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Jefferson County approves $700 million budget that includes assistance for sewer bills

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—Independence Place

$25,000 – Red Mountain Theatre

$50,000 – Carver Theatre

$25,000 — Sidewalk Film Festival

$50,000 – School STEM program (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics)

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