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City Council Approves Mayor’s $451M Budget for FY20 

BIRMINGHAM TIMES — More than two months after Mayor Randall Woodfin presented his fiscal 2020 budget and three weeks after the fiscal year began July 1, the Birmingham City Council voted to approve the mayor’s $451 million operating budget. The council voted 7-1 to approve the operating budget and capital budget with Councilor Steven Hoyt as the dissenting vote. Councilor John Hilliard was absent. 

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By Erica Wright

More than two months after Mayor Randall Woodfin presented his fiscal 2020 budget and three weeks after the fiscal year began July 1, the Birmingham City Council voted to approve the mayor’s $451 million operating budget.

The council voted 7-1 to approve the operating budget and capital budget with Councilor Steven Hoyt as the dissenting vote. Councilor John Hilliard was absent. 

The $451 million operating budget represents the Woodfin administration’s priorities of neighborhood revitalization and fully funding the city’s pension fund for the fiscal year, said the mayor. 

Woodfin said the budget has an emphasis on neighborhood revitalization with $15 million allocated for paving streets, demolition, weed abatement, public infrastructure issues “and additional monies to support our land bank to make it more efficient.”

The Birmingham Land Bank Authority returns vacant, abandoned and tax-delinquent properties back to the tax rolls. 

The proposed $451 million operating budget represents a $10.5 million increase over the FY2019 budget. 

The budget includes money for:

Pension, $5.8 million

Merit Pay, $3 million

Health insurance, $3 million

Longevity Pay, $2 million

Real Time Crime Center, $1.5 million

Birmingham Promise Initiative, $2 million

Council Discretionary Fund, $100,000 

 Woodfin said he was happy to see money in the budget for the Birmingham Promise Initiative which combines secondary and post-secondary apprenticeships with college scholarships to steer students toward quality jobs. The program came under criticism from some who said the mayor was taking money away from city schools to fund the initiative.

“I know change is hard for people, but what I would like to say directly to every parent who has a child in Birmingham City Schools is the ability to give your child direct dollars from apprenticeships is a big deal, so what we’re supporting is workforce development and education,” he said.

Another area that deserved funding was the Real Time Crime Center, he stated.

“We set aside $1 million for a crime center that we will be able to outfit and build out which will allow us to integrate not only with our human capital but more technology in regards to being able to predict where crime occurs,” he said.

Councilor Hunter Williams said he was pleased the council and the mayor reached an agreement. 

 “I think there are a lot of good things in this budget, one of which is the real time crime center that Birmingham Police will be using,” he said. “We’re really focusing on core government and I think that this budget exemplifies that.”

Williams said citizens expect to have streets resurfaced; be able to pick up the phone and dial 911 and have a police officer or firefighter arrive timely; expect the city to pick up trash and perform public works. “This budget is very focused and it addresses all of those issues,” he said.

Councilor Steven Hoyt, the lone dissenting vote on both the operating and capital budgets, said the mayor and council needed more time on both spending plans.

 “These last six weeks we’ve been dealing with just the operating budget,” he said. “But we have a capital budget that needs just as much attention as the operating budget. If you tell me that we spent just as much time on the operating budget, then I’m fine, but I’m not, because we haven’t.”

Woodfin said the budget was different from previous ones because he engaged councilors on shared priorities and found money to support those.

 “I asked each councilor prior to this budget process . . .what are your three top priorities . . . and I’m happy to say that for each councilor, at a minimum, two of their priorities are in this budget. It wasn’t just what the mayor’s office wanted to do, but collectively what the council office wanted to do as well.”

Paving streets and pension were high on the list for a majority of the councilors, he said.

In order to meet the obligation of the city’s pension fund, the budget increases the city’s contribution by $5.8 million. The total contribution by the city for FY2020 will be $24.6 million. Combined with proposed cost-savings by the pension board, the pension will be fully funded for the fiscal year, according to the city.

The FY2020 operating budget will go into effect once it is signed by the mayor.

The public can review the proposed operating budget and amendments for FY2020 at www.birminghamal.gov/budget2020.

The public can also review how the city spends tax dollars at https://data.birminghamal.gov/pages/transparency.

This article originally appeared in The Birmingham Times.

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Q&A With Kenneth Boswell, chair of Alabama Counts 2020 Committee

BIRMINGHAM TIMES — The great thing about the 2020 Census is that it has never been easier to respond on your own, whether online, over the phone or by mail—all without having to meet a census taker. Notification letters from the Census Bureau to Alabama households began going out on March 12 and are continuing until March 20. There are three ways to respond: online at www.my2020census.gov, by phone at 1-844-330-2020 or by paper form.

