JAMES MADISON QUOTE - 1822

"A popular government without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives."

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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Scottsboro City Council, Regular Session July 27, 2015 - Thoughts on Our Municipal Court Administration, as Witnessed

Scottsboro City Hall (photo by G. Morgan)

Last Monday, July 20, 2015 there were no agenda items for the city council work session.

July 27, 2015 AGENDA
Click on image for an expanded view.

Before the Video presentation I want to redirect you attention  to the city council meeting video and this posting made on July 16, 2015 concerning Alabama Municipal Courts Corruption.   http://arklite.blogspot.com/2015/07/alabama-justice-and-corruption.html  Today I witnessed a disturbing fact at Scottsboro's municipal court administration office. I personally took a defendant to the administrative office of the municipal court to pay COURT COSTS, not a fine or not a fee for an improper municipal court probation administered by Judicial Correction Services. The Scottsboro Court Administrative Office refused to take payment in full for COURT COSTS. The defendent was told they could not accept the money that they must go to JCS, Judicial Correction Services. The refusal to accept court cost was bad enough, Has JCS closed, there is no sign on the building? The former office appeared dark. Why should a person go to pay court costs, not a fine, to a dark unmarked office location to a service in which will charge a defendant an improper probation fee for which the municipal court in Scottsboro, Alabama refused to accept payment. The defendant in this particular case was not allowed to enter a plea in their case but was taken into a back room and told by an unidentified person that they could pay the court costs and the charges would be dropped. Well, , they attempted to pay the court the cost today with me as a witness but that was not good enough for the court's magistrate or clerks, it seemed JCS had to get their take as well. I Witnessed this action and commented to the court officials today that the JCS contract had been cancelled, and besides that JCS charging defendants probation fees was improper and is stated as such in a pending law suit before the Federal District Court. 

VIDEO

Jackson County Commission Regular Session July 27, 2015

South Side Jackson County Courthouse (photo by G. Morgan)

AGENDA

VIDEO

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Opposition to 1% Sales Tax in Jackson County Alabama - Stop the Grocery Tax PAC Handouts Contains Misleading and Inaccurate Information.

UPDATED - July 29, 2015 - The 1% Sales Tax vote for Jackson County Alabama will occur on Tuesday, August the 18th, 2015.

Publication of this article is for educational purposes, to inform citizens of an opposing view regarding the 1% Jackson County Sales Tax issue. Statements made by Stop the Grocery Tax PAC officials are their statements, not the opinions or political views of this blog's owner, Garry Morgan. Statements made in the handout pictured or in the below video should be fact checked for accuracy.
Inaccurate and misleading information is contained in the Stop the Grocery Tax PAC handout 
(Click on image for an expanded view.)

Stop the Grocery Tax PAC. Ellen O'Connor is  Chairperson of the PAC. PAC leadership is listed as follows on their Face Book site - The leadership of the organization consists of:
Ellen O’Connor – Chair; Trey Edwards - Treasurer; Kym Chapman; Kenneth Clemons; Allen Keller; James Stewart. Digital Media & FCPA Compliance services will be provided by Victory Social Media; Victory Social Media info - http://www.victorysocialmedia.com/#!services/c13ps. Face Book link for Stop the Grocery Tax PAC  https://www.facebook.com/VoteNoJackson
There were approximately 32 people in attendance at this meeting.

The statement above is inaccurate and misleading on the card, The County Commission does not receive the $8.74 million dollars. This money is collected for the Jackson County and Scottsboro City Schools. The school funds may not be intermingled or utilized for any use other than schools. An agreement was signed and a resolution passed many years ago stating that this tax money must be utilized for the schools in Jackson County and Scottsboro. A sales tax does not mean only voters pay the tax, those who purchase goods at businesses in Jackson County pay the tax. Additionally, the $8.74 million is derived from multiple sources, not just the "2 cent" Educational County wide sales tax.  Other taxes which make up the total amount of $8.74 million stated above going into the Schools Education Budget are automobile sales tax, manufacturing tax, vending machines tax, and agricultural tax, Basically the above statement contained in #4 is false.  

