County commission worried about tax refunds

By Alan Collins

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Tuesday, Jefferson County Commissioners reacted to possibly having to pay more in the occupational tax case.

Last week, DeKalb County David Rains said county could have to pay another $10 million on top of the $37.8 million in refunds to Jefferson County workers who paid the job tax when it was declared illegal. Rains said he wanted to hear arguments over the county having to pay plaintiffs attorney fees which could total more than $13 million.

Tuesday, Commission President Bettye Fine Collins said this could lead to job layoffs like last summer.

"Our salaries are the largest expenditure we make," Collins said. "So the first thing we would have to do, if we can meet payroll, is to start a reduction in force."

Commissioner Shelia Smoot said if the county is forced to pay more, it won't be coming out of the commissioner's pockets.

"When people say the county is picking up the full tab, the county is the taxpayers who pay into the general fund," Smoot said. "It's not from commissioners."

Commissioner Jim Carns also believes this could lead to budget troubles.

"Oh yeah, a $13 million hit will definitely cause problems," Carns said.

But others are not so sure.

"Frankly I think Commissioner Collins is an alarmest and looks on the bleakest side of everything without thinking things through  and going to the worst case scenario," Commissioner Bobby Humphryes said.

One of the three attorneys that sued the county over the job tax believes this will not lead to hardships for the county.

"Judge decides the county puts up whatever attorney fees might award separate from the refund amount," Jim McFerrin said. "The money has been already set aside. It's not going to harm the county."

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