Tax Abatement Issue Resurfaces
There was nothing on the agenda regarding the tax abatement. In July, an ordinance to allow negotiations on the tax abatement passed on first reading, but quickly drew an outcry from residents. Officials were seeking a deal that would permit condo purchasers at The Monarch to pay only 40 percent of city taxes for five years. Longtime homeowners asked why they should not get the same consideration.
The Monarch is a 63-condo project that includes a senior center and veterans' center on the ground floor. Seniors now meet in leased space about a block away. Recently, the mayor and the administration urged support of a tax abatement to prevent the condos from becoming rentals.
In an unprecedented move, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs came out of her office Tuesday into the rotunda to urge the seniors to support the tax abatement, suggesting that without it, the project might fail. The City Council was still in executive session.
But even on Tuesday, a senior brought up the issue of longtime homeowners needing a tax break before the city helps a developer.
Once inside the meeting at City Hall Library, seniors had to endure more than three hours of presentations, discussions and council business before being allowed to speak. Only three seniors spoke, mainly reminding the legislators that the seniors’ efforts over the decades paved the way for their election to the governing body.
Robert Nelson reminded the council of city civil rights pioneers such as the late Marshall Brown and Emily Washington. Washington herself said Tuesday, "Do what you can for us."
But City-wide at-large Councilwoman Annie McWilliams pointed out that the council had no knowledge of the new effort to push the tax abatement until Tuesday. To learn that private citizens had the information earlier, she said, “For me, that’s a problem.”
Senior Marion Trabelsi, speaking of the promised move from leased space at 305 East Front Street to the new center at 400 East Front Street, said seniors “feel lately that we are going to be put in the street.’’
Robinson-Briggs took the floor during the council meeting to urge the governing body to support the tax abatement. Councilman William Reid, the mayor's campaign treasurer, reminded the council that the ordinance only opens the way for negotiations. As midnight approached, the council closed the public portion of the meeting to go back into executive session for more discussion of the tax abatement, even though Reid said he thought the discussion had been completed.
Meanwhile, seniors filed outside to board a city-owned van for the ride home, some grumbling they had been taken advantage of.
The condo/senior center project has missed three completion deadlines so far, but the mayor hosted a large celebration at the new center on a one-day occupancy permit May 20, before winning the June primary. In the Nov. 4 general election, she is opposed by Republican James Pivnichny and independent Deborah Dowe. The senior center is the focus of her "Promises made, promises kept" campaign slogan.