2013
08.18

Walker County is in dire condition financially. County employees are being furloughed to save money, the LaFayette library was boarded up 90% through a renovation due to a funding shortage, and the county required a $3 million loan to get from June to September without bouncing checks.

Yet somehow the same county has tens of thousands of dollars to spend on an unnecessary piece of equipment for a single four-day-long event at Mountain Cove Farms.

Mtn Cove Farms Mini Ambulance / Fire Truck

This photo depicts a custom rescue cart on a Kubota RTV900 utility vehicle chassis, built by Freedom Fire Equipment of Marietta. Freedom Fire doesn’t list a price for this rig on its Web site, but a basic pre-conversion Kubota RTV900 with no extra features sells for over $15,000. A similar, slightly more advanced “micro pumper” fire truck from the same manufacturer sells for $29,900, so it’s reasonable to guess this little three-cylinder diesel job (with trailer) cost the county at least twenty thousand dollars, probably closer to twenty-five.

Utility vehicles like this are meant for off-road service, rescuing people in wooded areas or rough terrain where a regular ambulance or SUV can’t go. Hopefully Walker County Emergency Services will use this one often enough to justify the cost, but after next month it will probably be used for little outside of occasional appearances in parades or during community events.

The primary reason for purchasing this glorified golf cart – in a year when money is so tight – is to provide medical care during the Civil War reenactment planned for September 19-22 at county-owned Mountain Cove Farms. Official guesses predictions for attendance at that event range anywhere from 15,000 to 100,000, and the county has invested millions into buying, renovating, and stocking/staffing the site in preparation.

Mountain Cove Farms Sign

Walker County leaders have tried to keep much of the spending at Mountain Cove Farms hidden, leaving taxpayers and county employees in the dark as to exactly how many millions have been wasted there and where the funds have come from. Excesses discussed previously on the Underground and in mainstream news outlets have been dismissed with excuses about “anonymous foundations” and similar garbage, but the public’s patience with those stories has grown thin – especially in light of library cutbacks, public transportation cuts, employee furloughs, and unpaved roads.

So it’s no wonder the equipment is locked away, hidden from public view and scrutiny, inside the fire department training center on Alex Drive. County employees say the Commissioner has been concerned about keeping this toy secret, especially since she’ll be asking voters to renew her SPLOST sales tax in November.

Walker County Fire & Rescue LogoCounty workers, including fire fighters and a few elected officials, are tired of seeing their department budgets slashed and paychecks cut for “furloughs” while the county wastes money in this fashion. That anger is pushing many employees, normally loyal to the Commissioner and her taxes, to drop their support – and at least one was motivated enough to take this photo so the community would know what’s really being done with the county’s troubled finances.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with buying a piece of equipment like this, if it’s really needed for regular service, but it’s hard to defend spending over twenty-thousand dollars for this cart at the same time employees are having their pay cut, residents are losing services, and the county government claims to be out of money. It’s a matter of priorities – priorities that appear to be very broken.

This is just one of many instances of waste and indulgence at Mountain Cove Farms, and MCF is just one of several pet projects Commissioner Heiskell has driven forward during the last few years even while claiming the county is in poverty. Once the reenactment ends, more details of that waste will begin to emerge – hopefully soon enough for Walker County voters to take action before the next round of pointless spending begins.

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14 comments so far

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  1. Whats sad look at you property tax and see school system gets it most not the county ask where all that money is used

  2. I know that there are MANY people around her who are specially trained in mounted rescue. There are lots of horse people who would love to spend a weekend in the Cove or at Pigeon Mountain, but the trails are such crap that the perk for doing it is neggated. I know many people would would work such an event for FAR LESS than $20,000.00. Maybe some hotdogs, a cold beer and a nice place to ride their horse.

  3. Well, unfortunately L-U is part of the freakin’ problem. A couple of weeks ago, you guys called it a “bait and switch” tax. Did a great job of outlining all of the lies used to pass it, misdirect it and abuse it. Great job. But you didn’t call for its outright repeal (by not renewing it). It’s become what a lot of people warned the taxpayers it would become-A nice little slush fund for would be Bebe’s and Bebe herself to use to buy the votes of people with these little puppy treat “jobs” that magically appear and disappear before/after elections. Of course it bait and switch. You people keep falling for it and she and her insider buds keep perpetrating it. Charlie Brown keeps getting fooled by Lucy because he trusts someone that is fundamentally untrustworthy. He’s just as much to blame after all these years as she is.

