Jeffrey Bayer—Time to rethink Birmingham

Jeffrey Bayer
Jeffrey Bayer

Today’s guest columnist is Jeffrey Bayer.

If you’d like to be a guest columnist, please click here.

Our new COVID-19 world!

What do we worry about first?

…our personal health?

…our financial survival?

…the huge deficits being created by our federal government?

But there’s one additional worry specific to our Birmingham region.

After speaking with  two local mayors , our local municipalities will be burdened with large , if not staggering , operating deficits.

How is our endless number of governmental entities going to continue to provide the necessary services going forward?

In Jefferson County we have…

  • 35 mayors and city councils
  • 52 fire departments or fire districts
  • 33 police or sheriff’s departments
  • 15 E911 call centers
  • 17 jails

Over the years, I have been a proponent of greater cooperation, if not consolidation in some cases, of local governments.  This would allow for a unified governance model to enhance the opportunity for economic growth, which would be shared throughout our metro area.

This brings two issues to mind:

First, are we going to continue, and can we afford, to maintain the luxury of each municipality providing the services its citizens require, resulting in an absolute duplication of services?  Or is it time to acknowledge , this duplication is a waste of money that we no longer can afford or should accept?

Our collective dollars could be so better spent for our entire population, which includes the haves and the have-nots, and once and for all acknowledge that we have shared fates as a community.

Secondly, due to our state tax structure, it seems our only method of raising tax revenue of any significance to face this present crisis and beyond, is to increase sales tax revenue. So what are we going to do, raise current sales taxes from 10%, to 12, 13, 15%? An unarguably regressive tax structure

If nothing else, this last six weeks has shown us that relying primarily on sales tax revenue from consumer spending, has a DEVASTATING impact. Now consider what a 15% sales tax rate would have on those of less economic means.

This crisis highlights many flaws throughout our country, but is Birmingham in a position to continue on without serious conversation about how we go forward as a community?

We have enjoyed an economic uplift over the last few years by the expansion of service industries such as restaurants. I am afraid that is about to end to some degree, and we are still left with no TRUE overall job growth.  For true sustainability, we must have recruitment of significant industry to our community, along with a serious examination of tax reform for our state.

If there is one thing we understand in Birmingham, it is college football.  We know it takes a team to win, and winning will not happen if individual players do not come together to create a winning team.  The same can be said for our region.  A unified Birmingham will win on every level as opposed to 35 municipalities going it alone.

It is time for serious people to reimagine Birmingham; as well as, become a strong voice in Montgomery to once and for all position Birmingham and the State of Alabama to truly compete in this country going forward! That includes creating an equitable tax structure that funds the required infrastructure !

There will be many talented people  moving from crowded major cities after this pandemic.  Birmingham has so much to offer, BUT can we truly offer them the economic opportunities they will demand , or will they continue moving to other Southeastern cities that better meets their demands ?

For me, I would think many of us have been shaken to our core by this health and economic crisis and realize that now is the time to build a new and better model for the future of those coming behind us.

Jeffrey Bayer is Founder of Bayer Properties, the largest real estate company in Alabama and a prominent manager of retail and mixed use real estate throughout United States. Jeffrey has retired from Bayer Properties and is advising emerging real estate companies.

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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 for free to your group about how we can have a more prosperous metro Birmingham. dsher@amsher.com.

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4 thoughts on “Jeffrey Bayer—Time to rethink Birmingham”

  1. All extremely valid points. Additionally, you have municipalities like HWD who spend money out of control with hundreds of millions of long term debt, some of the highest unfunded pension liabilities of any City of their size and a voracious appetite for ever increasing taxes that were raised again this past year with no vote of it’s Citizens. Then you have the same type of situation in BHM whereby they pounded the hotels with yet another tax increase with questionable logic once again without any vote of it’s Citizens.

    The only thing Citizens can do is to pass Legislation that the State, Counties, and Cities cannot raise ANY tax, or incur additional debt without a referendum of it’s Citizens. Certainly we could get this done relating to the taxes. This is the ultimate check and balance since they refuse to control spending and taxation.

