Mayor Gene Robinson argued earlier the ordinances would help modernize the city, updating many business license fees for the first time in 50 years. The ordinance went into effect Jan. 1.
“If … refunds are issued, then current business license collections will drop to $250,000 below last fiscal year’s total collections, and $150,000 below the (fiscal year) 2010 budget for business licenses,” Finance Director Danny McCullars wrote in a financial report Wednesday morning.
“It’s going to have some negative budget implications,” McCullars said after the vote. “If you have less revenue to work with, you’ve either got to start making decisions on reducing levels of (city) services or taking additional revenue measures.”
Councilmen John Spain, Ben Little and Herbert Palmore wanted to reduce the fees because of the current economic climate.
As of Wednesday, nearly all businesses in the city had paid fees under the October business license ordinances, according to the Finance Department. Council members have discussed in past meetings refunding money to those businesses whose fees increased.
After voting to rescind the ordinance, the council was unsure of the next steps in the process.
“That’s not the council’s decision. We set the policy, and it’s up to staff to carry out the policy of the council,” Councilman David Dawson said Wednesday evening. “We rescinded the tax increase, but it is the job of (City Manager Don) Hoyt and staff to carry that out.”
Dawson and Little said they feel refunding the money is appropriate, but Dawson wasn’t sure how that should happen.
Spain said the vote to rescind the ordinances will only affect those who paid more than in previous years.
“It’s been mentioned that some of the (business owners) were actually harmed somewhat by (rescinding the ordinances),” Spain said. “Some people’s tax obligation had actually been reduced by it. We want to make sure none of those folks are hurt by this.”
McCullars said earlier this week the ordinances gave most small businesses in the city decreases in their business license fees.
“The largest refunds will go to the largest taxpayers with approximately 25 percent of the refunds going to one-half of 1 percent (of business owners affected by increases),” he said in Wednesday’s financial report.
Compounding all of these issues is the question of legality of refunding public money.
“Public funds are sacred, and there’s got to be a clear authority to refund public funds,” McCullars said. “Hopefully we will be able to gain some guidance from some sort of judicial authority on the legality (of refunding fees already paid).”
McCullars said many questions remain regarding the council’s decision.
“The overall question was, ‘Does this tax have a fixed assessment date? Was it due and payable at a certain date?’ If that’s the case, since it’s governed by a state code, does the council have the authority to retroactively make changes?” McCullars said. “With public funds and tax-payer money, we’ve got to be very, very careful. It can get us in trouble if we’re not certain about refunding public funds without authority.”
The vote followed a press conference hosted by Robinson to address alleged calls from the council to resign. The other four council members said Tuesday they had not called for his resignation.
“Actions speak louder than words,” he said to an audience of just more than 30 people about the council’s denial of requesting his resignation. “Actions by some, including my fellow willy-nilly councilmen, would suggest otherwise.
“I will not resign the office of mayor … But I will be resigned to work all the more, to work all the harder, for the whole city and all of the citizens, not just a select few.”
He implied council members had bowed to pressure from “interest groups” in deciding to rescind the business license ordinances.
“I stand for the many of Anniston’s citizens that want progress, that want modernization, that want our city to move forward for the benefit of the many, not the select few,” he said.
Robinson’s support of the October business license ordinances accompanied plans to create a commercial development authority with the money generated. He said the changes modernized Anniston, bringing the city in line with business ordinances in surrounding cities, such as Oxford and Gadsden.
“Some businesses have failed while others’ sales receipts have taken a pronounced dip,” he said. “These measures would have countered some of this loss of business license fees.”
Robinson was the only “no” vote in the measure. Councilman Dawson abstained from the vote, citing the fact that he is directly affected by business license fees.
Contact Staff Writer Rebecca Walker at 256-235-3562.