City of Birmingham

Woodfin to present city budget with changes in funding for pensions, infrastructure, transit

Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin (Source: Sam Prickett)

Mayor Randall Woodfin will present his proposed FY 2019 operating budget to the Birmingham City Council during its regular meeting Tuesday morning. Though Woodfin had provided some input on the FY 2018 budget, which was passed last December after months of delays, this will be the first budget that his administration has overseen from the ground up.

Due to the city’s new “zero-based” budgeting strategy, the proposed budget will be built on the Woodfin administration’s assessment of the city’s budgetary needs rather than the previous year’s budget. Among other things, the proposed budget will feature changes to the city’s funding for pensions, infrastructure, and transit.

Though most of the budget remains under wraps until Tuesday morning’s presentation — not even council members will receive a copy of Woodfin’s budget proposals before the meeting — it will likely be informed by two significant documents of recommendations for Woodfin’s administration: the Woodfin Way, which featured reports from his campaign’s transition committees, and a performance assessment of Birmingham government, completed by consulting firm Crowe Horwath and released last week.

The biggest of these deals with the city’s underfunded pension liability. Woodfin’s transition team and Crowe Horwath’s performance assessment both pointed to pensions as a pressing problem that could have severe ramifications for the city’s finances in the near future, including credit rating downgrades and difficulty providing benefits for the city’s retirees.

Woodfin told city councilors Wednesday that the budget will increase pension plan funding by $2.9 million in the FY 2019 budget — less than the $10 to $15 million needed to meet the city’s actuarially recommended contribution, but a step toward fully addressing the problem, he said.

Also addressed in the budget will be the city’s infrastructure, a focus of the transition team’s Neighborhood Revitalization and Public Safety Committee. Woodfin’s proposed budget will include $500,000 to establish a “preventative maintenance program” for city infrastructure, though the specifics of that committee also have yet to be revealed.

One budget item that won’t be seeing a funding increase, at least in the first draft of the budget, is the city’s contribution to the Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority. In a press conference Monday afternoon, Woodfin said that his administration would not give “any additional funding” to the BJCTA until they met three criteria: adopting a leadership stability plan attached to a timeline, mandating a minimum of 12 hours of governance training per year for board members, and establishing rules and procedures for the length of board officers’ terms. Woodfin said he was “hopeful” that the BJCTA could meet those requirements before the next fiscal year. The BJCTA currently receives $10.8 million from the city of Birmingham.

What else should be expected of Woodfin’s budget? There will likely be funding for two additions to the mayor’s office — the Department of Innovation and Economic Opportunity and the Office of Social Justice and Racial Equity — as outlined in the Woodfin Way.

Woodfin’s office has also indicated that plans to implement some of Crowe Horwath’s proposed reductions in expenditures, though it’s unclear which recommendations are being considered. Some are relatively noncontroversial: for instance, consolidating and localizing external contracts with supply vendors and construction developers. Some of the assessment’s more controversial recommendations — that the city consider privatizing or outsourcing its landfill operations, or that it merge its jail operations with Jefferson County’s — will likely not find themselves on the budget, due to the time required for assessment and implementation.

You can see last year’s operating budget here. Woodfin will propose the new budget on Tuesday, May 1, at 9:30 a.m.