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April 4 Ballot Chock Full ‘O Taxes

19 Mar

April 15 is usually thought of as tax day, since that’s the deadline for filing your federal income taxes. But tax day in Jefferson County might come 11 days early this year. There are many tax proposals on the municipal election ballot. Obviously, each of these taxes only pertains to people living within the boundaries of the listed political entity. Let’s take a look at the proposals:

We will start with Byrnes Mill, which is swinging for the fences with three tax increases, one property tax hike of 40 cents per $100 valuation and two half-cent sales taxes.

byrnestax

Byrnes Mill’s current tax rates are as follows:

  • Property tax:
    • 40.35 cents per $100  – so they want to DOUBLE it. If passed, Byrnes Mill would go from second lowest to second highest property tax among cities in the county, behind Pevely’s 88.77 cents.
  • Sales tax:
    • 8.35% – total sales tax (including state, county, ambulance district, etc). If Props R and I both pass, Byrnes Mill would have the highest total sales tax rate in the county outside of a special taxing district (CID, TDD).

Byrnes Mill makes its case for the tax hikes here. The property tax is intended for police, and requires 2/3 approval to pass (this could be intended to make up for lost traffic ticket revenue thanks to SB5).

Jefferson County Library

The library is requesting a 8 cent increase in its 20 cents/$100 property tax. The library makes it case here. Districts like to forecast dire scenarios if tax proposals fail, and the library does that here, stating that one of its three locations could need to close in 5 years.

Windsor School District

This is one of those “no new tax” bond issues that keeps the tax levy the same, but extends it for additional years in the future, in this case 8 years for a $14.75 million bond issue. The district makes it case for the proposition here. The Leader reports that Windsor voters passed bond issues in 1998, 2001, 2006, and 2011.

Hillsboro School District

Another “no new tax” bond issue, this one for $12 million. Here is their campaign literature. Bond issues require a 4/7 majority for approval.

Festus School District

Festus is looking to convert 35 cents/$100 of debt service levy (which has an expiration date) to operating levy (which is permanent). Festus’ overall property tax rate, lowest among JeffCo school districts, would remain at $3.7407/$100 valuation. Plans for the tax proceeds are found here. Festus did something very similar just two years ago (page 3); it passed by a wide margin.

Rockwood and Meramec school districts, which cover small pieces of JeffCo, also have “no new tax” bond measures on the ballot for $95 million and $11.75 million, respectively. Rockwood voters passed a $68 million no tax bond issue just two years ago.

Festus Fireworks

Increase the business license fee on sellers of fireworks and firecrackers from one hundred and forty dollars ($140.00) plus three percent (3%) of the gross receipts to one thousand, five hundred dollars ($1,500)?

$1,500 minus $140 equals $1,360. By my calculations, $1,360 is 3% of $45,333. So if a fireworks stand in Festus brings in less than that amount, this is an increase in cost. It could just be a simplification rather than a revenue raiser.

Rock Fire

I talked about this a bit here. Rock Fire wants to increase its property tax by 50 cents/$100 valuation. Rock Fire’s current levy is 76.32 cents per $100, so this is a large increase. Rock Fire has the 10th lowest tax levy of 14 JeffCo fire districts (though Rock also has a sales tax); if this measure passes Rock would be 3rd highest. Rock Fire is pushing this really hard through mailers and door-to-door visits by firefighters. Here is their Facebook page, and here is the letter the chief sent out. A Facebook page called Whole Truth is examining with a critical eye Rock Fire’s claims that it needs more revenue.

Saline Valley Fire

Saline is asking for a 25 cents per $100 valuation increase in its property tax. Saline already has by far the highest property tax among fire districts in the county, at $1.575 per $100. The next highest is Cedar Hill Fire at $1.3826, and the majority of JeffCo fire districts levy less than $1. Saline does not have a sales tax, however.(Note: Saline Valley is the product of the merger of two fire districts. In 2008, by a simple majority, voters approved this merger. I think we need to see some more mergers). I was unable to find any campaign materials for this tax online.

