County, Selma City leaders talk population decrease, effect on sales tax and economy

Published 7:39 pm Friday, July 6, 2018

New data recently released from the U.S. Census Bureau shows Dallas County’s population has declined sharply since the last Census in 2010, dropping 4,605 people, or 10.5 percent with nearly half of that loss coming from the city of Selma.

Census estimates for Selma on July 1, 2017 were 18,370 people compared to April 1, 2010 when there were 20,756, an 11.5 percent decrease. In Dallas County Census estimates show there were 39,215 people on July 1, 2017.  On April 1, 2010, there were 43,820 estimated people in the county.

Census estimates show the city’s population has declined each year since 2010.

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City and county officials each have their different views on why residents are leaving town.

“You’ve got several factors,” Dallas County probate judge Kim Ballard said. “Selma has an inordinate number of rental homes. The housing market needs to be improved where people don’t need an excuse to get out of Selma. When a person can’t enjoy their home, and are afraid of hearing gunshots at night, they’re going to look for a new place.”

Selma mayor Darrio Melton attributes the decline in numbers to children leaving the city and county for college.

“When you look at the younger population, more job opportunities require a higher education,” Melton said. “Kids will look for work in the field they graduated in other towns.”

Dallas County Economic Development Agency Director, Wayne Vardaman also thinks education is a big issue, but in the county.

“We have the bodies, but we don’t have people that can read a ruler and follow one page of simple instruction, which is reading comprehension,” he said. “The EDA is working with the two superintendents to solve that problem.

“The problems we have didn’t get here overnight, and it won’t be solved overnight,” said Vardaman. “We (the EDA) can’t do anything about the crime, but we are trying to be a catalyst and work with the people that can.”

Vardaman estimates there are around 5,300 people that commute into Dallas County everyday for their job.

“That is where the problem is,” he said. “That is what drives everything. Your higher wage earners, when they can, are not living here. They are living in places like Prattville and Montgomery.

“Therefore, the people living here are the lower wage earners. That is why poverty has become a bigger percentage. That is why there is more out migration. When you have 5,300 people coming into the county to work, but not living here, that tells you we have quality of life issues here.”

When it comes to poverty levels, Sheryl Smedley of the Selma and Dallas County Chamber of Commerce said that there are numerous resources that the county and city have developed to assist. According to the Census Bureau, 41.4 percent of people in the city of Selma live below the poverty level, which is nearly four times the national average, while 34.3 percent of Dallas County residents live below the poverty level. The Census Bureau defines the poverty level of a household with four people at $24,858 in annual household income.

“Unfortunately, those poverty numbers were true, but we have all these resources in Selma and Dallas County,” she said. “We have the Dallas County Family Resource Center, numerous Christian outreach programs. We have so many services here that people are not utilizing.

“Judge (Bob) Armstrong has all these programs such as Hope Academy, and several programs to get these people that have been in trouble off of drugs,” she said. “DHR has a jobs task force that is working to get people off of welfare and back into the workforce.”

Based on numbers given by city of Selma officials, Selma’s sales tax revenue has hovered between $10,055.896 in 2010 to a slight bump upward to $10,289,000. Between 2013 and 2016, the city was under $10,000 for sales revenue generated until it had a slight increase last year. It’s unknown if the city will remain above $10,000 when the Fiscal year ends on Sept. 30.

The Dallas County Commission, in comparison, was more consistent numbers.  On its sales tax figures collected between 2010 and 2017, the county collected 94 percent of its sales tax in 2010 and 95.8 percent last year. The county never collected less than $2.4 million in sales tax between 2010 and last year. Ballard expects another strong year when the Fiscal year concludes.

Smedley said that the chamber works with local businesses, retail stores and tourism.

“Our main goal is to keep awareness of all the positives, and all that is going on in the community,” she said. “These businesses are the bread and butter of the community, and a city cannot function without tax revenue. If these cash registers are not making a profit, then they will go away.”

Property taxes on homes can be a tricky issue, according to Dallas County Tax assessor Weida F. Sheehan. If a home owner leaves town with a vacant house, they’ll get taxed at 10 percent. A home owner who rents the property gets taxed at 20 percent.

Ballard believes the housing market has affected the city’s population decline.

“I bought two homes in Dallas County appraised for over $100,000 each,” Ballard said. “They’re still appraised at the same price, but I couldn’t get over $75,000 for them to save my life.  As long as they stay rented, I’ll be alright.

“If I sold them, I couldn’t get the price I paid for them. It has a residual effect on Selma and Dallas County when a property gets appraised for tax purposes.”

Millage rate also factors into property taxes. The millage rate is the amount per $1,000 of property value used to calculate local property taxes. Assigned millage rates are multiplied by the total taxable value of the property to arrive at the property taxes.

Sheehan said the millage rate in the city and county hasn’t changed in 13 years. Inside the Selma city limits, the millage rate is .027. The Dallas County millage rate is .0305.

Melton has a solution to slow down the departures.

“We have to attract jobs with higher level education to keep the youth here,” Melton said. “You need to increase wages. We’re on our way to getting more retail in the area. We have to support the doctors and our medical profession. We need more CEOs and supervisors to stay.”

Vardaman thinks a solution doesn’t come from the problem out of migration, but the factors that contribute to it.

“Crime, litter, education and a lot of others can be lumped into quality of life,” he said. “To solve the problem, it comes to dealing with the factors.”

For Vardaman, having more big industry come in is not the answer.

“We have more industry with a population our size than anyone in the state,” he said. “That’s not the answer. A good percentage of people live here, but they are not the people that can change a lot of things in society as far as having discretionary funds to buy things, and get the economy going, and conversely, we have had a drop in retail.

“There is virtually no retail here,” he said. “All you have to do is walk up and down the streets to see that.”

Vardaman remembers when Dallas County was the hub for retail.

“They don’t come here anymore,” said Vardaman. “Camden goes to Greenville, Perry County goes to Tuscaloosa, and even Marengo County goes to Tuscaloosa. Even people here go to Prattville or Montgomery.”

Smedley said that businesses now in Selma are mostly family owned, and that the children of the families do not want to continue operations themselves.

“The reason our downtown looks like it does is because the Jewish Community settled here, and built the retail in downtown,” Smedley said. “What happened is when the children went off to school and the parents decided to retire, the children wanted nothing to do with it, and they put the business up for sale.

“The businesses are not shutting down because of no money, they are shutting down because they (the children) want nothing else to do with the businesses their family started.”

Will Whaley also contributed to this story.