Half-cent expenses getting old

Published 6:31 pm Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Every month, without fail, the Selma City Council votes to spend a portion of a half-cent sales tax on a random project.

The fund was partially pitched as a way to give city employees raises. City officials partially accomplished the goal in 2013 and are failing in 2014.

Shortly before Christmas in 2013, the city gave employees a bonus check. Though, technically it’s classified as a one-time raise. Regardless, most city employees still receive the same amount of money as they did in 2013.

Email newsletter signup

In 2014, the city set a baseline amount — $450,000 — to prevent overspending and at least ensure a one-time raise. Unfortunately, the city has repeatedly dipped below the amount, like a child sticking his hand in a cookie jar.

In spite of repeated withdrawals and ignorance of recently established rules, the council looked into ways to give a permanent raise.

Though, not entirely.

Perhaps because the city council knows its half-cent sales tax fund contains significantly less than the needed amount to supply a raise for all, it only considered raising pay for employees making minimum wage. With the proposal, an employee making $7.25 would have received a raise to $9.50, but an the pay rate for an employee making $7.50 or $8.00 would have remained the same.

Mayor George Evans said the proposal would cost about $800,000 per year, if approved.

The measure essentially disappeared from active consideration shortly after Evans’ estimate and now the council is back to where it started — disobeying a rule it set for itself without any remedy to the problem.

Some recent examples of expenditures from the half cent fund include: storm drain repairs to Bienville Park, new police cars, $50,000 to settle a lawsuit with KTK Mining, $36,000 for stun guns, $35,000 to pay for police car repairs and $30,000 to pay for an increase to the council’s discretionary funding — largely used to make donations to organizations classified as non-profit.

The council is clearly using the half-cent fund to pay for miscellaneous expenses and make up for declining tax revenues.

It’s not surprising some council members have started referring to the half-cent tax as the slush fund and it’s unfortunate the council has decided to take taxpayer money and use it for purposes that weren’t originally intended.

Originally, the Times-Journal supported the idea of a half-cent tax increase to pay for employee raises, especially for workers who are committed to performing their craft at the highest level.

Now that the tax has been in place and the funds repeatedly mismanaged, it’s as if the city had sold us a bottle of snake oil and wish we could reconsider any endorsement at all.

It’s time to take the temptation away and find a better solution. The half-cent tax isn’t being used properly and certainly not entirely as it was intended.

Because there is no clear plan on how this slush fund will be budgeted and managed in the future, it’s time the council do the right thing and rescind the half-cent sales tax.

If it’s so important and so vital to city operations, come back with a better plan and a better set of safeguards against future mismanagement.

It’s either time for city officials to live up to their initial promise or realize that it can’t adequately follow its own rules and find another solution.