St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson says she does not support giving the public a chance to vote on whether a private company should operate St. Louis-Lambert International Airport.
“There are four entities that would have to ultimately decide on this,” Krewson said Wednesday at a news conference that covered a variety of issues. “That would be the Board of Aldermen, which they represent the people of St. Louis, that would be the Board of E&A [Estimate and Apportionment], it would be the FAA and the airlines. So I personally think that those four groups will do a good job of evaluating any proposal, if we get to the point where we even receive proposals.”
A bill to force a public vote, sponsored by Alderwoman Cara Spencer, D-20th Ward, remains in the Transportation and Commerce committee. Spencer called the mayor’s comments “disappointing,” and said she has asked the chair of the committee to take a vote on her bill. She said she is considering a procedural move to force it out of committee. A group calling itself STL Not For Sale is working to gather signatures for a referendum in case aldermen do not act.
A seven-person advisory group has been working since August to evaluate a potential lease of Lambert, a process that could take 18 to 24 months. Krewson said she hopes the group will put out requests for qualifications in the first three months of 2019. Those would give the group a sense of what companies would have the skills needed to operate the airport.
The process has been criticized over potential conflicts of interest. A group connected to billionaire Rex Sinquefield paid for the application for privatization with the Federal Aviation Administration. That group, Grow Missouri Inc., has a representative on the advisory board and is paying the consultant fees for the first 18 months, which will be reimbursed if the city goes through with privatization.
Additionally, former Mayor Francis Slay, who started the process during his last months in office, has been hired as a lobbyist for a firm that is believed to be a leading contender for a privatization contract.
Trash task force
Krewson on Wednesday applauded the effort of the St. Louis police department’s trash task force, which targets illegal dumping with cameras.
Since January, she said, the city has issued more than 200 tickets, with 58 individuals either pleading or being found guilty. Those individuals, Krewson said, are paying $500 fines for each incident and are required to do up to 40 hours of community service. Half were from the city, she said, but a quarter were from St. Louis County and the remaining 25 percent were from elsewhere in the metro area.
“I don’t think it’s certainly all of the problem, but I think it’s a pretty significant dent,” she said.
The city is also now able to run all of its regular trash routes on time, Krewson said. New trash trucks are expected late this year or early next year.
“That crisis, and I do believe it was a crisis, has been addressed due to the hard work of a lot of people in the city, both mechanics, our suppliers and also due to the hard work of our suppliers, who are still working a split shift of sorts so we can run enough trucks every day to hit all of the routes,” Krewson said.
Development in St. Louis
Krewson touted the $1.14 billion in construction permits issued in the first six months of the year, and said she was equally as excited to see construction dumpsters as cranes.
“If it’s in front of a house, if it’s in front of a commercial building, what that means to me is that those folks, that owner, they have the confidence to spend their money and invest in our city,” she said.
With the bulk of that development concentrated in the central corridor, Krewson said she understood the need for incentive reform. Aldermen are considering guidelines that would restrict or eliminate development incentives like tax increment financing for smaller residential projects in the corridor.
“We are looking at incentive reform in a major way,” Krewson said, although she did not have a specific plan, adding, “it’s just a more critical look on a project-by-project basis.”
Krewson again praised a $400 million plan for a privately-financed Major League Soccer stadium west of Union Station. The developers will be asking the city to create special taxing districts at the site, she said, but the city would get to keep all of the tax revenue generated at the stadium.
“I think it’s actually an excellent proposal,” she said. “As long as the deal looks a lot like it does today, I don’t see any reason that St. Louis would not love to have a soccer team. I think we’re a soccer town. Right now, the focus is on, can we get MLS to name St. Louis for one of the next two expansion teams.”
A previous plan had the city contributing about $60 million in public dollars through the sale of bonds and sales tax revenue.
Crime in St. Louis
Krewson said she agreed with her public safety director, Jimmie Edwards, that longer sentences for gun crimes could deter others from committing such crimes. Edwards last week suggested boosting the minimum sentence for armed criminal action to 15 years if a person is injured and 25 years if a person is killed.
“We’re in conversation with Jeff Jensen, the U.S. attorney, we’re in conversations with state legislators,” Krewson said. “Mandatory minimums are controversial. What we’re attempting to do here is to have some deterrent for folks. I don’t know if three years (the current minimum) is enough if you shoot and injure someone.”
Krewson called an increase in carjackings “worrisome and dangerous,” but did not directly address whether a regional task force strategy is working.
Krewson says she would sign a bill to vote on eliminating the city’s residency requirement if it reaches her desk.
“I think there are plenty of people who want to live in the city that we don’t have to require that anymore,” she said. “I personally would favor a lifting of the residency rule, but it isn’t my decision.”
Alderwoman Carol Howard, D-14th Ward, introduced a measure this year that would allow city employees to live outside of the city. It was scheduled to be on the November ballot, but the deadline for that has passed. Howard plans to try again.
In September, Krewson lifted the residency requirement for 50 officer recruits who will enter the polixw academy, starting in December. She said in a statement at the time that the residency waivers would help broaden the city’s recruiting efforts.
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