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Birmingham neighborhoods ask for funding to be restored

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Neighborhood officers stood up Monday evening to ask the Birmingham City Council to continue to fund the neighborhood associations in 2019.

Susan Palmer, president of the Central Park Neighborhood Association, said her neighborhood wants to spend the $35,000 it has in its account on a neighborhood sign, pocket parks, schools and libraries, but they are faced with government red tape.

She said the association can’t spend money on its pocket park without getting a letter from the Parks and Recreation Department requesting the funding. Palmer said they want to give $1,000 to Central Park Elementary School but she needs a letter from the principal asking for the money.

“If this is wrong, you as a council have made these rules and regulations,” said Palmer, who was joined by officers of other neighborhoods. 

Mayor Randall Woodfin has proposed a $436 million operating budget for 2019. The budget is $8 million larger than last year’s.

Though admitting that the process for neighborhoods to get approval for projects “sucks,” Woodfin cut funding to the city’s 99 neighborhood associations in the new budget. Each of the neighborhoods received $2,000 last year.

The Birmingham City Council held a public hearing Monday evening to hear comments and requests for funding in the fiscal year 2019 operating budget. Several residents and non-profits spoke out.

The mayor’s budget wasn’t presented during the meeting.

City councilors agreed on Monday that neighborhoods deserved to get their funding.

“We are going to push hard. We are going to make it easier for you to get your money,” Councilor John Hilliard said to Palmer. “The work that you do is very important. You don’t get paid for the work that you do.”

Councilor Steven Hoyt said the process for neighborhoods to get their projects approved needs to be streamlined.

Woodfin previously said the 2019 budget includes increased revenue from use and occupational taxes, and “a commitment to cost savings.” Room was also made in the budget by cutting 133 vacant positions that totaled $4.7 million. According to the mayor’s office, all of those positions had been vacant for at least two years.

Woodfin appropriated $4 million for weed abatement and demolition of dilapidated structures in the 2019 budget.

During Monday’s meeting, the James Lewis Tennis Center requested city funds to repair “substandard conditions” that are creating safety issues on the courts. The group said the courts need resurfacing and lighting.

The Birmingham Sister City Commission is asking for its funding back.

Bettina Byrd Giles, who runs the commission, said the commission’s funding was cut in the 2019 budget. Last year, the group was budgeted $225,000.

“I hope that you would consider recommitting that amount, she said.

Giles said the commission administers the EB-5 Immigrant Investor Program under U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. She said the program is an economic engine for Birmingham.

The program allows immigrants to get their green card by starting a business and investing in underserved areas. They have to create 10 full-time permanent jobs.

Several city councilors spoke in favor of the commission, and it continuing to receive funding.

Mary Lynn Bates, vice president of Bridge Ministries, said the funding for the non-profit that fights homelessness in Birmingham was also cut in the 2019 budget. The group served more than 300 people last year and provided referrals to other agencies.

She said Bridge Ministries receives U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funding through the city of Birmingham. This makes up 50 percent of the non-profit’s budget, she said. 

“You will lose a great resource here if Bridge doesn’t continue to get funding,” Bates said.

Among the services that Bridge Ministries provides includes helping those who are in danger of losing their homes due to a medical emergency and helping residents in bad leases and with dealing with slumlords.

The ministry gets referrals from homeless shelters, Children’s of Alabama, the Veterans Administration among others, Bates said.

Monica Slater asked for the council’s commitment in keeping the Smithfield Community Center open.

“We hope the budget will include staffing the facility and operational costs,” she said. “That facility is heavily utilized by us.”

Slater said the center offers aerobics classes like Zumba, body sculpting, step aerobics and line dancing.

“We do not wish for it to close,” she said. “We hope that you all will support the center like you said you would.”

The mayor’s office said last week that there are no plans to close community centers.

Jennifer Carraway, of the YWCA of Central Alabama, requested $79,650 for continued funding of the supervised visitation and exchange program, which serves domestic violence victims and their families.

The program allows noncustodial parents to see their children without having to come into contact with the other parent, she said. They served 73 families last year, she said.

Council President Valerie Abbott pointed out that YWCA failed to submit a request for the funding this fiscal year.

Birmingham city employee Karen McLain asked the council to continue to fund the city fitness centers because it has allowed her to lose weight.

Following the meeting, Abbott said she hopes there is more discussion on why some outside agencies were stripped of their city funding, including a few that use city facilities. 

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