Historic Preservation, the Water Tower, and Big Arnold Government

14 Nov

The city of Arnold now has a historic preservation commission, spearheaded by councilman Jason Fulbright and passed at the October 1 city council meeting. Here’s how it works, from the October 22 Leader:

Fulbright said once the commission members are appointed, they will work to identify buildings or areas that need preservation and, after notifying the owners and holding public hearings, the City Council would decide whether to place them on the city’s register of significant buildings, landmarks or areas.

Once a building, landmark or area is on the Arnold register, the owner would have to get the city’s permission to change it, Fulbright said.

Setting aside the question of whether there is anything historic in Arnold, you’d better hope that the city doesn’t cast its eyes on your somewhat old building, or you could lose your rights. See this from the city’s new ordinance, which passed unanimously:

Text from new Arnold ordinance on historic preservation

I see nothing there requiring any consultation or coordination with the owner of the property. A public hearing would be held, but a property owner would apparently have to show up and beg not to be listed, if he/she wanted no part of this. There’s also this:

Text from new Arnold ordinance on historic preservation

As I read this, once your structure hits 75 years of age, the city automatically claims power to restrict your property rights.

Keep it Green

The first target of the commission is the Arnold water tower, which is undergoing a controversial color change. As reported by the Post-Dispatch, the city wants to explore putting the tower on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP).

But it turns out that there are several hurdles:

  • A site must be more than 50 years old to be nominated to the NRHP (unless it is extra special). The tower was built in 1977, making it only 38 years old.
  • Listing a site on the NRHP requires the consent of the owner (unlike the city’s historic listing process). Would Arnold Public Water District #1, which owns the tower and chose to paint it blue, consent to this?
  • A site must have some sort of historical significance. I see no such significance in this water tower.
  • The tower’s new paint job will be completed within a few weeks (blue paint is already being applied), long before the NRHP process gets going.
  • YOU CAN STILL PAINT A SITE THAT’S LISTED ON THE NRHP. This is from a Texas Q&A, but it is still relevant here:

Q: If my home is listed in the National Register, can I still paint it the color I want, remodel, or make an addition?

A: Yes. As long as there’s no federal money or permit involved, the National Register program does not place any restrictions on how homeowners treat their properties.

I don’t even think that inclusion on the more-restrictive Arnold historic property list can prevent a a new paint job. It only regulates alteration, demolition, and removal, and alteration seems to refer to actual structural modifications. So I really don’t know what the city hopes to accomplish with the water tower.


How about this paragraph:


Real estate index of St. Louis County? Was this whole ordinance lifted from St. Louis County ordinances, and someone (perhaps a certain city attorney) neglected to fix this particular paragraph?

JeffCo School APR 2015; Festus on Top, De Soto Plummets

4 Nov

This year’s Annual Performance Report (APR) scores have been released by the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), so it’s time to see how Jefferson County schools performed. Here’s a table showing the results of all St. Louis area schools. JeffCo schools were as follows:

District                  2015           2014

Festus                    97.9            97.5

Fox                         95.7            89.6

Windsor                  95.0            92.9

Grandview              94.3            93.9

Northwest               93.9            83.9

Hillsboro                 89.6            88.6

Jefferson Co.          88.1            86.3

Crystal City             86.8            89.6

Dunklin                   83.6            80.0

Sunrise (no HS)      81.9            88.8

De Soto                   75.0           85.0

Festus retains the top spot in the county for the third year in a row (this is the third year of these APR rankings). Fox moved up to second from a tie for fourth last year. Crystal City moved from a tie for fourth last year down to 8th; Crystal City, De Soto, and Sunrise were the three JeffCo schools that declined from last year. Northwest shot up 10 points and went from 10th last year to fifth in the county this year.

De Soto experienced a 10-point drop this year. If you look at the regional table, you see De Soto third from the bottom, behind St. Louis City and ahead of only Ferguson-Florissant and Normandy. The Leader states that De Soto was in the bottom 8% in the whole state. The district’s superintendent, Trish Burkeen, placed blame in several areas: resistance to teaching to the curriculum and Common Core, lack of familiarity with computers among elementary students, and changing American Government from a freshman course to a junior course (does that explain why the district had a 12.5% pass rate in Social Studies on the MAP test?). She states “I think this will prove to be a catalyst for change.” But what about change in the front office?

