Local contractors are not benefiting from city projects

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 31, 2008

Dear editor,

As a local independent contractor with the desire to participate in the growth of this city, I must express my disappointment in the manner in which our local government has failed to include its local talent as beneficiaries in this process &8212; especially in light of the recent state of the city address.

During this address, we were told about the spectacular capital investments that have come to the city. To the lay person, these numbers seem impressive. However, I would like to take this opportunity to provide a more definitive breakdown as to who benefits and who does not.

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The following is only a short list of these capital expenditures: Cedar Terrace, 48 units, Citizens Parkway ($4 million); Magnolia Gardens I & II, 140 units, Marie Foster ($14 million for both); Cedar Grove, 54 units, Goodwin Parkway ($4 million plus); Regency Gates, 54 units, Hilltop Drive ($5 million plus); Highland View ($7 million plus) and Addison Way (formerly Cloverdale Apartments), 120-plus units ($11 million plus). That’s a total of more than $45 million.

Each developer has the option of taking a 15 percent developer’s fee plus an 8 percent construction profit. That’s 23 percent off the top or $10 million plus. If the subcontractors are lucky, after their bidding on the balance of the remaining monies, they may receive something less than what the developer and/or general contractor originally estimated as the cost of the particular portion of the project, depending on the subcontractor’s relationship with the developer and how hard up the subcontractor is to get the contract.

Let’s say the developer estimates the task at $20,000. The subcontractor may be forced to accept $15,000. Let’s say materials equal one-third of cost and labor constitutes two-thirds. In order for the subcontractor to make any money for himself (remember he has $5,000 less to work with; also remember that the $5,000 goes back into the general contractor/developers pocket or can go to paying off inspectors or payoffs for favorable consideration for the contract, etc.) he must either hire workers at a lower pay scale or save money in materials’ cost.

Do the math.

In the case of all of the above mentioned projects, most, if not all, are out-of-town developers/general contractors and subcontractors, who bring their own crews and seldom, if ever, hire local talent.

With the exception of the fees for permits and licenses, none of the money is turned over within the city. I have yet to see any notices on any of these projects; nor have I seen any classified ads soliciting construction workers for any of these projects.

I have, however, seen large numbers of workers who do not live in Selma in large vans, living in our local motels and standing in long lines in Wal-Mart on paydays, sending their money elsewhere.

Over the past four years, I personally have had to commute to Opelika, Birmingham, Montgomery and Prattville to find any kind of gainful employment. With all the millions in capital expenditures, it seems odd that local contractors and skilled tradesmen and workers have not been able to benefit.

The projects indicated above have either used low-income housing credit funds, HUD funds or bonding. In that regard, the Selma Housing Authority, a quasi-governmental agency, has a board of directors who is appointed by the mayor. The chairman, for the past seven years, and other appointees don’t even live in the police jurisdiction along with the Section 8 director and her top employees, some who do not live in Selma.

I am sure these are all very fine people, but it is hard to believe that they have the same vested interest in the needs of the community

or the compassion to include both local contractors, skilled tradesmen and laborers in projects that have come into the city.

Perhaps the mayor does not feel that the competence, expertise, talent nor vision for the growth and development of the city exists within the city and its corresponding police jurisdiction. A case could be argued that there appears to be a direct correlation between the composition of these board members, who do not live in Selma, to contractors, who do not live in Selma, and have no vested interest in Selma, except for the large amount of money to be had.

It should be noted that I have yet to see any announcement for the maintenance contracts for these completed projects, and it would be interesting to know who has them and how they got them.

The construction arena has always been an area ripe for sweetheart deals and other various and sundry transactions. The large amounts of money involved always provide the opportunity for wrongdoing.

Of the $100 million mentioned by the mayor, none of that money ended up in the poorest parts of our city.

Drive down Broad Street, cross the tracks, turn left or right. Pick a street &8212; Griffin, L.L. Anderson, Minter. Drive straight down either street, and show me the money.

The YMCA on Broad Street, which was convenient and vital to the poor, has been moved to a more affluent part of the city. Go figure. The decision to make that move showed a lack of compassion and had to be made by someone who did not care about the needs of the least of us.

Show me the trickle-down effect of that $100 million in capital investments.

According to USDA Rural Development figures, in 2005 Selma dropped below 20,000 population, and according to the Selma-Dallas County Chamber of Commerce, we are now just above 16,000 in population. Somebody left town.

At the rate we’re going, before too long, we’ll have to import outside help.

In the interim, it may be more advisable to appoint individuals who have a true vested interest in stopping the hemorrhaging before we bleed to death. In the interim, we will have some nice buildings.


Thomas Towns