Sewer rates hikes, anti-corruption mechanisms in JeffCo plan - ABC 33/40 - Birmingham News, Weather, Sports

Details on sewer rates, anti-corruption mechanisms in JeffCo bankruptcy plan

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BIRMINGHAM - AL -

Jefferson County sewer users will see higher bills. It remains to be seen just how much they'll increase under the bankruptcy plan. But one commissioner says the public should have confidence in anti-corruption provisions.

Running water and flushing toilets are about to drain wallets in Jefferson County even more.

"It could very easily be higher and higher to match the revenue projection to what ratepayers are actually paying and that clearly falls on our backs," said Commissioner George Bowman who was the only commissioner to vote against the bankruptcy plan.

The plan reduces the debt from more than four billion dollars to a little more than two billion. It calls for sewer rates to rise 7.41 percent for four years then 3.41 percent after that to pay for the refinanced sewer debt over a roughly forty year period.

But if revenues fall below the projected level listed in the plan, rates will increase.  If the county gets locked into a higher interest rate, rates will rise.

Bowman says it's an unaffordable burden on people who don't have the means to leave the county.

"They are stuck. They have to stay and to pay if they want sewer and water," he said.

But the county is required by law to have a hearing about refinancing its debt. It's expected to take place after the federal judge considers the bankruptcy plan in August. That could possibly change the rates.

"There have been instances when a member of the public has said something to skew my thought process, so we'll listen to what's said. But it needs to be new information we currently don't have in front of us, not just an opinion," said Commission President David Carrington.

The hearing will also help ensure the county doesn't enter into bad or illegal bond deals. Other anti-corruption mechanisms include requiring a fixed interest rates on the new bonds and not allowing any future creditors to call the commissioners directly.

"If you contact a commissioner or his staff, you'll be excluded, so I think we put in steps that the public should have confidence," said Carrington.

The plan will be filed electronically Sunday.

Bowman hopes the commission will focus on attracting new businesses and residents.

"If we are ever to have any chance to reduce the impact of these rates, the system must grow. Right now, we're just jacking up for the rates for the people paying," he said.

The plan also includes two new agreements with creditors. One is with the remaining sewer creditors. The other is with a creditor holding general obligation debt. That brings the total number of agreements with creditor groups to seven. These creditors who have pledged support for the bankruptcy plan hold 82 percent of the total debt.

The bankruptcy plan is now expected to be implemented as early as November.

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