Committee will bring gas tax increase to council

Published 4:09 pm Friday, February 1, 2019

The Public Works Committee met Friday to discuss efforts designed to tackle the city’s crumbling infrastructure.

Mayor Darrio Melton attended the meeting, as did Councilwoman Susan Youngblood, a member of the committee, and Councilman Michael Johnson.

At the start of the meeting, Youngblood placed a flushable wipe in a tub of water to demonstrate how the wipes don’t disintegrate. Youngblood claims the wipes are one of the main culprits in clogging up the city’s sewer system.

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As the meeting began, Leashore began discussing the ongoing problems with the city’s infrastructure.

“Selma is becoming known as the city of orange barrels,” Leashore said. “The city is falling down all around us. We’ve got a serious problem.”

Leashore stated that the city desperately needs to raise revenue to tackle the problem and brought up the mayor’s proposed 5-cent gas tax increase, which Melton was on hand to support.

“There’s many troubled areas here in the city,” Melton said, noting that the city needs to develop a “comprehensive plan” to addressing infrastructure needs, rather than continuing to patch problems.

It is Melton’s intention to tie the $1.4 million that he says will be raised from the tax hike to a bond that could generate some $25 million for the city.

The tax money, as well as the possible bond funds, would be reserved strictly for infrastructure improvements and would allow the city to develop a plan to repave streets on a five-year basis, according to Melton.

“Whoever the next council is, whoever the next mayor is, they wouldn’t have to worry about these problems,” Melton said.

The mayor would also like to see the city create a special division that would be tasked with repaving city streets so that the work wouldn’t have to be outsourced.

Melton stated that repairing city streets would improve the quality of life of residents and provide them with a sense of pride in their communities and would also assist with economic development, noting that many businesses do not want to set up shop on a crumbling street.

“I think it will be a win-win,” Melton said. “If we don’t do anything, things will get worse. We have to make decisions to try to move the city forward.”

For her part, Youngblood plans to support the gas tax increase.

“What we don’t see matters,” Youngblood said, noting that improvements to city infrastructure are necessary despite being beyond the public’s view. “I’m for the gas tax.”

Leashore asked if the tax could be rescinded if the bond was not approved – the mayor noted that it was, but stated that he would recommend keeping it in place so that at least some of the necessary work could begin.

Leashore then floated the idea of decreasing the tax to only 3 cents if the bond fails and the mayor said he supported the idea.

The mayor also asked that councilmembers consider keeping oil lease money together, which is due to be paid in April and generates close to $300,000, so that it could be spent on major repair needs.

“We’ve got to work together,” Johnson said in support of the idea. “It’s about the city.”

By the end of the meeting, the flushable wipe that Youngblood submerged at the beginning of the meeting was still intact.

“We need to let people know that we all need to be proactive in taking care of our aging infrastructure,” Youngblood said.

Youngblood recommended that people stop using the wipes and refrain from pouring grease down their drains, two things she has personally seen are causing blocks in the city’s sewer system.