County deserves representation

By PAUL DEMARCO / Guest Columnist

Alabama is a great state to live in for a lot of reasons. First and foremost we have citizens of strong faith who are some of the most patriotic in the country. Secondly, we have great natural resources to sustain our people.

One of those resources is the abundance of water in this state from our many rivers, lakes and creeks that crisscross our state. From Inland Lake to Lake Purdy, we have a watershed that provides the water needs for our region.

The Birmingham Water Works Board was founded in 1951 to provide water for the citizens of  Birmingham. As our region grew so did the need to provide water to an ever increasing population of residential and business consumers.

Today, the Board serves over 600,000 ratepayers in a five county region. This is truly a regional system; however, the five member board is currently appointed only by the Birmingham City Council, despite the fact the city of Birmingham does not the own the system.  Even though 2/3rd of the ratepayers live outside the city limits of Birmingham, only one of the five board members lives outside the city.  Shelby County alone has almost 40,000 ratepayers in its boundaries, but no representation on the board.

For the past three years, I have worked with Senator Jabo Waggoner to pass legislation that would change the makeup of the board and add more representation to the board to represent ratepayers outside the city limits of Birmingham.

Senator Waggoner has again introduced this bill during the current legislative session. Senate Bill 89 would give Shelby County ratepayers a representative on the board. The legislation would make the Shelby County Commission the appointing authority for that board.

In addition to the appointment of a representative from Shelby County the legislation does the following:

1. Add additional board members from Jefferson and Blount Counties

2. Cap the board members pay to no more than $500 a month. Currently, the Birmingham Water Works Board is one of the highest paid in the country – getting $285 per meeting with no cap on the number of meetings.

3. Require more public notice about potential rate increases

4. Put term limits on board members service on the board

5. Require that the Board members fall under the Alabama Ethics Statute

6. Adds requirements for more transparency for travel for board members.

While this legislation seems to be common sense and noncontroversial, the Board is fighting this legislation with every means possible. They are paying almost $400,000 to lobbyist to kill this legislation. That is right, the board is using ratepayer dollars to fight legislation that would bring more accountability and transparency to the board.

This bill has passed out of the Senate Committee and is now ready to be considered by the Senate and then ultimately the Alabama House of Representatives. Contact your state senator and state representative and tell them you support this legislation.

Shelby County ratepayers finally deserve a voice on the Birmingham Water Works Board.

Paul DeMarco is a former member of the Alabama House of Representatives