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  • Donald V. Watkins

Ending Misery In Birmingham


By: Donald V. Watkins

Copyrighted and Published on December 25, 2022


An Editorial Opinion


Residents of the City of Birmingham, Alabama pay a broad array of taxes and fees for the seven basic city services: (a) sanitation (garbage and rubbish pickup), (b) safe and clean water, together with sewer services, (c) paved streets with concrete gutters, (d) safe, accredited, and quality public schools, (e) fire department services, (f) public safety, and (g) public transportation.


There is more than enough money in Birmingham’s $517 million operating budget for 2023 to have an outstanding public safety program in the city. Likewise, there is enough money in the Birmingham school system’s nearly $507 million operating budget to have an impressive K-12 public education system.


Unfortunately, the money needed for a fully staffed police department has been bled off to support an army of highly-paid department heads, assistants in the mayor’s office, non-essential consultants, and pet projects for rich and powerful special interest groups. Much of this spending is pure “pork” for political cronies who bring no real value to the table.


I can read operating budgets pretty good, but I don’t know where a lot of the school board’s money is going. This money is being spent by elected officials who are mostly unknown to the general public and me.


Siphoning Off Neighborhood Improvement Money for the Benefit of Rich People


Money to improve Birmingham’s 99 distinct communities and neighborhoods is being bled off at the rate of $3 million per year (for 30 years) to pay for a new football stadium for the University of Alabama at Birmingham. This is a reverse “Robin Hood” transaction where money is taken from the city’s poorest residents to fund a special project for its richest residents. It is a $90 million fleecing of Birmingham's tax dollars.


Even though the city is funding $90 million of the stadium's $142 million cost, it does not control any of the vendor contracts that have been issued for the operation of the stadium. However, city officials get to sit in a skybox, hobnob with rich and powerful UAB football fans, and look important during events held in the stadium.


City Hall’s propensity for rich people to fleece taxpayer dollars continues to this day. City officials are now considering a fleecing proposal that would take $5 million in tax dollars and shower it on Birmingham Southern College, a private college for students from America’s richest families. Again, Birmingham taxpayers will get absolutely nothing of substance from this fleecing transaction.


After the skyrocketing violent crime in Birmingham was spotlighted on this media site on November 18, 2022, city officials unleashed their social media trolls to pushback on a call to reallocate existing budget dollars to implement proven crime-fighting measures in cities like Birmingham that have been turned into urban combat zones


While Birmingham’s elected officials have police security details to protect them from violent street criminals, ordinary citizens do not. These officials don’t seemed to be troubled as much as we are that 12 of the 13 children who were homicide victims in Birmingham in 2022 died from gun violence.


Birmingham Taxpayers are Getting Ripped Off


Birmingham taxpayers are NOT getting their money’s worth when it comes to public safety and K-12 education in city schools. I have been told privately by sources inside City Hall that the mayor and council believe Birmingham residents are content with this miserable state of being. After all, they elected Mayor Randal Woodfin (twice) even though the city is dying!


I do not believe that Birmingham's taxpayers are satisfied with this miserable state of being. No taxpayer with walking-around-sense would accept the city’s failure to deliver outstanding public safety and an excellent K-12 education.


The City of Birmingham has an operating budget of $517,017,653 to serve 197,575 residents. The Birmingham Board of Education has an operating budget of $506,988,421 to educate 22,000 students in 42 schools. The combined amount of these two operating budgets is $1,024,006,074.


Despite this reservoir of $1,024,006,074 in tax dollars, Birmingham lacks (a) an effective public safety program to combat the surging violent crime in the city and (b) a high-quality, K-12, public education system. There is no excuse for either failure.


City Hall and school board officials have been very effective in using commemorative events, awards ceremonies, Facebook posts, tweets, and Instagram photos to distract the public’s attention from their collective failure of leadership in public safety and education. This distraction worked well until (a) the state board of education released its annual list of failed public schools in November, which showed two Birmingham magnet schools on the list, and (b) the homicides from gun violence in Birmingham skyrocketed to 142 last week, including 12 children who died from gunshot wounds in 2022.


For the past five years, Birmingham residents have been gaslighted with empty promises and feel-good speeches from city officials who are placing the safety, educational welfare, and lives of innocent children and adults in the Birmingham at great risk. We should expect excellence in the delivery of city services for public safety and K-12 education, and we must demand it.


Demanding Excellence, and Getting it


In 2023, we must fight like hell to end this miserable state of being for Birmingham’s residents. Residents deserve much more from City Hall than what they are getting today for their hard-earned tax dollars.


This is not a personal attack on any city official. This is business – the business of elevating the quality of life for the residents of Birmingham. Taxpayers are already paying the dollars needed for the delivery of excellent city services. They must get what they are paying for. No ifs, ands, or buts will suffice on this business matter.

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