Jefferson County, Alabama

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Jefferson County, Alabama
Jefferson County Courthouse Birmingham Nov 2011 02.jpg
Jefferson County Courthouse in Birmingham during 2011
Map of Alabama highlighting Jefferson County
Location in the U.S. state of Alabama
Map of the United States highlighting Alabama
Alabama's location in the U.S.
Founded December 13, 1819[1]
Named for Thomas Jefferson
Seat Birmingham
Largest city Birmingham
 • Total 1,124 sq mi (2,911 km2)
 • Land 1,111 sq mi (2,877 km2)
 • Water 13 sq mi (34 km2), 1.1%
Population (est.)
 • (2014) 660,793
 • Density 595/sq mi (230/km²)
Congressional districts 6th, 7th
Time zone Central: UTC-6/-5
  • County Number 01 on Alabama Licence Plates
  • One of three counties shuffled to the top 3 numbers because of population size.

Jefferson County is the most populous county in the State of Alabama. As of the 2010 census, the population was 658,466,[2] making it the most populous county in Alabama. Its county seat is Birmingham,[1] the most populous city in the state.

Jefferson County is included in the Birmingham-Hoover, AL Metropolitan Statistical Area.


Tannehill Valley Covered Bridge near McCalla.

Jefferson County was established on December 13, 1819, by the Alabama Legislature.[1] It was named in honor of Thomas Jefferson.[1] The county is located in the north-central portion of the state, on the southmost edge of the Appalachian Mountains, in the center of the (former) iron, coal, and limestone mining belt of the Southern United States. Jefferson County is bordered by Blount County, Bibb County, St. Clair County, Shelby County, Tuscaloosa County, and Walker County, in Alabama. Jefferson County has a land area of about 1,119 square miles (2,900 km2). Well before Birmingham was even founded in 1871, the county seat of Jefferson County was located at Carrollsville (1819 – 21) and Elyton (1821 – 73), and since 1873 it has been located in Birmingham, which was named for the English city of the same name in Warwickshire. That city had long been a center of iron and steel production in Great Britain. Note that Elyton has long been a part of Birmingham itself, since Birmingham was established by the merger of three towns, and the city has a long history of annexing its neighboring towns and villages, including North Birmingham.

Sewer construction and bond swap controversy

Two extremely controversial undertakings by county officials in the 2000s left the county in extreme debt, eventually leading to a 2011 bankruptcy. In the 1990s, the county authorized and financed a massive overhaul of the county-owned sewer system, beginning in 1996. Sewerage and water rates had increased more than 300% in the 15 years before 2011, causing severe problems for the poor in Birmingham and the county.

Costs for the project increased due to problems in the financial area and to a series of risky bond-swap agreements made by county officials, encouraged by bribes by financial services companies. Both the project and its financing were scrutinized by federal prosecutors. By 2011, "six of Jefferson County's former commissioners had been found guilty of corruption for accepting the bribes, along with 15 other officials."[3][4]

A series of controversial interest rate swaps, initiated in 2002 and 2003 by former Commission President Larry Langford (removed as the mayor of Birmingham after his conviction[5]), were intended to lower interest payments. But they had the opposite effect, increasing the county's indebtedness to the point that it had to declare bankruptcy. The bond swaps were the focus of an investigation by the United States Securities and Exchange Commission.[6]

In late February 2008 Standard & Poor's lowered the rating of Jefferson County bonds to "junk" status. The likelihood of the county filing for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection was debated in the press.[7] In early March 2008, Moody's followed suit and indicated that it would also review the county's ability to meet other bond obligations.[8]

On March 7, 2008, Jefferson County failed to post $184 million collateral as required under its sewer bond agreements, thereby moving into technical default.[9]

In February 2011, Lesley Curwen of the BBC World Service interviewed David Carrington, the newly appointed president of the County Commission, about the risk of defaulting on bonds issued to finance “what could be the most expensive sewage system in history.” Carrington said there was “no doubt that people from Wall Street offered bribes” and “have to take a huge responsibility for what happened.” Wall Street investment banks, including JP Morgan and others arranged complex financial deals using swaps. The fees and penalty charges increased the cost so the county in 2011 had $3.2 billion outstanding. Carrington said one of the problems was that elected officials had welcomed scheduling with very low early payments so long as peak payments occurred after they left office.

