Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin addressed city employees Wednesday, acknowledging “serious challenges” facing the city’s pension system and urging the pension board to begin working with him on solutions immediately.
“For years, this issue has not been handled,” Woodfin said in a letter released alongside a video address. “If we act now, there is time to correct this problem, protect our employees and avoid a financial crisis for the city.”
According to Woodfin, the city’s unfunded pension liability stands at $378 million, which means that the city will need to contribute $378 million more than it already does to the pension fund over the next 30 years. Read more.
Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin gave members of the City Council a preview of his proposed FY 2019 operating budget during a committee meeting Wednesday.
While his brief presentation included few specifics — the full operating budget will be presented during the City Council’s meeting Tuesday — Woodfin did address the pressing issue of the city’s unfunded pension liability and encourage neighborhood associations to be more proactive in their individual revitalization efforts.
At $436 million, the new budget will be the city’s largest to date, edging out the previous year’s budget by $8 million. Woodfin is using a zero-based budgeting process, meaning that each budget item is considered anew, not based on its inclusion or lack thereof in the previous year’s budget. Read more.
Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin’s transition report, “The Woodfin Way,” features assessments of most major issues facing the city’s nascent administration. But during the March 15 presentation of those findings, one issue in particular drew murmurs of alarm from the crowd: the Transparent and Efficient Government Committee’s finding that the city has been underfunding its city employee pension plan for more than 15 years, leaving a pension liability of $750 million.
“On the surface, the (city’s) finances don’t seem so bad,” said the committee’s co-chair, Daniel Coleman, during the presentation. “We’re close to a balanced budget, we’ve had small deficits, but we’re able to cover those. But if you look back at the next level, we’re creating new deficits, big deficits that won’t go away — holes in our balance sheet.”
The nature of the presentation meant that Coleman was unable to address the pension liability issue with any real depth, drawing cries of frustration from the audience, a large portion of which consisted of city employees.
“You want to break that down?” yelled an audience member at the end of Coleman’s presentation. But by that point, Woodfin was moving on to the findings of the next transition committee, leaving open the question of just how dire the pension issue is and what can be done to fix it.