Jefferson County Commission President Jimmie Stephens gave Commissioner Joe Knight a hearty handshake at the end of a nearly two-hour committee meeting of the commission, congratulating the finance chairman as the 2024 fiscal budget went to the agenda of Thursday’s commission meeting.
“This budget’s been a work in progress,” Knight said. “I think we’re going to be fine with it. We still gotta try to keep an eye out on the economy, where it’s going. We’ve still got the refunding coming up. There are a lot of moving parts to this.”
As is the case every year, county department heads make their case for money they believe they need. Some, Knight said, did so without itemizing their request.
That didn’t fly, the finance chairman said.
“It’s like your math teacher used to tell you: ‘Show your work,’” Knight said. “That’s all we’re asking. But hey, we’re at a number where I think everybody’s going to be OK.”
The overall budget is $1 billion and the general fund is about $270,000. The budget includes funding for the Jefferson County Greenways Commission, the Magic City Classic, the Ag Center, Freshwater Land Trust and Birmingham Bowl. United Ability, Independence Place and Exceptional Foundation also got some funding in the budget.
Some of these items have been bones of contention in previous budget seasons. Knight tied them to a fairly new funding source – the Simplified Sellers Use Tax — to earmark their funding.
“It started in 2017. There was $54 million generated statewide and nobody cared,” he said. “In 2022, it was $700 million. Everybody cares now. Everybody’s looking at the pie. That’s a source of revenue that nobody’s had before. It’s new revenue, basically. It’s become very important.”
SSUT is the tax that is paid on online purchases. As Knight explained it, a $108 purchase would send $8 to the Alabama Department of Revenue. Four dollars of that $8 would go to the state, the cities would get $2.40 of the $8 and the counties, $1.60.
“At the end of the month, the Department of Revenue takes, let’s say the county (portion of the tax), and they distribute that money to every county, based on that county’s population,” he said. “Cities do the same thing.”
Knight, the new president of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama, said some have sought to change the way SSUT is distributed.
“We’re fine in the county commission, and I speak for the County Commission Association, we’re fine with the way it is,” he said. “If you want to change it, we’re not going to take less.”
Knight said there is still work to do as some entities are seeking funding.
“We’ll have some more discussion next commission meeting on some of this money that we put over into this other pot,” he said. “There are some other people that are requesting funding that we’re going to take on an individual basis.”
Knight can’t rest just yet as the county must refinance its sewer debt in fiscal 2024.
“We’ve got to concentrate on refunding that sewer debt,” he said. “If we can get that done, I might take a break.”