Get businesses behind the bond

Published 5:53 pm Tuesday, August 18, 2009

One of the more interesting points to come out of the bond issue town meetings here rests in how differently the public sees the items.

For example, early on some people raised questions about why no more infrastructure projects were included in the $10 million proposal. Mayor George Evans came back with a slide show presentation that showed exactly why so much equipment is needed. Most of it is worn out.

Evans is much too kind to his predecessor in office. Apparently, from the bond issue presentations, for the last 10 years at least — James Perkins Jr. held office eight of those years — the city had no equipment replacement plan.

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Many governments have some kind of rotating equipment plan, where the oldest machines are taken out of service and sold or used as parts and a new one replaces the old one. It’s a way of keeping a crisis at bay.

Because of the lack of transparency for the last eight years, nobody knows where the money went in good times — money that could be used to purchase the equipment. Indeed, the first thing anybody had a inkling about city finance surfaced when Perkins wanted a similar bond issue to purchase some equipment. That bond issue failed as much because Perkins became an unpopular mayor as it did because some of the items, including a movie theater, just seemed ludicrous for tax dollars to be spent.

The current bond issue offering has some issues, $2.1 million for techonological advances for the city among them. Monday night, Evans stammered a little when asked about what the $2.1 million could possibly purchase. He referred those questions to a later time and place, so he could get in touch with the technology person at the office.

Some people have broad visions and pay scant attention to detail. They rely on others for the detail. This seems to be Evans’ mode of management. The issue here is if those people Evans depends on have the details to match up to the questions raised about this current bond issue.

This is not a complaint. Evans has gone far beyond any expectations with these town meetings. He has been honest about the bond issue’s strengths and weaknesses.

What the current offerings in the bond issue show the public is what a mess Evans inherited when he stepped into office. Sales tax revenues are way down. These sales taxes are the foundation of the city’s general fund. This is where the new equipment purchases come from.

Already, the city has cut some fat from its budget to the tune of about $800,000. As soon as he took office, Evans began slicing expenses — all but fire and police saw their salaries cut by 12.5 percent and Evans laid off some city workers.

But the message from the business community Monday night came loud and clear: more cuts are needed. The business community seemed to say to the mayor that he had not cut enough fat. Evans became a little defensive in the face of this.

What the mayor needs to remember is businesses in Selma have felt hard the impact of factory closings, furloughs and slow-downs. The national economic downturn usually is felt more deeply in a smaller community.

Indeed, in the past the city has done little to help local businesses and services by going out of town for different services. Someone suggested the city take on local businesses for projects even if the bids were not lower. The state allows a governmental entity to accept the lowest and best bid. In these times the best bid could very well be the one from a local business that might cost more, but also turn over more dollars in the community.

Evans seemed to accept this proposal and said he would stay within the letter of the law.

While the bond issue is on the table, this would seem like a good time for Evans and representatives of the Selma City Council — the administrative committee, for example — to sit down with knowledgeable business leaders and go over the city budget detail by detail to see where the fat remains and where it could be cut. Myriad opportunities exist when several heads come together to look at a project.

The best way to sell a bond issue is to get the business community behind you. Perkins made the mistake of not incorporating local businesses leaders into the decision making process at City Hall and wound up leaving the city in a financial mess and alienating most who had supported him in the beginning.

Evans is smarter than that. He still has the opportunity to make something of this bond issue. He should take action now.