by Paul Wesch, Executive Director of Finance
As this is being written, Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson has submitted his 2017 fiscal year budget to the City Council for its review and adoption. It may be a fitting time to consider the role of the Finance Department in managing the fiscal affairs of the City.
The Finance Department performs those duties that you might imagine, including the collection of taxes, payment of bills, preparation of financial statements, investment of funds, and budgeting. We also manage the human resources functions of the City, administer the payroll, and help direct several of the employee pension funds.
However, under Mayor Stimpson’s direction, financial management has taken on an additional focus. Financial governance must include strategic efforts to identify and measure areas of inappropriate spending, plan for improvement in those areas, and implement change.
In the years leading up to this administration the City spent all of its cash reserves in the general fund, ending with a $4.3 million negative fund balance as of September 30, 2013. Long term debt had increased from under $200 million to over $300 million.
Despite excess spending and borrowing during this period, there had been no general raises for employees, police and fire vehicles had not been replaced in anywhere near the level necessary to maintain their useful lives, and the lack of investment in infrastructure, such as roads and sidewalks, had created a $250 million backlog in necessary repairs and improvements.
The Stimpson administration immediately began an overhaul of the City’s finances. With no tax increases, the City experienced an operating surplus of $19.4 million in 2014 and $23.1 million in 2015.
Employees were provided with raises in each of those years. For 2017, the budget includes funding for uniformed police and fire raises employee, sufficient to eliminate a long standing disparity in public safety compensation when compared with that of other Alabama cities.
Sound fiscal stewardship has allowed the City to build and maintain a $20 million general fund rainy day reserve, to devote more than $20 million towards the purchase of police cars, fire trucks and garbage trucks, and to begin the replacement of two nearly 60-year-old fire stations.
As important, the City has pared unnecessary expenditures enough to budget the second straight year of a $21 million annual capital improvement plan to begin repairing and replacing the City’s aging infrastructure.
Best of all, the City’s growing fiscal stability has been achieved with absolutely no borrowing. Indeed, in almost three short years, the City’s once burdensome debt has been reduced by about $45 million. During the same period, unfunded liabilities for future pension and health care payments have been reduced by more than $100 million.
There is much more work to be done in restoring Mobile’s financial health. Our citizens have been very generous in their commitment of tax dollars to the delivery of basic City services, The Finance Department will continue doing what it can to budget and spend those resources wisely.