8 Reasons To Oppose Another Tax Hike For Soulard (Soulard CID)

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Tomorrow/Tuesday is the Public Hearing on the Board Bill 83 to establish another special taxing district for Soulard. This one will not have any renters on the Board.

10 am Tuesday, July 2nd, 2019
Board of Aldermen
Ways & Means Committee
Kennedy Hearing Room, Room 208, City Hall, 1200 Market
Open to Public

Public Hearing on Board Bill 83 by 7th Ward Alderman Jack Coatar to create the Soulard Community Improvement District, a special tax district. Passage of the Board Bill would facilitate a vote on sales tax funding of the District. The vote would be by registered voters within the district by mail.

Soulard Community Improvement WebsiteThere is no mention of Tuesday’s Public Hearing on the website.

City Online Calendar Notice/Agenda. Committee’s Agenda was not posted until 8:34 am Monday. We previously only knew Board Bill 83 would be heard because property owners within the proposed District received their meeting notice required by law (from the CID’s legal counsel, Husch Blackwell). These types of board bills are aldermanic privilege bills, meaning the hearing is a formality and no one will vote against it.

Members of Ways & Means Committee: Chair/10th Ward Alderman Joe Vollmer; Vice Chair/19th Ward Alderwoman Marlene Davis, 5th Ward Alderwoman Tammika Hubbard; 13th Ward Alderwoman Beth Murphy; 14th Ward Alderwoman Carol Howard; 16th Ward Alderman Tom Oldenburg, 20th Ward Alderwoman Cara Spencer, 21st Ward Alderman John Collins-Muhammad, 23rd Ward Alderman Joe Vaccaro, 26th Ward Alderwoman Shameem Hubbard, 27th Ward Alderwoman Pam Boyd. Board President Lewis Reed is a voting member of all committees.

Contact Information for all Alderpersons and President Reed.

Some good people have worked very hard on the proposed Soulard CID. But I ask that you look at this issue on its merits and not on the personalities involved.

Here are some reasons to oppose the proposal.

1) State Auditor Nicole Galloway says Community Improvement Districts are a hot mess. Yes. As proponents point out, there are lots of CIDs. What they don’t point out is that most CIDs are for developers to pocket tax money, not neighborhood improvements, and most are poorly run transparency fails. Just because everyone is doing it, doesn’t mean they are doing it well.

2) Taxation Without Representation. The Soulard CID would be a political subdivision governed by Directors appointed by the Mayor, not elected by voters of the District. If someone suggested that the City Charter be changed to provide for Aldermen appointed by the Mayor instead of elected by the people, most of us would think that’s crazy. What is proposed for this CID is the same thing, the Mayor appointing people to spend our tax dollars without checks and balances. Let’s say you like the current Mayor Lyda Krewson and think she makes good choices. Fine. But she won’t be Mayor forever. It’s poor public policy to agree to something long term based on the personality of a person. Had Rex Sinquefield had his way, City CID appointments would be made by someone City voters did not elect, the County Executive.

State law, per Section 67.1451 RSMo, enables appointment of CID Directors OR election. That’s right. This taxing district could have elections for its directors but campaign organizers or the law firm putting everything together made a decision not to.

3) Taxation Without Representation. The Soulard CID Board would have no representation by renters within the District’s boundaries. Renters make up over 70% of the neighborhood’s residents. The CID was drafted deliberately to leave a super majority of the neighborhood without a voice in how their tax dollars are being spent.

The statutory options for who sits on the Board, per Section 67.1451 RSMo, include Directors who are own real property or a business operating in the District OR are registered voters within the District. I’ve heard from some supporters that the law did not allow for renters to serve and that is not true. Look at the above link to the actual law.

4) The proposed CID Sales Tax Is Regressive, affecting our senior citizen and low income neighbors more than those better off.

5) CIDs are parochial, increase fragmentation in the City and region, and further widens the Haves and Have Nots gap. Tax Revenue is not escaping Soulard. This proposal does not capture revenue currently going to City General Revenue. It’s as if some proponents are saying, vote for this Sales Tax and then vote against future citywide tax hikes. Once we have ours, screw everyone else. The City’s problems need to be addressed citywide, not as every neighborhood its own city-state. Soulard’s sales tax is lower than neighboring areas with CIDs, a competitive edge that should be exploited in marketing. Dine in Soulard, lower sales tax than…

6) The boundaries of the proposed CID are ridiculous.  Soulard is part in 7th Ward and part in 9th Ward. Some proponents say that former 9th Ward Aldermen Ken Ortmann wanted to exempt all of 9th Ward Soulard, everything south of Sidney. Why does a former alderman get to decide these things? Exempt are his bar (Cat’s Meow), Anheuser-Busch Brewery, and a lot of other businesses.