The SEC awarded the county $75 million in compensation relation to “unlawful payments” against JP Morgan; in addition the company was penalized by having to forfeit $647 million of future fees.[10]

2011 Bankruptcy filing

Jefferson County filed for bankruptcy on November 9, 2011. This action was valued at $4.2 billion, with debts of $3.14 billion relating to sewer work; it was then the most expensive municipal bankruptcy ever in the U.S. In 2013 it was surpassed by the Detroit bankruptcy.[4] The County requested Chapter 9 relief under federal statute 11 U.S.C. §921. The case was filed in the Northern District of Alabama Bankruptcy Court as case number 11-05736.

As of May 2012, Jefferson County had slashed expenses and reduced employment of county government workers by more than 700.[11]


According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 1,124 square miles (2,910 km2), of which 1,111 square miles (2,880 km2) is land and 13 square miles (34 km2) (1.1%) is water.[12] It is the fifth-largest county in Alabama by land area. The county is home to the Watercress Darter National Wildlife Refuge.

Adjacent counties


Historical population
Census Pop.
1830 6,855
1840 7,131 4.0%
1850 8,989 26.1%
1860 11,746 30.7%
1870 12,345 5.1%
1880 23,272 88.5%
1890 88,501 280.3%
1900 140,420 58.7%
1910 226,476 61.3%
1920 310,054 36.9%
1930 431,493 39.2%
1940 459,930 6.6%
1950 558,928 21.5%
1960 634,864 13.6%
1970 644,991 1.6%
1980 671,371 4.1%
1990 651,525 −3.0%
2000 662,047 1.6%
2010 658,466 −0.5%
Est. 2014 660,793 [13] 0.4%
U.S. Decennial Census[14]
1790–1960[15] 1900–1990[16]
1990–2000[17] 2010–2014[2]


Whereas according to the 2010 United States Census Bureau:


As of the census[18] of 2000, there were 662,047 people, 263,265 households, and 175,861 families residing in the county. The population density was 595 people per square mile (230/km2). There were 288,162 housing units at an average density of 259 per square mile (100/km2). The racial makeup of the county was 58.10% White, 39.36% Black or African American, 0.21% Native American, 0.90% Asian, 0.03% Pacific Islander, 0.59% from other races, and 0.80% from two or more races. About 1.55% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race. The largest self-reported European ancestries in Jefferson County, Alabama are English 9.7%(64,016), "American" 9.6%(63,015), Irish 8.6%(56,695), German 7.2%(47,690). Those citing "American" ancestry in Alabama are of overwhelmingly English extraction, however most English Americans identify simply as having American ancestry because their roots have been in North America for so long, in many cases since the 17th century. Demographers estimate that roughly 20–23% of people in Alabama are of predominantly English and related British Isles ancestry.[19][20][21][22] There are also many more people in Alabama of Scots-Irish origins than are self-reported.

There were 263,265 households, out of which 30.80% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 46.10% were married couples living together, 17.20% had a female householder with no husband present, and 33.20% were non-families. Nearly 28.70% of all households were made up of individuals, and 9.90% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.45, and the average family size was 3.04.

In the county, the population was spread out with 24.80% under the age of 18, 9.60% from 18 to 24, 29.70% from 25 to 44, 22.30% from 45 to 64, and 13.60% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females, there were 89.20 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 84.50 males.

In 2007 Jefferson County had the highest rate of syphilis cases per 100,000 in the US, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.[23]

The median income for a household in the county was $36,868, and the median income for a family was $45,951. Males had a median income of $35,954 versus $26,631 for females. The per capita income for the county was $20,892. About 11.60% of families and 14.80% of the population were below the poverty line, including 20.20% of those under age 18 and 12.70% of those age 65 or over.

Government and infrastructure

Jefferson County is one of the eight counties in Alabama with a limited-form of home rule government. A 1973 Commission had recommended that all counties be granted home rule under the state constitution, but the state legislature refused to give up its control over local affairs.