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Kenneth Boswell, director of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs and chair of the Alabama Counts 2020 committee. (Provided Photo)

Compiled by Erica Wright, The Birmingham Times

Kenneth Boswell, director of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, is chair of the Alabama Counts 2020 committee. He responded to these questions from The Birmingham Times.

BT: What impact does the recent coronavirus pandemic have on the Census efforts in Alabama?

Kenneth Boswell: The great thing about the 2020 Census is that it has never been easier to respond on your own, whether online, over the phone or by mail—all without having to meet a census taker. Notification letters from the Census Bureau to Alabama households began going out on March 12 and are continuing until March 20. There are three ways to respond: online at www.my2020census.gov, by phone at 1-844-330-2020 or by paper form.

We are keeping in contact with the U.S. Census Bureau and know that they are monitoring the situation very closely. We anticipate any changes would likely be to the in-person follow-up by census workers to households who do not complete their census by April 30. Right now, that portion is scheduled to begin in May.

BT: How does the state plan to proceed with the Census in light of the pandemic? 

Boswell: The census is something that is quick and easy to complete at home, so that is our main message right now. We have a statewide awareness campaign that includes TV, newspaper, radio, social media, billboard and digital messages. Some census-related events scheduled for the next couple weeks have been postponed, but we are adjusting accordingly and will continue to do everything we can to encourage all in Alabama to take their census.

BT: What’s the significance of the April 1, 2020 deadline with the Census?

Boswell: April 1 is simply what the Census Bureau calls Census Day. It is a symbolic day designed to encourage all who live in the United States to self-respond to their Census form. Right now, we are encouraging participation as soon as the invitation letters are received and by April 30 which is the designated self-response period before the Census Bureau follows up in person with those households who have not yet responded.

BT: How much does the state stand to lose in funding if there is an under count or drop in Census numbers? What are some of the programs that will be affected if that money is lost? 

Boswell: Alabama receives about $13 billion in census-derived funding per year for important programs that support Alabama’s healthcare, schools, infrastructure and community services.

Here is a link to a study by George Washington University that details 55 federal programs linked to census data and their impact on Alabama: https://census.alabama.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/IPP-1819-3-CountingforDollars_AL.pdf

BT: Is there a certain percentage for example, 70-90 percent that the state has a goal to reach for the Census count? 

Boswell: We are asking for maximum participation as close to 100 percent as possible. We must do better than the 72 percent participation rate that Alabama recorded in 2010.

BT: If this is an under count, how many seats, statewide and on a federal level does Alabama stand to lose and what will that mean for residents?

Boswell: Many projections have the state at-risk of losing a congressional seat if we perform at the same level as we did in 2010. The impact of that lost seat will mean one less voice to advocate for the state’s needs at the federal level. For example, Congress is currently discussing a package of stimulus/recovery dollars to lessen the impact of the Coronavirus on the economy. The more representation that the state has during these discussions and decisions, the better our voice will be heard and the better the likelihood that we will receive our fair share of federal dollars to benefit Alabamians.

There would be no change in the number of state legislators. However, the data collected during the census is used by the legislature for redistricting purposes.

BT: How is the importance of the Census spread to communities that have been historically undercounted? What strategies are in place to make sure those areas are fully included?

Boswell: Those areas and communities are very important to the success of the 2020 Census and we all benefit from maximum participation. So, we are focusing on the impact that a successful count would have on our state and those communities. We have been working to identify those partners for these communities as part of our grassroots campaign. In December, Governor Ivey awarded $1 million in grants to 34 statewide, regional and local groups to support grassroots census efforts, with many targeted toward harder-to-count groups and areas, including Alabama’s Black Belt, Hispanic immigrants, people with disabilities, children under age 5 and college students.

We have also developed an online tool kit of awareness and promotional items that can be used by any group or individual to help increase awareness of the 2020 Census and its importance to Alabama at www.alabama2020census.com.

BT: How long do people have to fill out their Census? How long does it take to gather all of the Census information and get it to the federal government?

Boswell: We are asking everyone to self-respond by taking the census as soon as they receive their letter from the Census Bureau and definitely by April 30. Right now, the census workers will begin following up in-person with households who have not completed the census starting in May and continuing through July.

The census only takes about six minutes to complete. There are 10 very basic questions – name, date of birth, sex, race, whether you own or rent the residence, phone number and similar information about others living or staying in your household. You typically submit more information when responding to a special offer online.

The data is secure and protected by strict federal law. Nothing you submit can be shared or used against you by any agency.

BT: How or when will the state know the results of the Census?

