The council’s budget approved tonight followed the mayor’s recommendation for employee bonuses, insurance coverage and a 1.5% COLA (the council added the .5% to the mayor’s recommendation), but included disappointing fire department grant denials amounting to $1.2 million and the unrelated loss of a section right-of-way property crucial to the Greenway expansion.
City finance staffers said the denial of the SAFER and Fire Act grants cut three anticipated firefighter positions from the FY2016 budget while other expenses from anticipated grants –such as Greenway expenses–will merely be deferred until the next budget year. Mayor Scott McBrayer acknowledged after the meeting that some delays would be seen in the Greenway Phase II project, which extends the trail west under Interstate 65 and behind Sam’s and Walmart. However, the greatest disappointment is the city’s inability to close on the purchase of Fox News property, a linear section of property west of Wildwood that holds a critical position to the trail’s extension. The trail’s progress is “literally being shortened” because of the Fox property situation, he said.
Gainers in the budget review include the Sims EcoScape, which won $5,000 in seed funds, an extra $2,500 for the city’s Arts Advisory Council, $87,500 for unspecified improvements to 18th Street downtown, and an extra $250,000 toward street paving.
Members present: Michael Hallman, Britt Thames, Fred Hawkins, Vance Moody, Walter Jones, Patrick McClusky, Barry Smith, Alex Wyatt, Peter Wright, and council president Bruce Limbaugh. Also present was Homewood Mayor Scott McBrayer.
Members absent: Richard Laws.
Staff present: City clerk Linda Cook, city attorney Mike Kendrick, mayor’s chief of staff J. J. Bischoff, Melody Salter, finance director, and Greg Cobb, city Building, Engineering and Zoning staff.
Audience attendance: 21
The council used one vote to drop the following items from committee agendas:
Dropped considering special taking measures to slow traffic in West Homewood pending more police enforcement.
Dropped the idea of a hiring a “Personnel Study Review” consultant.
Dropped further discussion about a West Homewood block party date because it has been set for Oct. 23, with Oak Grove Road to be closed 4-10 p.m.
OLD BUSINESS AGENDA
Allowed Brookwood mall to display signs across the front retaining wall: Before making a formal request for exemptions from the sign regulations, mall management at the last meeting asked for council feedback. Tonight, owner Cypress Equities formally asked for a sign variance allowing display signs across the front retaining wall. In keeping with limits expressed by the council, there will be only six store names represented; the letters will only be 4.5 feet high, and stay within a certain limited family of typefaces. Before approving the request, Mr. Moody surprised everyone with his knowledge of printing by asking why the mall chose a serif typeface instead of a sans serif, as represented by the Five Guys sign already on the mall. (Answer, Five Guys’ typeface is the company brand.)
Allowed a larger sign for a storefront tax business: The council approved a 66-square-foot sign for H&R block, or 16 sf over code, since it expanded into a nail salon space next door at 1934- 28th Avenue South.
Will close Oak Grove Road for a block party marking the end of road improvements: The road will be closed 4-10 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 23.
Approved a stop sign at Ascott Road and LaPrado Circle: The sign will face west.
Approved bonuses to be paid from surplus available at end of FY2015 year: One-time bonuses totaling $375,000 were awarded to full-time employees from fiscal year-end surplus, based on years of tenure as follows:
1-3 years – $350
4-6 years – $500
7-9 years – $750
10-15 years – $1,000
16-19 years – $1,500
20 years and over – $2,000
Transferred funds to the General Fund from the Capital Projects Fund: The transfer to boost operating funds is not to exceed $500,000, based on the actual surplus available at the fiscal year end Sept. 30.
Passed the FY2016 city budget: As is the usual practice, the budget — passed in 15 separate fund votes tonight — is an adjusted version of the budget the mayor presented at the end of August. The Finance Committee made its adjustments over six special-called review meetings in September, and tonight approved a 1.5% COLA (recommended by the mayor) but also added money for ClasTran transit for elderly and special needs riders, and additional money for several city boards, such as the Arts Advisory Committee ($12,500 over $10,000) and the Sims EcoScape property (an additional $5,000 in seed money above the $3,000 normally budgeted for property maintenance).
On the negative side, the Finance Committee report noted the $1.2 million in lost revenue from two expected fire and police department grants, which were denied. The denial of the SAFER grant request means the loss of three additional fire fighter positions.
There will also be delays on the development of the Greenway Phase II project in the coming year, with the loss of the Fox property right-of-way acquisition. The property held a key position in the trail’s expansion west and without it, the route will be considerably shortened. Also affecting the Greenway is the council’s decision to defund and postpone certain expenses until the following fiscal year in order to direct $87,200 toward a downtown beautification project.
Here is the budget, by fund, and major changes made by the council during its review:
1) General Fund – (includes a 1.5 % cost of living adjustment totaling $330,000, and city funding of 7.8% increase in employee health insurance premiums, as recommended by the mayor). The council added $25,000 to revamp the city’s website, and modest funding increases for the Arts Advisory Council, ClasTran and the Sims Ecoscape
Voting no: Michael Hallman, giving no explanation but presumably because the increase was a one-time bonus versus a permanent raise, as are the COLAs, granted separately.
2) Capital Projects – Added $87,200 total for an 18th Street beautification project.
3) Grants fund – The Finance Committee reduced this fund by more than $1.2 million, particularly the loss of the SAFER Grant and Fire Act grant.
4) 7 Cents Gas Tax
5) 4-Cent and 5-cent Gas Tax Fund – The Finance Committee added $250,000 more for street paving than the mayor’s budget recommended.
6) Board of Education Trust Fund
7) Debt Service
8) Environmental Escrow
13) Court Special
15) Judicial Administrative
Declared three General Services trucks surplus and due to be auctioned: The trucks are 1) a 1995 International refuse truck; 2) a 1994 Int’l refuse truck; and 3) a 1998 International clam shell truck.
Approved purchasing a $1,000 Birmingham Bowl program advertisement.
Approved unspecified amendments to the current budget before the close of the fiscal year.
COMMITTEE REFERRAL AGENDA
To Finance – To consider 1) A report on the status of the city’s rainy day fund deposited at Raymond James; and 2) Setting a bid opening Oct. 19, 2015, at 5:30 p.m. for the Police Department uniform bid.
To Public Safety – To consider updating the city’s cigarette smoking restrictions.
To Special Issues – To consider 1) Sign variances at 801 Green Springs Avenue, 3450 Manor Drive, and at 3551 U.S. 31; and 2) A fence variance allowing a 15-foot high fence facing Oxmoor Road at Big #1 Motorsports.
OTHER NEW BUSINESS
Approved designating J.H. Berry Risk Services to be the exclusive insurance broker of record for the City of Homewood: This item was moved up from the committee referral agenda at the mayor’s urging.
Set three Oct. 12 public hearings for sign and fence variances, see Committee Referral agendas above.
Set an Oct. 19, 2015, bid opening at 5:30 p.m. for police uniform vendors.
Paid the bills: Approved paying invoices for the Sept. 14-25, 2015.