I have not mentioned all of the local Proposition V listings on the ballot. These props, which every entity in the county is trying to pass, allows them to keep collecting sales taxes on private and out-of-state vehicle purchases. All Prop V votes to date in the county have passed.

Low Turnout, High Taxes

By my count, there are 13 tax proposals on county ballots this year, not counting Prop V. In 2015 there were 15 tax props, 12 of which were successful. In 2016 four of six were successful. Republicans have taken over most county elected offices, but in the nonpartisan local districts, tax hikes are still being requested quite frequently.

Turnout for the last two April elections was about 15%. In addition to these tax measures, city council, school board, and fire/ambulance board seats get filled in April. The candidates that get elected are the ones that put these taxes on the ballot. With the low turnout, it is city employees, teachers, firemen, and paramedics who make the difference in these races with their endorsements and their votes. Then you end up in a situation where the pocketbooks of residents are a secondary priority. With all these tax votes, as well as school board elections in two districts (Fox and Grandview) where employees have been investigated by the FBI for wrongdoing, it behooves JeffCo residents to go vote on April 4.

Sweeney Post Office Box and Local Elections

19 Aug

I wrote here about how an employee of Arnold and Byrnes Mill city attorney Robert Sweeney named Lisa French was, strangely, the deputy treasurer for the failed Prop C effort to pass a half-cent sales tax in Arnold to fund stormwater and infrastructure improvements in 2015.

French, from Hillsboro, is also the deputy treasurer for a new political action committee (PAC) called The JeffCo Dems. While French listed what I assume is her home address in the paperwork for Building a Better Arnold, she lists PO Box 20 in Hillsboro as her address in the paperwork for The JeffCo Dems. That same address is also listed as the address for the PAC itself. Allison Sweeney, daughter and law partner of Bob Sweeney, who also serves as Byrnes Mill prosecutor, is the treasurer of The JeffCo Dems and also for Democrat county council candidate for district 2 Roger Hendrix (she also wrote a letter to the Leader supporting Democrat Nathan Stewart for re-election as judge). Box 20 is listed as the address for Hendrix’s campaign committee and as the address for both Sweeney and his deputy treasurer, French.

PO Box 20 is also the address for – guess who – the Sweeney Law Firm. Generally, Bob Sweeney has preferred to do his political meddling behind the scenes, but I guess now his organization is going overt in its support for Democrats.

I asked this question in regards to Arnold Prop C, but it comes up again: if Bob Sweeney’s employees are listing the firm’s address as their address on these forms, are they doing political work as part of their job duties? Is Sweeney thus giving unreported in-kind donations to these PACs and Hendrix?

Old PAC Same as the New PAC

Now, I say that The JeffCo Dems is a new PAC, but in fact it is a reformed version of a PAC formed in March 2015 called….JeffCo Dems. This is according to paperwork filed at the Missouri Ethics Commission (MEC) website. JeffCo Dems was terminated on 5/25/16, the same day that The JeffCo Dems was formed. The old group transferred all of its money on hand, $3141.63, to the new group. Both groups have the same treasurers, Sweeney and French. Why end one group and start a new one just to add “the” to the PAC name?

Somehow, the old PAC does not have any finance reports on the MEC website other than its termination report. So we don’t know where it got $4,660 of the $4,920 it brought in, or how it spent $814 of that money (the rest that was not transferred to the new group went mostly to Hillsboro homecoming supplies). The new group has received about $2,300 from traditional Democrat sources: Democrat candidates, a labor group, and lawyers.

Given the Sweeney history of shadiness, I think these committees are worth keeping an eye on.

Byrnes Mill Court Revenue 2014-2015

27 Jan

Byrnes Mill has submitted its financial report for the 2014-2015 fiscal year to the state auditor, as required by law. The city’s fiscal year ended on June 30, 2015, which was two months before Senate Bill 5 took effect. This law caps revenue a city can earn from minor traffic violations to 20% of total revenue (12.5% in St. Louis County).

