Sunday, August 21, 2016

If Rolla is blighted, how can we continue to live here safely?

Covering the Rolla City Council for the local paper, I often want to snicker, giggle or laugh. This past Monday night, I wanted to laugh uproariously at 6th Ward Councilman Steve Jung.
Wait,  I should have said I wanted to laugh uproariously WITH the councilman, not at, for I am pretty sure he was having some fun with yet another businessman standing before the council with his hand out, seeking the council's help in getting public money.
Here's the deal: Our town has an aging apartment building for low-income senior citizens. The Rolla Apartments project, according to the information presented by the city administrator at the council meeting, was built 37 years ago with federal money. It was owned from the start by a St. Louis union's charitable fund, and it has been managed all those years by the Sansone Group, a large family-owned outfit also based in St. Louis.
It has been tax exempt for all those years. All the other landlords in Rolla that I know of have to pay real estate taxes to the city, county, school and other funds, but the Sansone Group has avoided those payments for 37 years. The family outfit apparently has also avoided spending a lot of money on keeping the place up, because now they have approached the council for help in getting some state money to do about $7 million worth of repairs, upkeep, maintenance, retrofitting, replacements and beautification. All the other landlords that I know of in Rolla have to come up with their own money to do that sort of work.
I'll not go into detail about the process the city must follow to help this company out, but part of it requires the finding of "blight" in the property. At Monday night's council meeting, a consulting firm paid by the Sansone Group presented its blight report. Apparently, the more pitiful you can make your place sound, the better chance you have of getting some of that free, or at least low-cost, government money.
The blight report, if you read it through quickly and didn't think about it deeply, made the Rolla Apartments sound like the building was just about to collapse. There were hints that its condition posed a safety hazard and health hazard to the poor old people that live there.
In the public hearing, Councilman Jung asked one of the Sansone company reps a question that went something like this, "If the building is in this bad a condition, how can we even allow our elderly citizens to continue living there another day?"
That right there was the moment where I wanted to laugh. I don't know Jung at all, but he's no dummy. He knows the whole "blighted" finding for any project involving free, or low-cost, government money is a bunch of hooey and horse crap. He was just having a little jocularity moment.
The company rep quickly defended the living conditions and the facility, and he offered to give any councilman a tour. He acknowledged that the building simply needed some major remodeling, and a careful reading of the blight study bears that out.
In other words, the Sansones and the St. Louis union have their hands held out to the government for some free, or at least low-cost, government money, because they don't want to spend $7 million of their own money. Let the taxpayers pick up the tab. There's plenty of tax money. That's the way business is done nowadays in America.
Rolla loves doing that kind of business. The council has assisted a major department store company in building a retail site here. The council recently helped a shopping center owner build a new supermarket and give a complete facelift to the whole center. The council is in the proecess of helping another St. Louis company build a new shopping center with Menard's anchoring it. In all of those cases, there was blight found, lots of blight, so tax money is needed to help the developers get a good return on their investment.
Heck, the council has declared the whole city blighted, as a retired Missouri University of Science and Technology professor, pointed out in the public hearing on this funding request for the Rolla Apartments.
I guess you could say that blight is just our thing here in Rolla. It's what we do, or, as the young people say, it's how we roll. I look for the the other landlords that I know of in Rolla to figure out how to take advantage of this and get on board with this trend.

No comments: