Jefferson County Commission Considers More COVID-19 Relief For Businesses

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Jefferson County Commission President Jimmie Stephens lowers his mask momentarily during the commission’s committee meeting May 19, 2020.

Solomon Crenshaw Jr., BirminghamWatch

By Solomon Crenshaw Jr., BirminghamWatch

Businesses in Jefferson County will be able to apply for more money to help them combat the effects of COVID-19 if the County Commission approves a resolution being considered Thursday.

The resolution, presented by the Office of Community Services and Workforce Development, seeks up to $1.15 million in supplemental funds for the county’s revolving loan fund grant from the state’s Economic Development Administration. Jefferson County commissioners in their committee meeting Tuesday decided to place the issue on the agenda for action Thursday.

The county already has a revolving loan fund grant program established with EDA, through which it can loan a third of the money needed for an approved project. Frederick L. Hamilton, director of the Department of Community Services and Workforce Development, cited companies in Irondale and Vestavia Hills that have benefited from that program.

The proposed supplement similarly fills a gap.

“We may be able to loan that money at almost, if not at, zero interest and then have deferred payments,” Hamilton said, “and not have that requirement that the borrower would have to come with two-thirds of the money. We may be able to do 100% financing for a project that’s worthy.

“It’s really money to help those that just need a little extra to make their projects work and sometimes private lending companies with their requirements won’t lend as much,” Hamilton said. “That’s where we can pick up. Also, we can take a second position behind the banks or the other private lending institution.”

Legal Help in Spending COVID Funds

In another matter related to COVID-19, county attorney Theo Lawson presented a resolution today that Jefferson County hire a consultant to provide guidance in the spending of federal CARES Act funds related to COVID-19.

Lawson’s resolution, which was moved to Thursday’s agenda, would hire Witt O’Brien through an emergency purchasing agreement to provide technical assistance for federal disaster money. The firm also would be able, the attorney said, to advise the county regarding additional funds that may be available beyond those approved by the CARES Act.

“One of the things about this organization,” Lawson said, “is they stand by their advice and are willing to stand with you in the event that there’s any discrepancy or question about their use.”

Commissioners went into executive session following their most recent meeting to discuss matters that could be litigated by the Department of Justice and possibly involving the Office of the Inspector General regarding the $115 million the county received from the federal government via the CARES Act.

Commissioners questioned today whether the consultant would work for the county attorney or them. Lawson said there would be no difference.

“This is not a situation where somebody is just coming to me and providing information and me filtering it to you,” the county attorney said. “This is somebody who is an extension of our office. At any time, I’m available to you all, as will be this person. This is a person that is being brought in as an expert in that capacity.

“It’s not about changing any kind of process or anything. It’s just a matter of having that person available to give that advice just as I provide it to you.”

Contract to Manage Sewer Assets

In another matter, David Denard, the Director of Environmental Services, offered a resolution to hire Hazen & Sawyer for $19.55 million to handle asset management in the county’s waste management system.

“Asset Management … is a program we put together that essentially tracks all of our collection system assets and makes sure they’re maintained and schedules all the routine pipe replacement and rehabilitation of the whole system,” Denard said. “That contract is to make sure we manage all that and to make sure we do the designs and schedule all the projects out for bid.”

Jefferson County is under an Environmental Protection Agency consent decree regarding the sewer basins in its system. Denard, when asked, said it is possible that some of those basins could be removed from the consent decree.

“We have nine basins under our 1996 consent decree,” Denard said. “We’ve terminated five of those basins and we have four left. As we can demonstrate substantial compliance to the EPA and the Department of Justice and the plaintiffs, we will petition to terminate those basins. We’ll look at the performance and as we think we’ve demonstrated that, we’ll submit those.”

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