Coal severance tax distribution and supernumerary retirement were among several issues discussed during the work session, which was open to the public and held in the commission’s meeting chambers at the Walker County Courthouse.
Commissioners are split on the idea of changing the way the coal tax is distributed. The funds, which are estimated to be around $530,000 this year, are currently distributed equally to each of the county’s four districts. Two commissioners, Dan Wright (District 2) and Bobby Nunnelley (District 3), have proposed changing the way the tax is divided. The two introduced at a meeting on March 18 a proposal to divide the funds by road miles in each district at a meeting on March 18.
At that time, District 4 Commissioner Steven Aderholt said he was strongly opposed to the idea, while District 1 Commissioner Keith Davis said he needed more time to think about the issue.
During Wednesday’s work session, the commissioners remained divided on the issue. Davis provided estimated milage in each district. District 3 is the largest in the county with 355 miles, District 2 follows with 350 miles, while District 4 and District 1 have 279 miles and 226 miles, respectively.
“We are talking about a small amount of money when we look at the big picture,” Davis said. “If we voted to approve this idea, it would add $26,000 to District 3 and about $10,000 to District 2. That doesn’t solve the problem of District 3’s shortfall. It has been that way for years, and it’s because that district has never had the capability to properly take care of its road problems. We need to find a solution to the problem, and I don’t see a solution with this idea.”
Wright said a petition is currently being passed around in areas of District 2 and District 3.
“The citizens in those districts want the roads fixed,” he said. “I would get here early if you want a seat at the next meeting, because they want this approved. In the case of a tie, they want Chairman (Billy) Luster to support the bigger districts.”
Adderholt said he would not vote for anything that takes away funds from District 4.
“I don’t know what we are arguing about. The amount of money we are talking about isn’t going to repair the roads in your district,” Adderholt told Nunnelley. “If I gave you $7 million it wouldn’t fix those roads.”
Nunnelley said, “I just want to fix some potholes and this money could help with that.”
Wright said there were no hard feelings after the discussion.
“We are not fighting each other — we are fighting for our districts,” Wright said. “We’re going to have differences, but we are not going to take those differences personally. We all want to do what is best for our districts and the entire county.”
During the administrative session, commissioners also discussed a proposal to end supernumerary retirement, which was also brought up at the group’s March 18 meeting.
Walker County is one of five counties in the state that does not give certain elected officials access to the Retirement Systems of Alabama for their retirement. Currently, officials such as the sheriff and revenue commissioner pay into a fund for their retirement. When they no longer serve the county, they are appointed to a supernumerary position and are paid from that account by the county.
The proposed change would eliminate supernumerary positions and allow those officials and other elected officials to pay into the RSA the same as all other county employees.
Sheriff John Mark Tirey and Revenue Commissioner Jerry Gutherie spoke to commissioners Wednesday about the issue. The two officials wanted to be sure they could keep their supernumerary status if the change was made.
Commissioners assured Tirey and Gutherie they would have the choice of keeping supernumerary status or joing the RSA. After checking numbers, Tirey said it would cost him $250,000 to buy into the RSA. Both men suggested the cost would be too great to join RSA.
If the proposal is approved, it would go to the Legislature as a local bill and would eventually be put on a ballot for approval by citizens.
The proposal would also allow commissioners the opportunity to put money into the state retirment program, but Davis said he would like to see more numbers before voting on the issue to make sure it wouldn’t cost the county more than they currently pay. “This came at us pretty quick,” he said. “It’s something that I would consider, but I think we still need some more hard numbers.”