Big moves by Selma council leads to public safety raises & sale of downtown landmark

Big moves by Selma council leads to public safety raises & sale of downtown landmark
(Source: WSFA 12 News)
(Source: WSFA 12 News)

SELMA, AL (WSFA) - After a public call to action and headline-making protest, Selma police officers will soon be receiving bigger paychecks.

The city council voted for pay raises for the police and fire departments during a special called meeting Thursday night.

But that wasn't the only big decision on the table. City leaders also moved to sell the St. James Hotel, sparking mixed reaction.

Council members wanted to move quickly tonight to give police officers a raise in an effort to end the "blue flu"

Some in the department have been calling out sick for the past week in their fight for better working conditions.

The meeting began with a presentation discussing how the city could refinance its overall outstanding debt and put the savings towards pay raises for city workers. It would drop the interest rate from six percent to less than three percent and allow for a projected savings of more than $2.5 million over the next seven fiscal years. The process and timeline was outlined.

A pay plan analysis is also starting in September.

Once the refinancing project was completed, officials said those savings and revenue from a half-cent sales tax could be used for raises beginning with the public safety departments and then phasing in all other city departments.

It was pointed out at the meeting that Selma has a cash flow issue and that it would be a mistake to move too quickly with implementing raises.

But members of the city council said the city needed to come up with something "expeditiously" because there's "a crisis on our hands."

"We have to do something tonight. That was the purpose of this meeting and that's why I came here tonight," one councilman said.

They voted to make raises for public safety, police and fire, effective Oct. 1.

"We gave the officers a raise that they really, truly deserve and we hope our officers will come back to work and help protect our city," said Councilman Samuel Rudolph.

Officers at the meeting said they were pleased with the decision and say they'll go from making $28,000 a year to a salary of at least $32,000. The exact amount of the wage hike hasn't been set yet.

Money from the half-cent sales tax, that raises revenue for police and fire department raises, will be used as the city moves forward with refinancing bonds.

"So now we'll go back to the drawing board and come up with that raise that will put public safety in place for a raise as of Oct 1. The rest of our department heads and departments will get a raise during the fiscal year. So that means between 2016-17, all of our employees will get a raise but public safety will be first," explained Mayor George Evans.

The city council also pledged to address issues with morale and equipment in the police department. They asked officers to continue to communicate with them about different concerns since they were unaware of some of the problems members of the force say they have with their police gear.

Another big item on the agenda Thursday night was future of the St. James Hotel, a downtown landmark that was appraised for $900,000.

The council voted to sell it to Kenneth Moore, from Chicago, who owns and deals in flagship hotels under several flags.

He will buy the hotel for $100,000 and plans to do more than $4.5 million in renovations.

Officials say the hotel will retain its name and its independence as a historic hotel and it will be expanded into a conference and convention center.

Some on the council called the sale an insult. Others said it was a smart decision.

"I thought it was one of the most awful decisions this city council has ever made. To sell a $900,000 piece of property for $100,000 is insane. It's a misuse of people's money and property," said Dr. Cecil Williamson.

Councilwoman Susan Keith says legal issues and operating costs have cost Selma hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent years.

It's been a bumpy road for the hotel since its renovation nearly two decades ago; changes in management, allegations of theft, deals falling through and wear and tear on the building. Keith says every door in the hotel has the name of a family or business on it and there are bricks in the courtyard and photos of donors on the walls representing those who contributed money for that renovation.

"The St. James was built by the community, for the community and to bolster tourism, not for a big profit to the city," she added. "The longer the St. James with things needing to happen, renovations needing to be done, the worse it gets. We continue to pour money into keeping the hotel open. To close it would be the kiss of death for the hotel so I think it's the best move that we have."

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