County Council mirrors a 'Council of Dunces'
May 25, 2005 - To the editor:
The St. Louis County Council once again looked like a "Council of Dunces'' when it recently approved $2 million for the St. Louis Convention & Visitors Commission, an outfit that's only competent at wasting vast amounts of tax dollars.
The CVC has received a lot of criticism in recent years for its failure to attract more conventions and tourists to St. Louis.
It has gotten so bad that the big, new Renaissance Hotel in downtown St. Louis, which was supposed to give a big boost to the area's convention business, only has a 42 percent occupancy rate — and it's next to the convention center.
The hotel, which has received tens of millions of dollars of subsidies from local and state government, has gone through $22.5 million of reserves in the last two years. Its future is questionable unless bus-iness picks up.
There are also many questions about CVC expenditures. For example, two cronies of commission Chairman Kim Tucci have contracts with the commission for public relations work despite the CVC having its own PR staff. The commission refuses to provide full information on these contracts.
Among other questionable expenditures are an incredible $443,266 for office space last year in a downtown office building, $995 to Who's Who Publishing, $46,981 to the St. Louis Rams, $70,965 to the St. Louis Cardinals and unknown amounts for legal services.
Despite all the unanswered questions about past and current expenditures, council members voted unanimously to approve another $2 million for the CVC.
They didn't seem to know or care whether it will be spent effectively. This will mean even more county tax money being sent downtown while many needs in St. Louis County go unmet.
The county is already on track to spend nearly $300 million for downtown sports stadiums: $180 million for the Edward Jones Dome, which is also used as a convention center, and $110 million for bond payments to help construct the new stadium for the St. Louis Cardinals. A lot of this money would be better spent to promote economic growth and the quality of life in St. Louis County.
County officials like to say funds from the hotel-motel tax, which was approved in 1990 by county voters to help fund the downtown Dome, can only be used to promote tourism-related expenditures. Yet the law states, in section 67.657.6 of state statutes, that surplus funds in the County Convention and Recreation Fund "may be appropriated and disbursed by the county for general revenue purposes."
The tax has been raising around $8.5 million a year. Only $6 million annually is needed for the Edward Jones Dome. The surplus has been spent for various CVC "marketing efforts" and some county parks.
The annual surplus will now be going to pay off the bonds for the Cardinals' stadium. Meanwhile, hours at county libraries, swimming pools and parks have been cut back.
While the County Council spends tax money so foolishly, it ignores many serious problems. Just last year, a study of the University of Missouri found St. Louis County had lost $2.6 billion in household income from 1993 through 2003. This isn't surprising as people, jobs and revenue have been leaving the county in considerable numbers.
St. Louis County lost 4,000 jobs when MasterCard moved to St. Charles County from Westport. When CitiGroup moved to O'Fallon another 3,500 jobs were lost. The list goes on and on.
In 2003, St. Charles County was ranked second in the nation for job growth. This was due in large part to the continual inability of St. Louis County government to retain businesses.
There was even more bad news for the county last year: for the first time ever, both St. Charles and Jefferson counties each had a greater number of new home permits than St. Louis County.
For the most part, St. Louis County is a nice place to live and raise a family. But as long as it has an inept government that foolishly spends tax dollars while failing to address an increasing number of problems, it might not stay that way.