More Bad Moves from Pevely Mayor

29 Oct

In June, I wrote about new Pevely mayor Steph Haas and how I thought she was making ill-advised moves. In suing the city* for wrongful termination and trying to impeach an alderman, she came across as vindictive and self-serving. I thought these were perhaps rookie mistakes. But with some other recent decisions, she now definitely appears to be vindictive and self-serving.

The first move, according to the October 29 Leader, is to attempt to limit residents’ comments at public meetings to items that are on the current agenda or were on the last agenda (a move that it is not clear to me she has the power to make unilaterally). She says “we need to keep the city on task.” This restriction cuts off an important method for residents to bring issues to the attention of their city government. People can raise issues about street plowing, water problems, wasteful spending, etc. Sure, you say that residents can just call or email their aldermen, but as we saw with the Fox school board, there is no guarantee those emails will be read or those calls returned. By raising issues publicly at the meeting, it goes on the record, and elected officials cannot deny they know the issues exist.

Remember last year, when the board moved to restrict public comment to the end of the meeting (after all votes had been taken)? Residents went to Elliot Davis to complain. Will those residents, many who are Haas supporters, speak up this time around? Not as of yet, apparently. Haas already removed the ability to comment at board workshops.

Haas’ other move was to attempt to have park board member Dan Hall removed due to alleged inappropriate behavior towards an alderman. Russ Shackelford offered such a motion at the October 19 meeting, but no other alderman seconded the motion. This fact, in addition to alderman Don Menkhus’s remarks against the restrictions on public comment, suggest Haas is walking out on a limb all by herself on these issues. Menkhus is normally Haas’ ally.

It is time for Haas to stop with the power plays and get on with cleaning up the mess that Pevely government still finds itself in.

* Note on Haas’ suit against the city: after originally representing herself, Haas recently hired an attorney, Jeremy Hollingshead of St. Louis.

Vote No on Arnold Prop C

13 Oct

While Arnold residents are focused on Cardinal baseball or potentially the 2016 race for president, city officials have their eyes on the November 3, 2015 election. On that date, voters in the city will be asked to approve a half-cent sales tax increase which will fund stormwater and infrastructure improvements. I recommend that voters show up and say no to this tax hike.

Since nothing else will be on the ballot, Arnold will probably have to spend $30,000 or more to hold the election, instead of just waiting until the council election in April. But the city probably figures it can get a better (read:lower) turnout in November. In Arnold’s ideal world, there will be 30 voters in November, and they will all vote yes while you pesky opponents will stay home.

As Mayor Ron Counts admitted in the August 27 Leader, “The biggest problem in the city, the thing people come up to the mic about (at Arnold City Council meetings) is stormwater problems.” But despite that, what has the city done for these residents? Precious little. Meanwhile, the council has passed pet program after pet program: subdivision beautification, streetlight subsidies, a co-working facility, and a farmers market. Yes, these projects are relatively inexpensive, but they show us what council priorities are. The council has also engaged in major giveaways to developers and big business, most recently with the Arnold can plant. And don’t forget the hemorrhaging rec center and golf course.

I feel like the stormwater-afflicted homeowners of Arnold are being held hostage. If council members want to do something, they take from city revenues. But if these homeowners want relief? Sorry, you’re gonna need a tax increase before we can help you.

Recall that the city just sold its sewer system to American Water, which netted the city $9 million. What about this money? Yes, the city is about ready to proceed with stormwater projects on Melody Lane and Farmcrest Drive, but what about the rest of the money? We know from the 2016 budget that $108,500 of the money is to be transferred to the rec center and $14,000 will go to the golf course. Another $170,000 goes to the stormwater fund. Here’s what Counts said about the money in May:

However, Counts said, much of the $9.2 million will be left after these project are complete.

We need to be very careful in spending this money,” he said. “This is a one-time thing. Once it’s gone, it’s gone.”

“As conservative as I am, I will really be recommending that we invest the money that is left over. This is something we can use for the future.”

Is it conservative to put that money away and then raise taxes? I don’t think so. Do we trust this council to not come up with new pet projects for the money? I don’t.

