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New Website Seeks to Answer Questions on City Charter Amendment

Residents will vote on an amendment to the Birmingham City Charter that will make sales of city-owned properties easier.

Do you have questions about the proposed amendment to the Birmingham City Charter, an issue that will be on the local ballot this November?

According to the city, there are a lot of questions out there and so to help answer them, they've launched a special website designed to answer those frequently asked questions.

The charter amendment — which was approved by the Birmingham City Commission at its July 23 meeting — will update outdated restrictions for selling city-owned land and buildings, making it easier for Birmingham to buy and sell property.

What does the Charter Amendment really mean?

Still confused? Here's a quick primer on what the proposed Charter Amendment means to the city and to you.

What does the city charter rules mean?

  • According to the Birmingham City Charter, adopted in 1933, the city can not sell property for more than $2 per capita, or $2 multiplied by the city's population.
  • The only way to bypass this rule is putting property sales to a vote.
  • In 1933, that meant the city couldn't sell property for more than $19,078 unless put to a vote.
  • This rule does not provide for inflation, meaning in 2012, the city can only sell property for no more than $2 per capita — or $40,000.

What's the problem?

  • "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 City Manager Bob Bruner in a memo to the City Commission.
  • Plus, Birmingham has a long history of buying property, including the downtown parking lots that were later turned into parking garages, and more recently, the property that is now Barnum Park. 
  • If the city can't sell these properties at fair-market value, Bruner said, that makes every property acquisition potentially permanent.

What will the Charter Amendment do?

  • Should the Charter Amendment pass, that $2 per capita price ceiling will be eliminated for all property purchased after Jan. 1, 2013. Voter approval will not be needed anymore for these sales.

Isn't voter approval needed for certain kinds of property sales?

  • Even if the Charter Amendment passes, voter approval will still be required for the sale of: city parks, cemeteries, properties border a water front or streets leading to a water front.

What did City Commissioners think?

  • The Birmingham City Commission voted 6-1 to put the amendment on the November ballot, 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."
  • "It changes the thinking (if this passes)," said Hoff. "It changes the thinking of whoever is sitting up here."

What will the amendment look like on the ballot?

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.

For more information and for a list of city-owned properties, visit the city's website or contact the city manager's office at 248-530-1808..

Carolyn J. Butcher October 19, 2012 at 03:06 PM
Does this mean that only properties purchased or acquired "after" 1/1/13 are affected? What about those properties already owned? Since when does $40,000 become inconsequential?
Laura Houser (Editor) October 19, 2012 at 03:09 PM
Hi Carolyn! Only properties purchased after Jan. 1, 2013 would be impacted by new rules. Those properties the city already owns are still restricted by the $40,000 cap, unless put to a vote.

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