Birmingham Bringing Back Up to 132 Furloughed Employees

 1561733446 
1606845100

Birmingham City Councilwoman Crystal Smitherman

Source: City Council’s Facebook page

The Birmingham City Council has approved a plan to bring up to 132 furloughed city employees — mostly from the Birmingham Public Library and the city parks department — back to work.

The workers were furloughed in September due to budget cuts necessitated by COVID-19’s impact on city revenue.

The plan, described as a compromise between mayor and council, will be funded by $4.85 million borrowed from the city’s general fund reserve. That’s far less than the $7 million requested in Woodfin’s initial plan, which would also have restored two paid holidays for city employees and reversed some salary reductions to appointed staff.

Woodfin had maintained that the money would be offset by an expected injection of $9 million in Cares Act funding through the Jefferson County Commission, thanks to new federal guidelines making police and fire department payroll reimbursable under the act.

But councilors had expressed concern that borrowing $7 million would bring the city’s reserves below a “red line” and could hurt the city’s credit rating.

City policy calls for two months’ worth of operating expenses to be kept in reserves — which, according to the FY 2021 budget, would be about $69 million. After the county’s reimbursement, Woodfin’s proposal would have left the balance at $66 million; the new compromise, proposed by District 5 Councilor Darrell O’Quinn and District 2 Councilor Hunter Williams, will leave it at a little under $69 million.

A meeting with rating agencies is scheduled for mid-December, after which, Williams said, “if the ratings agencies before December 31 say that we need to reconsider this, it’s something we should do at that time.” But the impending deadline of December 4 — when furloughed employees would lose their health insurance — made a quicker decision necessary.

The plan was approved unanimously but not without trepidation. District 6 Councilor Crystal Smitherman warned that the measure might only be a temporary fix amid the ongoing COVID-19 crisis.

“My biggest fear is that this will just be a short-term solution,” she said. “In a few months, we’re going to come to this exact situation again, because the real question is, how are we going to sustain this? We’re going into the third wave of the pandemic. Once we take out this $4.5 million, that’s it, we can’t go back into the savings. In fact, we probably will need a plan to see how we can build back up this fund balance.”

District 3 Councilor Valerie Abbott expressed similar concerns about the plan during a committee meeting Monday night. “We’re getting back Cares Act money, but my goodness, that doesn’t mean we’re fixed,” she said then. By Tuesday morning, though, she’d reconciled herself to the plan — even though she maintained that she didn’t think it “is a good idea.”

“I can live with it as long as we meet the requirements of our fund balance policy,” she said. “(But) it does look suspicious that two months ago we had this austere budget that we approved that did furlough a bunch of employees, and then suddenly two months later everything’s fine,” she said. “I don’t believe that. There’s more to this than what we see.”

 

Groups oppose $725 Alabama bond sale for building prisons

The state is expected to go to the bond market on Tuesday, to provide financing for the construction plan. That money will be added to $135 million in state funds and $400 million in pandemic relief dollars that the state already agreed to put toward the construction project.

“Expect us,” reproductive rights supporters rally across Alabama after federal abortion ruling

Alabamians took to the streets this weekend after elective abortions became a felony in the state on Friday.

What to know about Alabama abortion rights after SCOTUS overturns Roe v. Wade

The U.S. Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade, ending the constitutional right to an abortion. Here’s what the decision means for the Gulf South region.

Alabama OKs $725M bond sale to build 2 supersize prisons

That money will be added to $135 million in state funds and $400 million in pandemic relief dollars that the state already agreed to put toward the project.

Britt wins tumultuous Alabama Senate race scrambled by Trump

Katie Britt won the Republican nomination for Senate in Alabama Tuesday, defeating six-term Rep. Mo Brooks in a primary runoff after former President Donald Trump took the unusual step of rescinding his initial Brooks endorsement.

More BirminghamWatch Coverage