    Additionally Cities and Counties do not have enough reserves. Going forward they should have at least a year of all expenses in their rainy day funds that cannot be touched for any other reason, and increased with the inflation indexes as applicable each year.

    These recommendations are in addition to yours. It’s time for Kingdom Building to stop with our money.

    Then the State, Counties, and Cities have to live within their means like the rest of us. When you spend and budget the way they do, you get burned and like you said, they are going to want all of us to reach into our pockets one more time for funding their foolishness. But guess what, WE ARE ALL TAPPED OUT. I guess they will need to do some zero line accounting for the first time to get their financial house in order. All of their debt, tax increases, and expenditures assumed the economy and growth we had before Covid, but the reality was that if anyone sneezed they would be in dire straits. And with Covid, this is what has happened.

    There are a few shining examples of things being managed correctly. The municipality that seems to have their financial house in order the best is Mountain Brook.

    The best example outside of Alabama is the The City of Chamblee Georgia that got it right when they were founded and have held steady ever since. Probably the most efficiently run City in America.

    Carpe Diem!

  2. Good article that cites the problem. This problem of lack of regional cooperation has been mentioned in dozens of articles over the three decades we have lived in Birmingham. It seems unlikely to happen now when communities are so distressed. Stress and fear are not the context of cooperation but rather for tribalism in the form of partisanship, racism, and social separation Bayer mentions attracting industry. The pursuit of industry has been a state-wide strategy for decades especially since Mercedes Benz opened their plant in Vance almost 25 years ago. The concept that COVID 19 has exposed the cracks in our healthcare system and infrastructure and the adverse impact of social isolation is also discussed almost daily in the major print media. We need suggestions for novel solutions. Often the suggestions focus on the same ideas all cities are attempting for example more STEM education, software development, and entrepreneurial and innovation centers largely around technology. Rather, we might focus on feasible and truly innovative solutions. One would be to majorly improve the Birmingham City educational system. The documented deficits in career and college readiness leave 50% of students who start high school in Birmingham City ill-prepared for work. Mandated after school programs with peer to peer tutoring, using programs from the Khan Academy could be effective. Expansion of hospital care with a focus on specific common conditions could make Birmingham a national and even global resource well beyond its state-wide reputation. As an example, local hospitals could cooperate and establish a joint replacement program that competed with the Hospital For Special Surgery in New York City. That hospital does 50% more joint replacements that any other hospital in the US. A similar case could be made for breast cancer diagnosis and/or treatment and management of diabetes especially obesity surgery. Such nationally known centers of excellence for 2-3 specific conditions could deliver highly efficient, safer and more cost effective care than anywhere in the US. Many healthcare jobs at all levels could flow from such care centers as patient volumes could increase 2-10 fold. Such a program additionally would have a positive impact on the local hospitality industry including hotels and restaurants etc. Is such program doable. Yes! In 1966, UAB recruited from the Mayo Clinic John Kirklin MD, a world renowned leader in cardiovascular surgery. He established in Birmingham a major cardiovascular surgery program that attracted patients from all over the world. A hospital that cared for 1-2 conditions with world-renowned physicians could change the face of Birmingham and US healthcare. It could be done with cooperation and coordination from UAB, Saint Vincent’s, Brookwood and Grandview and funds from the city and state. Why not expand an industry well established in Birmingham that has not been the focus of other cities and states?

  3. Not a new discussion. And actually much older than the 3 decades mentioned above. Tommy and Doug tackled it long ago. Gave it all they could. Not much success. Related is some degree of home rule. And a new state constitution. Alevai! (From our mouths to God’s ear).

  4. If Jeffrey Bayer feels this way, why did his corporation Bayer Properties spearhead Cahaba Village, a shopping center which not only made Highway 280 traffic even worse but also made it easier for Mountain Brook to stay independent with this shopping center adding sales tax revenue to Mountain Brook’s already bulging coffers? If Mountain Brook ran out of money and was forced to disincorporate or merge with one of its neighbors, that would be a good thing. It would result in the more unified Birmingham area Bayer claims to want?

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