Some may have already become desensitized to this issue from hearing so much about it. Everyone who has paid attention knows about the myriad growth pattern studies, escalating U.S. Census figures, and the population projections for the not-so-distant future.
Make no mistake, though; this county’s residential growth and how to successfully manage it will be the issue this election season.
The Catoosa County Board of Commissioners’ decision last week to honor a request delaying a vote on zoning for what could become the largest residential development in county history was the right thing to do, but really no surprise.
This development, as well as any other proposed subdivision project of significant size, will affect everyone in the county for years to come if approved. Careful consideration needs to be given before any development of this scope gains final approval.
Longtime residents are already noticing the effects of growth from the last decade: more traffic, financial strain on the cities and the county to provide services, and, perhaps most important of all, strain on the school system.
Despite an aggressive construction campaign and better teacher salaries than neighboring Tennessee, the school system is challenged to provide adequate facilities and staff to manage an exploding student population hovering at the 10,000 mark this year — just under 20 percent of the county’s total population.
It costs about $7,500 per year for each child in the Catoosa school system to attend school, but the state only provides about 74 percent of the cost.
Those reading this week’s story on the school system’s preparations for next year’s budget might wonder how this school system can possibly have trouble holding its own with a proposed $88.5 million budget.
The answer is a complex one, but it’s helpful to understand that the majority of the school system’s budget goes directly to employee salaries. The state mandates these salary scales.
The school system is the county’s second largest employer, with well over 1,000 employees. The cost is truly staggering to staff 14 schools, with No. 15 opening this fall and a new middle school slated to open next year.
Because of lowered teacher-pupil ratios mandated by the state in 2000, the school system has no choice but to keep building, as more and more people discover how economical and inviting North Georgia is.
County leaders must put the brakes on rampant residential growth and instead do everything within their abilities to encourage commercial and industrial growth, which will actually contribute to a better quality of life for residents and not detract from it. Industry contributes to the local economy while only minimally impacting government services.
The fact that commissioners voted last week against construction of several proposed duplexes off Cherokee Valley Road shows that they’re as aware of the county’s dilemma as everyone else is.
With the July 20 primary looming less than a month away and the Nov. 2 general election less than five months away, our local candidates for office have a lot of information to discuss with their voting public. Ask them how they propose to get a handle on this chronic problem. What are their answers?
There’s no question that this county is more and more becoming a suburb of Chattanooga. The choices Catoosa County’s leaders make now and in the near future will determine whether the county maintains its charm and unique character or becomes completely engulfed by suburbia