In the above "No Tax" Fact Sheet handout, item 3, it is stated there is no accountability since the money goes into the general fund of the county commission. All county funds are audited by Alabama State Auditors, to say there is no accountability is not accurate.



VIDEO

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Alabama Justice and Corruption - Municipal Courts and Racketeering in Alabama

An article by Sue Bell Cobb, "I Was Alabama's Top Judge, I'm Ashamed of What I Had to Do to Get There...I never quite got over the feeling of being trapped inside a system whose very structure left me feeling disgusted."
Read more: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/03/judicial-elections-fundraising-115503.html#ixzz3g4Q8lgIq  Image usage - Fair Usage - not for profit news reporting. 

Local Municipal Court

Citizens must ask the question, why did Scottsboro and other municipalities in Alabama, cancel their contract with Judicial Corrections Services, JCS? Why would our local courts facilitate Racketeering? The answer to that question may be found here - http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/news/splc-sues-private-probation-company-alabama-city-over-racketeering-scheme

 JCS, and municipalities utilizing their services, are being sued by the Southern Poverty Law Center, SPLC, for allegations of Racketeering (RICO). SPLC alleges in their suit that JCS and municipalities utilizing JCS services have enabled a criminal enterprise specifically pointed at defendants that are poor and cannot afford an attorney. Additionally, according to the SPLC suit, Alabama law prohibits the charging of a probation fee in municipal court.  Complaint filed in Federal Court - http://www.splcenter.org/sites/default/files/downloads/case/1_-_complaint.pdf

I have interviewed several defendants locally who faced prosecution in municipal courts. All the defendants interviewed are living under the poverty level and stated they could not afford an attorney. I asked each person interviewed: “What plea did you enter before the court?” All told me they were not allowed to enter a plea as they were not asked for a plea. The scenario goes like this: Defendant is taken to a back room by unknown parties, told to sign documents paying for court costs, charges will be dropped, pay court costs and go to JCS to pay the costs. They are given 2 documents, one from the court and another from JCS. The documents samples are pictured below, names and dates have been redacted to protect people’s privacy.

I’m not saying defendants are innocent or guilty, I am questioning what appears to be a violation of trust relating to judicial actions at the municipal level.  It’s the old story, 2 wrongs never make a right; someone must ask the question, who will correct what appears to be illegal activity of municipal courts? An independent investigation should be conducted to determine if local judicial procedures violate rights of the defendants and to answer the question, are local courts violating law?

Scottsboro Municipal Judge James Mick makes statement before Scottsboro City Council, Council Members ask questions - My Question is this, what is this about money or justice? It seems the issue involves money, not the fulfillment of justice via our system of courts.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Jackson County Commission 1% Sales Tax Issue, Interview with Chairperson Matthew Hodges on July 14, 2015

Jackson County Courthouse South side. (photo by G. Morgan)

The question is asked and answers explored - What will happen if the 1% sales tax for Jackson County is not passed by the citizens on August 18, 2015. A down to earth discussion about curtailment of services in the video interview below. There are no free rides, services cost money. If passed by the voters on August 18, 2015 the sales tax for Scottsboro and other municipalities will be 10%. 

2015 BUDGET DOCUMENT, SEPTEMBER 2014
(Click on image to expand view. Records request result.)
Total General Fund Income - $7 million dollars; total expenditures budgeted $7.4 million.

MAP DEMONSTRATING CURRENT COUNTIES WITH 10% SALES TAX.
(Click on image for an expanded view, map supplied by Scottsboro Mayor Melton Potter.)


 INTERVIEW VIDEO




Update 12:30PM July 15, 2015- SCOTTSBORO MAYOR Melton Potter's comments and questions below regarding the county's proposed 1% tax increase. Mayor Potter had provided the discussion notes previously;  however, the notes were in draft form and I do not publish DRAFTS of public officials policy statements.