Then there are many blocks in the 7th Ward part of Soulard that are exempt, including Soulard Market. Perhaps the plan is for Soulard Market to collect it’s own CID tax after the Soulard CID is approved. Again, more fragmentation.

If there is to be a Soulard CID then make it all of Soulard. Wait until after 2020 Census and lobby for Soulard to be redistricted into one ward with one alderperson. If you’re going to make improvements to the neighborhood, then the entire neighborhood should  be included. It’s not the Soulard CID if huge areas are left out. Organizers say this was the easiest way to do it and areas can be added later. “Anything worth doing, is worth doing right.”Hunter S. Thompson, admittedly not someone with a Soulard connection that I am aware.
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7) We don’t know what specifically the money will be used for and transparency is a already a known problem among CIDs. Lots of vagueness in the proposal.

Money for infrastructure improvements? Does that mean subsidizing a development or enhancing sidewalks and lighting for existing businesses?

Money for Clean Up and Maintenance? Does that mean paying for Mardi Gras clean up?

Money for Marketing and Branding? Will there be an RFP for a consultant or will someone everyone knows get the job?

Money for Community Development? Does that mean fixing up a slumlord’s property?

Will the money be used to hire a political consultant? The Downtown CID is currently doing that.

Will the money be used to sponsor Mardi Gras?

Are there big projects that might enhance the neighborhood and be worthy of some kind of special tax district specific to the project? Sure. A parking garage perhaps. And, as it turns out, State law provides a number of funding district options for that sort of thing. Soulard is not constrained to a sales tax CID.

Soulard has enough transparency issues already. Soulard Special Business District (property tax for security) doesn’t post Meeting Agendas or Minutes on its website and it doesn’t post meeting notices to the City Online Calendar, a violation of Mayor’s Executive Order #60.

The CID’s biggest proponent is Soulard Restoration Group. A number of SRG Board members quit over the past year because of transparency issues. The organization quit posting its Minutes of Board Meetings online and it hasn’t posted General Membership Minutes since February.

Mardi Gras Foundation last posted Board Meeting Minutes online in September 2015

8) Taxes are already too high. It doesn’t matter if Soulard votes down the next citywide tax/rate hikes from Zoo & Museum District, Metropolitan Sewer District, St. Louis Public Schools District, Bi-State Metro public transit, or proposal from Board of Aldermen. If it passes citywide, is adopted by all those areas that don’t have special taxing districts, Soulardians will end up paying as well. So if you think, OK, this CID tax is the last sales tax increase, think again. Rex Sinquefield wants to replace all income taxes with sales taxes statewide. Imagine what 15-20% sales tax would do to Soulard.

Enough is enough.

The BOA Ways & Means Committee will rubber stamp this thing Tuesday and then the Full Board will rubber stamp it and it’s on to the mail in election on the sales tax. I have zero optimism this thing can be stopped. SRG will spend whatever it takes to get it passed. But I do think there should be a conversation and that’s my purpose here.

If you’re not already registered to vote, you can obtain the form here.

— Marie Ceselski, 7th Ward Democratic Committeewoman

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Downtown CID Hiring A Political Consultant For Renewal Campaign

CIDDTmapImagine having a municipal tax with a ten year sunset requiring renewal and your City used some of that money to pay for the campaign to renew the tax. That would be illegal under Missouri law. You cannot use public resources to campaign for elected officials or ballot issues.

And, yet, that is very similar to what the Downtown St. Louis Community Improvement District is doing. The difference is that this CID is funded by an assessment on property within the CID  boundaries. While CIDs are political subdivisions of the State, some more than others. In the case of the Downtown CID, it appears to be more nonprofit than political subdivision. Still, does use of CID assessments for political purposes violate state law? Is this CID subject to the same laws as other political subdivisions or is it a business version of a Home Owners Association on steroids?

In August 2018, State Auditor Nicole Galloway issued a scathing audit of CIDs across Missouri, including the Downtown CID. That would imply that the revenue collected is indeed a public resource. However, the Downtown CID and its assessment funding are approved by petition, not election. Does the petition process constitute an election? Good question.

The Downtown CID is certainly treating its renewal like an election. It recently issued a Request for Proposals for “Political and Public Relations Consulting Services.” Proposals are due 3 pm Monday.

The RFP clearly states that the job is “related to the impending expiration, and potential renewal or reorganization of the CID.” Qualifications include experience in “ballot or petition issues in Missouri” and “crisis management.” One has to wonder how big a mess a CID is in to need a crisis management professional.
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Sunday Plant Swap @ Nadine’s

plantswapSome Soulard residents are joining forces with gardeners in other neighborhoods for a Plant and Seed Swap from 9 am to 11 am Sunday, April 28th on the patio at The Joint/Nadine’s, 1931 S 12th in Soulard.

