Jefferson County's financial crisis hurting schools

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Jefferson County's financial crisis is also hurting local schools. The county's tax collector on Monday warned school systems who get tax money from the county that their funding will be delayed by 7 or 8 months.

12 school systems who are counting on a total of $200 million in tax revenue collected by the county won't be getting their money on time. Among the hardest hit, Jefferson County schools with $68 million delayed, Birmingham City Schools with $50 million on hold, and Hoover and Mt. Brook schools with close to $20 million each on the line.

"Their budget depends upon these disbursements at that time of year every year," said Jefferson County Tax Collector J.T. Smallwood. "That's why we're giving them the heads up."

Smallwood says staff cuts forced by the county's financial crisis took him from a staff of 30 to only 4 people trying to handle 350,000 accounts.

"Due to our huge staff cuts, it's just impossible to believe we could do that with just 4 people, it's just not going to happen," Smallwood said.

"I'm just more shocked than anything else," said Jefferson County Schools CFO Sheila Jones. "It was not something I really anticipated, but that's what i'm feeling at this point is simply shock."

School systems accustomed to getting this money between November and February each year will have to wait until at least May of next year, meaning they will have to dip into reserves already depleted by proration.

"We have already committed to staffing levels as far as the next school year is concerned," Jones said. "When you're talking about adjusting to cover a 60-something million dollar delay, really the only place to do that would be personnel, and at this point we simply, that's too late for us to do."

The county's tax collector says he has talked with state officials about trying to get their help to process the tax returns, but there are no firm plans in place as of now. We tried but were unable to reach the Birmingham schools spokesperson to see how they plan to cover this shortfall.