SELMA – With new members seated and a new budget year on the horizon, the Selma City Council once again had consultant Jackie Ryle lead them through a goal-setting session at its Jan. 22 meeting.
The same concerns of public safety, economic growth and infrastructure were brought up by not only the Council members but community members as well. But while there is a long list of needs and wants, the mechanism of how to pay for it all is up for debate.
Some councilmembers are focused on the infrastructure needed before any more development can take place, while others have an eye towards the tax dollars that would pay for those improvements. The dilemma is which do you do first, or can the City afford to do pieces of it all simultaneously?
Ryle will use the Councilmembers’ input to compile their goals as they set priorities for next year’s budget. That list will come back at a future Council meeting.
During the session, Mayor Scott Robertson said the priority should go to hiring more police officers, improving staffing levels in the planning department, adding more city staff to offer more services and as enhancing the city through economic development.
“Public safety is number one. We’re definitely in need of more officers and we need to move forward on the police station and fire station remodel,” Robertson said.
He’d like to see more staff hired, especially in the planning department, to speed up the ability of developers to get projects approved and built so the City can bring in more money.
“We need to make improvements [in our planning department] and deepen, in general, our organization chart. Then we can have more people providing top-quality customer service for people who come to Selma so they can say they were treated like royalty and we have great customer and citizen service.”
Robertson has other needs in mind when it comes to improving the look of the city, too, as he sees a need to decrease blight.
“[We need to] find grant opportunities to make our city shine. That’s for all of us. We can all do that and work together. We have a group that already does that very, very well,” he said of the ongoing “Clean Up, Selma” campaign organized by Leslie Nelson.
Mayor Pro Tem Louis Franco said he realizes it’s a big project, but he’d like the new city manager and city attorney to review the city’s policies. This would make code enforcement easier to understand and easier to enforce, he said. He also stressed a need for more quality housing in town to serve as a tax base for such improvements as the fire station remodel and planned police station.
“Our zoning ordinance hasn’t been updated since 1960 and this ties into beautification. I have so many citizens ask, ‘what are we doing about beautification and the blight in our streets?’ A big part of that is zoning and code enforcement. If it’s not up to date, or doesn’t have the teeth to clean it up, you [can] warn somebody 20 times and it’s still not going to change.”
Franco said he wanted to create programs that empower citizens to clean up their neighborhoods and yards, get more community involvement when it comes to long-term planning, and figure out how to keep more sales tax dollars in town.
“We’ve got to see what our sales tax leakage is and what we can do to cut it down so more money stays here in Selma.”
Councilman John Trujillo said he realizes safety is a high priority, but wondered how the City could beef up its police department without new sources of money coming in.
“If we don’t have the money to sustain the actual officers [we already have], that does not help our department.”
Trujillo also wanted to see a review of the city’s operational structure and department heads done, as well as an independent audit of the city’s finances.
“If we reviewed our staff, we can find out if we should update our staff in regards to computerized systems,” he said. He also wants to “have others come into the city and audit where all of our financing and accounting is at, [and] where we’re receiving or we’re taking from and giving to when we subsidize shortfalls.”
Councilman Jim Avalos said he wants to get the town’s schools and faith-community members more involved.
“The schools are involved since they’re the future of our development. I’d like to see more citizens involved and better communication between the citizens and department heads. Everybody’s involved. They make the community grow, or not grow.”
Councilwoman Sarah Guerra agreed there’s a need to beautify the town, especially Downtown Selma.
“We need more lights and speakers for music to make the Downtown feel welcoming. [We need to] create a business fund to incentivize building owners to paint their buildings and consider a color coordination to make our Downtown more attractive.”
City Manager Teresa Gallavan said there’s a need for community development that would bring in revenue to pay for amenities such as parks and housing development.
“We need the infrastructure, like the streets and sewer, and the things that allow development to happen and business to be conducted. But internally, we also need such as resources like more updated technology we can use to be more effective in our jobs.”
Selma residents shared their concerns and offered their solutions regarding economic development, homelessness, crime, gangs and a need for more police officers. On the flip side, others were concerned that increasing a police presence in town would result in more tension in the more impoverished areas of town.
While Ryle summarized the topics, the Councilmembers acknowledged there may be many needs, but questioned how the City would pay for all of them and which to make the priority.
“My number one priority would be economic development,” Trujillo said. “I keep coming back to the fact that we can lay down the policy-making and the structure plan, but it all goes back to economics.”
He laments that no major housing developments or shopping malls have been built in Selma in the past 15 years and he’d like to see the City’s general fund increase from $13 million to $20 million.
“We say want to help our department heads and our city staff needs to be looked at. We need to be at the 21st Century, but’s going to cost us. Where are we going to get the mechanism to fund these?”
Trujillo pointed to more accurate reporting of sales tax, the streamlining of the City’s Planning Department and making better use of its location on Highway 99 as solutions to add to the City’s general fund.
“We’re not being hard. We’re being disciplined. If you have a business in Selma, and you sell something, you should be paying sales tax. It’s one percent and you pay it on consumption and food items. It would elevate our economic development because it increases our sales. That gets us more revenue and then we’re able to help the police and fire departments and our general fund.”
Trujillo also pointed to the need for a dedicated economic development director that would help the city grow economically.
“We need to look at what we’re paying on a consultant basis versus what we could get with an economic development director working for us. I always say, what’s the rate of return for what we’re spending?”
Franco said while more housing is needed, the city’s current sewer infrastructure is already maxed out.
“It sounds boring, but when we take a shower, use the restroom or wash our hands, that water has to go somewhere. How can you build houses if you don’t have anywhere for that water to go? In many parts of Selma, our sewer system is nearing or at the end of life. We’re talking millions of dollars. We’ve been band-aiding it and band-aiding it. We’re two Band-Aids away from being another Flint, Michigan.”
Council went to discuss updates on housing developments, reports from the Selma-Kingsburg-Fowler Sanitation District, beautification efforts, Downtown revitalization and different means to bring pride to the City.
“We have a lot of good people in our community,” Trujillo said. “They give to our businesses. So we as a council need to find way to beautify and educate our community. We could do something monthly or annually to beautify our community to do something positive. If we engage the community, we’ll be able to turn this thing around.”