Officials look at merits of using deputy

Commission debates license inspector job

By ED HOWELL
Posted 2/14/19

Walker County Chairman Jerry Bishop prefers a new business license inspector to not be a deputy from the Walker County Sheriff's Office, while District 1 Commissioner Keith Davis and District 4 …

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Officials look at merits of using deputy

Commission debates license inspector job

Posted

Walker County Chairman Jerry Bishop prefers a new business license inspector to not be a deputy from the Walker County Sheriff's Office, while District 1 Commissioner Keith Davis and District 4 Commissioner Steven Aderholt suggested using a deputy. 

At a work session Monday, the commission talked about business license inspections, three months after business license costs were increased. The Nov. 1 increase, the first in decades, was expected to bring in $500,000 to $700,000 a year. Revenue will go into the General Fund. 

However, commissioners were also told Monday that revenue from business licenses are down this fiscal year. 

Commissioners were assured in October the increase would not hurt small "Mom and Pop" stores, and that the increases could always be reversed or altered later. County Administrator Robbie Dickerson told commissioners in October that in research she had looked at $200,000 in gross sales for much of the analysis. 

"By the new rate, you would be $475. Anyone over that up to $299,000, you would have to do $1.35 per 1,000. Under our current one, that $200,000 business would probably be closer to $200 or $250, in that range. So it is going up," she said at the time. She added this is less than what municipalities in the county are charging, on the rates and the flat fee. 

An inspector was not up for a decision in October, although she noted by getting an inspector could eliminate Revenue Discovery Systems (RDS) of Birmingham from getting half the revenue. RDS in Fiscal 2018 acted in that role for any business outside of Walker County, if not inside. "It still worked quite well and allowed us to focus on Walker County through phone calls and letters," she said. 

At Monday's work session, Bishop said he is not sure what the county can have, noting it would also have to involve consulting the Walker County Civil Service Board. The duties of a license inspector, as the commission is looking at, might be to broad, he said. 

He said nuisance items might not can be handled, as he said his understanding is that  nuisance control would have to be voted on by the citizens of the county - although he said he might be mistaken. 

County Attorney Eddie Jackson said, "We have got some basic statutes that govern nuisances inside the county, not associated with the city. But we don't have an enforcement arm." While he said the idea was talked about at one time, it generated negative publicity. 

Eddie Miller, a former commissioner who is now a member of the Walker County Civil Service Board, said from the audience the position allowed for now is license inspector/health inspector. The qualifications for health inspector could be removed, he said.

"It would basically be a new position, but in reality it is not a new position. You are just taking a position and eliminating the part you are talking about," he said.

The part that could be eliminated would be the part involving such matters as solid waste and drinking water, he said. 

Miller said a pay scale and a letter would be needed by the Civil Service Board to create the new streamlined position. 

Aderholt suggested asked Sheriff Nick Smith to ask one of his deputies to serve as a license inspector, funded by the business license collected. 

"It is a task the sheriff can regulate at the request of the commission and it would also make him an APOST-certified officer. Certainly it would put another man out in the county," Aderholt said, saying he could step back in temporarily as a regular deputy in case one was urgently needed. 

Davis said he had talked with Smith, and that several deputies work part-time to supplement income. "Maybe hiring one of those deputies part-time as a license inspector until we can at least get figured out how much needs to be done or whether it will be a full-time position," he said, suggesting two deputies might handle a week's worth of work until a transition to a full-time position. 

Davis noted 3,019 county business licenses were issued last year and only 2,154 have been issued this year, meaning a number of people have not paid their county business license yet. Late fees have already been charged, Dickerson said. 

"So a business license inspector is desperately needed to go out and check," Davis said. 

District 3 Commissioner Ralph Williams said, "Nine hundred businesses haven't just quit." 

District 2 Commissioner Jeff Burrough said Jasper has 4,200 businesses licenses versus 3,000 for Walker County, adding, "There are 1,200 that haven't bought a county license. Dickerson said Jasper could get some businesses that the county cannot, dealing with professionals exempt from county licenses. 

Davis suggested the county start the process of getting an inspector, either through the Aderholt or Davis methods, and then go through the Civil Service Board. 

Aderholt, Jackson and Davis then talked about any possible complications of a part-time deputy working as an inspector, involving who he would be working for and whether he would have to be off the clock at the Sheriff's Office first, which led to Davis warned about "getting in the weeds" at the moment. 

Davis noted that Smith is about to hire a number of part-time deputies, and the part-time use of a deputy could lead to a decision on whether a full-time position was justified. "Based on the numbers, it probably does, but I think we transition to that and we keep costs as low as possible, and move into it that way. But I think we need someone as soon as possible," he said. 

Davis and Williams said have a law officers would give more authority to check into the license cases. 

Bishop said, "Well, the sheriff has got enough problems. I think the license revenue guy should answer here. I don't think he should be over there dealing with the sheriff. With the part-time people, he needs all he's got." 

He did agree the inspector needs to be APOST certified, "but there are other people out there besides our deputies. There are other deputies who are retired. There are other deputies from other places. There are law enforcement people from other places." 

Davis said, "Again, I'm not getting lost or caught up in the weeds. I'm just saying we need somebody and we need them like next week. In my opinion, they need ... " 

"I don't think we're going to have one next week, Keith," Bishop said, interrupting. "Well," Davis said, "I'm saying, in my opinion, we need one next week." 

Bishop said, "Well, Ok. I understand that. I thought we needed one a month ago, and you did, too." 

Davis continued to push for APOST certification and using a sheriff's deputy, but Miller said the regulations already call for APOST certification, although it doesn't mean they have to be a deputy. "You have to be certified to issue subpoenas and warrants, as I understand," Miller said, although he was not totally sure. 

Burrough questioned then where the person's office would be and who would he answer to, but Davis said those were still "weeds" and it would easily be "clarified and worked out." Williams worried though about adding to the "sheriff's full plate," indicating it might be better for the person work out of the commission or revenue offices.

Davis again pushed for a uniformed sheriff's deputy, with full authority. Bishop said, "He can sanction our license inspector over there. He would be under the sheriff's department. But under the liability part of it and write tickets." 

"No, he can't do that," Aderholt said. "OK, lawyer," Bishop said. "Whatever." 

Davis noted, while answering a question from Jackson, that the old bingo inspector was a deputy assigned under the sheriff.

The license inspector "would be under the sheriff's department but be at our supervision of where he needs to go and what he needs to handle as far as business licenses," Davis said, again calling the details discussed as "weeds."

"Sometimes there are briars in those weeks, Davis," Bishop said.