Bring your extra houseplant or yard garden, pretties or edibles, bulbs & roots, plant cuttings, extra seedlings, seeds, and gardening questions. New to gardening and don’t have anything to swap? Come anyway.

Nadine will provide some beer boxes to take plant goodies home but bring your own boxes/bags if you have any.

Reminder, there’s a brunch menu full of delicious dishes at The Joint/Nadine’s.

Follow The Out Of State Dark Money In School Board Election

schoolboardelectionTuesday, April 2, is a very important St. Louis City School Board Election. The State will soon return governance of our School District to our Elected School Board.

Who the two new School Board Members are will matter enormously on decisions made here and at state level on Charter Schools and other privatization. In an election where dark money from public school privatization proponents is attempting to elect two candidates- Adam Layne and Tracee Miller, it’s alarming that local news media spent little time on the election and no one covered the dark money issue.

ADAM LAYNE

According to campaign finance records filed with Missouri Ethics Commission, School Board Candidate Adam Layne has spent a mere $511.16 on the election so far, mostly for out of state printing. In citywide elections, that low level of spending is usually associated with perennial candidates and third party candidates with zero chance of winning. It can also mean the candidate is working with a consultant and the consultant will not bill until election day or after. Transparency Fail.

His MEC records, however, do not tell the whole story.

Last week, St. Louis City-based Civil PAC sent out a targeted, glossy, multi-color mailing supporting Adam Layne. Voters received the mailing on or about Monday, March 22nd. Civil PAC was created by political consultant JP Johnson after his defeat for 79th District State Rep. The Treasurer is Joe Wilson, a political consultant and public defender (I had no idea you could do both at the same time), who previously worked for Rex Sinquefield’s Better Together.

At the time of the mailing, Civil PAC had $37.21 in its bank account per MEC records. On Wednesday, March 24th, Civil PAC reported to MEC that it had received a $20,000 donation on March 19th. The donation was from Public School Allies, 6312 Seven Corners Center #354, Falls Church, VA 22044. The address is a UPS drop box.

Public School Allies is the Political Action Committee for The City Fund, an organization that supports privatization of public schools. But Public School Allies is not registered as a Political Action Committee with the Federal Elections Commission, Commonwealth of Virginia, or State of Missouri. There’s no transparency on who really donated the money to fund Adam Layne’s campaign for School Board.

Why do public school privatization supporters support Adam Layne? Layne is a former Teach for America teacher. Teach for America is a union busting organization that replaces career teachers with low paying short term teachers without formal educator training.

The school privatization movement recruits Teach for America alumni to run for school boards across the country. Teach for America has many ties to The City Fund which paid for Adam Layne’s mailer.

In his interview with the local teacher’s union for an endorsement, Layne verified that he supported so-called Right to Work laws. Missouri voters overwhelmingly defeated Right to Work last August.

Layne is also a board member for Jack Krewson’s new charter school- Kairos Academies. Krewson is a Teach for America alumni.

Charter schools are private schools funded with public money. There is no governance by the elected School Board or accountability on tax dollars spent. There are great charter schools, charter schools that do as well as public schools, and charter schools who perform worse than public schools. But the thing they all have in common is they take public funds away from public schools.

TRACEE MILLER

School Board Candidate Tracee Miller is also Teach for America alumni and previously worked for Blueprint Schools, which made a bad situation even worse in Boston public schools.

Per campaign finance reports, Miller received $1,000, to date, from Leadership for Educational Equity, 1805 7th Street NW, Washington, DC 20001 and then paid the same organization $1,000, to date, for consultant services. Leadership for Educational Equity is a charter school/privatization advocacy group that recruits Teach for America alumni to run for school boards across the country.

Miller received the money from the nonprofit, not its Political Action Committee, so there is no way to trace the money further.

Miller’s campaign has received another $6,150, mostly from other states, including current Teach for America teachers/alumni, people connected with her online education employer Khan Academy, and unemployed persons.

Miller carries a $8,593.43 debt for the campaign, to date. You don’t run up that kind of bill running for School Board without someone in mind to pay the tab.

And speaking of campaign debt, at a candidate forum last week, Miller said the $1,000 from Leadership for Educational Equity was a loan, not a donation. She is her own treasurer, is the person responsible for the campaign finance reports, and should know what’s reported. They clearly show no loans made to her campaign.

Follow the money.

If you’d like to see the campaign finance records yourself, check here.

All sorts of Tuesday candidates & issues information here (scroll down past sample ballot).

— Marie Ceselski, 7th Ward Democratic Committeewoman