Greene County Commission holds regular meeting; votes to require Sheriff Benison to meet financial commitments to retain staff

The Greene County Commission held its regular monthly meeting on May 11, 2020, at 3:00 PM in the Greene County courtroom. The Commissioners and audience maintained six feet social distancing requirements and most wore masks. Four commissioners: Allen Turner, Chairperson, Lester Brown, Roshonda Summerville, and Corey Cockrell, were present, with Tennyson Smith absent.
Most of the meeting, including a lengthy closed Executive Session, was devoted to the issue of getting Greene County Sheriff, Joe Benison, to meet his financial commitment to the county budget, to pay additional staff above the basic staff included in the budget for deputies, jailers and other staff.
The Sheriff and the County Commission negotiated an agreement at the beginning of the year, for the Sheriff to reimburse the County for additional staffing above the basic staff included in the regular budget. The Sheriff agreed to pay these additional staff, who are on the County payroll, out of funding he receives monthly in fees from electronic bingo operators.
For the past two months since the beginning of March, the electronic bingo establishments in Greene County have been closed due to the coronavirus and no bingo machine fees have been paid by bingo operators to governmental, educational, healthcare and other charitable recipients, including the Sheriff’s Department, which oversees bingo under local Constitutional Amendment 743.
After the Commission’s Executive Session, the members voted to contact Sheriff Benison to require payment of the funds due under the budgetary agreement or terminate the additional staff, who are listed in an attachment to the agreement.
The Commission further agreed that the Sheriff could substitute and amend the list of names of staff to be reduced, but not the number, based on current conditions.
Another topic discussed at the meeting was to consider a 4 mil increase in property taxes that could be approved locally without the action of the Legislature. This discussion arose because the prior proposed 5 mil increase in property taxes, which included 3 mils for the hospital and 2 mils for the County and other agencies, was not submitted by the Legislative delegation for approval.
State representatives A. J. McCampbell and Ralph Howard, as well as State Senator Bobby Singleton, said that since only three of Greene County’s five commissioners signed the 5 mil request, they would not submit the proposal to the Legislature’s local legislation committee. They say their policy is to only move forward with local legislation that is unanimously supported by all County Commissioners. Commissioners Tennyson Smith and Lester Brown did not sign the petition for the 5 mil increase.
If the 5 mil proposal had passed the Legislature it was still subject to a referendum by all voters in Greene County, probably at the November General Election.
Commission Chair Allen Turner said he learned that the County Commission may be able to support up to a four mil increase in property taxes, under special circumstances, without Legislative approval. The County Commission tabled this item, to seek more information to determine if this is a feasible route to generate more revenues and support for the hospital and other county agencies.
In other actions, the County Commission approved a financial report, payment of current bills and claims and a travel request for the Assistant Engineer to attend a June 10-11 training in Prattville, Alabama

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