NORTH JEFFERSON —
On Thursday, the Jefferson County Commission is scheduled to decide whether to settle with creditors or to file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy in order to solve the county’s sewer debt crisis.
North Jefferson County municipal leaders weighed in on the issue, giving their own thoughts and opinions on the matter and speculating as to how it could affect each of their respective towns or cities.
“I think they should have filed bankruptcy a year and a half ago,” said Kimberly Mayor Craig Harris, who served as chairman of the finance committee for the city before becoming mayor. “This is a no-win situation.”
Harris said bankruptcy is the only option the county can afford at this point, and that expensive consultations on the problem have only made the debt worse.
“The previous commission should have done it. They’ve known what the problem is for years. The new commission will hopefully declare bankruptcy,” he said. Harris said he is not sure how, if at all, either bankruptcy or settlement could directly affect Kimberly.
Many leaders said they are unsure of how the county’s fate could affect their municipalities, including Morris Mayor Craig Drummonds. “The commission knows all the ins and outs of it. There’s things we don’t know that they do know,” he said. “All we can do is speculate.”
Gardendale Mayor Othell Phillips, on the other hand, has a list of ways the financial crisis affects his city.
“The financial stability of the county also affects bond rating for all municipalities located in Jefferson County,” he said.
He also blames the crisis for the closure of the county satellite courthouses in April, one of which was located on Main Street. He’s also concerned about reduced aid for city police from the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department, which announced in June that it would no longer be working vehicle wrecks and would be laying off 145 deputies. Morris Police Chief Bryan Cochran has said that the Morris police force’s workload has doubled since then, from an average of two or three wrecks a month to six in June.
“The Jefferson County Commission has a huge task before them. Their problem didn’t happen overnight, and it can’t be fixed overnight,” said Phillips. “I hope these proposals do not include imposing ‘non-user fees’ on citizens that are not connected to the sewer system or raising taxes on the people of Jefferson County.”
Most of north Jefferson does not connect to the county sewer system; State House Rep. Allan Treadaway, R-Morris, co-sponsored a bill that would have barred the county sewer board from charging sewer fees to non-users.
Phillips said five Jefferson County-owned roads that are located in the city are not being maintained.