City to hold public hearing to discuss raising property taxes

Published 9:34 pm Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Selma City Council’s Administrative Committee will host a public hearing in February to discuss raising property taxes.

The hearing is scheduled for Monday, Feb. 12 at 5 p.m. at the Selma Convention Center. The council started exploring the idea of increasing the tax in November to generate additional revenue for the city.

Committee chairman Johnnie Leashore said the public hearing will address the city’s needs, and department heads have been asked to detail what the additional revenue could provide.

“They’re the ones that are going to have to sell this, not the council,” Leashore said. “I made it clear to the mayor. This is not a council mandate to express our needs. This is going to have to be done by him and his staff.”

During a committee meeting earlier this month, Leashore laid out the actions needed to be taken to increase the ad valorem tax. First, the council will have to pass a resolution asking local legislators Sen. Hank Sanders and Rep. Prince Chestnut to present a bill to the Legislature.

The bill must then be passed by the Legislature. It will then come down to a vote by the people of Selma.

“It will have to be supported by them,” Leashore said.

But before the council passes the resolution asking legislators to move forward, Leashore said they want the community to understand why the additional revenue is needed.

Leashore said if property taxes are increased, they will be earmarked for three specific needs: increasing salaries for the police and fire departments, purchasing capital equipment, such as trash trucks and other machinery needed to provide city services, and infrastructure improvements.

“This new revenue will not be allowed to go into the general fund. It’s going to be earmarked for those specific purposes,” Leashore said.

Leashore said the police and fire departments have no issue hiring officers and firefighters. The issue is retaining them because other cities can offer better pay.

“It will allow us to have a bigger pool of qualified applicants and retain them once they have taken the oath to protect and serve,” Leashore said. “Our problem is that we can hire officers from a minimum pool of applicants, but we’re not able to retain them because of the pay.”

Leashore said the city’s current equipment is aged and breaking down.

“We’re in dire need of new equipment. The trucks and equipment we have in our city is 15 to 20 years old, and there is no additional money in the budget to purchase these items,” he said.

Leashore said the city also has a dire need to repair its streets.

“Our streets are caving in, and we’re not able to fix them because we don’t have adequate funds to do it,” he said. “I know the push back of we the people against taxes. Nobody likes taxes, but the facts don’t change that. The fact is that the city of Selma needs new revenues in order to maintain the quality of life we deserve.”

Leashore said he hopes for a big turnout at the hearing so people will understand why the city is trying to generate the additional funding.

“I’m praying that we have standing room only for the citizens. Not so much to come to push back, but for them to understand our needs and for them to embrace what we’re trying to do,” Leashore said. “The decision is not the council’s, it’s theirs.”

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.