2 weeks ago

‘Pork’-laden proposed Jefferson County budget blasted ahead of Thursday vote

Jefferson County’s proposed 2020 support budget is under intense scrutiny amid allegations of “pork” funds and “an unconscionable lack of fiscal discipline.”

Birmingham Watch reported that the county commission recently took a non-binding, preliminary vote on the proposed budget, which would take effect on January 1 of the coming year.

Two Republicans, Commission President Jimmie Stephens and Commissioner Steve Ammons, voted against the measure. Meanwhile, Republican Commissioner Joe Knight voted with Democratic Commissioners Lashunda Scales and Sheila Tyson in favor of the proposed budget.

One of the controversial proposed budgetary items is a $1.225 million “public service fund.”

Stephens explained that he voted against the proposed budget because it funded many programs he thought should be paid for through commissioners’ discretionary spending.

“Each commissioner has $225,000 for such expenditures,” he told Birmingham Watch. “I remind you that we had to borrow money from general fund reserves and economic development fund balance to pave our roads. We funded the sewer relief fund and the construction of storm shelters. I fully support those efforts, and I am disappointed that the commission added so many pork projects.”

Ammons also has serious concerns.

“I was not comfortable, number one, with the amount of money that was being spent, and some of the things it was going to I didn’t agree with,” he advised, per Birmingham Watch. “There are way too many questions for us to just be throwing money at things. It’s just irresponsible, in my estimation.”

After Birmingham Watch’s article on the subject was published, former Commission President David Carrington sent an email to the current commissioners, expressing his “blunt” opposition to the proposal and the result of the test-vote.

This email was obtained by Yellowhammer News on Tuesday (mere hours after it was sent) and warns that the current proposed budget is “scarily similar to the historical root causes that led the last Commission to file, what was at the time, the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.”

After outlining in detail his issues with the proposed budget and asking for relevant data in the form of a Freedom of Information Act request, Carrington called on the commissioners to pump the brakes on holding a final vote on the measure.

While the Jefferson County Commission has until September 30 to hold this official budget vote, they are currently scheduled to do so at their meeting on Thursday.

Carrington’s full email as follows:

Commissioners,

After reading Solomon Crenshaw’s Birmingham Watch article on the County’s proposed General Fund budget, I have to ask, “What are you thinking?”

To be blunt, the County’s proposed General Fund Budget appears to display an unconscionable lack of fiscal discipline, scarily similar to the historical root causes that led the last Commission to file, what was at the time, the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history. It clearly reflects a “spend today without considering tomorrow” attitude.

Based on Crenshaw’s article, two glaring problems with the proposed General Fund budget are readily apparent.

First and foremost, the proposed budget is unconstitutional, because the Sewer Relief Fund violates Section 94 of the Alabama Constitution, which states “Municipalities [are] not to grant public money or lend credit to private persons or corporations. The legislature shall not have power to authorize any county, city, town, or other subdivision of this state to lend its credit, or to grant public money or [any] thing of value in aid of, or to any individual, association, or corporation whatsoever …” The last Commission spent countless hours trying to make a similar fund work, to no avail. These funds need to be raised from the public.

Second, the bottom of the waterfall on the special one cent sales tax is being misused. It was recognized and acknowledged that some $15-$17 million at the bottom of the waterfall each year would be used to fund ongoing operations, but the remainder was to be primarily used for funding contingencies and building reserves.

Among other things, it is my current understanding that an additional $1,125,000 million in district “pork” funds ($225,000 per commissioner) and $1,225,000 for a new “Public Service Fund” are also coming out of the bottom of the waterfall (after the $15-$17 million). This new fund includes (1) items that should be funded out of each Commissioner’s $225,000 District Funds (like the ACTA in Trussville); (2) items that shouldn’t be funded at all (like the $250,000 to the transit authority on top of the $2,000,000 they are already getting from the sales tax proceeds); and (3) items that should be included in the $15-$17 million for ongoing operations (like TASC).

