Jeffco Commissioners unsure over 2011 budget

By Alan Collins

JEFFERSON COUNTY, AL (WBRC) – The new budget for the Jefferson County Commission has passed out of committee, but the final form of the budget will depend on two votes next week.

On Wednesday, the commissioners could not agree on the budget. Some commissioners complained they did not get enough information about the $815 million spending plan.

In Thursday's meeting, Commissioners were able to pass the main budget informally, but the divisive factor is the amount of money that Sheriff Hale is asking for. Some commissioners are very wary of giving Hale the full amount as they feel the county needs to be watching its pennies.

Sheriff Mike Hale is asking for an addition $4.6 million to reopen the county Jail in Bessemer. Hale closed it because of money problems last year. The sheriff plans to open the expanded section of the jail. Commission President Bettye Fine Collins says without the jail, there is a threat of lawsuits about overcrowding with all in the inmates housed at the Birmingham jail.

Some county commissioners say Hale does not need to hire 80 deputies for the Bessemer jail.  65 out of 67 counties use less expensive correctional officers. Hale says his biggest concern with correctional officers they do not have the same level of immunity against lawsuits as deputies would.   

The commission will be making two different votes to decide the 2011 budget. The first vote will be on the main budget without the extra money for Hale to reopen the Bessemer Jail. The second vote will decide if the sheriff will be getting that money.

At this point, Commissioner Bobby Humphryes says he feels he cannot vote for the plan. "The numbers aren't sustainable," said Humphryes after the Thursday meeting. "We can take the five million out of reserves this year. What about next year? You've got to work within our budget and we're not working within our budget."

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