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By Christa Jennings
Senior Staff Writer
After months of discussion and debate, during Tuesday evening’s meeting the Rockford Town Council approved the business license fee assessed for the Rockford Utilities Board after reviewing updated information and having further discussion.
The business license has been an ongoing matter since the council’s July meeting, with the council and board members discussing the issue at length during the July and August meetings. Additionally, attorneys for both entities were included in last month’s discussion.
For Tuesday’s meeting, all council members were present except for Cordarius Lee. Others present for the Utilities Board discussion were Town Attorney Derrick Blythe, Board members Ronnie Brown and Raymond Abrams, Utilities Superintendent Wade Brown, and Assistant Utilities Superintendent Jason Thornton.
Utilities Board Chair Ronnie Brown asked if Utilities Clerk Kelly Berry had given the council copies of last year’s audit done by Henry Dunlap. Town Clerk Jennifer Tindall stated that she did not have a copy of the audit, but that she printed out the water and gas financial reports from January 1 through September 20 and provided those to the council.
Tindall added that she had also printed out the board’s bank account balances, but wanted the board’s permission before providing those to the council. Brown took those copies and distributed them to the council.
Brown reviewed the information with the council, and during discussion he and Tindall explained that the gas meter deposits and water meter deposits are refundable, so the board cannot use that money from those accounts.
Brown also mentioned that they have an ADECA grant coming for the sewer system, but the board does not yet know what its match will be and how much money it will have to pay for the project.
During further discussion, Town Attorney Derrick Blythe said that he had not heard from Board Attorney Nancy Kirby since last month’s meeting. Kirby was not present for Tuesday’s Town Council meeting.
Brown reported that Kirby had said the town can charge the board a business license fee for customers within the town limits and the police jurisdiction. However, he said she had also informed the board that the town can only charge for water customers because the board is exempt from paying a business license for gas customers, though no explanation was given for why the board is exempt.
The business license fee is assessed based on gross receipts for customers within the town limits and those within the police jurisdiction. The license is for 3% of gross receipts within town limits and 1.5% of gross receipts within the jurisdiction.
The figures provided from the board reflected that water customers’ gross receipts within the town limits are $100,089.28, with 3% of that being $3,002.67. The police jurisdiction water customers’ gross receipts are $26,601.33, with 1.5% of that being $399.02.
Those figures reflect that the board’s total business license fee would be $3,401.69. This was a change from the original fee assessed in June of $12,325.21, which was the result of misinformation and was later clarified.
Councilmember Karen Hammond had made the request at last month’s meeting that the board provide financial reports for this month’s meeting since the board had indicated it could not afford to pay the business license without raising its rates.
Upon reviewing the information provided Tuesday, she stated, “Well it looks like y’all have plenty of money and doesn’t look like you’re hurting.”
Brown responded, “You’ve got to look at it like this, it’s a business, and you’ve got to run it like a business.”
Hammond then inquired if the board is a for-profit business or non-profit entity. Brown stated that they are nonprofit.
During ongoing discussion relating to that, Tindall explained that when she looked into it previously, the Alabama League of Municipalities had said that the board’s non-profit status is simply for tax purposes and that since it has paid employees it is not a true non-profit organization.
As discussion continued, attorney Blythe stated, “As far as I know from the statute as I see it, and from the practices of other municipalities, the for-profit or non-profit status does not matter. Remember, we talked about the Salvation Army, and they pay a business license.”
Councilmember Robert Smith then asked if the board was still going to increase its rates for Rockford customers, even though the business license fee is different from the original assessed amount, with it being nearly $10,000 less than originally thought. Brown stated that the board would still raise its rates even though the business license is less than originally expected.
Hammond interjected, “Well it was going to go up regardless of what we do. So I say, the town needs our amount, because they’re going to go up. They bought Parker Creek; they’ve got to [increase the rates].”
Smith proceeded to ask if the board can legally increase the rates for just a single group of customers and not increase everybody’s rates. Blythe said that the board has the authority to “do what they want to with the rates.”
During that discussion, Brown stated, “We’re having to charge Parker Creek more money because we’ve got to to make the payments. We’re having to charge them more for the water to make the payments and keep it up.”
While discussing the board increasing rates for Rockford customers, Blythe commented, “You’ve got to realize, too, if they charge more, their business license is going to be more next year.”
To which Hammond responded, “So that’ll help us.”
After much discussion, Hammond stated, “I don’t think that our actions are going to affect their ability to raise rates. Obviously they can do whatever they want to with charging the customers, so I say in order to support the town we need to stick with what is set across as a standard – 3% for the town residents and 1.5% for the police jurisdiction. They can afford it; they’re going to raise our rates so they can afford it. That’s their choice. We have no control over that.”
Following that, she made a motion to charge the fee based on those percentages, making the board’s total business license fee $3,401.69. Smith seconded the motion.
The motion passed, with Councilmember Kimberly Crowe abstaining from voting, meaning the board will be responsible for paying its business license.
For coverage of the remainder of the council meeting, including two updated ordinances and information on new part-time police officers, see next week’s edition.