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ROCK SPRING, Ga. -- Revenue is down, expenses are up -- and it's critical that voters in Walker County approve a special purpose local option sales tax in November.
Those were the big themes Tuesday in county Sole Commissioner Bebe Heiskell's annual state of the county address.
"If the Walker County SPLOST does not pass, we are out of luck with keeping our roads paved," Heiskell told a crowd of about 100 at a chamber of commerce luncheon at the Walker County Civic Center.
Money for road paving has always come from SPLOST and the state, she said.
Now, there's very little state revenue for road paving, Heiskell said, and the county has to come up with the first 30 percent to get the state's help.
Meanwhile, revenues are down for the county by $3 million over the past three years, Heiskell said. The tax digest, or total value of property countywide, has decreased by more than $81 million since 2010, she said.
Expenses keep climbing, Heiskell said.
"Asphalt has gone from $22 a ton when I first took office in 2001 to $67 a ton now," she said. "Something has to give."
Heiskell's speech mentioned "a group of anti-SPLOST activists in each precinct of Walker County working very hard to defeat this referendum," and she alluded to G. Paul Shaw, her opponent in the 2012 Republican primary, as one of them.
Contacted after Heiskell's speech, Shaw said, "There will be people against it. I will be one of them."
"The number one reason I don't like a SPLOST is it is a regressive tax," he said. "The poorest people in Walker County have to pay it.
"The alternative would be to manage the [county's] money properly."
Heiskell hasn't ruled out a property tax increase -- though she stressed during her speech that isn't an option she's chosen in the past.
"I have raised taxes less than half a mill in this 12-year period," Heiskell said. "Walker County has the lowest per capita cost for the operation of the 159 county governments in the state."
After her speech, Heiskell addressed the idea of worker furloughs as a way to cut costs.
"I can't find a fair way to do it," she said.
It's harder to furlough emergency personnel such as firefighters and sheriff's deputies, she said, than nonemergency personnel.
But it's not fair, she said, for nonemergency personnel to bear the brunt of cost saving.
"I don't know how I'm going to fix that," Heiskell said.
Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at email@example.com or 423-757-6651.
Tim Omarzu covers Catoosa and Walker counties for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California. Stories he's covered include crime in blighted parts of metro Detroit and Reno, Nev.; environmental activists tree-sitting in California's Sierra Nevada foothills; attempts by the Michigan Militia to take over a township¹s government in northern Michigan. A native of Michigan, ...
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