Decatur Mayor Tab Bowling said he plans to present a fiscal 2020 budget to the City Council calling for flat funding in appropriations for more than 20 local nonprofits and other agencies, though organizations are requesting about $500,000 in increases.
Bowling said his office’s proposed budget will have “level funding for appropriations unless (agencies) have made a request for reduced funding.”
The appropriations for organizations in fiscal 2019 was more than $1.77 million, according to city finance figures. Decatur-Morgan County Tourism received $868,050 in fiscal 2019 and is estimated to receive $935,250 for fiscal 2020, based on lodging tax revenue projections, according to the city’s CFO John Andrzejewski.
Bowling said he believes that giving level funding to the agencies is manageable for the city, after the City Council on Tuesday wrapped up two days of presentations by the agencies. Most agencies requested an increase.
One adjustment Bowling said he is considering before presenting his proposal to the council would increase the appropriation amount for the Morgan County Emergency Communication District, or 911 board, by $10,000 because of its recent rate increase.
Last month, the 911 board voted 4-0 to charge $4.35 per call per dispatch, up from $3.98, to the agencies accepting emergency calls from Morgan County’s central dispatch. The rate increase starts Oct. 1.
Bowling said he believes that in the future, the 911 board shouldn’t be part of the annual appropriations presentations and discussions, but its funding should instead be designated as a contract service in the budget, “because 911 is a necessity, critical to lives and safety.”
After two days of work sessions on appropriations, council members aren’t ready to make decisions on that funding yet.
Councilwoman Kristi Hill said she would like to consult with Andrzejewski before making a decision on the appropriations.
“I think that’s responsible,” she said.
She and Council President Paige Bibbee said there are some organizations they could consider giving increased funding, though they wouldn’t name specific agencies.
“Some are working to generate revenue sources,” Hill said.
“I would consider a few (agencies), giving them what they’re asking rather than level funding because you can see their efforts to partner (with other organizations) to be more efficient and effective for our residents,” Bibbee said.
Councilman Charles Kirby said he doesn’t oppose any appropriation requests, noting that 78% of the agencies’ requests are for increases.
“Each and every one sounds like a wonderful thing to do, but how do we afford it?” said Kirby. “Decatur is in an economic crisis and it’s getting worse every year.
“The simplest thing we can do to help residential growth is cut the grass, pave the roads and pick up the litter,” he said.
Finances aside, he said some appropriations are necessary.
“There are certain things that have to be funded, like emergency management, the library,” he said. “You have to fund those (services). They’re not optional.”
All of the agencies made a pitch for their funding over the two days.
For example, the Mental Health Center of North Central Alabama is asking for $30,000, up from its current appropriation of $20,000.
With the $20,000, the agency served 40 adult clients from Decatur, with 308 hours of services, said Lisa Coleman, the agency's executive director. All of them have a serious mental illness diagnosis, she said.
"Each one of the 40 are living on $8,000 or less per year," she said. "They're financially indigent." She said the clients have no Medicaid or private insurance.
"Without this money, they will get nothing," Coleman said.
The Morgan County Emergency Management Agency is asking for an increase from $32,053 to $74,277.
"Our No. 1 priority is upgrading our radio system that accesses all the emergency sirens in the county," said Director Eddie Hicks. Plans also call for upgrading to digital controls for the operations center's displays. The radio system alone could cost about $30,000, he said.
Agencies asking for level funding are the Community Free Clinic, Decatur Public Library, Morgan County Child Advocacy Center and the Decatur-Morgan County Chamber of Commerce.
“There certainly are a lot of increases requested, and it’s going to be difficult to fund any increases,” said Councilman Chuck Ard.
Councilman Billy Jackson didn’t attend either of the sessions, and couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday. Ard and Kirby missed Tuesday's work session.