Jefferson County gets $25M for infrastructure, economic development

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Some area leaders called it the luck of the Irish.

On 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 area projects.

The $60 million 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.

Commission President Jimmie Stephens said the money will help with acquisition of land for industrial parks.

“We must have the resources to be competitive and recruit new industry and grow jobs,” Stephens said.

The money could be available during the 2018 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, 2017.

The county is off to a strong economic start this year, with announcements that include a Publix Super Markets Alabama distribution center grand opening and global auto supplier Grupo Antolin’s plans to invest nearly $10.4 million to establish a manufacturing facility.

County officials say there is potential for additional growth and revenue, after years of cutbacks, that can help the county reach its financial objectives.

“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,” County Commissioner David Carrington said.

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 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.”

Jefferson County commissioners, legislators and other officials tout their plan for spending $60 million a year freed up by an Alabama Supreme Court decision on St. Patrick’s Day. (The Birmingham Times)

State Sen. 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 the 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 from refinancing the debt includes $18 million each year for schools, based on enrollment. That means an estimated $6.3 million annually for Jefferson County Schools and $4.1 million annually for Birmingham City Schools.

In addition to the county government and schools, Jefferson County legislators will get $3.6 million to split up in their districts for fire departments, libraries, school grants and sidewalks; the Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority will get $2 million a year for 10 years; and the Birmingham Zoo will get $500,000.

“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,” Carrington said.

This story originally appeared in The Birmingham Times.

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