Changes to county representation in the state legislature followed the state's incorporating the principle of one man, one vote from the US Supreme Court decision of Baker v. Carr (1964), which ruled that bicameral legislatures had to have both houses based on population districts, rather than geographic ones. The complexity of Birmingham and Jefferson County urban conditions required more local direction and the county gained some home rule functions by 1944. It allows the county to be able to set up a zoning system for land use, maintain the sanitary sewer, sewerage systems and highways, provide for garbage and trash disposal, and to enforce taxation (except for property taxes).

The county is governed by a five-member commission that combines the legislative and executive duties for the county. The Commissioners are elected from single-member districts, rather than by an "at-large" election. Each county commissioner represents one of the five districts in the county. By votes in the commission, the commissioners are given executive responsibilities for the various county departments, which fall under the categories of "Roads and Transportation", "Community Development", "Environmental Services", "Health and Human Services", "Technology and Land Development", and "Finance and General Services". The County Commission elects its own President, who is the chairman of all County Commission meetings, and who has additional executive duties.


Sales tax on many items within the county can be as high as 12%. The County Commission approved an educational sales tax by a 3–2 vote in October 2004. This was implemented In January 2005, as a 1% sales tax to support funding for construction of needed education facilities. This additional 1% has resulted in some county municipalities, such as Fairfield, to have sales tax rates as high as 10%, while other municipalities and incorporated communities had an increase in their total sales tax rate from 8% to 9%. The state of Alabama sales tax was 4% at the time and Jefferson County's was 2% in total.[when?] Municipal sales taxes go as high as 4%.[citation needed]

On March 16, 2011, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled that Jefferson County's 2009 occupational tax law was passed unconstitutionally. This decision dealt a devastating financial blow to a county considering bankruptcy.[24][25]

The Commission hires a county manager, who oversees and directs daily operations of county departments.


Jefferson County is served by the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department. The County Sheriff is chosen by the eligible voters in an "at large" election. The Sheriff's Department fields about 175 deputy sheriffs who patrol the unincorporated areas of the county, and also all municipalities that do not have their own police departments. The Sheriff's Department has two county jails, one in Birmingham and one in Bessemer, which are used to detain suspects awaiting trial (who cannot afford to post bail) and convicted criminals serving sentences less than one year in length.

Two judicial courthouses are located in Jefferson County, a situation dating to when the state legislature was preparing to split off a portion of Jefferson County to create a new county, centered around Bessemer. The split did not take place because the proposed new county could not have sufficient area: a minimum of 500 square miles, to meet the requirement of the Alabama State Constitution. The additional county courthouse and some parallel functions remain in service. The main courthouse is in Birmingham and the second one is located in Bessemer. Certain elected county officials maintain offices in the Bessemer annex, such as the Assistant Tax Collector, the Assistant Tax Assessor, and the Assistant District Attorney.


The Alabama Department of Corrections operates the William E. Donaldson Correctional Facility, a prison for men, in unincorporated Jefferson County near Bessemer. The prison includes one of the two Alabama death rows for men.[26]


Except for cities such as Birmingham that have established their own local school districts, all parts of Jefferson County are served by Jefferson County Board of Education. Parts within Birmingham are served by Birmingham City Schools. Other cities in the county that have established their own school systems are Gardendale, Bessemer, Fairfield, Midfield, Trussville, Homewood, Leeds, Hoover, Vestavia Hills, Tarrant, and Mountain Brook.


Jefferson County vote
by party in presidential elections
Year GOP DEM Others
2012 46.5% 141,683 52.5% 159,876 1.0% 2,964
2008 47.1% 149,921 52.2% 166,121 0.8% 2,482
2004 54.2% 158,680 45.2% 132,286 0.7% 2,001
2000 50.6% 138,491 47.4% 129,889 2.0% 5,383
1996 50.2% 130,980 46.1% 120,028 3.7% 9,718
1992 50.1% 149,832 42.1% 125,889 7.7% 23,163

Although the majority-white state of Alabama voted for John McCain by double digits in 2008, Democrat Barack Obama carried Jefferson County with 166,121 votes (52%). John McCain received 149,921 votes (47%). Obama also carried the county in 2012.[27]


File:Birmingham bus station Nov 2011.jpg
Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority Station in Birmingham.

