State rep, mayor face off for 3rd council district

Vicki+Englund%2C+left%2C+and+Dennis+Hancock

Vicki Englund, left, and Dennis Hancock

By Erin Achenbach, News Editor

The race for the 3rd St. Louis County Council District features former state representative and Lindbergh School Board member Vicki Englund against former Fenton Mayor Dennis Hancock. Current 3rd District County Councilman Tim Fitch is not seeking reelection. 

The election is Tuesday, Nov. 8.

Englund, 48, is the owner of Giftpak Express. She lives in Sunset Hills with her husband Byron and three children.

Englund previously served on the Lindbergh Board of Education from 2011 to 2017, and then in the Missouri House of Representatives as the 85h District representative from 2009-2010, and then as the 94th District representative from 2013-2014 after redistricting. She ran unsuccessfully for state treasurer  against Scott Fitzpatrick in 2020.

When asked why she is running for County Council, Englund said, “I want to put aside the bickering and angst (on the County Council) that has kept our region from progressing.”

Hancock did not include any biographical information on his response to The Call’s candidate questionnaire. He previously served as the mayor of Fenton from  2001 to 2013.

The candidates gave the following responses to The Call’s questionnaire:

(Editor’s note: The following questions and answers appeared in the Oct. 20 and Oct. 27 print editions of The Call. They have been edited to fit in print.)

Do you believe the St. Louis County Planning Commission is responsive to county residents? Is there anything about the zoning process that should change? 

Englund: “I know there is frustration that permits take too long and the right hand does not know what the left hand is doing. This must change.”

Hancock: “I believe that a lot of residents of the county don’t feel the Commission is responsive to them. I would like to see the commission hold hearings in times and places that make it easier for residents to be heard. I also think members of the County Council and the county executive should attend the meetings so they can see first-hand the interaction between the commission and the affected parties.”

What is your position on incorporation?

Englund: “If the residents of an area want to, it’s up to them. However, running a municipal government is not easy and does cause higher taxes.”

Hancock:My position is that if the residents of an area want to incorporate, and are willing to go through the process, then they should be able to do so.  I think the real question is what services are they not getting from the county that would lead them in the direction of considering incorporation?”

Do you agree with how the County Council has allotted federal pandemic relief so far, such as American Rescue Plan Act Funds?

Englund: “I do agree with many of the council’s choices but there is still money left to spend.”

Hancock: “I think the county had an opportunity to address some long-needed infrastructure issues with the ARPA funds. Unfortunately, those needs continue to go begging, and many streets and roads in unincorporated St. Louis County continue to deteriorate.”

Do you plan to accept campaign contributions from developers with projects before the council? Should council members vote on projects submitted by campaign contributors?

Englund: “We need to look at all aspects of a project or not, regardless of any campaign contributions.”

Hancock: “I would do what I did as mayor of Fenton and disclose any personal or business relationship that I had with anyone doing business before the council.  Depending on the nature of the relationship, I would even go so far as to recuse myself if I thought it was the right thing to do.”

What do you suggest to improve public safety and reduce crime?

Englund: “We need to raise police officer salaries so we can fill vacancies and attract more officers to keep St. Louis County safe.”

Hancock: “My plan is to do what I did in Fenton when we had a severe methamphetamine problem.  I will bring together law enforcement and other interested stakeholders and work with them to develop a plan to address the crime problem county-wide. And when the time comes to implement that plan, I’ll make sure it is fully funded.”

What are your thoughts on how the current County Council is operating?

Englund: “The bickering is preventing a professional work environment in which important decisions can be made.”

Hancock: “Right now, there is a balance on the council, with two of the Democrats voting with the Republicans to keep the county executive in check.  I would prefer to see the council work together to solve some of the critical issues facing the county, and hope that there would be support and leadership from the county executive to get these things done.”

Would you support a city-county merger with St. Louis? Why or why not?

Englund: “There are currently no mergener talks I would support … consolidating some services … makes sense.”

Hancock: “I think a city-county merger would be disastrous for both entities.”

What will you do to reform the county jail following inmate deaths and leadership turnover?

Englund: “There should be a much closer investigation into this matter.”

Hancock: “No one should be facing a death penalty for a minor offense that causes them to spend time in the county jail. My plan to reform the jail is to bring together law enforcement, other experts, and other interested stakeholders to develop a plan to solve this ongoing problem.”

Are you satisfied with the spending of Prop P funds so far?

Englund: “Not sure, I will have to do more research on this one.”

Hancock: “The county executive recently announced he is finally starting construction on a couple of new precinct buildings. My question is why wasn’t this done three years ago, when financing was cheap? Where are the extra police officers we were promised by the promoters of Prop P? No, I am not satisfied at all, and would encourage the auditor’s office to investigate where the money has gone.”

What measures, if any, will you propose to encourage economic development in the 3rd District?

Englund: “Economic development is my background and permitting speed is the No. 1 issue I hear about from business owners.”

Hancock: “Again, I would call upon my experience in Fenton. We developed an environment that encouraged businesses to locate there. No business license fee, eliminated red tape, hired a staff that was trained to help people when they came in the door. In 2006, according to the Missouri Department of Economic Development, Fenton had more full-time jobs per resident than any other city in Missouri. We can grow jobs in St. Louis County instead of continuing to lose them to other parts of the region.”

Are cuts needed to balance the county’s budget? Should the tax rate be raised?

Englund: “Yes, there will have to be cuts but I need to take a closer look first.”

Hancock: “In his 2023 budget, the county executive noted there was a $30 million budget deficit. While the actual number is closer to $40 million, this is not a new situation. The deficit has existed for several years, first being hidden by using the county’s reserves, and the last couple of years using COVID funds to hide it. Of course, the Democrats on the council are going to propose raising taxes. As mayor, when faced with a similar situation after the loss of Chrysler, we looked at the expense side first to reduce costs instead of raising revenue. That’s why in my 12 years as mayor we never had a tax increase.”

How will you make zoning decisions? Will you rely on resident feedback, or other factors?

Englund: “I will look at the reasons for zoning, proper use, highest and best use and of course, resident input.”

Hancock: “I will get input from all the interested stakeholders, and then decide based on the facts.”

What is your opinion of the leadership of County Executive Sam Page?

Englund: “Dr. Page has been a great leader during the COVID-19 pandemic and I appreciated having a doctor leading us through those trying times.”

Hancock: “I believe that the current county executive has shown no leadership at all on the important issues facing St. Louis County. He has done nothing to address the crime issues that plague St. Louis County. He has encouraged the divisiveness that prevents the council from doing its important work. And under his administration, the county continues to lose jobs and population.” 

Would you support St. Louis City entering the county as a municipality?

Englund: “I have lots of questions on how that would work and I don’t see discussions … happening anytime soon.”

Hancock: “The entry of St. Louis City into the county as a municipality would destroy many of the existing cities in the county that take advantage of the pooling of sales tax revenue … its size would take the lion’s share of the funds.”