Still planning to introduce water works bill, says DeMarco

“We’re working on the details of the (Birmingham Water Works Board) bill, and still plan to introduce it, probably in the next couple of weeks,” Rep. Paul DeMarco, R-Homewood, told The Blount Countian last week. The bill, originally introduced in last year’s legislative session to determined opposition from lobbyists, failed to make it to the floor for a vote before the session ended. Senate Majority Leader Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills, and DeMarco resurrected the bill for another legislative push this year.

In its original form, the bill would have put a cap on Birmingham Water Works Board member pay, set a two-term limit on board member service, and required public hearings before water rate increases are voted on by the board. The bill’s most contentious provision specified expanding the board itself by adding a representative from each of the counties in the water authority’s service area, including Blount, St. Clair, Shelby, and Walker counties.

Last week, Birmingham Mayor William Bell proposed a compromise to head off the legislation or soften its tougher provisions. Included in his suggested changes were for the board to implement its own cap on board member pay (the bill calls for a $500 monthly cap) and agree to Alabama Ethics Commission oversite, perhaps in lieu of other provisions. His compromise did not address the controversial matter of board representation for other counties in the service area.

Asked if the mayor’s suggested compromises would undermine the bill or result in changes to its provisions, DeMarco said: “I’m pleased the mayor recognizes there are issues that need to be addressed relative to the board, and I’m happy he acknowledges they do fall under the ethics law. I’m willing to discuss his ideas further with him.”

He did not say whether a determined effort would be made to keep the provision to expand board representation in the bill. The Birmingham Water Works Board and Birmingham City Council oppose that provision.

Blount County’s stake in the matter arises from at least three circumstances:

•water authorities in the county that purchase water from Birmingham Water Works.

•several hundred direct customers of Birmingham Water Works, located mainly in the southern part of the county.

•Inland Lake, which provides a free supply of water to Birmingham Water Works, which it sells back to Blount County customers.