Based on the Freedom of Information act, I am formally requesting …
• a complete line item proposed budget for next fiscal year;
• a year-to-date comparison of the original budget to the actual expenditures for the current fiscal year;
• a complete, detailed break-down of the entire waterfall expenditures year-to-date and in the proposed budget;
• a complete, detailed break-down of the Road and Bridge Fund year-to-date and in the proposed budget;
• a complete, detailed break-down of the entire Economic Development Fund year-to-date and in the proposed budget;

  • included should be the rationale, resolution and agreement for the $5,000,000 the Commission “borrowed” from this fund for Roads – this is a precedent that concerns me greatly;
  • in addition, I would remind the Commissioners that there is a significant difference in “economic impact” which already exists, like the Magic City Classic, and “economic development” which results in job creation and additional tax revenues, like Shipt;
  • while I am not opposed to using “Economic Development Funds” to land a project like Amazon (where road improvements were critical), I am opposed to a single penny of this fund to be used for anything other than pure economic development – this is exactly what the last Commission represented to the citizens, the legislature, the rating agencies and the warrant holders in order to secure the one cent sales tax refunding;

• a detailed listing of the budget cuts [by department with descriptions and amounts] that were made by the commissioners during the budget hearings;
• a detailed listing of any transfers “out of” and “in to” Fund Balance year-to-date and in the proposed budget; and
• all cash amounts budgeted for contingencies and reserves in the proposed budget.

As a citizen of Jefferson County with “a lot of blood on the trail” to nurse the County back to financial health, I urge you to vote, “no” on the proposed budget and to “go back to the drawing board” to develop a fiscally disciplined budget that doesn’t tap the bottom of the waterfall for more than $15-$17 million for the General Fund. The remainder – or at least a minimum of $10 million, approximately 5% of this year’s General Fund budget – should be used to fund contingencies and build reserves. Otherwise, this Commission is beginning to move the County toward a “slippery slope” that could very well lead to a future bankruptcy.

It doesn’t have to be that way!

The economy is cyclical. The sales tax decline the County experienced late in the last decade will occur again. We just don’t know when. That’s why cash reserves are so important to an organization’s financial health and stability.

Which leads me to one final question, what’s the rush? The budget doesn’t have to be approved until September 30 – that’s almost 2 months away! There is plenty of time to get it right.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

2 hours ago

Alabama postpones 50th anniversary tour over singer’s health

Country band Alabama says it is postponing the remainder of its 50th anniversary tour as lead singer Randy Owen battles health complications.

The group announced Wednesday that the 69-year-old Owen is suffering from migraines and vertigo, and doctors say he needs more time to recover.

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The news comes after a string of already-canceled shows due to the singer’s health.

Bass player and vocalist Teddy Gentry wrote in a statement that though he and the rest of the band are disappointed, Owen’s recovery is the priority.

The 50-city tour was scheduled through Nov. 23, where it would have ended in Salisbury, Maryland.

Rescheduled dates will be released in the coming weeks.
(Associated Press, copyright 2019)

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How Alabama’s Iron Tribe Fitness sets the standard for group workouts

Iron Tribe Fitness, founded in Birmingham, Alabama, is leading the way for workout programs across the nation. Ranked as one of the top five workouts in the nation, this 45-minute HIIT group workout class offers participants exciting and effective workouts in a time frame that works with any kind of schedule.

Recently, the gym hosted Coach 201, a weekend training session for their instructors in their downtown Birmingham corporate location. This session brought together all of Iron Tribe’s local coaching staff to review training guidelines and program goals.

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In hosting this training, Iron Tribe is living out their core value of delivering a consistent experience. Forrest Walden, Iron Tribe’s founder and CEO says this training session taps into the heart of what the program does — which is creating communities that change lives.

“It’s always great to see the entire team come together to fellowship and dive deep into why we do what we do every day,” Walden said.

During the training, Iron Tribe coaches were given the opportunity to learn more about the classes they teach and strengthen their relationships with each other. As a result, the coaches are empowered to return to their home gyms and lead their athletes with renewed skills and confidence.

