GOP commissioners argue over sewer bond debt

By Alan Collins

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Republicans on the Jefferson County Commission argued Wednesday over how to solve the county's $3 billion sewer debt crisis.

The argument began after commissioners Jim Carns and Bobby Humphryes said the only way to solve the debt crisis is for the Wall Street banks and bond holder to reduce the debt by $2 billiion.

"That is absolutely true," Carns said. "Nothing has changed. The numbers have been there. At best we can afford one point two billion dollars under the current market conditions."

"The only way to solve this is reduce the debt," Humphryes said. "You got to reduce considerably. Almost by more than half."

Commission President Bettye Fine Collins quickly refuted the statements from her fellow Republicans.

"The county borrowed and spent three point two billion," Collins said.

Collins then accused Carns and Humphryes of trying undermine settlement talks.

"I think it's absolutely detrimental," Collins said. "I think it's an attempt to cause a train wreck in negotiations."

Collins said the county was victimized in the original bond deal but the county still owes more than $3 billion. She said she believes if settlement negotiations fail, a court could appoint a receiver to take over the sewer department.

"That receiver could raise sewer rates 400 percent to meet the need of the debt as of today," Collins said.

Collins said a receiver may also try to impose non-user fees in the county.

Still, Humphryes said he will not be forced into accepting just any deal.

"I'm not going to vote on a deal because it's good for Bettye's legacy to solve the sewer debt," Humphryes said. "It's got to be good for the ratepayer and the taxpayer."

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