Council votes to make AmeriCorps grant ‘funding priority’

Published 4:57 pm Saturday, August 13, 2016

The majority of the Selma City Council voted Tuesday to make finding money for a $200,000 AmeriCorps grant a “funding priority” in next year’s budget.

Mayor George Evans brought the grant before the council during Tuesday night’s meeting. The grant requires a $194,000 match and would pay for 44 students to work in Selma for a year.

Henry Thompson in planning and development told the council AmeriCorps needed to know Wednesday if the city would proceed with the grant or not.

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The council decided to ask for an extension before committing funds but did vote their intention was to proceed with the grant if an extension is allowed and made it a “funding priority” during the budgeting process.

Angela Benjamin, Bennie Ruth Crenshaw, Michael Johnson, Sam Randolph and B.L. Tucker voted for the intention, while Greg Bjelke, Corey Bowie and Cecil Williamson voted against it.

“It’s been a great program. I would like to see it come back,” Crenshaw said. “Where can we find that amount of money because I think it’s very important to get it done? We find pretty much what we want.”

City Treasurer Ronita Wade told the council that the full amount of the grant, approximately $685,000 would have to be provided up front and then reimbursed, and that could cause cash problems.

“We pay that out of our pockets and wait for reimbursement. It does get into a cash flow issue,” Wade said.

She also advised the council about committing too much, reminding them of several issues like road cave-ins that were unanticipated this year.

“Think about the things we had last year that were unanticipated. We were able to go and do those things without borrowing,” Wade said. “I think the program is a great idea, but the priorities that you all have and the unanticipated things you have in the city probably take precedence, but that’s something for the council to decide.”

Williamson said the council has already committed $369,000 in grant matches for next year’s budget. The AmeriCorps proposal would push that figure to $563,000.

After the vote, Crenshaw asked if the council could go ahead and approve the resolution committing funding since the council had already voted to make the grant a priority.

“Let’s go ahead and pass the resolution with the understanding if we can get an extension,” Crenshaw said.

Benjamin said she couldn’t go along with actually committing funding at the time being, and the council hadn’t even finished reading the grant proposal.

“I won’t be able to vote on the resolution. I would prefer it discussed in a special called meeting,” Benjamin said.

Crenshaw dropped the motion after other council members said they couldn’t commit to funding Tuesday.

“We’ll leave it where it is right now,” Crenshaw said.

Earlier in the meeting, Selma Police Chief John Brock presented a letter from police department officers demanding immediate raises. On Thursday, patrol officers called in sick and hadn’t returned through Saturday.

“There is only one priority for this city, and that would be one priority for this council, and that’s giving the police department a raise,” Williamson said. “There is no other priority other than that right now. There’s just no way to justify that much money.”

Crenshaw said the debate didn’t have to be one over the other.

“Don’t put the police department in this dogfight. They don’t belong there,” Crenshaw said. “Why not put the police first, put AmeriCorps second and you can just give three, four and five to whatever you want.