The City of Gadsden’s fiscal year 2023 operating budget has been amended multiple times since its adoption last September with funds being added and moved around to accommodate new expenses. Mayor Craig Ford has seen a 41% increase in his budget while other city departments brace for potential budget cuts.

In January, the city council approved a transfer of $242,500 from the General Fund to the mayor’s office budget, which had been previously set at $586,178 for FY 2023.

According to the ordinance, the funds were divided among 20 items including increasing the budget for training and travel from $2,000 to $50,000; postage costs from $100 to $10,000; contractual printing from $1,000 to $10,000; and dues and subscriptions from $4,239 to $12,000. Budgets for advertising and “meetings and hospitality” were added at $25,000 and $50,000 respectively.

Five-hundred dollars also went to cover Ford’s $750 monthly car allowance. The city typically allocates $9,000 annually to lease a vehicle for the mayor. However, the council passed an ordinance to instead reimburse Ford for using his personnel vehicle since “in light of the present automobile market, more time is required to locate a suitable vehicle.”

The recent transfer of funds does not cover the salaries of the two new positions created by Ford: director of city services and director of diversity equity and inclusion. Both positions have a pay range of $56,000 to $100,276.80.

See also: City of Gadsden funding up to $100K annually for DEI director — Expenditure amid occupation tax fight to stave off alleged cash crunch

Ford has been one of the most publicly vocal opponents against State Sen. Andrew Jones’ (R-Centre) effort to remove occupational taxes statewide, claiming that doing so would greatly reduce his city’s services if not bankrupt it altogether.

Gadsden stands to lose $7.5 million over the next five years from its general fund budget if Jones' "Family Income Protection Act” (SB65) capping occupational taxes at 1% passes — $15 million in 10 years, which is roughly what the current 2% tax brings in for the city annually. Ford said 27% of the city’s general fund budget comes from the occupational tax, of which 43% goes to first responders and public safety.

Jones has argued that year-to-year budget growth from inflation alone would help offset the loss in occupational tax revenue.

The city has seen significant increases in its collections since at least 2020. The FY 2023 operating budget projected general fund revenues of $54,888,170, an increase of $1,684,425 from FY 2022. In the preface to the FY 2023 budget, finance director Lisa Rosser wrote that FY 2022 saw a $1,998,450 increase from the previous year, and FY 2021 ended with a revenue increase of 7.5% resulting in $3,796,511 more in collections from FY 2020.

The council also approved $2.2 million in city employee raises for FY 2023; before Ford’s new positions were approved and the budget amended.

SB65 has been referred to Senate County and Municipal Government Committee and is scheduled for a hearing Tuesday at 1:30 p.m.

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