‘We’ve been done unfair’ - Winfield to challenge reporting law, committee handling


WINFIELD — The City of Winfield is challenging the constitutionality of the state reporting law involving the collection of sales tax revenue from areas that are outside of city limits but within police jurisdictions.
The city unexpectedly found itself in violation of this law earlier this year, and by law, the city now must either stop providing services in those areas or abolish the jurisdiction all together.  
The issue was discussed during a city council meeting on Tuesday, July 25. Mayor Randy Price read a letter the city received from the Alabama League of Municipalities.
“Municipal Official: If you are receiving this message, you have already been contacted by the Alabama Department of Revenue notifying you that your municipality may no longer collect revenue in the police jurisdiction as a result of changes made by Act 2021-297,” the letter read. “The law prohibits any municipality from continuing to collect any revenue from its police jurisdiction outside the corporate limits if an annual report including an accounting of all revenues collected by the municipalities within the previous fiscal year were not timely filed. Without the ability to collect revenue in the police jurisdiction outside your corporate limits, it may be monetarily infeasible and no longer justifiable to your local taxpayers to provide service for those located within your police jurisdiction.”
“Basically, what happened is, for whatever reason—because the notice wasn’t in the norm or it was something new, or whatever the reason for not doing the filing with the department of revenue—they have pulled the right for us to collect taxes within our police jurisdiction outside our city limits,” Price said. “That being said, we cannot legally collect sales and use tax from any businesses outside corporate limits that’s inside our police jurisdiction.”
Price said he was opposed to cutting off service from those who are outside city limits but still within police and fire jurisdictions.
“If we take away our police and fire from the area that’s not inside our city limits but is in our jurisdiction, I feel like it’s putting more of a burden on our sheriff’s departments and fire departments,” Price said.
According to City Attorney Todd Atkinson, the city would need to pass such an ordinance by the first of October, and it wouldn’t take effect until Jan. 1, 2024, which means the city would still be collecting tax revenue in the meantime.
District 17 State Representative Tracy Estes was present at the meeting and explained what happened at the state level.
The law, which began as Senate Bill 107, was passed in 2021. It was sponsored by State Senator Chris Elliot, a Republican who represents Baldwin County. According to Estes, he tried to fight this bill due to the negative impact it would have on rural districts, like District 17.
Estes introduced House Bill 351 earlier this year, which would extend the deadline by one year to give cities longer to get in compliance, but the bill was killed in committee. According to Estes, Elliot was the head of that committee.
Estes explained that in the Alabama Legislature, heads of committee can simply choose to not bring a bill before the committee and stop the bill in its tracks.  
Estes said this even happened after several meetings between himself, Elliot and local leaders from cities like Hackleburg to discuss the harm that could happen if HB351 wasn’t passed.
Price said that one man shouldn’t be able to have the power to just kill a bill like that.
“I don’t think it’s constitutionally right the way they did it, because of just one person in Montgomery,” Price said. “I would like to ask the council if I can challenge this with the department of revenue that this is unconstitutional. I feel like we’ve been done unfair. I feel like it’s the best interest of the people who are in a police jurisdiction to get provided service. There are 30 out of 128 (municipalities that didn’t meet the reporting deadline) that do provide service, and we’re one of them. They may use the phrase ‘taxation without representation,’ but there is representation. We’re there providing a service for the people, and I don’t think we need to pass any kind of ordinance taking that away from those people. It’s not about the revenue as much as it is protection of those outside of the city limits in the jurisdiction.”
Atkinson said the reporting law demonstrates a clear bias against rural communities in Alabama.
“I think I can safely say that most of the adversely affected municipalities are small and rural,” he said. “If you look at this list, it is inordinately a large percentage of people like Winfield who don’t have full-time legal staff who can look over everything that comes in from ALDOR and act on it the same day. No, it comes to people who have everything else in the world to do other than answer stupid questions that the department of revenue is going to ask because some senator has a bee in his bonnet. It’s absolutely ridiculous. He’s mad at somebody, and he’s trying to prove a point, and we’re caught in the middle.”
Estes told the council that in conversations he had with Elliot, Elliot said that Winfield could just annex the areas they want to cover into city limits, but Estes said that not everyone living in those areas would be on board with that. Estes said Elliot then suggested forcing an annex, but Estes told the council he didn’t want to strongarm anyone like that.
Police Chief Brett Burleson raised his concerns for the people who would lose coverage and for his officers, if the city got rid of its jurisdiction.
“As a first responder, I’m in a catch 22,” Burleson said. “I don’t want to. The citizens are the ones paying, because they’re not going to have that coverage. On the other hand, if my guys have to go out there and use lethal force or something of that nature, they may not be covered.”
Price told the council he intends to work with Atkinson and other municipalities in a similar situation to get in contact with the Alabama Department of Revenue, or anyone else they need to talk to, to fight this reporting law and the way that Estes’s bill was killed, and the council voted to allow that.

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