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St. Louis alderman denies tax break bill was tied to campaign donation

St. Louis alderman denies tax break bill was tied to campaign donation

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ST. LOUIS — An aldermanic committee on Tuesday endorsed a proposed tax break for a day care expansion project whose representative made a $1,000 donation to the sponsoring alderman’s campaign committee earlier this year.

The March 15 contribution by Mark Daly, who is associated with Mary Margaret Day Care at 3800 Watson Road, to Alderman Joe Vaccaro’s campaign committee was criticized by Dan Szyman, a resident of Vaccaro’s 23rd Ward.

“If this passes the Board of Aldermen, it reduces our faith in our city government because of the appearance of a conflict of interest,” Szyman said in a teleconference hearing of the Neighborhood Development Committee.

But Vaccaro asserted that the donation had nothing to do with his support for the bill, which he introduced on April 30.

He said he doesn’t even know Daly and that he agreed to sponsor the measure only after it was first vetted and recommended by the city Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority and city development analysts.

Vaccaro said he rarely backs tax breaks in his southwest St. Louis ward but that this one would keep a business in the city and result in about 20 new jobs.

A city development official, Aminah Wright, said the firm applied for the abatement on Jan. 6 and city staffers submitted the plan to the LCRA board in March.

“If anybody feels it’s a conflict, I will mail that check back today,” Vaccaro told committee members. The panel voted 7-0 to advance the bill to the full Board of Aldermen.

Under the measure, the city would abate property taxes on 50% of the incremental improvements for five years. That’s expected to amount to about $24,000 over the full period, said Jonathan Ferry, a city development official.

To make way for the addition, the day care proposed demolishing a vacant home next door that city officials said was in poor condition, subject to illegal dumping and use by transients and a fire risk. Vaccaro said the demolition also benefits the area; he said it already has occurred.

Daly, who represented the day care at an LCRA board meeting in March, didn’t take part in Tuesday’s aldermanic hearing. He has not returned phone calls from the Post-Dispatch.

Aldermanic President Lewis Reed, who took part in the meeting, said it was “outrageous” to accuse Vaccaro of sponsoring a bill because of a $1,000 campaign donation.

“I’m sorry that in this new world of cancel culture which has become chic and the in thing to do that they’ve chosen to spend time attacking you,” Reed said.

Another critic of the bill was Blain McVey, also a 23rd Ward resident. He disputed the “blighted” designation assigned to the demolished home and said the tax abatement is fiscally irresponsible and unnecessary in a “thriving area” of the city.

Vaccaro was reelected in the April 6 general election, easily defeating a write-in candidate.

The aldermanic panel on Tuesday also advanced two other tax abatement measures.

Jacob Barker of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

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