In April 14 IssueBy Derek AaronTimes Journal Editor
It was another meeting of intense debate and discussion between county and local business leaders regarding the recently passed occupational tax ordinance and the possibility of instituting a net profits cap on businesses in the county at Monday's regular meeting of the fiscal court.
Judge-Executive Gary Robertson presented the magistrates a list of counties and their payroll tax information as well as whether or not each county had any type of cap.
At a special called meeting late last month the court agreed that they needed some more information on how net profits caps work and despite no action being taken Monday on the issue, magistrates and Robertson heard from several members of the audience who were displeased with the court's recent actions, including several local business owners.
Stephens Pipe & Steel owner Terry Stephens, Superior Battery owner Randy Hart, Bennett's Carpets owner Ivan Bennett and Premier Integrity Solutions owner Brian Walters each spoke against the net profits cap, which would allow the court to bring in a portion of a company's profits for tax purposes.
Stephens again questioned the court as to why they needed this extra revenue from the payroll tax and potential net profits tax to begin with.
"I've asked you at least a dozen times to tell me how much equipment you need and I've never gotten an answer," Stephens said. Stephens also questioned the jail budget of $197,000, saying the county would receive a substantial amount more than what they were projecting. He again told the court that the community was sold on the aspect that the jail would be able to sustain itself once it was built and that he thought it could.
Stephens said the recent payroll tax amendment was passed with "no justification" as to why the county needed such an amount.
"This court did not ask the hard questions as to why you need this money and now here you back again," he said. "How dare this court take money that it doesn't take to operate this county. That is the most insulting thing, it's a shame."
Hart, who said he agreed with Stephens, told the court that the county should be ran like a business, because, in essence, that is all it is.
He asked the court to do "due diligence" when spending county money that it has brought in from such taxes.
Also at the meeting was Gene Royalty, the executive director of the Russell County Industrial Development Authority, who said it was his advice to the court to make sure and keep local companies happy as they provide a good portion of their revenue to the county through taxes.
He said the county's seven manufacturing companies employ more than 1,800 people and have a payroll of more than $50 million per year. Royalty pointed out that if the county was to attain new industries, they would be concerned with payroll tax numbers as well as what the attitude is toward business and industry in the community.
Before passing the payroll tax raise last month the county was looking at a budget shortfall of approximately $191,000 for the current fiscal year due to operational costs that include the 911 dispatch, funding to the financially struggling EMS and paying other counties to keep local inmates for several months during the closure of the old Russell County Jail as well as "unforeseen circumstances" on the new detention center.
The passed one percent occupational tax is estimated to bring in about $1.652 million in revenue to the county, up from the $440,000 that the .25 percent tax will provide for fiscal year 2010-11.
Before passage of the payroll tax increase, the county was projected to have a deficit of $1.254 million for the next fiscal year. This number does not include any loan repayment the county will have to receive to make it through this fiscal year, nor does it take into account rising fuel prices or other unforeseen expenses, including replacement of county equipment imperative in effectively functioning as a county.
Stephens said using his calculations he only saw where the county needed $800,000 or so to purchase one time expense, needed equipment and to cover other financial obligations and did not need the full $1.652 million the new tax will bring in.
The discussion lasted more than an hour and included other citizens in attendance as well. It remains to be seen whether the court will take any action on net profits as we head further into the month of April.
In other happenings at the meeting:
o Jailer Bobby Dunbar advised the court that he was still being paid as if he were the jailer of a life safety jail, like the former Russell County Jail was, and not that of a full service jail, which is what the new detention center is.
Dunbar said this makes him the lowest paid jailer of a full service jail in the state, a full 12 percent lower, and would like for his pay to be that of his peers statewide.
Dunbar's salary is a little more than $62,000 as of now but needs to be just over $70,000 to bring him in line with jailers of equivalent facilities statewide.
The problem comes from a decision the court made last year when they set the county employee wages which must be completed before May, just prior to them taking office. At the time the court set the wage the current detention center was still in its construction phase.
While Dunbar said he will continue to work as he has to maintain a quality detention center, it was his hope that the court could make things "right."
Following Dunbar's comments, county leaders asked County Attorney Kevin Shearer to look into the matter with the state department of corrections to determine what must be done, if anything, for Dunbar to receive the proper amount of pay.
o Dunbar gave the month's jail report, saying there was a daily average of 90 inmates at the 82-bed detention center. After giving the financial report for the month he said the total income for the jail was $15,445.07.
Currently, the detention center is housing 28 state inmates, according to Dunbar.
o The county is also in the process of hiring a new occupational tax administrator as the former administrator recently took a new job. Robertson said 36 had applied for the position and the county was currently in the process of interviews with a recommendation likely later this week.
o The county transferred $100,000 of allocated funds from the general fund to the jail fund.
o There will be a free dump day at the Russell County Landfill on April 20 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. During this day the Russell County Landfill will accept large trashed items too large for normal garbage service pickup.