Campaign Underway

Just like American Water heavily funded the campaign, in the face of little opposition, to pass the vote on the sewer sale, a group has been formed to promote this sales tax. It is called Building a Better Arnold. The campaign committee treasurer is Fox School Board member Vern Sullivan (practicing for a future Fox tax hike, perhaps?), and the deputy treasurer is some Hillsboroan named Lisa French who is or was a legal assistant at the law firm of Arnold city attorney Bob Sweeney, according to the BBB website. Her phone number is also the listed number for the committee. I’m sure her work for the committee is entirely voluntary, done on her own time, and in no way constitutes an in-kind donation from Sweeney’s law firm to the campaign. Why wouldn’t a Hillsboro resident have a strong interest in Arnold tax rates?

Sweeney has donated $100 to the committee, but given the massive income he earns from Arnold (over $150,000 last year), they should expect him to pony up more than that.

Other donors are Warren Sign Company and Kozeny-Wagner, both of Arnold, who have both given $5,000. Kozeny-Wagner undoubtedly stands to win some of the contracts for construction projects that will take place if the tax hike passes.

High Taxes Already

As I noted here, Arnold’s current sales tax rates (page 8) range from a base of 8.35% to 9.35% at Arnold Commons to 10.35% in the Ridgecrest TDD. Add 0.5% to these numbers if this tax is approved. This is in addition to the sneaky 5% tax on sewer bills that the council passed in May.

Wipke Comments on Can Plant Deal

12 Oct

In my previous post on the city of Arnold’s deal with Anheuser-Busch on the expansion of the Arnold can plant, I mentioned Fox C-6 superintendent Jim Wipke’s reserved stance on the issue at the October 1 city council meeting. In the current issue of the Leader, Wipke made more specific remarks, so I thought I would highlight them here. This is what he said:

All I can do is look at the impact of going with a 100 percent abatement on a $150 million project. If you didn’t go with that, you may or may not have gotten the expansion, but I can tell you from a superintendent’s perspective that it would have been really, really nice for our students and taxpayers if we could have come to an agreement that wouldn’t have been a 100 percent tax abatement. I’m a superintendent with 11,500 kids to take care of, and I would have liked to have at least gotten some additional revenue out of it. A $150 million project doesn’t fall out of the sky every day, and I sure wish something better could have been done.

Once again, Wipke was very diplomatic in his statement. The fact is, “something…could have been done.” Arnold residents could have elected better leaders who would not have given away the farm. Here’s what Arnold city administrator Bryan Richison said about the negotiations:

But, Richison said, when a city negotiates a deal, like the one Arnold made with A-B InBev, it is competing with other cities and has to make the best deal it can to ensure it gets the project.

In this case, Arnold city officials felt they needed to offer a 100 percent abatement to ensure the expansion in Arnold, he said.

“The hard thing about these negotiations is there’s a lot of key information we don’t have. When they’re sitting down with us and saying, ‘Make us your best offer,’ if we say, ‘We’re only going to give you 50 percent,” we don’t know if that’s good enough.”

It’s always nice when you can make deals with other people’s money. Not just taxpayer dollars, in this case, but taxpayer dollars that belong to other governmental entities.

Who was Arnold competing with here? Only the other cities that have A-B can plants, no doubt. This was an expansion project, not new plant construction. There are can plants in Jacksonville, FL, Mira Loma, CA, Newburgh, NY and Windsor, CO. We know that Jacksonville is already undergoing expansion (with no tax abatement for schools), so that leaves three other competitors. California and New York are not known as friendly business environments. City councilmen at the October 1 meeting mentioned that there is a Florida law that limits the amount of tax abatement that can be handed out. Do CA, NY, or CO have similar laws? Was any analysis done of Arnold’s competitors, or did Arnold just jump straight to an offer of 100% abatement? Remember that Rock Fire attorney Frank Vatterott said it was “highly unusual” to have a deal with no pilot payments (“payments in lieu of taxes”) for fire districts. It is hard to believe that Arnold really had to push in all its chips in order to get this plant expansion.

What is also amazing is that the school district, fire district, and other were not notified of this deal until late September, nine months after the deal was struck and only days before it was ratified by the council. Here’s what Richison said about that:

Richison said he was surprised that officials with other taxing entities didn’t know about the deal before then because last December the city announced plans to sell the industrial revenue bonds, which included the tax abatement, when a groundbreaking was held to mark the start of construction on the can plant expansion.

Dozens of people attended that event, and news stories were published about the expansion and the financing and tax abatements.

So in effect, he’s saying “we thought you guys would see it in the paper!” What a total lack of respect and consideration.

