A group of Ellisville residents met Thursday with several goals related to a possible , including an effort to remove from office elected officials who support the project.
The group, called the Ellisville Article 9 Alliance, drew about 40 residents to , where they also discussed efforts to help approve state legislation that could impact whether Walmart is built in Ellisville, in addition to efforts to forbid the city's use of eminent domain.
"As you know, our elected leaders here in Ellisville are not listening to us regarding the Walmart TIF," group organizer Liz Schmidt said in reference to the related tax increment financing proposal. "So we're going to take matters into our own hands, and our city charter allows us to do that."
Under the proposal before the city council, a tax increment financing district would be created surrounding a Walmart Superstore, which would be . The TIF district would allow half of all newly generated sales tax revenue to be put in a fund under the control of the Sansone Group, the developer facilitating the project, which would require that funds generated by the TIF be spent on surrounding infrastructure.
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Ellisville city staff estimated that the project would create an additional $500,000 annually for Ellisville's approximately $9 million yearly budget.
Resident Dan Duffy, an outspoken critic of the proposal, said he opposed the deal in large part because the designated area for the project could be rebuilt without a tax incentive for developers, he said.
“It’s probably the prime piece of real estate available in West (St. Louis) County right now, and there’s absolutely no reason to give the developers $16 million,” Duffy said. “There is no reason whatsoever.”
In addition to concerns that the TIF would decrease the amount of sales tax revenue for the city generated by a new business, residents and non-residents alike of Clarkchester Apartments, a residential complex situated within the project site, have criticized the city for its role displacing residents; tandem legislation before the council would establish a "relocation policy" for Ellisville, which would pay up to $1,000 per household to residents forced to move due to the development.
Move to Heed to County Objections
David Stokes of the Show-Me Institute, a non profit political think-tank, said state lawmakers are considering legislation which would make it more difficult for municipalities to create TIF districts if the county TIF commission does not endorse the project.
"So it would basically take away the ability of Ellisville to say 'yes' if the county TIF Commission said no … and our local leaders just ignored it,” Stokes said. “So that's a valuable bill.”
Schmidt said the proposal was unanimously approved in the state senate and is being considered in the House. Even if that proposal is approved, it would not take effect until late August, which could prevent future TIF districts locally whether or not Ellisville’s final votes on the issue take place before the August effective date.
“So if this bill passes, it will save us grief on other projects,” Schmidt said, urging residents to contact local lawmakers seeking support for the legislation.
Recalling Elected Officials
After weeks of outcry about the project from residents, and with five of the city council’s seven members having indicated support for the TIF project, Schmidt said the alliance group will push to have members who support the TIF recalled from office. In following with procedure for a recall, Thursday included the formation of district committees, which will have to collect signatures equaling 15 percent of Ellisville’s registered voters base favoring the recall of particular council members in that district. If the signatures are successfully collected, the question of recalling an individual council member would appear on the ballot before voters at the next election.
Former Ellisville Mayor Ed O’Reilly was among the supporters in attendance Thursday night. O’Reilly said concerned residents must call the five city council members who supported the TIF proposal in preliminary votes and urge them to change their final vote, which could come as soon as Wednesday.
O’Reilly repeatedly took issue with claims by city council members that failing to bring Walmart to the city could result in new fees, the loss of services like leaf pickup or the to St. Louis County.
“The sky is not falling,” O’Reilly said of the city’s finances, which he said include enough reserve funds to sustain operations. “We’re in good shape.”
Schmidt said the group also is organizing a petition for a “protect our homes” ordinance, which effectively would extend into actual law a resolution made by Ellisville’s 2005 City Council vowing not to use eminent domain against residential properties.
Schmidt acknowledged that if the anti-eminent domain petition is successful, it would not affect Clarkchester Apartments, which property owners have agreed to sell to the proposed developer, due to the nature of the property acquisition, in addition to the deal’s timing and zoning status. Such an ordinance could, however, prevent residents from being displaced by city business deals in the future, Schmidt said.
“That way, if you’re a homeowner or a renter, you can sleep at night knowing that by force of law, they can’t take residential property of any kind.”
Schmidt said it is not clear whether the will schedule final votes for the TIF legislation for next week’s agenda, but will proceed under the assumption that a vote next Wednesday is possible.
The Ellisville City Council is scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. Wednesday at .