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Tyus forces aldermen to review tax-break bills more closely

CITY HALL – With a parliamentary maneuver, First Ward Alderwoman Sharon Tyus forced the Board of Aldermen last week to take a closer look at bills granting tax breaks for smaller developments, including one building. 

Sharon Tyus
At Friday’s meeting, Tyus asked that 12 redevelopment bills that included tax breaks be removed from the consent calendar and be considered and voted on separately. She said she would do the same thing for similar items on the consent calendar from now on.

The consent calendar is meant as a time-saving method of quickly dealing with noncontroversial bills. All the bills on the calendar – either for initial or final passage – can be voted on at once. Any alderman can ask that a bill be removed from the consent calendar and considered separately.

This method can save time in a long meeting and can include legislation on such things as approving a stop sign or closing a street. But when a bill might cut tax revenue for the city, the schools and other local governmental bodies, Tyus said, it’s important to spend the extra time to get it right.

“This is very mild when I say this is going to be case by case,” Tyus said. She said this was especially important considering the plans of the St. Louis Public Schools to close several schools. 

“There is definitely a need to have more scrutiny on abatement, particularly in wards like mine,” said 24th Ward Alderman Bret Narayan, who represents an area that includes Dogtown. In those areas, extra stimulus isn’t needed, he said.

One common form of tax break involves abating – or canceling – a portion of the tax increase brought on by a development during a set number of years. 

One of those approved last week by the Board of Aldermen called for the redevelopment of an unoccupied four-family building at 3170-3172 Oregon Avenue in the Benton Park West neighborhood into a two-family building with two bedrooms in each half.  It would allow for a 50 percent tax abatement for five years.  

The project calls for a $400,000 investment, said Ninth Ward Alderman Dan Guenther, who represents the area of the building and introduced the redevelopment bill. 

“I think it’s a perfect candidate for tax abatement,” 22nd Ward Alderman Jeffrey Boyd said.

After discussion, the bill passed 24-2.

Not everybody agreed with making the full Board of Aldermen review such bills.

One dissenter was 25th Ward Alderman Shane Cohn. He said the proper place to handle those bills was the board’s Neighborhood Development Committee. Any alderman can bring any question about a bill to one of those meetings and get an answer there, Cohn said.

Shane Cohn
“This is really kind of redundant,” Cohn said. 

“If we’re going to do that, then we might as well eliminate the Neighborhood Development Committee,” Cohn said. “Otherwise, we’re looking at six hourlong meetings every week.”

But Sixth Ward Alderwoman Christine Ingrassia said it was the job of the Board of Aldermen to vet the bills either in committee or on the floor of the board. 

“I don’t care who is uncomfortable,” Tyus said. “I’m not going to see my schools close in north St. Louis.”

Jim Merkel

southsidemerkel@gmail.com Born and raised in the St. Louis area, Jim Merkel covered communities throughout the area from 1991 to 2013 for the old Suburban Journals of Greater St. Louis. He is the author of five books about the Gateway City published by Reedy Press. The latest is Growing Up St. Louis: Looking Back Through the Decades. He and his wife, Lorraine, live in the Bevo Mill neighborhood of south St. Louis with Miss Jenny the Cat. For more about Jim, visit www.jimmerkelthewriter.com.

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