Council addresses Sealy Community Foundation funds

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Sealy City Council members revisited the issue of utility tax rates during a Nov. 14 meeting and one councilman questioned a local charity about how their funds are doled out.

Interim City Manager Warren Escovy advised that Councilman Larry Koy questioned the amount given to Sealy Community Foundation and how it is dispersed.

“In this particular instance, what we found was the council gives Sealy Community Foundation $42,500 for this current year, and what I did find out was that they’ll use that money … this specific question was about money given to the Chamber of Commerce for work they did during Sealybration,” Escovy said.

Council members and Sealy Community Foundation president Melanie Willingham appeared confused about why the matter was on the agenda.

“I have no clue what you’re even talking about,” said Councilwoman Dee Anne Lerma.

Willingham stressed that the matter could have been handled with a phone call.

“I have nothing to say; I don’t know what this is about,” Willingham said. “I just put my name down in case I needed to talk … As y’all can tell through the audit, we’re not doing anything wrong.”

Koy said the stipend for Sealy Community Foundation comes out of Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) funds, and some of the money is passed along to the Sealy Chamber of Commerce.

“It’s perfectly legal to give the money to Sealy Foundation and the Chamber of Commerce. My question is I couldn’t comprehend how you give HOT money to the foundation and the foundation gives it to the Chamber,” Koy said. “The Chamber also receives money from the city of Sealy … I don’t really have an issue; I just couldn’t quite understand how it works.”

Willingham clarified by distributing bank statements on SCF funding and explaining how the money is spent.

“The Chamber of Commerce donated their time to us during Sealybration, however, according to our agreement with the city we have to set up a grant account,” Willingham said. “That grant account can only be used for a certain number of things – advertising, fine arts, entertainment. We did give a donation to the Chamber. We gave one to Main Street. We’ll be hosting a dinner for city employees, and that comes out of our personal account.”

According to its website, SCF was established in 2009 “to serve as a voice for all non-profit organizations in Austin County, with a main focus on the advancement of education and charity. We strive to create more opportunities for Austin County nonprofit organizations to utilize fundraising efforts at our local festivals: Sealybration and Fantasy of Lights. All proceeds collected during these events are given in the form of senior scholarships and donations to participating organizations.”

In other matters at the Nov. 14 meeting, the City Council:

•Approved a 7 percent increase to water rates and a 0 percent increase for sanitary sewer rates.

•Approved an employee pay scale as presented by staff. Council members Jennifer Sullivan and Larry Koy opposed; Chris Noack abstained.

•Entered into a mutual aid law enforcement agreement with Sealy ISD.

•Executed a library services agreement with Virgil and Josephine Gordon Memorial Library.

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