The Birmingham City Council unanimously passed Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin's proposed $554 million fiscal year (FY) 2024 budget on Tuesday following tension between the city's legislative and executive branches.
Woodfin proposed the budget in May, suggesting millions for neighborhood revitalization and youth programs. He also recommended another cost of living (COL) adjustment for police and firefighters, the third since last May.
However, the budget process did not run as smoothly as some hoped.
A lot of the conflict surrounding the budget dealt with code enforcement. Code enforcement pertains to ensuring public and private properties comply with laws, such as those surrounding weeds and littering.
Council members have claimed they were getting overwhelmed with complaints about non-compliant properties, and the city lacks the resources to deal with those problems promptly. Specifically, it lacks certified officers who can issue tickets for code violations.
Councilwoman Valerie Abbott ranted about the code enforcement problem in last week's Committee of the Whole meeting.
"We still complain about the same stuff 21 years later that we were complaining about 21 years, and I appreciate the fact that this administration is finally paying attention," she said. "... But when I looked at the '24 and saw no more personnel for code enforcement, no more personnel for public works - which is the number-two biggest complaint we get - I just thought, 'I don't even want to improve this budget because it's not addressing the things that we complain about over and over and over and over. We just keep on complaining, and nobody listens."
According to reports, Abbott, Councilman Darrell O'Quinn and Councilman Hunter Williams pledged to vote against the proposed budget over the issues.
However, O'Quinn told AL.com that the mayor was working with the council and agreed to add more code enforcement inspectors and positions for officers who can issue tickets for code enforcement violations. He said the additional staff would cost approximately $500,000, which would come from a line item for street paving.
AL.com is owned by Alabama Media Group, a subsidiary of New York billionaires Donald and Samuel Newhouse's Advance Publications.
Last week, Williams expressed concern to 1819 News about the Mayor-Council Act, which became law in the 1960s. The law defines and establishes the framework for Birmingham's municipal government as it currently stands. However, the Alabama Legislature made significant changes to the law in 2016.
Before pleading guilty in 2017 to federal bribery, conspiracy, fraud and tax evasion, former State Rep. Oliver Robinson (D-Birmingham) introduced HB 515 in the 2016 regular session. After both houses of the legislature passed it, then-Gov. Robert Bently signed it into law.
The law amended the Mayor-Council Act to give Birmingham's mayor more appointment authority and expand his budgeting powers.
Williams said Woodfin typically attempts to maintain good relations with the council. However, when he does conflict with the council, council members do not have enough leverage to challenge him due to the law.
Before the budget vote on Tuesday morning, Williams took the time to address what may have been a misunderstanding about his position.
"I think that during this process, Mr. Mayor, that it's very clear that my stance on back to the Mayor-Council Act the way it previously was was something that I am for," he said. "But I want to clarify something. That is, I am very, very grateful … to you for how you are willing to engage us and willing to find priorities of this council."
Other members of the council spoke positively about the budget.
"I look forward to dispelling the rumors about the budget," Birmingham City Council President Pro-Tem Crystal Smitherman said. "... I just want you to know this budget does reflect a lot of your priorities: gun violence … our youth… we just talked about code enforcement, street pavement, weed abatement. There are things in there that are your priorities. And, honestly, I would love for the public to come ask us directly."
The budget passed with amendments recommended by both Woodfin and the Budget and Finance Committee. However, it's not clear as of now exactly what those amendments are.
"I think all of us came away feeling better than we felt before," Abbott said after the vote.
Smitherman proposed a resolution to use part of any budget surplus for street pavement.
"Even if we may not have something in the operating budget we couldn't give that much money to, we are very thankful and blessed to have a surplus where we can make up for that," she said. "We can include other things, but I thought street pavement was just a really important thing we could put money toward."
The resolution also passed with zero opposition from the rest of the council and the mayor.
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