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Campisi seeks to ensure funding for education foundation

If a proposed education foundation falls through, County Councilman John Campisi, R-south county, wants to go after the St. Louis County Port Authority's rent money it would gain from Pinnacle Entertainment.

The County Council last week voted 5-2 to approve the second reading of a bill that would authorize a lease agreement between the Port Authority and Pinnacle Entertain-ment — one week after County Executive Charlie Dooley raised concerns that councilmen were delaying consideration of the bill.

Councilman Kurt Odenwald, R-Shrewsbury, and Coun-cilman Greg Quinn, R-west county, opposed the bill. Quinn and Odenwald also opposed a resolution considered in May that stated the council's support of Pinnacle's proposal to construct a casino at the former National Lead Site in Lemay.

The two contended they did not want the county to become dependent on gaming revenue.

At Campisi's request, the second reading of the bill had been tabled for several weeks so that councilmen could receive more information on a proposed education foundation before councilmen considered the lease agreement between Pinnacle and the Port Authority.

Under an "Intent of Education Foundation," a document created by Pinnacle after Campisi's request for the foundation, $4.3 million would be set aside annually and then dispersed to the Hancock, Affton, Bayless, Mehlville and Lindbergh school districts.

If the Pinnacle proposal is granted a license by the Missouri Gaming Commission, the 6th District councilman, superintendents from all five school districts, a Pinnacle representative and two 6th District residents would serve on the Education Foundation Board and meet annually to evaluate and determine the distribution of the $4.3 million, according to the document.

The document suggests that the funds would be collected for the foundation in lieu of taxes, but councilmen have questioned the legality of the foundation.

Linking the education foundation to the Pinnacle contract was essential to ensure that south county school districts would receive the annual $4.3 million, Campisi explained to councilmen June 15.

But Dooley and County Counselor Pat Redington asserted during that meeting that such an action was not appropriate and the foundation would have to be configured at a later date.

Dooley contended that he and other county officials had made it clear that the foundation was a "goal," but never a guarantee and that perhaps the issue was too "complex" for Campisi to understand.

During the council's June 22 session, Campisi supported the second reading of the lease agreement bill and a new resolution that states it is the county's goal to implement the education foundation at a later date. The resolution passed 5-2 with Odenwald and Quinn again in opposition of the casino matter.

Campisi changed his tune, he said, because he believed it was important for the council to move on and conceded that it may not be appropriate to attach the foundation to Pinnacle's contract with the Port Authority.

However, the 6th District councilman is committed to making sure Pinnacle holds up its end of the bargain, Campisi added.

"I feel confident there is another means of being able to get the money in lieu of taxes," Campisi told the Call. "If that's not possible, I can go after the funding for the Economic Council and grab that money that is being paid for by the lease and give that to the school foundation. The foundation is not the hard part. It's getting the money to the foundation that's the hard part."

The intention of the resolution, Campisi told councilmen June 22, was to ensure the creation of the proposed education foundation, outdoor auditorium, ball fields, skating rink, aquatic center and other non-casino amenities touted by Pinnacle to land the deal with the county.

If those amenities, specifically the education foundation, do not reach fruition, Campisi told the Call, "I can go after the Port Authority money. We can just deduct that amount."

During a May 18 executive council session Chief of Staff Jim Baker approached councilmen, explaining that if they are not satisfied with the results of the Pinnacle package, the county will have the power to dip into Economic Council funds.

"As Mr. Baker stated ... the County Council has leverage over the Port Authority funding through its appropriation of general fund revenues to the St. Louis County Economic Council," Campisi told councilmen last week. "As the councilman of the 6th District, I will be following the actions of the Economic Council for the development of Lemay very closely."

Baker also had indicated, Campisi explained, that the Department of Administration believed the best use of initial funds generated by casino revenue would be for capital projects and other one-time expenditures to avoid dependence on the gaming revenue in the county for day-to-day operations and expenses.

If Pinnacle's proposal is approved, Baker and the Department of Administration would advise the Port Authority that the initial focus of funds should be spent on the Lemay area and the surrounding casino area regarding safety, traffic and infrastructure.

"I intend to hold the Department of Administration to their promise," Campisi said.

"I am willing to move forward with the process with the understanding that the council has the approval of the funding for the Port Authority through its appropriations of the General Fund revenue to the St. Louis County Economic Council for economic development,'' he added.

During the June 15 council meeting, Campisi accused the Economic Council and its chief executive officer, Denny Coleman, of giving him the "runaround" regarding their inability to provide the councilman with information on the Pinnacle proposal and education foundation.

The Economic Council, from the beginning, has been clear that its intention is to establish the foundation, but it is unknown how and if the foundation will be established, Coleman told the Call.

"We've been very direct and forthright with members of the council, in particularly with Councilman Campisi," he said. "... Yes, I believe we've been very responsive to Mr. Campisi ... in providing him with all the information that we have at our disposal. We've been very clear about what we are not in a position yet to provide."

"We've been very clear we want this foundation to happen, but that it's premature to try to establish it," Coleman continued. "Our tax attorneys have indicated to us that we cannot set up a foundation today and have it sit idle for three years because the IRS in all likelihood would take away the foundation's tax-exempt status ..."

Final passage of the lease agreement bill is essential in that the legislation will indicate to the Missouri Gaming Commission that St. Louis County favors the proposal, Coleman told the Call last week. Final consideration of the bill was scheduled for Tuesday evening — after the Call went to press.

Members of the Missouri Gaming Commission have contacted Coleman, he said, inquiring about the council's position on the matter and the status of the lease agreement.

"They have been following the council's deliberations," Coleman said, noting that it is imperative councilmen move quickly with the bill since the commission plans to vote on the matter July 8.

The following companies are proposing casino developments:

• Harrah's — One proposed facility that would be situated in south county near the Jefferson Barracks Bridge in Oakville.

• Isle of Capri — Two facilities with one that would be situated in downtown St. Louis, while the other would be constructed near the Jefferson Barracks Bridge.

• Pinnacle Entertainment — Two facilities with one that would be situated downtown, while the other would be constructed at the former National Lead Site in Lemay.

• Riviera — One proposed facility that would be constructed in Jefferson County near Barnhart.

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