"The county roads here need paving, and the tax collector needs help.
There is no money for them, either.
There is no money for a lot of things around here...
There is no money for holiday D.U.I. checkpoints, litter patrols or overtime pay at the courthouse.
None for crews to pull weeds or pick up road kill — not even when, as happened recently, an unlucky cow was hit...
“We don’t do that any more,” E. Wayne Sullivan, director of the roads and transportation department, said of such roadside cleanup.
...For all the talk in Washington about taxes and deficits, here is a place where government finances, and government itself, have simply broken down.
The county...is drowning under $4 billion in debt, the legacy of a big sewer project and corrupt financial dealings...
...Ordinary citizens can’t do much at this point.
...About 300 municipalities nationwide are in default on their debt, but most of them are so tiny that they draw little attention.
...Officials in places like Harrisburg are watching the developments...
...in 1996, the Environmental Protection Agency accused the county of dumping raw sewage into the ...rivers.
Elected officials had to figure out what to do, and to figure it out fast.
...Why not embark on a giant public works project, a Taj Mahal of sewage systems, to foster jobs and development?
The County began to borrow vast sums of money, but that money, it turned out, was a perfect medium for graft and contract-padding.
Rather than replacing more than 2,000 miles of decrepit sewer pipes, the county dispensed contracts to build water treatment plants, pumping stations and administrative buildings...
All this debt was supposed to be paid off with revenue from the new sewer system — in other words, by fees the county would charge residents whose homes were hooked up to the system.
As the debt grew, so did those fees — and the public outcry.
By 2002, the average sewer bill in the county had doubled...
...About a quarter of the people in Birmingham live below the poverty line.
It’s different in the suburbs, where the money is...
Downtown, at the courthouse, the line for car license tags snakes down a corridor.
...The sheriff...can’t afford to pay overtime.
The county’s road crews are patching only big potholes; resurfacing can wait.
The tax collector has laid off four agents, at a savings of $180,000.
...the second county jail, refurbished a few years ago at a cost of $11 million, sits empty and unused.
The county can’t afford to pay for the guards.
...a 20-year-old program under which certain inmates were released pending trial, provided they wore electronic monitors and underwent drug tests, has been cut.
That saved $2 million, but now the jail is overcrowded."