Birmingham Council OKs Partial Transit Funding Under Protest From Hoyt

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Sherrel Wheeler Stewart, WBHM

Riders board a Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority bus at the transportation center in Sept. 2019. The board approved a fare hike effective in November.

Despite delays in the city’s overall operating budget, the Birmingham City Council voted Tuesday to fund the Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority through the end of 2020.

The city will pay the BJCTA $5 million, divided into two quarterly installments of $2.5 million, “to make sure there’s no disruption in service at all” as the city enters for its months-long budget negotiations, Mayor Randall Woodfin said.

Birmingham’s budget for the 2021 fiscal year, which officially started July 1, was delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic as officials worked to ascertain the effect of business closures on city revenue. Budget discussions are now slated to begin next month. Woodfin has said he hopes a new budget, which would contain the remaining BJCTA funding, can be in effect by Oct. 1.

In the meantime, Woodfin told the council it was imperative the already financially embattled BJCTA not be subject to that delay.

“This is simply making sure they get their money so our residents continue to get from point A to B,” he said.

But District 8 Councilor Steven Hoyt took significant issue with the proposal, claiming that it would “cut the poor folk out.”

“I’m not signing onto this because you’re cutting their budget in half,” he said. “I want the citizens to understand what is being proposed here. The mayor is cutting money to the folk that need it the most. I want you to understand that … Obviously this administration doesn’t care anything about the poor folk in this community, and we see that in so many iterations and ways throughout this community.”

Hoyt suggested, without providing evidence, that members of the council had made “deals” with Woodfin to approve “cutting transit.”

District 1 Councilor Clinton Woods repeatedly attempted to assure Hoyt that the measure wasn’t cutting funding to the BJCTA.

“We’re only approving half of (the BJCTA’s funding) for the first two quarters,” Woods said. “Last year they got $10 million (for the entire year). They’re on track to receive level funding.”

“I don’t understand how you don’t want to pay them for the work they’re doing now,” Woods said.

But Hoyt remained unmoved, and while the rest of the council voted to approve the funding, he voted no, saying that he was “marching to the beat of his own drum.”

“I ain’t no puppet,” he said.

Council President William Parker, who had significant difficulty throughout the meeting preventing Hoyt from clashing with Woods and Woodfin, promised a “full-blown conversation as we move forward” about BJCTA funding. But he suggested that Woodfin’s proposed Oct. 1 goal for passing the budget might be optimistic.

“We will do our due diligence, and we will pass it when we pass it,” Parker said. “There are no artificial deadlines as it relates to October 1 … We’ll get another bite at the apple.”

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