Supports Eckert for Belleville mayor
BY CARL GREEN
Belleville – The Southwestern Illinois Central Labor Council is endorsing both 1 percent sales tax proposals on the April 4 ballot in St. Clair County – one for schools and the other for public safety.
Both taxes are expected to create new construction work, and supporters say that more than half of the money will be paid by shoppers from out of the county.
In its endorsements for the municipal election, the Council also is endorsing five candidates for mayor – incumbent Mark Eckert of Belleville, G.W. Scott of Caseyville, incumbent Mike Todd of Millstadt, Herb Roach of O’Fallon and Michael Leopold of Swansea. See the complete list of endorsements on the right.
The public safety sales tax referendum was placed on the ballot by the County Board on a 21-4 vote in December and would generate an estimated $22 million a year.
The referendum language lists specific projects that the money would be used for, with some of the largest amounts including $5.5 million to be split among municipalities and unincorporated areas to improve police and fire departments and $6 million for jail renovations. Other amounts include $500,000 for a county-wide police shooting range and $1 million for courthouse security renovations.
Another purpose of the tax would be to add 10 to 15 sheriff’s much-needed deputy sheriffs for an estimated $5 million a year. The tax would be scheduled to expire in 12 years.
The schools tax, supported by the Illinois Federation of Teachers, would also raise about $22 million a year, to be distributed among school districts to use for new facilities, additions, renovations, maintenance, safety and other building-related expenses.
Supporters of each proposal joined to promote both causes in a group called, “Yes for Safety, Yes for Kids, Yes for Our Future.”
Council President Bill Thurston said the plans are a good deal for St. Clair County residents, especially because the county expects about 53 percent of the revenue to come from residents of other counties.
“Everybody thinks all the money’s going to come out of their pocket,” he said. “But when you do a sales tax item, everybody who spends money in this area is paying for it.
“People passing through, coming to Fairview Heights and Shiloh and all, they’re going to be leaving their money here with us. I figure 1 percent isn’t much to pay to improve your schools and your law enforcement.”
Mark Eckert, the incumbent mayor of Belleville, faces a challenge from Dallas Cook, who now is the city clerk. Eckert has been mayor since 2004, when he replaced Mark Kern, who became the County Board chairman.
Eckert told the Southwestern Illinois Building & Trades Council last month he is taking Cook’s challenge seriously.
“I need your support because I can’t take this for granted,” he said. “With the attitude of many around the country these days, they want to throw out whoever’s in,” he said. “But I’m proud of what we’ve been doing in Belleville, thanks to a lot of people and thanks to our friends from Labor.
“We’ve done probably $70-80 million of road infrastructure during my tenure. We’ve done probably $60-70 million already in wastewater treatment plant infrastructure, and there’s more to go. We’ve probably done about $300 million in economic development, with a couple of new shopping centers.”
“We built a new firehouse; we lowered our ISO rating to a two, which is really tremendous; we built a new police station,” he added. “We have the largest police department south of Springfield, with 85 sworn officers.”
And all of the work has been done with union labor, he noted.
Meanwhile, the addition of Lindenwood University has given the city a boost, Art on the Square has become a nationally recognized art show, and the downtown business district has been revitalized, he noted.
“I’m not the sole reason for any or all of this, but the mayor is certainly an important part of giving the leadership and kind of being the glue to hold a lot of these different groups and volunteers and programs and infrastructure together.”
Eckert’s father was a police officer, and Eckert himself was a Teamster for 15 years. Eckert pledges to be a full-time mayor, in part because the city does not have a city manager
“I’m at this every day,” he said. “Sixty to 70 hours most weeks is not unusual.”
The Council’s endorsements also included two candidates for township supervisor, Richard Donovan in Caseyville Township and Bob Buechler in Belleville Township, trustee and aldermanic candidates, four candidates for Millstadt School District and Paul Hargrove, running for the Kaskaskia Water District board.
The last day to register for the April 4 election in St. Clair County is March 7, although grace period registration is available after that. Early voting is now being conducted in the county clerk’s office, and will be offered at Whiteside Middle School, 111 Warrior Way, Belleville, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, March 25.