Belleville will pay $65,000 for help on 'enterprise zone'

News-DemocratMarch 3, 2014 

— The city of Belleville will spend $65,000 to get help on a competitive, statewide process to have certain areas designated as an "enterprise zone."

Businesses in the city's current enterprise zone have the benefit of qualifying for incentives such as abatement of sales tax on construction materials.

New state regulations limit the number of enterprise zones to 97 and the city has until the end of the year to reapply for certification.

The City Council voted 13-3 on Monday to approve a contract with Economic Development Resources for help on the state application.

Ward 2 Alderwoman Melinda Hult, Ward 5 Alderman Joe Hayden and Alderwoman-at-Large Lillian Schneider voted no.

Aldermen who voted against the contract wanted to know how the city can measure the impact of an enterprise zone in attracting businesses. They also questioned whether city staff can complete the application without outside help and said the consultant should go through a bid process.

Ward 5 Alderman Phil Silsby said the zone is another tool to help businesses.

Eugene Norber, president of Economic Development Resources, said the city is operating under a "time crunch" to do a nine-month review of the existing zone and turn in an application by December.

The state will award up to 49 certifications in the first round and there are advantages to the city being in the first pool of applicants, Norber said.

Ward 1 Alderman Mike Heisler supported utilizing Norber's services instead of hiring a temporary worker on minimum wage to help the city's economic department with the work.

"You go to the people with expertise," Heisler said. "(Norber) knows what it takes to get the job done."

Eric Schauster, the city's economic development specialist and grants coordinator, said the current boundaries include a lot of residential areas.

The city will work with Norber's company to redo the boundaries to maximize the number of businesses included in the enterprise zone. The new boundaries will also take into account where future growth will occur in the city, Schauster said.

Norber said the certification will last 15 years and the city has the option to apply to extend the zone for another 10 years.

Norber has acted as the city's tax increment financing consultant in the past.

An enterprise zone is different than the city's TIF districts in that every city is only allowed one enterprise zone. And, the zone must be a contiguous, 12-square-mile area.

The city's enterprise zone right now is about 10 square miles.

A map of the current enterprise zone is on the city's website, www.belleville.net.

Also on Monday:

* Aldermen squabbled over choosing Silsby as temporary chairman to lead the council meeting. Mayor Mark Eckert was absent because he had a death in the family.

Informal city protocol dictates that when there is an absence, the chairman role falls to the longest standing alderman. In this case, it would be Ward 6 Alderman Paul Seibert.

So when Ward 2 Alderwoman Janet Schmidt nominated Silsby, Hult said she found Schmidt's choice suspicious since Silsby is third in line.

Hult believes Eckert and some alderman violated the Open Meetings Act by consulting with each other before the meeting as to who would act as chair.

Schmidt protested Hult's assertions.

As to why Schmidt chose Silsby, she said, "I thought he would do a good job. A lot of people like him."

* City leaders voted 10-6 to approve a letter of support to bring a high speed rail station to East St. Louis.

Hayden, Hult, Schneider, Ward 3 Alderman Kent Randle, Ward 6 Alderman Bob White and Ward 7 Alderman Trent Galetti voted no.

Hayden said the proposal is not in the city limits, so why is the issue before Belleville aldermen? He asked the council to delay a vote for more discussion on the pros and cons of supporting the rail station.

Ward 4 Alderman Johnnie Anthony said the rail construction will not only benefit East St. Louis but also St. Clair County and Belleville. Last week, the County Board approved $500,000 to design and plan a station in hopes of convincing the state to add a stop in East St. Louis on a route between St. Louis and Chicago.

*The council approved the appointment of Jay Godt as the new wastewater treatment plant pre-treatment coordinator to replace John Graham when he retires May 2.

Godt will be paid about $31.94 an hour, which amounts to about $66,443 yearly. The city budgeted the same for Graham.

Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at jlee@bnd.com or 618-239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BNDJLee.

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