By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Thursday, January 19, 2012 the Jefferson County State Legislative Delegation met in the Fultondale City Hall with members of the Jefferson County Mayor’s Association on how to assist bankrupt Jefferson County. Jefferson County Manager Toney Petelos and Jefferson County Commissioners Joe Knight and Jimmy Stephens also attended.
State Representative Paul DeMarco (R-Homewood) said that the delegation and the mayors were “trying to figure out what we can do to work in the best interests of Jefferson County.” Rep. DeMarco said that group had proposed legislation to allow Jefferson County residents to renew their automobile tags in their local city halls instead of having to wait in long lines at the Jefferson County Courthouse. Rep. Demarco said that 70 to 80 percent of the people in those lines were there simply to renew their automobile license plates. Rep. DeMarco said that this proposed solution “would help with the lines” at the courthouse.
Vestavia Hills Mayor Alberto “Butch” Zaragoza said, “We have been working on what we can do to get better service for our citizens.” Mayor Zaragoza said that the group had had meetings with the tax assessor’s office, Governor Bentley, and the state of Alabama Revenue Department on how to set it up where residents of a city in Jefferson County could renew their car tags at their own city hall without having to make the journey to a county courthouse.
Mayor Zaragoza said that this program would not be mandatory for either the Jefferson County municipalities or the residents. He stressed that another solution to the problem of the long lines at the Courthouse is educating the public so that they know they can avoid the long lines altogether by renewing their car tags online or by mailing in their renewals.
For those that still need to pay in person, Mayor Zaragoza said that they were exploring setting up kiosks to set up in participating city halls where a resident could go to renew their tags. This is done in many other states; but not yet in Alabama. Mayor Zaragoza estimated that the cost of putting up eight license tag kiosks at between $200,000 and $300,000.
Rep. DeMarco said that he thought that it could be done for less than that and that if the delegation passed the appropriate legislation authorizing the kiosks, then they could be in place by January 2013. Rep. DeMarco said that they “have not gotten into the details of the money.”
Rep. Roderick “Rod” Smith (D-Fairfield) asked, “Are you establishing a task force of committee to look at the tags? Technology also comes with a cost.”
Rep Smith said, “You need to do a workflow analysis or you could create a new burden on the county.”
Rep. DeMarco said they had met with the Alabama Department of Revenue and that they could do the training for the county and municipal employees involved with the plan.
Rep. Mary Moore (D-Birmingham) said that “kiosks are something that we are looking at.”
The controversial subject of passing a new occupation tax also came up in the meeting. Fultondale Mayor Jim Lowery said, “I believe we have cut to the bone I don’t know how we can continue to run the libraries. Funding is necessary for every operation of government.”
Rep. Smith said, “We have to mature to the point that we understand that sometimes taxes have to be raised. We have to make sure that funding is there.”
Rep. Merika Coleman (D-Birmingham) challenged Jefferson County Manager Tony Petelos “to get out in the community and talk about what will happen if we don’t get new revenue streams.”
An occupation tax is a payroll tax on all the workers who work within the jurisdiction no matter where they live. It is unconstitutional under the Alabama Constitution for a county government to impose an income tax. Supporters of the occupation tax say that an occupation tax is not an illegal income tax because it applies only to payroll and not passive income like rents, dividends, capital gains, or interest. None of the 67 county governments in the state of Alabama currently have an occupation tax.
The past two Jefferson County Occupation Taxes were both thrown out by the Alabama Supreme Court because the court determined that they were implemented illegally, the first time because the county had kept collecting the tax for years after the state legislature had ended it and the last one because the tax was not properly advertised before the special session which implemented it. Following the overturning of the last occupation tax, Jefferson County closed satellite courthouses and laid off courthouse workers which has led to long lines at the courthouse. This week the Jefferson County Commission unanimously passed a resolution asking the state legislature to impose a new occupation tax on the workers of Jefferson County in the next legislative session, which begins on February 7.