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County borrows another $4 million to fund operations through December

Walker County Commissioner Shannon Whitfield is borrowing $4 million to keep county government running without any financial hiccups.

The short-term tax anticipation note (TAN) from First Volunteer Bank in LaFayette will provide money necessary to fully fund the county's operational expenses for the remainder of the year, the commissioner said during a special called meeting Thursday, June 29.

Whitfield said the bank has been gathering information concerning the loan for several weeks.

"They have been very grateful to take their time to understand the challenges we have in Walker County going forward, but also have understood — in great detail — the progress that we have made in Walker County over the last six months," said Whitfield, who was elected commissioner last November.

Due to debt accumulated by the previous administration, this is the county's second TAN since Whitfield was administered his oath of office on Dec. 28, 2016.

When he announced the need for a first TAN from The Bank of LaFayette in the second week of January, Whitfield estimated the county would need to borrow a total of about $8 million to operate through the end of the year.

Both short-term bank loans are due, with interest, this upcoming Dec. 31.

"The Bank of LaFayette had reached its limit for what they were comfortable loaning the county," county spokesman Joe Legge replied when asked why another bank was approached for this

second TAN. "We sought another local lender for this loan partly because the interest paid will go back into the community and support local jobs."

In a press release, Whitfield said his administration has saved about $1.6 million so far through some workforce changes and more efficient management.

" While it will take years to unburden Walker County from the financial mistakes of the past, I'm encouraged by the new willingness of the local banking community to work with us on our cash flow needs," he said.

The release stated that the administration of Bebe Heiskell, who served as commissioner for 16 years before losing her re-election bid to Whitfield, left the county with more than $70 million in debt and very limited cash on hand.

Each of this year's TANs are to be paid with single payments at year's end, Whitfield said. The Bank of LaFayette agreed in January for its loan to carry an interest rate that would not exceed 3 percent. First Volunteer Bank will charge 3.25 percent for the money loaned last week.

Unlike a mortgage that is repaid on a monthly basis, these TANs will be retired with lump sum payments.

"It's a single payoff at the end, so the interest also accrues until the end and also the principal amount — as we draw that down — will actually accrue and be due on Dec. 31, so there will be no monthly installments," he said.

First Volunteer Bank in LaFayette Vice President Mark Kleiner said, "On behalf of the bank, it would be remised to not say that we are delighted and humbled to be working with you guys (the county) and we're cheering you guys on and what we like about your commissioner is that he's got a long-term plan that's backing his short-term plan, so we're are very, very pleased and thankful to be working with y'all."


Summertime is tick time across Georgia; time to get tick-smart

In Georgia, the risk of serious illness from a tick bite is low, but there's no reason to give them a free meal.

Long pants, tall socks and a little common sense will go a long way in helping Georgians avoid ticks this summer, according to Elmer Gray, a public health entomologist with University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.

"From Easter on, our most common ticks are active," Gray said. "Whenever you walk into grass that touches your legs, you need to take precautions or you could come home with ticks. You don't have to be in the woods to pick them up."

By Easter, Georgia's lone star tick — the state's most common tick — has started "questing," an entomology term for the tick's search for a blood meal. They crawl up to the top of a tall blade of grass and wait to hitch a ride on unsuspecting hikers or gardeners, or pets and other animals. Then they climb their victim until they find a vulnerable, warm spot and dig in.

No matter what part of the body becomes the tick's dining destination, there's an almost 100 percent chance that it started its assault on the victim's legs, Gray said.

The best defense against ticks is to stay out of tall grass or brush. Stay on marked trails or sidewalks and avoid overgrown areas.

Cut off ticks' access when walking through the woods or working in overgrown areas by wearing long pants that are tucked into boots or socks and tucking in shirts. This may not be the most comfortable or stylish look, but it will keep ticks at bay, Gray said.

He also recommends using insect repellents with DEET to provide an extra layer of protection for casual outdoor activities.

