Council would be wise to rethink proposed gas tax

Published 6:21 pm Monday, February 25, 2019

There has been much discussion by Selma Mayor Darrio Melton and the Selma City Council about whether an increase in the city’s gas tax is good for Selma. Tonight, those discussions will culminate in a decision as the Selma City Council is expected to vote whether or not to increase the city gas tax by 5 cents per gallon.

The proposed increase comes as the state legislature is considering an additional tax of as much as 12 –cents per gallon, meaning if both are approved those who purchase gas in Selma will be paying 17-cents more per gallon than they are now. The proposed increases by the city and the state are troubling to us when you consider the reality of the economics of the city we live in, where a great many people live at or below the poverty line.  According to the United States Census Bureau, the median household income in Selma is $24,223, which means the average household in Selma is living right at the federal poverty line of $24,257 for a family of four.

During a recent public hearing on the matter, many Selma residents shared their concerns with the council on the effects paying more at the pump could have on our community. One of those people, Curtis Wimberly, citing the realities of poverty in our community said: “So, you’re going to put those right above [the poverty line] in poverty and those that are already in it further down.” Others who spoke were concerned whether tax money being collected already was being managed properly, which one resident said led to distrust of city government.

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Dallas County and Selma already have one of the highest combined sales tax rates in the state at 10 percent. If the city adds an additional 5-cents per gallon to fuel purchased in the city, according to the American Automobile Association, Selma will also have some of the most expensive gasoline in the state. While we are big believers and proponents of “shop at home,” it is no wonder that businesses are struggling to stay afloat as local consumers see shopping outside of town as a better option due to higher taxes, even if they do have to drive 45 minutes to do it. 

Another factor in the discussion is why additional taxes are needed when the city isn’t collecting what is already due. As we have previously reported, according to a list supplied to The Selma Times-Journal at the end of last year, there were more than $300,000 in delinquent sales taxes that remained uncollected. That has allegedly been resolved to varying degrees, but the question remains of why it was allowed to get to that out of hand, and what plans are in place to ensure it does not happen again.

And while the proposed gas tax will go toward infrastructure improvements such as road paving and pothole repair, which this city badly needs, you have to admit any discussion of increasing taxes, for whatever the purpose, comes with raised eyebrows by citizens who do not have confidence those funds will be collected, and used, properly. 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, at least not for the city, but we expect the uncollected fees owed the city still remain, thus further exacerbating distrust amongst citizens who we expect would not mind investing in infrastructure if there was sustained evidence such funding would be handled properly.

Without a doubt, Selma needs a plan to address decaying infrastructure. Selma is a historic city, one of the oldest in the state, which is both a blessing and a curse when you consider our city’s challenges with roads and sewers. But lumping more taxes onto people who can least afford it is not the answer. Do we have the answer? No, we don’t, otherwise, we could wave our magic wand an fix it, but what we do know is there needs to be other options discussed before Selma becomes known not only for our beauty and history but for having some of the highest taxes in the state.