All five Jefferson County Commissioners agreed Wednesday that the only solution to the county’s $40 million budget deficit is a new occupational tax, likely identical to the one struck down by the courts two years ago. That tax was struck down after the courts found the Alabama Legislature had amended the bill so much that it inadequately resembled the bill that had been advertised.
Losing the occupational tax has thrown the county’s general fund into a tailspin. Even after cutting its general fund budget nearly in half and firing more than 500 employees, the county’s general fund budget is $40 million out of balance and the county is burning through its dwindling reserves.
Last week County Manager Tony Petelos met with department heads to identify further budget cuts. On Wednesday, he agreed with commissioners that further cuts would be difficult, if not impossible, without drastically impacting services for citizens.
While a new tax has bipartisan and unanimous support on the commission, it is likely to run into opposition from both Democrats and Republicans in the Alabama Legislature, which must approve the tax for it to be enacted.
Before it was struck down by the courts, the occupational tax provided the county with its largest source of unearmarked revenue. On Wednesday, Commission President David Carrington warned that unearmarking alone would not solve the county’s problems.
“Some would have you believe that if you unearmark $20 million, that leaves you with $20 million you didn’t have before, and that’s just not the case,” Carrington said.
Even if the Legislature unearmarks some funds, the county is still left with the expenses those funds previously paid, he said.