Collins blames courts for long lines

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Jefferson County Commission President Bettye Fine Collins blamed the courts Thursday for the commission's inability to put 1,000 county employees back to work and eliminate long lines at the county courthouses.

Taxpayers were greeted Thursday with long lines at the downtown courthouse because the end of the month was near and not enough workers are available.  Collins said the county can not recall any employee until they are sure there will be enough tax dollars to pay them.

"It's all in the court's hands," said Collins. "We can't hold out false hope for them. They are in a terrible position."

This week the Alabama Supreme Court ruled the county's old job tax was illegal. DeKalb County Judge David Rains still has an injunction against the county preventing commissioners from spending any money collected under the old tax, which is being held in an escrow account.

"Our hands are tied," said Commissioner Sheila Smoot.  "Our feet are bound. We are strapped. At the end of the day the courts are controlling government."

Alabama lawmakers said the new job tax they passed earlier this month allows the county to use the money in the escrow account and to spend the old job tax until January when the new lower tax goes into effect. But, Jefferson County commissioners said Thursday they want Judge Rains to tell them if that's allowed or not.

"The attorneys have told us, if we violate the judge's order that is still over us, we could be held in contempt of court." said Collins.

"This is a legal playground for lawyers to come and try to do some other things," said Commissioner Jim Carns.  "The new law, the new bill, I think sooner or later is going to be challenged."

The county said it plans to file papers by Friday with Judge Rains asking for rulings on the effect of the new occupational tax law.

Commissioners also Thursday encourage county residents to use the county's website to renew vehicle tags.

"You don't have to go to the courthouse any more," said Smoot.  "I think we need to understand some people don't have access. Go to the local library. Heck, get your children's computer."

The commissioner said the county should have posted signs at the courthouse saying renewals can be done online.

The county's revamped website can be found at: