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Reconciling Library Furloughs & the Fiscal Budget: What Will the Council Do?

By Dylan Baggiano

Photo: UAB student Laura Quatrocchi presenting to Birmingham City Council, taken from livestream

After hearing demands of Birmingham residents for the city council to reconsider the furloughed library and parks & recreations employees in the 2021 fiscal budget, council members on Tuesday suggested—but failed to pass—budget amendments to fund the city library.

As part of Mayor Randall Woodfin’s budget cuts, 158 library employees lost their jobs at the end of August, leaving many citizens to question the decision, according to Councilman Clinton Woods.

“At the end of August, library employees were furloughed due to poor planning with the pandemic budget cuts,” Woods said.

While the library board has not spoken to the council on formulating a plan to help their former employees and communities, Councilman William Parker said the parks & recreation’s board has met over the last two weeks to address funding for recreational centers across the city.

Suggesting that funds could be allocated to address the furloughed government employees, Councilman Stephen Hoyt said considering the debt services section of the budget should be a primary concern.

“We could take that $4 million that we could get from the bond market to inject into the overall budget to make adjustments and save these peoples’ jobs,” Hoyt said.

Affirming that the council has not explored all possible resources to redistribute budget funding, Woods said the bond market is one option.

“We don’t want to cut deeper and furlough people, when we don’t have to,” Woods said. “We can cut operational funding in some areas and increase the funding for libraries and parks.”

Addressing the decision to add the fiscal budget to the meeting’s agenda at short notice, Councilwoman Crystal Smitherman said she regrets not giving it her all to ensure those citizens’ voices in favor of supporting public libraries were heard.

“As a proponent of democracy, I believe we all have the right to speak,” Smitherman said. “Even in the pandemic, we could have done a better job to make sure that you all could speak.”

Smitherman put forth a number of amendments to reallocate funds from other municipal organizations’ operations, such as reducing the mayor’s office legislative expenses to half and reducing overtime pay for police and firemen—none of which passed.

Councilwoman Valerie Abbot said she wanted to make sure that Smitherman’s amendments were heard to promote a council that everyone is heard on — though she didn’t vote “yes” on Smitherman’s amendments

Abbot said the council worked to ensure that the wording of the printed version of the budget would address the library funding to ensure that those who were furloughed could have their jobs back, later this year, if the economy, by some stroke of a miracle, skyrockets.

“The prospective net balance’s savings is about $47 million,” Abbot said. “I am in favor of the bond issue and the refunding. In December, if the economy is back up and running, all of the furloughed employees can come back.”

Laura Quattrochi, a UAB anthropology graduate student, presented a defense for members of the community who rely on the libraries’ computers.

“Libraries have allowed many women who are taking refuge in halfway homes to craft resumes and apply for jobs that are key for their transition back into society,” Quattrochi said.

Olivia Thompson, a working mother counting on the library’s resources, said she and her daughter used the library’s computers to stay updated on news and events in their community, since they cannot afford to purchase their own.

In other business, the city council unanimously voted and passed:

  • item 47, which authorized the city to go to the bonding market to bargain for an additional $4 million to allocate to areas like library funding in the budget.
  • items 48-52, authorized the payment of general obligations warrants, which will put about $40 million back into taxpayers’ pockets, according to Councilman Williams.

Edited by Hannah Warren, Ryan Michaels & John H. Glenn

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Made By Students from the University of Alabama at Birmingham