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Waggoner and DeMarco To Introduce Birmingham Water Works Reform Bill

By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter

On Wednesday, the Shelby County Legislative Delegation met with constituents and the Shelby County Chamber of Commerce in Pelham.  The town hall meeting occurred just days prior to the 2014 State Legislative Session. Each legislator present was given a few minutes to introduce themselves and then the event was opened up for questions from the audience.

Alabama State Senator J.T. “Jabo” Waggoner (R) from Vestavia said that he was introducing a bill in the Senate to reform the Birmingham Water Works Board.  Senator Waggoner said that the bill would set limits on the amount of compensation that waterworks board members could receive, would require that the Water Works Board provide the public notice of rate increases, and would change the makeup of the board.

Currently the Birmingham City council appoints all the members of the board even though the water works has grown into a regional water system that serves customers in Shelby County, St. Clair County, Walker County, Blount County, as well as Jefferson County. Waggoner said that the bill that he and Alabama State Representative Paul DeMarco (R) from Homewood will introduce would change the makeup of the Board to make it more representative.

Representative DeMarco estimated that 40,000 to 50,000 rate payers actually live in Shelby County.  Rep. DeMarco said that the two have not finalized the makeup of the board in the bill that he and Waggoner are working on.

Senator Waggoner said that the Birmingham Water Works Board gets water from Shelby County for free and then the Birmingham Water Works turns around and charges Shelby County residents for that water.  Similarly the Water Works gets Blount County for free and then turns around and sells the water back to Blount County residents.

Senator Waggoner said that he will introduce their bill in the Senate and that “Congressman” DeMarco will introduce it in the House.

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Waggoner used the “Congressman” nickname for DeMarco since the state Representative from Homewood is running for Congress in a crowded District Six field that includes: Tom Vigneulle, Gary Palmer, Will Brooke, and Dr. Chad Mathis.  Paul DeMarco is not a member of the Shelby County Legislative Delegation, thus was not a formal participant in the forum, but he was present, presumably campaigning for Congress.  Dr. Chad Mathis was also present.  Waggoner himself ran for the Sixth District in the 1980s, ultimately losing to incumbent Ben Erdreich (D) from Birmingham.

The Sixth District Congressional District seat is currently held by Rep. Spencer Bachus (R) from Vestavia. After serving in the seat for 21 years, Rep. Bachus announced that he would not seek re-election when his current term expires.

The citizens of Birmingham established the current Water Board in 1951, although the Birmingham Water Works system dates back to 1873, only two years after the founding of Birmingham.

In 1951, Birmingham purchased the water system from a private operator and established an independent Water Board.  The Birmingham Water Works Board has seen major expansions every decade from 1950 to the present. The system now boasts four water sources and approximately 3,903 miles of transmission lines. More than 500 employees operate this expansive system.

In the 1960s, the Birmingham Water Works expanded to people in outlying communities, many of whom had polluted wells.  Grant assistance from the Office of Health and Urban Development allowed the BWW to provide service to these areas in North Jefferson County.  Expansion continued beyond the limits of Jefferson County.

Senator Jabo Waggoner is the Majority leader in the Alabama Senate and is the Chair of the powerful Rules Committee.  This will be Senator Waggoner’s 24th year in the Alabama Senate.  Prior to that Waggoner served 17 years in the Alabama House of Representatives.

Don’t forget that the Alabama Political Reporter will begin covering the upcoming legislative session full time beginning January 14th. The State of the State address will also be delivered by Governor Robert Bentley that evening.

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Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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