published Friday, September 5th, 2014

Tensions flare at Walker County tax hearing

LaFAYETTE, Ga. — The mood at a public hearing Thursday in Walker County to discuss a proposed property tax hike was angry on the part of the taxpayers, defensive on the side of Sole Commissioner Bebe Heiskell.

About 50 people came to listen to Heiskell explain why the county needs a 3-mill property tax increase.

She explained economic losses still haunt the county from tornadoes, as well as inflation. She talked about increased costs of asphalt and fuel, which are necessary to county operations. She said the tax hike was needed to make up for lost revenue, and she blamed the state of Georgia for cutting its funding to the county.

The tax hike would raise the tax bill on a $100,000 house by about $120. Heiskell pointed out that's only $10 a month and affordable to most families.

The people at the meeting begged to differ.

Several people addressed Heiskell after her presentation, stepping up to a lectern in front of her seat. They cited recent county purchases of property, as well as inefficiencies in the government that they say they are being asked to pay for.

Resident Don Van Pernis said the government needs to look at where its money goes so it can stop the overspending.

"I don't have anybody I can go to when my checkbook runs out," he said, eliciting applause and whoops from the audience.

Perry Lamb said the county can't increase taxes, because residents' salaries have not increased. He also said the county should stop purchasing new items until the spending is examined.

"I can't go into my children's piggy bank because I want something new, and you can't do that to us," he said.

When the meeting reached the hour mark, Heiskell informed the audience its time was up. Evelyn Garmany, who was speaking at the time about needing to know her taxes were well-spent, turned to the crowd.

"Is anybody gonna leave?" she asked.

The resounding response was, "No."

Heiskell began packing up her things to leave even as people continued to ask questions. She thanked everyone and again announced the meeting was over.

Another public hearing on the tax increase is scheduled for 10 a.m. Sept. 11 at the Walker County Courthouse.

Contact Hannah Smith at hsmith@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6731.

about Hannah Smith...

Hannah Smith is a staff reporter for the Times Free Press. She previously worked as a Pulliam Fellow at the Indianapolis Star and as a Middle East news reporter at the Global Post in Boston. She has also spent time in broadcast, interning at Channel 13 WTHR in Indianapolis, and radio, as a reporter for American Student Radio. Hannah graduated with honors from Indiana University in May with degrees in journalism and Arabic. There she ...

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