JeffCo closer to bankruptcy plan, sewer rates could change - ABC 33/40 - Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

JeffCo closer to filing bankruptcy plan, sewer rates could change

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Jefferson County Commission meeting discussing a plan to exit bankruptcy, Tuesday, June 25, 2013. (abc3340.com) Jefferson County Commission meeting discussing a plan to exit bankruptcy, Tuesday, June 25, 2013. (abc3340.com)
BIRMINGHAM - AL -

Jefferson County will file a plan to exit bankruptcy this week. Tuesday, commissioners gave the public a glimpse of what to expect to see in the bankruptcy bill and who will be paying it.

The proposed sewer rates continue to cause a stink.

"My constituents are struggling to pay those bills now. The only assurance they have now is however hard it is to pay those bills now, it's going to be harder next year and the year after  and it will continue for 40 years," said Commissioner George Bowman.

Under the current bankruptcy plan, it will take roughly forty years to repay the debt. The county will refinance the re-negotiated two billion dollar debt using a lower interest bond repaid over a longer period of time through sewer rates.

Right now, it would mean rate increases of 7.41 percent for four years then 3.49 after that. But those rates are tied to the interest rate.

"Could it [the rates] change? Yes. Should it change before August? Yes. Then the next change to re-look at it would be when we settle the debt in November, December," said Commission President David Carrington.

That's two opportunities for this and a future generation to possibly see very different sewer bills.

But Carrington says there's a small safety net worked into the bankruptcy deal to protect sewer users from a slight increase in the interest rate.

"We've built a cushion into the plan to absorb a portion of any interest rate increase," he said explaining that would prevent sewer rates from rising.

Commissioner Sandra Little Brown wants to see another safeguard for low income users. She's calling for a program to inspect homes for leaks that may be causing higher bills in some areas.

Thursday, the county's lead bankruptcy attorney will be in town to go over the plan with the commissioners in an executive session. Possible deals may be reached with an additional sewer creditor and creditor who holds some general obligation debt.

Under current agreements, creditors have agreed to eliminating about two billion of the more than four billion dollar debt.

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