Selma’s May tax revenues show anticipated slump

Published 11:35 am Friday, June 12, 2020

City and state leaders have long anticipated a slump in tax revenues due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which shuttered businesses and left thousands of workers without jobs – the most recent financial report from Selma City Treasurer Ronita Wade indicates that Selma is seeing the first signs of that downturn.

According to Wade’s report, provided to the Selma City Council during Tuesday’s meeting, May sales tax revenues came in at more than $913,500 – a year-over-year increase of more than $60,000, but a decrease compared to the more than $949,000 collected in April.

The slump could also be seen in city lodging tax numbers, which fell to just over $16,777 compared to more than $47,500 the month before.

Year over year, lodging tax revenue is down by nearly 50 percent.

Tobacco tax revenue increased slightly in May, reaching just over $18,350 compared to just over $16,500 the month before.

Lodging tax surcharge revenue, reserved for the Grist-Brown YMCA, fell to just over $7,630 in May, down from more than $22,350 in April.

Half-cent sales tax revenue, which came in at just shy of $115,000 for May, showed a year-over-year increase of more than $8,000, but a small decline compared to the more than $118,600 collected in April.

Conversely, simplified seller-use tax revenue grew by nearly $7,000 between April and May, likely as a result of an increase in online shopping due to the public health crisis – in fact, the more than $62,300 collected in May represents the city’s best month yet.

Municipal aid street gas tax revenue fell by less than $1,000 in May, when more than $15,500 was collected, while revenue from the Rebuild Alabama gas tax increased slightly to just over $7,730.

Elsewhere in the meeting, the council voted to extend the contract for administrative assistant Carneetie Ellison, which was initially only drafted for six months.

Ellison’s contract extension was eventually passed by a 5-2-2 vote, with Selma City Councilmen John Leashore and Carl Bowline voting against the extension, Selma City Councilman Michael Johnson and Selma City Councilwoman Miah Jackson abstaining and the rest of the council voting in the affirmative.

Mild controversy swelled regarding the contract, with some council members questioning the legality of the contract and advocating for an opinion from the Attorney General’s office before moving ahead, despite the fact that Montgomery attorney Bobby Segall, who has been representing the council, was on hand for Monday’s work session and spoke to the legality of Ellison’s contract.

The council also approved a resolution in honor of George Floyd, the unarmed black man whose death at the hands of Minneapolis police has sparked nationwide protests, which reaffirms the city’s commitment to rooting out “violent and disrespectful treatment that degrades and disregards human life.”

“I thought it was important during this time to reemphasize the importance of human life and the equality of individuals,” said Selma City Council President Corey Bowie later. “We just wanted to take the lead and say that we do not support injustice to any human being.”

The council also voted yet again to increase the salary for Selma Police Department (SPD) Chief Kenta Fulford to $80,000 a year, with retroactive pay to January – the council has voted before to raise Fulford’s salary, but Tuesday’s vote made it official with a resolution.

Bowie noted that the council will likely approve a similar resolution for Selma Fire Department (SFD) Chief Chris Graham, though he has already been receiving his new pay rate, which amounts to $70,000 annually.

The council also delayed a vote on a $1.75 supplemental pay increase for frontline workers on the advice of Selma City Attorney Major Madison, who wanted more clarity in the resolution’s language.

“Some of the council members wanted to also include Public Works and the Recreation Department,” Bowie said later. “But I think we just need to first off deal with public safety. Let’s address that first.”

The council also failed to approve a resolution that would have put on first read a resolution to give appointment powers for the city attorney, which are currently under the mayor, to the council.

Selma City Councilman Sam Randolph advocated for the resolution, asserting that Madison has thus far represented the council inadequately, but the measure failed.

Bowline, Leashore, Johnson and Selma City Councilwoman Susan Youngblood voted against the measure, while Jackson abstained.

In the end, Randolph switched his vote to a “no” and vowed to bring the issue before the council again.

The council also approved a $1 million reserve, to be pulled from the city’s General Fund, to be used for COVID-19 related expenses, including the purchase of personal protective equipment (PPE), such as masks and gloves, as well as overtime pay for first responders.

Elsewhere, the council approved a resolution to allow Civil Southeast to apply for sidewalk improvement funds from the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT).

Bowie said that after the application is submitted, the company will begin surveying city sidewalks and drafting a plan to address those in serious need of repair.

The council also delayed a vote on transferring property rights for Cedar Park School to McRae Learning Center and will hold a public hearing on the matter before the next council meeting.