Greene County Commission approves proposal for 5-mil increase in ad valorem property tax for hospital and other agencies

At its regular monthly meeting on January 13, 2020, the Greene County Commission approved a proposal to request a 5-mil increase in the ad valorem property tax rate for Greene County.
The 5 mil increase would support six specific agencies and programs of Greene County that would be designated in the proposal, as follows:
• 3 mils for the Greene County Health System, for support of the hospital, emergency room, nursing home, physicians clinic and other health services
• 1 mil for the Greene County Commission General Fund
• .25 mil for Greene County Parks and Recreation Board
• .25 mil for Senior Citizens nutrition and other programs
• .25 mil for storm shelters
• .25 for Greene County Public Works Department
The proposal as passed contains approval of a one-cent sales tax for support of public housing activities in the county. The sales tax increase is independent of the 5 mils for a property tax increase.
The 5-mil property tax increase will have to be translated into a piece of local legislation, advertised for four consecutive weeks in the newspaper and passed by the Alabama Legislature. Once passed by the Legislature and signed by the Governor, the proposed increase will be voted on in a county-wide referendum, probably as part of the November 3, 2020 General Election.
“We are pleased to see this tax increase proposal passed by the Commission. This is a beneficial first step toward generating new revenues, from Greene County residents, to support keeping our hospital operating and able to respond to community needs. We will work in a unified way with other agencies to secure passage of local legislation and the referendum to make these funds a reality for the future,” said Dr. Marcia Pugh, CEO and Administrator of the Greene County Health System.
Currently Greene County residents are paying 40.5 mils toward the ad valorem property tax rate. The 5 mils would represent a modest 12% increase in the overall rate for county services including schools. This will be the first increase in over five years when the millage rate was increased to build the new high school.
According to the Revenue Commission, one mil of property tax, in Greene County, generates $160,000 or more in new revenues. The amount of tax is based on the total value of property, less exemptions and abatements. For the Greene County Health System this will mean $480,000 or more annually for operation and improvement of the hospital and related health services.
Paula Byrd, CFO for Greene County Commission presented the Financial Report for the county showing, as of December 2019, $2,680,817 in various accounts at Citizens Trust Bank, $4,462,859 in Merchants and Farmers Bank, as well as $1,055,048 and $617,239 in the Bank of New York investment bond sinking funds. She also reported that Greene County Commission had paid $ 740,686 in direct claims and $74,620 in electronic claims for the month of December 2019.
Byrd reported that all agencies were operating within budget and had spent about 25% of their fiscal year allowances (based on a fiscal year that began October 1, 2019 and had run for three months) with the exception of the Sheriff’s Department at 38% and the Jail at 34%. Ms. Byrd indicated she used contingency funds to cover the Sheriff and Jail overages but that the contingency funds were now totally committed and used for those purposes.
The Sheriff and the Jail receive 51% of the county’s total General Fund Budget and have agreed to supplement county funds, from bingo funds received by the Sheriff, for additional staffing, beyond the county’s budget.
Commissioner Lester Brown raised the question of whether the Sheriff had paid any of the funds he agreed to send to cover his staff and jail expenses. Byrd and Commission Chair Allen Turner said the Sheriff had not as yet paid any of the additional monies that he promised.
Brown said, “Things are getting out of hand. The Sheriff cannot buy a toothpick anymore until he pays us. We need to make plans to layoff additional staff, unless he pays the Commission what he owes us, before we go further in the hole on this.”
Commission attorney, Hank Sanders of Selma, explained that he and Commission Chair Allen Turner had negotiated an agreement with the Sheriff to pay $240,000 owed to cover budget overages for the past three months and a monthly amount to cover the budget shortfall. “This final agreement did not have a specific date, so technically the Sheriff has until the end of the month to pay the Commission,” said Sanders.
Commissioner Brown also pointed out that the Sheriff has negotiated an agreement with the pay telephone company providing phone service to the jail. The County Commission used to administer this contract and received $900 to $1,200 in monthly revenues from this contract. “Since June 2017, we have not seen the contract or the funds from the phone at the jail, “ said Brown. Commissioner Tennyson Smith reminded the commissioners that he had brought this to their attention when he was Chair of the Commission.
Since September 2019, Sheriff Benison has also withheld $72,000 a month in electronic bingo funds, previously allocated to the Greene County Commission, from the bingo machine fee.
The Sheriff said that the County Commission was not using the funds properly, under his rules, and that he was withholding them until the Commission can demonstrate that they were using the funds to benefit Greene County.
Many political observers of Greene County feel the rift between the Sheriff and the County Commission must be healed or there will be serious negative consequences for the benefits of electronic bingo to Greene County residents.
In other business, the Greene County Commission:
• approved a resolution in support of the 2020 Census and making sure that everyone in Greene County is counted;
• approved an ABC license for the Escape Lounge in Boligee;
• approved extending the deadline for garbage fee waiver from February 3 to 14, 2020;
• approved modifications in the Right-of-Way policies:
• approved sale of dump trucks to Jeff Martin;
• approved $17,417.61 for guardrails on three bridges, as
a match for Federal funds to repair these bridges;
• approved advertising and hiring temporary workers from the County Road Department; and
• approved travel for employees for training.

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