Special to The Times
The Birmingham Water Works Board in October gave Jefferson County a one-year notice of the termination of its sewer collection agreement which had been in place since the 1950s. Since then the two sides have been in discussions over the billing fees the BWWB has charged the county. The talks between the two sides turned testy last week. Commissioner David Carrington has been most vocal on behalf of the county while Water Works Board Member William Muhammad has taken the lead for his side.
So, we allowed each to make his argument.
Jefferson County Commissioner David Carrington:
I want to publicly chastise Mr. William Muhammed of the Birmingham Water Works Board for saying that he ‘didn’t give a damn’ about the ratepayers. It’s obvious that a majority of the Birmingham Water Works Board feels the same way.
To the contrary, I, and my fellow commissioners, do care about the ratepayers, on both the water and sewer systems. That’s why we worked so hard to reduce the sewer debt by approximately $1.5 billion dollars, saving the ratepayers billions of dollars in future principal and interest payments.
So, speaking for myself – and I feel confident that I’m speaking for a majority, if not all of my fellow county commissioners as well – I am putting Mr. Muhammed and the entire Birmingham Water Works Board on notice that I will personally fight your termination of billing services and the proposed doubling of our sewer billing fees without justification or cause in the court of public opinion, the courts of the judiciary, and the state legislature.
Your ‘hostage’ strategy is nothing more than ‘highway robbery’ of the water and sewer ratepayers. It will needlessly result in higher water and sewer bills. As such, I call on you to immediately recognize the error of your ways and to expeditiously reverse your decision and ‘stand down.’
Birmingham Water Works Board Member William Muhammad:
Dear Commissioner Carrington,
I hope this letter finds you in the best of health and mind. I must admit my disappointment that you chose to use the words “publicly chastise” in your statement in reference to me, a member of the Birmingham Water Works Board. The etymology of the word “chastise” is “to punish.” I find your statement to be paternalistic, (a form of racism where whites undertake to regulate the conduct of blacks under their authority, for their own good.)
Let me give you the context of my statement before you enter the court of public opinion. In our second meeting with representatives of the county, I began the meeting by passing out a copy of Mr. James White C.P.A.’s affidavit to the bankruptcy court.
In his affidavit, Mr. White points out that under your leadership, the county borrowed $1.8 billion at an interest rate of 9 percent. (There are people who have cars that are not paying 9 percent interest, let alone with tax-free bonds). Mr. White points out that after 8 years, the county would not be collecting enough money to have anything for capital improvements. At the end of 30 years, after paying $162 million per year (increased by 3.9 percent for 30 years), the ratepayers will still owe $2 billion. That’s $200 million more than they borrowed in the beginning!!! The ratepayers will have paid a minimum of $9 billion in interest, without reducing the debt 1 cent!!!
I said to them, “Don’t come here pretending you care about the ratepayers. I don’t give a damn about the ratepayers, just like you!!!” It was a gambit meant to throw them off. When you claimed in your statement, “I and my fellow commissioners do care about the ratepayers,” I call B.S.!!! Didn’t you and Commissioner Stephens meet with a Wall Street banker twice by yourselves, once in New York and once at your condo in Florida?
When you say that my termination of billing services and proposed doubling of rates are without justification or cause, I disagree. Our contract with you carries a termination clause. All it requires is a year’s notice of intent. BWWB receives 3 percent fee while Bessemer receives 7.5 percent collection fee. Which by the way, is Alabama State law that says collection fees for sewer rates can be between 5 percent and 10 percent; and if both parties can’t agree, the sewer collection fees are automatically set at 7.5 percent!!!
I am not holding you hostage. I am attempting to free the ratepayers that you have taken hostage by using us to turn off their water, if they don’t pay the outrageous sewer debt that you singlehandedly negotiated on their backs for the next 40 years!!! I considered my offer a win-win situation.
At first, I asked for 10 percent collection fee with no shut offs and no rate increases!!! After negotiation, we settled on 7.5 percent (The same amount Bessemer is paid)! With that 7.5 percent, I plan to ask the board to donate $1 million a year to the H2O foundation to create an indigent fund for those who can’t pay their outrageous sewer bills. This fund would also repair water leaks for up to $1,000! I plan to ask the board to use the majority of the 7.5 percent to roll back water rate increases from 3.9 percent to 1.7 percent!
0.5 percent of the increase could be used to fund a contract compliance program to insure that all citizens have an opportunity to do business with the BWWB.
So Commissioner Carrington, I ask you to judge me by intentions, as I will judge you by yours. I am not one of your minions. So I leave you with the words of my eldest daughter Mary, “when you come for William Muhammad, you better come correct”!!!