“Kyle Sottung, our director of product development, is extremely thorough and talented at what he does. To see him lead our Birmingham coaches is always such a blessing. Our coaches are more empowered now than ever to pour into the Birmingham community,” Walden stated.

According to Walden, Iron Tribe is successful because the program is more than just a workout, but a way to strengthen the communities they serve.

“Iron Tribe stands on a list off essential core beliefs. These beliefs steer what we do every day, both inside and outside the gym. It’s our hope that by continuing to develop ourselves that we can be exceptional coaches and role models within our communities,” Walden said.

Ready to get in the best shape of your life? Learn more by visiting irontribefitness.com.

2 hours ago

Limestone County sheriff indicted, arrested on 13 financial theft, ethics charges

Attorney General Steve Marshall on Thursday announced that Limestone County Sheriff Michael Anthony Blakely has been indicted and arrested on several ethics charges.

Blakely, 68, surrendered to authorities and was later released on a $49,000 bond, according to the attorney general’s office.

The indictment includes 13 charges that cover a range of conduct over multiple years.

“Public officials are entrusted to perform their duties honestly and above reproach,” Marshall said in a statement. “When that bond of trust is broken, our society suffers undue harm. My office—working with our federal and state partners—is committed to ensuring that the violators of the public trust be held accountable under the law.”

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Specifically, the first four counts charge Blakely with four separate thefts from his campaign account that total $11,000.

Counts five through 10 charge him with theft or ethics charges stemming from his illegally taking money from Limestone County funds, including from the Sheriff’s Law Enforcement Fund.

Count 11 charges Blakely with soliciting a $1,000 wire transfer from a subordinate other than in the ordinary course of business.

Finally, counts 12 and 13 charge the sheriff with using his official position or office to acquire interest-free loans. Count 12 charges Blakely with using his official position or office to obtain interest-free loans in the form of a $50,000 cashier’s check and/or a $22,189.68 credit. Count 13 charges Blakely with using his official position or office to obtain interest-free loans by taking money from a safe that was used to store the Limestone County inmates’ personal funds.

“I would like to thank the Federal Bureau of Investigation for its investigative assistance in this case,” Marshall added. “Anyone with information regarding corrupt practices by public officials is encouraged to contact the Alabama Attorney General’s Office at reportcorruption@ago.state.al.us.”

The case is being prosecuted by the state attorney general’s Special Prosecutions Division.

“While the overwhelming majority of public officials serve honorably, those who corrupt the operations of government rob their communities—their friends and neighbors—of the fundamental right to honest government, and we must insist on absolute honesty, integrity and trustworthiness from everyone,” FBI Birmingham Special Agent in Charge Johnnie Sharp, Jr. commented.

“I want the citizens of north Alabama to know that if they have information about potential wrongdoing by a public official or law enforcement officer, the FBI wants to hear from you,” he advised. “If you have information, call my office’s Public Corruption Tip Line at (844) 404-TIPS, share what you know, and join in the fight against corruption.”

Blakely, as is the case with all indictments, is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law.

UPDATE 1:20 p.m.

Blakely’s attorneys held a press conference emphasizing that he will plead not guilty to all counts, per WHNT.

Sean Ross is the editor of Yellowhammer News. You can follow him on Twitter @sean_yhn

3 hours ago

NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace: Talladega Superspeedway renovations ‘a whole different level’ — Expect to see other facilities follow its lead

On Wednesday at the Talladega Superspeedway, former NASCAR great Rusty Wallace, the 1989 champion of the sanctioning body’s premier series, took part in a tour with members of the media that showcased the finishing touches being put in the facility’s “Transformation” renovations with its October fall race weekend fast approaching.

The $50 million “Transformation” project comes as Talladega Superspeedway celebrates its 50th anniversary. Among the improved amenities are the Talladega Garage Experience, which is made up of the Open Air Club. Also included are a new Race Operations tower high above the track’s tri-oval and the new Pit Road Club that offers race fans a close-up view of team pit stops.

