Category: Birmingham City Council

‘Lean’ $451 Million Birmingham City Budget Passes After Debates Over School, Discretionary Funding

Minutes after the Birmingham City Council voted 7-1 to pass the city’s budget for the 2020 fiscal year, Mayor Randall Woodfin stepped out onto City Hall’s third-floor terrace with a smile on his face.

“Did it take longer than I wanted it to?” he asked. “Yes. But am I glad it passed? Yes.”

Woodfin presented his original $451 million budget proposal to the council May 14, calling it a “fundamental shift” for the city’s budgeting process. “It’s as lean as they come,” he said then, arguing that the budget reflected his administration’s “moral obligations’ to prioritize neighborhood revitalization and city employees’ pension fund.

“During my (mayoral) campaign, I said we’d engage councilors on shared priorities and aligning our priorities, and then focus on finding money to support those priorities,” he said Tuesday. “Each councilor told me their top three, and I’m happy to say that for each councilor, at a minimum two of their priorities are in this budget. It wasn’t just what the mayor’s office wanted, it was collectively what the 10 of us, the mayor and council, wanted.”

But the budget process proved difficult, largely due to controversies over its’ cutting a slew of line items and instead giving each councilor an additional $50,000 in discretionary funding. Woodfin’s plan to reallocate $2 million from Birmingham City Schools to his new Birmingham Promise apprenticeship program also garnered debate, despite the support of BCS Superintendent Lisa Herring and a majority of the city’s school board.

But the budget was passed relatively smoothly at Tuesday’s council meeting, with only one dissenting vote: District 8 Councilor Steven Hoyt. District 9 Councilor John Hilliard was absent. Read more.

Previous budget stories:

Woodfin’s Budget: Money for Pensions, Paving; Changes for Education, Discretionary Projects

Birmingham School Officials Say Schools Can Work Around Woodfin’s Proposed Budget Cut

Birmingham School Officials Say Schools Can Work Around Woodfin’s Proposed Budget Cut

Birmingham City School Superintendent Lisa Herring said Tuesday that, although she’s not sure where BCS will go to make up the $2 million that Mayor Randall Woodfin is proposing to cut from the school’s budget, she’s confident “it doesn’t put the district in a state of distress.”

Woodfin’s budget proposal would cut the city’s funding for schools from $3.2 million to $1 million, shifting $2 million into a fund for the Birmingham Promise Education Initiative, a public-private apprenticeship and scholarship program.

In previous years, BCS has spent the $3 million allocation from the city on community-based and outreach programs through the schools; one-time purchases to meet security needs, such as metal detectors; and on personnel, athletics and academics, Herring said.

The city board of education in a letter to the mayor and council expressed support for the Birmingham Promise program but asked that the $2 million cut be reconsidered in the future.

Herring echoed that idea in an interview with BirminghamWatch, saying she understood the Birmingham Promise initiative would have a direct impact on students.

“We are aware that we are talking about an amount in which, given the overall budget of our organization, there is space for us to have recovery,” Herring said.

Several school board members also said they can deal with the cut, though some said they wish they didn’t have to. Read more.

Also Tuesday:

Woodfin Defends Proposed Cut to Education Budget

Woodfin Defends Proposed Cut to Education Budget

Mayor Randall Woodfin defended his plan for Birmingham’s education budget at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, arguing that shifting millions of dollars from city schools to his proposed Birmingham Promise Initiative would allow the city to invest directly in students.

Woodfin’s proposed FY 2020 operating budget would cut the city’s funding for Birmingham City Schools from $3.2 million to $1 million. It would place that $2 million into a fund for the Birmingham Promise Education Initiative, a public-private partnership that would provide juniors and seniors in Birmingham city schools with paid apprenticeships as well as dual enrollment opportunities with Lawson State and Jefferson State community colleges. The program also would offer scholarships for city school graduates to attend public colleges and universities in Alabama.

Woodfin’s proposed cut to the schools’ budget has gotten mixed reviews. The city board of education in a letter to the mayor and council expressed support for the program but asked that the $2 million cut be reconsidered in the future.

Some council members today expressed support for the program and said it would be a benefit to Birmingham’s students; others were wary and said they needed details about the plan before being asked to vote on it. Read more.

Birmingham City Council Approves Healthy Food Overlay District

The Birmingham City Council voted Tuesday to establish a “healthy food overlay district,” designed to make healthy food options more accessible for the approximately two-thirds of the city’s population that lives within food deserts.

