City Council meeting, Sept. 22, 2014

Mayor's budgets 2014 (current) compared to 2015. The mayor's budget is amended and adopted by the city council before the Oct. 1 start of the fiscal year.

Mayor’s budgets 2014 (current) compared to 2015. The mayor’s budget is amended and adopted by the city council before the Oct. 1 start of the fiscal year.

With final numbers unavailable, the FY2015 budget passed tonight varies probably no more than $100,000 from the $55.7 million budget the mayor presented Aug. 25, councilmen estimate, with council cuts taken mainly from the Capital Fund and $1.06 million “borrowed” from the city’s $10+million reserves to balance the General Fund. Here is a link to the mayor’s proposed budget, presented Aug. 25. http://www.homewoodal.net/city/budget/bud15.pdf

Despite their united congratulations on the final budget and praise for the mayor and Finance Director Melody Salter, members split 6-5 in a tense vote to reward the city’s full-time employees with an end-of-year bonus rather than pay annual longevity, a COLA, or some combination of the three. The historic break from paying longevity–which the state’s retirement system has so far agreed to use to compute pension benefits–could mean the RSA will no longer recognize longevity pay as part of Homewood’s compensation package, even if it were restored in following years.

Department heads and employees sitting in on hearings this month pointed out that bonuses were one-time “thank yous,” while longevity and COLAs became part of employees’ salaries. They complained that the city–which was once at the top of the county’s Personnel Board list for compensation–had fallen to sixth on the list, hurting recruitment. The mayor and others, however, argued that recruitment didn’t seem to be a problem, since with 504 employees, Homewood ranks at the top of county municipalities in employees per capita (and third in retirees collecting pensions).

Some argued for a combination of tiered bonuses and longevity, as longevity was tied to salary level and didn’t represent much reward to lower-paid workers even with decades of tenure. Also, longevity pay alone wouldn’t have applied to employees with less than 6 years’ tenure.

MONEYBAGThe decision to pay bonuses only, but based on years of service, will reward tenure and include employees working less than six years, but not add to employee “base pay” for future increases or pensions. Arguments earlier in the hearings indicated the mayor was concerned that the city couldn’t absorb the ever increasing payrolls next year if extra pay took the form of COLAs or longevity this year. There is no expectation that revenues will increase this coming year.

Bonuses would be paid in mid-October out of an expected $700,000+/- surplus to be found  by the end of the budget year Sept. 30, with an estimated pay-out of $337,000 and a $350,000 cap. Bonuses, tenure, and number of full-time employees per each tier, would be paid as follows:

$350.00 for 1-3 years – 67 employees
$500.00 for 4-6 years – 47 employees
$750.00 for 7-9 years – 41 employees
$1,000 for 10-15 years – 62 employees
$1,500 for 10-20 years – 51 employees
$2,000 for 20+ years – 40 employees

These weren’t the only contested votes. Transit funding took a 50% cut, with one councilman objecting. Other votes failed immediate passage for lack of unanimous consent.

Members present: All–Michael Hallman, Britt Thames, Fred Hawkins, Vance Moody, Patrick McClusky, Walter Jones, Barry Smith, Heather Reid, Richard Laws, Peter Wright, and council president Bruce Limbaugh. Mayor Scott McBrayer was also present.

Staff present: City clerk Linda Cook, city attorney Mike Kendrick, mayor’s chief of staff J. J. Bischoff, city code enforcement officer Scott Cook, city Building, Engineering and Zoning manager Greg Cobb, and planner Vanessa McGrath.

Audience attendance: 30+

Approved minutes of the July 28, 2014, meeting.

Declared a Carr Avenue property a public nuisance:  Fewer smiles came from the council in this continued hearing about conditions at 708 Carr Avenue, a vacant lot, whose owner inventoried how he was progressing in cleaning up each separate plant and fallen limb. The city’s code enforcement officer recommended the property be declared a nuisance, which was affirmed by Mr. Moody and passed with the advice that the city clean-up crews would give him another two weeks before coming in for a clean up.

Declared two properties public nuisances: Property owner Jean Byars had been given extra time to clear excessive weeds at her residence and property next door at 1628 and 1631 16th Place South. The council voted to declare both lots a public nuisance, advising that she would have extra time to finish clearing the properties before a city clean-up crew came out.

Google Maps aerial view of Dorothy McDaniel building, existing parking and grassy area to be converted to parking for a building tenant.

Google Maps aerial view of Dorothy McDaniel building, existing parking and grassy area to be converted to parking for a building tenant.

Postponed a rezoning vote for lack of unanimous consent: A “no” vote to pass a rezoning on a first reading failed on the first roll call vote, Michael Hallman. Because the vote failed the required “unanimous consent” for an early decision, it will be carried over to the next meeting for a second reading. The Planning Commission had recommended owner Larry Mantooth’s request to rezone vacant property at 1659 28th Avenue South from R-7 (Attached Dwelling Unit District) to C-2 (Neighborhood Shopping District) in order to expand parking for a prospective buyer of the former Dorothy McDaniel building.

Voting no: Mr. Hallman, saying he opposed rezoning cases in principle.

Concept of a mixed use structure and landscaping.

Concept of a mixed use structure and landscaping.

Failed unanimous consent to change a Final Development Plan: 1659 28th Avenue South and rezoned to MXD (Mixed Use District) to combine a residence and work space in one building. This vote to change the plan’s design, building materials, failed on a vote for immediate consideration, requiring the unanimous consent of all present.

Voting no:  Michael Hallman, saying he was opposed to rezoning cases in principle.