Boswell: The deadline for the census results to be submitted to the president is December 31, 2020. The Census Bureau will publicly release the final results around March 2021.

This article originally appeared in The Birmingham Times.

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Help keep flu out of the classroom and protect your family from illness

THE BIRMINGHAM TIMES — Parents can do their part to help keep germs out of the classroom. Jennifer Ponder, Ph.D., chair of the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Education Department of Curriculum and Instruction, suggests parents send hand sanitizer, paper towels, tissues and disinfectants to help keep the classroom clean. When a child is running a fever, coughing or sneezing excessively, lethargic, or showing other symptoms of the flu, keep them home. If symptoms persist, call your pediatrician.

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Keeping flu at bay is difficult when kids are in school. Encourage your children to wash their hands frequently, and to avoid touching their nose, mouth and eyes to prevent the spread of germs. These practices can help keep your entire family well throughout the flu season. (Photo: iStockphoto / NNPA)

By Alicia Rohan, UAB News

School classrooms are a breeding ground for bacteria and germs. Teaching children about the flu and other contagious diseases starts at home but should continue at school as well.

“Children are very observant and hear about the flu in conversation, on the radio and on the television,” said Jennifer Ponder, Ph.D., chair of the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Education Department of Curriculum and Instruction. “It is important that caretakers and educators continue those conversations to create healthy hygiene habits in children. In order to succeed in the classroom, a child needs to be healthy and present, so starting good hygiene early on will increase their chances of success.”

Ponder suggests that educators create a classroom environment where children are in charge of taking care of their space. This includes teaching cleanliness and strategies to disinfect spaces and protect germs from spreading, such as using a disinfecting wipe to clean all desks and surfaces on a daily basis.

“There are resources for educators to help teach kids about proper hygiene,” Ponder said. “Finding ways to incorporate hygiene and the flu into your lesson plan makes learning fun and will resonate with younger children more.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a resource for educators to incorporate hygiene and the flu into their curriculum, “Teaching Children About the Flu.” Activities include:

  • Sing “If You Are Happy and You Know It, Scrub Your Hands” while washing your hands to ensure that students wash for the appropriate amount of time.
  • Model how to wash your hands with the appropriate amount of soap.
  • Cough or sneeze in their elbow/sleeve if tissues are not available.
  • Simulate how germs spread by using a drop of unscented lotion and a pinch of glitter. Make a fist with glitter in it, then open the hand to show how glitter spreads. The teacher touches another child’s hand to show how the glitter spreads easily. Use a paper towel to wipe off the glitter. The glitter is hard to get off, showing how easily germs spread from person to person.

Parents can do their part to help keep germs out of the classroom. Ponder suggests parents send hand sanitizer, paper towels, tissues and disinfectants to help keep the classroom clean. When a child is running a fever, coughing or sneezing excessively, lethargic, or showing other symptoms of the flu, keep them home. If symptoms persist, call your pediatrician.

“Parents should be talking to children about the flu and flu symptoms,” Ponder said. “Reiterate what they are hearing at school, on TV and from their friends. Use these opportunities to talk about germs, proper handwashing and keeping your home clean.”

This article originally appeared in The Birmingham Times.

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‘There are three people in your marriage… you, your partner and God’

THE BIRMINGHAM TIMES — I was a freshman and Shamar was a junior…as the night went on I was at the bar fixing my food and he came over and introduced himself. We conversed all night, we had amazing conversation and that night God literally told me that he was my husband and that kind of freaked me out because at the time I wasn’t hearing from God audibly. We ended up exchanging numbers but he never called.

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NADIA AND SHAMAR GRAMBY

By Je’Don Holloway-Talley, Special to The Birmingham Times

“You Had Me at Hello’’ highlights married couples and the love that binds them. If you would like to be considered for a future “Hello’’ column, or know someone, please send nominations to Erica Wright ewright@birminghamtimes.com. Include the couple’s name, contact number(s) and what makes their love story unique.

NADIA AND SHAMAR GRAMBY

Live: Chelsea

Married: July 14, 2012

Met: In Huntsville in the fall of 2003 at a fellow Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University [A&M] student’s apartment. Nadia’s friend and Shamar’s frat brother were throwing a social gathering and Shamar was one of the hosts.

“I was a freshman and Shamar was a junior…as the night went on I was at the bar fixing my food and he came over and introduced himself,” Nadia recalled. “We conversed all night, we had amazing conversation and that night God literally told me that he was my husband and that kind of freaked me out because at the time I wasn’t hearing from God audibly. … We ended up exchanging numbers but he never called.”

