EAST ST. LOUIS — Financial Advisory Authority board members had stern words for city leaders about their plans to hire two new economic development employees, and the city's inability to follow through on its three-year financial plan.
The city submitted its second budget amendment on Aug. 14 to the authority, which was approved.
FAA Budget Director Brandon Drake, speaking at the authority's most-recent meeting on Sept. 28, said the most-critical change in the budget was the addition of an economic development manager. City leaders want to pay that person $57,000 a year, and want another $42,000 for an economic development specialist who would assist the director.
Drake said the FAA can and will direct the city to hire certified professionals who can hit the ground running because it's critical for the city.
"The city is an ailing patient and economic development can't be the training center where beginners go to learn," Drake said.
"The city has failed to increase municipal revenues through economic development. This is critical in a cash-strapped city. With a location on the river and with excellent rail and interstate access, this is not acceptable, independent of the economy," Drake said.
Drake said that TIF Director Andrea Tolden told him that a nationwide search would be conducted for the most-qualified candidate for the economic development manager position, and that the city's TIF consultant will assist the city in the vetting and interviewing process for the new hire. He said politics and friends should be set aside in the hiring process.
Drake said his experience as a member of the Collinsville Planning Commission and his work with other municipalities has taught him that economic development is a critical financial issue.
"The lack of economic development in the city is a serious problem, independent of the economy," he said. "Revenues in East St. Louis are declining and the city has few viable businesses and little economic/community development."
Meanwhile, Drake said the city is not in compliance with the Financially Distressed Cities Act, which says the city must have a three-year budget plan, something it has never done.
"The law also says the FAA may issue a directive to the city to ensure compliance with the financial plan. The authority can no longer hope that the city does the right thing to increase revenues; they must be directed to do so," Drake said.
City leaders have been and continue their attempts to present "overly optimistic revenue projections in a city with a declining population and declining revenues, Drake said.
The Casino Queen is a main source of revenue for the city because it doesn't have a diversified tax base, he said.
"And the city also relies heavily on grants to fund its ongoing operations. Grants are intended for one-time expenses as a means to jump start an initiative and not as long-term solutions," he said.
Drake was critical of city leaders for relying on consultants in the TIF and Community Development offices as opposed to experienced professionals who are certified to inspect commercial properties and who are certified planners. He said since the 1970s, the city has not had the level of professionals it needs in the Economic Development Department.
At the meeting, the FAA rejected, unanimously, the city's attempt to give a $10,000 contract to CJE Construction Services, which George "Jack" Edwards, was slated to be the superintendent of, to manage the city's demolition process.
Edwards is a former chief of demolition for the city who began a private demolition company in July.
He is a convicted felon who went to prison for scheming to extort $150,000 from a former St. Louis Cardinals baseball player, who was not identified in court. Edwards tried to extort money from the player, claiming the player got his daughter pregnant. Edwards said he would be quiet about the incident if the player paid him the money.
He pleaded guilty to wire fraud on April 23, 2007.