“I heard Mobile’s first responders’ overtime budgets were used up [during winter storm Leon that blanketed the southeast],” said Greg Cole, district manager who oversees six of the 15 Cockrell’s Body Shop locations. “I thought, ‘What can we do?’”
Cole was well aware of the impact of the storm. Cockrell’s Auto Body saw between 30 and 40 vehicles at their six locations as a direct result of the storm. Local media called other shops and heard similar numbers. Cole said most of the damage has been superficial.
“A lot of the cars that have been brought in have just had small bump and dents,” Cole said. “We’ve had a few tow-ins that spun around on the road and had some suspension damage so they couldn’t drive. But most of them just have small bump and dents.”
Cole says that, thankfully, no one was hurt in any of the vehicle accidents Cockrell’s serviced.“We can fix the bodies on the cars, but we don’t want anybody to get hurt,” Cole said.
What Cole realized was being hurt was the budgets for the responders. The city needed help.
Cole approached his manager, Jody Johnston, with an idea to use some of the company savings to help support the city overtime budgets, which are stretched during natural disasters like the ice storm that paralyzed Mobile for more than 24 hours.
The company presented Mobile mayor, Sandy Stimpson, with a US$12,000 check—representing two percent of the company savings during the month of January 2014—and promised two more months of financial support that will be earmarked for overtime expenses.
“This is something we’re grateful for,” Stimpson said during a news conference at the Cockrell’s Body Shop at 108 East I-65 Service Road North in Mobile, AL. “We have Mobile heading in the right direction financially, where we have people stepping up.”
The donation comes as the Stimpson administration continues to push for private-public partnerships highlighted with a donation in late December 2013 by auto dealer Dean McCrary of DeanMcCrary.com for approximately US$11,000 that was used to pay for the fireworks display during MoonPie Over Mobile.
McCrary’s donation, which was forwarded to Events Mobile, Inc.—a non-profit entity that handled the planning of the annual New Year’s Eve event—came after the Stimpson administration decided that taxpayers were only going to fork over US$7,500 for the fireworks show instead of the approximately US$18,000 cost in years past.
“It set a tone for maybe what other Mobilians can consider doing,” Stimpson said. “There are a lot of things they can consider doing for our city. I hope it begins a movement.”
Interim Mobile Fire-Rescue chief Paul “Randy” Smith said that the private support is definitely something that can be used for a department that is trying to shore up overtime costs. The Fire-Rescue Department spent US$250,000 on overtime during the three-day ice storm event.
Other departments are also being mindful of overtime costs. Police Chief James Barber, said that police patrols will be lighter during afternoon Mardi Gras parades this year in an effort to cut back on overtime during the city’s carnival season.
“We’re happy we have citizens like this and businesses in the city willing to step up,” Smith said.
Private-public partnerships helping to pay for public services is nothing new, but the practice has become an increasing trend in the U.S. as city governments struggle with deficits and budget cuts.
For Mobile, the push to generate more public-private partnerships comes as the city battles its own budget issues, which includes a US$4.4 million deficit for fiscal year 2014. Plans on how to reduce the deficit are likely to be unveiled soon.
Those plans are likely to include more ways to reduce overtime and other personnel expenses.