Officials in Alabama are scrambling to avoid municipal bankruptcy in Jefferson County, the heavily populated area that includes Birmingham.
CBS News correspondent Maya Rodriquez reports that the county has seen its share of hard times: It was ground zero for the civil rights movement; a devastating tornado last April; and now a local debt crisis is pushing it towards a historic bankruptcy.
Jennifer Brown is paying the price for her hometown's bills. This single mom is one of 550 county workers on unpaid leave as officials try to convince their lenders to shave $1 billion off the $3 billion they owe.
"It's devastating. You know I think I cried for two weeks," Brown says.
Jefferson County's problems began with a corruption-plagued sewer project that went billions over budget. Poor investments and a loss of millions in tax revenue made things even worse. Unless the county can cut a deal with lenders, Jefferson County will file for the largest municipal bankruptcy in American history.Birmingham, Ala. facing record bankruptcy
Officials have tried cutting back everywhere they can. At the overcrowded jail, there's just one part-time deputy for every 100 inmates.
Lt. Debbye Guy says: "We're below federal regulations. We're always in danger, but this puts us more in danger."
Court Clerk Anne Marie Adams is using state funds to pay security guards at the courthouse, adding: "We would've had to shut the system down and it would have been a major problem."
Even small things - like a sewer leak at a county building - go unattended.
A Jefferson County bankruptcy may be the first in a string, as Detroit; Harrisburg, Penn.; and Pritchard, Ala., are all in danger.
Municipal bankruptcy pushes up borrowing costs, pushes down property values, drives away business investment and requires years for full recovery. It was a decade before Vallejo, Calif., could emerge from its bankruptcy.
Then there's the emotional cost for the people who live in places like Jefferson County.
"At night, when I'm asleep, I do cry," Jennifer Brown says. "I don't know how I'm going to make ends meet. I don't know if I'm going to have my job back. I don't know if I'm going to find a job that is going to allow me to provide."
For now, Brown is depending on city leaders to come up with a plan to keep her hometown solvent, as she uses food stamps to put food on her table.