Walker County Commissioner Shines Light On Large Debt

Walker County Commissioner Shannon Whitfield had his first official meeting as Walker County’s sole commissioner Thursday night.  In an article by The Chattanoogan, he had some bad news to tell county taxpayers.

The bad news: former Commissioner Bebe Heiskell left the county with around $800,000 in the bank and two bond payments, totaling $1.2 million, coming due later this month.  On top of that, $3.5 million in money owed by the county is due, and Walker County doesn’t have the money.  The silver lining to this is that the Bank of LaFayette is aiding by initially agreeing to a $2 million loan to the county government after Commissioner Whitfield laid out a plan to right the ship.  That amount was increased to $4 million after a bank board meeting this past Wednesday.

The debt is from Tax Anticipation Notes, a short-term loan for local governments.  The purpose of those notes are to help smooth out the time between when expenses are to be paid out and when the actual tax revenue is collected.

Unfortunately, the state of Walker County finances goes beyond just debt obligations. From The Chattanoogan:

Commissioner Whitfield said he found there is no money left in the SPLOST (tax levy for special projects) account and, in fact, the county was having to shore it up because collections were $600,000 short of the outlay.

He also said that money coming in from taxes this year will be less than last year because Ms. Heiskell cut the millage rate. That brought a reduction of $654,000. He said appeals on the reappraisal cut another $275,000.

The Commissioner said that he doesn’t know the extent of Walker County’s total debt.  He is trimming the budget where he can.  He has already cut $660,000 from the annual personnel budget and studying other areas to cut.

It’s going to be tight this year, especially with a lower amount of revenue that’s anticipated due to the former Commissioner’s tax break, so I’m expecting Commissioner Whitfield will have to make adjustments on both the expense and revenue side of the equation.

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