Commission holds public hearing on 5mil tax increase Greene County Commission suspends pay for 11 members of the Sheriff’s staff since he has not met agreement to cover additional salaries

A long simmering dispute between the Greene County Commission and Sheriff Jonathan Benison came to a boil this week.
The Greene County Commission budgeted $1,251,489 for the operation of the Sheriff’s Department and the Jail, for the fiscal year beginning October 1, 2019. This is more than half of the County’s General Fund Budget and is in line with surrounding counties of similar size in the state.
The Sheriff in the past has chosen to supplement these budgetary funds, with funds paid to support the Sheriff’s Department by electronic bingo. The Sheriff has not paid any supplementary funds during this fiscal year since October 1, 2019, to help cover the salaries of his staff. The County Commission used contingency funds to cover the additional staff but the full annual contingency allocation for the County General Fund for all agencies was used by the end of December.
The Greene County Commission reached an agreement with the Sheriff at the end of December that he would pay $940,000 in annual supplementary funds, on a monthly basis, to cover his additional staff. The monthly base amount is $78,300, with a monthly increment to cover the three months ($240,000), which had not been paid to that point.
Allen Turner, County Commission Chairperson said, “ I have met with the Sheriff and his attorney numerous times, over the past four months and he knows the agreement. He agreed to make his initial payment by the end of January 2020. As of today – February 5 – he has not paid us anything. We had no choice but to suspend his staff until the Sheriff does what he agreed to do.”
The 11 staff members, 5 deputies, 5 jailers and an administrative staff member were selected based on senority.
Their end of the month payroll is being held pending resolution of this disagreement between the Sheriff and the Commission.
During this same time period (beginning with the month of September 2019), the Sheriff Benison has not paid to the Greene County Commission, the montly $72,000 in bingo license fees, that were previously paid to the County government and used as matching funds for Federal and state highway construction and repair.
At press time, the Democrat checked and there was no resolution of this budgetary and financial disagreement between Sheriff Benison and the County Commission.
Public Hearing held
On Wednesday, January 29, 2020, the Greene County Commission held a public hearing on its proposal to raise ad valorem property taxes by 5 mils for the Greene County Health System and other agencies.
The 5 mil increase would support six specific agencies and programs of Greene County and 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
Currently a mil of additional property tax generates $160,000 additional revenues, from the appraised tax rolls of Greene County, for use by the agencies. Twenty Greene County residents attended the public hearing and some made comments.
Iris Sermon from E-911 urged the Commission to make sure all of the agencies to be supported by this tax increase are accountable and report their work regularly to the Commission.
Nick Wilson with the Greene County Ambulance Service asked why funding for EMS and the ambulance was not included in the tax increase proposal.
James E. Morrow of Boligee asked why the Greene County Golf Course was not included in the proposal.
Jane Mays of Jena said her taxes were regularly going up and did not see a need to pay new taxes.
Gilda Jowers suggested that the Commission consider an occupancy tax for people employed in Greene County and hire grant writers as an alternative to raising the property tax.
Commissioner Turner said that the Commission has been studying the finances for a while and this was their best proposal at this time. At the end of the hearing the Commission voted to formally approve the proposal for a 5 mil increase in the property taxes as proposed and send it on to the Greene County Legislative Delegation for approval.
The Commission proposal must be advertised in a local newspaper for four weeks, submitted to the Legislative Delegation, approved as local legislation and signed by the Governor.
After this process, the bill for a 5 mil increase in property tax, will be a local amendment subject to approval by a referendum of the voters in Greene County in the November 3, 2020 General Election.