•  city voters approve tax increase

    Posted: Wednesday, April 6, 2016 2:58 pm | Updated: 7:12 pm, Wed Apr 6, 2016.
    The citizens of St. Louis have said that education is important and they are willing to pay for it,” Saint Louis Public Schools Superintendent Kelvin Adams said on Tuesday, April 5, after the campaign for Proposition 1 declared victory.

    Prop 1 was a measure to increase the tax levy in the district by 75 cents to fund early childhood education, salary increases, alternate education and security. The additional $0.75 per $100 of assessed valuation property tax increase will generate an estimated $28 million per year for SLPS and charter schools in St. Louis city.

    It won by a crushing margin, 69 percent (31,557 votes) to 31 percent (14,036 votes).

    Adams spoke at an election watch party held at the district’s administrative offices in downtown St. Louis. All three members of the district’s appointed Special Administrative Board (SAB) attended and spoke.

    “The City of St. Louis said to us again that they trust us to handle their money and, more importantly, they trust us to handle their children,” said SAB member Richard Gaines, who led the effort to pass Prop 1, “and for that, we are grateful.”

    Rick Sullivan, SAB president, said that Gaines had thanked everyone, so he wanted everyone to thank Gaines. A crowd of about 50 district and campaign staffers cheered Gaines. Only campaign managerCharlene Jones enjoyed a warmer welcome.

    Melanie Adams, SAB vice president, said she worked the campaign phones a few times and was struck by “the camaraderie and people working together.”

    St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura O. Jones, honorary campaign co-chair, said it was an “historic campaign.” This was the first time the district asked voters to increase the tax levy in 20 years, and it passed on a municipal ballot with five initiatives, all calling for a tax increase or bond issue.

    Then, Jones joked, “I’m going to celebrate with the teachers tonight. Hey, we’re getting a raise!”

    It’s the job of Mary Armstrong, president of Local 420 of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), to make sure district teachers and staff actually see those raises.

    “Dr. Adams has done a yeoman’s job and we’ve been working in concert with him, not against him,” Armstrong told The American in an interview. “But I’m looking forward to getting back to the bargaining table.”

    Armstrong cited a litany of educators leading other districts who left Saint Louis Public Schools for better pay elsewhere, including Tiffany Anderson, superintendent of Jennings Public Schools, who is leaving for the superintendent job in Topeka, Kansas.

    “We’ve become a training ground,” Armstrong said. “They leave here for more money. I can’t blame someone leaving to make $15,000 or even $25,000 more somewhere else. But we need to do something to maintain quality staff.”

    Byron Clemens, an organizer for AFT Local 420 (which has about 2,200 members), said funding for early education was just as important to teachers and staff as salary increases. Early childhood programs are currently funded though the desegregation settlement, but those monies will run out in 2017.

    Armstrong agreed that funding for early childhood education was critical.

    “We have a vested interest in children,” Armstrong said. “What benefits children benefits teachers.”

    Earnings tax and all city measures pass

    Somewhat amazingly, all five measures on the April 5 ballot passed by large margins.

    Proposition E, which renewed the city’s 1 percent earnings tax for another five years, passed 72 percent to 28 percent, despite a campaign to defeat it funded massively by Rex Sinquefield. The city gets about one-third of its revenues, equal to the budget for the police and fire departments, from the earnings tax. A similar measure was defeated in Kansas City by a slightly larger margin of 77 percent to 23 percent.

    “Since Boss Rex can’t control St. Louis and Kansas City voters, he’ll turn to his Republican henchmen in the Legislature to carry out his mad crusade to bankrupt Missouri’s two largest cities,” said House Minority LeaderJake Hummel, D-St. Louis. Earnings tax repeal bills are pending in both the Senate and House of Representatives.

    Proposition F, a bond issue to fund fire trucks and other public safety infrastructure, passed 83 to 17 percent.

