Birmingham City Council

Birmingham Council Passes the City’s Largest Budget Ever

Max, the male Southern white rhinoceros at the Birmingham Zoo. The zoo and Rickwood Field are the two external organizations whose appropriations remained cut as they were in the FY2020 budget. (Source: Birmingham Zoo via Instagram)

The Birmingham City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to approve Mayor Randall Woodfin’s FY 2022 budget, making no changes to the proposal presented to them in May.

The $455.5 million budget is the city’s largest to date, indicating a predicted recovery from COVID-19’s impact on last year’s revenues. Woodfin has emphasized that the budget shows the city’s commitment to its employees, including a restoration of merit raises and longevity pay; and its allocations to neighborhood revitalization, including millions for street paving, blight demolition and weed abatement. The budget does not include the $74 million in federal relief funding from the American Rescue Plan that the city received last month; it will receive a further $74 million next May.

Woodfin told reporters last month that the budget “doesn’t have any pain points” compared to the previous year, which had seen the city reduce or zero out its contributions to various external organizations, including the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, Railroad Park Foundation and Alabama Symphony.

Those organizations were restored to their FY 2020 funding with the new budget, with two notable exceptions. The Birmingham Zoo and Rickwood Field were still allocated last year’s lowered funding — $500,000 for the zoo, down from FY 2020’s $1.9 million; and $50,000 to Rickwood, down from FY 2020’s $150,211.

Read the full budget on the city’s website.

Those were the sticking points in the discussion leading up to the final budget vote, brought up by District 3 Councilor Valerie Abbott, who attempted to extract commitments from Woodfin’s deputy chief of operations, Chaz Mitchell, that Woodfin would “take care of” both organizations.

Mitchell promised to “work with” representatives from Rickwood Field, though he noted that the city’s parks and recreation department is “very involved with maintenance” at the field “on top of the allocation we give to them.”

Rick Journey, Woodfin’s director of communications, told BirminghamWatch Wednesday morning that the city also pays Rickwood’s utilities bills and that the field only has one major event per year, the Rickwood Classic.

Woodfin was still negotiating with the zoo’s board of directors, Mitchell said, “working with that leadership on a long-term solution.” He promised to take Abbott’s suggestion that the zoo be able to keep $250,000 of the revenue it generates in lieu of full city funding “back to the mayor and see if he can use that in his negotiations.”

According to Woodfin’s office, the decrease in zoo funding is based on a contract signed in 2010, which calls for a reduction in city funding after the first 10 years. An additional agreement, in which the city gives the zoo a yearly $180,000 rebate based on collections, is set to expire Oct. 31.

Though Mitchell appeared reluctant to provide Abbot’s requested commitment, District 2 Councilor Hunter Williams said he’d already received it from Woodfin himself.

“I did speak to the mayor about it, and he did assure me that there’s going to be a negotiation and a commitment to make sure that they’re funded,” he said. “It was a very explicit conversation and those were his exact words.”

Abbott said she was “just going to count on” that promise and would employ “the power of positive thinking.”

Woodfin was not present at the virtual meeting on Tuesday evening, nor was District 8 Councilor Steven Hoyt; the eight councilors present all voted to approve Woodfin’s unamended budget, which will go into effect Thursday.

This story has been changed to add more information about funding for the zoo and Rickwood.