BRADENTON, Fla. - Two Jefferson County, Ala., commissioners yesterday again urged the county to for file municipal bankruptcy as it attempts to keep delaying a federal hearing that would determine if its debt-ridden sewer system should be place under the control of a receiver.
Commissioners Jim Carns and Bobby Humphryes released a five-page statement describing why they think the county should file for bankruptcy. They criticized recommendations of court-appointed special masters as to how the county could raise revenues and improve the sewer system's operations.
The statement, released by Carns, said the "best legal minds" on the results of municipal bankruptcy were consulted to determine that it was the preferred course of action for Jefferson County as opposed to settling with creditors. The statement does not name any experts consulted by the commissioners.
"Bankruptcy and the negative image associated with it are sickening and the harm difficult to quantify," the statement said. "However, we can look to other municipal bankruptcies and see that the effects are short term."
"Bankruptcy allows the county (through the court) to address the issues of who should accept the financial responsibility for the county sewer debt crisis," the statement said.
The statement was released just two days before the start of a hearing in which the appointment of a receiver is being sought by the major insurers of the sewer system's bonds, Syncora Guarantee Inc. and Financial Guaranty Insurance Co., and bondholders trustee Bank of New York Mellon.
On Monday, Jefferson County attorneys filed a motion asking for a stay, or postponement of the hearing tomorrow. They argued that several issues of dispute remain unresolved as to whether state or federal court has jurisdiction in the matter, and they suggest that state court is the proper venue for the pursuit of a receiver.
But Syncora and FGIC said Tuesday in a brief that some of those issues already had been rejected by the court. They also argued that the county has refused to cure ongoing bond defaults, and refused to implement measures to increase revenues to pay debt service.
"If the county wants a stay, it can file for bankruptcy under Chapter 9 where its good faith becomes an issue," the insurers said in their brief. "If the county had offered any real solution for the default which required additional time to consummate, the motion might be given some consideration, but this court has already granted three continuances on that basis and nothing has occurred."
The county has until this afternoon to respond.
The sewer system has more than $3.2 billion of debt outstanding, most of which is in auction- and variable-rate mode now being held by creditors. Jefferson County has forbearance agreements delaying some debt and related swap payments.