County commission passes new occupational tax

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - The Jefferson County Commission approved Tuesday a new occupational tax for people who work in Jefferson County.

The commission, in a 4-1 vote, approved an ordinance will will enact a new occupational tax on Jan. 1, 2010. The tax, which was authorized in August by the Alabama legislature, replaces the previous occupational tax which was declared illegal by a judge in January.

Commissioner Jim Carns was the only commissioner to vote against the ordinance. He questioned the business license tax, which was a part of the ordinance.

The new tax rate will be 0.045 percent, down from the 0.05 percent tax rate under the old tax.  However, the new tax will apply to all employees in Jefferson County, no longer excluding professionals such as doctors, lawyers, architects and plumbers who also have to pay professional license fees to the county.

The tax is expected to generate $72 million in revenue for the county.

Jefferson County taxpayers remember the nightmare of the long lines at the downtown courthouse this summer after the original occupational tax was declared illegal. That's why many people FOX6 News spoke to on Monday said they favor the commission passing a new lower job tax which will cover professionals such as doctors, lawyers, architects and plumbers.

Jefferson County Commission President Bettye Fine Collins said without the tax, the county would have had to close the satellite courthouses again and layoff 1,500 employees.

Jefferson County employee Lisa Pack watched the commission as it considered the job tax ordinance. Pack urged the commissioners to pass it because it would generate $72 million.

"We were told it would be at least 1,800 layoffs," Pack said. "After what we went through in August we know who it would be."

The commission voted 4-1 for the job tax. Commissioner Jim Carns voted against it. Carns said there are too many questions over the impact of the new business license fee on county companies.

Carns also said those who voted for it may be embarrassed.

"When people say my business license went up 500 percent," Carns said.

Commissioner Bobby Humphryes said he did not like the job tax but voted to implement it.

"There is no way we can come in here in January first and cut our budget $70 to $75 million at one whack," Humphryes said.

Jefferson County voters will decide the future of the tax in 2012. Most commissioners said they believe it will fail, creating another financial crisis.

"We are sitting here and have no say over you revenues," said Commission President Bettye Fine Collins. "And they put a clause like that. It's a tenuous situation."

"Hopefully with a lot of changes with the commission people will see the occupational tax is needed," Pack said.