• 73°

Mayor releases report touting wins, upcoming projects

On Tuesday afternoon, Selma Mayor Darrio Melton released a report detailing the city’s financial status, various projects that have been completed during his time as mayor and projects in the works for 2020.

The five-page document was not sent to the Selma City Council.

The first few pages include graphs that “represent a customized presentation of ‘recurring’ sales and use tax collections for use primarily by the management of Selma’s government for various purposes including revenue forecasting.”

The first graph shows that 2019 sales tax revenues came in at more than $9.8 million, an increase of nearly $300,000 over 2018 numbers and an even larger increase over 2017 numbers.

“Sales tax over the last five years have been flat,” the mayor’s report states. However, in 2019 there was a slight uptick to sales tax revenues…We forecast this uptick will continue in 2020 as new retail development is taking place within the city over the next few months.”

Melton cites ongoing construction on the new Huddle House location in Selma, as well as “three other developments” slated to begin this summer, as evidence of the city’s growth spurt.

The second graph shows half-cent sales tax revenues at more than $1.2 million in 2019, only a slight increase over 2018 numbers, while the third graph shows that lodging tax revenues in 2019 came in at more than $330,000, a slight increase over 2018 numbers but a decrease from 2015 numbers, which saw lodging tax revenue at more than $380,000.

Occupancy tax revenues, displayed in the fourth graph, came in at more than $145,700 in 2019, a small increase over 2018 numbers.

“Lodging and occupancy taxes over the last five years have remained flat,” Melton’s report states. “In 2020, we forecast a modest uptick in lodging and occupancy taxes due to the opening of the St. James Hotel.”

The final graph shows that sellers use tax revenue jumped from around $141,500 in 2018 to nearly $383,000 in 2019.

“The simplified sellers use tax, which are revenues from online sales, have trended upward since the state began to send the city’s share beginning [in] 2016,” the report states. “In 2016, the city received just over $7,000 while in 2019 the uptick was over $380,000. The uptick has been [exceptional]. Revenues from the first quarter reflect the trend will continue.”

The report then goes on to list “major projects” between 2017 and 2019, including the installation of citywide LED lighting; the repaving, resurfacing and restriping of Broad Street, Summerfield Road and Citizens Parkway; the installation of new sidewalks on Summerfield Road, Broad Street and Dallas Avenue; the repair of cave-ins on Crescent Hill, Mabry Street, Oak Street, Fourth Street and Water Avenue; the purchase of five new trash trucks; the sale of the St. James Hotel; the repair of sewers in Wards 3, 5 and 6 and more.

Among the “major projects” the mayor’s report lists as beginning or continuing in 2020 are construction of the Splash Pad on the Riverfront; the repair of a cave-in at Riverfront Park; the Barrett Road drainage project in Ward 1; the replacement of drain covers in Ward 3; the construction of three additional retail sites on Highland Avenue; the construction of Lincoln and the Lodges; the “Weed and Seed” program and more.

For her part, Selma City Treasurer Ronita Wade viewed the report with skepticism, wondering specifically why the mayor was forced to lay-off 68 city workers in 2018 if finances were so solid.

“While the graphs on the city’s annual revenue earnings are admirable, it is critically important to observe the spending as well,” Wade said. “The mayor called for a mass layoff in November 2018 due to declining revenues. However, his financial report is rather contradictory to his decision-making. Even if there was a cash flow issue, a temporary action, such as a furlough, would have been a more suitable. This is why my absence as treasurer has been detrimental to the City of Selma and its employees. The mayor owes the citizens a better explanation for the layoffs. We must paint a more accurate picture than what is shown in this report.”

Wade challenged citizens to “dig deeper” and investigate some of the mayor’s actions versus his statements – to wit, Wade claimed that some laid-off workers have returned to the job making less than they were earning before the layoff.

“This is surprising given that the mayor vigorously advocated for higher earnings for lower-wage workers,” Wade said. “It’s also very contradictory, to say the least.”

Selma City Councilwoman Miah Jackson likewise had questions about the mayor’s report, specifically related to his list of current, future and ongoing projects in the city.

“The council has been very busy bringing the issues, remedies and initiatives to the table, achieving monumental success despite the administration’s mismanaging the city’s human and financial resources,” Jackson said. “If the mayor is proposing the list of accomplishments found on his website are solely that of his administration, it is simply misleading and non-factual. In fact, even more could have been accomplished with more collaboration and cooperation between the administration and the council.”

Jackson noted that many projects were taken on by other administrations or private citizens and indicated that the mayor’s report flies in the face of what democracy is meant to stand for.

“In a democracy, truth, facts and an informed public help sustain and foster our form of government,” Jackson said. “Without these key pillars, we are destined to fail as a government, society and community. It is important that honor is given to whom honor is due; it is likewise important that we uphold truth and not ‘alternative facts.’ The facts are, most of the initiatives listed in the report predate the current administration or were initiated by the council and private citizens.”