SELMA, AL (WSFA) - There are only a few weeks left before the end of the fiscal year and the city of Selma still has not passed a budget.
As the council works to get a budget passed, Selma Police Chief Spencer Collier confirms a state investigation is underway in the City’s Finance Office.
Selma Mayor Darrio Melton declined to comment on any apparent ‘criminal misconduct’ investigation focused on Selma’s finance director Ronita Wade. However, he was willing to talk about the budget.
Last week, Melton sent an open letter to the City Council, in response to the council voting to reject his proposed $22 million budget for the 2018-2019 fiscal year.
“The reason I sent the open letter out is because the council continued to give misinformation to the public. I have done my statutory duties, this includes meeting with department heads and determining needs for the departments and presenting them before the council which I did in my budget,” said Melton.
On Aug. 3 Melton sent his proposed 2018-2019 budget to the city council. Unlike last year’s proposal there are no cuts; instead there’s a steam of new revenue. He said the goal is to build a safer, smarter, and stronger Selma.
“It is a gruesome process. It took us six months to get this budget. The council turned it down in less than a week. There was no serious debate. I think the citizens of Selma deserve better than that than for the council to have things on their terms,” said Melton.
Melton points out many of the things he placed in his proposed budget council members asked him for.
“For instance one council member said unless you have 10 more officers added to the budget or I am not going to vote on it. Guess what, I had 10 more officers inside the budget. I had council members who said I will not vote for trash services unless you put the cost on to the citizens. I put it in the budget and they voted no. The citizens need to ask themselves what is the council up to,” he said.
In the letter, Melton outlined the city’s issues that began before he was elected mayor two years ago.
Since he was elected, the council has continued to operate off the 2016-2017 budget which was passed before he was in office. For the past three years the City of Selma has operated under a deficit. Currently they have no money in the reserve account.
“One thing it impacts is our credit rating. When we operate in a deficit that is not good for our credit rating inside the city of Selma. Number two we are possibly looking at cutting services inside the city of Selma. The council says they want to cut, well they have to make a decision on what they want to cut. Most of the services we provide are fundamental services which will impact all the lives here inside the city. Thirdly if we do not have a reserve in place any catastrophe, God forbid, comes to the city of Selma we could not respond or react to it. That is not the position we should have the city or the citizens inside this city in,” said Melton.
Council president Corey Bowie says his biggest concern with Melton’s proposed $22 million budget was the one-cent sales tax for public safety.
“One of the grave concerns was the sales tax. This would put the city of Selma up to 11 percent. That would be one of the highest in Alabama. That would have personally in my opinion an adverse affect on the local business community here,” said Bowie.
According to Bowie the council is working to trim down the budget to between 17.5 to 17.7 million.
"Our main goal is to have a balanced budget. The council is looking at all avenues to see what we can do," said Bowie
In addition to division over finances, Melton believes the council has turned it’s attention to personal attacks on the mayor’s office. Citing several moves including the council voting 5 to 1 in the first reading of an ordinance that would shift the mayors power to appoint the police and fire chief.
“Here is the truth: the council made all of this personal. I have been focused on moving this city forward. The council is trying to perform the executive functions of the city government from their council seat,” said Melton.
“It is nothing personal. It is just a way for us to explore what we need to do to make Selma safe,” said Bowie.
Bowie says they are making every effort to have the budget passed before the Sept. 30 deadline.