Walker County buys former bank property

Walker County buys former bank property

January 18th, 2015 by Tyler Jett in Local Regional News

Bebe Heiskell

Bebe Heiskell

Walker County, Ga., Sole Commissioner Bebe Heiskell has agreed to pay about $880,000 for a new home for her tax assessors.

County officials sent an email to Stearns Bank last week confirming they will buy the bank's Rock Spring building at 122 Highway 95.

Heiskell has said that the county needs the building because the Georgia Department of Revenue demanded last year that the county hire three more tax assessors. State auditors determined that some of Walker County's property values were inaccurate. Some were too high; some were too low. Auditors said some people weren't paying the right amount of taxes and the county wasn't taking in the right amount of revenue.

Heiskell budgeted about $170,000 more this year for the assessor's office than last year. All told, the Department of Revenue's findings are costing Walker County more than $1 million, though county officials say they were going to buy the bank building anyway.

The county is taking out a three-year, $830,000 loan from the bank for the purchase, including $130,000 for upgrades. If the county makes all of its payments on time, the interest cost will be about $50,000.

County Attorney Don Oliver said workers need to move walls, change doors and re-arrange rooms before assessors can start work.

Heiskell said last year that she initially asked Stearns Bank officials if they would give her the building for free as a tax write-off. Then she offered $500,000. The two sides settled on $700,000.

Heiskell said the county needs the building because tax assessors are cramped in their office at 201 S. Main St. After three new employees were hired, every assessor shared an office.

Plus, Heiskell said in a video on her Facebook page, the current office is filthy. It's 75 years old, and mold is growing on their chairs.

"I don't think it's very healthy," she said.

Heiskell plans to tear down that building, turn it into a parking lot and give it to the city of LaFayette, Ga.

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at tjett@timesfreepress.com or at 423-757-6476.