Battle could cost county employee jobs

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - The legal battle between the Jefferson County Commission and Sheriff Mike Hale could end up costing county employees jobs.

Hale won a temporary restraining order preventing the commission from cutting his budget by $5 million. Hale says this would lead to the lay offs of 194 patrol deputies and a threat to public safety. "If I'm a criminal I'd say criminal activity should be wide open and ready to go."

Jefferson County Circuit Judge Dan King granted the order, preventing the county for ten days from cutting his budget. "The five million that has been recommended for him, if we have to absorb that it will be more layoffs," said Commission President Bettye Fine Collins.

Collins says a couple of hundred employees will be laid off over the next few months. In next years budget that number could grow to a thousand, but commissioners now say those numbers could grow.

"If we are out of money, it doesn't matter if we cut his budget or not.
If we are out of money by July. We will have to close the doors," says Commissioner Bobby Humphryes.

Taxpayers feel like they are caught between the commission and the sheriff in their legal battle. "I don't want people to lose their jobs. I think we need the services. At the same time I don't want to get hurt because of the lack of public safety either," says Richard McLemore.

Commissioners are hoping Alabama lawmakers will pass a new occupational tax and solve their funding crisis. But, Collins says they are planning to proceed with cuts to make up for the loss of the sheriff's share of budget reductions. "Certainly it's painful for us to lay the first person off. Perhaps the legislature can reconvene and let the occupational tax go to the sheriff."

Meanwhile, Jefferson County attorneys have asked the Alabama Supreme Court to set aside King's ruling, saying he did not have jurisdiction. Also, Birmingham Senator Rodger Smitherman is asking Governor Bob Riley to help the county get a loan of $25 to $30 million to prevent layoffs and service cuts.