July 12, 2015, final version on July 14, 2015

1. Believe the county is experiencing financial difficulties and I know this commission is trying to correct mistakes from the past

2. Understand trying to ways to increase revenue

3. I wish the commission would have met with those cities to share ideas of ways to make the tax be helpful rather than harmful to our revenue.


4. In my opinion property tax is a more fair way to raise taxes. The nicer the house and more property the more you pay in taxes. Renters, those is government housing do not have to pay it.  (ADOR “There are two reasons for your property taxes to increase:  (1) a tax rate (millage) increase, or (2) an increase in the appraised value of the property.  The first reason, a tax rate increase, would have to come from a vote of the citizens or by the taxing authority (County Commission) to increase (or decrease) the millage rate. 


5. I  believe you are looking to make your budget whole rather than how it will affect the municipalities

6. Passing this tax is detrimental to the municipalities

7. Scottsboro, Bridgeport, Stevenson are the 3 largest who currently have 9% tax (8 Cities total)

8. Dutton, Hollywood, Pisgah, Section, and Woodville also have 9% sales tax (Dollar General, grocery stores, Pharmacy’s etc.)

9. Passing this tax will move all these cities to 10% takes us to a whole different level

10. It will hurt the sales tax collections in these cities even though Mr. Hodges doesn’t think so.



11. If we suffer lower tax collections we adjust our spending. In the 2008-09 recession our sales tax collections dropped 6% 

12. Our TVA ILOT money has also decreased significantly ($253,000) since 2010

13. We know how to manage our money in difficult times.  If this tax passes and when it hurts our revenue we will continue to provide our services without cutting them

14. There are 460 municipalities in Alabama and ONLY 82 cities or 17% of them have 10% sales tax

15. No of those cities are within 75 miles of Jackson County

16. The nearest to our area is Calhoun County Piedmont, Jacksonville, Oxford, Anniston

17. Everyone around us has 9% (Guntersville and Marshall County municipalities, Huntsville, Gurley, Rainsville, Decatur, Cullman) except Fort Payne who has 8%. 3% goes to FP City 

18. The people will have a choice of where to spend their money and spend it without driving too far

19. People in Woodville can go to Gurley (9%); folks on Sand Mountain can go to Rainsville (9%) or go to Fort Payne (8%).

20. South Pittsburg, and Jasper,  and Chattanooga 9.75 and 9.25

21. There will be leakage to the areas around us costing the municipalities revenue we are now getting

22. Scottsboro is taking the risk of losing money while the County puts $3.3 million in bank from new taxes

23. Based on last year’s sales tax receipts from Scottsboro, Bridgeport, and Stevenson an additional 1 cent sales tax would earn $3.6 million (3,536,033) Scottsboro (2,805,618), Bridgeport (268,869), and Stevenson (461,546).

24. That number could reach as much as $4 million per year when you add the other 9 municipalities sales tax receipts into it

25. The commission has stated the money would go to fund volunteer fire departments, school resource officers, and economic development ($900,000)

26. $1.5 million to Public Works Department, and $900,000 to County General Fund

27. How much do you let the Econ Dev fund grow to before you move that money elsewhere?  (10 years it will grow to $3 million)

28. I am concerned about future commissions and how they might spend the money


29. I do not see anywhere that you are giving money back to Scottsboro where most of the tax will be collected.

30. My fire department needs more funding, I could use more school resources officers, and I certainly need more paving.

31. Adding one cent to the sales tax collected in Scottsboro based on last year’s numbers would create over $2.8 million.  Or 85% of the money you estimated the new tax would create would be raised here in Scottsboro.

32. I realize it is not all Scottsboro residents who pay this tax it is folks from the county, tourists, and those who pass through town. THIS IS TRUE OF ALL SALES TAX COLLECTED IN THE COUNTY.

33. 85% raised in the city limits of Scottsboro but yet you have not directly stated any projects you will do in Scottsboro

34. Scottsboro also generates 38% of the property tax created in the entire county.

35. The population of Scottsboro is 28% of Jackson County. Since we are the main economic engine of the county I would like to see 28% of the new tax money generated given to Scottsboro. 

