Mayor Tishaura Jones pledges $150 million in federal aid to north St. Louis
Saying the city had a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to begin reversing decades of intentional neglect, St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones pledged to invest $150 million in federal coronavirus relief funds in the city’s north side.
“It’s time to begin bridging the racial wealth gap that splits our city in two,” Jones told the crowd gathered for her first State of the City address at Harris-Stowe State University on Tuesday night. “It’s time to put St. Louis on the road to economic justice.”
The $150 million represents 60% of the city's remaining allocation from the federal American Rescue Plan Act. Though the exact details of how Jones would spend the money were not released, she outlined three pillars that would guide the investment — economic empowerment, reform of development incentives and neighborhood transformation. Details of the spending are expected Wednesday.
She said cooperation would be at the center of everything.
“Reversing decades of intentional neglect cannot be the burden of government alone,” Jones said. “It will take every single one of us — community, labor, faith, business, our philanthropic partners, our universities — to leverage this $150 million and magnify its impact.”
Using federal funds in north St. Louis has been a point of contention between Jones and Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed. Jones had initially vetoed $37 million in grants for north city businesses, based on concerns that the money could not be used that way. When the federal government issued new guidance, Jones dropped her opposition.
Reed was invited, but did not attend, the speech Tuesday night. He said in a statement afterward that while the “proposal lacks specifics and dollars, it’s good to hear Mayor Jones finally make a verbal commitment to giving the people of North St. Louis the help they so desperately need. From the beginning, this has been a clear priority of the Board of Aldermen.”
The north side plan was not the only investment Jones pledged to make in the city. She expressed her support for a guaranteed basic income, which provides a set amount of money each month to individuals who meet certain economic guidelines.
St. Louis, Jones said, needs to join the ranks of cities that are “lifting families out of poverty by giving them the support they need to do so, and trusting them to know what’s best.”
“That’s not radical,” she said.
Jones also promised a 3% raise for city employees, on top of their regular yearly increases, as well as $1 million in paid family leave.
“And while ARPA funds cannot be used to fund salaries, I am proposing retention incentives to help us retain our workforce as well,” she said. “If we want to improve city services — fill our potholes, trim our trees, empty our trash — we need to not just hire, but also retain, city employees.”
Jones ran on a promise to transform public safety, and on Tuesday night she ran down a list of accomplishments she said she had achieved in that area.
Homicides were down between 2020 and 2021, she said, and funding for the north St. Louis jail known as the Workhouse was removed from the budget. When repairs are finished on the downtown facility, Jones said, she’ll be looking for community input on how to reuse the Workhouse property. She also touted the success of a program that sends social workers to certain 911 calls.
To continue the progress, Jones wants to create an Office of Violence Prevention “to marshal all of the community, alternative response, and enforcement resources at our disposal to improve public safety, and improve the relationship between police and our communities.”
Police Chief John Hayden called the mayor’s vision “doable.”
“It adds the right professional to the problem,” he said. “I’m optimistic about all of it.”
Much of the spending Jones promised will be part of her fiscal 2023 budget, which she’ll outline Wednesday to a board that oversees city spending. It will then go to the Board of Aldermen, which has the authority to make some changes.
Though the relationship between Reed and Jones has been rocky at times, 8th Ward Alderwoman Annie Rice, a supporter of the mayor, said the suggestions in the proposals deserved real consideration by the board.
“We’re all here to serve the city to the best of our capability,” she said of her colleagues. “It behooves us all to work together to get to these outcomes. We’re talking about pay for our city employees, and investing all the rest of this money that’s coming towards us in a way that makes an impact for future generations.”
Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann
Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann