Despite some scrutiny last year over how often they met and whether they were accomplishing goals of recruiting new businesses, the Sealy Economic Development Corp. is blazing ahead with plans for the new year.
Board members include chairman Brian Lapham, Billy Schavrda, Sterling Schiller, Adam Burttschell, Wyn McCready and council members John Hinze and Dee Anne Lerma.
An offer has been extended to a new EDC director, who will replace recently-retired Kim Meloneck, but at press time the person had not started the job and no name or salary information was released.
Lapham, the EDC chairman, said the group is excited about the new director and expects to discuss the matter at its next meeting Jan. 15. Council will make the final approval at its Jan. 22 meeting.
The most recent EDC meeting, held Dec. 18, lasted just 20 minutes and included a review of the financial report and a project update from City Manager Lloyd Merrell. The city manager reviewed the following projects:
• The city’s $15.6 million wastewater treatment plant is about 65 percent complete, Merrell said, adding that the contractor is about 5 percent ahead of schedule on getting it done.
• The Rexville water tank renovation should be complete by late January.
• Engineers have provided a preliminary schedule for Main Street water line improvements and a contract will be awarded in March, with construction to begin April 15. A January 2020 completion date is scheduled.
• The Highway 36 sewer and water extension will be advertised for bids in late February with the bid slated for award March 26 and completion scheduled for February 2020.
• BP&W Park walking trail construction began in January.
City Secretary Dayl Cooksey announced that businesses hoping to locate in Sealy often send information about what type of land or how many acres they are seeking. That information is gleaned by city staff and a response is provided, but the EDC is immediately informed. The corporation has not received any recent requests for grant funding, Cooksey added.
The organization came under fire in May when Diane Wuthrich and Mischelle McCarthy, who made failed bids for city council seats, lobbied to serve on the EDC.
In a 4-3 vote – with council members Larry Koy, John Hinze and Jennifer Sullivan opposed – EDC members Burttschell and Schiller were reappointed to the panel, and Councilwoman Dee Anne Lerma and Wyn McCready were also tapped to serve.
Councilman Larry Koy wanted to keep his seat on the EDC and asked for Schiller, Burttschell and Debra Luckett to be reappointed.
The discussion became heated as accusations were made about the effectiveness of the EDC, which at the time, did not meet frequently.
“Last year they skipped six meetings,” McCarthy said. “They get one-third of the tax revenue. Show up at the meetings. Let’s come together, let’s be in each other’s faces, let’s come up with ideas. Let’s go out and talk to the citizens and find out what they want because I can assure you it is not another Mexican restaurant. It is not another industrial place.”
Wuthrich said she believed most of the money funneled to the EDC was going to an existing local business rather than recruiting new ones.
“I see how much the utilities are going to have to go up to try and get that money in the Sealy city coffers,” she said, adding that the EDC leadership has not been effective or enthusiastic in seeking new businesses. “I’m really tired of hearing, ‘let’s keep Sealy little.’ We can’t afford it anymore.”
The criticism was countered by council member Koy, who said the EDC in fact had recruited many new businesses and created hundreds of jobs. Sullivan alluded to “cyberbullying” activity on social media among those who were lobbying to serve on the board.
The EDC formed in 1997 and uses sales tax revenues to recruit new businesses to the area and create job opportunities. During a brief interview Monday, Lapham said he’s pleased with the progress the group has made since he’s served on the board the past few years.
“We’ve got a very good group, he said. “We have some very knowledgeable people.”
Meetings are held at 6 p.m. on the third Tuesday of each month.