Jefferson County Commission Revives Effort to Demolish Dilapidated Houses

Jefferson County Commission President Jimmie Stephens (Source: Solomon Crenshaw Jr.)

Jefferson County is moving back into the demolition business.

Commissioners moved the matter of demolishing a structure at 526 Butler Avenue in the Bessemer area to the consent agenda of Thursday’s commission meeting.

“It’s something we haven’t had in our toolshed, our repertoire to work with,” Commission President Jimmie Stephens said. “When we have a dilapidated home that becomes a public nuisance, whether it’s been abandoned by a storm, tornado or whether it’s been abandoned for lack of use, we need to have the tools – and now we do – to go in and demolish that home and clean it up for the neighborhood.

“It’s long overdue,” Stephens said. “We want to put funds in the budget next year so we can do that in a meaningful way.”

The commission president said a limited number of demolitions will likely take place this year. He said he expects goals to be set for increased demolitions next year with more money being put in the budget for the purpose, targeting specific areas.

“If you have 10 (dilapidated) homes in a community that need to be demolished, it won’t do any good to do two of them,” he said. “We need to have a plan in place where we can … work on X community this year and next year work on Y community.”

Bonds for Indigent Inmates

In another matter, commissioners discussed an agreement with the Department of Justice that would help indigent inmates post bond.

Commissioner David Carrington reminded his fellow commissioners that the action could cost the county.

Presiding Judge Joseph Boohaker has the money in his budget to fund the program this year. In years two and three of the three-year agreement, Jefferson County would be responsible for about $675,000 each year.

County Attorney Theo Lawson said there could be grant funds available to assist in fulfilling that responsibility.

“Our responsibility as a current commissioner,” said Carrington, who is not seeking reelection, “but their responsibility as future commissioners.”

Carrington made a similar point recently as the commission established an inclement weather policy that would shut down the courthouse in the event of dangerous weather.

“I said I’m in favor of this new policy, but you need to realize that every time we close the courthouse, it costs us about three-quarters of a million dollars,” he said. “It’s not a decision to be made lightly.

“I think this body, as stewards of the public’s assets, we need to know the financial cost of anything that we do.”

Poop Trains

Stephens said the commission is in active communication concerning “poop trains.” Those trains are bringing solid waste, which Stephens said “really isn’t solid,” from New Jersey.

“We’re working with municipal leaders and our state legislators, our state senators to try to stop this from coming into Jefferson County once and for all,” the commission president said. “Our citizens deserve better than that and their elected officials are working together to try to put an end to it.”

The commission in October denied a zoning request from Sumiton Timber Company and Sky Environmental to change the zoning on a 4-acre property on Snowville Brent Road in Dora that would have permitted bringing waste in. A packed commission chamber cheered its approval.

Stephens said efforts have been made to haul waste from New Jersey to other area locations, including North Birmingham and Dolomite.

“We have stopped that,” Stephens said, “and we’re going to work now with ADEM (Alabama Department of Environmental Management), the EPA and the governor’s office to make sure we have a plan in place to make sure this is stopped from coming into Jefferson County. Our citizens don’t need that.”