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Big donations fuel last-minute push for tax increase for St. Louis Community College

Big donations fuel last-minute push for tax increase for St. Louis Community College

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A last-minute boost from big business has pushed campaign fundraising to nearly $550,000 for a proposed tax increase benefiting St. Louis Community College.

Proposition R on Tuesday’s ballot would authorize the issue of bonds worth $350 million for projects to upgrade and modernize facilities to help attract new students, according to the college.

“There is a desperate need for a trained and educated workforce in St. Louis County and St. Louis city,” said Jeff Pittman, chancellor of the community college.

The projects would update and expand career training programs in health care, information technology, financial services, biotech and manufacturing, Pittman said.

“There are thousands of job openings right now in these areas,” he said.

If passed, property taxes would increase by 8 cents for each $100 of assessed value, which would take the college system’s levy from 19.87 cents to 27.87 cents. If the measure passes, the tax on the average home worth $324,000 would increase by about $49 a year, with the community college district accounting for nearly $172 of the total property tax bill. Overall, the tax increase is expected to raise $24 million to $28 million a year.

The Invest in St. Louis Community College fund reported a $50,000 donation from Centene on Friday, according to filings with the Missouri Ethics Commission.

Last week, Civic Progress Action Committee, a limited fund left over from the organization of top CEOs, pitched in $20,000 to bring its total donations to $40,000.

The campaign’s largest donor is Andrew Taylor, executive chairman of Enterprise Holdings, who contributed $100,000, commission reports show.

Other top donors to the campaign include the Carpenters union ($30,000), Mercy ($25,000), Cigna ($25,000), Schnuck Markets ($20,000) and the Regional Business Council ($20,000).

Washington University and St. Louis University each donated $25,000.

The community college’s tax rate was last increased in 1984 and stands as the lowest of Missouri’s 12 community college tax districts. If the measure passes, St. Louis Community College will have the fifth-lowest tax rate in the state.

The tax hike proposal comes amid a steady decline in students attending the community college. Enrollment in fall 2020 fell to 15,206 students, down by more than one-third from 2013 when more than 24,000 students took classes full or part time.

St. Louis County government watchdog Tom Sullivan said he filed a complaint with the Missouri Secretary of State over what he calls election violations, including campaign expenditures by the community college.

The community college spent about $1,000 for Proposition R “cards” delivered to Pittman, according to receipts obtained by Sullivan through a public records request. The cards were informational only and passed out at meetings, according to a college spokeswoman.

The college also conducted polling in April and May at a cost of nearly $25,000 to gauge support for a tax increase.

Pittman said polling is allowable under Missouri law, which prohibits any expenditure by public agencies to “advocate, support, or oppose the passage or defeat of any ballot measure” with exceptions for news releases or public appearances by public officials.

The community college district covers St. Louis city and county and parts of Franklin and Jefferson counties. Because the college district tax increase is the only ballot question in much of the area, election board leaders expect a voter turnout as low as 10%.

A few other jurisdictions are also seeking property tax increases in Tuesday’s election, including Clayton and Frontenac for various city services.

In St. Louis County, the Kinloch Fire Protection District has two separate propositions — each calling for a 25-cent increase, while the Northeast Ambulance and Fire Protection District will ask for a 34-cent increase.

The Warrenton Fire Protection District in Warren and Lincoln counties is seeking a property tax increase of up to 15 cents.

Greendale, a small municipality near Normandy, is proposing a $410,000 bond issue to upgrade streets, sidewalks and landscaping and to repair the city garage.

Ballots in Clayton and Maplewood will also include special elections to fill vacancies in city government.

Polls open at 6 a.m. and close at 7 p.m.

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