By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times
Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin on Tuesday proposed a fiscal 2023 budget of more than half a billion dollars – the largest in city history – that focuses on new and existing youth programs and increases funding for every city department.
The fiscal year begins July 1, and the budget must by adopted by the City Council before that date.
The proposed $517,017,653 spending plan is $60 million more than last year’s which totaled $455,014,242. The growth in the proposed budget comes primarily from increased revenues in business taxes and licenses, as well as sales and use taxes and lodging taxes, according to city officials.
With a number of widely reported shootings of teens in the Birmingham area — nine city school students have been killed this year in the city limits — this is clearly a budget that focuses on young people and steps to keep them safe and out of trouble.
“We know [that in] certain areas of town, children are either not safe at home or don’t feel safe. We know they choose to go out to the streets and just kick it instead of going home. We know certain neighborhoods and areas, unfortunately, young people are prone to get in trouble being in the streets,” Woodfin said.
The mayor’s proposal puts about $7.4 million into funding youth services programs and converts the city’s existing Division of Youth Services into a city department.
In addition to $2 million included in the budget for Birmingham Promise, a scholarship program for high school students, the same amount as the two previous years, the budget includes $5,435,000 for other youth services, including $1 million to a “safe haven” program with Birmingham Parks and Recreation.
The program would extend the hours of some city recreation centers and fund programming for young people into the evening, Woodfin said.
The hours that city rec centers stay open are often “unrealistic,” given the times of day that youth in the city tend to “get in trouble,” he said. At a minimum, his administration would like to extend hours for at least one rec center per quadrant of the city, he said.
The budget also includes $1 million each for financial literacy and conflict resolution programs that would be part of Birmingham City Schools curriculum.
Woodfin’s proposed budget includes $225,000 to support a preexisting Jefferson County program that aims to help children aged 14 to 17 who may have been part of the criminal justice system and another $210,000 to support the Birmingham’s Kids & Jobs program, a partnership between the city and WBRC FOX6 which provides teenagers with professional development and job experience during the summer.
The Birmingham Police Department will also see a big jump in funding for FY2023, $118.5 million — up $18 million from last year.
The mayor acknowledged that some have expressed “concerns … about over-increased policing,” but said that he also heard from neighborhoods for more police, as well as requests from police officers “who want, need and deserve more resources.”
“When you are the mayor and the City Council, you don’t have the luxury to just listen to the loudest group,” he said. “This budget reflects listening to all three (groups).”
Officers would get $6.6 million increase in salaries and wages as well as $2.7 million for overtime during The World Games 2022, which will take place July 7-July 17. “You talk about being a city that is open to tourism and sports and entertainment, and we keep getting all these new things,” Woodfin said. “That requires police presence and a significant amount of overtime.” The BPD will also receive $1.3 million for new uniforms.
More money would also be directed toward transportation. As proposed, the budget would give $10 million to the Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority (BJCTA), which is double what the agency received from the city in the last two years.
Birmingham On-Demand, a ride-sharing service which is the result of a partnership among the city of Birmingham, North River Transit and Via Transportation, will also receive $1.2 million, which is up $700,000 from last year.
According to Woodfin’s Chief of Operations Chaz Mitchell, the city is looking to see what can be changed about Via’s current service area, like moving its borders slightly east or west.
In addition, the budget would see the city give $1 million more toward the Birmingham Xpress bus rapid transit system which will begin operation this year.
More than 86 percent of the money is going toward various city departments to pay personnel and fund programs. Departments that fall under general government, public safety and culture/recreation would all receive increased budgets over previous years. Overall, city departments would see $75.6 million more than in last fiscal year’s budget.
Other items of note in the mayor’s proposed budget include:
$32.7 million for city employees’ pension fund
*$15 million for street resurfacing
*$11.6 million for cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for city employees
*$7 million for uniform trash receptacle initiative
$4.8 million increase to Police and Fire supplement pension
$3.5 million for demolition and weed abatement
*$2.9 million for a five percent conditional merit pay increase for city employees
*$1.5 million for city employee longevity pay
*$1.4 million to cover increasing insurance cost for city employees
$1.3 million for Police uniforms
$500,000 for the Land Bank Authority
$500,000 for a strategic pavement management plan
$275,000 for sidewalks
*Money includes surplus from FY 2022
Woodfin’s proposal still has to be approved by the council, which voted Tuesday to set two public budget hearings — one on Tuesday, June 6, at 5:30 p.m., and another on Thursday, June 16, at 5:30 p.m.
The full budget proposal can be accessed at birminghamal.gov/2023budget.