Jackson County, Ala., eyeing tag fee

Jackson County, Ala., eyeing tag fee

January 8th, 2014 by Ben Benton in Local Regional News

Matthew Hodges

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

Jason Venable

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

Dennis Miller

Photo by Contributed Photo/Times Free Press.

As Jackson County, Ala., swings into the new year, its government is facing a more than $1 million budget deficit that has officials eyeing a couple of new local laws that could cut the deficit and increase revenue streams.

"We've got two things that we're going to be pushing," County Commission Chairman Matthew Hodges said Tuesday.

The County Commission over the last couple of months passed a resolution for solid waste funds and parks funds to be used in the county general fund and readied it for possible passage by the Alabama Legislature, which is required to enact the resolutions as new local laws.

The commission also passed a resolution for a $5 automobile tag fee to be assessed on every vehicle county residents own, but the fee first must go before Jackson County voters to be enacted.

If they're made local law, the two measures could cut the deficit by about 60 percent, Hodges said.

"Those are the two that are going to benefit the county the most," he said. "Even with that, we'll still have a deficit [of about $400,000]."

The ideas have gotten a "mixed reaction" from residents, Hodges admits, and he says most people don't like new fees but understand why the measures are on the table.

Commissioner Jason Venable voted against the measure to allow solid waste and parks funds to be used in the general fund.

Venable supported the idea of allowing parks funds to be used in the general fund but he balked at doing the same with solid waste funds, he said.

"I could have voted for the solid waste part if they'd attached a dollar amount to it," he said. "But I wanted to prevent it from becoming a tax.

"You don't have a choice of paying the garbage bill. If you have an address and a power meter you get a garbage bill," he said.

Parks funds are derived from voluntarily paid rental fees and charges, he said. Venable said he favored the tag fee but hoped to do away with it if the budget could be balanced without it.

Commissioner Dennis Miller said all the measures are still a work in progress with a primary goal in mind.

"We're just trying to balance our budget, and we've got to do some things that may not be popular, but we're going to try and do our jobs," Miller said. "We're just hopeful that we can get the ball rolling."

Late in 2013, Jackson County officials identified the deficit as around $900,000, but Hodges said a shift in the Tennessee Valley Authority's in-lieu-of-taxes payments nipped another $100,000 from expected revenues, raising the deficit above the $1 million mark.

Hodges said the commission during Monday's work session discussed reorganizing the county maintenance department to realize some possible savings.

If the two measures already on the table die, the options then narrow to making more cuts, likely to personnel, Hodges said.

"It won't be pretty," he said.

Jackson County has about 250 employees, and the salaries of about 175 fall under the county's general fund.

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569.