Parks and rec bond on July 20 city agenda

A resolution to look at putting a ballot proposal on the November general election for a parks and recreation bond for about $11 million to improve many of the city's parks and recreation facilities on next Monday, July 20, agenda was approved by the Birmingham City Commission on Monday, July 13. While the motion was only to set the date, which was approved by commissioners 6-0, with commissioner Rackeline Hoff absent, commissioners discussed the ability of the city to bond, whether putting this on the November ballot was rushing it, and how much debt was coming off the city's debt load. City manager Joe Valentine explained every five years or so, the city's parks and recreation master plan is updated to reflect a vision of its facilities, from operations, maintenance and enhancements for the next several years. The parks and recreation board had completed a new master plan in November 2019, with a priority list submitted to the city commission at its long-range planning meeting in January. “We had begun to address funding options when we got sidelined by the pandemic,” Valentine said. He said the city was advised to look into bonding options by its bond counsel Miller Canfield. The last parks and recreation bond issued was in 2008, and current bond debt is expiring in fiscal year 2021 and 2024, providing a new opportunity to replace this retiring debt with new debt service, which would be less than the debt being retired, which is approximately $16 million, he said. “We already have some concept plans for some projects, and we have revised the list and priorities,” he said, in order to time things for the November election. Bond proposal language must be approved no later than August 11 to appear on the November general election ballot. Valentine said the bonding of about $11.25 million would be broken down into two series of bonds and programs. The first series would be in the amount of $4.75 million; the second phase, to begin in 2024, would be for $6.5 million. He said in addition to bond funding, other funding opportunities can be explored such as possible state and federal grants, crowdfunding initiatives and private contributions. Commissioner Stuart Sherman asked if it was rushing to put it on the November ballot, as there had not been discussion on the parks and recreation master plan or bonding since preliminary discussion at the long-range planning meeting in January. It was explained the next opportunity would be a special election in May, when the city would assume all election costs. City clerk Alexandra Bingham said, “Also, you have to consider turnout. A lot more people will see the language and have a say in November versus May.” Commissioners may vote to approve the ballot language next Monday.

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