The Jackson County Commission has been discussing its financial problems for months, but where does the problem lie?
It is actually a number of things. The Jackson County Commission cannot create any additional income to help supplement their revenue. They do not receive any of the county’s nine percent sales tax. Plus, TVA in lieu of taxes took another big drop this year.
The Jackson County Commission is looking at a $623,574 budget deficit for the 2020 fiscal year and it is losing $250,000 from TVA in lieu of taxes. It was taking five percent of the education sales tax as an administrative fee, but it found out it could not do that anymore.
The commission paid about $800,000 back to the county and city school systems. It had $500,000 budgeted for 2019, but that money is now gone. The county unexpectedly lost $750,000.
Commission Chairman Tim Guffey has said multiple times that a one-cent sales tax would fix all of the county’s problems, but the commission cannot vote to add the tax. The county is limited to what the local legislative delegation can do for them.
For a local bill to be passed, it has to be advertised four consecutive weeks and it has to pass through the legislature before it can be voted on by the public.
State Sen. Steve Livingston said he does not think the voters in Jackson County would “fly for that right now,” adding that the legislative delegation is hearing more from the public that they do not want it.
A one-cent sales tax increase for Jackson County was voted down in 2015. A total of 6,572 votes were cast, with 3,947 people (60.1%) voting no and 2,622 people (39.9%) voting yes.
Of the nine percent sales tax in Jackson County, the state government gets four percent, city government gets three percent, and the other two percent is split between the county and city school systems.
The delegation could levy a tax without a county-wide vote, but Livingston said, “I don’t think the legislative group is particularly interested in levying a tax.”
Guffey has mentioned that the delegation could give the commission power to levy the tax without a vote by letting them have home rule. Livingston was not fond of that idea either.
“We’ve got a great county commission right now,” said Livingston, “but what happens when the next group comes in and they’re renegades and they’re levying taxes and we have no checks on them?”
Livingston did say that a one-cent sales tax increase would solve all the county’s financial problems because the increase would amount to about $6 million for the county.
“I think they would love to have that, it would almost double their revenue,” said Livingston. “But we’re looking at a $600,000 deficit, not $6 million.”
Livingston said the decrease in TVA in lieu of taxes and the education administrative fee may have caught the county off guard. “I don’t think this is anything they did not know was coming,” he said.
Livingston said the commission and legislative delegation have met a number of times and they will continue to meet and try to work with the commission to find a solution. Guffey said the delegation has turned down over 10 options the commission have presented.
“I can’t snap my fingers and give them a check,” said Livingston.
In 2012, the Jackson County Commission received $2,353,596 in TVA in lieu of tax dollars. In 2019, they received $1,318,872. In seven years, the county’s TVA in lieu of tax dollars have reduced over $1 million.
The city of Scottsboro, the Jackson County School Board of Education and the Scottsboro City School Board of Education have seen a reduction as well, but those entities have since seen a gain in sales tax dollars.
“What other entity can take cuts like that and still operate?” asked Guffey. “We’re elected to do a job, and we can’t do it because our hands are tied.”
Livingston said the legislative delegation will continue to meet with the commission to try to find a resolution. He said he did not know if the resolution is a new tax or if the commission is going to have to tighten its belt.
The Jackson County Commission’s 2019 fiscal year budget is posted at https://jacksoncountyal.gov/239/Commission.