There’s a tendency to think that our suburbs are independent and could operate fine by themselves.
Depressingly, I receive feedback from time to time from some of my over-the-mountain friends that say they are happy with their independent suburban life and want nothing to do with our core city.
They boast that Mountain Brook, Homewood, Hoover, and Vestavia Hills are strong financially and they have no interest in collaborating with Birmingham or any other municipality.
However, I think it’s important to understand why some Birmingham suburbs have discretionary dollars.
The city of Birmingham pays for all big ticket items.
My favorite example is the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. You may think the Botanical Gardens is located in Mountain Brook and it is certainly well used by the folks who live nearby, but the Gardens reside within the Birmingham city limits and are heavily funded by the City.
We suburbanites enjoy Railroad Park and Regions Field, but Birmingham invested $8 millions to build Railroad Park and $64 million to develop Regions Field. No other municipality paid a penny.
According to the City of Birmingham budget of 2017, the City of Birmingham budgeted the following. This is a list of a few. (Click here for the entire budget)
- Museum of Art $3,904,523
- Birmingham Zoo $2,080,000
- Vulcan Park $476,500
- Railroad Park $1,057,280
- McWane Center $159,104
- Sloss Furnace $1,194,447
- Botanical Garden $100,000
- UAB Football $500,000
- Birmingham Bowl $550,000
- Southern Museum of Flight $830,687
- Indy Racing League $350,000
- Ruffner Mountain $200,000
- Rickwood Field $350,000
- World Games $500,000
- Crossplex $3,904,523
- Airport $4,000,000
You may want to point out that Birmingham has an occupational tax for folks who work in the city, but many people, including myself, don’t have jobs in Birmingham and therefore avoid the tax.
You also may want to remind me of the great philanthropy that comes from the suburbs–but that is also true of other cities where a broader geography of the tax payers share costs.
Birmingham represents less than 1/3’d of the population of Jefferson County and less than 1/5th of our metro seven county area–but does all the heavy lifting.
Cities like Nashville, Louisville, and Jacksonville have county/city governments so everyone shares the taxes. Here in Jefferson County, Birmingham pays for all the above amenities and the 34 other cities pay nothing.
No wonder our richer suburban governments can afford good schools, newly paved roads, and superior government services.
What would Homewood, Hoover, Vestavia Hills or Mountain Brook be without an airport or the other quality of life amenities funded by Birmingham?
Our City of Birmingham has responsibly and unselfishly supported sports, the arts, and other regional amenities–but few people seem to appreciate it.
Birmingham has some of the greatest suburbs in the world. I should know–I live in Vestavia Hills.
But pitting the City of Birmingham with our suburbs is not helpful.
Vestavia Hills would not remain great for long if Birmingham were to implode.
No one wants to be a suburb to nowhere!
We need to find ways to collaborate with one other.
Editor’s note: Click here to read Community Foundation report that gives us options about how we can work together.
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David Sher is Co-Founder of AmSher Compassionate Collections. He’s past Chairman of the Birmingham Regional Chamber of Commerce (BBA), Operation New Birmingham (REV Birmingham), and the City Action Partnership (CAP).
Invite David to speak to your group about a better Birmingham. firstname.lastname@example.org