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Leaders give their take on the state of St. Louis region

St. Charles County executive Steve Ehlmann, Mayor Francis Slay, and St. Clair County executive Mark Kern (right) at the State of the Region breakfast on January 12, 2017
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Charles County executive Steve Ehlmann (left), Mayor Francis Slay (second from left) and St. Clair County executive Mark Kern (right) at the State of the Region breakfast on January 12.

The top elected officials from the city of St. Louis and St. Louis, St. Charles and St. Clair counties gathered in one of the city's poshest hotels Thursday to give business and government leaders their take on where the metro area stands on a variety of development issues.

Like everyone, the region is facing a lot of change. There are new faces in Jefferson City and Washington, D.C., and soon there will be a new face in St. Louis' City Hall. This event was the last State of the Region event for St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay, who is not running for a fifth term. 

Here is what they had to say on a range of issues.

On development subsidies and incentives:

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay
Credit File photo | Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay

"The proper and judicious use of tax incentives is really important to compete and attract the large-scale developments. I don't know of any major large-scale redevelopment anywhere in the urban areas that is built without some kind of tax incentive. If you just look at downtown St. Louis, that was rebuilt with historic tax credits." — Mayor Francis Slay 

"What's good about the historic tax credit is anybody who qualifies is entitled to it. The problem with the subsidies is you have the government picking winners and losers. I'm opposed to subsidies for things we don't need. If the market won't support it, maybe it shouldn't be built." — St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann

St. Clair County Board chairman Mark Kern says the board will ask the FAA to allow them to give 200 acres of land free of charge to the NGA.
Credit Stephanie Lecci | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Clair County Board chairman Mark Kern

"Well-structured subsidies are essential. We are being poached right now by other states around us. A subsidy's got to be based on the amount of jobs that are going to be created and the amount of investment with local labor. If we don't have the subsidies, we're going to be out of luck for the growth we want to see in the region." — St. Clair County Executive Mark Kern

"We've seen some tremendous economic development in the county in this last year, and much of it has utilized subsidies. Centene is putting in what is really about 30 years of development in downtown Clayton through the use of subsidies, and I think the subsidies were a really important piece in getting them to come here." — St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger

On addressing crime:

County Executive Steve Stenger at his inauguration 1.1.15
Credit FIle photo | Bill Greenblatt | UPI
County Executive Steve Stenger

"In the county, we're going to continue to do what we've been doing with a few things added. In April there's going to be an opportunity for voters to vote on a sales tax increase devoted to policing. It's going to allow us to greatly increase the number of officers we have. It's going to allow us to become a 21st-century police department." — Steve Stenger

"Our view of fighting crime, of course, is far beyond law enforcement. We need to do a lot of things to address social issues and access to opportunities. We have been refocusing [police] training on community building and de-escalation." — Francis Slay

"No matter what the statistics are, there is a perception that crime is a problem in our region, and we need to address that perception. And a lot of the ways we do that is through bolstering our law enforcement. Our sheriff is behind an effort to put a sales tax referendum on our ballot to try and go to two-man cars." — Mark Kern

"People who are thinking about moving a business to St. Charles County, they don’t even know it’s St. Charles County. They want to move to the St. Louis region. And as long as the region has a reputation, it’s going to hurt everybody." — Steve Ehlmann

On MetroLink expansion:

Credit File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
MetroLink trains make about 300 trips across the Eads Bridge each day.

"To me, it seems easy why it is necessary. We are becoming more and more a world of people who want to get around without an automobile. And it shouldn't be how we do one line. It's how we do all the lines, and working together with the county so that we have a regional approach to what I believe is a regional challenge." — Francis Slay

"I, too, think that expansion is important. It's really important that we consider all of the lines that are currently under consideration. We need to consider them as a region and come together as a region and put our efforts behind whatever we choose." — Steve Stenger

"The key, and the key to security also, is that we need to make sure that we’ve got a lot of people riding the train. So we need to make sure that these extensions go where people want to go.” — Mark Kern

"I agree with Mark [Kern] in the sense that as we plan, we need to see which routes will serve the people the best. Which routes will get the people to jobs, which routes will get them home at night?" — Steve Ehlmann

On their top goal for 2017:

St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann is supportive of Schweich's efforts to clamp down on municipal courts that take in more money than allowed.
Credit File photo | Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Charles County Executive Steve Ehlmann

"We're going to get our prescription drug monitoring program going." — Steve Ehlmann

"I only have three months left, but I want to get the half-cent sales tax passed."  — Francis Slay

"We are going to continue to build on our $3 billion of investment in St. Louis County, and it's really important that we pass our half-cent sales tax for law enforcement to protect those assets." — Steve Stenger

"We're going to continue to grow flights at MidAmerica Airport. We're going to complete Front Street in East St. Louis, and we're going to help Scott Air Force Base grow and celebrate its 100th anniversary in St. Clair County." — Mark Kern

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.

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