During the commission's weekly work session, Collins read from a memo to county employees assuring them that their jobs and benefits are not at risk.
By the contracts with bond holders, the sewer system debt is payable only from the net revenues of the sewer system, Collins said. That means other county services will not be effected. What's more, the debt service comes after other sewer operating expenses, such as payroll.
While that's good news for county employees, the commission and its advisors are still struggling over how to keep the county out of bankruptcy. On Wednesday, the county announced that it would not post collateral or insurance to stop terminations of 13 interest rate swaps. Thursday, Collins seemed more upbeat, indicating that the county might be able to work with its creditors to avoid bankruptcy.
"I really believe that we are going to be able to work something out," Collins said. "I think we are all in a ‘have-to' mode. I can't reiterate that strongly enough."
Still, Collins offered no new plans for dealing with the debt crisis. Solutions such as a temporary tax or raising sewer rates are unfair to ratepayers and the poor, she said.
"Those at the poverty level, those parents on the free lunch programs - I don't know how much they can bear," she said. "They're probably paying $4 a gallon for regular gas and everything in sight is going up except their salaries or their Social Security checks."
Read the complete text from Collins memo to county employees below.
To: Employees of Jefferson County, Alabama
From: Commissioner Bettye Fine Collins
Date: March 6, 2008
RE: Effect of Sewer Debt on County Employees
In recent weeks, newspapers and local television stations have reported extensively on the County's financial condition. These reports have caused many of the County's employees to worry about their jobs and benefits. The information in this memorandum is directed to the our employees in response to their questions. It is not directed to investors in the County's debt securities.
It is important to understand that the County's debt problems relate to the sewer system. The problems faced by sewer system are serious, but they will not interfere with the County's ability to operate and meet its obligations to employees and trade creditors. The sewer system debt is payable only from the net revenues of the sewer system (after payment of all the sewer system's operating expenses, including payroll). This means a couple of things:
- First, the sewer system debt is not a general obligation of the County. The holders of the sewer system debt have no valid claim against the County's general budget, the County's assets, or non-sewer system revenues.
- Second, the County pays all operating expenses of the sewer system (including payroll) before making any payments on the sewer system debt.
As employees of the county, you probably have many questions and concerns. I would like to offer the following answers to some frequently asked questions:
- Does the County expect layoffs as a result of the sewer system debt problems? No. The County does not expect or intend to lay off employees. The sewer system debt is payable only from sewer system revenues after operating expenses. The sewer system debt does not directly affect other aspects of the County's operations. The County will not have to lay off workers to deal with the sewer system's financial problems.
- Will the sewer system debt problems affect employee health insurance and other benefits? No. The sewer system's financial problems do not interfere with the County's provision of benefits to its employees. The sewer system's debt will not change payroll, health insurance and other employee benefits.
- Do sewer system debt problems put the pension plan at risk? No. The County's pension plan assets are separate from the County's assets and obligations. The sewer system's debt problems do not threaten your pension.
- How are the County's vendors treated? The expenses of operating the sewer system are paid before the sewer system debt. The holders of the sewer system debt are entitled only to net revenues, after payment of all operating expenses. The County's non-sewer system vendors are paid from the different funds that are not subject to the sewer system debt.
The County Commission faces difficult decisions on the sewer system debt. However, these decisions will not be made at the expanse of the County's employees. We are hard at work on a plan to put the sewer system on a sound financial footing. I hope to be able to communicate this plan to you in the coming weeks. Until then, I ask that you bear with us, knowing that the solutions to the sewer system's problems do not threaten your job, your benefits while working for the County, or your pension. The County values its employees, and I am committed to maintaining the quality and loyalty of our work force.