Jan. 23, 2018 — The Birmingham City Council voted Tuesday to reallocate $100,000 that had been earmarked for improving Legion Field to instead lobby in Montgomery for legislation designed to generate millions a year for the city.
Though the specifics of the legislation were not given during Tuesday’s council meeting, Councilor William Parker, chair of the parks and recreation committee, said after the meeting that one bill would be a proposed increase to the city’s automobile rental tax. Parker said the change could secure “millions of dollars for funding for tourism and entertainment and also for economic development opportunities … on an annual basis.”
The state Legislature increased the city’s rental car tax from 2.25 percent to 5 percent in 2001, with the additional revenue slated to go to the Birmingham Jefferson Civic Center Authority for the construction of a domed stadium by the convention complex. The stadium was never built, though plans for a new open-air stadium are being discussed.
But a provision in that 2001 law has prevented the tax increase from being collected until the BJCC authority can certify that the revenue will be enough to pay $300 million in bonds, which it has not done, according to an AL.com report.
A 2011 effort by Sen. Jabo Waggoner, R-Vestavia Hills, to delete that provision from the law failed, with a majority of Jefferson County state senators voting against it. So that 3 percent increase has not gone into effect.
Birmingham’s car rental tax rate is relatively low compared to other cities of similar size. The tax can range from 6 percent, in Louisville, Kentucky, to 16 percent, in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Parker suggested that lobbying efforts would go toward raising the tax even more, with that additional revenue coming back to Birmingham. Though he told the council during the meeting that the revenue would come “back to Legion Field,” after the meeting he was more reluctant to make that promise. “You said it, not me,” he laughed.
Councilor Lashunda Scales expressed unease with moving funding away from Legion Field, though she eventually did vote for the ordinance after speaking privately with Parker.
“If you are not going to take care of Legion Field, you’re not going to get my vote,” Scales said. “I get a little antsy when money is taken away from Legion Field because we don’t know when the money’s going to come back.”
Last month, the city mulled over spending $30 million on renovations to Legion Field, though Parker ultimately withdrew the proposal.
A Three-Year Transit Deal
The council also voted to approve a three-year agreement with the Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority. The deal would have the city pay the BJCTA up to $10.8 million per year, though the council can vote to change that amount.
Though the item was approved unanimously, Scales and Councilor Steven Hoyt both expressed concern that transit was not receiving enough funding.
Scales, citing the upcoming 2021 World Games, said, “Our expectations need to meet our investment,” when it comes to transit in the city. She said she hoped “to fund transit at a higher level.”
Hoyt echoed her concerns. “It makes no sense that the city is moving in the way that it is, and we’re not really funding transit to the tune that it needs to be.” Hoyt said, asking Mayor Randall Woodfin to consider increasing the city’s investment in transit.
“Transit is a service,” he said. “It doesn’t make a profit; it doesn’t exist to make a profit. It exists to get people to the hospital, to the doctor’s and their jobs, and to get them there on time … . We’re really going to have to revisit how we fund transit … . We need to increase the service that we have within the city limits of Birmingham so we can get our folk to where they need to be.”
Woodfin replied that he would “strongly consider it” while planning the 2019 budget.