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County codes being updated

Shannon Whitfield

Matt Williamson

In slightly more than 30 minutes on July 12, Commissioner Shannon Whitfield conducted a public hearing and regularly scheduled meeting.

The hearing concerned proposed amendments to county ordinances. One will shift jurisdiction over animal control ordinances to the magistrate court. Magistrate courts are established to handle cases involving county laws, where as state laws can be heard in either state or superior court.

Also, jury trials will only be brought before judges in state or superior court.

Prosecuting attorneys are required to present cases in magistrate courts. And, as magistrate courts are not considered courts of record — court reporters do not make a written record of proceedings, only dispositions are archived — appeals are heard in superior court.

Changes in code language and jurisdiction proposed by County Attorney Matt Williamson are necessary to have local ordinances comply with state requirements.

Another proposed change to the Walker County code of ordinances will update language regarding environmental issues related to soil erosion, sedimentation and pollution control.

The changes detailed during the public hearing, though slight, are required to bring the county into compliance with state law.

Amending the jurisdiction for enforcement of county laws and wording of the environmental ordinance will have a second hearing during Whitfield's public meeting scheduled for July 26.

In other action, the commissioner approved spending $22,500 to perform overdue repairs to a roof over the detective division at the Sheriff's Office Building that has been leaking for 5-6 years.

Operation Southern Shield puts the brakes on speeding
Georgia joins four neighboring states in second annual weeklong speed enforcement operation

Law enforcement officers in Georgia are ready to put the hammer down on drivers who are hammering down on their gas pedal during the second annual "Operation Southern Shield" speed enforcement operation.

Walker County Sheriff Steve Wilson said his office will work with State and local law enforcement agencies during Operation Southern Shield to reduce incidents of speeding upon our highways and roads.

"If law enforcement can save one life during Operation Southern Shield through education or enforcement, the campaign will be successful," Wilson said.

After last year's highly successful operation that drew national attention, Georgia will join neighboring states in Alabama, Florida, Tennessee and South Carolina in pulling over drivers who are breaking the law by traveling above the legal speed limit on interstates, major highways and local roads from Monday, July 16, through Sunday, July 22.

"Our troopers are dedicated to participating in collaborative enforcement efforts like Operation Southern Shield, that encourages motorists to drive safely and slow down," said Colonel Mark W. McDonough, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Public Safety. "Our main focus this week is reducing crashes and providing a safer transportation experience for motorists traveling in our state."

According to the latest data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, speeding killed more than 10,000 people in the United States in 2016 and was a factor in 27 percent of fatal crashes in the nation.

A recent study from the United States Department of Transportation found that speed was a factor in 31 percent of fatal crashes in the U.S. from 2005-2014.

According to preliminary numbers from the Georgia Department of Transportation, the number of traffic deaths reported in the state during last year's Southern Shield was 35 percent lower than the other three weeks of July.

Specifically, there were 25 traffic deaths reported in Georgia during Operation Southern Shield from July 17-23 compared to 34 on July 3-9, 41 on July 10-16 and 39 from July 24-30.

Troopers with the Georgia State Patrol and local law enforcement officers combined to issue 12,469 speeding citations over the seven-day period and took 552 suspected DUI drivers to jail and also made 472 felony arrests.

"If you are pulled over next week, don't ask for a warning because this is it," Harris Blackwood, Director of the Governor's Office of Highway Safety said. "Many of the citations issued last year were for speeds that were well over the legal posted limit. The speed limit on every road in this state is set to protect everyone who is traveling on them."

While state and local law enforcement agencies will be handling their own speed enforcement operations across the five southeastern states, Georgia will once again join their law enforcement partners in Alabama, Florida, Tennessee and South Carolina for joint operations during the week.

Marketing the historic: 'Gateway to the South'

As it strives to attract businesses and industries, the Walker County Development Authority's efforts expand on the real estates agent's mantra of "location, location, location."

That is why the WCDA board of directors recently approved a new way of promoting the county to businesses looking to set up shop or, for those already here, to expand their presence.

The county's commercial appeal is well known to locals.

Being minutes from Chattanooga and nearly equidistant from the region's economic powerhouses of Atlanta, Birmingham and Nashville is just one of the Authority's marketing tools.

An ability to provide abundant water, competitively priced energy utilities, proximity to transportation — rail, barge, air and highway — these are pluses.

So too are states and local governments willing to offer incentive packages that can include tax abatements, infrastructure upgrades and a willingness to act as go-betweens when dealing with regulators.

State Sen. Jeff Mullis and County Commissioner Shannon Whitfield are fond of pointing out that Georgia is universally considered among the best for business and workforce training in the nation.

To help promote its business friendly atmosphere, the WCDA has shifted from a static list of business-ready sites to one that is linked to Google maps and allows searchability by entering quantitative data. Searches can focus on a number of site selection requirements such as information about labor, land, population and infrastructure.

Using GIS Webtech's services will be less costly while at the same time improving the area's marketability.

But equally important in attracting new companies is highlighting the quality of life available in and around the 450 square miles that make up Walker County.

Ready access to university and college degree programs, having community colleges that willingly partner with local high schools and Georgia Work Ready Certificate programs are all valuable tools when attracting industry.

The county's newest industrial park has one major tenant, Audia Plastics, but WCDA Executive Director Robert Wardlaw says it is not unusual to have inquiries from others that are considering the area. In fact, Wardlaw said there were "tow surprise visits" during the Fourth of July week.

At the same time, programs such as the Chamber of Commerce working in tandem with county and municipal governments to showcase Walker Rocks present the county's natural beauty and recreational opportunities to the world.

"We have more than 2,200 followers on social media," Wardlaw said during the most recent WCDA board meeting. "We have 45 countries that (have seen) the site and 10 countries that are following on Facebook."

No back-to-school sales tax holiday for Ga. this year
But nearby states will have three-day tax holidays beginning this weekend

Just in time for buying school supplies and back-to-school clothing, sales tax holidays have been announced for Alabama, Tennessee and Florida for 2018 — but not Georgia.

For the second year in a row, Georgia's elected representatives refused to adopt legislation that would have exempted certain items from state and local taxes prior to the 2018-19 school year.

Tennessee has held such sales annually since 2006, while Alabama and Georgia instituted taxfree weekends in 2012.

"We did not vote on any bill that would have provided a tax free holiday," said State Rep. Steve Tarvin, R-Chickamauga. "It might have been hidden in the budget, but it never came to the floor."

Tax-exempt items usually included clothing and footwear priced at less than $100, computers costing less than $1,000 and supplies that cost no more than $20 per item.

Parents and students could save some money while checking off their back-to-school supply lists and teachers were able to stretch their dollars when buying items for classroom use.

Some say the state cannot afford losing tens of millions of dollars in sales tax revenue, but others say few shop only for exempt items and getting customers into stores means a boost to sales of non-exempt goods.

While either point can be argued, so too can the fact that those living in Northwest Georgia are a few minutes from states where they can save some green.

Alabama will have a tax free holiday this weekend, July 20-22, and Tennessee will have a three-day tax holiday the following weekend, July 27-29.

Guidelines differ from state to state as to what will be exempted from taxes, but the general rule is that clothing items costing $100 or less, computers (maximum of $750 in Ala., $1,000 in Tenn.) will be sold tax free.

Tarvin said he did not know why the issue was not raised during this year's legislative session.

"If I was voting, I'd support it," he said.