HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle introduced the city’s 2022 fiscal year budget to the city council at the Thursday night meeting.
The $245 million budget has increased spending for mental health care, parks and recreation, road resurfacing, and public safety. The Mayor said the budget includes the city’s largest investment ever in mental health.
Mayor Battle’s budget includes everything from a new administration building for Huntsville City School, investments in road improvements, and a three percent pay increase for city employees. But one of the biggest areas of focus is increased spending for mental health – specifically within the Huntsville Police Department.
Huntsville Police Chief Mark McMurray says 72 of his department’s officers have gotten 40 hours of crisis intervention training. But he says the department needs more money to fully train the rest of the force.
“But now we’re using those classrooms. We almost want six more Mayor. Six more classrooms just like we got, they’re full,” said Chief McMurray. “I don’t know what to tell you. I’ve already asked you for more parking places down there, but they’re training like crazy.”
The training comes on the heels of the murder conviction of former HPD officer William Darby. Darby shot and killed Jeffrey Parker, who had called 911 saying he was suicidal in 2018.
Just this week, one of the directors of HPD’s training division sent a department-wide email asking people to support a t-shirt fundraiser for Darby. Some Huntsville residents say the department has created a culture of acceptance for inappropriate behavior.
“The buck stops with leadership. If you don’t have good leadership, you’re gonna continue to have these kinds of things going on,” one resident said.
Another Huntsville citizen spoke irately, “No organization I have ever worked for would allow anything like that. The discipline on that would be swift and precise. I’m not saying you fire people, but have to set a precedent that this is not acceptable.”
City Council President Jennie Robinson asked City Administrator John Hamilton to respond to the situation regarding the email about the Darby fundraiser.
“Chief provided a statement to the media, which I think they used appropriately to help describe the situation,” Hamilton said. “Which included the fact that it was not within policy and it would be handled by the supervisory chain like any other action where someone has violated policy.”
HPD has also hired a co-response social worker in partnership with Wellstone Behavioral Health. That social worker will respond to mental health crisis calls alongside HPD officers.
The overall budget shows a four percent increase in spending over the 2021 budget.
“As we’ve noted, Huntsville is growing. We’re now 218 square miles and as our population grows, our budget for providing those services that are necessary also grows,” Mayor Battle said at the meeting.
Some highlights from the budget include:
- $1 million for City Schools administration building
- Funding for construction of new City Hall
- New fire station in western corridor
- $1.5 million increase for outside agencies
- Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
- 20 new Huntsville Fire & Rescue positions
- 29 new Huntsville Police positions
- 35 new Parks & Recreation positions
- Numerous park improvements to include Legacy Park, Oak Park, Crawford Park
- Additional phases of Sandra Moon Complex
- Increased funding for HPD mental health programs
- A 6-person community outreach unit to help respond to mental health calls and calls involving the homeless population
- $16+ million in road and street maintenance
- 3% Cost of Living Adjustment for City employees
- Sanitation moves to enterprise fund
“Now that the 2020 census has deemed us the largest city in the state, we will continue our goal to be the best,” Battle said. “There’s more demand than ever for city services and we believe this budget allows us to meet those critical needs while remaining fiscally responsible in our spending.”
The full budget proposal can be read here.
Council members will meet at 5 p.m. on September 16 for a work session to review the budget in greater detail.