Birmingham must soon make cuts to trim deficit

By Jonathan Hardison

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Birmingham has just 4 months to try and close a budget deficit that may be as big as $77 million.

That figure is much bigger than the last official projection, and today, Mayor William Bell said almost everything will be on the table when it comes to potential cuts.

Mayor Bell says he doesn't see cutting any city jobs right now as a way to make up for some of this deficit, and he says the first priority will continue to be basic services like police and fire.

Armed with charts showing the growing gap between the renenue and what it's scheduled to spend, Bell told the council the worst-case scenario will require the city to come up with $77 million in cuts and savings to balance the budget in the next 4 months.

"This is just a cash flow problem that we have," Bell said. "If we can make it, and we will make it to July 1, we'll be back on solid ground. Right now we just have too much money going out, and not enough money coming in."

The mayor stressed the city had plenty of savings. Plans to tap the reserve fund and the Birmingham Fund will help fill in the gap. But he's still looking for about $33 million in budget cuts. Every nonprofit agency that gets city funding could be on the chopping block.

"Those agencies that can take a hit and still survive, they're gonna have to take a hit," Bell said. "That's just the way it has to be. Because the city must make up that $77 million gap."

"I hope nonprofits understand we will have to make some changes," Council President Roderick Royal said. "Not just in this budget, but going forward. And it's time, time to make some changes."

"We have spent so much money on other things, and we have forgotten what's most important to the people of this city, so I'm very happy to see he is refocusing," Councilor Kim Rafferty said. "Yes we have a deficit, but what we need to do is refocus, we're not spending our money properly."

Bell is also proposing pulling money from building projects like the Fair Park renovation by pushing some of those costs into next year's budget or possibly borrowing some of the funding through bonds.

The mayor stressed that projects like Fair Park will continue, but some of the other ones in the planning stages may have to be delayed so the city can conserve cash.

Bell says even after the deficit is fixed, the city will still have 2 months worth of expenses in its reserve fund to keep its healthy credit rating.

Birmingham City Council could begin debating and voting on which cuts to make in the coming weeks.

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