The Mobile City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved amended versions of Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s proposed $308 million combined general fund, capital and convention center budgets.
With approval of the $249 million general fund budget, the council made official $5,000 raises for all sworn police officers and any non-paramedic firefighter below the rank of captain. Additionally, the increases come with step raises for the future. The council did not add bonuses for other city employees to the budget, which had previously been discussed.
The council approved four amendments, the largest of which added $650,000 back into the Visit Mobile tourism budget in the convention center fund.
To get Visit Mobile back to level funding, the council took $225,000 from the Dora Franklin Finley African-American Heritage Trail — moving $75,000 in capital funds back to the trail. The council also took $200,000 from the Fort Conde Visitors Center and took $225,000 from Stimpson’s youth initiative called MoveMobile — leaving the program with $200,000.
As for the visitors center, Executive Director of Finance Paul Wesch said there are two options. Either the administration would absorb the line item and run it, or possibly hand it off to a third-party. A Gulf Coast Ducks takeover of the visitors center operation was discussed, but nothing has been finalized, Wesch said.
In its second amendment, the council took $20,000 from the defunct National African-American Archives and gave $10,000 to Mobile Ballet. The council also gave $5,000 each to the Child Advocacy Center and People United to Advance the Dream.
The third amendment took $6,000 for a line item for council projects, $19,000 for miscellaneous street repairs and $50,000 out of a line item for park lighting to fund capital improvements for the aforementioned African-American heritage trail.
The money pulled from the capital budget wouldn’t have a dramatic impact on the city’s ability to improve infrastructure, as much of the money in those particular funds was duplicated in the Capital Improvement Plan, Councilman Joel Daves said.
The fourth amendment split $70,000 evenly from the Boys and Girls Clubs and put the money toward summer youth programs in the Dauphin Island Parkway and Campground areas. The Boys and Girls Clubs would run the programs. Councilman Levon Manzie said he teamed up with Councilman C.J. Small on the amendment to provide children in those areas with activities over the summer.
“The resources [for the Boys and Girls Clubs] will remain the same,” Manzie said. “This will ensure that youth in the Campground and DIP areas — where there are currently no community centers or parks — will have a structured summer program.”
Councilors said it was important to give raises to the city’s first responders, as there is a marked disparity in pay among Mobile and the state’s other large cities. Small said he hoped the council and administration could use additional revenue down the road for raises for other employees.
“All of our city employees are very important,” Small said. “In order to have a good organization, you have to have good people … ”
In a statement released shortly after the council vote, Stimpson applauded the budget overall.
“To continue transforming the city, we must continue fixing the broken infrastructure in the city,” Stimpson said. “We are persisting in our aggressive, proactive approach to the process of allocating more capital improvement and equipment monies than ever before.”
It appeared the council would need more time to find consensus on the budgets after President Gina Gregory announced during a pre-conference meeting that the body would take up other agenda items and then go into recess until Wednesday afternoon. However, she told visitors to the council’s regular meeting that due to travel plans from one or more councilors, the group had decided to vote on both the budgets and a new city logo on Tuesday.
The Alabama Open Meetings Act does allow for meetings to be recessed and then opened back up for voting the next day, if those in attendance are made aware of the time and place the meeting is reconvened, Alabama Press Association Executive Director Felicia Mason said.
“If the board says they will meet the next day and they do, it’s hard to say they’re in violation,” Mason said.
Allowing the council to go into recess, instead of forcing them to call a special meeting, means they are not required to give public notice because it’s the continuation of a meeting that was already properly noticed.
Council Attorney Jim Rossler said the board has employed a recess numerous times in the past. In this case, Rossler said he felt it was more appropriate to recess, rather than call a special meeting because the two items that were to be voted on had already been placed on the agenda.
Jay Ross, who is the attorney for both Mobile County and the city of Daphne, said he has used the practice before and it is legal. He said providing notice can be somewhat time consuming. In the past, though, he said he has only recommended a recess in cases where a board lost a quorum during the meeting, or ran out of time on an issue.
In other business, the council tabled a vote on a new city logo. Also, for the second straight year, Mobile’s holiday season will include an ice skating rink at Cooper Riverside Park. The council on Tuesday approved a $132,000 contract with Magic Ice, LLC. The city has already secured more than $70,000 in sponsorships.
Chief of Staff Colby Cooper said the rink will be managed to break even again this year. Last year, the rink netted $5,000, which was transferred to the parks budget, he said. This year’s version, which is a larger rink, will come with a larger chiller to help prevent problems experienced with melting ice last year, Cooper said.