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Mayor Jones outlines priorities for incentive reform following federal indictments of former aldermen

Published: Jun. 22, 2022 at 7:00 AM CDT|Updated: Jun. 22, 2022 at 1:45 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS CITY, Mo. (KMOV) - In a one-on-one interview, St. Louis City Mayor Tishaura Jones released the findings from a community survey about American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding and discussed incentive reform following federal indictments against three former aldermen.

Mayor Jones joined St. Louis on the Air host Sarah Fenske at noon Wednesday. In the interview, Jones’ first since the indictments on corruption charges, the mayor emphasized that development work must support neighborhood needs and be transparent.

“Equitable development must be driven by the community, not by politics,” said Mayor Jones. “As we work together to begin the difficult process of restoring trust and integrity in City government following these shocking federal corruption charges, any incentive reform must improve transparency, remove conflicts of interest, and include community input.”

“We’ve long had this system where folks who are favored and have the inside track are able to get access and preferential treatment to our tax incentive system,” Ward 15 Alderman Megan Ellyia Green said previously.

There are now board bills that address a practice called “aldermanic courtesy” and conversations about what exactly aldermen are responsible for in their jobs. Also, the St. Louis Development Corporation will stop the sale of Land Reutilization Authority (LRA) properties for a few months while the group takes an in-depth look at the incentive process.

The development corporation says the goal is to create a more transparent, accountable and inclusive incentive process.

On Wednesday, Mayor Jones also shared what city officials learned from a recent survey that asked St. Louisans how ARPA funding should be spent. Nearly 5,000 responses were received. Local residents answered questions that asked what their top three priority areas for investment were. The survey found residents and business owners ranked neighborhood transformation and improving infrastructure as the top categories to spend the remaining $249 million on.

Anyone in the City of St. Louis can look to their right or left and find something that could use money.

“I feel like our potholes are so deep, we touch hell,” Kayla Wilburn said.

“You don’t even see police anymore. there’s too much violence, someone is getting shot, kids getting shot, the money should go there,” Kim Kilgore said.

The city’s “American Rescue Plan Act Community Needs” survey is now offline after about three months. Some city residents News 4 spoke with said they never saw it.

“Where do we get the survey from? I understand a lot of people got it but a lot of people of color didn’t,” Kilgore said.

“I just found out about it from you so if I saw it in the mail, then I would fill it out and send it in a lot faster than just waiting to see if someone checked the website,” Wilburn said.

With roughly 5,000 responses, the survey finds neighborhood transformation, infrastructure improvements and youth programming as the city’s biggest needs.

Approx. 67 percent of the people who responded are white and 58 percent are female. That’s not the most accurate representation of the city.

When asked on St. Louis on the Air this week if the survey results are skewed, Mayor Tishaura Jones said her office also hosted town halls, allowing people to answer the survey in person.

“We have always wanted community input. we have to meet people where they are and we want them to tell us how their government can work for them not the other way around,” Mayor Jones said.

She said she doesn’t think the money will be allocated before the board of aldermen adjourns in July. Alderman Jack Coater said he agrees with that timeline.

“I believe you have to do more brick and mortar with this second round, stuff people can see because we are coming out of the pandemic and there is less of a need for those pandemic services,” Coatar said.

The city has until 2026 to spend the remaining $249 million in ARPA funds.

Other cities similar to St. Louis’ size like Kansas City and Memphis have already spent hundreds of millions of dollars to make immediate upgrades.

“It’s not helpful, I can tell you that,” Coatar explained. “The excuse has always been we can’t do something because we are broke, well now we have the money so let’s put it to good use.

Coatar said there will be a Board of Aldermen hearing in a couple weeks to discuss the survey.

Mayor Jones’ office said any proposed bill in the city has to have a public session. That’s residents’ next best chance to comment on the ARPA dollars.

A date for that session has not been set. Click here for the full breakdown of ARPA survey data.