Major highways


AMTRAK passenger service is provided by the Crescent, which stops in Birmingham. Freight service is provided by BNSF Railway, CSX Transportation, Norfolk Southern Railway, Alabama & Tennessee River Railway, and Birmingham Terminal Railway (formerly Birmingham Southern Railroad). There is also one switching and terminal railroad, Alabama Warrior Railway.[citation needed]

Air travel

Birmingham is the location of the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport, which provides service, either direct or connecting, to most of the rest of the United States.




Census-designated places

Unincorporated communities

See also


Specific references:

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 "Jefferson County Extension Office". Alabama Cooperative Extension System (ACES).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 "State & County QuickFacts". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved May 16, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Former Jefferson County Commissioner Gary White sentenced to 10 years in prison, Retrieved on August 12, 2011.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Brian Wheeler (December 14, 2011). "The scandal of the Alabama poor cut off from water". BBC News. Retrieved December 15, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Larry Langford Impact – Page 3 – - Larry Langford trial | Latest Larry Langford News. Retrieved on March 2, 2011.
  6. Wright, Barnett (December 18, 2007). "SEC wants to force Larry Langford, Bill Blount to testify in Jefferson County bond swap deals". Birmingham News. Cite journal requires |journal= (help); Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Hubbard, Russell (March 2, 2008) "Jefferson County finance options likely to be expensive," Birmingham News
  8. Hubbard, Russell (March 4, 2008). "Update: Jefferson County finances take another hit". Birmingham News. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Wright, Barnett (March 8, 2008) "Jefferson County, Alabama sewer debt swap agreement deadline passes", Birmingham News
  10. "Business Daily Alabama's sewerdebt". BBC World Service. February 28, 2011. Retrieved March 2, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. "Bankrupt Jefferson County, Alabama Lays Off 75 More Government Workers". Reuters. May 2, 2012. Retrieved May 14, 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "2010 Census Gazetteer Files". United States Census Bureau. August 22, 2012. Retrieved August 22, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "Annual Estimates of the Resident Population for Incorporated Places: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2014". Retrieved June 4, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. "U.S. Decennial Census". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved August 22, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. "Historical Census Browser". University of Virginia Library. Retrieved August 22, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Forstall, Richard L., ed. (March 24, 1995). "Population of Counties by Decennial Census: 1900 to 1990". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved August 22, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. "Census 2000 PHC-T-4. Ranking Tables for Counties: 1990 and 2000" (PDF). United States Census Bureau. April 2, 2001. Retrieved August 22, 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved May 14, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. Pulera, Dominic J. Sharing the Dream: White Males in a Multicultural America.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. Farley, Reynolds (1991). "The New Census Question about Ancestry: What Did It Tell Us?". Demography. 28 (3): 411–429 [pp. 414, 421]. doi:10.2307/2061465. PMID 1936376.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  21. Lieberson, Stanley; Santi, Lawrence (1985). "The Use of Nativity Data to Estimate Ethnic Characteristics and Patterns". Social Science Research. 14 (1): 31–56 [pp. 44–46]. doi:10.1016/0049-089X(85)90011-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. Lieberson, Stanley; Waters, Mary C. (1986). "Ethnic Groups in Flux: The Changing Ethnic Responses of American Whites". Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. 487 (79): 82–86. doi:10.1177/0002716286487001004. JSTOR 1046054. Unknown parameter |subscription= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. "Jefferson County tops country for number of syphilis cases", Birmingham Business Journal, 15 November 2007.
  24. "Alabama Supreme Court rules Jefferson County's 2009 occupational tax illegal |". Retrieved July 10, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. Mountain Law's Birmingham Business Law Blog: Is Jefferson County’s Continued Collection of Its Occupational Tax Valid? from
  26. "Donaldson Correctional Facility." Alabama Department of Corrections. Retrieved on October 8, 2010.
  27. Dave Leip's Atlas of U.S. Presidential Elections. Retrieved on March 2, 2011.

General references:

External links

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