If Alabama lawmakers had passed HB177 this legislative session, the current members of the Birmingham Water Works Board (BWWB) could have been fired and replaced. The bill would have also altered the qualification and appointment structure of the board.
Though the bill received a favorable report from the House Commerce and Small Business Committee in April, lawmakers chose to postpone the bill indefinitely on Wednesday, as time wound down in this year’s session.
This means that the BWWB will not get a restructuring from state lawmakers this year and will continue to operate as it sees fit for the foreseeable future.
Last year, thousands of customers reportedly didn't receive bills for months, only to receive much larger or multiple bills all at once. The bills were not based on accurate meter readings but on previous months' usage estimations. The Water Works blamed the issues on insufficient meter readers and inadequate staffing.
Despite backlash from the public, the Birmingham Water Works Board (BWW) voted in November to raise rates by 3.9% for the second year in a row.
State Reps. Jim Carns (R-Vestavia Hills) and David Faulkner (R-Hoover) introduced HB177 in March in response to the billing issues.
Currently, two of the nine BWWB members are appointed by the mayor of Birmingham. The Birmingham City Council appoints four. One is appointed by the Jefferson County Mayors' Association, another by the Shelby County Commission and one by the Blount County Commission.
Initially, Carns’ and Faulkner’s bill would’ve allowed the mayor of Birmingham the authority to appoint four members, and the Alabama governor would be responsible for appointing three.
However, lawmakers altered the bill in April.
The updated BWWB bill still purported to reduce the size of the BWWB to seven members. However, the Birmingham mayor would’ve only been allotted two appointments, and the Birmingham City Council would’ve also been allotted two. The appointees would’ve been required to have an engineering or finance background.
The remaining three members would’ve been appointed by the county commissions of Shelby and Blount Counties and the Jefferson County Mayors Association.
On April 25, the Birmingham City Council passed a resolution to express its disapproval of the legislation, noting the bill would’ve reduced the city’s number of appointments.
In response to backlash from the public following the 2022 billing issues, the BWWB passed a new self-governance policy and director pledge in April.
The self-governance policy will require training for directors pertaining to ethics laws and procedures. If directors fail to comply with the policy, they will no longer receive an expense allowance.
Meanwhile, the utility launched a #BillBetter campaign to repair its public image and look into automatic meter readers to improve its meter-reading accuracy and capacity. Currently, the utility is in the process of working with a consultant about automatic meter implementation. It must still develop a plan, which Water Works general manager Michael Johnson said he hopes to begin implementing in the next 12 to 18 months.
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