How can you establish the fair market value of property in a town with no city services, no police protection, little fire protection, poor streets, collapsing sewers and high crime This is the problem St. Clair County Assessor Sam Flood says he faces, and there is no book to tell how.
"The National Food store has just opened a nice new supermarket at 25th and State. This is the type of thing that we need to do. You can remember Collinsville Avenue, when there was never a vacancy, clothing stores, men's stores, furniture stores, they all thrived. By thriving, they were able to generate sales tax and the city didn't need the enormous amounts they now need from realty taxes.
"What I am saying, I guess, is that until East St. Louis turns itself around and changes its reputation, getting law and order back in there, getting city fathers who will be productive, we're not going to see anything."
Flood said his staff is in the process of reassessing East St. Louis. "What we intend to do is gather all the physical facts in East St. Louis, measure all the properties, make any changes on the property record cards, enter new properties there are very few of these - and then sit down with the people I have here and some outside people experienced in real estate in East St. Louis and the surrounding areas and try to put some values and come up with a system of reassessing these properties..."
"Before we put these values on the books, we're going to have to have an agreement with the city fathers down there that they're not going to adjust their rates, and will hold taxes down. All we're doing is creating a vicious circle in that people won't pay, can't pay., and so they abandon the property, it winds up on the county tax rolls and we have the problem of reselling the property and try to give money back to the taxing districts.
The tax rate in East St. Louis is the highest in Illinois, running more than $20 per hundred dollars equalized assessed evaluation, about four times the rate in most St. Clair County cities. "We've had several small firms, national firms, come into East St. Louis, but once they checked into property taxes, they decided to abandon their projects or establish just outside the city limits to avoid the tax rate down there," Flood said.
Crime is a major problem, Flood said. He said he was born and raised in East St. Louis, and was never afraid for his safety there, but "I'm a little skeptical now in some areas. You see whole neighborhoods: that are gutted and burned out and piled high with old tires and trash, big piles, one house maybe sitting in the middle of a block with maybe an old couple and that's all they have. They can't give it away or don't want to give it away, and have to remain there."
Flood looks to the river, too. "As far as the tax base in East St. Louis, I don't think we are going to see a resurgence until the riverfront starts to develop, and until we get some credibility in the offices down there."
Flood wears another hat as the representative of he 21st congressional District on the Democratic State Central Commitee - Democratic state central commiteeman. This gives him state party stature and makes him the key figure
in Democratic state political patronage - what there is left of it - in St. Clair, Madison and portions of Clinton counties. It also gives him considerable voice in the selection of Democratic slate candidates in St. Clair County. Finally, his voice is a important in the distribution of party funds to precinct commiteemen at election time.
Flood was irritated by the charges that the Democratic Party in St. Clair County, dominated by whites, use the black vote to win elections.
"If you look at the county offices, most of us have won elections without the vote in East St. Louis. It certainly helps to have East St. Louis and know they will vote heavily Democratic. They know they can rely on the Democratic Party to assist them in any way we can. Carl Officer would like to blame the white persons for the problems of East St. Louis, but they have had black mayors in East St. Louis for 20 years now and they've had the black school board for over 20 years."
Flood said large portions of Canteen Township, and Centreville Township, which are all white, and Fairmont City which he said is white, vote strongly for Democrats; Fairmont City is probably the best Democratic precinct in St. Clair County, he said. "So to label black East St. Louis as the people who carry the election is not true. We welcome their support, we have asked for it many times and they have given it to us many times, and in return we've been very helpful to them, and we will continue to be helpful to them as long as they are responsible.
"There are some responsible people in East St. Louis, and we are not denying that. I have the utmost respect for Kenneth Hall. I think he's down there fighting a battle that I hope he lives long enough to see won. Years ago we tried to entice him into running for mayor of East St. Louis and he wouldn't do it, he wanted to stay in the senate. Things might have been different had he been down there.
"I think the people of East St. Louis have to take charge of themselves and quit blaming the white people above the hill. There's only so much you can do for people unless they want to help themselves."
Unlike most politicians and office holders, Flood was not sure Officer will be re-elected. He named four or five potential candidates. "I would think that if you are going to beat Carl Officer, you're going to have to mount a united front; you can't have four or five or six people running. Whether or not they'll get together and decide to do that, to mount that kind of campaign - I can't answer that. At the moment, Flood said he was more concerned with winning reelection in November himself.