Safety concerns in Jefferson Co. after tax ruling

By Alan Collins

BIRMINGHAM (WBRC) - There are concerns about the impact on public safety with the loss of Jefferson County's job tax.

Wednesday, the Alabama Supreme Court struck down Jefferson County's occupational tax, which means a loss of $70 million to the county budget.

Presiding Jefferson County Court Judge Scott Vowell is worried about the court system.

"My first thought was here we go again." Vowell said.

Vowell is preparing for rough economic times. The state is preparing for cuts for the state courts. In the past the county has stepped in with $500,000 to pay for 12 out of 14 bailiffs.

"If we lose that funding, it means we will not have the bailiffs in our criminal courts," Vowell said.

Meanwhile, the Jefferson County's sheriff's department is still feeling the impact of the big cuts from past county budgets. The Bessemer jail remains closed and the sheriff's office fears being sued for overcrowding at the Birmingham jail. Christian says the office is down to 523 deputies and that is 80 less from a few years ago.

"We've gone through $17 million in cuts over the last few years. We are stretched already. We got a jail closed down. We got one busting at the seams. I don't know where we would cut if we would have to do more," Jefferson County Sheriff Chief Deputy Randy Christian said.

Another problem for the sheriff is the possibility Vowell may ask for deputies off the beat to provide security in the courts. Otherwise Vowell will not open the courts.

"The public has to realize this is not some game politicians are playing. The funds are not there and we got to have funds to keep the courts open and keep them safe." Vowell said.
Both Vowell and Christian hope Alabama lawmakers understand the seriousness of the problem and will come with another source of funding to replace the job tax.

Copyright 2011 WBRC. All rights reserved.