Looking at Mayor Randall Woodfin’s proposed budget for the 2022 fiscal year, it’d be easy to imagine that COVID-19 — and the havoc it wreaked on Birmingham’s city coffers — had never happened.
This year’s budget had dropped by nearly $29 million, largely the result of diminished business tax revenues. Woodfin’s proposed FY 2022 budget, by contrast, is the city’s largest to date. At $455.5 million, it’s nearly $3 million more than the pre-pandemic, $452.8 million FY 2020 budget.
In a call with reporters Monday afternoon, Woodfin said the budget “doesn’t have any pain points,” in contrast to the austerity of the previous year. And though city finance director Lester Smith stopped short of saying the city had made a full financial recovery — revenue from business licenses is down about $5 million from last year — the proposed budget casts a rosy light on the city’s post-COVID future.
The FY 2022 budget does not include the $74 million in federal stimulus funding from the American Rescue Plan that the city received last week; that money will be allocated later. The city will receive a second $74 million payment from the federal government next May.
Woodfin said this year’s proposal “makes whole” budgetary areas cut back due to COVID, including city employees and boards and external agencies. Neighborhood revitalization — a key part of Woodfin’s platform — is also prioritized in the new budget.
For city employees, being made whole includes restoration of merit raises, longevity pay and a 1.5% annual raise, which the city had foregone last year. The budget also provides for the city to fully fund its obligation to employee pensions.
“This budget invests in our people,” Woodfin told councilors Tuesday. “It has been difficult for our employees, but despite these difficult times brought on by the pandemic, they’ve continued to work hard.”
Organizations that had seen their city contributions zeroed out as a result of the pandemic have their pre-COVID funding restored in Woodfin’s proposal, such as the Create Birmingham Film Initiative ($50,000), the Jones Valley Urban Farm ($50,000) and the Alabama Symphony ($25,000).
Other organizations that had seen cuts in city funding — such as the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, the Railroad Park Foundation and Ruffner Mountain Agency — have their FY 2020 funding levels restored in the proposal.
This year’s budget proposal also includes the return of the city’s $1 million contribution to the Birmingham Board of Education, which Woodfin controversially cut from the FY 2020 budget. That money, he told reporters Monday, would “not be a blank check,” though he did not specify how it would be earmarked.
The FY 2022 budget proposal holds steady Woodfin’s efforts toward neighborhood revitalization, including allocating $10 million toward Woodfin’s five-year street paving plan, $3.15 million toward blight demolition and weed abatement, $300,000 each to the Land Bank Authority and a recycling pilot program and $275,000 toward sidewalk paving.
“I think it’s fair to say that as a city and a nation over the past 14 months, we’ve been tested,” Woodfin told councilors Tuesday. “We’re emerging from a crisis. … We’re at a moment not only of recovery, but of restoration.”
The 2022 fiscal year will begin July 1. The budget is still subject to a public hearing process and passage by the City Council — though the council cannot make changes to the budget without Woodfin’s express approval. The first public budget hearing will take place virtually on Tuesday, June 1, at 5:30 p.m.