Jefferson County commissioners voted today to terminate the leases of county buildings in Bessemer, including the old and new courthouses and the county jail.
The commission is seeking to renegotiate their leases at a lower rate with Ambac, the company that insures the warrants used to build the Jefferson County Bessemer Justice Center. So far, Ambac has refused to renegotiate their deal with the county.
In a special called meeting held Monday, commissioners voted to terminate all leases for the Bessemer buildings. The revenue department, county jail, district attorney's offices, tax collector and a parking deck are included in the leases, along with the old and new Bessemer courthouses.
The county had to act by this Friday to give a 30 days notice to the company by Sept. 27.
Commissioners voted 2-1-1, with David Carrington and Joe Knight voting to terminate the leases, Jimmie Stephens opposing it and Sandra Little Brown abstaining. Commissioner George Bowman was not present.
"Sooner or later everyone's got to realize we are in bankruptcy, this is the largest municipal bankruptcy in the United States," Carrington said.
The county buildings will still be open tomorrow and at least through Sept. 27. No changes will take effect unless there is a renegotiated lease with Ambac or an extension.
Commissioner Knight said he is hopeful the county can come to an agreement with Ambac.
"We still have hope, we can renegotiate before Sept. 26, we can keep them open if they will [renegotiate]," Knight said.
Commisioner Stephens, who represents the Bessemer cutoff area, says he is opposed to the lease termination and says it will lead to a "tremendous hardship" on the people there.
If a renegotiation does not take place, the entire courthouse operation in the Bessemer cut-off could be shut down. That means everyone would have to come to downtown Birmingham for courthouse business or possibly a small satellite office would be set up in Bessemer.
This special called meeting as a continuation of last week's county commission meeting which was recessed after a length discussion of what to do about Cooper Green inpatient care. The commissioners did not bring up Cooper Green in today's meeting. It is not yet clear when the Cooper Green inpatient care issue will be brought to a vote.
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