Jefferson County Commissioners voted Thursday to back a plan to exit the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. The plan will call for raising sewer rates over the next 40 years to pay off billions of dollars of new financed debt.
Jefferson County commissioners met behind closed doors for three hours Thursday with their attorneys.
"This plan will help set the rudder and head into the wind. Sure there will be storms ahead, there will be rough seas," Joe Knight, Jefferson County Commissioner, said.
The vote was 4-1 for the plan which will be filed with the U.S. bankruptcy court Sunday. Commissioner George Bowman voted against the plan because of increased sewer rates for the next 40 years.
"The bill for the exit for the county out of bankruptcy will be put on the poor and all of the ratepayers in Jefferson County," Bowman said.
In bankruptcy court Thursday, attorney Calvin Grigsby, who represents some sewer ratepayers, was denied a chance to continue to sue Jefferson County to stop the rate increases at this time. Grigsby was told he may file objections in a confirmation hearing of the plan in November.
Birmingham Rep. Mary Moore continues to lobby against the plan saying it's unfair with the rate increases. Moore said she may come with a bill in the legislature putting a clean water fee on septic tank homes to help support the new financed debt plan.
"Can the poorest two districts in the county handle that kind of debt? Will people have liens put on their property?" Moore said.
Jefferson County commissioners also approved sending out proposals for firms to help the county refinance its financial debt. In the past some Jefferson County commissioners were convicted of bribery for taking bribes from investment companies seeking millions of dollars of county business. Commissioners believe they have taken steps to prevent acts of corruption in the future.
"We basically say if you contact any commissioner or staff, I already made that change to the document, you will be excluded," David Carrington, Jefferson County Commission President, said.
Jefferson County sewer customers will get their chance to speak out about the bankruptcy plan and the sewer rate increase. Public hearings will be held as soon as August.
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