Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert on Monday night broke an 8-8 tie vote on the City Council so the city can give $8,890 in TIF money to Notre Dame Academy - Cathedral campus for the resealing of the Catholic school’s downtown parking lot.
Supporters of the plan said the school allows residents and visitors to use the parking lot at 200 S. Second St. during festivals such as Art on the Square and parades for decades and it’s money well spent to keep the parking in good shape.
Opponents argued that it opens a “Pandora’s box” of other groups seeking money from the city because they, too, have been good neighbors and allowed their property to be used for civic events.
Aldermen also had questions about the constitutionality of giving money to the Catholic school but Eckert said City Attorney Garrett Hoerner issued an opinion that it is legal for the city to give aid to the school for sealing the parking lot.
“I believe that as a good partner and friend, nothing to do with the church, as a good partner and friend I believe we owe this to be done,” Eckert told council members before they voted. “We don’t want to see weeds growing through the cracks downtown in our business district.”
Eckert told the aldermen the city has previously assisted local community groups. In 2013, the city gave $250,000 in TIF money to St. Paul’s Senior Community, which built a $29 million center for seniors at 1021 W. E St., Eckert said. The TIF money was used for building demolition to make way for new center.
Also, the city paid to have homes demolished near Memorial Hospital, twice gave aid to Governor French Academy and gave TIF money to Lindenwood University, Eckert said.
Ward 7 Alderman Phil Elmore was one of the eight aldermen who opposed the development agreement with Notre Dame.
“It was disappointing,” Elmore said after the meeting. “A lot of people changed their mind at the last second without giving the big picture a lot of thought and the big picture is that we have now just said that if you are philanthropic to the city … that we’re going to help you with your maintenance costs.
“And there’s not enough money in the city of Belleville to be maintaining all the parking lots of all the people that are good citizens to the city,” Elmore said.
“It just didn’t make sense.”
The development agreement with Notre Dame Academy calls for the school to spend at least $99,200 by Dec. 31 on improvements to its building and parking lot.
The city will use money from its TIF 8 fund to pay for the parking lot sealing.
Notre Dame is required to allow the public to use the parking lot anytime school is not is session or Notre Dame Academy, St. Peter’s Cathedral or the Diocese of Belleville is using the lot for an event.
A penalty clause calls for the Notre Dame Academy to pay back the $8,890 in TIF money if it doesn’t meet its requirements.
In a TIF, or tax increment financing, district, property values in the district are frozen at their current levels for a 23-year period and any additional revenue generated by a rise in property values is channeled into a special fund earmarked for infrastructure improvements and economic incentives in the district. It is intended to help property that would not see new growth “but for” the public investment.
The Cathedral campus of Notre Dame Academy was established after the merger of three Catholic schools, Cathedral, St. Augustine and St. Mary’s.
BEHIND OUR REPORTING
Why did we report this story?
We wanted to give readers an account of how the Belleville City Council is spending tax money on a plan that only half of the council supported.
How they voted
The following City Council members voted to give TIF money to the Notre Dame Academy: Joe Hazel and Ken Kinsella of Ward 1; Carmen Duco and Jane Pusa of Ward 2; Scott Ferguson of Ward 3; Johnnie Anthony of Ward 4; Shelly Schaefer of Ward 5; and Mary Stiehl of Ward 6;
Here are the aldermen who voted against the plan: Kent Randle of Ward 3; Raffi Ovian of Ward 4; Ed Dintelman of Ward 5; Chris Rothweiler of Ward 6; Phil Elmore and Dennis C. Weygandt of Ward 7; and Roger Barfield and Roger Wigginton of Ward 8.
After the council deadlocked, Eckert broke the tie vote in a move he rarely has to take.