The Mobile City Council passed the fiscal year 2015 budget, by a 6-1 vote Tuesday, after making significant changes to funding for retiree healthcare and non-profit organizations through performance contracts.

Councilwoman Bess Rich was the lone dissenting vote. During a pre-conference meeting on Tuesday, Rich suggested holding the vote over for a week to allow more time to discuss it and make the public aware of the changes. She also criticized passing the budget, while Mayor Sandy Stimpson was in Washington D.C. lobbying for the I-10 bridge project.

Before the budget vote, councilors approved to extend for three years a one-cent sales tax increase that would result in a 17 percent increase for consumers in the city. Mayor Sandy Stimpson had originally asked to extend the tax for two months, in order to fund the budget. Had the council not acted the tax would’ve rolled off at the end of July next year.

Instead councilors supported extending the tax into 2018 and earmarking the nearly $32 million a year in revenue for capital expenditures and economic development incentives. The amendment, which passed by a 6-1 vote, with only Councilwoman Bess Rich voting against it, would put $22.5 million a year toward capital improvements to infrastructure and $5 million to economic development incentives. The remaining funds would be used for capital improvements, as well.

Rich said she voted against the proposal because she believes the decision should be left up to voters through a referendum. She also said extending the tax would make local businesses less able to compete.

“I do not support the continuation of this tax under any timeline at all,” Rich said.

Councilman Fred Richardson said he supported making the tax permanent, but would not vote to extend it again, after this three-year period.

“It’s going to sunset again, which means we will have to take up the penny again,” Richardson said. “I’ve had enough of this. We need the penny.”

Richardson’s amendment to make the tax permanent failed.

Stimpson said in a statement that he was disappointed the council decided to change the two-month extension of the tax to three years.
“The City of Mobile cannot sustain one of the highest sales tax rates in the state and country,” Stimpson wrote.We need to be focused on pro-growth policies while identifying efficiencies that begin to wean the city off of its dependency on this tax. In the face of this extension, we will need to work harder so that our
economic development is not impacted, but we must also start to address comprehensive tax
reform immediately.”
Council President Gina Gregory announced the formation of a council committee on tax reform, which will be chaired by Rich.

Changes to performance contracts

The council approved an amendment to the budget, by a 5-2 vote, which dispersed an additional $800,000 among 45 non-profit agencies through performance contracts. Councilman John Williams and Rich voted against the measure.

The amendment takes $400,000 budgeted for fee waivers, $200,000 allotted for Mobile Police Department vehicles and $200,000 allotted for Mobile Fire-Rescue Department vehicles to pay out the contracts.

The proposed budget gave $4.4 million to non-profits, the amendment changes that amount to $5.2 million, which is $2.3 million less than was given in the fiscal year 2014 budget.

The proposed budget had capital expenditures of $3.2 million and $2 million respectively for new police and fire vehicles. The amendment will cut $200,000 from each of those expenditures. In addition, the amendment takes money budgeted for fee waivers, which would’ve provided funding in the event that these non-profits and other organizations wanted to use a city building, or have police protection provided for an event.

Gregory advised those groups to work within the money provided to them by the city to budget for the related fees. She also cautioned those groups against budgeting for city funding next year.

Among the non-profit funding changes, AltaPointe will receive $588,000 from the city instead of $100,000 under the proposed budget, the Mobile Bay Convention and Visitors bureau will receive $2.2 million instead of $2 million and BayFest will get $98,000 instead of $100,000.

Stimpson said he was “surprised and disappointed” that the council moved capital money away from the police and fire departments to fund performance contracts.
Public safety is a fundamental tenet and responsibility of government that cannot be sacrificed,” Stimpson wrote. “I will work with my team to find the necessary capital to reinstate the originally proposed amounts.”
AIDS Alabama South, LLC will receive $9,800. The organization wasn’t funded in the proposed budget. Alabama School of Math and Science: $19,600. ASMS wasn’t funded in the proposed budget.Bay Area Food Bank: $9,800. That’s down from $40,000 in the proposed budget. Big Brothers Big Sisters of South Alabama was cut out of the budget. They were set to receive $40,000 in the proposed budget.
Boys and Girls Clubs of South Alabama will get $339,000, compared to just $125,000 in Stimpson’s proposed budget. The Business Innovation Center will receive $9,800, after being cut out of Stimpson’s budget. The Christmas and holiday parade will get $4,000, after being cut out of the proposed budget. Dearborn YMCA will receive $8,820, after being cut out of the original proposal. Distinguished Young Women and Downtown Mobile District Management had their appropriations cut to $44,100 and $73,500 respectively.
Drug Education Council had its appropriation cut to $7,350, while Events Mobile got a $10,000 boost to $110,000. Family Promise of Coastal Alabama will receive $14,700, while Goodwill Easter Seals had its funding cut by $5,000.
The Gulf Coast Exploreum was cut by $3,000 and the Historic Mobile Preservation Society was cut to $29,400. Housing First was cut from $100,000 to $39,200, while the Independent Living Center of Mobile was given $40,000. Ladd-Peebles was cut by $4,000, while McKemie Place was given $12,250. The Mobile Area Education Foundation, Mobile Area Tennis Association and the Mobile Arts Council received a decrease in funding of $26,500, $10,700 and $300 respectively, as compared to the proposed budget.
Mobile Bay National Estuary Program and Mobile Botanical Garden was cut by more than $5,000. The Mobile International Festival and Mobile Opera each received a $200 cut. The Mobile Sports Authority was cut from the budget completely. Stimpson’s budget gave the organization $100,000.
Mobile Symphony was cut from $35,000 to $19,600, while Penelope House was given $90,000. The Area Agency on Aging had its funding increased from $30,000 proposed to $52,634, while the Senior Bowl took a $2,800 cut.
Sickle Cell Disease Association got $4,900, while the Mobile Pops received a $5,000 cut. Via! was cut from $100,000 to $85,000.

Retiree health insurance

The council also passed an amendment to the budget that adds $2.5 million from the capital budget to the general fund to pay for health insurance for Medicare-eligible retirees that were cut from the proposed budget. Councilman Joel Daves voted against the measure because he said he didn’t want to transfer the money from capital to the general fund. Rich abstained from the vote.

The council doesn’t have the authority to make changes to the city’s health insurance plan, but councilors were hopeful that Stimpson would take their suggestion into account.

“I believe the amendment should continue in the budget each year,” Councilman C.J. Small said. “The city should be dedicated to the retirees because they were dedicated to us.

The council approved by a 5-2 vote an amendment introduced by Rich that would use half of the $3 million in capital funds allotted to parks improvements and put them into the development of a county soccer complex. Daves and Williams voted against the measure.

In other business

The council also voted to re-appoint A. Holmes Whiddon Jr. and Shelbonnie Hall as full-time municipal judges. Gregory said she was made aware that the council would soon have to hire a new full-time judge, due to the caseload in municipal court. The council held over votes on part-time judges.

The council authorized a contract with Robert J. Baggett Inc. for the repair of dockside panels at the Arthur R. Outlaw Convention Center for $21,400.

The council also authorized the Engineering Department to contract for emergency investigative services, engineering design and take emergency bids for a failed drainage pipe on Eslava Street beneath the CSX Rail Line. The emergency bid process means the city will not have to advertise for bids for the project.

Updated to add comments from Mayor Sandy Stimpson and the amount of funding from performance contracts.