With just six days left before the Finance Committee presents the completed FY2014 budget for adoption by the city council, members of the public were invited to speak out on those capital projects included so far in the budget presented by the mayor. A few more than a dozen came and left within 40 minutes, speaking primarily in favor of the proposed pedestrian bridge to connect Homewood and Mountain Brook
across U.S. 280. The forum was open to the public to make any comments on the proposed budget – in support of or against any line items or to suggest new ones or methods of funding. The council earlier this year, at the mayor’s request, eliminated a mandated public forum on capital projects to be held in April preceding the Sept. 30 end to the fiscal year.
Council members present: Michael Hallman, Britt Thames, Fred Hawkins, Jenifer Champ Wallace, Heather Reid, Richard Laws, Peter Wright and council president Bruce Limbaugh.
Council members absent: Vance Moody, Patrick McClusky and Walter Jones.
Staff Present: City clerk Linda Cook. City attorney Mike Kendrick was present before the meeting started, then left.
Attendance to start: 18, with 15 standing up to speak.
- Two speakers were in favor of continuing focus and city effort for the proposed Broadway Park. The council voted earlier this month 7-4 against the Finance Committee’s initial move to negotiate the purchase of property on “short” Saulter Road to be developed as a park. The $220,000 purchase price and $50,000 development cost apparently sealed the project’s fate for the majority of council members.
- Two spoke in support of the West Homewood Village redevelopment plan and talked about the excitement in the neighborhood for this project. [The mayor’s budget contains $400,000 for Phase I of the project to redevelop a walkable shopping district near Patriot Park in West Homewood using aesthetic building standards in place of traditional zoning codes. Phase I includes angled parking, and streetscaping improvements on Raleigh Avenue and Oak Grove Road.]
- Nine people — consisting mainly of Homewood runners belonging to the Birmingham Track Club and residents of Homewood’s Hollywood neighborhood — spoke in favor of the proposed pedestrian bridge connecting Homewood to Mountain Brook over U.S. 280 on Hollywood Boulevard. The main concerns driving this project are safety for the walkers, joggers and cyclists who want to cross the highway, and the enhanced connectedness the bridge would provide. Recent car accidents, including one that killed the a Mountain Brook jogger and Track Club member last year, were cited by speakers. Speakers also defended the bridge as means of bringing Mountain Brook joggers/shoppers to downtown Homewood, as many running events start and finish at the Trak Shak on 18th Street. [According to the budget, Homewood’s share of the half-million dollar project is not to be more than $70,000, with federal funds paying 80% and the city and Mountain Brook sharing the remainder. HOWEVER, the Finance Committee has now doubled the city’s proposed share to $150,000, based on a refigured construction cost. Nothing is final without the full council’s approval. ] Supporters said they would help raise the money themselves if it were cut from the budget.
- A member of the Homewood Environmental Commission had questions about locating in the budget a $10,000 item [which is to partially fund the commission’s native tree propagation and planting program].
- One speaker, concerned about the lack of public input, urged the committee and city council to find ways to survey residents, including the use of cell phone apps, for their preferences on capital projects. He also asked to have the budget easier to find on the city’s website and to have it include comparisons to past years’ budgets along with actual revenues and expenses from those years. [A 130-page copy of the budget was posted online about two weeks after the mayor presented it to the city council at the end of August. However, that version does include actual revenues and expenditures from past budget years to use for comparison.] The speaker also suggested that 5 p.m. wasn’t an optimum time for the public to attend such meetings and asked that they be scheduled later for more response.
- Mr. Wright advised that there would be at least two more Finance Committee work sessions [Thurs., Sept. 26, at 5 p.m., and Mon., Sept. 30 at 4 p.m.] before the revised budget is presented for a council vote that Monday at the regular 6 p.m. meeting time.] Relating to the council’s effort to communicate with constituents, Ms. Wallis talked about on the Ward 4 Facebook page, and Mr. Hawkins mentioned that the council is looking into various social networking tools to keep residents notified of city business and events.
The meeting was adjourned at 5:40 PM.