It’s back to the drawing board for the Southside Economic Development District after the State Bond Commission turned down its request to hike taxes in South Monroe pending a resolution of support from the Monroe City Council.
This week Charles Theus, executive director of SEDD appeared before the Bond Commission asking for permission to place a .55 percent sales tax increase on the ballot for voter approval.
However, the bonding commission members said they received calls and input from various sources in Monroe that were all opposed to the idea, including the Monroe Chamber of Commerce.
Instead of approving Theus’ planned tax hike, the Commission gave SEDD until March 11 to get a resolution of support from the city council.
Theus fielded questions from commissioners about opposition to the tax idea from many quarters in Monroe and his plan uses for the estimated $1 million a year.
What’s missing is Theus’ plan for the $1 million a year that the tax would generate. SEDD has no plan on paper although there many verbal plans mentioned including a water park, community arena, refurbishing of a crosswalk on Renwick Street and a business incubator. However, SEDD has no written plan.
Last April, SEDD began collecting about $10,000 a month from a two-percent tax on Southside Hotels. Although it has generated over $90,000, SEDD has nothing to show for funds that have already been collected.
SEDD’s financial reports show that it has paid for architectural drawings of building ideas, leased a car for Theus, hired a consultant to lobby for a casino, and bought expensive items such as big screen TV’s for Theus’ office, but has not launched a single business initiative.
Last year, SEDD announced that several small businesses would receive checks of up to $1,500 each to help with startup costs, but none of those publically announced received any money from SEDD.
SEDD’s inability to leverage the funds it has led the Free Press and others in the Monroe community to question whether the present administration of SEDD is ready to handle a million dollars a year on behalf of South Monroe.
Theus told the commission, that SEDD plans to renovate a bridge crossing U.S. 165 near Carroll High School, but it will cost approximately $150,000. The initial projection to paint and refurbish the bridge for $250,000 raised eyebrows after some businessmen in the area complained that small businesses could be helped more $250,000 were loaned for business startups rather than repainting a bridge.
The district, he said, has been frugal with the money it has but cannot afford the repairs yet.
The Bond Commission also received letters of opposition from the Monroe Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors that cited a variety of reasons for opposition.
Theus often blasted the Chamber of Commerce because he said they were against anything that would help advance the Black community. He also publicly accused City Councilman Micheal Echols of working to stop SEDD’s progress.
The SEDD district is located in the District of Councilman Eddie Clark, but Theus says, he has not spoken with Clark about any future plans or obtained his support for the tax increase.
Although it has $100,000 at its disposal, the SEDD’s office building is poor repair, siding has fallen to the ground and has not been repaired despite Theus’ promises for over a year that repairing its own facilities is in the works.
When asked about support from the Monroe City Council, Theus told the Commission that he has spoken to the council about the proposed tax. Theus’s comments to council usually come in the three-minute citizen participation section of the council’s agenda at the end of its meetings.
Theus has boasted that he could get SEDD’s tax on the ballot without the City Council’s endorsement because it was not required by law.
However, this week, Bond Commission members said they did not feel comfortable injecting themselves in what appears to be a local controversy; that’s why they want the local letter of support from the council.
State Treasurer and Chair John Schroder said he also received many phone calls and suggested Theus obtain a resolution saying the city council is in support of the measure.
“I sort of feel like we are trying to settle the argument, and that is really not our place,” Schroder said.
Theus said he doubts he can get a letter of support from the majority of the Monroe City Council.
Without a letter of support, his million dollar a year tax plan, is dead.