During the Thursday commission work session, Commissioner Bobby Humphryes presented the resolution for next Tuesday's agenda. The resolution included signatures from three commissioners — Humphryes, William Bell and Shelia Smoot — the number necessary to bypass the finance committee and place the item directly on the full commission agenda.
"The attorney has advised me I could go to jail for this, and I'm willing to take that chance," Humphryes said.
The county attorneys have advised the commission that hiring someone without the means to pay them could be a criminal violation under Fair Labor Standards Act.
"This first payroll is just going to cost us an additional $1 million," Humphryes said. "We voted to give $1 million to another law firm two weeks ago."
Earlier this year, the county lost a lawsuit in state court, which rendered the county's occupational tax illegal. The Alabama Legislature reenacted that tax, but the funds from it are still being kept in an escrow account. It is as yet unclear whether the Legislature could retroactively legalize the tax while litigation was pending. Under the new law, the current occupational tax was legalized and set to expire in January 2010. At that time a new occupational tax would take its place. That tax does not exclude licensed professionals, but it would phase out over five years.
This week the county petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court to let it spend the escrow funds. Meanwhile, the county is also negotiating for a $25 million bridge loan from Regions Bank.
After the meeting Commissioner William Bell said that Commissioner Bettye Fine Collins had not been sharing financial information with the entire commission. He said he believed the county could find the funds necessary to cover the gap until the new occupational tax kicks in.
Neither Bell nor Humphryes said they knew where the county could find the extra money to meet payroll. Smoot did not attend the meeting.
Collins said that she could not stop the resolution, and she put the onus of responsibility on Humphryes, Bell and Smoot to find the money to make payroll.
Commissioner Jim Carns has sparred with Collins for more than a year over county financial issues, but he joined her Thursday in opposing resolution.
"If we don't have the money to pay them, how do you ask somebody to come back to work?" he said.