City should be more diligent in collecting what is owed prior to levying more taxes

Published 5:49 pm Monday, February 18, 2019

As the city council debates whether or not to levy an additional gasoline tax on its citizens, they would be wise to make sure the taxes already on the books are being collected.

According to a list supplied to The Selma Times-Journal, there are several Selma businesses that have not paid their sales taxes, with a few businesses racking up thousands of dollars of delinquent taxes.

The list, which was released to The Selma Times-Journal in October 2018, was compiled after Selma City Councilwoman Susan Youngblood spearheaded a check throughout the city to see which local businesses had current business licenses.

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If a business did not have a license, Youngblood said, “it’s a sure sign they’re not paying taxes. That’s a lot of money the city is missing out on.”

The total delinquent sales tax at the time of the list release was nearly $300,000.

However, Youngblood said this number has dropped drastically since the release, saying businesses have made payments, and have set up plans with the city to pay off what they owe.

While those arrangements may be in place now, the concern is why this much money was allowed to go without being collected in the first place.

Youngblood said there has been a lack of aggression in collecting these sales taxes.

However, Youngblood said there are differences between the tax on gasoline, which the city is considering raising, and sales tax.

According to Youngblood, sales taxes collected go into the general fund, which is used for myriad purposes, while the gas tax, if passed, would be specifically earmarked for infrastructure, such as paving roads and repairing potholes.

Also, she said, the amount owed in delinquent tax would not even begin to scratch the surface to fix the many infrastructure challenges the city faces.

Regardless of where the collected money goes, the city must be more aggressive with collecting the money that is owed them. We remember not too long ago when the city was handling garbage pickup and could not collect more than $600,000 in delinquent garbage fees. Since garbage service has been contracted out, that is no longer an issue, but we expect the uncollected fees owed the city still remain.

If the city had been successful in collecting garbage fees owed them, and making sure sales taxes were collected in a timely manner, it’s possible we may not be at the point of discussing another tax on citizens. It’s also possible the city would not have been faced with missing a payroll last year or having to lay off 60-plus city employees. Certainly, those things are not absolute, but what we do know is we cannot function as a city without collecting what is owed us, regardless of what the revenue is generated from.