Reported by Kyle Whitmire and written by Madison Underwood
After two days of meetings in and out of public and months of settlement negotiations, the Jefferson County Commission voted Tuesday to proceed with bankruptcy filings and become the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.
After thanking Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley for supporting Jefferson County in negotiations with the county’s creditors, Commissioner Jimmie Stephens motioned for the filing, and Commissioner Sandra Little Brown seconded the motion.
Carrington apologized for the effect the bankruptcy — which will be twice the size of Orange Co., Calif.’s bankruptcy filing, the current recordholder — will have on the state of Alabama and other municipalities.
“I’m sorry, I feel like this has to be done,” Carrington said.
Attorneys for Jefferson County filed a bankruptcy petition at 4:29 p.m. Hearings could begin as early as Thursday morning.
Before the vote, Commissioner Bowman told the gallery gathered in the commission chambers that he had a message for Jefferson County creditor JPMorgan: if you can forgive $14 billion of debt for Greece, you can take your foot off JeffCo’s neck and forgive more of the county’s debt.
“Just as you helped Greece, you have the power to do the same for Jefferson County for a fraction of the cost,” Bowman said.
Bowman said he wanted the county’s debt cut from $3.2 billion to $1.5 billion.
The rate increases required by the settlement would be too much for Jefferson County ratepayers, Stephens said.
Commissioner Joe Knight said Jefferson County had to turn to bankruptcy, which he described as its last resort. “Three and a half years we’ve been dealing with the sewer debacle—two commissions, two governors….” and the people of Jefferson County have had enough, Knight said.
After the vote, Gov. Bentley expressed frustration with the Commission’s decision on Twitter.
“I’m disappointed by the decision today, bankruptcy will negatively impact not only Birmingham, but also the entire state,” Bentley tweeted. “The settlement that JeffCo rejected would have reduced the sewer debt by $1 billion and significantly reduced proposed sewer rate increases.”
“The JeffCo sewer debt has been an impediment to economic growth in Al & bankruptcy filing will now be an even greater challenge,” Bentley continued. “We must bring economic growth and stability to BHM region & try to limit the impact of this decision on the residents and businesses.”
After the vote, the Commission adjourned until 9 a.m. next Wednesday.