    “St. Louisans decisively voiced their choices at the polls on April 5, and reauthorized the earnings tax (Prop E) and passed the $25 million bond issue (Prop F),” Comptroller Darlene Green said in a statement. “Their ‘yes’ votes will ensure the continuation of critical city services and afford the fire department the capital needed to replace outdated gear and equipment, as well as finance other essential needs in the city.”

    Even the Metropolitan Sewer District passed two measures. Proposition Y, which passed 72 percent to 28 percent, is a $900 million bond issue to fund wastewater improvement mandated by the district’s consent decree with the EPA and the Missouri Coalition for the Environment. Proposition S, which passed 61 percent to 39 percent, regularizes storm water taxes in the region. Both propositions also passed in St. Louis County.

    Ballot snafu in county

    Several St. Louis County polling places ran out of ballots as early as 8 a.m. on election day, prompting investigations from St. Louis County Council and Secretary of State Jason Kander. who is also a Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate. An appeals court extended voting until 9 p.m., but the decision came late.

    “Unfortunately the writ was not issued until 7:30 p.m. after many of the polling locations were closed and secured,” according to an announcement on the St. Louis County Election Board website.

    Eric Fey, the county’s Democratic director of elections, had told St. Louis Public Radio early Tuesday that anywhere from 30 to 35 locations ran out of paper ballots. That number obviously increased as the day went on. Fey said they send the incorrect number of ballots to various locations. Gary B. Fuhr is the Republican director of elections in the county.

    Gov. Jay Nixon said, “The St. Louis County Board of Elections, and particularly its two directors, must rectify these mistakes, explain how they occurred, and be held accountable for this unacceptable failure.”

    Ferguson wins one, loses one

    In Ferguson, a sales tax increase passed, but a property tax increase failed.

    Before the city approved a consent decree with the federal government, members of the Ferguson City Council placed a sales tax increase and a property tax hike on the ballot. The sales tax proposal would boost the city’s sales tax rate by 0.5 percent. The property tax item would have increased the city’s property tax rate by 40 cents per $100 assessed value.

    The sales tax passed with nearly 69 percent of the vote. While the property tax item received about 57 percent, it needed at least 66.67 percent to go into effect.

    Ferguson also held three races for City Council that were won by Linda Lipka, Heather Robinett and Keith Kallstrom. All are white. Lipka and Kallstrom were the only people to file for their respective seats, but they did have write-in candidates running active campaigns. Robinett defeated Bob Hudgins and Annette Jenkins to capture the Ward 2 council seat.

    Three out of five in Pine Lawn

    The Pine Lawn Coalition, a group of concerned residents, celebrated wins for three out of five of the candidates who ran on the group’s slate. Roslyn Brown won in the race for Ward 2 alderman, Elwyn Walls for Ward 4 alderman, and Nakisha Smith for Ward 4 alderman (the unexpired term seat).

    In the race for mayor, the coalition’s candidate Kellie Shelton lost to Terry Epps by five votes – 206 to 201 votes. Brown, who leads the coalition, said Shelton plans on challenging the win because of some suspected “election violations.” The American could not reach Shelton for further comment.

    Brown said James Brooks, who won the Ward 1 aldermanic race, and Gerald Metts, who won for Ward 3, were not on their slate but are still highly involved residents who have been great to work with.

    “We have two allies on the board already, so we will have a majority of the board,” Brown said. “We’re satisfied that will be able to work together to make some great decisions for the community.”

    The coalition formed several years ago to bring down Pine Lawn’s business-as-usual “shake down” regime, they said. In July, the North St. Louis County municipality’s former mayor Sylvester Caldwall was sentenced to 33 months in prison for extortion. Then in January, former police lieutenant Steven Blakeney was convicted of criminal civil rights charges arising from his arrest in 2013 of a mayoral candidate. He faces 20 years in prison.

    Interestingly, Nakisha Smith, who won in the Ward 4 aldermanic race, was the mayoral candidate that Blakeney was convicted for falsely arresting.