Months ago in this column and elsewhere the day or reckoning was predicted, and here we are. On Friday many Jefferson County services were stopped or reduced as up to two thirds of the county employees were laid off.
My greatest empathy is with the laid off workers who not only have to live with the diminished services in the county but must do so without their income.
We can live with decreased road maintenance. Anyone who drives in Bessemer is accustomed to washboard road surfaces and pot holes large enough to break an axle since our own elected officials have been unable to address this problem for at least the last seven years.
And we can live with longer lines at the courthouses which are, after all, just inconveniences.
But more serious effects are looming. Without the services of the county coroner’s office bodies may lay at crime or accident scenes for days, we are told. As usual, the elderly and indigent populations will suffer the most, as services are curtailed. Even the county nursing home will be affected; what will become of their residents?
If you are fortunate to sell your house or want to buy one, you may face a delay as title searches will take longer. Processing of wills and commitment of the mentally ill will be delayed in probate court.
The true effects of the layoffs will be seen over the next few weeks and beyond. The county legislative delegation may come together and a special session may result in some money being returned and some employees being called back.
But that won’t solve the problems. Jefferson County’s credit rating is lower than any municipality in the country, according to Moody’s Investors Service. One of their directors said that outside of Detroit, they have not seen any place in America with the severity of problems that we face.
As a county store owner said, “The big dogs ate all the bones. Now we are all out of bones.”
Some of those big dogs are in prison. Some may be headed there soon. But there are still five big dogs on the Jefferson County Commission, and it’s time that their bone eating stops.
As embarrassing as the situation is for Jefferson County, the biggest embarrassment of all would be to return the current commissioners to office. Remember that next year.