Bebe Heiskell has announced her intention to seek re-election to a fourth consecutive term as Walker County's sole commissioner.
"I might want to serve eight more years," Heiskell said last Thursday during a campaign kick-off at her re-election headquarters at Fieldstone Farms. "I certainly want to serve four more years."
Heiskell, one of nine sole commissioners throughout the state, said she works about 15 hours a day and is "still obsessed with the job."
During her recent State of the County address, Heiskell touched on the difficult challenges she and Walker County residents have faced during the past 11 years.
She named "record floods, snows, tornadoes and other natural disasters; the heartbreak and expense of the Tri-State Crematory cleanup; and the aftermath of the 9-11 terrorist attacks." She also noted the trials and tribulations presented by the current recession, "the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s," and ongoing efforts to resuscitate and revitalize the tri-county hospital now called Erlanger at Hutcheson, a task she considers the "greatest challenge" of her professional career.
Dealing with challenges is nothing new for the commissioner.
"The county's finances were in shambles 11 years ago," she said. "Many creditors had us on a cash-only basis because we had not been paying our bills. We faced $5 million in obligations which exceeded our tax revenues. We had virtually no equipment in the road department, fire department or the landfill."
That has changed in the new millenium.
Heiskell pointed out that her tenure has been marked by major upgrades to roads and water lines, the county has assumed and expanded countywide ambulance service and has instituted a fire and emergency medical service that has not only become a model for other counties but has saved home and business owners money by improving the area's ISO rating.
The commissioner said it isn't just core services that have improved over the past decade. The county has bettered its animal shelter and animal control services, recreational facilities have been expanded or built from scratch and, with improved finances, the county has become a leader in environmental and historic preservation efforts as evidenced by its acquisitions in Mountain Cove and in support of the Marsh House
"Now, Walker is one of the most successful county governments in the state with an extremely low unemployment rate of 7.5, a credit rating of AA and leadership in environmental and historical conservation," Heiskell said.
And all this has been accomplished while keeping the county's millage rate (property taxes) among the state's lowest.
"This is what I think government is about," said Heiskell. "Taxes should go to things you can't do for yourself or that government can do better and cheaper. Taxes are a bargain if you aren't overcharged for what you receive."
Heiskell said her desire is to continue leading the county by supporting job and economic growth, upgrading roads and water lines as well as boosting the county's position as an amazing tourism destination.
Being a sole commissioner means the county's top elected officer must be aware of how everything in the county operates since there is no manager to tend to day-to-day operations. That can be both a blessing and a curse, Heiskell said.
"You get the blame as well as the praise," she said.
Dr. Paul Shaw, a retired LaFayette family physician, has announced that he intends to challenge Heiskell in this year's election. Shaw has said he hopes to become the county's last sole commissioner and that his goal, if elected, is to shift local government to a multi-member council form of government.
The qualifying deadline for the primary election is noon on May 25, with the primary election scheduled for July 31 and the general election to be held Nov. 6.