Judge appoints controller of massive sewer debt

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - By Alan Collins

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - A Russell County judge has appointed a receiver to control the county's sewer department. This comes out of a lawsuit by Bank of New York Mellon against the county.

The bank accused Jefferson County of not doing more to pay off it's massive $3.2 billion debt.  Jefferson County sewer customers are concerned about their bills.

"My sewer bill is more than my water. I leave home early in the morning and don't go back until evening. I pay $80 a month. My sewer is $60-something," Patricia Reese said.

Commissioner Bettye Fine Collins is not surprised at the appointment. "Yes, we fully expected the judge to appoint a receiver over the Jefferson County Sewer System," she said.

Judge Albert Johnson appointed John Young as the receiver with total control over the sewer department. Young was appointed as a special masters to advise a federal judge about the sewer debt crisis.

Collins believes this could be a plus. "He is familiar with the system. I think that puts him ahead of the game," she said.

Young will have a lot of authority including over sewer rates.

Johnson's order says, "…provides for the appointment of a receiver to administer and operate the system with power to fix and charge rates and collect revenues."

Collins hopes Young will not raise rates drastically. He will consider and be aware of the severe economic restraints placed on payers as well as all citizens of the county due to the current economy," she said.

Customers are divided over the  issue. "I don't feel good about it. Having someone come in and take over. I think they should do something about it," Reese said.

"You know we have been having a lot of corruption in our sewer system. Somebody needs to oversee something. Cause our rates are going up," H.H. Woods said.

Young will be paid $500 an hour no more than 10 hours a day. The order says bankruptcy is not an option for solving the sewer debt problem.

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