At one point during the Aug. 13 Salinas City Council meeting, Mayor Joe Gunter asked certain audience members to stand up and be recognized. He wanted to know who was there to support the Salinas United Business Association, a special assessment district which represents merchants and business owners across East Salinas, and who was there to call for SUBA’s end.
Orange fliers those in the latter group carried may have been a giveaway. On the fliers were a litany of complaints: that SUBA has ruined the credit scores of business owners who have failed to pay their yearly district assessments by sending them to collections; that SUBA has, since its inception, failed to file complete financial reports with the city; that it takes credit for events it didn’t organize; that it overpaid salaries of two employees; and that SUBA’s board has refused to meet with business owners. And those business owners have asked the state Franchise Tax Board and the IRS to investigate.
There were more detractors than supporters in the audience, about 15 to five. And now SUBA Executive Director Alejandro Chavez is trying to figure out how to keep SUBA from imploding – and keep its 693 members happy – while dealing with the reality that if people don’t pay their annual assessments, things like cleanups, landscaping, marketing and special events can’t happen.
Last year, SUBA should have collected $128,000 in assessments. Instead, it collected about $70,000.
Over the lifespan of the organization, which launched in 2003, some $400,000 in assessments have gone uncollected; the city, which collects the assessments and disburses the funds to SUBA, has sent many of those accounts to collections.
“We’re in a Catch-22,” Chavez says. “People say we’re not performing and that’s why they’re not paying… the organization is in financial trouble, it really is.”
Gunter arranged a meeting on Aug. 19 between SUBA, several supporters and several detractors. His message to the group: Figure out a way to get along, and fast. And start by getting a professional audit of the books, make the results public and hold an election to fill the five empty seats on the 11-member board.
“People are angry. They don’t feel they’re getting their money’s worth and they don’t feel they’re getting represented properly,” Gunter says. “I’d like to see the elections happen sooner rather than later because I believe they can move this organization in a positive light.”
SUBA member Griselda Rodriguez, who co-owns Electronics Plus, says she would be OK if SUBA disbanded, but thinks more people need to get involved.
“We’re all busy,” she says, “but if you’re not happy with SUBA, they’re always looking for board members and volunteers.”