At the Marshall County Commission meeting last Wednesday, the exemptions for a new car tag fee for school officers were agreed upon.
There is still no agreement on what the fee will be. Those who will be exempt from paying the fee are those who draw 100 percent Social Security disability and those who are 65 years and older
The Commission meeting lasted almost three hours with the car tag fee and purchasing procedures being the main topics. Each Commissioner had time to discuss what they wanted to be done with the car tag tax.
The sheriff and county school superintendent approached the Commission a few weeks ago about adding the tag fee, with the proceeds to go towards hiring a school resource officer for each of the 14 schools in the county system. The Commission can approve the fee without putting it to a vote of the people.
Chairman James Hutcheson said the Commission has the authority to levy a tag fee of $1 to $25, but only for school related purposes.
According to Hutcheson, they have never had any full-time resource officers at Marshall County Schools. The officers they have now are part-time employees and there are not enough of them for all of the campuses. They would like to have 14 full-time SROs which would cost roughly $670,000 a year.
At the meeting, Hutcheson wanted to determine whose tags would be exempt. He said that they had previously talked about exempting those over the age of 65, those on Social Security disability and limiting the fee to two cars per household.
District 4 Commissioner Joey Baker stated that he wanted to thank one of the local newspapers for pointing out that they do not have a plan of action for the car tags, but they are working on it. When Baker ran for office, he knew that there would be some hard decisions to make.
Baker is for the two tag limit per household, the 100 percent disabled and the 65 years and older exemptions. The Commission has been talking about the fee on business tags. Baker said that if businesses had to pay the fee on each of their vehicles, they would be able to write it off on their taxes.
District 2 Commissioner Rick Watson questioned if they would have the same two limit stipulation they will have per household or would businesses be charged for all of their vehicles. Baker said that they could write their vehicles off anyway so he was for charging for all business vehicles.
“This is an enabling statue and it allows you to craft and construction the way these fees are assessed as long as you do not do it on a discriminatory basis,” County Attorney Clint Maze said. “You can decide how many, how few, you can craft the exemptions as long as they are equally applied.”
Baker said that he is looking at the bare minimum for tag fees. He would like to see it no more than $10 per tag. He does not believe that they should be building up a large amount of surplus.
Hutcheson said that the amount should be discussed at upcoming meetings because he wanted to set the exemptions, not the amount. Hutcheson said that there are basically 50,000 to 52,000 tags in Marshall County that the fee would apply to. IT director Steve Turner said that was correct.
District 3 Commissioner David Kelley wanted to know how they would know which candidates were over the age of 65. April Johnson from the Marshall County Probate Office stated that each person will have to present identification.
Maze said that it would take an entire year before they could start this process. They would start with the fee in January because this year people have already been paying for their car tags. He said that with it starting in January, they would be able to see if that person fits into the category of the car tag exemption. That fee will not be charged to those that fit into the exemption categories that the Commission agrees on in the meeting.
Kelley said that the state of Alabama has an act that states that one vehicle must be exempt for those who are over the age of 65. He questioned if they could change that. Maze said that they could change it so that they do not have to pay for any vehicles, but the state requires one vehicle tag exemption. They are able to expand, but cannot do away with the exemptions in the act.
Maze explained that this is an enabling statute. This has been on the books for 10 years now and the Commission has never taken advantage of it.
“This allows this body in the unincorporated areas of the county to impose a fee and that is accomplished by a resolution where this Commission would craft the how, why and what purpose this fee would be assessed,” Maze said.
The funds collected would go into a special fund that would be held by the taxing authority which is the Marshall County Commission. This fee could be used for any public school or education purpose. They can pass this fee as long as it is going to the schools or for educational purpose. At any point, they can come back and take away the money as well unless they are contractually obligated to pay for their purchases. The money would not be controlled by the school board.
With the way this will be passed, they have the right to state what this fee will be used for and it could not be used for any other purposes. They have the ability to give and take this fee and money away at any time.
This fee would not be used to support any city school, this fee would only be for the Marshall County School system only.
Kelley asked if there was a surplus of the money. would the School Board have access to the money. Maze told him that the school board would not have access to the money without permission. This agreement would state that it would be only for safety of the school.
“I am for the resource officers, 100 percent,” Kelley stated, “But I believe this Commission can pay for it with existing taxes that we are collecting.”
Watson wanted to confirm that the money generated would only be for the school resource officers. Maze said that it is all depending on the resolution.
“Y’all can make it as restrictive or as expansive as you want it to be, but it cannot exceed the boundary of any public school purpose. You couldn’t divert some of this money to work on the jail for example. It has to be related to public education,” Maze said.
Watson said that he wants the people to know that this money is only for the SROs and not for any other purpose. It will not be used to put up cameras or anything else that is not related specifically to the SROs.
Baker said that he would like the opinion of the Attorney General. Maze said that he would get his opinion but it could take three to four months before they get a response.
Watson said that the exemptions that they have in place are good with him. He wanted to limit the tax to businesses to two as well. He wanted to be fair and not place a bigger burden on the companies.
District 1 Commissioner Ronny Shumate was in agreement with the exemptions. He wanted those who are 65 and older to be exempt along with those who draw 100 percent Social Security disability along with 100 percent disabled veterans. He would like it to be the fee to be limited to two cars per household and two per businesses as well.
Probate Judge Andrea LeCroy and April Johnson stated that there are over 200 different tag types. The standard passenger tags are those with the number 50, the “God Bless America” tags and the specialty tags such as the Alabama/Auburn tags. Turner received the number 52,000 from standard passenger tags with the already restricted of those over 65 and 100 percent disable.
Johnson said that from a clerk standpoint, it would be easier to not have the limitation of two per household. One issue with that is how to define a household. Some adult children are living with their parents which technically is two families, but they are in one household with one address.
There are a lot of variables that need to be considered, Johnson said. It would be hard to determine who has and has not paid the money for their tags. The tax would be only on motorized vehicles not trailers. For example, if you haul hay on a trailer pulled by your truck, the truck would have the fee but the trailer would not.
LeCroy wanted to state that she was only there for informational purposes and had no opinion on the fee.
“We have never dealt with limiting two per household,” LeCroy said. “I don’t know how we can do that.”
At the end, the Commission approved the exemptions for the car tag fees applied to personal vehicle tags, the God Bless America tags and specialty tags.