Jefferson County urged to save money

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Don't spend all of the money. That's the message from Jefferson County Acting Finance Director Travis Hulsey.

Hulsey presented an update on county finances to county commissioners and other elected officials Wednesday. Hulsey said taxes are down as of November.

Ad Valorum taxes from motor vehicles are down $2.9 million, business licenses down $536,000, and occupational taxes are down $375,000.

"We are going to have to monitor our revenues closely this fiscal year," Hulsey said. "If things don't improve soon, we will the possibility of going back revisit our budgets."

Elected officials in the room hoped to get some of the $50 million dollars from a settlement with J.P. Morgan. This included Sheriff Mike Hale who wants $1.6 million to bring back 16 deputies and 21 civilians off of administrative leave without pay.

"I'm just hopeful if the revenue is there, these deputies and civilians can be put back to work like other Jefferson County employees," Hale said.

Jefferson County District Attorney Brandon Falls said without additional people the justice system will slow down.

"If it rolls down hill, it will get bigger and bigger," Falls said. "It leads to larger dockets and longer time for victims to get justice."

Jefferson Co. Tax Collector J.T. Smallwood said without more workers he can not collect all of the taxes due to the county, creating even more of a problem.

"It's very difficult to collect from all the businesses one on the ground tax agent to collect the whole county," Smallwood said. "That's lost revenue we may not be able to recover or recoup."

Commissioners said they were alarmed at the presentation.

"I'm much more depressed over our finances than 36 hours ago," Jim Carns, Jefferson Co. Commissioner said.

Hulsey said there are other problems. The county's $1 billion school construction bond program may cost the county more than expected. The bonds are supported by a the county's one-cent sales tax, but Hulsey said the company which insured the bonds has had their ratings downgraded, which may cost the county $29 million.

Hulsey said the county may also face rebate liabilities for excess money.

"We will be as the weather, we will be on weather watch about that," said Jefferson County Commission President Bettye Fine Collins. "That is another area to pay attention too."

Another problem, Hulsey said, was the courts may force the county commission to pay $27 to $48 million in refunds from the occupational tax being declared illegal.  The county expects to get $72 million from the new job tax, which will go to the voters in a few a years.

"We go to a vote on the occupational tax in 2012," Carns said. "How many here think it will pass, raise your hands. I see no hands raised."

Despite the gloomy presentation, Hale said he still hopes to get additional funding.

"I think when I grew up in Woodlawn, my mama would call it poor mouthing," Hale said.