HUNTSVILLE, Ala.--Just after 10 p.m. the Huntsville City Council passed a budget to fund the upcoming fiscal year. The council approved the budget 4 hours, 15 minutes into the meeting.
The balanced budget includes a 2% cost of living adjustment for city employees.
"We're comfortable with the revenue projections," explained City Administrator John Hamilton, noting that rising personnel costs are balanced by that revenue. "We are proposing a growth in salary with the 2% COLA. As we looked at the cost of living and things that affect our employees, we believe the 2% COLA is appropriate this year." He also noted that COLA is not the only way an employee can receive a raise.
The budget also includes funding for hiring 8 additional Huntsville Police officers. The plan had originally been to include funding for 7 officers, but council member Mark Russell offered an amendment just before passage to take a vacant city council office job and reallocate that funding to police. That brought the funding up to 8.
"This clearly shows that public safety is the council's number one priority," Russell said. "It also shows we are consistently trying to move services to where our citizens need them. There's no need to function with 3 staff members when only 2 are needed." The amendment passed 3-2. The overall budget, which included that amendment, passed without dissent.
Chief Mark McMurray said the funding approved Thursday would allow him to create a violent crimes task force, something that's been in the works for a while.
"It's a violent crimes task force of seven people," he said, "who can work any hours, any shift, and go out and actually look at the areas of town that need the most concentrated work. They'll be going out to supplement the uniform officers."
He said it's also a good tool to reduce retaliatory crimes.
"It helps out our investigations, keeping track of the most dangerous individuals," he said. "Who is having the shootings into houses? Who is shooting into cars? Those turn into retaliatory type situations. If you have a dedicated task force, you can pick people up early and stop that from getting worse."
He said Chief Morris started it and city council approved the task force last year. He wants to start the unit by the end of the year, and says now with these approved funds it's going to be possible.
"These are calls that our uniform officers won't have to answer now," he explained. "They're going to be a force multiplier."
City council members also voted to change the city's two capital plans, so 2/3 of the money dedicated to road repavement would go toward repaving residential streets.