City department heads discuss need for additional funding

Published 10:00 am Saturday, January 20, 2018

Raising property taxes was the center of discussion Friday during the Selma City Council’s administrative committee meeting.

The council started exploring the idea increasing the tax in November to generate for revenue for the city.

Committee chairman Johnnie Leashore opened the meeting citing a Times-Journal article dated Dec. 8, 2016, titled “Council discusses ways to raise revenue.”

“We’ve been kicking this can down the road for a whole year,” Leashore said during the meeting.

Leashore discussed the process of raising property tax, which would include going through the legislature. To increase property tax, the council would have to ask local legislators to pass a bill in the Alabama Legislature. It would then have to be voted up or down by voters by a referendum.

Leashore said if the tax increase is eventually passed, the money will be earmarked for public safety, public works, and capital equipment.

“Those are our most urgent needs,” Leashore said.

During the meeting, he asked representatives from the Selma Public Works, Police and Fire Departments to share some of their woes.

Stephen Hendrieth, director of public works, said his department is constantly dealing with trucks and equipment breaking down.

“We have a lot of stuff breaking down,” he said. “We had another engine blow out Thursday, so we have three trucks running.”

Hendrieth said most of his department’s equipment has problems. He said some of their trucks are 14 to 15 years old.

Cpt. Natasha Fowlkes with the Selma Police Department said the department has vehicles that are 20 years old.

“Right now, if one of our patrol cars go down and have to be repaired, we don’t have another vehicle to put the officer in,” Fowlkes said. “We’re short vehicles.”

She said the department is also short on equipment and manpower because they cannot retain officers.

“We are the lowest paid in the surrounding area. You can go to Prattville and get $20. You can go to Montgomery and make $20 or $22 an hour,” she said. “Right now, we have five officers that are scheduled to go to the academy, and as soon as we get them back in April, we’re going to lose probably about three or four officers because they are always constantly seeking other opportunities to make more money.”

Selma Fire Chief Toney Stephens said there are a number of needs for his department, such as software and the capability to report incidents.

“We’re in the stone ages in the fire department,” Stephens said.

He said the council has voted to approve the purchase of software two times, but it was never purchased.

“We’re standing here in the day of 2018, and the fire department that has are steadily handwriting reports,” he said.

“We have not even moved to the era of typewriters. We have no computer system, we have no software, and we’re not online.”

Some of the other needs Stephens mentioned were staff vehicles, turnout gear, which is outdated, and oxygen tanks.

He said 30 of the department’s 60 air bottles will expire in March.

He said his firefighters are also underpaid and the department has issues retaining them after two years.

“I put it into the budget. We have no budget,” Stephens said. “We’re sending people inside of a hazardous atmosphere, and they are not going to be protected.”

The city has a current millage rate of 27, which is the 12th highest in the state. The council is proposing increasing the millage rate to 37, 42 or 47.

Raising the rate to 37 would generate an estimated $1.2 million, raising it to 42 would generate around $1.9 million and raising it to 47 would bring in around $2.57 million.

Raising sales tax has also been discussed recently, which would only require a vote of the council to approve.

Leashore said a public hearing concerning property taxes is tentatively set for Feb. 23.