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Board considers gun policy

Revisions to the Mehlville School District's weapons policy were scheduled to be discussed earlier this week by the Mehlville Board of Education.

The proposed policy revisions, drafted in response to a new state law that will allow permitted individuals to carry concealed firearms, were scheduled to be discussed by school board members Monday night — after the Call went to press.

Superintendent Tim Ricker said he has received a letter from the school district's attorney with suggested language for policy revisions, which would prohibit any weapon on district campuses.

This would include prohibiting firearms from being left in vehicles, according to Ricker.

"We want people to clearly understand they cannot bring any weapons on the property, unless they are a police officer," he said.

If board members approve the policy revisions, then signs will be posted that will state, "Premises off limits to concealed firearms."

Ricker said police and security officers will follow the same safety procedures they normally do.

"It's just a different administration of the law now," Ricker said. "If we put a prohibition on that (guns), we can have that removed. People can't take out their license and show us their little sticker. We're going to say: 'We don't care.'"

The school district does not have the power to impose fines on people who violate the policy and bring firearms on school campuses.

Ricker said the Cooperating School Districts plans to lobby state legislators and ask that a separate concealed-carry law be drafted that would prohibit the presence of firearms at all Missouri schools. The group will ask that different penalties be set for schools and to enact specific school legislation as a stand-alone law.

"Not a lot of people really thought about the ramifications of this," he said. "We need to get us out of the realm of the concealed weapon conversation.

"We've worked so hard over the years making these gun-free zones and drug-free zones. This might have been one of those unintended consequences of writing this law."

In a separate matter Monday, board members were scheduled to discuss tax freezes.

The Lemay Chamber of Commerce wants board members to endorse a $16,000 real estate tax abatement for the Fend-ler Nursery and Garden Center property, 1803 Lemay Ferry Road. The five-year tax freeze would help offset renovation and construction costs of the nursery's new addition.

During the summer, County Councilman John Campisi, R-south county, met with Ricker and Cindy Christopher, board president, to discuss the economic growth potential with tax abatements in the Lemay area. But Campisi told district officials he would not move forward with the abatement proposal on the Fendler Nursery property unless he had the board's approval. Ricker said, by law, Campisi does not need the board's consent.

The chamber is requesting that board members agree that economic growth and tax freezes, through the Chapter 353 tax abatement program, are appropriate strategies for pieces of property.

Monday's board meeting was scheduled to be the first open discussion with this board and the administration on tax abatements. It is an action item, so board members could support or deny the tax freeze proposal.

Also, Christopher said board members could decide to not vote at all sending a message the board does not feel it is the board's place to make this decision.

"It's difficult to look at any less money when we've already been forced to take less money other places," she said.

Ricker said he will recommend that board members not approve the abatement proposal. In the Fendler Nursery case, he said a tax abatement is not necessary considering the district's current financial status.

"This is only because of the tenuous situation of fi-nances right now and in certain cases, I believe that people who want to renovate the area or develop the area would do so anyway without the abatements."

He said it is not in the district's best interest to hold off on $16,000 right now, but it ultimately is a board decision.

"There's a couple of ways to look at it. You can pay me now, or pay me later and abate so this person could have renovations," Ricker said. "But the district lost so much money last year from the state through withholdings. This is a district where 80 percent of our money comes from local property taxes and then for us to say 'Oh no, that's OK' — that's pretty incongruent."

However, he said he realized the concept of increasing economic development in the Lemay area is a valid concern. As more and more areas become blighted and are not redeveloped, he said, the blight just keeps moving further into the district.

"We've seen some of the northern portions of our district change over the last 25 years," he said. "That's why I think it's in the best interest for the board to look at each project separately and look to see if it really is an economic development issue — if it's actually going to develop the area to a level that's going to be significant.''

However, the Lemay Fire Protection District Board of Directors unanimously supported an abatement for the Fendler Nursery property from 2003 to 2009.

Also, in a letter to Campisi, attorney David Weiss of Weiss and Associates, who represents the nursery, wrote he was not aware the school district had the right to hold up economic development projects.

"It is our belief that Mehlville School District is purposefully delaying this project," Weiss indicated in the letter. "As you know, Fendler Nursery not only provides employment opportunities and enhanced tax base for St. Louis County, and in particular in your district, but also provides a needed service to your constituents."

Ricker said the Fendler Nursery proposal is for normal upkeep and renovation. Supporters of the abatement might indicate, he said, that the nursery would not be able to fund the renovation otherwise.

"They've already started the work," he said. "If they were looking for help, I would have waited. We need to look at if it truly is an economic or tax burden on them to where it would keep them from doing the work."

And it hasn't, he said.

Board members Monday night also were scheduled to appoint members to the district's new Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corp. and make some new appointments to the district's Proposition P Oversight Committee. The VICC panel will study the district's future participation in the VICC program, while the Oversight Committee will continue to oversee the Proposition P districtwide building im-provement program.

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