The Birmingham Public Library now has its operating budget for fiscal year 2021 — and it’s much lower than expected, which means “tough decisions” lie ahead for the BPL board of trustees.
During Tuesday’s board meeting, trustees lamented the “moving target” they’d been given by Mayor Randall Woodfin’s office. The city’s overall budget has been greatly reduced as a result of reduced business tax revenue due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The library first had been allocated $12.8 million in Woodfin’s proposed FY 2021 budget, which was bumped up shortly afterward to $15.3 million, bringing it roughly even with its operating budget from this year. Then, board members said, their city attorney had given them a third number that was less than half of that — $7.039 million.
The real number, Woodfin told board members and city councilors during a “last-minute” informational call Wednesday, is even less than that. The library’s total budget in his recommendation for FY 2021 is $6.2 million, he said — and it’s spent $2.6 million of that since July.
“I want everybody to hear it at the same time,” Woodfin says in a recording of the call obtained by BirminghamWatch. “Your remaining budget you have from October 1 to June 30 is $3.6 million — not a dollar more.”
Woodfin encouraged BPL Executive Director Floyd Council and board President Eunice Johnson Rogers to start making “some tough decisions” before the end of the month, meaning employee furloughs and branch closures. “Any continued inaction at this point will cause deeper pain for your department,” he said.
Woodfin’s office previously had sent out furlough letters to most of the BPL’s 230 employees. The BPL board insisted that it had that authority, not Woodfin, and Woodfin eventually acquiesced. “The library board’s position is that it has the authority to furlough employees,” he said during Wednesday’s call. “We have since yielded. That has been given. You have that authority. Each board and entity of the culture and recreation departments have moved to furlough employees to address the current revenue shortfall, with the exception of the library board.”
The library has the most employees of any city department, excluding public safety; personnel costs account for 90% of the library’s budget. Woodfin said that the tightening budget was due to the library continuing to spend money at the same rate it had in FY 2020 without implementing cost-saving measures such as furloughs.
“You all have spent a considerable amount of money between July 1 and the two weeks of September operating under the same guise that you would have with the same money you operated with in the 2020 budget,” he said. “You don’t have that remaining.”
Rogers told Woodfin that the library board had been waiting for a concrete number before making its decision. “The library has looked at various scenarios, and we just were waiting on the number to make the move. Now that we have it, we’ll do what’s necessary.”
City attorney Nicole King, also present on the call, told Council and Rogers that the library board has “no power or authority to bind or obligate the city beyond the amount appropriated for the library’s purposes.” If the board does not take action, she said, “the city will be forced to have to make some hard decisions, such as removing worker’s comp insurance and other matters that would have to come into play that can help the deficit.”
Woodfin urged Rogers to schedule a special-called board meeting before the end of the month. Woodfin’s budget still has to be approved by the city council before it can go into effect.
Toward the end of the call, Woodfin offered Council an opportunity to speak. “I don’t have a whole bunch to say,” Council said after a moment. “I’ll say we acknowledge and receive the information. And I’ll just say we’re committed to make library services happen with whatever we have. I realize these are tough times going on.”