published Thursday, April 7th, 2011

Commission forming panel on PILOT funds

by Dan Whisenhunt

A committee including Hamilton County commissioners and school board members will meet over the next few months to discuss how to spend money from payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreements, commission Chairman Larry Henry said Wednesday.

“I think it’s important we improve our communication,” Henry said.

The committee will study how the county and school board will spend the PILOT funds, which the County Commission wants to earmark for school construction. School officials want the money put into the operating budget.

PILOT agreements are property tax breaks that excuse companies from tax bills for a period of time except for the schools’ share.

But school board Chairman Everett Fairchild initially said Wednesday that Henry had not shared some details of the committee plan with him.

Henry said Commissioner Warren Mackey; Board of Education member David Testerman; County Finance Administrator Louis Wright; County Auditor Bill McGriff; Christie Jordan, director of budgeting and accounting for the school system; and another school finance official would serve on the committee.

Fairchild at first said that wasn’t quite how he understood the committee’s setup.

“The idea that Commissioner Henry talked to me about was just to have someone from the board who would be the liaison and the line of communication,” Fairchild said.

After a few phone calls, however, Fairchild said school board members and county officials were “on the same page.”

He said it would be up to Testerman and Mackey to decide whether to call on the expertise of school finance officials, which he said would include Purchasing Director Leon Rash.

Mackey said during Wednesday’s commission meeting that the committee would hold its first meeting at 1 p.m. Tuesday in the school board office.

Henry said committee meetings would be open to the public, and the committee is expected to produce a report on PILOT funds by June 15.

Henry and Commissioner Fred Skillern also said before Wednesday’s meeting that county employee layoffs are possible because of budget constraints.

“As far as I’m concerned between job cuts and raising taxes, there will be job cuts,” Skillern said.

about Dan Whisenhunt...

Dan Whisenhunt covers Hamilton County government for the Times Free Press. A native of Mobile, Ala., Dan earned a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Alabama. He won first place for best in-depth news coverage in the 2010 Alabama Press Association contest; the FOI-First Amendment Award in the 2007 Alabama Press Association contest; first place for best public service story in the Alabama AP Managing Editors contest in 2009 for economic coverage; and ...

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