36. 28% of $3.3 million is $924,000.  You allocate that to us and WE can pave roads, additional school resource officers, and equip our fire fighters. Still leaves you with $2,376,000

37. Let’s just say you want to proportionately give to other municipalities 

Bridgeport 5% of population ($165,000), Stevenson 3% of population ($99,000), other 10 municipalities 1% each ($33,000 times 10=$330,000). THIS WOULD ALLOW MUNCIPALITIES TO SUPPLEMENT THEIR OWN FIRE DEPARTMENTS AS THEY SEE FIT, AND STILL leave $1,782,000 in new county money, WHICH IS 440% MORE THAN YOUR SHORTFALL. 


38. Is it worth the risk of hurting your municipalities to raise $3.3 million when the deficit is $330,000? WHY RAISE $3.3 MILLION FOR A $330,000 DEFICIT? 

39. Mr. Hodges that sales tax is a growth tax and he is correct.  Why not just add a ½ cent sales tax and collect $1.6 million per year and let the tax grow at 3 to 4% per year Scottsboro’s tax has grown between 3 and 4% each year over the last 4 years


40. I took an oath to do what is best and to look out for our citizens in Scottsboro And seeing us stand to lose sales tax revenue when the rate goes to 10% and while the County Commission puts $3.3 million in the bank is not in our best interest

41. We ask our people to shop local all the time, and now we are saying shop local and pay the highest sales tax in North Alabama.


42. Again it is my job to express my concerns and you have heard them tonight for the first time.

43. It is up to everyone in this county to go vote and vote your convictions no matter what they are.



GENERAL NOTES FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES IF NEEDED

Library—County appropriates $11,500/year last 2 years have been $5,000 and $3,000
City of Scottsboro appropriates $135,000/year

Ways we have helped the County:
1. By state law it is the counties responsibility to provide an animal shelter. Partnered 50-50 in building animal shelter and also share in the monthly expenses.  We have 3 full-time people and the county provides 1.  

2. In the last 5 years the animal shelter has taken in approximately 6500 dogs with 4500  (69%) of those being dogs from the county

3. Saved the county over $100,000 in the last 5 years by not going up on the landfill rates when the contract allowed increases tied to the consumer price index. In fact the contract expired in 2010

4. Whenever the county builds on county property in the city limits there are no building permit fees charged. (Hospital and Nursing Home, County Park, County bus garage, etc.)

5. Scottsboro Fire Department just donated equipment to the volunteer fire departments


QUESTIONS FOR MR. HODGES ( G. Morgan's comments in parenthesis().)

1. By law are you required to adopt a balance budget?  (By law all government entities are supposed to have a balanced budget in Alabama.)  
2. How much have the counties ILOT decreased in the last 3 years?
3. How will the recent $600 million industrial announcement affect the county sales tax that goes to the school systems? Estimated increase per year? (Red Herring - School Tax and County General Fund are 2 different issues with 2 different fund sites which cannot be intermingled.)
4. How much is the special election going to cost and how will it be paid for when you already have a deficit? Was is already in the budget or has the commission amended the budget to pay for it? ($80K)
5. You have stated that the tax will cost $63 per person per year.  How did you arrive at that number?
6. How much will an additional 9 mill tax add to the property tax of a $100,000 house? (The answer would be $900.00.)

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Scottsboro City Council Meeting July 13,2015

Scottsboro City Hall (photo by G. Morgan)

Big issue, 1% Sales Tax increase issue presentation by Jackson County Commission Chair Matthew Hodges. Video presentation in 2 parts, Part 1-regular council meeting and Mr. Hodges presentation on need for tax increase with council members questions and statements;  part 2, Mayor Potter's comments.

AGENDA
(Click on image for an expanded view.)

VIDEO - Part 1


                                        VIDEO - Part 2


Interview with Commission Chair regarding 1% Sales Tax Issue