Blue Water Tower Has Some Residents Seeing Red

6 Oct

The Arnold Public Water Supply District #1 board has made the decision to paint its water tower, which is a landmark to area residents and serves as the backdrop for many a politician photo. But the board’s decision to paint the green tower blue has raised objections. Here’s a recent photo of the tower, which has been green since it was built in 1977, complete with rigging which will hold a curtain during sandblasting and painting.

Arnol water tower, October 2015

Arnold water tower, October 2015

Here’s a photo from today with the curtain, via Facebook:

Arnold water tower with curtain, October 2015

Arnold water tower with curtain, October 2015

Not only will the tower be repainted by the end of November, but the top of the tower will read differently. Here’s a mockup:

Conceptual drawing of Arnold water tower after painting.

Conceptual drawing of Arnold water tower after painting.

Water district manager Mike Siedler says in the Leader that cities just don’t do green water towers anymore. They do blue because it is supposed to blend in with the sky. Here’s what water district board member Bill James said on Facebook:

They don’t paint water towers green anymore, they look like a tree that that’s been cut back. We wanted a more pleasing color for eyes that blends in with the sky,that looks cool and clean. Back in the 70s that was the color, look around you don’t see green water towers anymore.

A lot of people are not buying this. A change.org petition was started a day ago, and it already has over 700 signatures as I write this. You can see the petition here. This is what it says:

The Arnold water tower has stood for years as a symbol of the hardworking, close knit community of individuals that make up Arnold, Missouri. The notion that this icon would forever be altered is a tragedy. Our tower stands tall, proud and green. It is a Snapchat filter. It is a Wikipedia image. It is a beacon of comfort for every home-bound college student, for every person driving home after a long day’s work. Painting the Arnold water tower blue is like painting the Arch purple. Unnecessary and emotionally distressing.  #KEEPITGREEN

That #keepitgreen hashtag is active on Twitter:

The Leader did not mention the change in the text of the tower, but I think this is perhaps more egregious than the color change. Who cares that the water district owns the tower? Given its status as a local landmark, it should stay inclusive of the whole community and simply say “Arnold.”

The members of the water district board, along with Bill James, are Phil Hogan, Ralph Sippel, Kurt Rose, and Mary Kennedy. The contact information for Siedler, the district executive director, is (636) 296-0659 and msiedler@pwsd1jeffco.org.

Brazeal Rips Arnold on A-B Can Plant Deal

3 Oct

On Thursday night, the Arnold city council approved a Chapter 100 bond issue to finance the expansion of the Metal Container Corporation (MCC) plant, which makes cans and aluminum bottles for Anheuser-Busch and others. The incentives include a 20-year tax abatement. This means that MCC, an A-B subsidiary, won’t have to pay any property or personal property taxes on the new buildings and equipment that come with the project. But this doesn’t only affect the city of Arnold. In fact, it has little effect on the city ($55,000 per year, states councilman Brian McArthur). However, the abatement covers every taxing entity that the site is a part of, including JeffCo entites like the Health Department (which is considering seeking a tax hike) as well as the state of Missouri. This is because the site will become city property for 20 years, making it exempt from taxation.

These other entities include the Fox C-6 School District and the Rock Fire District, which rely heavily on property taxes, unlike the city of Arnold, which will see revenue gains from this project. Fox stands to lose out on over $12 million over the life of the project, and Rock Fire will lose over $2 million. Here is the full list of impacted entities (from page 28 here):

Impact of Metal Container Corp 2015 project tax abatement.

Impact of Metal Container Corp 2015 project tax abatement.

Note the empty third column. “Pilot” stands for Payments in Lieu of Taxes. In exchange for the abatement, a recipient of corporate welfare can agree to pay some of the money it would have otherwise owed. But MCC does not have to make pilot payments based of the value of improvements in this agreement (it does have to make the tax payments on the (minimal) land value, based on the current value of the empty land). Rock Fire attorney Frank Vatterott said at the meeting that it is “highly unusual” for there to be no pilot payments for fire districts in an incentive package like this. Rock Fire chief Bill Mayer said protecting the project will require new equipment and training for his firemen, and that the district’s taxpayers, many who live outside of Arnold, will have to foot the bill while MCC pays nothing.

Here is what Fox chief financial officer (CFO) John Brazeal had to say about this in a comment on the Post-Dispatch article:

“It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong.” (Thomas Sowell)

Compare the Arnold, MO deal to the Jacksonville, FL deal, both projects currently in progress.