Those spending a lot of time in brushy areas or in the woods this summer should invest in a permethrin treatment for their work, hunting or camping pants. These products are available in the camping section of sporting goods and big-box stores.

The permethrin based products are only approved for application to clothing and are very effective in repelling all of our most common pests including ticks, chiggers and mosquitoes. Gray urges those using these products to follow the instructions that come on their product's label.

As always, it's important to check for ticks after working or playing in a tick habitat. The only safe way to remove ticks is to use tweezers or your fingers to grab the tick as close to the skin as possible and carefully pull it out. People should wash the bite site, and their hands, after removing any type of tick.

Essential oils or other tick-irritating substances may force the tick to move,

but not before the distressed tick expels additional saliva and possibly pathogens into its host's bloodstream, increasing the chance of tick-borne disease or infection.

Ticks carrying lyme disease — the blacklegged or deer tick in the eastern United States — are in Georgia, but they are not as common as the other species and the adults are most active in the fall. More common are the American dog ticks that can carry the bacteria that causes Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Georgia sees about 75 cases of this illness each year.

All tick bites can cause welts and itching that can last up to 10 to 14 days, but Gray urges Georgians to visit the doctor if they experience fever or extreme headaches or if they develop a localized rash that's larger than a dime. Tick-connected headaches or fever will emerge five to seven days after tick contact.

"We are very fortunate that we don't have a lot of disease-carrying ticks in Georgia," Gray said. "But nothing good comes from letting ticks bite us. We just don't want ticks on us if we can avoid it ... We need to be tick-smart."

One emerging concern surrounding ticks in Georgia is the connection between lone star tick bites and the development of an allergy to mammalian protein, which includes beef and pork. In some instances, the saliva of the lone star tick triggers an immune reaction that leads to an allergy to mammalian meat.

It's not an epidemic, Gray said, but there is a connection between the state's most common tick and the allergy. That's just another very good reason to avoid ticks this summer.

For more information about how to protect yourself and your family from ticks, visit tinyurl.com/UGA Extension TickProtection or search "ticks" at www.extension.uga.edu.

Merritt Melancon is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Lone star tick bites are likely the cause of thousands of cases of severe red meat allergies. Unlike most food allergies, symptoms often do not appear until hours after consumption of mammal meat or milk products. An element of the tick's saliva completely rejiggers the immune system to be acutely sensitive to the carbohydrate molecule galactose-alpha-1, 3-galactose, aka "alpha-gal." The allergy reportedly affects everyone, regardless of genetics.


Precautionary measure only, some residents were advised to boil water before drinking

Walker County last week advised some residents to boil their water before drinking it after a routine inspection revealed a positive E. coli sample in one of the wells.

"There have been no positive samples from the treated water which is distributed to customers," a press release said Thursday, June 29. "As a precaution, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) requested a boil water notice be issued for the following areas."

The areas of concern for boiling were located in and between Lee Clarkson Road and to the immediate north, Johnson Road to Mission Ridge Road and areas east to the county line.

Additional areas of concern included City of LaFayette Water Service customers located south of Chickamauga along U.S. Highway 27 to Ga. Highway 136, from West McCarter Road east to Ga. Highway 11 and north of Round Pond Road as well as Straight Gut Road east to U.S. Highway 27.

Officials noted that the positive sample came from a raw water source and did not come from treated water, which is what is distributed to homes and businesses.

According to Walker County 911, reverse 911 calls were sent out to people in the areas of precautionary concern. There were some smaller areas, however, that may not have been able to receive the reverse 911 call alert.

"Customers in those areas are advised to boil all water prior to use for drinking, cooking or preparing baby food. The water should be boiled for at least one minute after reaching a rolling boil. Citizens should continue to boil their water until they are notified by the Walker County Water & Sewerage Authority that the water system has been restored to normal operations."

The boil water notice excluded anyone receiving water from Tennessee American, Walker County Rural Water, Dade County Water, Chattooga County Water, Dalton Utilities and Catoosa County Utility District and the City of Chickamauga Water System.