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IN THE DARK: Murk surrounds City Hall's Broadway Hotel TIF consultant

TIF developer paying city representative $75/hour

COLUMBIA, Mo  10/11/17 (Beat Byte) -- More questions are surfacing about a former city administrator representing the City of Columbia during the Broadway Hotel's TIF approval process. 

The city's representative, retired deputy city manager Tony St. Romaine, has emerged as a TIF promoter with few constraints and no known guidelines from city manager Mike Matthes, who personally hired him. 

To expand the hotel, owner Dave Parmley has applied for a $2.1 million tax increment financing package.  If approved, it would bring his total taxpayer subsidy to $5.4 million after a 2011 TIF.    

For $75/hour, St. Romaine sits at the City Council staff table he formerly occupied, explaining PowerPoint slides, legal requirements, and fielding questions from Council and TIF Commission members.   At last week's TIF Commission meeting, St. Romaine urged Commission members to render a decision to approve or deny the TIF well before Parmley's deadline to buy the land he wants to use for the expansion. 

St. Romaine is also an unabashed TIF cheerleader.    

“TIF has been, in other communities and this community, the economic driver,” St. Romaine  told the Columbia Business Times last June, months before he retired. “It’s a great benefit.”

He also praised local TIF projects and attempted to correct what he believes is a misconception about the tax incentive.  
It’s not a handout to developers, and everybody thinks it is,” St. Romaine said.   “And it’s not an additional tax to pay.”

A Sunshine Law request to city officials regarding St. Romaine's TIF consulting job turned up no contracts, scopes of work, nor requests for proposal from St. Romaine or competing firms.  

Instead, Matthes classified St. Romaine as "a part-time temporary employee," his assistant, Heather Cole, wrote in response to the Sunshine request. 

St. Romaine's job description is not a matter of public record, either.   "His duties, responsibilities and compensation were all discussed and agreed upon in person between the City Manager and Mr. St. Romaine," Cole explained.  

And in a surprising admission, Cole said Parmley, the TIF applicant, is paying St. Romaine's hourly fee.  

"Mr. St. Romaine's hourly rate of pay is $75/hour," she explained.   "This cost and all other City related TIF expenses are reimbursed by the applicant."

In an August email to the Columbia City Council, Downtown Leadership Council member Randy Gray criticized St. Romaine for publicly supporting the Broadway Hotel TIF with Matthes' approval.   

The TIF Commission will hear more public testimony when it meets again October 30.  

City public information officer Steve Sapp did not respond to a request for comment about St. Romaine's consulting gig
 
 
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