Arnold: $150M project ($20M building + $130M equipment) with a 100% tax abatement of $19.96M over a 20-year term, including $12.72M of school taxes. This on the heels of Arnold’s 2012 project of $88M having a 100% tax abatement of $14.53M over a 20-year term, including $9.59M of school taxes.

Jacksonville: $170M project ($40M building + $130M equipment) with a 75% tax abatement of city taxes totalling $12.0M over a 12-year term. All other property taxes, including 100% of school taxes) to be paid by Metal Container.

Team Jacksonville = smart. Team Arnold = @#$%!

Incredibly, Team Arnold’s starting offer was 100% abatement. This deal was announced in December 2014 following a council approval that took place somewhere other than an open meeting.

It takes no special skill and no special strategy to end up empty handed. Nothing for the emergency services. Nothing for the school students. Not even cheaper beer prices.

Here is the December announcement Brazeal speaks of. Here is the Jacksonville project he speaks of. Sure enough, the article says:

Almost all of that, up to $12 million, is in the form of relief from 75 percent of the additional property taxes that the project would generate for 12 years after completion. That only applies to city taxes. School district and other taxes would still be paid in full.

And that’s only a 12-year abatement in Jacksonville, not the 20 years Arnold handed out. It seems clear from the comments from Vatterot and Mayer at the council meeting that these districts weren’t even consulted on this. Councilman Phil Amato made a motion to table the deal for 30 days to allow these entities to weigh in, but nobody seconded his motion. Amato was the only no vote on the deal.

Art of the Bad Deal

Based on the details of this deal compared to the Jacksonville deal, as well as Brazeal’s comments, it sounds like Arnold did quite a poor job negotiating this deal. Arnold probably would have been out-negotiated by Obama’s Iran nuclear negotiating team. If Donald Trump read about this deal, he would call Arnold leaders “losers.” Former councilwoman Doris Borgelt suggested in the P-D comments that Arnold officials need to read Trump’s book, “The Art of the Deal.”

At the meeting, councilmen Brian McArthur and Paul Freese made comments stating that Missouri needed to change some state law in order to get the same deal as Jacksonville. Apparently Florida law prevents cities from giving away the farm in these deals. That would probably be a good plan, given the incompetents that run many Missouri municipalities. But it wouldn’t take a state law for Arnold to demand a better deal from MCC.

MCC and Anheuser-Busch appear to be playing the Stan Kroenke game here, intimating that they will leave without a sweetheart deal. But is that at all plausible? MCC just finished an expansion last year, also financed and abated by Arnold, worth $88 million or so. Is MCC really going to walk away from that? They also spent $5 million to upgrade the plant in 2010-11. And the Arnold plant is less than 20 miles from A-B’s biggest domestic brewery, just like Jacksonville hosts both a brewery and a can plant. Is the can plant really going to move further away from its biggest customer?

McArthur said:

“I’m sorry if it conflicts with the districts, but we can’t take the chance of them leaving (Arnold). It is a great business decision,” McArthur said.

Sure it is. Arnold will say, oh, well, this tax money that’s being abated wouldn’t be here at all without this project. But this project could have been done without handing the company a blank check to write their own incentives.

Wipke Holds Back

Along with Vatterott and Mayer, Fox superintendent Jim Wipke spoke at the meeting, but he did not mention the MCC project. Instead he spoke generally about wanting there to be a good relationship between the district and the city. He gave the councilmen copies of the book “Turning to One Another.” It sounded like a “get to know you” speech. But why would he give such a statement on the very night the MCC project, which would strip his district of millions of dollars, was being considered? He could have said this piece anytime in the past four months. I wonder if his statement was a nice way of saying, “hey, I know you shafted us on this deal without consulting us, but maybe in the future we can work together.” Perhaps we should take Brazeal’s harsh critique of the plan as revealing of Fox’s true feelings in the matter.

Speaking of Brazeal, his blistering statement is interesting given his close association with Arnold. He was city administrator there from 1999 to 2005 and city CFO for 18 years before that. In 2005, he became CFO of the Affton School District, where Arnold Police Chief Bob Shockey was on the board. He was hired as Fox CFO by a board that includes Arnold treasurer Dan Kroupa. He also served as a consultant on redevelopment projects for Arnold when the Arnold Commons TIF/TDD/CID incentive-palooza was being developed. So he is familiar with taxes and development.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,939 other followers

%d bloggers like this: