City Budget Almost a Done Deal
Five days after the city of Birmingham’s fiscal year 2006 began, the City Council and Mayor Bernard Kincaid have apparently reached an accord on the city’s 2006 budget , which totals $303 million. This year concludes with City Council elections, so politics perhaps dictated the Council’s refusal to give in to Mayor Bernard Kincaid’s proposal to slice $1 million from schools or from designated social services that are financed by the city.Kincaid presented the budget to the Council on May 17, three days before it was due. By the end of June, the administrative and legislative branches of Birmingham government remained at odds. The Mayor and Council had decided to focus on two shared priorities: economic development, and jobs and programs for area youth. Kincaid, however, included a two-percent pay raise for city employees [$3.8 million], with the city eating the five-percent increase in health benefits [$1,440,000]. Councilor Elias Hendricks, chair of the Council’s finance and budget committee, argued that the pay increase was introduced later and “wasn’t one of the tenets on which we built our budget.”
Two days following the recessed June 28 Council meeting, Councilor Roderick Royal criticized the Mayor’s office for not having an updated budget available; the one after the Council had made its proposed changes. “To me, I think it was an effort [by the Mayor] to embarrass us,” he said. Since agreement on the 2006 budget was not finalized by July 1, the 2005 budget remained in place.
The drama in the final days of the 2005 fiscal year took the form of an exchange of memos between the Council and the Mayor’s budget team. In a June 30 memo to Kincaid from Councilor Hendricks, the councilor indicated that the Council had passed a proposal to eliminate 92 currently vacant positions that might be filled later in the year ($3.6 million total).
Kincaid’s budget team responded to the Council’s budget amendments the next day, when the 2006 budget was to go into effect. Their response criticized the Council for elimination of the 92 jobs “permanently,” including 32 public-safety positions at a total cost of $1,360,791. [Elimination of the 92 positions would save $3.6 million.] At the June 28 council meeting, Kincaid had criticized the City Council for adding the $1 million taken from the proposed 2006 budget. “The Board of Education, financially, is in much better shape than it was when the city stepped in in the past and took care of some of these things on an emergency basis that now has been deemed to be entitlements.” The Mayor added that the Board of Education budget “comes pretty close to ours with about half the number of employees.” Kincaid did originally leave $707,000 for student safety, crossing guards, and workforce development.
In the past, the city has depended on “salary surplus” [using money designated for jobs that might come open later in the year but that often do not] to make up for budget shortfalls. “We have moved away from the paradigm of doing shadow financing and relying upon salary surplus,” said Kincaid. Salary surplus was originally forced on the city when a six-percent employee pay raise for city employees was included in a past budget.
High on Councilor Roderick Royal’s list of restored funding included education issues. “I do think that we ought to continue the tutorial and adult literacy and other things, because Alabama trails the other states in terms of literacy,” said Royal.
At the July 5 City Council meeting, Kincaid said the Council’s latest proposal “would really cripple the city.” The Mayor said librarian assistants would lose their jobs, and some branches would be forced to lock their doors early, and that parks and recreation facilities would be closed. The Council again recessed for the second week in a row as Kincaid and councilors retreated from the council chambers to hash out differences to adopt a 2006 budget. A consensus was reached, and the Council will vote on the 2006 budget at the July 12 council meeting. The compromise includes keeping the 92 vacant positions originally targeted by the Council. In exchange, money for schools and other programs are back in the budget, including an immediate $200,000 for housing authority community centers, $270,000 for high school coaches and band director salary supplement, $200,000 for reading programs, and $112,000 for professional development. Kincaid said he would locate $1.3 million for these and other immediate additions to the budget by the time the Council votes July 12. By mid-year another $1.1 million will be identified. “This is a fair compromise, partly because the Council is not asking that all of the funds be found up front,” Kincaid said after the meeting.
In an interview after the majority of the Council found a compromise with Kincaid, Councilor Joel Montgomery, who had commended Kincaid for many of his budget cuts, said, “This is what’s been going on up here at City Hall for the longest time . . . This is salary surplus. It is money that is set aside for unfilled positions that never get filled.” Montgomery added that the City Council had caved in to the Mayor, granting him control of the $3.6 million that the Council should have locked into place so Kincaid could not touch it. “We can’t touch that money now because [the Mayor] recommends [how it's spent]. That is state law . . . He’s the only one who can recommend what to do with that money now.” &