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Mayor proposes $209 million spending plan for Tuscaloosa

Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox’s proposed budget for fiscal 2019 tilts heavily toward public safety.

The budget has funding to add certified law enforcement at every elementary school in the city. The spending plan also allocates dollars to ensure firefighters can receive uninterrupted training while keeping stations with functional staffing.

And the budget sets aside proceeds to upgrade communications for police and firefighters to boost the city’s emergency and disaster response capabilities while improving the city’s mutual aid support agreements with surrounding agencies.

The budget includes the annual rate increases for garbage, trash and recycling as well as water and sewer services. Combined, these increases total $1.69 a month for the average residential customer.

And there are pay increases for the city’s nearly 1,300 employees. Combined, the proposed 2 percent cost-of-living adjustment and a one-step pay raise amount to almost $2.52 million.

But there are also dollars dedicated to city facilities.

The mayor’s proposed budget, if approved by the City Council, will create two separate funds — supported, in part, by steady increases in property tax revenues — that will pay for the upkeep and maintenance of city-owned properties for years to come.

Without the burden of a national recession or the lingering effects of a natural disaster, the fiscal 2019 budget also benefits from recent decisions by the Alabama Legislature and U.S. Supreme Court, reducing the annual sales tax losses from online sales in fiscal 2019 to about $5.3 million, down from the $7 million or more in years past, Maddox said.

“This has been one of the more exciting budgets I’ve been a part of,” Maddox said. “We’ve been able to propose to the City Council a lot of good options.”

Maddox presented the budget, his 13th as mayor, to the Tuscaloosa City Council on Tuesday.

The council is now scheduled to review aspects of the budget each Tuesday through Sept. 18.

A balanced budget is expected to be approved by Oct. 1.

After the city’s combined budget totaled more than $200 million for the first time in fiscal 2018, the fiscal 2019 budget keeps pace with a combined total $209.2 million. Of this, $155.1 million is dedicated to the General Fund with the remaining $54.1 million for the Water and Sewer Fund.

And after all of Maddox’s recommendations from the $4.276 million in available discretionary funds there remains a contingency balance of $534,979 to fund unexpected purchases in fiscal 2019.

Along with the funding appropriations for salaries and equipment, Maddox is proposing the permanent addition of 10 new security guards to work full-time in the city’s elementary schools.

At an estimated cost of about $385,000, these guards are expected to be retired police officers or deputies who have maintained their annual law enforcement certifications.

Another $350,000 is suggested for the Tuscaloosa Fire and Rescue Service to allow more firefighters to undergo uninterrupted, off-duty training. Now, certain stations are shut down while its firefighters are training and, even then, these firefighters may get called into service if the emergency is dire enough.

These dollars are meant to keep more stations online while allowing training firefighters to do so without interruption.
The mayor also is recommending the creation of a General Fund Facility Renewal Fund, which is building off the property tax growth trend of years past.

For fiscal 2019, the mayor is budgeting a 3 percent increase in property tax revenues — the six-year average is sitting at about 5 percent — and suggesting that 2 percent of it, or about $315,000, go toward the establishment of the Facility Renewal Fund.

“Property tax continues to increase as a form of revenue,” Maddox said, “as does lodging taxes.”

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