Council takes up property tax increase

Published 7:31 pm Wednesday, January 10, 2018

 

The Selma City Council will move forward with planning public hearings on a possible property tax increase despite not all council members supporting the idea.

The council has set an administrative committee meeting for Friday, Jan. 19, at 1 p.m. at City Hall to discuss a possible increase and plan future public hearings on the proposal.

The council has discussed the need for new revenue since coming into office in 2016, and considered a sales tax increase last year that was met with opposition from business owners.

Councilman Johnny Leashore said the city could not continue to provide city services given current revenue projections. He said money is needed and would be earmarked for public safety — to provide officers with more competitive salaries — and public works.

The city has operated under a $17-$18 million budget for the past several years.

“Selma is in a crisis. We are in a situation where we don’t have the revenues to provide quality services to the citizens. We have been talking about the need for new money ever since this administration came into office,” Leashore said.

Councilwoman Susan Youngblood said the city needs to research how property taxes in Selma compare to other municipalities.

“Before we do a leap to action, I think it would really call us to do some research and find out what similarly sized cities with similar demographics have,” Youngblood said.

According to the Alabama Department of Revenue, the city’s current combined millage rate is 27, of which 11.8 is set aside for education.

That rate is the 12th highest of any municipality in the state, sandwiched between Birmingham, the largest city in the state, and Carrollton, which has a population of 1,019 in Pickens County. [please attribute this information]

The council has previously discussed property tax increases of 10, 15 or 20 mills and how much money each would generate. If  a 10-mill increase were approved, Selma’s property tax rate would be third highest in the state, only behind Vestavia Hills (49.3 mills), Fairfield (40.5 mills) and Midfield (37.8 mills).

A 15- or 20-mill increase, would put Selma only behind Vestavia Hills for highest mill rate of any municipality in Alabama.

There is no city property tax in Valley Grande, while the rate is 8 mills in Orrville. Neighboring cities have the following millage rates: Demopolis (26 mills), Prattville (7 mills), Clanton (7 mills), Marion (6 mills) and Camden (5 mills).

A 10-mill increase would generate $1.2 million more for the city, while 15 mils would add $1.9 million and 20 mills would add $2.5 million.

Any property tax increase would have to have the support of Dallas County’s legislative delegation — State Rep. Prince Chestnut and State Sen. Hank Sanders —and then be passed in the Alabama Legislature and approved by Selma voters.

Leashore said time is of the essence to have the issue taken up this legislative session, which concludes in April.

“It’s timeout for talking. What other community’s tax needs and base are have nothing to do with Selma,” Leashore said. “…Citizens would be inclined to support this initiative because they see the needs.”

But Councilman Carl Bowline wasn’t so sure.

“I think what the citizens are going to want to know is where is the money going that they already pay,” Bowline said. Until we can answer the question as to where the money has gone and get a budget in front of us and see what we as a body can do to save additional dollars, I don’t think we should bring anything to anyone.”