BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin is pushing a proposal to bring back up to 132 city employees who were furloughed because of the pandemic.
“Mayor Woodfin has done an excellent job at putting together a really unique and tough proposal for an ability to bring back these furloughed employees as quickly as possible," Councilmember Hunter Williams said. "Yes, we want to do everything we can to bring back those furloughed employees, but when we do, we want to be sure that they are actually going to be able to go to work.”
The Mayor’s proposal asks council to approve seven million dollars from the general reserves fund. Williams said the seven million would later be covered by CARES ACT money from the federal government. The city of Birmingham is eligible for a little more than nine million dollars of CARES ACT money from Jefferson County.
“What that would look like is a seven million out of the reserves fund," Williams said. "When that nine million dollars is received, for the first responders payroll from the CARES ACT, then that nine million dollars could then go into the reserve fund to replace the seven million.”
Williams said the Mayor wants to use reserve fund money because the payroll for furloughed employees don’t qualify for CARES ACT money.
“What is eligible is our first responders, our Birmingham Police and our Birmingham Fire and Rescue," Williams said. "That public safety money can be used to refill the seven million dollars that is being proposed to take out to fund those cultural arts employee’s payroll.”
Even though the CARES ACT money could mean an extra two million dollars for the city, Williams doesn’t know yet if now is the time to spend seven million dollars.
“My main concern is if we use that seven million dollars and this pandemic continues and those places continue to be closed,” Williams said. “Or, we have another shortfall in terms of revenue for the city of Birmingham and now we are taking that seven million dollars out of our reserves. We need to make sure that we are financially able to continue and provide those essential services for our citizens.”
Williams said other council members share his concerns and worry how this could impact the city in the future.
“If our credit rating agencies look at us and say ‘we took too much out of our reserve fund during this pandemic’, that could cause a downgrade in our rating and we have a financial responsibility as the council to make sure that our bond rating is as high as possible," Williams said.
Council members asked to see a plan on how the furloughed employees will get back to work if their buildings don’t open back up because of the pandemic.
“The last thing we want to do is bring back employees and have them collecting a paycheck, but then whatever their job is, is no longer temporarily needed because of covid-19," Williams said.
Williams said he needs more time to look at the proposal and what impacts it could have on the city before he votes.
“While this plan has been presented to us, we need to take a deeper look at it to make sure there is not an adverse effect," Williams said. “If there is no adverse effect, then I think it is a good plan with those federal CARES ACT dollars. It has the potential to bring back not only those furloughed employees for the rest of this fiscal year, but we also need to make sure that we are getting as much money out of the cares act as possible.”
Williams said he does not know when council will vote on the proposal.