The Birmingham City Council passed a resolution Tuesday promising $2.5 million to $5 million to aid the financially troubled Birmingham-Southern College (BSC).
The council debated pledging support for the college in March but delayed its decision until the Alabama Legislature decided what it would do about BSC’s budgetary woes.
In June, the Legislature approved a bill sponsored by State Sen. Jabo Waggoner (R-Vestavia Hills) to create a loan program administered by the State Treasurer for universities in financial distress. State Rep. Juandalynn Givan (D-Birmingham) carried the bill in the House. Gov. Kay Ivey signed the bill into law later that month.
The bill requires the state to charge interest on loans to struggling Alabama universities. It was initially funded with $30 million intended for BSC.
However, most Birmingham City Council members still felt the need to contribute public funds to the school.
“I know there may be a lot of strong feelings about this,” stated Councilman J.T. Moore at the council meeting on Tuesday. “…But I’m glad that we as a council are able to support. I know there are those that are of the school of thought that this is not something that the city should have to support or should have to be involved in, and then there are those who feel as though we don’t want to end up with another situation where we have another Caraway property or vacancy in our city.”
Moore said officials at BSC told him they wouldn’t ask for money in the future and promised to help Birmingham City Schools by encouraging more service-learning students to volunteer within the school system.
“I think one thing that Birmingham Southern may have learned from all this is to tell its story,” added Councilwoman Carol Clarke, who represents District 8, where BSC is located. “…If there’s a fault, it’s not tooting your own horn enough because just this past Saturday, the football team was out in our garden doing a lot of work.”
But council president Wardine Alexander had different concerns.
“Birmingham Southern is a private college,” Alexander stressed. “I would like to see if we are going to give aid to Birmingham Southern, then we look very closely about what we give to our neighborhoods.”
Alexander said she hadn’t received any data showing the number of residents from her district enrolled or employed at the college.
“If the next step is to provide Birmingham Southern an amount between $2.5 and $5 million, we are taking away nearly $600,000 from each of our council districts,” Alexander, who represents District 7, explained.
“When I ride through District 7, it is very, very troubling to me to see how my neighborhoods look and the blight in my neighborhoods,” she continued. “If we consider this money, I would like for us councilors to truly consider what we give to our neighborhoods when it comes to road improvements, when it comes to blight, when it comes to weed abatement.”
Alexander insisted her opposition to the resolution is not that she doesn’t recognize the private college's contributions to the community or that she doesn’t want to help BSC.
“I just want my vote today to reflect that we can, we must, and we need to go back and give that support to our neighborhoods,” she explained. “… At this time, this particular resolution just does not fit into my legislative priorities.”
Alexander was the only vote against the resolution.
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