State Senator Dial to Introduce new Tobacco Tax Bill that would Eliminate County funds

Thursday, July 27, 2017- Just minutes after releasing a statement regarding the controversy surrounding a lawsuit filed on behalf of the Clay County commissioners,  the plot thickened.  Commissioners received an email of yet another new bill to be introduced to the Senate that would take away all the funding to the commission.

The previous bill regarding the distribution of the tobacco tax funds within the county, SB65, passed in March 2017, to be put into effect in October 2017 showed the following percentages as follows:

(1) Thirty-two percent to the Alabama Forestry Commission to be utilized for fire protection in the county, as provided in subsection (b).
(2) Twenty percent to the Clay County Industrial Development Council.
(3) Eighteen percent to the Clay County Animal Shelter. The Clay County Animal Shelter shall annually report 8 to the county commission regarding the expenditure of the 9 funds in the preceding year.
(4) Fifteen percent to the Clay County Commission to be deposited into a special fund in the county treasury and, subject to an application process developed by the county commission, disbursed to water districts in the county for the purpose of installing feeder lines. The county commission shall have the authority to develop guidelines, promulgate 16 rules, and institute an application process to provide for the disbursement of the funds.
(5) Fifteen percent shall be retained in the Clay 19 County General Fund to be utilized as are other county funds.
(b) The funds distributed to the Alabama Forestry Commission shall be payable on a quarterly or monthly basis and will be expended solely for purposes of fire protection, prevention, and fire safety education in order to encourage a strong volunteer firefighters’ network in Clay County.

The New Bill in question, just received today, reads that State Senator Dial will introduce changes in these figures  distributed to show that the Alabama Forestry would now receive 62% of the Tobacco Tax funds, 20% to the Industrial Development Council, and 18% to the Clay County Animal Shelter.

This would completely de-fund the Commission, possibly causing a major water project of almost 10 million dollars to be halted, as well as cut services offered to the citizens and/or put county jobs in danger.

Below is the press release by the Commissioners made earlier today:

In response to the letter from the Clay County Animal Shelter, regarding the lawsuit surrounding SB65.

The Clay County Commission has supported the animal shelter to the tune of $5000 per year. Those funds are included in the 2017 budget and currently there have been no plans made to change any of that. However in response to the commission stance to oppose this bill, let’s look at the whole picture.


Senator Dial took it upon himself to introduce this legislation in Montgomery without so much as discussing it with the commission or any other leaders in this county. As a commission we must make decisions based on what is best for the county as a whole. Funds continue to shrink, people continue to move away, and no new funds become available. We want what’s best for this county. Period. But is it fair for a senator to divert money without discussing it with the people it affects? Now if he wants to put it on a ballot and let the people of the county decide to give that money to the animal shelter, we will gladly back away, even if we have to cut funds elsewhere. Because that’s what will happen. As it stands now, this has been much like taxation without representation. When an elected official just decides to use his office to heavy hand the local government. Does that sound fair?

The Commission is challenging the constitutionality of SB65 because:

A. The state constitution states that public money cannot be distributed to a private entity not under the control of the state or any of its subdivisions unless those appropriations were approved by a 2/3rds vote of all members elected to each house. SB65 violates article IV ss 73 of the Alabama constitution
B. Only 16 of 35 members of the senate and 18 of 105 members of the house voted in favor of this legislation. Clearly this is not 2/3rds in either house.

It is important to note that we continue to lose funds from the state and federal government. For instance federal payment in leiu of taxes ( for national forest) dropped from $83,850 in 2016 to just $48,277 in 2017.

As for the statement made by the animal shelter that due to this action by the commission they can no longer accept animals, how is that the case? There have been no funds removed from the shelter. Not one dime. The same funds that the shelter has been receiving will continue. This lawsuit is to stop more funds from being pulled from the county and shifted to the animal shelter. So how does that stop the operation of the shelter? It has been operating until notification of this action. And just so the public knows, even if the action was allowed to stand, no funds would go towards the shelter until NEXT year. How does that affect the shelter today?
The bottom line is this. The money is not there to offer that much support to the animal shelter. Where should we cut services to do so? Because that is what will have to happen if that much is pulled away from the general fund.

For informational purposes here is a breakdown of the county general fund expenditures for 2017 thus far

For 2017, there has been general fund expenditures of $2,397,487.23:

$1,234,956.06 to the sheriffs office and jail. That’s roughly 55% of the general fund
$478,336.36 was For commission office, staff, upkeep of all county buildings
$33,006.50 for board of registrars
$3,470.74 for airport
$9,153.36 for farmers market
$43,465.11 for county maintenance department
$106,161.94 for EMA
$14,262.58 for coroner
$213,747.73 for probate office and staff
$29,115.75 for courthouse (utilities)
$17,761.01 for courthouse security
$14,218.75 for the supernumerary pay (retirement to former Sherriff
$8,072.47 for the recycling center
$34,754.52 for the elderly transport
$5000 for rescue squad
$5000 for animal shelter

Also included in these are the commission responsibilities for state offices located here in the county. We are required by the state to pay these.

$82,160.34 for the revenue commissioner
$3,226.63 for phones in circuit judge
$1,825.28 for phones in circuit clerks office
$5,259.87 for telephone and utilities for district attorney
$316.80 for phone for juvenile probation office
$257.76 for phone for drivers license office
$4,452.32 for utilities and phone for extension office

Clay County Commissioners. Photo courtesy of The Clay-Times Journal

Signed, Clay County Commissioners

  • Bennie Morrison, District 1
  • Donald Harris, District 2
  • Ray Milstead, District 3/ Chairman
  • Greg Denney, District 4
  • Ricky Burney

In a letter released earlier from Sharon Forbus submitted earlier to Senator Dial, who was desperately asking for help for the shelter:

Dear Senator Dial,

I’m certain that you have heard by now that the Clay County Commission, namely Benny Morrison, Ray Milstead and Mary Woods have filed a complaint for declaratory judgment and other declaratory relief against Clinton Carter, Dr. Kathleen Baxter and the Clay County Animal Shelter seeking the Circuit court of Clay County to declare SB65 AS unconstitutional and void, for a permanent injunction against providing that CCAS any of the tobacco receipts, plaintiff’s attorney’s fees and any other relief deemed appropriate by the court. As you know the shelter is run by volunteers and donations are used for it’s survival. In the past, we received $5,000/yr from the Commission, $500/Mon. from the City of Ashland and $150/mon. from the City of Lineville. Our treasurer, Frankie Gravette was informed by Ray Milstead that the shelter would no longer be receiving funds from the County. We are uncertain as to how to proceed. We do not have funding to hire an attorney and even though I practiced law in the Army for 16 years, I am not admitted to the Alabama bar and, therefore, cannot represent the Shelter in court. Without funding this shelter cannot stay in operation. We Don’t know what to do.

Please help our shelter.

Sharon Forbus

The Clay County Animal Shelter is in dire need of funds to ensure the facility can keep their doors open. Anyone wishing to donate the Shelter can do so here:

https://www.gofundme.com/shelter-legal-fund

 

 

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