By Barnett Wright
The Birmingham Times
Birmingham Mayor William Bell on Tuesday presented to the city council a $428 million fiscal 2018 budget that contains a 5 percent merit raise for employees, an extra $1.5 million for police vehicles, and $1.5 million to help clean neighborhoods.
A budget hearing is scheduled for May 31. The fiscal year begins July 1.
With mayoral and city council elections on Aug. 22, however, it’s unlikely that the budget will be passed anytime soon.
In his budget message on Tuesday, the mayor pointed out that “aggressive business recruitment and retention” by the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development and increased revenues over the past five years have led to an “unprecedented” $64 million increase in the budget since 2012.
“The city of Birmingham continues to show strong signs of economic growth, allowing us to present the largest budget ever in the city’s history,” said Bell.
Council members said they intend to closely review the proposed spending plan but already have some concerns based on what they’ve heard. City Council President Johnathan Austin said he expects a budget that will include adequate funding for education and neighborhood revitalization.
“We want to invest in our students and not invest in the militarization of our police force,” Austin said. “Having more police is not the answer to eliminating crime. The answer is investing heavily in our school systems, which in turn will invest heavily in our children. We also want to make sure that the same type of attention relative to the economic development taking place in downtown Birmingham is distributed equally, as much as possible, throughout the entire city instead of one part of our city.”
In his budget message, the mayor said the city has paid attention to the neighborhoods and will continue. He pointed to Operation Green Wave, “which has begun its second pass through the city,” said Bell.
“The first wave cut more than 12,000 lots, removed more than 86,000 tons of trash and debris, cut more than 20,000 right of ways, and more than 2,000 alleys,” he added. “The budget includes $1.5 million to continue Operation Green Wave.”
Mayor Bell also talked about abandoned structures, which have been an issue in the city for decades. He noted that the Department of Planning, Engineering, and Permits has more than tripled its demolition capacity.
“In 2012, fewer than 200 structures were removed. In 2016, we removed more than 600 blighted structures,” he said. “This effort takes additional resources, so we have included another $1.5 million in the budget to continue our demolition efforts.”
The mayor also said how pleased he was with the advancement of several projects throughout the city, including the Ramsay McCormack Ensley Public Safety Municipal Complex, the One Pratt Superblock project, the Crossplex development, the opening of the Maxine Herring Parker Bridge in Collegeville, and the continued development of the downtown Historic Civil Rights District. He added that bond projects continue throughout the city, with more than $9 million in paving and $10 million in park improvements and upgrades to historic Legion Field.
The proposed spending plan also includes $300,000 in funding “for collaborative community strategies and partnerships with local organizations to interrupt the pattern of violence in our community,” which could mean funding for grassroots organizations that work toward reducing violence in the city.