Robbing Peter to pay Paul at Selma City Hall

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 3, 2007

The issue: The intended use of bond money the city will receive.

Our position: The city wants the money as means to pay old debts.

Mayor James Perkins Jr. has released information about the intended use of the $12.3 million bond issue Selma residents will vote up or down Feb. 28.

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Based on his statement, he indicates he wants to free up money in the general fund by shifting expenses for equipment that is already in use to be paid for by the proceeds of the bond money, should it be approved by voters.

Here’s the deal: Bond money may be used to buy equipment, build or repair buildings, city streets, sidewalks, curbs, gutters or other city-owned real property. Bond money cannot be used to pay salaries of employees, utilities, fuel for city vehicles, or other items that aren’t included in capital &045; equipment or land &045; costs.

What we believe Perkins wants to do is shift payment for equipment already in use from the general fund to the bond fund, which will free up money in the general fund for items that general fund monies can be used to pay, such as salaries and other traditional operational expenses.

Figures provided by city officials show that as of Oct. 29, about $1.1 million for equipment and leases came out of the general fund. That’s not counting any proposed new leases or equipment but capital purchases, some of which date back at least two years. In the same release, Perkins talks about the needs of the Selma Police Department. The city’s general fund budget has slots for 60 officers.

Right now, according to Perkins, 48 officers are on the payroll. Three are in the academy and two are being considered for hire from other police departments. He also states that &8220;we have started the recruiting process for additional officers.&8221;

Our question is if the city budgeted for 60 officers and we have less than that, why haven’t city officials been recruiting to fill those slots all along? Could it be because the city doesn’t currently have the funds to pay for the officers and is waiting on already in-use capital equipment expense to be moved out of the general fund, thus freeing up money that should already be there to fund officers at a level Perkins says is the &8220;optimum number of officers needed by the City of Selma?&8221;

What residents in Selma don’t know, but Perkins and Selma City Council President George Evans have knowledge of, is how much changes suggested by the police study will cost in labor, time, consulting fees and such.

Evans has alluded to the suggestions by the consultant several times, and that he believes addressing those concerns is important and may cost money to do so, but as yet the public has not been allowed to see what those suggestions are and what they might mean to providing (if implemented) a higher level of policing for our city.

We feel that without the information from the consultant and a comprehensive study of what implementing those suggestions would do to and for the city, the public can’t make a well-informed decision about the $12.3 million bond issue and whether it will really satisfy all the needs citizens believe to be important.

Additionally, with the current political struggle in City Hall among council members and the mayor, it’s important that citizens closely monitor how funds are being spent and whether they are being spent on projects that benefit all the citizens of Selma, and not just on those that will win political favor in the upcoming election.