County discusses amending fee bills for voter approval
Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 14, 2007
Two bills that are in the process of being publicly advertised before being sent to the Alabama Legislature for consideration were the main topic of discussion among some county residents and the Crenshaw County Commission at its regular Monday morning meeting.
The two bills discussed include the
proposed $4 tag fee, or the one-stop tag bill, and a second proposed bill that would require people to pay a $5 recording and filing fee and a $10 fee for cases filed in the Probate Judge's office.
Luverne resident John Brunson was on the agenda to express his concerns over the “method in which you (the commission) are trying to implement” the bills.
“I believe the concept behind the bills is good,” Brunson said. “We just request that this commission withdraw those bills and allow the people of Crenshaw County to have the chance to vote on them.”
“You're increasing the costs of these services in this courthouse without our having a say,” he added.
Commissioner Charlie Sankey, Jr., said that the new technology that would be implemented with the new fees would provide much-needed capabilities in updating, filing and in the recording of county deeds and records.
“The risk of fire destroying records is a major issue, something that has been discussed for at least the last three years,” Sankey said.
Patsburg resident John A. Carr agreed with Brunson.
“I don't see anything wrong with adding an amendment to the bill so the people will have a chance to vote on it,” Carr said.
Commission Chairman Ronnie Hudson said that if the commission voted to add an amendment to the bills making them a referendum for the people to vote on, the bills would have to be readvertised for four more weeks, causing a delay that would not allow the time needed for the bills to be reintroduced into this Legislative session.
“If we did that, they wouldn't make it back into the Legislature until next January,” Hudson said, meaning that implementation of the bills could be an additional year away if they passed in the Legislature.
“I think the commission is missing the point,” Brunson said. “I wonder if the timing is properŠ.let's just push this by without the people having a say in it.”
Commissioner Ed Beasley said that he had heard some “concern” from some citizens.
“Some people out there think this is something we did on the sly,” Beasley said. “I believe if we put it on the ballot, people would vote for it. People know more about the technological needs (of the county) than we think.”
Crenshaw County Probate Judge Jim Perdue said that Crenshaw County was one of the very few counties left in the state that did not have an updated recording system to protect its records; plus, the new technology would vastly increase the record-keeping process, something that is still done by hand here.
“The $4 tag fees go directly into the county's general fund and is not earmarked for anything in particular,” Perdue said. “That money can be used for technology improvements in any of the county's government offices in the courthouse.”
As for the recording and probate case fees, those are earmarked for the Probate Office for the implementation of the one-stop tags and for electronic scanning services. Hudson added that it was “only fair” for the people who handle those services (in the Probate Office) to have a say in picking out the needed equipment.
“Those fees are only paid for by those using those services,” Perdue added. “When you are late paying your tag fees, those late fees were increased by the Legislature to $15. The people didn't vote on that.”
Commissioner Ricky McElwain said that the commission had worked on these issues and had looked into them for a long time.
“I don't feel like any of us is trying to slide anything by anyone,” McElwain said. “We've looked at this, and we saw that it was needed.”
Sankey agreed with McElwain.
“I have sat on this commission,Š..we have researched this, we've talked about it with lawyers, and we've talked it out together, and I'm not going to back down because citizens come in here,” Sankey said. “This is what's best for Crenshaw County. Because of working at a bank, I know what it's like when your record system can shut you down. How many years are we going to tempt fate? Even though the citizens aren't always going to agree with everything we do, the citizens elected us to do what is best for them, and this is the right thing to do.”
At the end of the meeting, the commission did not make an official motion, but did decide to hear from the Reference Section of the Alabama Legislature to see if an amendment allowing citizens to vote on the bills could be added. According to Chairman Hudson, if the amendment changed the integrity, or the basic meaning, of the bills in any way, and the bills had to be readvertised, the majority consensus of the commission was to keep the bills in the Legislature as they were, but that was not finalized as of Monday's meeting.