(KMOV)-- After 23 years, state regulators will no longer be watching East St. Louis’ spending.
Mayor Alvin Parks called a news conference Wednesday to announce that the city is no longer classified as “financially distressed.” The city is ditching the label after making its last payment of an $21-million bond issued by the state in 1994 to keep the city from going bankrupt and to fund the police and fire departments.
Paying off the bonds opened the door for the city to also ditch the East St. Louis Financial Advisory Authority, a state-run group, which has been regulating city spending since 1990.
The Operations Director for the Financial Advisory Authority says they regularly catch discrepancies in spending and the city is not ready for the transition.
“Given declining revenue, ongoing liabilities that remain outstanding, no. It will be challenging. Based on what we know it will be challenging for the city going forward,” says Jennifer Wilson.
The Financial Advisory Authority was responsible for exposing East St. Louis corruption, including bribes accepted by the city’s former Community Development Director Arthur Johnson for a failed affordable housing complex. Johnson is currently serving a three year sentence in federal prison.
“We’re certainly ready to have that kind of oversight eliminated, that’s not to say the Financial Advisory Authority has not played key roles in helping make sure we stay on track,” says Mayor Parks.
The East St. Louis Financial Advisory Authority is now set to be eliminated in about 30 days pending state certification.
Opinions among East St. Louis residents differ on whether the city can be responsible with tax dollars. Tamara Moran says she doesn’t trust city government to spend it wisely.
“Because you don’t know what (the city) is doing with the money, to be honest,” says Moran.
Charles Daniels is hopeful the current administration will come through.
“We have an extremely intelligent mayor,” says Daniels. “I think they’re doing an outstanding job,” he adds.
The city has a three year financial plan in place says Mayor Parks. Paying off the bonds frees up approximately two-million dollars annually, according to figures provided by the city. That money will be spent on police, fire, public works, and other general operating expenses.