Legal battle continues over occupational tax refund

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - A legal dispute continues over whether people who work in Jefferson County are entitled a refund from the previous occupational tax and, if so, how much.

Jefferson County's job tax was declared illegal in January after a judge said the legislature legally revoked it.  However, the county was allowed to continue to collect and spend the tax while the case was under appeal.

Between January and March of this year, the county spent $24.5 million of the occupational tax. From March until August, another $23.2 million was placed in an escrow account.

Attorneys who sued the county over the tax say the county should refund the nearly $48 million to people who work in the county, plus another $750,000 in interest.

"I have no doubt they believe, despite what the Supreme Court says, they believe the money belongs to the commissioners as opposed to the people of Jefferson County," Jim McFerrin said.

Jefferson County opposes efforts to add on to the refund, which could be about $15,000 a day.

"If that is the case and that holds up, $15,000 a day, after ten days, that is $150,000," said Jim Carns, Jefferson Co. Commissioner.  "That is a lot of money."

Commission President Bettye Fine Collins said she hopes DeKalb County Judge David Rains will lower the refund and agree the interest should not be included. If not, Collins said, county services could suffer.

"There is no doubt if we have to pay that amount, it will have a detrimental affect on our operation," Collins said. "We are trying to do all we can to protect the county."

McFerrin said the county's continued legal fight is a waste of time and taxpayers dollars.

"The Alabama Supreme Court said the county lost," McFerrin said. "Continued fighting is doing nothing more than huffing and puffing, running up legal bills and increasing the cost to taxpayers."