FLORENCE, Ala. (AP) — Sheriffs across Alabama have been experiencing revenue shortfalls as early as January of this year, leading up to Gov. Kay Ivey signing into law a bill that will no longer require handgun owners to have a permit for their firearms beginning Jan. 1.
The pistol permit revenue may make up a small amount in a sheriff’s total budget, but that money is typically used for the purchase of additional equipment, training and sometimes vehicles.
In northwest Alabama, Lauderdale County Sheriff-elect Joe Hamilton said he has seen a steep decline in the purchase or renewal of pistol permits from 2021 until now.
“We are going backward in a hurry,” he said.
Hamilton said the pistol permits generated $163,590 in revenue in 2021. The county collected $57,710 through the end of August.
Hamilton said the department will just work around the loss of revenue. He said the amount of revenue collected from pistol permits in the county makes up about 1% of the total budget.
“We’ll budget around it best we can,” he said. He said for every $10 in pistol permits collected $6 goes to the county commission’s general fund, while $4 goes directly to the sheriff’s department.
To make up for the budget shortfall, some sheriffs across the state have been looking at creative ways to replace revenue.
“Canteen items are not a necessity at our jail, but the money for those items is not the same caliber as pistol permits,” said Elmore County Sheriff Bill Franklin.
Most sheriffs have said they will rely on their county commissions to supplant the revenue.
“Now we are going to have to rely more heavily on county commission budget allocations,” Lee County Sheriff Jay Jones said. “We’ve met with our county commission, and we’re actively looking to adjust for that loss of revenue.”
Sonny Brasfield, who is executive director of the Association of County Commissions of Alabama, said some sheriffs departments have reported revenue losses of 30% to 40% since the bill was signed. Brasfield said even though the act does not go into effect until Jan. 1, people stopped purchasing permits after Ivey signed the bill.
“Pistol permits started to decline almost the minute the (governor’s) ink was dry (approving the law),” Brasfield said. “Because of all the publicity, people stopped renewing their permits.”
Jones said the number of permits purchased or renewed in Lee County has dropped at least 38% since the law was signed in early March.
Franklin said his department has seen a steady decline in permit purchases or renewals since January. He said in January 2021 his department issued 896 permits. A year later the department issued 622, which is a $5,500 funding decrease.
Locally, some sheriffs departments have seen an even steeper decline in revenue. Colbert County Sheriff Frank Williamson said his pistol permit requests are down 40% to 60% this year.
Alabama sheriffs for years have used revenue generated by pistol permits to pay for items not included in their annual budgets, Hamilton said.
“We spend it on everything ranging from training to equipment to motor vehicles,” he said.
Williamson said he tries to purchase at least two vehicles per year with pistol permit revenue. In fact his vehicle is purchased from that revenue. He also has spent it on training, ammunition, weapons, clothing and other items.
“I bought what we needed with it, which is what the county couldn’t buy,” he said. “It’s going to be a big impact (to lose that revenue).”
A local act in Lee County called for about a third of the funds collected through permit sales and renewals to be put in the county’s general fund, with the remainder of the funds to be used directly for law enforcement purposes only, Jones said.
At least 65% of the funds collected from the purchase or renewal of gun permits helped fund education and training for Jones’ deputies and officers. The rest of the money was being used to purchase equipment, including ballistic vests, patrol vehicles and tasers.
Brasfield said the original act which ended pistol permits contained a section that provided a grant program designed to help fill the revenue void left by the elimination of pistol permits.
But he said the $5 million included in the bill to make up for lost permit revenue is insufficient.
Brasfield also said the grant program would use 2022 as a baseline for determining how much revenue a sheriff’s department has lost.
Williamson agrees with Brasfield that basing the grants on 2022 numbers is incorrect.
“The way they’ve got that written, if you go by this year, we won’t get hardly anything,” Williamson said.
Brasfield also said the grants should be paid to the sheriff’s departments on an annual basis, rather than quarterly.
Jones said the grant funds are not meant to be permanent funding, but a short-term solution, which will roll off in a couple years.
Brasfield said he recently met with a group of Alabama sheriffs during a breakout session of the ACCA conference in Montgomery to discuss potential legislation that would seek changes to the language in the original law regarding the grants.
Hamilton said he supports efforts by the ACCA to introduce legislation to help fill the financial void.
In the meantime Jones, who is currently president of the Alabama Sheriffs Association, said sheriffs across the state are advocating for gun owners to continue to purchase a gun permit.
“If you are an Alabama resident and don’t go outside the state, then you are probably fine,” Jones said. “But for convenience sake, I would encourage them to keep a permit, especially if you travel outside the state. In some states they could face a criminal charge without a permit.”
Fewer states are requiring a gun owner to have a permit. Alabama became the 22nd state to adopt such a law, while it was opposed by the Alabama Sheriff’s Association.