Agreed to annex a residence in West Homewood:  The council agreed on the first reading to annex a residence at 1709 Hillbrook Drive in Forest Brook Estates.

photo 3

The area outlined in blue shows the boundaries of the acreage the Islamic Academy is purchasing between the school and 18th Street. The school is asking the city to vacate the unopened right of way (for 18th Street) that runs through the middle of the property. It is also asking to rezone the property from commercial to institutional.

Carried over until October 13, 2014: The council will consider vacating unused portions of 18th Street South for the Islamic Academy, in Rosedale. The  unopened road lies within adjacent wooded acreage the school has purchased, and has asked to rezone. Both requests will be heard in October.

Approved a 2-way stop and cross walk: A pedestrian–not traffic–“stop” (whatever that is) was approved at Grace Street and Gainswood Road.

Approved a state off-premises beer license:  The council had no objection to an off-premise beer license for a Shell station at 2908 U.S. 31.

Highwy55logoApproved a sign ordinance variance: The council approved an extra sign for a nostalgia burger, fry and shake restaurant at the Publix shopping center.

Approved changing insurance providers: On the mayor’s recommendation, the city changed from AMIC to Traveler’s insurance at a yearly premium of $438,986 (increase of $2,200, but more coverage).

Authorized a contract to sell a ladder truck: The mayor was authorized to sell a ladder truck to Brindlee Mountain Fire Apparatus.

Approved five extra street lights on Berry Road: The extra lighting will cost $640 per year.

Approved budget amendments: Unspecified amendments to the current budget were passed.

Approved, with one abstention, a contract for a staffing analysis:

Abstaining: Mr. Hallman abstained, giving no reason.

Approved 6-5 awarding employee bonuses subject to budget surplus:
The pros and cons of awarding bonuses, longevity pay or some permanent but small COLAs were debated in at least three separate budget hearings, including the session immediately preceding tonight’s council meeting. The decision to award bonuses only signaled the first time Homewood has not approved a yearly longevity pay-out, used to reward loyalty, but also significant because the state’s retirement system has accepted the regularity of the Homewood longevity pay as part of a traditional compensation package and therefore figured into pensions. Bonuses are not. Employees argued understandably for the surplus to be paid as longevity or COLA, with lasting impact, while others argued that this one departure might allow RSA to stop calculating Homewood’s longevity pay into retirement pensions even if reinstated the next year.

Voting no:  Michael Hallman, Fred Hawkins, Vance Moody, Peter Wright, Bruce Limbaugh. (A no vote in this instance is against dropping longevity, not against paying an increase.)

Not so fast, MAX. The city voted to slash the service hours and funding for metro transit to "get their attention." This picture by Joe Songer is from a 2010 Birmingham News story

Not so fast, MAX. Homewood’s city council thinks they’re being over-charged for bus service and can’t get straight answers from the Jefferson County Transit Authority. So tonight they voted to slash the service hours and funding to “get their attention.” This picture by Joe Songer is from a 2010 Birmingham News story on new MAX buses.

Approved 10-1 changes in transit funding: The city’s payment for MAX buses is based on number of hours of service in city limits and next year would increase from $263,000 to $274,172. On a motion from Mr. Wright based on advice from Mr. Kendrick, the Finance Committee voted to cut the hours of service — and therefore funding–in half next year. The Finance Committee also recommended paying the Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority by check rather than in an automatic draft from property taxes, as in the past. Mr. Wright said the move would get the attention of the transit authority to clear up questions. It seemed the committee was prepared to replace some or all of the amount cut, based on response from the transit authority.

Committee members said the city’s seat on the transit board had been eliminated and — even though Homewood is the second largest transit customer in the county–the city doesn’t get enough information about how the service is billed. Several also thought the authority was counting and charging Homewood for service hours spent in Palisades, which is in Birmingham city limits. Mr. Jones, who once served on the transit board, said in its defense it was the only system in the nation with no dedicated source of funding, so it had to go begging every year. However, only Mr. Hawkins voted against the cut when it was presented to the full council. It is likely that move will prompt the authority to announce reduced service hours and also produce a clearer audit of service hours. At that time, the budget might be reinstated.

Voting no – Mr. Hawkins, saying he thought someone should just call the transit authority and ask for information, rather than cutting service.

Approved 10-0 amended Mayor’s Fiscal Year 2014-2015 budget: The final approved budget will be posted on the city website as soon as possible. No one on the council had a summary of the approved budget or a comparison of the mayor’s budget and final council-passed budget. 

Not voting – Mr. Hallman, rather than abstaining in each of the dozen or so separate fund votes that make up the full budget, asked to sit out the vote in the audience. He said he had called the state ethics commission for an opinion due to his work with a contractor involved in the Oxmoor Road improvement project, and was advised not to take part in the vote.

Referred the following matters to committee:

To Special Issues – 1) To consider a sign ordinance variance at 185 Oxmoor Road, and 2) Consider changes to ZIP code, voting boundaries, etc., on the city website (???).

To Finance: To consider a life-insurance and long-term disability insurance plan for employees.

Set an Oct. 13 sign variance public hearing: For a sign variance at 185 Oxmoor Road.

Approved closing Brookwood Lane for band shows: The road will be closed from 11:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m. on Oct. 11, 2014 at 780 Brookwood Village for Station 103.7Q “Just Show Up Show.” Set up begins early but the event runs 5-9 p.m.

Approved a training seminar for council, Planning Commission and BZA members: The city attorney will set up a training seminar for the council, Planning Commission and Board of Zoning Adjustment members.

Paid the bills: Invoices for Sept. 8-Sept. 19, 2014, were paid.

The meeting adjourned at about 8 p.m.

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