JeffCo commissioners vote 3-2 to increase sewer rates - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

JeffCo commissioners vote 3-2 to increase sewer rates

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Source: WBRC Source: WBRC
Dozens of people showed up to the public hearing held today about increasing sewer rates in Jefferson County to help pay for the county's nearly $2 billion of debt. Source: Alan Collins/WBRC Dozens of people showed up to the public hearing held today about increasing sewer rates in Jefferson County to help pay for the county's nearly $2 billion of debt. Source: Alan Collins/WBRC
JEFFERSON COUNTY, AL (WBRC) -

Despite protests, Jefferson County Commissioners voted 3-2 to increase sewer rates starting in November.

In November, a $5 base charge will  be added to most residential household accounts.

The rate increase plays a major role exiting bankruptcy. If approved by the bankruptcy court, the rate increase plan calls for increasing sewer rates by 7.89 percent for four years, then jumping 3.49 percent for up to another 36 years. This would start November 2014.

Most of those who appeared at a public hearing on the rate increase opposed the plan. Twenty-six people signed up to speak and had three minutes each to comment.

"Today being tied to the sewer system is a liability," John Meriwether said.

Some of the speakers blamed the previous Jefferson County Commission.

"They illegally did it wrong. Charging something that is not complete. You can charge us but you didn't fix the sewer," Olivia Thompson said.

Jefferson County's plan to exit bankruptcy calls for increased sewer rates to pay off a new refinanced debt of $1.835 billion. Many of the speakers Monday say they should not have to pay off a debt that was influenced by corruption.

"If I commit fraud against JP Morgan I go to jail. JP Morgan comes here and commits fraud against the taxpayer and we got nobody to help us," Kerri English said.

Speaker after speaker feared the increased sewer bills would be a strain on the poor who would not be able to pay their water bills.

"They say are going to run people out of Jefferson County. Where will they go? They can not afford to pay the sewer rate," Jefferson County Assistant Tax Assessor Andrew Bennett said.

One speaker believed it would lead to serious health issues.

"I bought me a slop jar. I got mine at home. You can turn off my water. I will use the slop jar I got," David Russell said.

All three Republican commissioners voted for the plan, Commissioners David Carrington, Joe Knight and Jimmie Stephens. Commissioners Sandra Little Brown and George Bowman, the only two Democrats and African Americans voted against it.

"This impact is hitting them in the pocketbooks and will continue to hit them in the pocketbook for the next 40 years," Bowman said.

"Do I think it's the best deal? I can't answer. I know it's the best deal I can get," Carrington said.

The public can still oppose or support the plan during a confirmation hearing in U.S. bankruptcy court in November. Carrington admits the plan may fail to generate the necessary revenue to pay off the new debt, but Carrington said concessions will have to come from county creditors not from ratepayers.

Copyright 2013 WBRC. All rights reserved.

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