By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
A group of community organizers and leaders are calling on the city for full transparency in the FY 2021 budget process.
During a press conference outside of City Hall on Thursday, members from Foot Soldier’s International, The People’s Budget Birmingham Coalition, the Birmingham Black Economic Alliance, and other groups said they were concerned over the mayor’s $412 million proposed spending plan that contains salary reductions and indefinite furloughs for 114 part-time employees and 259 full-time employees.
Those austerity steps were needed to close a $63 million shortfall in the budget, the mayor has said.
“These cuts in this budget do not address the needs and priorities that residents are asking for,” said Rob Burton, a community leader. “It does not address our mental health issues for our residents, food insecurity, child and youth development and anything else that our mayor ran on.
“We’re here calling for full budget transparency, we believe all meetings should be in the public eye, all budget request packets from all departments, boards and agencies be publicly released.”
Rev. Gwen Webb, founder of Foot Soldiers International and
president of the Inglenook Neighborhood Association said the main goal is transparency.
“Where is this money going? What are we going to do about this? I’m here to fight for these employee’s jobs… when it comes to the employees, the neighborhoods, you have zeroed us out and we are the working entity… we are fighting the true fight.”
City officials have said all of the budget documents are online and can be found here.
Woodfin has also maintained that his administration has not deviated from priorities such as neighborhood revitalization. The city has said it will continue to allocate $10 million for street resurfacing, $4.7 million for demolition and weed abatement and $2,000 continued funding per neighborhood association.
Clarence Muhammad, a long-time civic activist and co-founder of Birmingham Black Economic Alliance, said the budget also raised concerns about seniors, closing of rec centers and libraries and the automating or outsourcing Birmingham’s garbage pickup.
Keith Williams, vice president of the North Titusville Neighborhood Association, said there is a poverty issue throughout the city “which is one of the root causes of crime in this city, but yet the poverty issue is not being addressed . . . instead we are seeing a multimillion dollar increase in the police budget.”
In the FY 2021 budget, the police budget is increasing by $11 million because more money has been allocated for equipment and full-time security workers now fall under the police department instead of the individual departments where they were assigned.
However, the proposed police budget will eliminate 48 current vacant sworn officer positions as part of the overall effort to eliminate vacant jobs.
The city has said, “As we continue to work through a $63 million shortfall for the budget currently before the City Council, we want to assure the public that basic city services such as public safety and general government will not be reduced.”
Leaders expressed concerns about funding for Birmingham City Schools (BCS).
“I think it is a travesty when you put zero monies into education… education is the most important thing that could change any child’s life,” said Dr. Richard Franklin, of the Birmingham American Federation of Teachers. “To invest zero into a child’s education, and to say we invest in a promise at the end is one of the biggest lies.
“We can’t stand by as citizens and let our services be privatized… that is not equity… the library board, parks and recreation and the school system, go hand-in-hand together because all of them service children, so the neglect that is being done affects children. Right now, we’re cutting services for children.”
In the FY 2021 budget, the mayor’s Birmingham Promise Educational Initiative will continue to receive $2 million from the city, but BCS’s appropriation from the city’s general fund — the system received $3.25 million in FY 2019 and $1 million in FY 2020 — has been eliminated. Woodfin said that this cut would be “offset by other sources of funding,” including over $2 million from capital expenditures in the city.
City officials said that “capital investments in the city are providing more revenue for BCS which is projected to reach $5.4 million next year, up from $2.8 million this year.