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Birmingham City Council, mayor agree on $425M budget for fiscal 2017

(From left) Mayor William Bell and City Council President Johnathan F. Austin

By Barnett Wright

The Birmingham Times

(From left) Mayor William Bell and City Council President Johnathan F. Austin
(From left) Mayor William Bell and City Council President Johnathan F. Austin

Better late than never.

Nearly 60 days after the start of the fiscal year, the Birmingham City Council and Mayor William Bell agreed Tuesday on a $425 million budget for 2017.

The 2017 fiscal year began July 1.

The mayor and council spent the past two months haggling over some expenditures and projects, but said Tuesday they believe residents will ultimately benefit from the spending plan.

“We are ready to move forward with continuing to clean up our neighborhoods and providing city services to our citizens,” Bell said. “We have a lot of work to do and I look forward to working with the Council to get that work done.”

“We know what the challenges are,” said Johnathan F. Austin, City Council President. “We must cut vacant lots, tear down dangerous, dilapidated buildings and invest every dollar we can find into our children. That is the formula for making our communities stronger and for making Birmingham’s future brighter.”

The budget fully funds two issues that publicly split the mayor and council during their budget impasse: The Carver Theater/Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame will get $4.3 million that councilmembers said it needed and the Kingston Fire Station will get the $3 million that it needs.

How to fund the new fire station divided the council and led to weeks of protests from Kingston residents who said some of their needs were being ignored.

Councilmembers denied those charges and said residents in Birmingham can expect to see immediate and major changes in their neighborhoods and in local schools, as the budget puts a focus on cleaning up communities and educating students, according to the council.

Austin said a series of budget tours across the city was helpful in crafting the spending plan.

“What we heard was that our neighborhoods felt like downtown Birmingham was getting all of the attention and all of the tax dollars while communities were being neglected,” Austin said. “Since talking directly with our residents, we have used the phrase ‘every neighborhood, every citizen, every dollar, every day’ to make sure that everyone in City Hall understood that this Council would fight to put our residents first.

“And, we thank Mayor Bell for joining with us to make neighborhoods and schools the city’s priority.”

Council President Pro Tem Steven W. Hoyt said, “This is what happens when both sides come together to remember who matters the most and that’s the citizens of Birmingham. Our residents are counting on us to make the best decisions with the precious tax dollars they entrust us to manage. Even though this was not easy, we can be proud of our residents for raising their voices and making sure they were a part of the process.”

Some budget highlights include:

  • Cost of Living increase of 1 percent for city employees
  • Weed Abatement increase from $750,000 to $1.8 million
  • Demolition increase from $750,000 to $1.8 million
  • Funding for the Board of Education – After School Program $665,000
  • Funding for the City of Birmingham/Birmingham Library System Reading Initiative $1 million
  • Increased the operating budget for the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute from $775,000 to $1 million
  • Assist the Municipal Court with an increase for its Indigent Defense Fund from $200,000 to $275,00
  • A $600,00 investment into various economic development & social service agencies.

Capital Budget Highlights include:

  • $19 million in City Wide Resurfacing Projects
  • $750,000 in Community Safe Rooms
  • $600,000 for East Police Precinct Renovations

$1.65 million in Capital Improvements to the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute

  • $5.9 million in Fire Department Trucks & Vehicles
  • $2 million in Police Department Vehicles
  • $2.5 million in Public Works Trucks
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