Council votes 7-2 Tuesday to kill gas tax proposal

Published 8:56 pm Tuesday, February 26, 2019

The Selma City Council voted down both gas tax ordinances proposed by Mayor Darrio Melton, one for a 3-cent increase and another for a 5-cent increase, during Tuesday’s regular meeting.

The only two votes in favor of the measure were from Councilmen John Leashore and Michael Johnson.

At the start of the meeting, Selma citizen Steven Brooks spoke in opposition to the measure and passed out recommendations to council members on actions that could be taken to raise additional revenue for the city without raising gas taxes.

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“That 5-cents may not seem like a lot,” Brooks said. “To the poor of Selma who are struggling, it is.”

Brooks said that businesses, as well as citizens, would suffer from the increased tax and noted that customers “will drive to the cheaper gas station.”

Further, Brooks said there is a need for “clear, financial accountability” before the citizens could get behind a measure to entrust more money in the city’s hands.

Melton was also on hand to speak in favor of the measure and again hammer on the fact that the city is in need of revenue for needed infrastructure repair.

“We find ourselves in a difficult situation in our city,” Melton said. “Selma is the second oldest city in the state. We’ve been elected to make these tough decisions.”

Melton encouraged members to pass the tax increase but noted that, if they did not, the council would need to bring up an alternate proposal.

“I don’t have all the answers, but this is an answer that I put on the table,” Melton said.

Johnson noted that he was apprehensive about raising taxes, but noted that something had to be done to tackle the issue.

Councilwoman Susan Youngblood applauded the mayor for his efforts in drafting the ordinances and explained her position.

“You’re inherited an invariable mess,” Youngblood said to Melton, noting that she had warned former Mayor George Evans of infrastructure issues nearly a decade earlier. “We have problems.”

However, Youngblood said, she felt the public had no stomach for new taxes and harbored feelings of distrust for people in City Hall.

“There’s an overwhelming feeling that there’s overwhelming distrust,” Youngblood said. “Everyone is just angry and mad with each other. I don’t think we have a clear enough plan at this time.”

“If we don’t do it now, we are putting the city at a great liability,” Melton said. “We need to do something quick and in a hurry and if we don’t [I’m not sure] what the outcome will be.”

Councilwoman Angela Benjamin and Councilman Carl Bowline related that they had spoken with citizens in their wards to get an idea of how the people felt about the proposal.

“I will be casting a vote that represents that,” Benjamin said. “If this doesn’t fly, then we need to come up with something.”

Bowline noted that many citizens in his ward were supportive of the tax proposal, but noted that contention arose when he discussed the idea of using tax revenues to float a $25 million bond.

Council President Cory Bowie also expressed his opinions on the measure.

“In a poor area like this, it can be viewed as a regressive tax,” Bowie said and encouraged the mayor to heed Benjamin’s call to venture into the wards and work at selling ideas to the people.

Councilwoman Jannie Thomas also spoke with people in her ward and felt that public sentiment was not on the side of Selma’ elected leadership in City Hall.

“This house is not in order,” Thomas said.

Likewise, Councilwoman Miah Jackson also voiced her concerns regarding handing over more money to an administration she feel has not been transparent with the money it already has access to.

Jackson stated that the mayor’s assertion that the council handles finances is undermined by the fact that employees in the Finance Department have refused to hand over documents without the mayor’s approval.

An audible sigh of disdain echoed through the chamber when Melton stated that he did not know employees were taking such a position.

Leashore called for a vote on the ordinances.

“The facts are, the current revenue just isn’t going to do it,” Leashore said.

In an effort to shore up at least nominal funding for repair work, council members seemed poised to surrender their upcoming oil lease money, due in April, which amounts to roughly $170,000.

Elsewhere in the meeting, the council placed Leashore’s proposed gunshot ordinance on first read, meaning that it will come up for a vote at the next council meeting.

The ordinance puts in place strict penalties for any violation – the first offense is a $100 and a mandatory seven days in jail; the fifth offense is a $500 fine and up to 60 days in jail.

The council also approved amending the city’s budget to include the new fire investigators which were improved during the Jan. 8 meeting.

Two women, Hatwatha McGhee and Summer Sturdivant, announced their plans to launch a citywide clean-up effort March 16 and asked council members for their support in the effort.

The organizers are in need of bottled water, gloves, trash bags and other items and many council members committed to assisting.

“This is just a godsend,” Youngblood said of the initiative. “I love the idea of a coordinated, clean-up Selma day.”

Council members also approved naming former Alabama Sen. Hank Sanders to the Industrial Board at Craig Field.

The Dallas County Commission approved the appointment at its Monday meeting.

Jackson will be hosting a ward clean-up on March 9 and will lead a clean-up effort downtown at 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday to prepare for the start of this year’s Bridge Crossing Jubilee.

Thomas announced that she would be hosting a Ward 7 meeting March 7 to discuss public safety concerns, specifically those of ward residents concerned with gunfire and violence.

Bowie recognized the Ellwood Christian Academy boys’ basketball team for making it to the sub-state bracket and said that the basketball teams from Selma High School and Morgan Academy would be honored at a future meeting.