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Cash-Strapped Alabama County Feels Crush of Recession

Embroiled in a budget crisis, the largest county in Alabama is slashing services left and right, leading to mass layoffs as well as heightened concerns that public safety could be in jeopardy. 

Jefferson County has so far closed satellite offices in outlying communities and laid off more than 1,000 employees -- about a quarter of the public workforce. 

The county has also slashed more than $4 million from the sheriff's budget. 

Sheriff Mike Hale, who lost a court battle to block the county commissioners from making the cuts, said public safety is critical in his district. After the cuts, he even asked Gov. Bob Riley to consider sending in the National Guard to supplement his deputies in the event of layoffs. 

"Their presence would have a chilling effect in a lot of ways. But before this court ruling, I had two homicides and a burglary in this county. And we just need a presence on the street," he said.

Jefferson is just one of hundreds of jurisdictions cutting corners, and sometimes slicing them off entirely, in an effort to deal with sagging tax revenues. 

The budget crisis comes as the county seeks to avoid filing what would be the largest municipal bankruptcy ever over some $3.9 billion in sewer bonds it can no longer afford to repay.

The impact of the recession has rippled through everything from public safety to motor vehicles. 

Already, budget cuts in other Jefferson County government offices have forced residents to stand in long lines for even routine services, like vehicle tag renewals. 

"You got people, 60, 70 and 80 (years old), and they have to stand up for four and five hours. And they ought to be able to accommodate some other way than having them stand up," said Birmingham resident Timothy Stanfield. 

But county commissioners say the cuts are widespread, and everyone's taking a hit. 

County Commissioner Jim Carnes suggested the budget hawks are trying to balance all services. 

"It's no good if we've got law enforcement and we don't have a coroner to say this person was murdered, and a DA to go try them. We have to have all the services in place," he said. 

Jefferson County's delegation to the state legislature is hoping to find a solution, even a stop-gap one. The delegation intends to introduce a bill in a special session next week authorizing commissioners to impose a new occupational tax on every worker in the county. 

Supporters from both parties concede it's an imperfect solution, but they insist it's far better than continuing to shut down county government or calling in the National Guard. 

FOX News' Jonathan Serrie contributed to this report. 

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