On Wednesday, Wallace appeared on Huntsville radio’s WVNN to discuss the facility’s overhaul and other changes to NASCAR over the past few decades.

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“These guys have taken it to a whole different level,” Wallace said. “I got there today, and we’re talking about all brand-new garage areas and they made it so all the fans can come down in the garage and stand literally three-foot in front of the race cars, watch the race cars pull in, watch the drivers get out, watch them run their motors, watch all the behind the scenes stuff. And that’s like nothing I’ve ever seen in our sport at all.”

“It adds some aspects to the new builds – the Daytona build, Phoenix, Ariz., Richmond, Va.,” he continued. “And those are fantastic. But Talladega is probably the best I’ve seen. I mean, you literally – you’re a fan. You can stand right in front of that car. It’s neat having that much access.”

When asked how it compared to another time in NASCAR when things were much more accessible, Wallace explained this offered an organization that that era did not provide.

“What it does is it organizes a lot better,” Wallace explained. “There’s places to watch. There are ways to watch. They’re even telling the pit crews where they can put their big toolboxes that they operate out of so it won’t obstruct the view of a fan that has come down there to see these cars.’

Wallace also touted the new 35,000-square foot Talladega Social Club with its 41-foot television and 71-foot wide bar, which was adjacent to the garage area.

The 1989 champion said he expected other NASCAR facilities around the country to follow Talladega’s lead.

“I think you’re going to see all these facilities around the country trying to keep up the facilities and make them the best you can,” he said. “If you ask Rusty Wallace, ‘Hey, do you want it hard or easy to sit inside of a race track,’ I’m going to tell them I want it easy. Do I want to go inside with the air conditioner when it is 100 degrees outside, I’m going to tell you yes. That’s the reason I like these new facilities they’ve got.”

Access to drivers and internet access also compliment the new facility, according to Wallace.

The track, along with its parent company, International Speedway Corporation, announced last year it’s “Transformation,” an approximate $50 million redevelopment that is part of ISC’s long-term capital allocation plan and reinvestment into its major motorsports complexes.

Full completion of the modernized project is anticipated for October. For ticket information for the 1000Bulbs.com 500 and Sugarlands Shine 250 doubleheader NASCAR Playoffs weekend, October 11-13, visit www.talladegasuperspeedway.com or call 855-518-RACE (7223).

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University, the editor of Breitbart TV and host of “The Jeff Poor Show” from 2-5 p.m. on WVNN in Huntsville.

4 hours ago

Alabama-made ULA rocket powers another GPS satellite into orbit

Alabama rocket builder United Launch Alliance (ULA) conducted its 135th mission Thursday morning when it powered yet another Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite into its targeted orbit.

The GPS III Magellan, built by Lockheed Martin, will enable the U.S. Air Force to continue modernizing the nation’s worldwide navigation network with improved accuracy, better anti-jam resiliency and a new signal for civil users.

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GPS satellites are frequent payload into space. Today’s launch was the 73rd GPS payload powered by ULA.

Of the 81 Air Force satellites in orbit, 34 are GPS satellites.

This fact recently led former Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson to quip, “The blue dot on your phone is not provided by your cellphone company; it comes from the United States Air Force.”

She elaborated that the Air Force provides GPS coordinates for about 1 billion people every day and enables an $80 billion piece of our economy. With its satellites, the Air Force takes pictures, gathers intelligence, facilitates global communication, monitors weather and conducts the critical task of providing timing signals for the New York Stock Exchange and every ATM in America.

This was the final flight for ULA’s Delta IV Medium rocket. The powerful Delta IV Heavy, with its three common booster cores, will continue to fly U.S. government missions.

The Delta IV’s main engine, manufactured by Aerojet Rocketdyne, consumed nearly a ton of fuel per second as it pushed the rocket in flight.

ULA’s 1.6 million square-foot manufacturing facility in Decatur is the largest of its kind in the Western Hemisphere.

Watch the launch:

Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer News