City of Mobile Budget

City of Mobile Budget

Council accuses Stimpson of playing ‘political games’ with park proposals

After much discussion in the media, the absence of two members prompted the Mobile City Council to delay a vote affirming $1.5 million from the city’s park budget to a land purchase for Mobile County’s proposed soccer complex at the I-65/I-10 corridor. The decision also included putting a hold on seven park improvement projects the office of Mayor Sandy Stimpson announced on June 1. In what some councilors have called political pandering, that announcement came with an ultimatum — the projects wouldn’t be possible without rescinding the pledge to cover almost half of the county’s $3.1 million land purchase....

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Revamped performance contracts expected to curtail generous fee waivers

Besides an estimated $2.9 million in fees waived last year, the city of Mobile performed hundreds of additional favors for private organizations and events at no cost, according to Finance Director Paul Wesch. As minor as some of the tasks may seem, he said recently, they contributed to lost time and are among the expenses the new administration hopes to itemize and assign value with revamped performance contracts in the fiscal year 2015 budget. This year, the city paid out 65 performance contracts worth just over $3 million. While some organizations, such as Mobile’s Singing Children and the Joe Jefferson Playhouse received less than $1,000 in public contributions, others, like the Boys & Girls Clubs, the Center for the Living Arts and the Exploreum, were awarded well north of six figures. Still others, like the Mobile Tennis Center, the GoDaddy Bowl and the Senior Bowl, don’t have traditional performance contracts, yet still secure separate city funding and routinely benefit from additional waivers granted on a case-by-case basis. For example, in fiscal year 2014, the Mobile City Council approved a $482,045 transfer from the general fund to the Mobile Tennis Center but in the same year, the center has been granted a total of $228,000 in fee waivers from the Convention Center in five separate requests. The GoDaddy Bowl, which secured a five-year contract with the city in January worth...

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Stimpson applies tourniquet to losses through fee waivers

Without City Council approval, the previous mayoral administration wrote off $1.9 million worth of man-hours and $1.06 million in rental fees to private organizations in fiscal year 2012-2013, according the city’s finance department. The “fee waivers” were granted by former Mayor Sam Jones’ office and in many cases were signed by former Chief of Staff Al Stokes. As dozens of organizations or individuals were granted the waivers, often by simply writing a letter to the mayor’s office, the city collected just $55,560. Because the amount lost does not include the cost of equipment the city donated to various private events, Finance Director Paul Wesch called the $2.9 million total loss “very conservative.” Beginning April 1, Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s administration halted the waivers, allowing exceptions for only for “extraordinary circumstances.” Eventually, they hope to create the city’s first policy governing the waivers, requiring applicants to meet a set of benchmarks and gain the support of the full city council. “We can’t say how long this has gone on but most of these organizations have done this repeatedly” Wesch said. “I’ve seen letters, memos, emails and photocopies of fee waivers granted and signed by Al Stokes in most cases.” As far as personnel costs, rather than charge the organizations and applicants the $25 average hourly cost for police presence or assistance from public works employees to work private events, the previous...

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Quarter billion transferred from city’s capital fund since 2004

Transfers out of Mobile’s capital fund appear to be the rule over the past decade, not the exception, according to a recent analysis performed by the city’s Finance Department. Between 2004-2013, city government spent less than 22 percent of funds initially budgeted for improvements to infrastructure or purchases of capital items. Instead, 78 percent, or roughly $247 million over the same 10 years, was transferred to other funds, used to pay outstanding debt and lease payments, or pushed into reserves. At the same time, the city spent just $72.7 million on capital expenditures, a little more than $7.2 million per year. “That’s a lot of money,” Finance Director Paul Wesch said about the transfers, which were exposed during a review of finances for the budget amendment process earlier this year. “It doesn’t solve all your problems, but it sure could help.” The city’s capital fund is intended for use on major equipment and buildings as well as improvements to infrastructure like road paving, sidewalk installation and stormwater upgrades. Just last week, the council unanimously approved a $3.2 million allocation from the 2014 capital fund to purchase 93 new patrol cars for the police department. But left untouched by Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s amended budget, the capital fund is also bleeding another $31.8 million in 2014, a trend Wesch said the administration is hoping to reverse in future budgets. “There was...

