Selma breaks down budget priorities, concerns

Selma City Council reviews draft budget proposal, addressing concerns and priorities for the upcoming fiscal year

Selma City Council along with city staff and administration during a regular meeting on May 20, 2024. (Serena Bettis)
Serena Bettis
Published May 22, 2024  • 
9:00 am

SELMA – Picking up from a workshop held earlier this spring, the city of Selma walked through its fiscal year 2024-25 budget proposal with the city council, which addressed items that the council previously said it wanted to see added to the budget.

At its May 20 meeting, the Selma City Council reviewed the city’s proposed expenses and revenues and discussed the council’s goals for the next year. Mayor Scott Robertson made it clear that part of his priority for next year’s budget is ensuring that funding for downtown infrastructure improvements is not just allocated in the budget, but that the city follows through with those projects.

“In order for me to be able to vote for this budget, I would definitely want to have a guarantee that we are going to put in downtown speakers and trees this year,” Robertson said. “We are actually gonna do this, we’re gonna take this money and actually do it, or it’s gonna be impossible for me to vote for this budget because I think one of the things that we heard … is downtown just looks barren right now.” 

City Manager Fernando Santillan kicked off the presentation with a general overview of the department budgets — which were first presented during an April 5 workshop — and spoke in more detail about the city’s special funds and various revenue sources. Santillan also reviewed items added to the budget after the April workshop. 

In response to council member requests, the city added $60,000 for funding to address homelessness and the city’s unhoused population, $100,000 for the Business Improvement District’s (BID) downtown storefront improvement grant program, $80,000 in new and carry-over funding for downtown speakers and trees and $80,000 for new downtown lighting.

Heading into the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, the city is planning for a reduction in both expenses and revenues but is still operating without a deficit. The general fund, which is what the city uses for most of its operating costs, is proposed to have $19.1 million in expenses, down from $22.1 million in the last year, and $19.3 million in revenues, down from $22.2 million. 

Santillan has previously said that expenses are significantly lower because of the city’s shift to a self-funded health insurance option, and he explained that total revenues are lower because of dips in sales tax. 

Sales and use tax makes up nearly half of Selma’s general fund revenues, and it is estimated to bring in approximately $9 million in the upcoming fiscal year, down 3% from what was adopted in the budget last year. Santillan said this can be primarily attributable to a decrease in auto sales, which typically generates a lot of revenue for the city. 

“During COVID, used car sales just went through the roof and new car sales went through the roof at a very unsustainable level, and so now we’re starting to see that level out, which we already knew that was gonna happen,” Santillan said. “Fortunately, we have different industries here in town that have helped keep that decrease more stable.”

Notable numbers

One item that stood out to members of the public and the city council was the total operating budget for the animal services department, which has increased since the city ended its contract with nonprofit Second Chance Animal Shelter at the beginning of the year. 

The proposed expenses are $518,721, and the city estimates the department will bring in $185,200. The city is spending more than $330,000 on shelter employee salaries alone, and while it plans to generate revenue from service fees, it has been waiving certain fees over the last few months to encourage people to pick up lost pets, microchip their pets and more.

Robertson brought up how much the city had previously been paying Second Chance for their animal sheltering and control services, which was approximately $360,000 annually based on the monthly rate in the most recent contract between the nonprofit and the city. 

Santillan said the city was not generating any revenue when it contracted with Second Chance, but because it is contracting with Kingsburg to shelter dogs and collecting various service fees, the city’s net expenses for animal services are approximately $330,000 annually, meaning that the general fund is subsidizing fewer operating costs than previously.

Council members and residents have previously criticized how the city appears to be spending more money on animal services now when part of its reasoning for ending the Second Chance contract had to do with high costs. 

“I just want to say on the animal services budget, wow, … that’s a lot of money,” resident Santiago Oceguera said during public comment. “I’m with a lot of people here, … I know you keep saying they’re doing a wonderful job, but myself and a lot of people in the community will disagree; more needs to be done, and hopefully they step up to the challenge, because we need to take care of the animals.” 

The council also discussed the cultural arts fund, which is housed under the community services department and is primarily used for operations at the Selma Arts Center. Santillan said the fund is the only city fund that currently has a deficit of about $125,000 and city staff have been working on finding a way to get it to operate in a surplus. 

Members of the public spoke about how important the Selma Arts Center is and provided suggestions for how the center could bring in more revenue, but said that the services provided through the arts programs shouldn’t be focused on money. After the budget discussion, community services department staff gave an update on their programming and said that they have been exploring options for additional events at the arts center to help bring in additional funds. 

The full budget proposal, including department expenses broken down by specific fund and function, is available for public viewing on the city website. Santillan said the city will bring back the final fiscal year 2024-25 budget for further review and adoption at the council meeting on June 3; the city is required to adopt a budget by June 30.

Serena Bettis
General Assignment Reporter