MADISON COUNTY, Ala. (WHNT) – Polls are open in Huntsville and Madison County today, September 10, for a special election. You have until 7 p.m. to vote.
There’s just one item on the ballot. Voters will determine whether or not Madison County will follow the lead of much of the rest of the state and combine the tax assessor and tax collector into one office called revenue commissioner.
Over at The Catbird Seat, you’ll find owner Cory Brown moving dirt, but he’s a political mover and shaker too. He’s part of a Republican committee supporting the move toward a consolidated revenue commissioner.
To him, it’s a non-partisan issue.
Brown says, “I’d like to reach across party lines and work with Democrats and Independents to help bring them the benefits of more effective and efficient government.”
Across town at the Democratic headquarters, they see it differently.
Madison County Democratic Party Head Clete Wetli says, “We really think that it’s become a partisan issue, because the offices are run by Democrats. We think that Dale Strong has pushed this along with Mike Ball to try to eliminate two democratic offices.”
The finances are a big part of what’s driving interest in the ballot.
Brown argues, “If you have two $70,000 a year jobs, and they’re combined into one $80,000 a year job, you’ve saved $60,000. We have a vehicle supplied to two people, if you take the cost of depreciation, wear and tear, maintenance, gasoline, insurance and other things, you’ve got an easy $15,000 in savings over a typical year.”
Wetli disagrees, “Well, I think it’s misguided to say there’s going to be those kinds of savings. If you create a revenue commissioner, they’re going to need support personnel, so you’re actually really creating yet another position. Because the tax collector and tax assessor perform two very separate functions. Plus, you’re looking at cross-training all of your staff.”
Supporters say we should follow a good example, while detractors say we should be leading the way.
Brown points out, “Most of the state has converted over, and nobody who has changed has converted back to the old system.”
But Wetli notes, “It can work in a smaller county. Like I said, if you’ve got far less parcels of land and things like that, it may make sense to do that. But again we don’t want to just follow other counties. Madison County has always been a leader in this state.”
Abuse of power also causes concern for opponents.
The revenue commissioner title may sound familiar if you’ve followed the case of Marshall County Revenue Commissioner Joey Masters. He fills the same role in Marshall County that they’re trying to create in Madison County.
He’s accused of severe wrongdoing, such as manipulating tax values for friends and political allies, and those who oppose creating the same position in Madison County, say consolidating makes abuse easier.
Brown concedes, “Historically, the idea was the assessor would look after the collector and make sure the collector didn’t do anything wrong or vice versa.”
But the world keeps changing, and Brown thinks this is the latest improvement, “Nowadays, you have the state examiner of public accounts, which comes in and audits the books of both offices.”
Though it was that audit that alleged wrongdoing against Joey Masters. Afterwords, Masters stopped coming to work for months and just kept drawing a salary from the county.
Wetli says it’s a cautionary tale, “Marshall County definitely represents an example of some of the problems you can have with the revenue commissioner, and that’s again why the Democratic Party here in Madison County and why most Independents and even many Republicans that I know really think that we just need to leave this alone and vote no on this referendum and leave things as they are.”
But it doesn’t change the mind of supporters like Brown, “No, we always have the chance for elected officials to fail us. This is why we have a judicial system. This is why we have Sunshine Laws, which promote transparency. This is why we have the press keeping an eye on things, the citizens keeping an eye on things. We don’t have perfect people in this world, but we have a great system.”
No matter which way you plan to vote, it’s certainly worth considering whether you think the ballot measure would make abuse easier, but there’s plenty of factors to consider when weighing your options.