By William C. Singleton III
For The Birmingham Times
Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin Tuesday unveiled his first proposed capital and operating budget which heavily rewards neighborhoods and city employees and improves the city’s infrastructure.
The $436 million fiscal 2019 budget also withholds nearly $11 million in funding from the Birmingham Jefferson County Transit Agency (BJCTA) and for the first time in recent memory contains no money for organizations such as the Birmingham Business Alliance (BBA); REV Birmingham and Birmingham Housing Authority.
Woodfin said the number one priority “in this budget is neighborhood revitalization.”
“It’s a new day in Birmingham,” Woodfin told the council during his budget presentation, “not just through the budget process, but with the way we spend and oversee the tax dollars entrusted to us. The budget we have created falls in line with our core values and commitment to neighborhood revitalization.”
The council will hold a public hearing May 15 at 5:30 p.m. to discuss the budget. The public can view a copy of the proposed spending plan at www.birminghamal.gov/budget2019
Highlights of the mayor’s proposed budget include:
- Continuing demolition of dilapidated homes and weed abatement, at cost of $3.25 million
- Increasing the pension funding, $2.9 million.
- Adjusting the cost of living 1 percent for employees, $2.8 million
- Continuing merit pay for eligible employees, $2.7 million
- Continuing longevity pay, $1.6 million
- Replacing interstate lighting, $500,000
- Replacing street lights, $400,000
The mayor said he was able to zero out outside economic development agencies because most of that work can be done in-house with the establishment of a new Department of Innovation and Economic Opportunity and a preventative maintenance program.
He noted the city spent nearly $2 million with outside agencies to perform economic development on behalf of the city. Having its own economic development department will help the city save money, the mayor added. The preventive maintenance program will allow the city to address its aging infrastructure in a more efficient manner, he said.
The program will begin with an initial investment of $495,000. He reiterated his commitment to the neighborhood through a neighborhood revitalization fund, which will be supported from revenue generated by the renovated Birmingham Jefferson Convention Complex and new outdoor stadium.
Woodfin also challenged the neighborhood associations to work with the city and use their existing funds to address weed abatement, demolition and other neighborhood improvements.
“Our goal is to address the issues you have agreed on in your community,” he said. “And we ask you to team up with us to finish the job.”
Woodfin said the revenue to support the new direction will come from use and occupational taxes along with cost-saving measures. For example, Woodfin announced that the city will eliminate 133 long-time vacant positions, which would save $4.7 million, including $800,000 in savings from the mayor’s office.
Council President Valerie Abbott said she was encouraged by what she heard from the mayor but still has to review his proposed budget.
“Most of us receive complaints about things in our neighborhoods that need to be fixed, that need to be done,” she said. “So I think the fact we’re going to put more emphasis on neighborhoods is important.”
However, she said what gives her pause is the speed at which the city wants to demolish homes. “Although I know demolishing houses and cleaning up vacant lots is important, I just worry that sometimes we tear down homes that could be renovated if somebody would take the initiative,” Abbott said. “And I wish we could come up with a program where we could locate these houses that have potential and smooth the way to get the owners or heirs to sell them to someone who cares and who will renovate them.”
On Monday, the mayor said he is prepared to withhold nearly $11 million in funding from the Birmingham Jefferson County Transit Agency (BJCTA) if the turmoil on its board does not end.
Recent changes and actions “surrounding the BJCTA leadership and its board have raised serious concerns,” the mayor said.
He pointed out that there have been four board chairs in the last five months and five executive directors in the last eight years.
“This has created an instability in leadership,” Woodfin said during a press conference outside the downtown Intermodal facility.
He said, “the city is committed to its strategic partnership with the BJCTA, but must insist on a clear oversight process forward to ensure accountability and transparency.”