Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s proposed 2015 budget includes two raises for city employees, an increase in health care costs, a 400 percent increase in capital spending and significant cuts to performance contracts.
“Our focus is to increase and redirect capital dollars toward fixing things that are broken in the city’s infrastructure, from our streets, sidewalks and parks to the outdated computer management systems and other old equipment the city uses to conduct day-to-day business and secondly, it addresses long-needed adjustments to our employees’ compensation.” Stimpson told a crowd during a presentation Aug. 19 to members of the Mobile City Council. “These two areas of focus, when combined with better management by city government, will result in our citizens receiving improved basic services which they deserve.”
The mayor’s proposed general fund budget includes $227 million in revenue and $222 million in expenditures. Both revenues and expenditures are within a half a percent of last year’s budget, Stimpson said.
City employees will be eligible to get two pay increases as a result of the proposed budget. The first is a cost-of-living adjustment of 2.5 percent, which will go to all of the city’s 2,400 employees and will go into effect in October. The second 2.5 percent raise will be merit based and take effect in April, but will be contingent upon employees meeting certain benchmark, Executive Director of Finance Paul Wesch said.
“The last time the city employees received a raise was in 2007,” Stimpson said. “The gap in raises may be a result of economic factors beyond the city’s control, but it is nonetheless too long. Our employees deserve a raise.”
Stimpson also announced the percentage of health insurance costs the employees will be responsible for will be increased. Previously, employees paid roughly 16 percent of the cost of health insurance, but that would increase to 20 percent for current employees.
However, the city will pay the first year of increased health insurance premiums for the 1,100 current employees making $40,000 or less a year. New employees would pay 40 percent of the cost share.
The proposed general fund budget includes decreases in almost all of the city’s performance contracts, for a total decrease of almost $2.1 million. Cuts to performance contracts include the complete cutting of a $600,000 payout to the Gulf Coast Exploreum.
That cut represents about 25 percent of the science center’s budget, Executive Director Jan McKay said.
“I hope there’s still room for a conversation about our request,” she said. “It will be something we’ll have to talk about.”
The center requested $618,000 from this year’s budget, McKay said.
The mayor’s proposed convention center budget includes a $1.5 million decrease in spending overall. For example, BayFest will get $100,000 from the city this year, which is $143,000 less than last year. In addition, the Mobile Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau budget was cut by $400,000. The Senior Bowl and Events Mobile were level funding at $135,000 and $100,000 respectively.
Wesch added that for at least one year the city would not be directly supporting benevolent organizations and would replace previous funding with a $1.2 million allocation to the United Way of Southwest Alabama and the Community Fund to disperse those funds as needed.
The budget also includes revenues from a one-cent sales tax, which was put in place two years ago. Stimpson asked councilors to consider extending the tax increase by two months to September 2015.
Councilwoman Bess Rich, who voted against the tax when it was first brought to the council in 2012, said she was willing to consider it for this budget because of the increased capital improvement funds and pay raises included.
“I look forward to rolling it off next year,” Rich said.
The capital improvement fund will grow from $3.5 million in 2014 to $14.3 million under Stimpson’s proposal. The increase includes $750,000 for a litter trap on Dog River and a litter vessel. Another $750,000 would be used to purchase new public works vehicles, $3.2 million would be used to purchase 100 new police vehicles, $2 million would purchase new fire-rescue vehicles and another $3 million would be used for park improvements.
Those park improvements may include new ball fields, lights, upgraded restrooms, dog parks, splash pads, walking and biking trails, drainage and buildings.
“The city is also upgrading to a modern and efficient, citywide software system, an investment costing $2.2 million,” Stimpson said. “This system will allow the city to shift from paper intensive operations to efficient data input and processing capabilities.”
In other business, the council unanimously voted to amend the city’s ordinance establishing two entertainment districts downtown to eliminate the sunset provision.
The council also voted to accept an agreement with the Alabama Department of Transportation for sidewalks on Old Shell Road in the Village of Spring Hill. Community members raised the money needed for the municipal match, so the agreement is made at no cost for the city.