    You people (rightly) think Bebe and her insider court have too much power.Fine, I agree. But when the rubber meets the road, you want her to keep a large part of that power by renewing this tax instead of ending it. Arguably, this tax is the biggest part of keeping her in the place that she’s in because she and her court have much more control over the project prioritization for this money than other departmental budgets.This money funds a cycle that keeps her in power.You have to realize that.

    I’d like to call for the L-U to come out for the repeal of this tax completely. Since you think it’s mostly wasted anyway, why keep it around?

  4. Snarky:

    The idea behind SPLOST is fine, it’s not an inherently bad tax – but the way it’s been used in Walker County (especially under Heiskell) is ridiculous. Based on her past actions and the likelihood of another fuzzy, vague ballot measure with no specifics, there’s no way we can support SPLOST. Voters ARE encouraged to vote no.

    At the same time, we realize that it’s likely to pass anyway. Nothing in this world is guaranteed, and it’s better to plan ahead.. That’s why we’ve been hounding LaFayette leaders to make sure the city’s tiny portion of SPLOST (less than $3 million) is for projects with the most benefit for the city’s people. If we HAVE to have this tax again, we hopefully won’t see LaFayette waste the proceeds as badly as it has in the past.

    Please don’t misunderstand that as an endorsement.. Not in the least.

    — LU

  5. Okay, I’m a little clearer now than before. I would just add that taking this money out of the hands of taxpayers and trusting its stewardship to government only ensures that it will end up in the hands of people like Bebe Heiskell and her ilk. Naturally,they are going to make sure it goes to people that can help her stay in power. All politicians do this (she didn’t just think of it), but letting that money circulate in businesses, services and investment ensures that people won’t blow it on speculations like MCF. It’s indefensible that school kids can’t use the public library to better their minds but we allow our county officials to maintain while elephants like MCF with little or no oversight.

  6. Could be it’s time for a recall vote to remove Heiskell along with a few others. Also a vote on a public independent Walker County government audit and find out just where the money is really going?

  7. Right now the road department is paving a 5 acre parking lot in the location for the reenactment. I was informed by a PRoadDepartment supervisor that they are working 7 days a week at 10 hour shifts and asphalt already has cost over $87K

  8. 5 acre parking lot eh? Heiskell’s defenders have said they plan to return the RV parking areas back into pristine farm acreage when the reenactment is done – is the county going to dig all that asphalt and gravel back up in October and bring in sod?

    — LU

  9. Please check out the “Recall Bebe” movement on “Facebook”!
    I am astonished that this has been allowed to go on for so long!
    To invest so much of taxpayer money and to purposely allow county services to suffer as a result is simply insane!
    COUNTY pays $2.3 Million For just the land then…!
    COUNTY pays for 5 acre of asphalt parking lot!
    A Library put on hold that our kids need!
    County worker time cuts and cutbacks!
    It’s time for honest leadership and a full independent audit and accounting!
    RECALL Bebe Heiskell !!! Take A Stand for Walker County and its Citizens!

  10. Where is the disgust on this site about the county opening a resturant in Mountain Cove Farms?

  11. The disgust over the new restaurant, Applebebe’s, is on LU Facebook. The last couple months we’ve been unable to do Daily Updates, else it would be here as well.

    — LU

  12. TOLD YOU SO, 2 YEARS AGO….NOW LETS GET SERIOUS, I WILL RUN AGAIN IN 2016 AND WE CAN GET BACK ON TRACK, I say return the County Gov. to the Citizens of Walker County. END this foolishness. I will rRUN again! We deserve honesty, openness, and reason…no more pet projects!!!! Gov. for the people, by the people,,,,,what our Country was founder for. gps

  13. I agree with you Dr. Shaw. Does anyone know how much has been spent on Mountain Cove besides the purchase of the land? They have had to spend at least another million or two doing all the remodeling and equiping the kitchens. I heard that a hotel may be next – if so, can a golf course be far behind?

    David Ashburn always complains about the price of asphalt but not for his RV park. And I guess the State is tired of hearing that Walker County “forgot” about environmental regulations. The county may be broke by 2016..

  14. Does everyone know that the Kensington area has NO fire protection. If we need help it comes from Rock Spring. This is something we all pay for and NEED.