JeffCo Funding for BSC Would Be ‘Very Difficult,’ Commission President Says

Jefferson County Commission President Jimmie Stephens (Photo by Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

Jimmie Stephens said Tuesday that it is very difficult to give public dollars to a private institution.

The Jefferson County Commission president was asked by media after Tuesday’s committee meeting whether there was any update on Jefferson County possibly allotting funds to help Birmingham-Southern College, the private liberal arts college in Birmingham’s Bush Hills Neighborhood.

“Our position hasn’t changed,” he said. “The county has not considered that and I don’t know that they have any plans to.

“I can say at this time, based on our past pattern and practices, that it is very difficult to give public dollars to a private institution,” Stephens said. “If that were to happen, it would be something that we’ve never done before.”

Officials at Birmingham-Southern revealed the campus could close as early as this year due to years of financial stress coming to a head. The private college is asking for $37.5 million in public money — $30 million from the state and $7.5 million from local government — to keep its doors open.

The college intends to seek $5 million from the city of Birmingham and $2.5 million from Jefferson County, BSC’s president has said.

“I don’t believe a $2½ million donation from the county commission is going to be significant enough to make a difference,” Stephens said.

The commission president said he does not know whether Birmingham-Southern has sought to be placed on the commission’s agenda.

“We’re all going to have to work together to solve this problem,” Stephens said. “But I don’t know that you can throw money at it to fix it.”

Storm Damage, Pandemic Assistance

During the committee meeting, County Manager Cal Markert presented a resolution to help Autauga County, which suffered damage during a recent tornado. Commissioner Sheila Tyson said she also had heard calls for help from Dallas County because of storm damage in Selma.

Commissioners moved resolutions to the agenda of Thursday’s meeting in Bessemer for possible approval. The resolutions would call for Jefferson County to supply six limb trucks and drivers in Autauga County and for the county to help Selma as needed, since no formal request for aid has been submitted. Jefferson County could be reimbursed through the Federal Emergency Management Agency if the commission approves supplying aid in the storm-stricken areas.

The committee meeting also included a presentation from Birmingham Urban League President and CEO William A. Barnes about the nonprofit’s administration of Emergency Rental Assistance Program money for rent and utility bills to help residents adversely affected by the pandemic.

In the first two rounds of ERAP funding, the urban league distributed $14,357,024.45 in assistance. That served 1,841 households at an average of $7,798.49 per household between June 2021 and May 2022, according to an urban league report.

The commission is expecting more ERAP funds this year.