Birmingham’s most contentious budgeting process in years ended Tuesday with the City Council’s unanimous approval of Mayor Randall Woodfin’s $554.8 million FY 2024 budget.
Having extracted a rare compromise from the mayor’s office — nearly half a million dollars redirected from street paving to code enforcement — councilors adopted a conciliatory tone.
“I think all of us came away feeling better than we felt before,” said District 3 Councilor Valerie Abbott, who last week complained that the budget had overlooked a major priority for her district’s residents.
“I don’t even want to approve this budget because it’s not addressing the things that we complained about over and over and over,” Abbott said during a June 21 committee meeting.
“We just keep complaining and nobody listens … We’re doing all the glitzy things that are so cool. Well, I’m sorry, I’m tired of cool. I would just like for some things to get done so that the residents who constantly rag me about not doing anything (are satisfied).”
“The city looks inept and it’s embarrassing,” she said.
Abbott, along with District 5 Councilor Darrell O’Quinn and District 2 Councilor Hunter Williams, had threatened to vote against the budget, the one recourse left to councilors by the 2016 changes to the Mayor-Council Act, which stripped them of their ability to actively amend the mayor’s proposed budget.
Williams, speaking to 1819 News last week, lamented that “imbalance of power,” saying that state legislators had created “a little king in Birmingham (for whom) there are no checks.” His criticism was not specifically directed at Woodfin. “He wants to make the council happy, and he does that of his own free will or attempts to, but the problem is, he’s not always going to be the mayor and there are times when (the council doesn’t) see eye-to-eye with this mayor,” he said. But Williams still felt the need to smooth things over Tuesday.
“I want to clarify something,” Williams said to Woodfin on Tuesday. “I’m very, very grateful, and I think this council is very grateful, for how you are willing to engage us and how you are willing to find priorities of this council … I want to make sure that you understand that you have done an excellent job of making sure that we’re included in the process.”
What’s in the Budget?
The budget approved Tuesday addressed council concerns by allocating $460,000 for the creation of six new city positions: four agents and two clerks to enforce city ordinances, such as those regarding trash and brush pickup. That money had been part of the $15 million allocated to street paving in Woodfin’s initial proposal and will be made up by any budget surpluses over the coming year.
The FY 2024 budget continues the Woodfin administration’s heavy focus on neighborhood revitalization and youth services. It also includes increased funding for public transit, parks and libraries. Police and fire employees will receive a 5% across-the-board raise, while 2,555 employees will be eligible for a 5% merit pay increase.