By Barnett Wright
The Birmingham Times
Some area leaders called it the luck of the Irish.
On Friday, March 17, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that Jefferson County can refinance nearly $600 million in school construction bonds and use $60 million in annual savings for a number of area projects.
Some of the savings — $18 million — will go annually to county school systems. Each system will get a share of the money based on enrollment. For example, Jefferson County school, with the largest enrollment, will receive an estimated $6.3 million annually and Birmingham City Schools, with the second largest enrollment, will receive an estimated $4.1 million annually.
The court ruling on St. Patrick’s Day was cheered by a host of elected officials who pointed out that Democrats and Republicans supported legislation to refinance the debt.
“It took teamwork to get this done,” said County Commission President Jimmie Stephens. “It took a collaborative effort, communication, cooperation and coordination . . . I am proud of what we accomplished as a team. I am grateful to the [legislative] delegation and our commissioners.”
County Commissioner David Carrington, State Senator Rodger Smitherman, D-Birmingham; State Rep. Jack Williams, R-Vestavia Hills and State Rep. David Faulkner, R-Homewood were among the bipartisan group of lawmakers who joined Stephens, county commissioners and transit officials at Friday’s press conference.
“This gives us a chance to show what happens when we work together,” Smitherman said. “This is a model and I hope this model continues to move forward because there is strength in all of us working together.”
The $60 million in annual savings includes $36.3 million every year to Jefferson County, of which $25 million will go for road repairs and construction and the rest to furnish economic development incentives, according to county officials.
Jefferson County legislators will get $3.6 million to split up in their districts in areas such as fire departments, libraries, school grants or sidewalks. The Birmingham Jefferson County Transit Authority (BJCTA) will get $2 million a year for 10 years while the Birmingham Zoo will get $500,000.
County officials say the money is much needed since a judge struck down its occupational tax in 2011 which led to hundreds of layoffs and reduced services. The job tax generated between $65 million and $70 million annually, about one-fourth of the county’s general fund.
“Today’s Alabama Supreme Court ruling is the pathway to restoring Jefferson County’s government, albeit at a much smaller but more cost-effective footprint, without any new taxes,” said County Commissioner David Carrington. “Other than Dec. 3, 2013, the day the county exited Chapter 9 bankruptcy, today is a very, very good day for the citizens of Jefferson and surrounding counties.”