Lookout Mountain, Ga., Considering 3% Property Tax Increase; Fairyland School Facing Virus, Funding Issues

Friday, August 14, 2020 - by Gail Perry
Conceptual drawing for the new Lookout Mountain, Ga., Community Garden
Conceptual drawing for the new Lookout Mountain, Ga., Community Garden

Although the town is run efficiently, it costs more every year, said Mayor David Bennett at the June meeting of the Lookout Mountain, Ga., Town Council when he requested a three percent property tax increase. Three public hearings will now be required to raise the millage rate to reflect the increase. At the August council meeting held Thursday night, dates were set for those public meetings. They will be on Aug. 27 at 5:30 p.m., Sept. 3 at 6 p.m. and on Sept. 10 at 5:45 prior to the September council meeting.


The town will be receiving money from the Cares Act, a federal grant that will be distributed to local governments through the Georgia Department of Labor. It can be used for eligible expenses related to the coronavirus.


Fairyland School has been impacted by the virus both financially and in the ways that school will be conducted. “It’s tough now,” said Council Member Caroline Williams. School started on Thursday without a hitch, thanks to Principal Jeremy Roerdink, she said, but there are many changes this year. Some new protocols include wearing masks which is being encouraged but not required. Keeping people six feet apart will mean alternating everything such as half the students in the lunch room and half eating in their classrooms. Everything will be scheduled this year, said Council Member Williams. One positive, she said, is that because some students will be doing all virtual learning, the classes will be smaller. How the school is operating will be re-evaluated every nine weeks, but she said changes are actually being made daily.


Funding that is traditionally supplemented by the PTO and the community is also very different this year. Money given to the school by the PTO started out behind, said Ms. Williams because the Fairyland Festival could not be held last year and Music on the Mountain, the major fundraiser for the school, will also not take place. The PTO will turn to sending letters to parents asking for support. The school will receive funding from Walker County for in-person students and students who are participating virtually, but not for those who have chosen a home school option. The community is already rallying around the school, she said, like it always does. Principal Roerdink sent an email with a wish-list to parents for picnic tables, tents and digital thermometers and all arrived at the school the following day.


An update to the town’s plans for trails and gardens was given by community volunteer Jimmy Campbell who is heading the development of these amenities. He said that a drone video is being made to show the plans and it will be made available to town residents. Building the new community garden near the soccer fields on Witt Road will be done in four phases, he told the council. The first will be parking spaces, then the pathway which will be kept natural and unpaved. Next the gardens will be planted in the fall and a pavilion built. The project should be ready for next summer, he said.


Kenny Lee, who has been helping with the gardens and trails, has stepped down, said Mr. Campbell, and Lulu Brock will now be vice chairman. In addition, a steering committee will be put together with eight or nine members from the mountain's garden clubs. Re-appointments for three positions on the municipal planning commission were also made. Jimmy Campbell, Thompson Pettway and Phillip Whitaker will each serve on the commission for three more years.


An update for the Town Center was given by Mayor Bennett who said that just a few small things are needed before the USDA financing is finalized for the development of the municipal buildings. He said he is hopeful that the groundbreaking will be in four to five weeks. Vice Mayor Arch Willingham will be the liaison with USDA.


It was a relatively quiet month for the police and fire departments, said Chief Todd Gann. Statistics from the department show that officers patrolled 4,006 miles in July, made 22 traffic stops, wrote nine citations and gave 14 warnings. There were two auto accidents. Five suspicious persons and six vehicles were investigated. One arrest was made during the month and there were no thefts or burglaries. Assistance was given to the Lookout Mountain, Tn. Police five times and to residents seven times. There were three fire alarms and 12 medical calls.


Chief Gann said the city has a supply of masks available if residents need them.


Stormwater continues to be a problem, said the mayor, the most visible and what is the source of most complaints is stopped-up drainage ditches. The council voted to establish a stormwater advisory board headed by Council member Tony Townes, that will interact with residents.


Every year the public works department gets behind in picking up accumulated brush. A chipper has been used for the work, but that has been unable to keep up with the volume. In July, a tractor was rented to help, and the time to clear the brush that usually takes 12 weeks was cut to six weeks by using the new equipment. The council approved the mayor’s suggestion to purchase a tractor for this work. Bids will be requested and the lowest price will be accepted.


The sewer board is working on grant qualifications and has sent out requests for proposals for replacing the sewer pump station. Copies of the bids that have been received will be reviewed by sewer board members who will choose which company to use.


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