The healthy food overlay district will cover areas of Birmingham defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as “low-access census tracts,” where “a significant number (at least 500 people) or share (at least 33%) of the population is greater than half a mile from the nearest supermarket, supercenter, or large grocery store.” The final version of the ordinance also establishes a half-mile “buffer” around the overlay district, within which restrictions on dollar stores will still apply.
Read more.

Self-Storage Developers Need Not Apply; Council Says Birmingham Is Off-Limits

The Birmingham City Council voted Tuesday to place a temporary moratorium on new self-storage, mini-warehousing developments in the city.

The ordinance halts all city involvement in the development of those facilities — including permitting and zoning — except in areas already zoned as M-4 (Planned Industrial) or I-4 (Industrial Park) districts. Read more.

Birmingham Council Increases Lodging Tax to Fund Tourism Efforts

Despite warnings that doing so might backfire, the Birmingham City Council voted Tuesday to increase the city’s lodging tax.

The ordinance, which drew fierce criticism from local hoteliers, adds a $3 per night, per room surcharge to the city’s lodging tax code. The revenue generated by that surcharge is to be allocated “exclusively for sports and entertainment recruitment and development, tourism and infrastructure improvements.”

That surcharge is in addition to the city’s current 17.5% lodging tax rate, which is above the national average of 13.4%.

The ordinance was proposed — and at times angrily defended — by Council President Pro Tempore William Parker, who said the increase would add $4 million in annual revenue. Parker argued that this extra money would make the city “more competitive” in recruiting sporting events, which would in turn increase the city’s tourism. Read more.

Court Hearing Focuses on Alabama’s Minimum Wage Law

https://www.flickr.com/photos/tracy_olson/ https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode

Judges for the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments Tuesday on Alabama’s minimum wage law.

The law was passed by the state Legislature in 2016, quashing an attempt by Birmingham’s city government to raise its minimum wage from the federal minimum of $7.25 to $10.10. The act gives that authority exclusively to the state.

Plaintiffs in the case argue that the law was racially motivated. But judges hearing the case Tuesday focused mainly on a procedural issue, questioning whether the lawsuit was properly filed against the state attorney general, the Associated Press reported. Read more.

Public Hearing Set on Proposal to Block New Self-Storage Developments in Birmingham

The Birmingham City Council will hold a public hearing next week to discuss a potential moratorium on new self-storage, mini-warehousing facilities in the city.

The proposal, spearheaded by District 5 Councilor Darrell O’Quinn, would halt all city involvement in the creation of new self-storage facilities — including the issuance of permits and zoning approvals — except in areas already zoned as M-4 (Planned Industrial) or I-4 (Industrial Park) districts. Read more.

Next Phase in Minimum Wage Battle Begins Tuesday

https://www.flickr.com/photos/tracy_olson/ https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode

Oral arguments are slated to begin this week in the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals as part of the latest stage of a prolonged legal battle over Alabama’s minimum wage law.

The focus of the case is the Alabama Uniform Minimum Wage and Right-to-Work Act, which was passed by the state Legislature in 2016, quashing an attempt by Birmingham’s city government to raise its minimum wage from the federal minimum of $7.25 to $10.10. The act gives that authority exclusively to the state — meaning that raising the minimum wage above the federal level can only be done by an act of the Legislature.

Plaintiffs in the case, which include several Democratic state legislators, the Alabama NAACP and Greater Birmingham Ministries, allege that the law was racially motivated; state Attorney General Steve Marshall has argued, instead, that the state law has no racial animus and was based on purely economic factors. Read more.

Birmingham Councilor Suggests Calling in the Guard If Nothing Else Curbs Crime in the City

Birmingham City Councilor Steven Hoyt called on Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin today to change his strategies for fighting crime in Birmingham, even if it means calling in the National Guard.

Woodfin quickly shot down that idea, saying, “We will not be calling the National Guard,” and emphasized that most of the city’s homicides “are not random.”

“These are interactions between people who know each other,” he said.

Hoyt’s comments were sparked after a Monday night shooting in the city’s Belview Heights neighborhood left one man dead. The victim, 27-year-old Michael James Weeks, was the 60th reported homicide in Birmingham this year; seven of those homicides have since been ruled as justified.

That’s a marked increase from last year, which by June 18 had logged 50 homicides.

“I just need a new plan,” Hoyt said to Woodfin during Tuesday’s City Council meeting, arguing that residents are being “terrorized” by violent crime.

“My mother told me if you don’t know how to do something, ask somebody. Get some help … We did a couple of (crime) studies; it ain’t working. (We) brought a new chief in here; it ain’t working. So I’m just trying to figure it out … Maybe we need to call the National Guard in here to help us control this city.” Read more.