Jeffco Commission decides against further debt

By Alan Collins

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - A majority of the Jefferson Co. Commission voted Wednesday against applying for almost $27 million in stimulus funds.

"The answer here is no," Bettye Fine Collins, Jefferson Co. Commission President said. "Not pursue that. It's over."

Collins wanted to go after the funds, which would have resulted in a bond sale and more debt for the county. However, a majority of the commissioners opposed the idea because it would have added to the county's growing debt.

"I don't even know why we are talking about it," Commissioner Bobby Humphryes said. "We got a lot of good projects in there. We can't address those in this manner."

Collins said the county could have afforded the debt because the federal government would have paid for 45 percent of the interest debt. The money would have been spent on maintenance and new equipment needs. Collins said the county's $100 million capital fund is out of money.

"What has happened in the past, people have gone into that fund and spent the money for all sorts of things," Collins said. "That leaves us with zero, no money for capital needs."

Collins hopes cities in Jefferson County will apply for the money if the county does not.

"I hope people are lined up to take advantage of it," Collins said. "We need it to stay in the county. We can't use it ourselves here. The best thing is for it to be spent in the county."

Birmingham Mayor William Bell said Wednesday he was developing a list of projects, including replacing the closed bridge at Grants Mill Road. A developer is also looking to renovate the Pizitz Building in downtown Birmingham.

Meanwhile, Humphryes admitted Wednesday the money would have helped with various road projects, but said the county is already going after other stimulus funds which will not require a bond sale.

"There is $90 million worth out there," Humphryes said. "Of the 90 million, nine million would go to Jefferson County for bridges to be replaced."

Cities applying for the funds have until April 30th to do so. If there are no applications, the money will revert back to state government to be distributed to other parts of Alabama.

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