Jefferson County Community Service Fund
The Jefferson County Community Service Fund is a fund from which members of the Jefferson County Delegation in the Alabama State Legislature can allocate money to community service projects and organizations at their discretion.
The fund was established by Act of Alabama 2015-226, a local act applying only to Jefferson County, which was sponsored in the House by Oliver Robinson (D-District 58) during the 2015 Alabama legislative session. The law was partly intended to assuage the loss of revenues from the former Jefferson County Occupational Tax. The Community Service Fund act was signed into law by Governor Robert Bentley on May 27, 2015.
The law authorizes the the Jefferson County Commission to levy a 1% sales and use tax in place of the 1% sales tax previously levied by the county to fund repayment of $1.05 billion of bonds issued in 2004 and 2005 to fund school construction. The tax generates approximately $130 million in annual revenues.
According to the law, a maximum of $3.6 million collected through that tax would be deposited in the newly-created Jefferson County Community Service Fund. The law also created a Jefferson County Community Service Committee to oversee allocations from the fund. The four members would be residents and qualified voters in Jefferson County, chosen by the Democratic and Republican members of the House and Senate representing Jefferson County. By law, allocations from the fund can only go to support specific public purposes, including public facilities, public education, neighborhood organizations, performing arts, nonprofits that have been vetted by the United Way of Central Alabama for funding, law enforcement agencies, and programs providing assistance to low-income residents to pay sewer bills. The county began collecting the new tax in August 2017, and the first grants allocated were distributed beginning in October 2018.
Under the rules adopted by the Committee on April 12, 2018, each grant must be for a minimum of $1,000. The form by which those recommendations are made includes attestations that the legislator, their family and their business associates will not benefit from the allocation; that other members of the delegation and their affiliates will not gain from the allocation; that the purpose is qualified under the law; and that the recipient is not an individual. According to the formula adopted by the Committee, each Senator in the county delegation is allowed $243,035.71 to distribute as grants, and each Representative is allowed $100,073.53.
Once the legislators make their nominations, the Committee and an external fund administrator review them for compliance with the law. For administration of the approved grants, the Committee contracts with United Way of Central Alabama for staff support, and holds its meetings at their offices in Birmingham. It also employs attorneys Michael Brymer and Rick Stotser of Massey, Stotser & Nichols as legal counsel and engages Warren Averett to audit its financial statements. The cost of those contracts are generally covered by interest generated by the fund itself. Since October 2022 the fund has been administered by the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham. The Committee publishes its allocations online and also distributes a newsletter to members of the delegation to keep them apprised of its activities and upcoming deadlines.
Jefferson County Community Service Committee
- 2018–2019: Richard Arrington (chair), Butch Zaragoza, Gwen Amamoo, Richard Hitchcock
- 2019–2020: Butch Zaragoza (chair), Gwen Amamoo, Richard Hitchcock, Samuetta Drew
- 2020–2021: Gwen Amamoo (chair), Shan Paden (vice chair), Samuetta Drew, Sid McNeal
- 2021–2022: Shan Paden (chair), Chris Dorris (treasurer), Samuetta Drew (secretary)
- 2022–2023: Sid McNeal (chair), Samuetta Drew (vice chair), Chris Dorris (treasurer), Sarah Mitchell (secretary)
- $615,207 for Hoover ($6.64 per resident)
- $487,799 for the Piper Davis Youth Baseball League
- $282,124 for the Birmingham Urban League
- $271,147 for Birmingham ($1.35 per resident)
- $262,500 for the Hollywood Boulevard pedestrian bridge
- $251,518 for Trussville ($9.63 per resident)
- $207,974 for Red Mountain Park
- $207,017 for Ramsay High School
- $192,179 for the Exceptional Foundation
- $189,477 for the A. G. Gaston Boys & Girls Club
- $185,000 for Gardendale ($11.53 per resident)
- $180,000 for the Birmingport Fire Department
- $177,922 for the Alabama Symphony Orchestra
- $175,500 for the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame
- $173,000 for the Bagley Volunteer Fire & Rescue
- $168,000 for the Alabama Sports Council
- $167,500 for Pinson ($23.22 per resident)
- $163,222 for Clay ($14.95 per resident)
- $157,588 for West Jefferson ($377.91 per resident)
- $154,800 for Concord Fire District
- $151,446 for Corner High School
- $150,745 for Jefferson County Sheriff's Office
- $144,098 for Oak Grove High School
- $142,717 for Mountain Brook ($6.35 per resident)
- $141,482 for UAB
- $140,000 for Center Point Fire District
- $135,865 for Vestavia Hills ($3.47 per resident)
- $134,000 for Birmingham City Schools
- $125,438 for Red Mountain Theatre Company
- $125,000 for Alabama Sports Hall of Fame
- $120,570 for Birmingham Park and Recreation Board
- $120,456 for Vestavia Hills High School
- $120,000 for Habitat for Humanity Greater Birmingham
- $117,000 for the Vulcan Park Foundation
- $111,351 for Bagley Elementary School
- $111,274 for Leeds City Schools
- $109,436 for 1 Step 2 Fitness
- $108,301 for the Boy Scouts of America Greater Alabama Council
- $105,495 for Leeds ($8.56 per resident)
- $101,001 for Jefferson County Schools
- $100,000 for Kimberly ($26.03 per resident)
In practice, members of the delegation have been able to personally deliver checks to recipient organizations, sometimes during public or press events during which they are publicly thanked for appropriating the funds. The fund has been described as a "slush fund" or "pork" by critics of the practice by which incumbent politicians accrue attention and gratitude from constituents.
In 2023 federal investigators uncovered an alleged kickback scheme involving the Jefferson County Community Service Fund. They charged Representative Fred Plump (D-District 55) of conspiring with Varrie Johnson, an aide to Representative John Rogers (D-District 52), to direct funds to Plump's Piper Davis Youth Baseball League. Plump pleaded guilty to conspiracy and obstruction of justice. In his statement, he claimed that he gave half of the allocated funds back to Johnson in exchange for her help.
Johnson was indicted on 21 counts of fraud, money laundering, obstruction and conspiracy in August. She pleaded guilty to two counts and agreed to repay $87,767.10 in restitution on August 31. Rogers was indicted on September 27 for alleged obstruction and bribery related to the investigation.
- "Special Sales Tax" in "FY 2023 Official Operating Budget" Jefferson County Budget Management Office, p. 106
- Bryant, Joseph D. & Hannah Denham (June 20, 2023) "Inside the Birmingham kickback scheme that took down a legislator." AL.com
- Denham, Hannah (July 5, 2023) "How Birmingham area legislators spent pork money; see the top 10 recipients." AL.com
- Denham, Hannah & Joseph D. Bryant (July 5, 2023) "What are the ‘pork’ handouts at the center of a Birmingham corruption case?" AL.com
- Akin, Emery (August 31, 2023) "Assistant to Fred Plump Jr. pleads guilty to fraud charges." CBS42.com