A June 19 post on the popular LaFayette Underground blog (cityoflafayettega.com) displayed a copy of an April 23 receipt from Southeastern Salvage in Chattanooga and alleged that Walker County commissioner Bebe Heiskell used her county government tax-exempt ID number to elude the $4.90 sales tax charge on the purchase of a $49 rug, ostensibly for the commissioner’s personal home.
The rug in question is actually part of an ongoing renovation of various properties owner by Walker County in McLemore Cove, Heiskell said. The rug was used to decorate a guest room in a house adjacent to the old show barn which is rented out to wedding parties or church retreats, she said.
The barn itself has undergone heavy renovations, including a new floor, restrooms, and updated doors, in order to make it more appealing as a site for weddings, which have been steadily booked at the location since April, she said.
As for the tax-exempt purchase, Heiskell assures that it was legitimate, as it was being purchased for Walker County property. She is unsure, however, why the employees at Southeastern Salvage found her purchase suspicious enough to print a secondary receipt and report her actions to the Underground blog.
“I’ve been there, and I bought some things for the Cove house,” she said. “We were fortunate enough to get a tax exempt in Tennessee...What we did was perfectly legal. It was something we had to get done. We had a limited time to get it done.”
In fact, the funds to purchase the furnishings, which include not just rugs but furniture and outdoor décor as well, came from a $50,000 grant provided by a newly-formed private Walker County foundation, which wishes to remain anonymous at this time, she said.
“We’ve hunted every cheap thing we can find,” Heiskell said of the furnishings. “We have shopped everywhere to find good bargains that were quality.”
“The only thing I’ve bought there [at Southeastern] has been for Walker County government.”
As for the accusation that Heiskell used her county tax-exempt ID to save herself a few bucks on a personal purchase, the commissioner stated that the allegation is “too ridiculous for words.”
“I would never be foolish enough to do something like that,” she said. “I would never risk my reputation to save four dollars and ninety cents.”
“We bought it because we thought it would enhance the location.”
The house in question sleeps sixteen people and includes a master honeymoon suite, as well as a working fireplace, a large patio and a downstairs game room converted from a garage.
The house rents for $350 per night for the entire building, or $250 per night, excluding the downstairs area.
“Everybody who’s looked at it has rented it,” Heiskell said. According to Heiskell, the house has been rented almost every weekend straight for the past two months.
“We’re going to make more money off of this into the general fund than off of property tax” [if the house were not owned by Walker County], Heiskell explained. “I think what we’re doing will pay off for a long time.”
In addition to the Cove house and the barn, Walker County also has long-term plans for a manor house, a small general store and seven cabins that came with the property. These buildings, especially the manor house, which was poorly treated by its last owner, will take much longer to renovate and will be done as time and funds become available.
Heiskell hopes to have everything done by September 2013, just in time for the 150th Civil War reenactment in McLemore’s Cove.