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Roane, by the numbers

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Walker says finance in public sector busier than expected

By Cindy Simpson

It’s budget season, and Roane County finance director Kaley Walker is in her element.

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“I am a math nerd, so I love all this stuff,” she said. “I think there are not enough girls going into finance and engineering.”

Walker likes the black-and-white clarity of numbers.
“I have to have a right answer or wrong answer,” she said.

Walker was hired by County Executive Ron Woody in 2010, at the recommendation of his wife, Becky.

The families attended the same church. Initially, Walker said, Woody had someone else in mind for her position, but that plan fell through.

It’s Walker’s first job in the public sector.

“Immediately prior I was a staff accountant for a company called Cellular Sales in Knoxville. They are the largest Verizon retailer in the country,” Walker said.

She’s proud when her young daughter, Ashley, said she loves math and tries to encourage that passion.

She likes that she gets to deal with the public and feels good about their involvement with the community.

“It is so chaotic and fun. We are dealing with different people all the time. We actually get to have a positive impact on everyone in the county all the time. You get to see that,” Walker said.

Walker said more goes on in government than she thought.

“I work harder here, and we have more going on than I fathomed,” Walker said.

That includes processing $130 million in and out of the office.

“I sign every check. I sign every purchase order. I sign every revenue that comes in,” Walker said.

She also reviews the current budget for overages and makes adjustments and writes all the finance resolutions the County Commission considers.

Walker said it is her goal to provide the departments with what they need without putting a tax burden on the citizens. Her boss, Woody, is heavily involved with the process.

The county already is wrangling debt commitments, and officials aren’t anxious to take on more.

The goals are different compared to Walker’s past endeavors.

“Just being in the public sector is very different. The public sector goal is to not make money. If we are making money, the property taxes are too high. In a company, the goal is to make money for your (shareholders),” Walker said.

Walker loves talking to people about where their property taxes go, showing how each part of the government gets so much and why different people have different rates.

She loves working with Woody and praises his work.

“We have worked very hard to rearrange the tax rates and start planning ahead,” Walker said of scheduling and preparing for capital needs.

Walker moved from Michigan to East Tennessee several years ago.

Her husband, Norm, a former Army Ranger, has family in the Midway area and was visiting them when she got laid off in Michigan.

“Our house in Michigan got showed that week. We were here by Labor Day,” Walker said.

She said he never wanted to leave Michigan, but she was ready to escape the cold winters.

In addition to Ashley, they have son, Breslin, who is named for the Breslin Center where Michigan State University plays.