For some reason, Byrnes Mill reported its total court fine revenue, not just its revenue from minor traffic tickets (see page 30 of the report linked above). One assumes, though, that minor traffic tickets make up a substantial portion of the total amount, which was just over $292,000, amounting to 24% of total city revenue. If Byrnes Mill wants to comply with SB 5, it will need to reduce this number in the current fiscal year, which is now about half over. Alternatively, it can separate out revenue from minor traffic tickets and state that amount, and we can see if it exceeds the 20% cap. But using these numbers, Byrnes Mill would be more than $50,000 over the new cap. If this is the case a year from now, the city would have to send that money to local schools.

Furthermore, cities are required to submit certification of compliance with several municipal court procedures. Byrnes Mill has yet to file this certification (it was due by 12-31-15). Byrnes Mill was one of 115 cities that did not file this certification.

Byrnes Mill Settles Smith Suit

16 Dec

Back in July 2014, fired Byrnes Mill police chief Michael Smith filed a lawsuit against the city. He alleged that he was fired because he refused to engage in various corrupt and unlawful activities that city officials, primarily city administrator Larry Perney, ordered him to carry out.

This lawsuit was settled earlier this month, according to pacer.gov and information obtained from Byrnes Mill. The amount of the settlement was $35,000, which seems like a rather small settlement. The city also changed Smith’s firing to a voluntary resignation.

Byrnes Mill Again Looking to Annex

10 Dec

Byrnes Mill, aka JeffCo’s Ferguson, has long lusted after the businesses that lie just north of it in unincorporated High Ridge. They want to annex these businesses for their tax revenue, the same reason the city wants to write so many traffic tickets. Byrnes Mill is the only JeffCo city that will be affected by the passage of the SB5 state law last year, which limits the amount of traffic ticket revenue the city can bring in to 20% of its total revenue. All other JeffCo cities have been safely below this cap.

Here are articles going back to 1999 that exhibit Byrnes Mill’s greedy eye:

In 2010, the freakin’ state legislature passed a law specifically to thwart Byrnes Mill’s attempts to annex land that contains no registered voters:

Annexation of territory prohibited, when (City of Byrnes Mill).

79.025. No city of the fourth classification with more than two thousand three hundred but fewer than two thousand four hundred inhabitants and located in any county with a charter form of government and with more than one hundred ninety-eight thousand but fewer than one hundred ninety-nine thousand two hundred inhabitants shall annex any territory adjacent to the city if such adjacent territory proposed for annexation does not contain any registered voters unless the city has obtained the written consent of all the owners of real property within such adjacent territory.

Here’s some discussion of that. See all the gymnastics they have to do to single out a city? The population numbers and the charter government provisions make this a bill that applies to one city.

Word is that Byrnes Mill is back on the annexation warpath. Reports are they want to annex all the way up Highway 30 to Quik Trip. The big prize would be WalMart. Here is a map:

byrnes_annex

I’m told that Byrnes Mill’s planning consultant, Streiler Planning, is currently working on a comprehensive plan for the city and is investigating annexation possibilities.

Impact

Byrnes Mill’s main claim is apparently that it can provide police services with a faster response time than the county sheriff (though the sheriff has a zone office in High Ridge). Walmart reportedly is interested in annexation for this reason.

Annexation would mean a higher sales tax for customers of the included businesses. Byrnes Mill’s sales tax rate for 2016 is 8.35%, while High Ridge is at 7.35%.

It would also mean worse governance. Byrnes Mill has had plenty of problems, particularly with its police department. Go here to read my old posts on the subject. This city has not earned the right to expand. Hopefully the county government and the affected businesses will stand up and stop this latest land grab.

New Traffic Fines in Byrnes Mill

25 Jun

With SB5, the municipal court reform bill awaiting the governor’s signature, breathing down its neck, the city of Byrnes Mill has reduced its highest-in-the-county traffic fine schedule, reported the Leader on May 28. However, city judge Colby Smith-Hynes and Mayor Susan Gibson seem to want us to think they made the changes because they wanted to, not because they had to.

