published Saturday, July 20th, 2013

Walker County to furlough employees two hours per week

Walker County Sole Commissioner Bebe Heiskell plans to furlough the county's roughly 400 employees for two hours a week until year's end to save the county $250,000.

She thinks the two-hour-per-week furloughs are a relatively painless way to help offset what she said is a $3 million reduction in revenues over the past three years in the face of higher costs for items such as asphalt to repave roads and gas for county vehicles.

"This is not a chunk out of anybody's pay," Heiskell said. "Two hours a week is not bad."

"I take the full blame for this," she said. "I have refused to raise taxes."

Heiskell said she's raised property taxes less than half a mill since first being elected in 2001.

She still needs to get buy-in from the county's "constitutional officers," or elected officials whose offices are recognized in the Georgia Constitution. In Walker County, that's the sheriff, probate judge, clerk of court and tax commissioner.

"I'm meeting with them next week," Heiskell said. "They can cooperate -- or they don't have to. I have found them to all be very cooperative with county government in the past."

Heiskell said Friday she hadn't yet informed the constitutional officers of the two-hour-per-week employee furlough proposal.

'Trying to save funds'

Sheriff Steve Wilson, whose department is the county's largest with about 100 employees, didn't return a call Friday seeking comment.

Tax Commissioner Carolyn Walker said, "At this point, we don't have enough people to furlough anybody."

Walker said her employees' workload has doubled because of changes in Georgia's vehicle tax laws, the centerpiece of which was the elimination in March of the so-called birthday tax, an annual vehicle tax due on its owner's birthday.

"I'm trying to do everything that I can to be economical and save funds for the county," Walker said.

One example of that, she said, was her support of the county's decision to spend $100,000 to replace the decrepit tax office at 2012 MacFarland Ave. in Fairview with a double-wide modular building that formerly was an Alabama bank.

Installing a modular building took three weeks instead of six months it would have taken for a conventional building, Walker said, and was cheaper than simply buying land for a new building would have cost.

"I'm happy with that because we did save money," she said.

Walker said a county commissioner can't cut a constitutional officer's budget without cause.

"They have to meet our request for budget unless there's some extravagance on our part," she said.

Still, Walker said she'd try to accommodate budget cuts.

"I don't see how I can at this point," she said. "But I'll do what I can."

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6651.

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers education 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.

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