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Birmingham to bring back a third of furloughed employees

Birmingham, Ala. - On Tuesday, the Birmingham City Council unanimously voted in favor of bringing up to 132 furloughed city employees back to work. A majority of the workers, who have been furloughed since September, are employed in the library and the city parks departments.

Workers will be able to return on Monday, just days before their health insurance benefits were set to expire.

Birmingham Mayor Woodfin originally estimated the plan to bring back furloughed workers would cost $7 million in city reserve funds. City council members warned the original proposal would drop the remaining balance to $3 million less than what the city’s requires in its “emergency fund” and could negatively impacted the city’s credit rating.

The approved plan will instead draw $4.5 million from the city’s reserve fund.

“The Council worked with the mayor’s office and the finance department to make sure we had the necessary funding to bring these employees back to work,” said Birmingham City Council president William Parker. “This just demonstrates that government is working and that compromises can be made. This is step one of a longer recovery process as we continue to work through this public health crisis.”

The current plan only call calls for half of the 18 city library locations to reopen. Council members said they will continue to work to find solutions for Birmingham’s 99 neighborhoods and develop additional options and consider part time options for some employees.

Parker told the Birmingham Times that he wanted to restore holiday pay as well after more than half of paid city holidays were suspended due to COVID-19’s impact on the city’s tax revenue. The council voted to refer nearly $800,000 in holiday pay for city employees to an upcoming committee meeting where it could be voted on later this month.

The returning employees may not be completely out of the woods yet. With Congress deadlocked on additional COVID-19 relief and a new surge of cases, many businesses and schools are beginning to shut-down again. It’s unknown what impact rising cases could have on library operating hours or possible closures.

Council member Valerie Abbott told WBHM “I can live with [the plan] as long as we meet the requirements of our fund balance policy,” she said. “(But) it does look suspicious that two months ago we had this austere budget that we approved that did furlough a bunch of employees, and then suddenly two months later everything’s fine,” she said. “I don’t believe that. There’s more to this than what we see.”

Birmingham currently has an investment grade credit rating. The city council will meet with credit raters mid-December as it awaits $9 million reimbursement from CARES Act funding for public safety personnel payroll costs and benefits.

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