JeffCo close to exiting bankruptcy, what it means for citizens - ABC 33/40 - Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

JeffCo close to exiting bankruptcy, what it means for citizens

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BIRMINGHAM - AL -

Jefferson County is preparing to close another dark chapter. A deal to get out of bankruptcy should be ready within the next month. The county hopes to start bidding bankruptcy farewell by December.

An end to bankruptcy should boost the county's image. But it won't automatically make new money available. Unless the legislature finally steps in, the level of service won't change.

The car tag lines and four hour waits have long become a visible reminder of the cutbacks made by the bankrupt county. A new resident calls it inexcusable.

"We considered moving to Hoover but I really wanted to live in Jefferson County. Now, I'm wondering if I made a poor decision," she said.

A year and a half ago, Jefferson County made the decision make the largest municipal bankruptcy filing in the U.S. for more than four billion dollars. Since then, 12 hundred employees have lost their jobs, road maintenance postponed, and satellite courthouses remain closed. There's even been problems processing tax collections on time.

"We're doing everything we can to get there but it's a problem," said Jefferson County county manager Tony Petelos.

Petelos says some of the problems have been fixed with one time revenues, like the sell of equipment and the nursing home. Cooper Green Mercy Hospital was turned into an urgent care center and clinics have even been consolidated to shutdown floors.

But current and prospective residents aren't the only ones witnessing the change. The county's bankruptcy attorney says potential employers are also watching headlines.

"When you treat the largest county in Alabama although it's a rural county, you aren't going to be able to have the level of services you need to attract new business," said attorney Kenneth Klee.

Unfortunately, new revenue requires help from the Alabama Legislature by way of a new tax. Otherwise, what you now see  is what you'll get.

"We've got to build those areas. But we are operating," said Petelos.

Petelos doesn't doubt bankruptcy has probably slowed economic development. But he points to the addition of the Dollar General distribution facility. The 100 million dollar development created 650 jobs.

A status conference over settlement talks will resume in bankruptcy court June 5. The county's attorney believes a deal will be in place with most creditors by then.

Here's the timeline laid out by Klee- filing a plan by the end of June, an August hearing, a creditor vote on the plan 30 days after the judge approves it then October or November confirmation hearings. That would allow the exit strategy to be implemented by the end of December.

Creditors question whether the plan can be implemented that quickly.

The county says it's "extremely close" to reaching agreements with JP Morgan and the hedge funds, which hold most of the debt.

A German bank will be voting on an agreement Monday. That means an additional agreement with that creditor could go before the county for a vote next week.

So far, the county has reached several agreements, including one with a Dublin bank over some school debt.

 

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