By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
Residents and representatives from Birmingham nonprofit organizations went before city officials last week to ask for funding in Mayor Randall Woodfin’s proposed $451 million fiscal 2020 budget.
Birmingham City Council held a public hearing on Thursday in the Council Chambers at City Hall) to give citizens a chance to say what they wanted in the spending plan.
Council President Valerie Abbott, Council President Pro-Tempore William Parker and Councilors Clinton Woods, Darrell O’Quinn and Wardine Alexander were present.
Up to $14 million in the FY 2020 budget will go to neighborhood revitalization in the form of demolition, street paving, weed abatement and the Birmingham Land Bank Authority, which returns vacant, abandoned and tax delinquent properties back to the tax rolls.
The proposed plan leaves no room for funding nonprofit organizations, although last month the mayor said the city continues to support nonprofits but he must put public safety as one of his priorities.
The fiscal year begins July 1.
At the hearing, Mary Bates, from Bridge Ministries, a nonprofit organization that works to prevent homelessness by providing direct emergency assistance to at-risk individuals and families, said her group received $40,000 in the current budget.
“This year we are not included in the mayor’s budget but we did get some funding from HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) but it is only $30,000 which is half of what we really need to continue to operate fully so we are asking for that shortfall to be made up,” Bates said. “Our focus is keeping people from becoming homeless and while we house those who are already homeless, our focus is a little different from other organizations in that we focus on keeping people in housing who are already there.”
Brittany Taylor, a member of the Birmingham Police Athletic Teams (PAT) board, requested $150,000. “Our sole funding source has been the city of Birmingham and . . . and really need to be included this year in order to provide the great opportunities we are able to yield with these athletes,” said Taylor, who told the council her group serves about 1,400 youth with over 200 volunteer coaches. “We’re able to build them up through teaching them sportsmanship, leadership, team work. We’re able to teach them how to deal with defeat and handle success humbly. I am also a product of PAT… it really brought about a change in me that has carried me throughout my life. It is an invaluable resource to the community.”
Gwendolyn Welch, a resident of District 1, asked for a comprehensive city wide initiative of programs spanning from youth to baby boomers.
“I would like for you all to consider programs that will keep our minds active, not only our bodies but studies have shown that active programs for the mind will keep us from hopefully getting diseases like Alzheimer’s and other things,” said Welch, (do we know how old she is?).
“The second thing is the East Pinson Valley Rec Center and I would like for you all to look at the walking track because it needs repairs as the workout stations are no longer usable. Safety concerns in our community are sidewalks, street paving and speed deterrents are needed in our community such as stop signs, radar signs, speed bumps and different things like that.”
Councilors will have budget workshops and consider some of the requests before voting.
Council President Valerie Abbott said there might be some changes but only if Woodfin agrees.
“The Legislature made changes to the Mayor-Council Act and basically now it says that the council cannot make changes to the budget unless the mayor agrees . . . so what we end up with is sort of a messy situation where our alternatives are if the mayor doesn’t agree with us then we just don’t pass the budget, but that makes us all look very foolish,” said Abbott. “I am opposed to looking foolish so I would prefer that we would come to an agreement and pass the budget.”