By Erica Thomas, managing editor
JEFFERSON COUNTY — The Jefferson County Commission passed a $700 million budget on Thursday, Aug. 8, 2019, for the upcoming year.
The budget includes funds for roads, crime-fighting, events, storm shelters and other items. A new item passed is a $1.25 million sewer assistance program.
The program will assist low-income households dealing with rising sewer bills.
Commission President Pro-Tem Lashunda Scales said the creation of the assistance program is the county’s answer to long-overdue calls for help by citizens. Scales said some residents are suffering in a utility crisis they had no role in creating.
To exit bankruptcy in 2013, county officials at the time agreed to a plan that included raising sewer rates about 8% annually through October 2018, followed by yearly jumps of nearly 3.5% for decades to come.
Critics of the program believe the fund could have legal ramifications because money will be going directly to private citizens. Scales believes a law passed in 2015 allows for the assistance program.
Item 5 in HB573, allows funds “to support publicly available assistance programs established for the benefit of low-income residential customers of the county’s public sanitary sewer system.”
The budget passed with a 3-2 vote. Commissioners Joe Knight, Lashunda Scales and Shelia Tyson voted yes. Commissioners Jimmie Stephens and Steve Ammos voted no.
The program will be handed over to a third-party agency to be managed. Qualifications have not been established.
Significant details of the 2020 budget include:
$25 million: Road construction and repair
$1.25 million – Sewer Assistance Fund
$1 million – Storm shelters
$250,000 – demolition of blighted properties
$250,000 — Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority
$200,000 – Magic City Classic
$60,000 – Crime Stoppers
$25,000 – Girl Scouts
$25,000 – Red Mountain Theatre
$50,000 – Carver Theatre
$25,000 — Sidewalk Film Festival
$50,000 – School STEM program (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics)