By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
The Birmingham City Council late Tuesday adopted Mayor Randall Woodfin’s $412 million fiscal 2021 budget which came after weeks of protests, pay cuts, contentious furloughs of city workers and other measures to fill a $63 million revenue shortfall caused by the coronavirus shutdown.
The 6-3 vote approved a budget beginning October 1 that Woodfin said was one of “difficult choices.”
Voting in favor were Council President William Parker and Councilors Valerie Abbott, Wardine Alexander, John Hilliard, Hunter Williams and Darrell O’Quinn. Voting against were Councilors Crystal Smitherman, Steven Hoyt and Clinton Woods.
Abbott said she had a number of concerns with the budget but voted in favor hoping that the dozens of furloughed workers could potentially get their jobs back.
“Let’s say in December or January the economy makes a roaring comeback and our revenues are all back to normal, we can bring all those people back that . . . have money to pay them and provide their benefits… this is really hard because a $63 million loss of revenue is a difficult thing to get over and our city is heavily dependent on business taxes unlike other cities so this is what we did, its painful but we did it,” she said.
Smitherman, who offered amendments such as cutting travel expenses to provide funds for furloughed workers, said she voted against the spending plan because there was a better way to treat city employees.
“If I wasn’t a councilor, how would I want to be treated? Would I want to be furloughed?” she said. “I look at this budget as a 27-year-old young attorney and I think we could have done a better job… we are here to serve [our city] and you are not here to serve us.”
After the vote in a meeting that began at 5:30 p.m. and lasted for five hours, Woodfin said, “None of our decisions were taken lightly . . . I want to thank the council for working with me to maintain critical, essential services for our residents with the revenue available to the city.”
City officials said the budget maintains the FY2020 level of funding for neighborhood revitalization efforts such as street resurfacing, demolition and weed abatement. In addition, the budget continues the priority of increasing the city’s contribution to the pension fund.
The budget had been delayed in May after the city first identified the potential for a disruption in revenue due to COVID-19 which began to hit late March 2020. The fiscal year for Birmingham is July 1, 2020 to June 30, 2021, but was pushed back to October 1.
In the meantime, a number of cost-cutting measures were announced including 158 furloughs from the Birmingham Public Library system and 84 from culture and recreation facilities. Parker and Alexander announced before the meeting that the 12 community recreation centers in the city that were set to be closed would remain open three days a week. That will be done using remaining staff for the recreation centers and the Crossplex, with assistance from volunteers, Alexander said.
“All rec centers in the city of Birmingham will be open,” Parker said.
Woodfin said the “furloughs are temporary. If it (revenue) rises, we can bring people back.”
City officials said the impact of COVID-19 on the economy created a $17 million loss in revenue for the final three months of fiscal 2020. These losses were due to lower revenue from sales tax, use tax, occupational tax, lodging tax and business licenses. Combined, the revenue from these taxes and fees make up 81 percent of the city’s revenue, according to the city.
Woodfin announced previous steps to cut costs which included reducing:
- All non-contract funding for boards and agencies
- Economic incentives
- Non-public safety overtime
- Non-essential travel, training, dues, subscriptions
Woodfin, who has taken a voluntary 10 percent salary reduction, said the city is working to restructure some debt, refinancing at lower interest rates, which could save $45 million over the next three years. “Refinancing your bond goes to paying down debt you already owe,” Woodfin said. “That money cannot be used for personnel.”
The operating and capital budgets can be reviewed at www.birminghamal.gov/2021budget.