Oil lease funding should stay in one, lump sum

Published 5:08 pm Friday, April 18, 2014

The Selma City Council should take a page out of the Dallas County Commission’s book and be smart with its oil lease funding.

The city received $178,000 in oil lease funds on April 15. Normally the funds would be split 10 ways — among the mayor and city council — then it can be spent at the owner’s will. Splitting this year’s oil lease funds up would give each council member and the mayor $17,800.

During Thursday’s work session, the council discussed splitting the oil lease money up further for an emergency infrastructure fund.

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The commission uses its oil lease funding in lump sums to pay for road paving projects, such as matching state funds from the Alabama Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program — which will resurface 13 roads in the city and county.

An emergency fund is a good idea, but when you consider the amount of money received, taking a little off of the top is hardly enough to pay for anything significant.

If each council member contributed $2,800, as proposed, the emergency fund would total $28,000. Last year’s sewer drain collapse beneath Bienville Park is an example of a project the fund could be used for. City engineering consultant Ray Hogg’s initial estimate for the project was $32,000. Bids for the project haven’t been approved, but it’s likely the final amount to repair Bienville will exceed the council’s proposed $28,000 amount in the emergency fund.

The proposed amount to place in the emergency management fund would be enough for small projects, but for anything of significance, the council would have to continue using its half-cent sales tax as a slush fund.

Instead of continuing to divide up the oil lease funding, as the council does each year, it should consolidate funds to pay for larger projects.

Sure, each of the city’s eight wards may have individual needs and dividing up the funds may be a reasonable way to accomplish certain projects, but isn’t that what discretionary funding is for?

A quick glance at any council member’s discretionary expenses reveals dozens of area charities. Instead of being a funding mechanism for charities, the council should invest its discretionary funding in real projects that will last longer than a fiscal year. Charities have other means of funding than city government. The council should use its discretionary funding for small projects and use oil lease funding to pave roads.

In recent months, council members have talked about the need for small projects in each of their wards. Perhaps some have paved roads or paid for infrastructure projects in his or her ward in previous years, but the only significant oil lease expenses this year went to pay for a metal detector in city hall and a river gauge.

Talk about improving Selma is worthless, until we see examples of action.

In some cases, council members have several years of oil lease funds built up because of nonuse, according to city employees.

The council should use accumulated funding, until it runs out, for ward-specific projects. In future years, the council should simply use its discretionary funds. Oil lease funding could then be used in the city’s public works department, for road repairs, or to repair the dozens of pothole-pocked streets that are sprinkled throughout Selma.