Today I sat in a meeting and watched Walker County Sole Commissioner Bebe Hieskell execute a note that will allow Walker County to borrow up to $10 million against this year's tax receipts. Heiskell then announced she was drawing 4.5 million of the $10 million to pay two debts - one for a loan the county guaranteed for Hutcheson Medical Center by Regions Bank and another to Erlanger Medical Center. While tax anticipation loans are nothing new for Walker County, it is troubling watching almost half the money being drawn immediately to pay county debts.
Walker County is also on the hook potentially for half of a $20 million loan made by Erlanger Medical Center to Hutcheson to keep the hospital open while Erlanger was managing the facility. It makes me and many citizens wonder just how much debt does the county have and how much money does the county have on hand to pay the bills? Will the commissioner have to borrow more money later this year to keep the county operational? Last year national bond rating services lowered Walker County's bond rates due to concern over the Hutcheson situation and the liquidity of the county's finances.
It's time for the commissioner to give a complete accounting of the financial status of Walker County. This would include the amount owed from bond offerings and when the bonds mature in addition to any other debt the county has incurred. Citizens should also be told how much money the county has on hand to pay its bills. If citizens face large tax increases to cover the county's debt, we should know now, not a couple of years down the road when things spiral out of control.
The county should also explore selling some assets it has to cover debt such as Mountain Cove Farms where millions of taxpayer dollars have been spent and which has provided little to no benefits for the citizens. And the county should not invest one more dime in Hutcheson Medical Center. Hutcheson is a failing enterprise and Walker County can no longer afford to prop it up financially.
Before things get further out of hand, it's time for Walker County residents to demand its government get its financial house in order. The last thing we want is for Walker County to be called the Detroit of the South.