Some of the fine reductions include:

  • Speeding 10mph over – reduced from $100.50 to $60.
  • Speeding 30mph over – reduced from $300 to $240
  • Child restraint violation – reduced from $175.50 to $24.50

SB5 allows cities outside of St. Louis County to derive no more than 20% of their revenue from traffic tickets, down from the previous (and weakly enforced) 30% limit. Byrnes Mill was most recently at 28%, so the law, assuming it is signed, will force Byrnes Mill to reduce its ticket income. In addition, the law will limit fines for minor traffic violations to under $300, which Byrnes Mill’s old schedule violated for three infractions.

Smith-Hynes gave other reasons for making the change, though. He said the STL County standardized fine schedule, which Byrnes Mill adopted,  “seemed appropriate.” He also said “there is more consistency” and “they are easier to understand.” Mayor Gibson said “it looks like a fair schedule.” This is a city that only a couple of months ago converted its website into an anti-SB5 propaganda page, predicting doom and gloom if it passed. Now Gibson says this won’t be a hardship to the city.

The Leader, to its credit, pointed out the SB5 provisions in its article.

According to the Leader, Smith-Hynes is also reviewing fines in Hillsboro, where he is also judge and where fines were 3rd-highest in the county.

Thank you to the local legislators who voted for SB5 (which was all JeffCo representatives), thus paving the way for these changes in Byrnes Mill.

JeffCo’s Top Corruptocrat Spreads His Tentacles to Crestwood

30 May

Robert Sweeney is the ethically challenged attorney for a number of government entities in and around Jefferson County, including serving as city attorney for Arnold and Byrnes Mill as well as faraway Iberia, MO (?!). He has illegally kicked candidates off of ballots for political reasons, shilled for red light camera company American Traffic Solutions, received exorbitant payments for his work in Arnold, and possibly steered government money to union organizers. But now he has found his way onto the Planning and Zoning Board in Crestwood, where he lives. But instead of operating in the background, in this position he sits up on the dais.

Conflict of Interest

Sweeney was appointed to the board in November 2014, and voted in as chairman on April 1 of this year (which seems oddly rapid). That chairman vote was not without controversy, though, as reported by the Oakville Call newspaper. Another board member, Steve Nieder (who the mayor tried to remove last year), questioned whether it was a conflict of interest for Sweeney to serve on the board while also serving as city attorney for three other municipalities. Here’s some of the exchange (see more at the link):

“I would beg to disagree with you on that. I think working for other cities is more of a conflict than anything else could possibly be …,” Nieder said, questioning whether Crestwood would be Sweeney’s “first interest” if he was “working for someone else, some other city.”

Sweeney said, “I suppose I’m confused by that comment in that I suppose we all have jobs and loyalties. I also happen to be Catholic. I don’t think that that causes a conflict of interest.”

Nieder interjected, “We’re not talking about that. We’re talking about what you’re being paid for — I mean working for another city. Everybody that comes here could have a possibility of wanting to do business in another city, or you could defray them from doing business in our city ’cause you might possibly want them to do business in another city …”

Sweeney said, “… I will tell you that is so far from my thought process that I didn’t even think of that. It would be a breach of my fiduciary obligation if I did that, and if I felt that I had a conflict with some other applicant, I would recuse myself as I would expect everyone to do.

“And actually, I think I take offense at the notion that I’m somehow going to steer business from one place to another away from Crestwood. Honestly, Mr. Nieder, I don’t — I guess my mind doesn’t work that way …”

This is the Bob Sweeney that Arnold residents are familiar with, taking high umbrage if anyone questions him and throwing out non-sequitur arguments to defend himself.

As for the conflict of interest, I agree that it exists, but I would be more concerned if I was Arnold or Byrnes Mill. I would expect Sweeney to be more loyal to the city he lives in, versus the cities he works for. If he’s going to steer business, I would think it would be to Crestwood.

