Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin addressed concerns about his proposed FY 2018 budget’s funding for neighborhoods during a press conference Thursday, arguing that his administration was actively working to address neighborhood associations’ complaints about bureaucratic red tape.
Earlier this month, Woodfin announced that he would be moving the $500,000 typically allocated to neighborhood associations “to directly invest in revitalization,” saying that neighborhoods already have unspent funds “sitting here” in their accounts.
“We challenge the neighborhood associations to work with us with the existing funds they have to address weed abatement, demolition and other neighborhood improvements,” he said then.
But during May 14’s budget hearing, neighborhood officers argued that they had been unable to spend their money for years due to a lengthy and often interminable approval process. “[Woodfin] never asked us why we have so much money in our accounts,” Central Park Neighborhood Association President Susan Palmer told a sympathetic city council.
During Thursday’s press conference, Woodfin seemed to agree with the aggrieved neighborhoods. “[There] is a 17-step process to get to cutting the check for residents to be able to draw [from] those funds,” he said. “That is crazy. That’s ridiculous and just the opposite of efficient.
“I have told anybody and everybody that touches those [funds], we’re not doing 17 steps,” he continued. “I don’t care what it takes to cut down that type of red tape, that type of crazy bureaucracy to make sure that this process is more efficient… We’re going to do whatever it takes. Before this year is out, we will have come up with a process that works for everybody.”
But Woodfin took issue with the characterization that his budget takes money away from neighborhoods. Instead, he said, it will go toward priorities outlined by the neighborhoods themselves.
“We sat down with all the neighborhood officers this past December, right before Christmas, and they shared with us their top three issues,” he said. “What we found is, looking what they spent money on all these years, doesn’t necessarily reflect those top three issues… [So] while we’re in the middle of this process of making it more efficient for them to draw down on [their] funds, what we’re doing is taking some current dollars [and putting] them toward those things that they’ve said are their top priorities in their neighborhoods, and then creating a smoother process for them to draw down on their existing funds.”
Budget negotiations between the city council and the mayor’s office are ongoing.