Jefferson County Commission

Jeffco Considers $5 Million Pledge to UAB’s Genomics Sciences Program

UAB President Ray Watts addresses Jefferson County Commissioners on Tuesday, May 17, 2021. Source: Solomon Crenshaw Jr.

The Jefferson County Commission will consider on Thursday a pledge of $5 million for the genomics sciences program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

At their committee meeting Tuesday, commissioners placed the proposal on the agenda for this week’s meeting.

The county is set to pledge $1 million a year for five years to help UAB with the expansion and construction of a new genomics sciences and research building.

The move of the action to Thursday’s agenda came after an appeal from UAB President Ray Watts, who said the building will span 540,000 square feet.

“It is perfectly situated to take genomic information and data science and predict what kinds of treatments might be effective for cancers,” Watts said. “You can also predict what diseases we might be a risk for so we can control those risk factors and avoid ever having that disease.

“It will house about 50-plus new researchers — primary investigators — and they’ll have probably 300 or 400, additional staff.”

The UAB president said the genomics and research building will produce more than $100 million in annual impact for Birmingham and Jefferson County. Additionally, it will be the site of many discoveries that will be turned into medical licenses or new treatments.

“We are at the forefront,” Watts said. “Among all public universities this past year, we ranked ninth in research funding. In federal funding, we ranked about 12 to 15. It’s something, I think, Jefferson County should be very proud of.”

Watts said construction of the building will cost $75 million, but the investment will top $100 million. He called it one of the most important investments UAB has made.

Humane Society Land Purchase

Thursday’s agenda will include a proposal to pay $1.4 million for 7 acres that will be used for animal control and the Greater Birmingham Humane Society.

Commissioner Joe Knight announced at the last committee meeting that the complex will be on Lakeshore Parkway at Sydney

County Commissioner Joe Knight at May 17, 2021 committee meeting. Source: Solomon Crenshaw Jr.


“We finally found a location that’s gonna be good for everyone,” Knight said. “It’s going to be good to be able to consolidate all the areas of what you need to take care of these animals.”

Currently, management of animals is split between facilities in Homewood, Hoover and Woodlawn.

“This will consolidate that process, save a lot of time, save a lot of money, save a lot of extra steps in the process,” Knight said. “Also, if for some reason the (Humane Society’s) hospital can’t get built immediately, we’re still in a lot closer vicinity for the hospital and the care and the adoption.”

The Humane Society is currently located on Snow Drive in Homewood.

“Once we get the intake facility built, which will be the kennel — ‘the pound’ — we’ll be up and running and have fulfilled our part of the obligation to provide a pound.”

Cooper Green Mercy Health Services Update

Commissioners also received an update from Laura Hurst, administrator of Cooper Green Mercy Health Services Authority, an affiliate of UAB. She said a great partnership between UAB and the county has been established to address indigent healthcare.

Laura Hurst, administrator of Cooper Green Mercy Health Services Authority. Source: Solomon Crenshaw Jr.

“Everything, the way I see it, has been an improvement,” Hurst said. “Even those challenges and opportunities that we have now, they were identified really from having the expertise and the people on board to notice them, to see them. We have the capacity to do it now. We have the capacity to fix things.

“I don’t see any bad. I only say good and going in the right direction.”

The authority administrator acknowledged that change is always accompanied by some angst. But, she said, much of the concern going into the creation of the authority dealt with staff and employee benefits.

“Those were all worked out wonderfully,” Hurst said. “We have better benefits than you can imagine, including allowing county employees to stay in the county pension if they so choose.

“I think a lot of that was resolved when the benefits were resolved,” she concluded. “If anything remains, it’s simply adjusting to change.”

In other action:

  • Commissioners sent to the agenda an agreement with Santek Environmental of Alabama LLC to recover methane from the county’s landfills. The agreement assigns landfill gas right to Santek in exchange for royalty payments from any future energy development projects. The agreement was presented as a revenue-generator for the county.

“They are making an effort to invest quite a bit of money to recover the gas from many landfills they operate,” Deputy County Manager Cal Markert said. “Now’s a good time for them to also do it for the counties. We have negotiated a 25 percent royalty fee for whatever gas is collected.

“David (Denard, the county’s director of Environmental Services) did a lot of due diligence, checking other royalties in other

counties, and this seemed to be fair market value,” Markert added. He said there has been talk about using the money received

Deputy Jefferson County Administrator Cal Markert. Source: Solomon Crenshaw Jr.

from the effort to go toward the costs of picking up litter.

Based on estimated volume, Denard said the county could bring in about $250,000 a year.

“Of course,” he said, “it could take three to five years for that project to get up to full production.”

  • In another Environmental Services matter, Denard gave commissioners a report of the Municipal Water Pollution Prevention Program (MWPP) for 2020. He said overflows in the sewer system are down and the system is performing well.

Commissioners moved to the agenda a resolution to pay Wheless Partners $25,000, which is the first of three installments for the firm to conduct a nationwide search to replace County Manager Tony Petelos, who announced his retirement earlier this year.