Out of Order

Later at the same meeting, a Crestwood resident (who also expressed conflict-of-interest concerns) spoke during a public hearing on whether to allow a gas station to operate around-the-clock. He also said things Sweeney didn’t like. Read all of this; it is golden (and there’s more on the Call website):

Sweeney said, “… Mr. Miller, Mr. Miller, I don’t mean to interrupt you, but …”

Miller replied, “You are interrupting me.”

Sweeney said, “Well, then I do mean to interrupt you.”

Miller said, “Do you have any rules for one minute or two minutes or three minutes?”

Sweeney and Miller then talked at the same time, with Miller finally saying, “… I just don’t like interruptions. I’m a taxpayer …”

“And so am I, Mr. Miller, and so are all the folks here,” Sweeney said. “And so we all have equal standing with you, and we are here, Mr. Miller, on this applicant’s request for 24-hour service. His use has already been approved. You’re a day late and a dollar short to complain about that. So if you have any comments about his request for 24-hour service, please have them. Otherwise, I will rule you out …”

Miller said, “I’m very much against 24-hour …”

Before Miller could finish, Sweeney began pounding his gavel and Nieder said, “Hey, hey, hey, hey, hey. Back up. This is a taxpayer that’s talking to you, my friend.”

Sweeney said, “I’m a taxpayer, too, Mr. Nieder.”

Nieder said, “This is a citizen …”

Sweeney interjected, “This is a citizen who is out of order.”

Nieder said, “Back off of him.”

Sweeney said, “You back off.”

Nieder said, “No, I will not. He has a right …”

Sweeney interjected, “You back off.”

Nieder continued, “He has a right to say what he wants to say. Ease up on him.”

Sweeney then asked Gillam “to please get the Police Department because I’m going to have Mr. Nieder …”

Nieder said, “Well, go ahead and get the Police Department because this man has a right to say what he wants to say.”

Sweeney said, “… He has a right to speak on the topic that we’re here for. I’m correcting him on the topic that we’re here (for) …”

Nieder interjected, “… But there’s no reason to throw a hammer on him or anything else like that. My goodness, he’s not hollering at you or anything of that sort.”

Sweeney said, “He was hollering, Mr. Nieder.”

Nieder said, “He is not hollering.”

Sweeney said, “Mr. Nieder, you’re out of order.”

Miller said, “Can I continue, please?”

Sweeney said, “No.”

So in a very short amount of time, Sweeney resorts not only to banging the gavel and using the “nuh-uh, you are!” technique, but also to threatening Nieder with removal by the police. It is beyond obvious that Sweeney does not have the temperament to chair a public board. He is, frankly, an ass. I bet judges just love him (or maybe he does municipal law so he can avoid them). While I’m sure he’s used to compliant/gullible elected officials and employees in the government entities he serves doing his bidding due to his supposed knowledge of the law, or because they’re on his side, he needs to learn to take criticism and be challenged if he wants to be on a board. If he has to bang his gavel and threaten to call the cops at his very first meeting as official chairman (he was acting chairman at the Dec. 3 meeting), what else is in store for Crestwood?

If you would like to listen to these exchanges, the audio can be found here. The conflict of interest discussion starts at about the 3:00 mark, and the exchange about the gas station starts at about 21:00.

Now a Psychologist?

To make matters worse, Sweeney had some choice words to share in an e-mail sent that same night to Crestwood Mayor Gregg Roby, who appears to be the latest in a long line of Sweeney cronies. The Call acquired the e-mail:

“… I explained to Mr. Nieder that my mind just doesn’t work that way,” Sweeney wrote. “Apparently, Mr. Nieder believes that I will breach my fiduciary obligation and steer business away from Crestwood for my personal or professional gain. That is, quite crazy; but, it is also defamatory. Anyway, his friend Mr. Miller agreed, somehow based on the Ferguson muni court problems.”

As for Miller, Sweeney wrote, “Mr. Miller did not take kindly to my suggestion that his comments were not on point. It was my opinion that his behavior was inappropriate and that he was out of order. It was further my opinion that he was refusing to respond to the request of the chair. I gaveled him out of order, which in turn caused Mr. Nieder some consternation.

