Jeffco Commissioners cautious after good financial news

JEFFERSON COUNTY, AL (WBRC) - Jefferson County finances are looking up. On Wednesday, acting finance director Travis Hulsey gave county commissioners a report on finances and expenses. Hulsey says tax collections jumped in November and December from 2008 which will help the county's slumping funds."(It was a) difficult year for the commission obviously. Hopefully we have survived the storm in front of us," Hulsey said.

Hulsey says sales tax collections are down by almost a million dollars, occupational tax collections are down by $846,000 and business tax collections are down $320,000. The motor vehicle ad valorem tag taxes are up $327,000.

"We have to be extremely cautious. We have to remember what government is about. It's about delivering essential services," Bettye Fine Collins, Jefferson County Commission President said.

Last summer after a judge struck down the occupational tax, Jefferson County was forced to layoff workers and shutdown courthouses. This led to long lines for taxpayers. Commissioners do not believe that will happen this year. "I expected December to be a turn around, that's when the taxes come in but it's not a good picture," said County Commissioner Jim Carns.

While Collins is optimistic the worst may be behind Jefferson County, the commission president says if the county has to refund up to $50 million in refunds from the occupational tax, county services will be threatened again.

Jefferson County Commissioners were mostly optimistic about the financial update. "I'm a little bit encouraged. I'm not overly optimistic. I believe things have leveled off," Collins said.

Hulsey says a five percent cut may not lay off employees or bring back long lines again. "We want to be fiscally sound. Going forward in our fiscal approach, try to do everything we can to build our reserves going forward," Hulsey said.

Jefferson County Commissioner Jim Carns says building a 44 million dollars reserve fund will be his top goal in 2010. Carns says this is essential to the county's future. "It's important because we don't need to be in the free fall we've been in and this mess last summer," Carns said.

Commissioner Bobby Humphryes says his goal is to fund ClasTran, the transit service for the elderly and disabled, bring back deputies on leave without pay and opening the new courthouse in Bessemer. Collins says that is not possible. "We can wish for the tooth fairy puts something under our pillow. But, quite honestly we are in for lean times and less government that we ever had before," Collins said.