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Government, Politics & Issues

St. Louis Employees Set To Get Raises; Soccer Stadium Stays On Track

The Board of Aldermen chambers on July 7, 2017.
File photo | Rachel Lippmann | St. Louis Public Radio
The St. Louis Board of Aldermen on Friday endorsed higher pay for city employees and kept incentives for a Major League Soccer stadium on track.

St. Louis aldermen on Friday took action on major pieces of legislation they say will both improve the city.

By wide margins, board members gave first-round approval to legislation financing a Major League Soccer stadium near Union Station. And they sent a pay bill to Mayor Lyda Krewson that includes the first major raise for city workers in years.

Pay raises for city workers

In addition to adding a one-time payment of $1,000 to April paychecks, the pay bill doubles the annual raise for civil service employees from 1.5% to 3%. It also codifies the $15-per-hour minimum wage Mayor Lyda Krewson called for last month. Krewson will sign the pay bill on Monday.

“The mayor and I don’t agree on a lot of things, but we do agree on this,” said Alderwoman Megan Green, D-15th Ward. “We have gone way too long without giving our city employees a raise, and I think that we have gotten ourselves into a position where it is harder and harder and harder to recruit and retain quality staff, because we pay such poverty wages.”

Alderman Jesse Todd, D-18th Ward, was the lone no vote.

“I think the city employees can live off the money they’re getting now, and I think we should look at some of the more emergency things that are going on,” said Todd, who often reminds his colleagues that many of the issues facing the city are issues of poverty. 

Alderman Brandon Bosley, D-3rd Ward, pushed back.

“Our priorities should be keeping those individuals who are one step away from being on the streets, one step from not having a meal at night or being able to feed their children, and backing them two steps away, or three steps away,” Bosley said. 

While $15 an hour — about $31,000 a year before taxes — isn’t a lot of money, he said, for a lot of people, it’s better.

Soccer stadium progress

An ownership group led by the Taylor family, which owns Enterprise Holdings, and World Wide Technology CEO Jim Kavanaugh will cover most of the cost of the more-than-$200 million project, which includes the stadium, team offices and practice fields. Construction equipment is already at the site, which will sit on both sides of Market Street just west of Union Station. The group has agreed to own both the stadium and the land.

But the ownership group is asking for city incentives to cover the cost of improvements to infrastructure like sidewalks. Those incentives include two and possibly three special taxing districts, as well as a discount on city and state taxes. The proceeds would be put back into the site.

The two bills establishing those incentives sailed through first-round approval Friday, 26-1, with two aldermen absent. That’s well more than the 15 votes needed to send them to the mayor next week. But an unexpected disagreement arose over who shepherded the bills through the process.

Board President Lewis Reed and Alderwoman Christine Ingrassia, D-6th Ward, were the initial co-sponsors of the legislation. The stadium site is in Ingrassia’s ward. Because he presides over the meetings, Reed does not handle legislation on the floor. 

St. Louis civic leaders, members of the Taylor family, which owns Enterprise Holdings, and World Wide Technology Jim Kavanaugh announced plans to form a bid to attract a Major League Soccer expansion team in St. Louis. Oct. 9, 2018.
Credit File photo | Melody Walker | St. Louis Public Radio
Lewis Reed and members of the ownership group in 2018, the day they announced plans to form a bid to attract a Major League Soccer expansion team in St. Louis.

But rather than have Ingrassia take over, Reed asked Alderman Joe Roddy, D-17th Ward, to do so. Roddy is chair of the Housing, Urban Development and Zoning committee, which took testimony on the soccer bills.

The move upset many aldermen, who praised Ingrassia for working hard to improve the deal. 

“Why an aldermen who hasn’t been familiar with the project, hasn’t been involved in the negotiations, hasn’t worked nearly as hard as the alderwoman from the 6th Ward to present this bill to this body?” said Alderman Shane Cohn, D-25th Ward. “I want to extend my thanks to the alderwoman from the 6th Ward. This has been a monumental piece of legislation and project.”

Ingrassia turned the compliments back to her colleagues.

“I just wanted to encourage my colleagues from all the wards to vote for this today, and to thank the women here at the Board of Aldermen who stood by me during some difficult times,” she said.

In addition to helping make sure that the stadium and land are privately owned, Ingrassia also secured commitments for higher wages for workers on the stadium and got the team to put its practice fields and offices in the city, rather than at the Soccer Park in Fenton. The facilities will also have a number of green building components, including the potential for solar panels.

“So often, the narrative is that big-business interests have the city over a barrel when they’re looking for incentives,” said Alderman Bret Narayan, D-24th Ward. “This is a testament to the fact that they do not. We have a moment right here that we can look back to and say, 'We don’t have to take the first deal that comes to us.'”

The lone no vote, Alderwoman Sharon Tyus, D-1st Ward, also had nothing but praise for Ingrassia’s work on the project. Her issue was not with the stadium, she said, but the city’s overall development philosophy.

“Over at the city’s economic development agencies, they always say they don’t have the money or the time to get things done,” she said. “But when something comes through here that has to do with downtown, or the central corridor, we have the money, the time, or whatever. I am not voting for anything that goes downtown, or central corridor, until we do some stuff in north St. Louis.”

While final passage next week of the financing packages is almost assured, and Krewson will sign the bills if they reach her desk, there are still a few remaining loose ends.

The city and the ownership group are negotiating language setting up a street vending zone around the new stadium. If the state does not approve certain tax credits, aldermen may need to expand the St. Louis Port District to the stadium site.

“I would advocate that if there is a requirement to do it,” Reed said. “Hopefully the state will come up with their portion so that there’s some pressure relieved on the city of St. Louis.”

Aldermen had until Friday to introduce legislation for this session, meaning the remaining bills cannot pass until May at the earliest. Reed said that won’t affect the stadium timeline.

“The ones that we had to get done were the ones we got done today,” he said.

The ownership group did not return multiple calls and emails seeking comment.

Boyd runs for treasurer

In other St. Louis political news, Treasurer Tishaura Jones picked up an opponent in the August primary.

Alderman Jeffrey Boyd, D-22nd Ward, announced his candidacy for the office on Friday. He first ran for treasurer in 2012 against Jones and two other candidates. 

Alderman Jeffrey Boyd, January 2017
Credit File photo | Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Jeffrey Boyd, seen here in a 2017 photo, has announced he will again run for city treasurer.

“It is with great enthusiasm that I declare myself a candidate for the office of City Treasurer for the City of St. Louis,” Boyd said in a statement. “I will restore faith in the city government, specifically, the Treasurer’s Office.”

Boyd pledged greater transparency in the office, and an end to no-bid contracts. He also promised more money for the city from parking fines and fees. The issue of who controls parking operations in the city is at the center of a three-year court fight.

Jones said in her own statement that she looks forward to showing St. Louis residents how much she has improved the treasurer’s office and helped city residents.

“We’re glad to have him in the race,” she said of Boyd. “It’s important to note that Mr. Boyd has already lost three citywide races and this will be his fourth.”

In addition to his run for treasurer, Boyd has lost races for mayor in 2017 and license collector in 2014.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann

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