The Hoover City Council tonight approved a $133 million budget for fiscal 2017 after making eight changes recommended by the mayor and council.
Most of the night’s budget discussions centered on cuts in overtime, the salary of Municipal Judge Brad Bishop and the mayor’s recommendation to hire a public relations company to develop a marketing and social media strategy for the city.
Councilman John Lyda asked numerous questions about the recommendation to cut overtime costs, particularly in the Police Department.
He said there were significant cuts in overtime for “real hours worked by real employees.” He asked if department heads were informed about the change in money budgeted for overtime and had a chance to explain their overtime expenses.
City Administrator Allan Rice said that, due to time constraints in getting a budget developed following the election of a new mayor, not all department heads were given that opportunity. However, in initial discussions, they were given a chance to outline their budget priorities, Rice said.
Rice said department heads would have discretion about how best to cut overtime within their departments and people shouldn’t have to worry about the city not providing officers to work school events.
Mayor Frank Brocato said at the council’s work session on March 2 the city’s not going to come this far in its relationship with the school system only to pull funding for school resource officers.
Councilman Curt Posey said that when he thinks about police overtime, he thinks about managing traffic around the Riverchase Galleria during peak shopping periods.
“We’ve been doing this a long time and we have a pretty good idea what it costs,” he said.
Rice said there are known overtime costs and unknown costs, and the city has to plan for both. When people putting together the budget eventually asked for an explanation of overtime costs, they were told there was no system for tracking it, Rice said. They have since learned from others that there are ways to track overtime; they just haven’t received those reports yet, he said.
It could be later determined that more money is needed for overtime, but “it’s not an open checkbook for any department in the city,” Rice said. “It is a managed process. We’ll meet the needs, but we have to be prudent in how we do it.”
Brocato’s budget hopes to cut total overtime expenses for the city from $2.7 million in 2016 to $2.2 million in 2017.
Judge's salary debate
Brocato’s initial budget recommendation two weeks ago included an increase in salary for the municipal judge from $80,000 to $100,000. Today, after some council members questioned the increase, he presented an amended budget that left the amount at $80,000.
Councilman John Lyda suggested a compromise amount of $88,000 a year.
Councilman John Greene said Bishop does a fantastic job as municipal judge, but he already is paid more than any municipal judge in the state. He doesn’t consider a pay increase to be an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars, Greene said.
Councilman Mike Shaw said that, based on the number of hours Bishop works for Hoover, his pay is less than the pay of judges in cities of comparable or even smaller size. Based on that along with his length of service to the city and the high regard residents have for him, he favored the compromise amount.
Court Director Susan Fuqua estimated Bishop works 25-26 hours per week for the city of Hoover.
The council took a separate vote on the judge’s salary and approved the $88,000 amount of a 6-1 vote, with Greene voting against.
Public relations firm
Lyda also asked why the city needed a marketing and social media consultant. The mayor recommended $54,000 a year to pay The Lollar Group to help develop a marketing and social media strategy for the city and carry it out.
Lyda asked if this group had a previous affiliation with the mayor, and Brocato said it was the firm he used for his election campaign.
Erin Colbaugh, the city’s events coordinator, needed help with some marketing design work, and he recommended she talk with The Lollar Group and use her own judgment, he said.
The group did some free work for the city, and he was impressed with it, Brocato said. Rice said some city departments have a robust presence on social media, but the city as a whole is virtually absent. Brocato said the city needs a more coordinated marketing and social media strategy to get information out to the public in the most efficient way.
Rice said the city has a month-to-month relationship with The Lollar Group that can be dropped at any time.
At Lyda’s recommendation, the council also pulled a contribution to Crimestoppers of Metro Alabama for further consideration. Last year, the city gave $25,000, but Brocato recommended cutting that to $10,000, Lyda said. City staff were basing that recommendation on 2013 data, but newer information obtained today shows Crimestoppers deserves $25,000, he said.
The mayor recommended several other changes to his original budget, including:
- Removing $400,000 for construction of a drive-up/walk-up payment kiosk for Hoover Municipal Court
- Spending $150,000 for a comprehensive staffing review, including pay levels
- Paying $21,000 to buy a sewer access easement from the Riverchase Country Club
- Adding back $5,000 the mayor had originally removed from a contribution to the Freshwater Land Trust of Alabama, restoring the total contribution to $20,000
- Spending $14,000 for annual maintenance for the full-body security scanning system at the city jail
More money for Hoover schools
The $133 million budget for fiscal 2017 doubled the amount the city is giving the Hoover Board of Education from $2.5 million to $5 million, fulfilling a campaign promise by the mayor and many councilmen.
The 2017 budget is a 2.8 percent increase from the original $129 million budget approved for fiscal 2016 and less than 1 percent more than actual 2016 expenditures of $132 million. Those numbers do not include expenditures from proprietary funds, such as the sewer fund.
The mayor proposes to spend $112 million from the city’s general fund, which is a 12 percent increase from the original 2016 general fund budget of $100 million and 19 percent more than actual 2016 general fund expenses of $94 million.
However, 2016 general fund revenues came in more than $5 million higher than anticipated at a record $111.4 million, and the city expects to rake in $112.3 million to the general fund in 2017.
The budget includes $12.9 million in capital projects, including $3.2 million for a new sidewalk on John Hawkins Parkway between U.S. 31 and the Walmart Supercenter, $3 million for road paving, $2.6 million for renovations and repairs at the Municipal Center, $951,000 to replace an analog dispatch communications system with a digital system and $550,000 for other sidewalk projects.
The capital budget also includes $2.1 million for 23 vehicles, mostly replacements, including a new aerial ladder truck and hazardous materials unit for the Fire Department.
About 54 percent of the $112 million general fund budget — $61 million — is set to go toward personnel. The 2017 budget includes four new positions: an economic developer, an automotive mechanic and two part-time reserve school resource officers. The four positions together would cost the city $278,476 for salaries and benefits.
That also would give the city 653 full-time employees, 105 part-time employees and 39 temporary employees.
Personnel expenses under the mayor’s budget would increase by about $3.6 million, including a $2.3 million increase in health care expenses and $900,000 in step pay increases.
About 57 percent of the city’s personnel costs go to pay for the police and fire departments.
The city’s debt service payments go up to $13.3 million in 2017, an increase of $4.3 million from 2016. That’s due to the $68 million bond issue the previous City Council approved for the new sports complex next to Hoover Metropolitan Stadium. Debt payments are expected to fall to $12.8 million in 2018 and $6.5 million in 2023.
This article was updated on March 21 to reflect budget expenditures only from government funds. Official expenditures from proprietary funds, such as the sewer and insurance funds, use different accounting methods and can distort the overall budget picture by double-counting some expenditures.