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Birmingham Charter Amendment to Go on November Ballot

The proposed amendment to the City Charter would make it easier for Birmingham to sell city-owned properties, city manager says.

From picking a president to choosing a new state representative, Birmingham residents will have a lot to consider during the November general election.

And now, residents will go to the ballot box to consider a proposed amendment to the Birmingham City Charter.

At its meeting July 23, the Birmingham City Commission voted to place a charter amendment on the November ballot. The amendment would update outdated restrictions for selling city-owned land and buildings, making it easier for Birmingham to buy and sell property.

The problem: Outdated city code restricts city's ability to sell property

According to the Birmingham City Charter, adopted in April 1933, the city can not sell property for more than $2 per capita, or $2 multiplied by the city's population as determined by the last U.S. census. The only way the city can bypass this rule, according to City Manager Bob Bruner, is to receive approval from Birmingham voters.

In 1933, that meant that the city couldn't sell property for more than $19,078 unless put to a vote. However, Bruner said since the City Charter doesn't provide for inflation, Birmingham remains restricted by that $2 per capita price ceiling — meaning that in 2012, the city can only sell property for, at most, $40,000.

"This makes it virtually impossible for the city to sell any property without voter approval because even small parcels in the city sell for more than $40,000," said Bruner in a memo addressed to the City Commission.

What if inflation is taken into account? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Consumer Price Index, $19,078 in 1933 had the same buying power as $377,000 today. Bruner said if the $2 per capita were adjusted for inflation, it would be $35 per capita in 2012. That would bring the price ceiling for property sold by the city to $700,000.

Birmingham has a long history of acquiring property, Bruner writes in his memo. In the 1950's, the city purchased several downtown parking lots, eventually turning them into the , and parking structures.

More recently, the city purchased a 8.32-acre property near Pierce and Frank Street, eventually turning it into .

However, if the city is unable to sell property it purchases at a fair-market value, Bruner said the restrictions imposed by the City Charter now make every property acquisition potentially permanent.

"This means the city may be 'stuck' with a property it cannot use if develoment plans change or land assembly involving multiple owners is not completed as planned," Bruner said.

According to Bruner, this could become an even bigger problem as the city seeks to redesign and redevelop the Triangle District, located east of Woodward and south of Maple.

The solution: Amendment to eliminate price ceiling

The amendment suggested by the city? Get rid of the $2 per capita price ceiling completely and authorize the Birmingham City Commission to sell any property not otherwise restricted by the city. The amendment would apply to properties acquired on or after Jan. 1, 2013.

Under the amended charter, many kinds of city-owned properties still require voter approval before they can be sold, including: city parks, cemeteries, properties bordering a water front or streets leading to a water front.

"I believe this proposal balances the community's desire to keep existing city-owned properties without inhibiting the city's ability to implement its vision in the Triangle District and other neighborhoods," Bruner said.

City Commissioners voted 6-1 in favor of placing the amendment on the November ballot at their July 23 meeting, with Commissioner Rackeline Hoff voting against.

"This is a pretty friendly proposition," said Commissioner Gordon Rinschler. "I think it's a relatively low-risk (amendment) ... It isn't a proposition that will impact anyone."

Still, Hoff said changing the City Charter in this fashion leaves it vulnerable to the whims of future commissions.

"It changes the thinking (if this passes)," said Hoff. "It changes the thinking of whoever is sitting up here."

On the ballot: Amendment up for a vote in November

The city's charter amendment proposal will appear on the November ballot as:

This Charter amendment would modify the City's power to sell property or any interest therin so as to eliminate the limitation that no property of a value in excess of two dollars per capital according to the last preceding United States census be sold unless approved by the majority of electors, for any property acquired on or after January 1, 2013.

Shall the City of Birmingham Charter, Chapter II, Section 2(2) be amended to so provide?

Carolyn J. Butcher August 02, 2012 at 04:22 PM
Is there a place that we as citizens of Birmingham, can view all the city owned properties? It would be informative to know what the city owns, and what properties we are talking about. The comment that it "Isn't a proposition that will impact anyone" sounds like we as citizens aren't impacted by the monies spent or received by the city. As taxpayers, we are certainly impacted. Carolyn Butcher

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