind everybody that we have TSPLOST meetings and we're more than happy to answer questions," Henry said. "The next one is Jan. 10 at the Fort Oglethorpe Gym. If you come out and you have questions, we want to answer them."

Bridge on Three Notch Road reopens

After being closed since October 2017, the bridge above Peavine Creek along Three Notch Road in Catoosa County reopened to traffic Thursday morning, Dec. 20.

Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) officials say the work is complete seven months ahead of schedule.

"There's still some minor work to be done, but for motorists, it's complete," said Dr. Mohamed Arafa, district communications officer for GDOT. "There is still some work on the shoulders and things that need to be done, but it won't interfere with traffic."

Since the bridge replacement project began, residents have grown frustrated with the detours that were supposed to be in place until July 2019.

Arafa says he's happy the $2.2 million project was completed faster than expected.

The main goal of the project was to replace the poor condition of the bridge, which was originally built in 1965.

"Although some minor work remains to be done, this construction project is completed for all practical purposes, as far as the traveling public is concerned," said Grant Waldrop, district engineer at the GDOT office in Cartersville. "The road is open back to traffic. We understand the inconvenience the closure of this road has caused the area residents and we are glad to finish our construction work many months ahead of schedule and give the road back to the traveling public."

For Goodwin, it was an injury to senior teammate and team pacesetter Jasper Wilson that forced the sophomore to assume an even bigger role as a team leader, on and off the course.

"It was a big year for me," he said. "Jasper has always been the guy and our times on the track have always been close. We worked really hard together over the summer and really in the past year.

"It was definitely a blow to the team when Jasper got hurt because he's been such a big part of things here. I knew I really needed to get this team to where it needed to be to make up the ground that we lost with him getting hurt. He was able to come back towards the end of the year, though, and it was good to have him back."

Goodwin's average time of 18:04 was an improvement over his average of 18:20 a year ago, although his season-best of 16:39 was a full minute faster than his season best a year ago. That 16:39 came in the opening race of the season at Ridge Ferry in Rome, where he not only finished fourth overall, but set a new GL school record in the process.

He went on to win Walker County and Region 6-A titles before taking sixth at state. He also led his team to an region team championship and a fourth-place trophy at state.

"I thought I had a little bit of an inconsistent year," he admitted. "We had a stretch where we had several races right in a row and I over-trained a little. I had a couple of bad races where I was running in the 18's, but I had several good races throughout the year where I was in the high 16's and low 17's. Plus, I got the school record."

He credited his success to just plain old hard work.

"I've been on the right training plan, including lifting and eating right," he explained. "That and putting in a lot of miles. I put in 433 miles over the summer and it feels good to see your hard work be recognized."

"Ian definitely earned everything he got this year," Burns said. "He worked his tail off all summer long. He put in tons and tons of miles from the end of cross country last year to the start of this year and it really showed by him getting that school record right off the bat. He's also super-dedicated to the sport and he just loves to run, plus he has very good leadership skills and it's all starting to paying off for him.

"It's great to know we'll have both of them coming back (next year) and, hopefully, we'll put some other people with them and maybe get a team title or two next year. That's the goal."

Bank gives 900 bags of food to elementary students
Pre-K students also get stocking full of treats

Every student at West Side Elementary and Cloud Springs Elementary schools went home on winter break with a big bag of food and goodies thanks to Community National Bank.

Last year, CNB filled 190 bags with food items to send home with children over Christmas break to help make sure they'd have a little extra during the holiday season. This year, they filled 900 bags. They also delivered stockings with special treats to preschoolers at West Side (Cloud Springs does not have pre-K classes).

"This is one way we enjoy helping our community," says CNB Senior Vice President Natalie Hunt. "We knew last year when we started this project that we wanted to expand it. We were thrilled to be able to do 900 bags this year."

Hunt and a host of volunteers gathered at CNB on Battlefield Parkway in Ringgold the day before delivery and spent hours filling bags.

Each bag included a combination of meal foods and treats — three boxes of macaroni and cheese, three packs of Ramen Noodles, eight pudding cups, four Jello cups, a full-size bag of pretzels or chips and a full-size pack of cookies.

Pre-K stockings contained fruit gummies, candy canes, Kool Aid, silly string, Silly Putty, glow sticks, chocolate Santas, glow balls and reindeer antlers.

On delivery day, Dec. 14, children were wowed by a visit from Santa, who came along with bank representatives and other volunteers. Some ran to him to say hello and give him a hug. Older children at the schools helped adults make one trip after another on a cool, drizzly morning to bring bags inside.

Volunteers included management and staff from Community National Bank, North Georgia Healthcare Center, Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School, Catoosa government and the community.