County considering lodging tax, increases in filing fees

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Members of the Covington County Commission are considering asking for an increase in lodging taxes and probate filing fees in an attempt to raise additional money for the county’s general fund.

County Commission Chairman Bill Godwin explained in a workshop meeting Tuesday that the county desperately needs to upgrade its computer systems, but needs an influx of revenue to be able to do that.

The county’s obligation for a portion of Airport Authority bonds has put a $200,000 strain on its general fund budget for the current fiscal year, Godwin said, adding that he expects the county’s obligation to be $270,000 in fiscal year ending 2016.

At present, the county has a 4 percent lodging tax, which generates an average of $150,000 per year.

In addition, there is a 5 percent lodging tax in Andalusia; 5 percent in Florala; and 1 percent on Opp.

The county’s current lodging tax rate is in line with the rates of most of its neighbors.

Conecuh County has a 4 percent lodging tax rate, while the City of Evergreen adds another 4 percent and a flat $2 per room fee.

There is no county tax for lodging in Coffee County, but the City of Enterprise charges 6 percent.

In Butler County, there is no county rate, but the City of Greenville charges 6 percent plus a flat $2 room fee.

Similarly, there is no county lodging tax in Escambia County, but Atmore charges a 5 percent rate, and Brewton charges 2 percent.

Geneva County has no county rate, but the City of Geneva charges 4 percent.

Godwin said he believes adding a lodging tax affects local residents less than any other taxes the commission might consider.

Godwin also suggested that commissioners look at additional indexing fees for documents recorded in the probate office. At present, there is a $2.50 fee for each instrument, Probate Judge Ben Bowden said. The fees total approximately $2,000 per month, and go into a discretionary fund for the probate judge. Bowden said the fund is generally dedicated to keeping up records.

Revenue Commissioner Janice Hart said the fee was established in 1987.

Bowden suggested that additional fees would not be a source of growth revenue for the county.

Asked how the local rate compares to other counties’ rates, Bowden said Covington County’s rate is low.

“Most counties are up to $5, and some counties are as high is $12.”

State law prohibits the commission from raising taxes, except for education. The proposed measures would have to be approved by the state legislature.

Commissioners also discussed two impending retirements, that of assistant county administrator Pam Steele, and CATS administrator Dianne Lawrence.

Steele has agreed to continue working part-time for the county, but state retirement system rules limit that work to 19 hours per week or less.