RSA Wants to Bail Out Jefferson County

by Eileen Jones - bio | email

Jefferson county is on the verge of bankruptcy. It owes 3.2 billion dollars and is struggling to figure a way out. The Retirement Systems of Alabama offered a bail out plan to avoid bankruptcy, but three of five county commissioners said "no" they'd find another way.

Jefferson county and its sewer system are in a world of trouble. Their bond rating has been lowered to two rungs above junk bond status making it harder and more expensive to borrow money in the future.

R.S.A. is willing to buy the sewer system for a little more than half of the county's 3.2 billion dollar debt and RSA says the bond-holders could get insurers to pay the rest.

But, it's the filing of bankruptcy that bothers the three county commissioners because if they do Jefferson county would become the largest municipal bankruptcy filing in the nation's history. But, the commissioners say they have a plan and all the stakeholders are on board.

"We have a plan that they do agree to - that they do agree the numbers work. We're still negotiating some of the finer points of that plan but we do have a plan that works and that they can sign onto," says Commissioner George Bowman.

Commission president Bettye Fine Collins has another concern. "What we're doing and saying certainly impacts on the future of Jefferson county and folks, don't want this county to go down in history as having the largest municipal bankruptcy in the history of the country."

However, RSA's David Bronner sees the solution a little differently. "That's bunk. All that is is more smoke put out by the people that don't want to take a haircut. Put it into bankruptcy. Let myself or somebody else buy it. Then, the taxpayers don't get stuck with more sales tax. Taxpayers don't have to come up with more property taxes. Taxpayers don't get hosed over again by the same people that made hundreds of millions of dollars off them."

Those two commissioners along with Commissioner Shelia Smoot say they will reveal their plan when they have finalized all the details.  However, if their plan involves using excess sales taxes, the Governor will have to call a special session of the legislature for approval.

The county is in this fix because it borrowed the 3.2 billion dollars over the past ten years for sewer repairs and expansions. However, rising interests rates and a troubled economy have made the debt difficult to pay off.