Shamar recalled that Nadia stood out. “I saw this beautiful young lady sitting there… I saw her communicating with everybody and she seemed fun and outgoing and it’s like God was telling me there was something about her that I needed to find out . . . we ended up having a real deep conversation which is odd for those kinds of parties. We talked about our goals, and faith…we had a lot in common and had a lot of the same things that we wanted out of life.”

First date: The pair went to see a movie that they cannot recall and afterward had a candlelit dinner at Shamar’s apartment. They ate steak, potatoes and green beans. Nadia recalled being very impressed. Shamar said he couldn’t recall the movie but did remember he cooked a full course meal and had some candles flickering. “I wanted to make sure she knew that I thought she was unique and special and that she deserved a certain level of effort and care.

Nadia said she couldn’t focus on the movie because “I was jittery and nervous the whole time. When Shamar picked me up from my dorm room he had flowers for me…he was playing R&B in the car, he was such a gentleman and opened all the doors for me… when we got done with the movie he said, ‘I’m going to cook you dinner and I got to watch him make it.”

Nadia said they shared a kiss at the end of the night. “I really wanted to kiss him and I knew he wanted to kiss me, but he was so respectful that I knew he would have never made the move to kiss me first, so I gave him the three-second start, I leaned in [first].

“I took it from there,” Shamar said.

The turn: Nadia and Shamar dated throughout their collegiate careers and had a son in September 2007. They didn’t want to get married early on “just for the look of it,” Nadia said. “We didn’t want to get married just because we had a baby, we wanted to be ready and marry because we were still in love.”

After dating for seven years they began talking in 2010 about marriage.

The proposal: On a couple’s trip in 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada at the Venetian Hotel on a gondola ride.

“I chose the Venetian [hotel] because I had previously been to Italy and I wanted to take her one day so I thought it would be the perfect place…I chose a special song for the guy [paddling the boat] to sing to her in the Italian language and when we got to [the arching bridge] I had the guy pause there and I told her how much she meant to me and how I could not live without her in my life and that I would be honored if she would be my wife. I took the ring out and she said ‘yes.’

“I was surprised because we had been [on many adventures] during the trip and we were so casual, I could not believe he was proposing to me while I had on jeans and a tee-shirt,” Nadia laughed, “…when the man started singing in Italian and he [Shamar] started going in his pocket I was like this is really happening today!…it brought me back to the day I heard the voice of God and His promise was really about to manifest.”

The wedding: At the Museum of Art in Huntsville, officiated by Pastor Windell Davis of Union Chapel Church in Huntsville. Their colors were tiffany-blue, mocha and white.

Most memorable for the groom was Nadia’s walk down the aisle. “The band ‘Remedy’ (A&M students) was playing live and my cousin Sheena was singing [the band’s song] ‘You’ as she came down the aisle… Her essence and her beauty, and all of our memories came to a head, our child, I just broke down right then and there. Somebody had to pass me a handkerchief,” Shamar laughed.

Most memorable for the bride was “when we did the unity sand together after we did communion as a family,” Nadia said. “Instead of union candles, we did sand, so Shamar and I, and our son Khalil all had our own sand that we poured in a glass together and for me, that was really special for our family to be under the covenant of God in our relationship.”

Words of wisdom: “Always put God first, put Him as the head of your life,” Shamar said. Next, be loyal to each other and have each other’s back. It may not always be 50-50, but be willing to pick up where the other left off. Always encourage each other. Always keep in mind the reasons why you married that person and be willing to talk and look at their perspective in life because people change. Be an open book, whether it’s good or bad.

Nadia said, “you must remember that there are three people in your marriage: you, your partner and God. If you remember that and keep Him in the middle of your marriage, you’re more likely to have a successful [union]. Also] knowing that I can trust my husband… I can trust him with my heart and I can trust him with who I am at the core of who I am, and because I can trust him I can communicate… I can be honest, I can tell him how I really feel because I know that he will honor me and take care of me as his wife….

Happily ever after: The Gramby’s have one child, son Khalil, 12, and enjoy helping to build other couples as board members of the marriage ministry at their church More than Conquerors in West End.

Nadia, 34, is a Daphne, Ala. native and graduated from Daphne High School. She attended Alabama A&M where she studied psychology and earned a B.S. in Human Resource Management from Faulkner University (Hunstville campus). She is a birth and post partum doula and owns her own company ‘Crown of Glory Birth Services’ and is also an [online] student midwife at The National College of midwifery (in New Mexico).

Shamar, 37, is a Columbus, OH native, and graduated from Reynoldsburg High School. He attended Alabama A&M, where he earned a B.S. in mechanical engineering. He is an accounts service rep in sales and marketing for Viva Health.

This article originally appeared in The Birmingham Times.

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