Citing Improved Finances, JeffCo Commission Debates Reinstating Road Maintenance

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Solomon Crenshaw Jr., BirminghamWatch

Jefferson County Commission President Jimmie Stephens.

June 6, 2017 – Two matters on the Jefferson County Commission’s committee agenda Tuesday showed that the county is on better footing than it had been.

Commissioners talked about reinstating agreements to provide service for through roads in some area cities and renewing a resolution for the county to again participate in the back-to-school sales tax holiday.

“The county has turned the corner and we’ve established a new baseline for service within Jefferson County,” Commission President Jimmie Stephens said. “Now it’s our job to be proactive and build upon that new baseline. We’ve reallocated our existing resources to public safety, roads and transportation, revenue – which is your tag lines – and economic development.

“Now for the first time with this new sales tax issue, we will have money to improve and enhance those areas and expand the services for the first time in over a decade.”

Earlier this year, the state Supreme Court OK’d the commission’s plan to refinance bonds it had issued for schools, extend the life of the 1 percent sales tax imposed to pay for those bonds, and take some of that money to pay for other projects in the county that are not related to schools.

On top of paying off school bonds, the tax is expected to generate more than $36 million for Jefferson County, Stephens said.

“It will be placed into infrastructure improvements and economic development projects,” he said. “It will also generate $18 million a year for our school systems.

“This is really an investment in the future of Jefferson County and for the first time we will give people a reason to move into Jefferson County,” the commission president continued. “In the past, we’ve given them reasons to move out of Jefferson County. It’s time we turned that around and this is our first step in doing that.”

Jefferson County in the past had maintained a number of through roads in various municipalities, but it rescinded those agreements because of financial difficulties.

“The through road agreements … were rescinded in 2009 by resolution of the County Commission because the county was broke and couldn’t maintain those roads,” Stephens said. “Right now, we’re looking to reestablish, or rescind that resolution, and to repair roads that are within the municipalities that were agreed upon long, long ago.”

The commission already has re-established maintenance agreements to many cities or roads, including the recent action to maintain Morgan Road and Parkwood Road in Bessemer. The resolutions that were rescinded Tuesday were for designated roads in Morris, Tarrant and Trussville.

Three other municipalities were pulled from the agenda as discussions with the county continue. “We need to know where our roads are and where their roads are,” Commissioner Joe Knight said.

Stephens said: “We’re beginning to work through all of these different areas and improve the quality of life of our citizens. That’s what we were elected to do and that is our intention.”

Commissioners also said they are inclined to take part again in the state’s back-to-school sales tax holiday, which this year takes place the last weekend in July. The commission meets on Thursdays, when it takes official action on the matters commissioners discuss in their Tuesday committee meetings.

Solomon Crenshaw Jr., BirminghamWatch

Barry Stephenson, chairman, Jefferson County Board of Registrars.

Election Preparation

In other business, commissioners agreed to spend $1 million for the special primary election on Aug. 15 and a possible runoff on Sept. 26 to fill the seat vacated by former U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions. That money will be reimbursed by the state. The general election for that seat will be held in December.

“We always plan for an extra election but we had the countywide special school tax election back in March so we had already utilized our funds for the one election we always budget extra for,” registrar Barry Stephenson said. “You have ballot costs, you have personnel costs, you have poll worker costs, you have poll rental costs. There are a lot of associated costs that go into a countywide election.”

Stephenson noted changes in some Jefferson County polling places, including a split of the precinct at Hunter Street Baptist Church in Hoover.

“In the November presidential election, Hunter Street was the largest precinct in the state,” the registrar said. “It’s a big facility but (the number of voters there) had grown too large through natural growth and voter registration. The city of Hoover is allowing us to use the new Hoover Met Sports Complex, a beautiful facility located right next to the Hoover Met.”

Also, residents who had voted at Center Point City Hall will now vote at the Center Point Senior Center on Polly Reed Road. C.J. Donald Elementary School gymnasium replaces Fairfield City Hall as a polling place, a change made to address Americans with Disabilities Act access issues.

The old Berry High School on Columbiana Road had been a polling place, but it was bought by the Vestavia Hills Board of Education and is being converted to the new Pizitz Middle School. Shades Mountain Independent Christian Church on Tyler Road replaces Berry as a precinct.

The line to vote at Hunter Street Baptist Church last year stretched to the playground and looped around into the parking lot and up a small hill.

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