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Jones administration ‘buried’ performance contracts in general fund

During a Finance Committee meeting earlier this week to explain Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s proposed budget revisions to the City Council, Finance Director Paul Wesch revealed that the previous administration orchestrated an “unlawful” scheme to pay for $212,000 in annual utilities overhead for the Exploreum — an independent nonprofit organization. Wesch explained how state law does not allow cities to give money to outside agencies except for the exemptions provided for under performance contracts, which were awarded to a total of 65 agencies in the adopted 2014 budget. But the Exploreum’s utilities bill, along with entire allocations to the Boys & Girls Clubs, the Child Advocacy Center and Penelope House were not included as performance contract line items, but instead were “buried” in other budgets illegally, Wesch said. While City Council had agreed to a more transparent $405,000 annual performance contract with the Exploreum for Fiscal Year 2013, sometime around October 2012 — without the approval of the City Council — former Mayor Sam Jones or a member of his administration authorized the payment of the Exploreum’s utilities out of the administration’s City Hall Overhead fund. Those payments appear to have also been built into the current adopted budget, where Wesch said the City Hall Overhead fund was operating under a $350,562 deficit. Stimpson’s proposed amendments rectify that shortfall by including the Exploreum’s utilities bills in its performance contract and...

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Stimpson’s revised budget aims to lower personnel costs, collect lost revenue

Mayor Sandy Stimpson trimmed $21.6 million off of a revised 2014 budget he is scheduled to pitch to the Mobile City Council in a special meeting today at 11 a.m., an amount he said would be “very unpleasant” if it weren’t for about $8.6 million in revenue exceeding projections. Instead, the city will weather what is essentially $13 million in cuts by not filling budgeted vacancies, eliminating unnecessary overtime, collecting fees that have historically been forgiven and allowing the city’s overall workforce to decline along with natural attrition.  Still, without the support of a supermajority of the City Council, Stimpson’s revised budget may not be adopted, but he warned, “the nuclear option would be ugly.” “We can go back to the old budget but it will be around the council’s neck,” he said. “Terminations, cut services…healthcare will be out around July.” The City Council approved the current budget last October under the previous administration, but a review of year-end financial statements and an independent audit determined the city had a “severe operating deficit” to the tune of $15.8 million, according to Finance Director Paul Wesch. Pay raises scheduled to take affect Jan. 1 were cancelled and Stimpson announced a bottom-up approach to a balanced budget. After three months of work by the finance department, department heads and volunteers from the private sector, Stimpson said his revised budget is a...

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City will save millions on 2015 pension payment

Aided by a positive stock market performance and strategic investments, the city of Mobile can expect a “substantial” reduction in the amount it will pay into the Police and Firefighters Pension Fund in 2015, according to Finance Director Paul Wesch. Wesch said pending the analysis of smaller revenue sources, the city’s contribution to the fund next year will be anywhere between $4.4 million and $5.1 million less than the $17,273,266 payment the city is obligated to pay in the current fiscal year. That money can be distributed back into the general fund budget, Wesch said, where it can be allocated toward any number of funds or projects. Yet, because of the changing market environment, the fund cannot guarantee similar savings beyond 2015. “It will continue to fluctuate,” he said. “There will be a temporary respite next year from what we paid in the past but for the next 14 years the basic amortization will continue to go up.” Pension fund administrator Mary Berg said the city’s lowered contribution was good news, but more notable was the fund’s performance over the past 12 years. “We’re doing very well,” she said. “We’re 62 percent funded, which is an 8 percent increase over last year. Our most recent audit showed $147 million in assets, where in 2000-to-2001, we went under $50 million.” According to a report detailing the fund’s performance in the...

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