Schools in Jefferson County Getting $13M More From the County Commission

Jefferson County Commission President Jimmie Stephens (Source: Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

April 10, 2018 – When Jefferson County commissioners announced they were presenting $69 million to public schools in the county with the reallocation of the 1-cent sales tax, they said another check was coming.

Tuesday, commissioners announced that subsequent check is on the way. During their committee meeting, they passed a resolution to distribute $13,221,000 to schools.

A Sept. 30 audit reported that sum was collected on the school sales tax after the bonds associated with the tax were refinanced in July. Money will be distributed to schools using the same formula used in the July distribution.

“The initial $69 million is moneys that were in-house when we refunded the debt,” Commissioner David Carrington said. “Subsequent to refunding, the June sales tax went in the bucket (and) July, August and September.”

That brings the amount distributed to schools from the tax to $82 million. Going forward, the schools’ portion from the tax will be $18 million a year.

“It’s almost like getting a whole other year,” Carrington said.

School systems can use this money any way they see fit.

The 1-cent sales tax originated in 2005 to build infrastructure for the Jefferson County school system.

“Once that (was) paid down, we refinanced that money and those additional dollars are now being applied to the citizens of Jefferson County and the students of Jefferson County,” Commission President Jimmie Stephens said.

Helicopter for Law Enforcement

Also in the meeting, commissioners said the county has bought a used helicopter from Airbus Helicopters for $1.8 million, half to be paid this year and half next year. The county expects to get the helicopter in mid-October

Stephens called the move a game-changer for law enforcement.

“It’s going to give us … the infrared capability where if you have an Alzheimer’s patient that’s lost in the woods, you’ll be able to immediately find them, he said. “If you have a felon that’s hiding in the bushes, we can go down and immediately discover him and lead ground troops to take care of him. It will be available to any municipality that participates in the Metro Area Crime Center.”

The Sheriff’s Department has had a helicopter, but it is 42 years old and no longer in use.

Also on the transportation front, commissioners said several cities have asked to be given law enforcement vehicles that are being replaced in the Sheriff’s Department fleet. Two cars each are going to Lipscomb, Brookside and Brighton. County staffers are looking at a request from Fairfield.

“We’re going through our inventory to make sure we’ve got serviceable cars,” Stephens said. “They can’t afford new cars and we’ve been there. Having been through bankruptcy, we remember when the sheriff had to refurbish cars because we didn’t have money to purchase new cars.

“We understand,” he continued. “We’re all in this together.”

Reduced Legal Fees

Carrington took a moment during Tuesday’s meeting to praise the county attorney’s office for saving the county money in legal fees. During bankruptcy, the county was spending about $1 million a month in legal fees, much of it to outside law firms.

“One of our goals for Theo (Lawson, the county attorney) was to drive down the legal fees and begin handling more of the litigation in-house, especially with the consent decree, where we paid Maynard Cooper millions,” Carrington said. “Now we’re down to hundreds of thousands.”

The county’s legal fees for October 2016 through February 2017 were $882,710.20. The fees for the October 2017 through February 2018 were $349,980.84, a decrease of more than $500,000.

“We gave Theo a goal and he’s accomplished the goal. I’m not getting any suggestions we’re not getting good legal representation and we’re doing well in the court system. We asked him to do something and he did it.”

Hazardous Waste Drop-Off

Commissioners also discussed a Household Hazardous Waste Free Drop-Off Day on Saturday, April 21. Residents of Bessemer, Sylvan Springs and unincorporated Jefferson County can bring items to the city of Bessemer Public Works Laydown Yard, at 1205 15th Avenue North in Bessemer.

Acceptable items are:

  • Aerosol spray cans (with content).
  • Batteries (auto and alkaline).
  • Electronics (TVs, computers, cell phones).
  • Fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides.
  • Motor oil and vehicle fluids (antifreeze, brake fluid, mixed gas).
  • Paint (latex and oil based).
  • Paper (paper shredding available).
  • Preservatives.
  • Stains, varnishes and solvents (thinners, strippers and removers).
  • Tires.
  • Used cooking oil.

Unacceptable items are:

  • Agricultural chemicals.
  • Asbestos.
  • Commercial or business waste.
  • Explosives.
  • Furniture or mattresses.
  • Large appliances (air conditioners, washers, dryers, refrigerators, freezers).
  • Lawn equipment.
  • Medical waste (syringes).
  • Prescription medications.
  • PCBs.
  • Radioactive material.
  • Smoke detectors.