The Birmingham Water Works Board and the City of Bessemer have filed an objection in federal bankruptcy court to Jefferson County's latest exit plan. There's still time for more to do the same.
The City of Bessemer provides water for its residents, as well as ones in other areas including Lipscomb and Brighton. Both Bessemer and the Water Works Board send customers one bill containing water and sewer fees. Both utilities believe the proposed sewer rate increases and the additional five dollars on the existing base rate will negatively impact revenues because more sewer users will opt not to pay the sewer portion of the bill. The utilities have policies against allowing customers to pay only a portion of the bill, so unpaid bills lead to water being shutoff.
In addition to being adversely impacted by the rate increase of 7.89 percent for four years followed by 3.49 percent, the utilities contend the county fails to provide adequate information in its latest plan. Court documents say there is a failure to address customer growth, changes in water consumption, risks involved with refinancing a sewer debt of nearly 1.9 billion dollars, and details about future capital spending. Among the expected capital expenses flagged in the future are updates to infrastructure replaced in the 1990s and even 2000s.
On June 30, the county filed its first bankruptcy plan. But last week, the county went back and amended that plan. The new plan called for higher rates because of low water consumption this year. The weather and lack of growth were to blame for the decline.
The judge will decide to accept or reject the plan August 6. The deadline to file objections is August 1.