Green Park Commerce Center business owners willing to pay for street maintenance to offset business licenses

Smoot contends articles in newspaper ‘hurt’ Green Park citizens, businesses

By BURKE WASSON

To help offset the need for revenue that could be collected through any business-license fees in Green Park, business owners in the Green Park Commerce Center are willing to pay for maintenance of that business park’s streets.

While the city has been slated to take over the costs of maintenance and construction of those streets once the Commerce Center is filled, Green Park Chamber of Commerce President Jim Smoot said several building owners within that complex have discussed the possibility of taking on that cost.

Board of Aldermen President Anthony Pousosa of Ward 1 said last week at a meeting of the city’s business-license committee that it would cost more than $1.1 million to replace all streets within the Commerce Center.

Participants at the committee’s initial meetings have identified future costs of expansion and maintenance of streets as one reason to generate more revenue through business-license fees. Business owners and representatives at those meetings have questioned the need for the city to implement business licenses, citing the Commerce Center’s willingness to take on street maintenance and their own objections to paying additional fees to the city for a license.

At the committee’s next meeting on March 18, participants will discuss how other St. Louis County fourth-class cities like Green Park handle business licenses. Of 44 fourth-class cities in the county, 26 have a fee-based structure for business licenses.

At the group’s April 14 meeting, participants will study the alternative of possibly asking voters to increase the city’s half-cent capital-improvement sales tax instead of implementing business-license fees as a way to generate additional revenue.

All meetings will take place at 7 p.m. at Green Park City Hall, 11100 Mueller Road.

Smoot said at last week’s committee meeting that roughly 20 Commerce Center trustees present at a late February meeting voted unanimously to take over maintenance of the center’s streets.

But according to Mayor Tony Konopka, City Attorney Paul Rost said that because the Commerce Center has no funding mechanism in place to take over that maintenance, the responsibility of those streets would still be of the city.

“I was told that it’s not an option for the city to take over the streets since there is no funding mechanism for the trustees in the Green Park Commerce Center,” Konopka said. “And had they known that they would be private streets, they would have set up an assessment to pay for maintenance. If there’s something that can be done other than that, I don’t know.”

Smoot pointed out that Commerce Center trustees are aware that they would have to establish monies for that street maintenance.

“The developer — Doug Jones from KCI Construction — made sure that everybody was aware that if they were going to do this that they would have to have a funding mechanism and that money would have to be contributed by each building owner and it would be based on the actual cost whatever it is,” Smoot said. “Snow removal, street repair, replacement problems, whatever. And they all voted unanimously — they had about 20 of them there — they voted unanimously that they would do that and they would take that responsibility … Since there’s so many private streets in private subdivisions, I can’t think if there’d be a mechanism where we couldn’t let those people keep that street private and save all the money for the city.”

But Ward 2 Alderman Tim Thuston, who also met with Commerce Center trustees last week, said if city officials forego the idea of a business license, they should still consider a set registration fee, which he said trustees would find “fair.”

“A big chunk of what we’ve all talked about is the cost of maintaining those roads and the cost of the Commerce Center,” said Thuston, who serves as chairman of the business-license committee. “But that’s not just the only issue. That’s a big piece of the issue.

“One of the things that the fellows had agreed to is regardless of yes or no, they still felt that a registration of some sort — a business registration — would still be a proposal that they thought would be fair,” Thuston said. “And if by chance the city could take no responsibility for those roads, those fellows as representatives of the trustees also agree that if we could lock them in somehow with a registration fee and then not have to worry about five years, 10 years down the road that that assessment would be increased, they’d be in agreement to it. Those are two things that we need to check out with the city attorney to find out if that’s possible.”

As for business licenses and possible fees attached to them, Smoot does not believe the city needs those funds at this time because of the city’s $4 million cash reserve.

“Now we have the Green Park Commerce Center about to dump a bunch of maintenance on the city,” Smoot said. “(Ward 3) Alderman (Mark) Hayden asked me to go talk to those people. And that’s a hell of a good idea, and I did. And I had a meeting and the trustee says ‘We will keep these streets private.’ Single-handedly just having one phone call and one meeting, if the city accepts this, I was able to save the city several million dollars over a 10- or 20-year period.

“Let’s assume they do this. We still have Alderman Thuston, who came in as a new alderman. And he had a very legitimate question. ‘Can I have a list of the businesses here in Green Park?’ And City Hall was not able to give him a list of those businesses. Quite frankly, I think there’s a lot of those lists available. But that wasn’t his point … He said there’s another part to this argument, which is do we need a business license to have a list? And my response to that is if City Hall wants to do the paperwork and they want the extra red tape and they want the extra layer, will the business people feel comfortable with that? … We need to solve some stuff.

“I don’t want to jump on (Call Staff Reporter) Mr. (Burke) Wasson’s back here. But every time there’s an article in the newspaper, it hurts the citizens and it hurts the business people. And yeah, I’m not a resident and I no longer own a business in Green Park. But I own commercial property. It hurts my property. And I don’t like the controversy. Let’s solve some problems. I went out on my own time at Mr. Hayden’s request and I solved a multi-million-dollar problem by having one meeting. And Mr. Thuston came in and said: ‘Guys, is this what you want to do?’ So let’s solve some problems.”

“But it’s not solved,” Thuston said.

“It is not solved,” Smoot said.

“It’s up for discussion,” Thuston said. “Saying it’s solved and saying it’s up for discussion are two vastly different things. At this point, it’s up for discussion.”

“Well, I think we all know that in a democracy, the Board of Aldermen and the elected officials have the power,” Smoot said. “The people that are sitting here that are not elected officials, we don’t have any power. We can have discussion. We have the right of free speech … even though (Call Executive Editor) Mike Anthony doesn’t think that we all have the right of free speech.”

Smoot continued that because of “headlines” concerning the proposed business licenses, Wilson Manufacturing has delayed a renovation project. For this reason, he urged city officials, residents and business owners to develop solutions.

“Because of the newspaper publicity, he has put that project on hold,” Smoot said. “And this is another one of those ripple effects where you can discuss something over and over again and all it does is have animosity build and build.

“Now we have a multi-million-dollar project that was going to replace an old repo yard simply because of these headlines that come out. And I can’t tell you how many other projects may have been put on hold or said ‘We’re not going to expand’ or ‘We’re not going to locate there.’ It could be a guy that’s wanting to move from Crestwood to Green Park. And then he sees the headline and says ‘Well hell, it’s just as bad over here in Crestwood. I might as well stay over here.’ I don’t know how many times that has happened. It might be one time. It might be a hundred times. So this is why I’m trying to tell you here tonight I’d like to encourage anybody to bring some solutions to the table.”