Commissioner wants clarification on rules for rate changes - ABC 33/40 - Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

JeffCo Commissioner wants court to clarify rules for sewer rate changes

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BIRMINGHAM - AL -

Jefferson County sewer customers will soon see higher bills. But before the first bill is sent, one commissioner wants the courts to take a look at the rates.

The issue is over whether any sewer fee change is legal without the approval of citizens. Nearly a dozen attorneys have reviewed the state constitution and say no county wide vote is needed. But one commissioner disagrees and wants a judge to intervene.

"We shouldn't just overlook it and say that particular paragraph doesn't apply," said Commissioner George Bowman.

Bowman has looked over Amendment 73 of the Alabama Constitution. It lays out the rules for how the county can borrow money for the sewer and pay that debt. Bowman believes the second paragraph calls for a county wide vote on any sewer rate change as it relates to paying off debt from bonds.

"It's clearly in the law. The way I read it, it's clear to me," said Bowman.

But about a dozen attorneys, including ones representing the county in bankruptcy court, reviewed the same amendment but came to a different conclusion- no vote is required because the county has debt from warrants, not bonds. They point to paragraph four saying all that is required is for the rates to be non-discriminatory.

"It really doesn't make any difference what my opinion is. I'm not a trained legal mind. When you have Sewell, Klee, Clark, Ivy, Presley all saying it's not applicable. I'll accept their legal judgement," said Commission President David Carrington.

But Bowman isn't because his attorney agrees with his assessment.

"I think it should be addressed in the courts and the courts should make a ruling whether an election by the voters is required or not," he said.

The other four commissioners say this is a legal issue and are satisfied with the attorneys' opinions.

People should still expect to receive higher bills in March.

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