Although the city’s fiscal year 2021 budgets were passed earlier this week, two Mobile City Council members now say the way the spending plan doles out surplus money for capital projects is illegal and want it changed.
In a resolution set to appear on the body’s regular meeting agenda Tuesday, Sept. 29, District 6 Councilwoman Bess Rich and District 1 Councilman Fred Richardson argue that because the budget’s use of surplus to pay for improvements in all but those two districts, it is illegal based upon the Zoghby Act — the 1985 state law that set up the city’s current form of government.
The draft resolution shared on Facebook by Richardson quotes portions of the Zoghby Act and a later 1991 ordinance which holds that capital money must be spent based on need and in an equitable fashion.
“All capital improvements and repairs made in the city shall be made on the basis of need and shall, as nearly as is practicable, be fairly and equitably made in all council districts in the city,” the 1991 ordinance reads.
In his post, Richardson called Mayor Sandy Stimpson’s exclusion of Districts 1 and 6 illegal. However, during the budget discussions during the council’s last meeting, Stimpson defended the move saying all of the surplus money two years ago was spent on projects in District 1. For instance, Stimpson mentioned the Crichton Fire Station and improvements along Florida Street for the Publix Shopping Center.
The resolution, which would need five votes to be approved, asks Stimpson to offer a budget amendment to add money for districts 1 and 6.
In a phone interview, Rich said she hopes her council colleagues will support the measure. If it’s passed and Stimpson agrees, Rich said she would like the $880,000 restored to the budget for a synthetic football field at Medal of Honor Park. Rich voted to approve the budget and offered an approved amendment to remove that funding in place of sidewalk and resurfacing work. She doesn’t believe the synthetic field project will be completed in 2021 and didn’t want to leave the money untouched when there were other needs that could more easily be addressed.
During the council’s meeting this week, Richardson offered an amendment to budget to move $1 million to revitalize St. Stephens Road. The proposed amendment did not pass.
In an email statement, Mayor Sandy Stimpson called the use of the funds “equitable” for citizens. The additional $13 million realized in surplus from 2019 allowed the city to allocate funding to projects across the city based on the greatest need,” he said in the statement.
“These funds are being allocated to address rehabilitation and improvements to several of our parks that have been largely neglected for years,” he said in the statement. “Other important projects include repairs to the cruise terminal, construction of the (Three Mile Creek) Greenway Trail; and funding partnership with Mobile County in the extension of Nevius Road, and contributing to the construction of the Africatown Micro Museum.”
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