The question of whether convenience fees will be added to over-the-counter transactions with the Jefferson County Revenue Department will be answered when the County Commission conducts its meeting Thursday at the courthouse in Bessemer.
Outgoing chief financial officer John Henry said nearly two weeks ago that a plan for addressing the shortfall in the Revenue Department’s budget that came because of increased use of credit cards and debit cards would be unveiled at today’s committee meeting.
Henry said the matter goes back to the commission meeting, as it previously had been discussed in committee.
“Because of the way they tabled it, they’ll have to bring it up on Thursday instead of Tuesday,” said Henry, who by then will have left town for his new job as CFO of the American Public Transportation Association in Washington, D.C.
Interim county CFO Travis Hulsey will present the findings of their study. Hulsey said he and Henry were asked to go back and examine whether the county could programmatically set up a maximum fee and whether the convenience fee could be waived for some income levels.
“We have vetted all that through our credit card processing company,” Hulsey said. “They went back and talked to all their internal technicians. I just got a response late Friday afternoon that they were not able to do that programmatically because it would require them to bill us for two different types (of processing.) It would cause them a lot of technical issues on their end to try to program all that.”
Hulsey said the credit card processing company had already gone out of its way to permit Jefferson County to apply a partial convenience fee instead of the full fee.
At the last meeting, Hulsey proposed a 1% convenience fee of no less than $1.95 be added to over-the-counter business conducted by credit or debit card with Jefferson County. At the last meeting, Hulsey said the use of credit and debit cards cost Jefferson County $315,000 in fiscal 2016 and $688,000 last year.
He said the revenue department is projecting $900,000 for the processing of credit and debit cards this year, a 30% increase over the prior year.
“As we mentioned before, the only three options that I see are to provide the convenience fee to help us stay in budget, eliminate convenience fees at a certain point once we reach our budget threshold or find some revenue source I’m not aware of right now where we can fund the additional cost,” Hulsey said. “That would be an ongoing increase in cost as credit card utilization continues to increase. It may be $1.2 million next year, or $1.5 million or $2 million.”
Mass Transit Costs
Also Tuesday, Commissioners saw a presentation about mass transit. Afterward, Commissioner Joe Knight repeated that he didn’t want county money provided to Birmingham Jefferson County Transit Authority to become a perpetual drain on the county.
“Each time we’ve reached out to help them, it seems like they come back and say, ‘That wasn’t enough. We need a little more,’” Knight said.
The commission allotted $109,207 for a pilot program to provide bus service to Lipscomb, Adamsville, Fairfield, Brighton and a portion of unincorporated Jefferson County that includes Forestdale. Commissioners budgeted $250,000 in fiscal 2020 to offset the cost of providing service to the aforementioned areas.
Chief deputy county manager Walter Jackson will arrange a meeting with the transit authority so commissioners can get an update on where service stands now.
In other matters:
— Knight told his fellow commissioners that the Birmingham Humane Society had entered into a preliminary agreement to purchase land to build a new facility.
“I know the general area … somewhere off Lakeshore, near Red Mountain Park,” he said, “but I don’t know the specifics. It’s a 27-acre site as I understand.”
The project would include an intake station/kennel, an animal hospital and an adoption facility, Knight said. “The county has to provide a pound by law and we want to continue to partner with them,” he said. “We want to give these animals the best chance they can have to get a home.”
— Commissioner Steve Ammons, the chair of economic development, talked about meeting recently with economic allies about land opportunities that are available for development.
“There’s one big project that we’re hoping to land here in the county,” he said. “That will be a great number of jobs and will require 200 acres. We’ve got our fingers crossed that that comes through.”
Ammons said Jefferson County is competing with Chattanooga and Jackson, Mississippi.
— Knight told his fellow commissioners about efforts to lure the International Police and Fire Games to the Birmingham area.
“We have a really good opportunity to land it in ’25,” he said. “I’ve talked to some of the police and fire people and they’re very excited … that those games would actually come to Birmingham, Alabama.”
Jefferson County committed $2.5 million to the 2021 World Games and Knight said the county would be asked to pledge $2 million for the Police and Fire Games, which Knight expects would draw more people than the World Games.
“It’s a huge event when it comes to athletes,” he said. “It’s anywhere from 8,000 to 10,000 athletes and we don’t have to house them like we do with the athletes of the World Games. It will be a tremendous boon to the economy with people coming here shopping, residing, eating.”