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Rossville hosts fundraiser to build new playground

Rossville is hosting an online auction to raise funds to build a new city playground.

Council member Michael Hicks is spearheading the fundraising and design selection for the new playground after Rossville City Council, in March 2020, authorized demolition of the city’s playground at the city park on Ellis Road because the equipment was dilapidated. He has been working with two different subsidiaries of PlayCore to obtain preliminary designs and cost estimates.

“We are trying to get more bang for the buck,” Hicks said. Although the difference in cost between the two designs is at most $15,000, one design is more complex and would require professional installation while volunteers could install the equipment for the other design themselves and would allow for more equipment.

The current fundraiser is an auction on the Operation Rossville Playground Facebook page for a set of granite kitchen countertops. The auction concludes Friday, July 2, at 5 p.m.

Hicks acknowledged that the city may not complete the playground by the end of the year, but he feels compelled to try to meet that deadline. Area children need things to do and a safe environment where they can play, he said.

He said city officials want to include a workout station at the playground so that park visitors are able to work out and to walk around the track.

City officials seek to raise between $80,000 and $90,000 to build the new playground; to date approximately $8,000 has been raised, he said.

They have sold barbecue and auctioned cakes previously as fundraisers.

Hicks will also reach out to area businesses about in-kind donations, such as Marble Valley Stone’s, to assist with the project, he said.

In 1999 the city raised funds to build and maintain the playground, and it lasted for the anticipated 20-year lifespan of such playgrounds, City Clerk Sherry Foster has said. As the maintenance funds dwindled, the city anticipated the expense of building a new facility.


CHI Memorial announced June 22 its plans to build a new hospital in Catoosa County. The facility will connect to the existing CHI Memorial building on Battlefield Parkway.


CHI Memorial’s new hospital on Battlefield Parkway (seen here in this artist’s conception) will replace its North Georgia hospital in Fort Oglethorpe; that hospital was previously Cornerstone Medical Center, Erlanger at Hutcheson and Hutcheson Medical Center.


Catoosa_walker_news
Employees ask Walker officials to revisit pension plan cap

A group of county employees is asking the county to revisit a pension plan cap that was frozen under a previous administration.

Dewayne Brown, who has worked for 23 years for Walker County, told the Board of Commissioners during its June 24 meeting that Sole Commissioner Bebe Heiskell in November 2013 froze the defined benefit pension plan rate of affected employees at the 2012 salary level. Affected employees were not notified of the change, which has greatly reduced their pension funds. Brown asserts the action was done without public notice, without a public meeting and in violation of IRS code.

“You owe it to them (career county employees) and to the rest of us to remove the salary cap freeze and fix our pensions as soon as possible,” he stated. Brown said he was representing the employees enrolled in the defined benefit plan.

Fifty-one employees are enrolled in the defined benefit plan.

The defined benefit plan is basically a government pension plan that provides a “guaranteed payment upon retirement based on length of service, five-year salary average and age at retirement,” Joe Legge, Walker County public relations director, said. “Participants can receive a lump sum payout upon retirement or receive an annual income through an annuity.”

Only the county makes contributions to the defined benefit plan program; the county does not match an employee’s contributions, he said.

Legge said, “The guaranteed payment upon retirement from the defined benefit plan is based on 2012 earnings.”

Without knowledge of the defined pension plan change, affected employees had no opportunity to explore retirement planning alternatives to offset the loss of income resulting from the cap, Brown said.

Commissioner Mark Askew, a former county employee, said he understands the frustrations those affected by the plan change feel because he was also in the former benefit program and took “a pretty good lickin’“ when he left county employment.

“We are going to make it right,” Askew said. “We are going to do whatever we can do — whatever we have to do — to make it right.”

Brown feels communications broke down between the county and affected employees. He urged the commissioners to prioritize righting this wrong as quickly as possible so that the employees do not have to seek other avenues to redress their grievance.

The commissioners have discussed the matter multiple times and are working in a timely manner to get answers, Askew explained. He also acknowledged that for the four new commissioners, this is a new process.

“Give us a minute. We’re looking into it,” Commissioner Brian Hart said.

Brown said the employees have on four occasions requested the relevant documents and records on this plan change, did not receive them and had to submit an open records request to obtain them.

Retirement plans

The county also offers 401(a) and 457(b) plans. The county’s contribution in the 401(a) program is based on an employee’s current salary, Legge said.

“Basically, the county contributes 5% of an employee’s salary into the 401(a) plan, which they are eligible to receive after reaching certain vesting stages,” Legge explained. “Employees do not contribute to the 401(a) plan.

“Employees who wish to save additional funds for retirement can do so through our 457(b) plan, and the county will match up to 3% of their contribution,” he said. “Employees in the defined benefit plan can participate in the 457(b) plan for tax savings benefits, but are not eligible for the 3% match.”

He said 300 employees are enrolled in the 401(a) plan and 232 employees in the 457(b) plan; many of these employees are enrolled in both programs. The county currently has 382 full-time employees.

Employees in the defined benefit plan cannot be enrolled in the 401(a) plan, but can participate in the 457(b) plan.


Catoosa_walker_news
LaFayette’s Freedom Festival returns July 2 at a new home

The 2021 LaFayette Freedom Festival will be held July 2 at the Ross Abney Complex at the old LaFayette High School Football Field at 101 First St. in LaFayette. The public is invited to this free event.

The day’s events kick off at 5 p.m. with music, vendors and games.

The kid’s game schedule is as follows: water target shoot out from 6:30-6:50 p.m.; water balloon toss from 7-7:20 p.m.; duck duck splash from 7:30-7:50 p.m.; and sack race from 8-8:20 p.m. Registration begins at 6 p.m.

There will be a cornhole tournament by the DeMolay Group at 7 p.m.

The fireworks show will begin at 10 p.m. on the field. Spectators are encouraged to bring their lawn chairs.

This year sees a return to the traditional festival activities after last year’s event was limited to just the fireworks show due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Previously the Freedom Festival was held at the LaFayette Recreation Center.

For more information or to register as a vendor, call 706-639-1590 or visit www.mycityoflafayettega.org/events.


Catoosa_walker_news
Dalton site for redistricting hearing announced

The upcoming Joint Senate and House Redistricting hearing in Northwest Georgia will be held Wednesday, June 30, from 5-7 p.m. at Dalton State College, Gignilliat Hall Room 144, 650 College Drive, Dalton.

Additional hearings will be held June 28 in Atlanta and June 29 in Cumming. Hearings will be livestreamed on the Georgia General Assembly website, www.legis.ga.gov/schedule/all.

Georgia residents are also able to submit written testimony using the form available at https://www.legis.ga.gov/news/senate/submit-written-testimony-to-senate-and-house-redistricting-committees.

Over the next several weeks, the Senate Committee on Reapportionment and Redistricting and the House Committee on Congressional and Legislative Reapportionment will hold additional joint hearings in Athens, Augusta, Brunswick, Albany, Columbus and Macon, as well as a virtual participation option. The dates for these hearings can be found at https://senatepress.net/house-and-senate-reapportionment-committees-to-hold-statewide-town-hall-hearings.html.

More details on future hearings will be announced as they become available and will be posted on the schedule at https://www.legis.ga.gov/schedule/all.


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