“The bottom line is that I informed both of them that if their disruption continued I would have them removed. I’m sure Mr. Nieder is not happy. I suspect Mr. Miller has never been happy in his life — I am not licensed to practice psychology, but I do have a quarter century of experience dealing with really crabby, really irrational folks; and, I think he’s one.”

Sweeney also offered to resign “if my presence is a problem.”

We know Sweeney has contempt for those that are not his cronies, and here he spells it out in black and white. Perhaps Sweeney opponents in other entities should submit Sunshine requests for Sweeney’s e-mails, to see what he says about them. He should be forced to resign for these comments. Mayor Roby is not concerned by these comments, though, and in fact agrees with Sweeney:

“After listening to the audio, I contacted the secretary of the board who stated she summoned the police as a result of the disturbance being created by Mr. Miller and Mr. Nieder,” Roby wrote. “As mayor, and a citizen of this city, I am embarrassed that anyone should have to subject themselves to the type of disrespectful conduct and unprofessionalism I heard on the audio … I believe Mr. Sweeney, the new board chair, handled the situation with calm and professionalism …”He also wrote, “In addition, Mr. Nieder has no respect for parliamentary procedure as is evident from his threatening outburst when Mr. Sweeney chose to use the gavel to restore order. As mayor, I have seen enough. I am recommending that each of you review the attached email and the website audio and make up your own mind as to whether Mr. Nieder should be removed for cause …”Roby previously sought unsuccessfully to remove Nieder from the commission.

Reading Roby’s analysis of the events at the meeting is like listening to Jeff Roorda discuss cases of police misconduct – one has to untether oneself entirely from reality in order to accept what he is saying as in any way legitimate. Sweeney was professional!?!? Threatening to sic the police on a fellow board member? Now, undoubtedly the Arnold police would have complied with such a request, since Arnold police chief Robert Shockey is a Sweeney crony and Sweeney’s brother is an Arnold cop, but it would have been interesting to see if Crestwood’s police would have complied with this outrageous request.

Smoked Out

While the Arnold-Imperial Leader has yet to realize that Sweeney is a huckster (their coverage of Arnold ballotgate was abysmal), the Oakville Call has quickly figured Sweeney out. In an editorial, the paper’s executive editor called on Sweeney to apologize and for Roby to accept his offer of resignation.

In gaveling down Miller, Sweeney contended the resident was out of order. We believe the opposite is true.

Sweeney was out of order and created the disruption, as Miller was attempting to address the CUP request. Nieder defended Miller’s right to speak — after all, it was a public hearing — but Sweeney didn’t want to hear it, saying he was going to summon the Police Department.

And:

Sweeney also didn’t like the fact that Nieder questioned whether he has a conflict. Ironically, Sweeney believes Nieder owes him an apology.

We believe Sweeney owes Nieder, Miller and Crestwood citizens an apology for his appalling behavior. In fact, Roby should accept Sweeney’s offer to resign. But that’s unlikely to happen, given Roby’s defense of Sweeney in an email to aldermen.

Citizens once were treated with respect in Crestwood. Just because Sweeney doesn’t want to hear what citizens have to say doesn’t give him the right to abuse them.

Amen! How refreshing to see a newspaper take Sweeney to task. I wish we could experience that in Jefferson County.

Sweeney was probably thinking that, since the Arnold regime he is a part of was able to publicly tarnish their biggest critic, Doris Borgelt, through bogus lawsuits, unfavorable coverage in the Leader, and election stunts, that he can easily dismiss any critics in Crestwood. I will grant that Miller seems to be a cantankerous gadfly and Nieder seems to be a bit brusque, but that does not excuse Sweeney’s behavior in any way.

The next Crestwood P&Z meeting is this Wednesday, June 3, at 7 pm. It might be an interesting meeting. Crestwood residents would be advised to pay close attention to this character.

If you would like to tell the Crestwood mayor how you feel, e-mail him here or go to his Facebook page.

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