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Mayoral race focuses on economy

Sarah Wienke//March 19, 2009

Mayoral race focuses on economy

Sarah Wienke//March 19, 2009

Two longtime Arnold residents want to take the helm as mayor to implement positive improvements to the city’s operation and prosperity.

Ron Counts and Phil Amato are running April 7 for the seat of current Mayor Mark Powell, who is completing his second term in office.

Though both have a similar goal, they have different ideas for how to get there.

Counts said he is running because he believes the city needs a change in how it is operated. “I want to see the city successful, but it needs to work within its own budget,” he said.

Amato, who wants to be the first full-time mayor of Arnold, said his main goal is to aggressively pursue economic development for the city.

“My belief is that if you’re aggressive and go out, there are still businesses we can bring out to generate tax revenue,” he said. “It is imperative that we bring in sales tax dollars to take the burden off of taxpayers.”

Counts, 62, is a lifelong resident of Arnold who owns Counts Auto Body, which has been in business 37 years. He was in one of the first graduating classes of Jefferson College.

In addition to running a successful business, he has served in a number of elected offices including three terms on the Fox C-6 School Board and two terms on the Rock Township Ambulance District Board. He was former president of the Arnold Chamber of Commerce, a board member of the Arnold Rotary Club, and is vice president of the St. Louis Chapter of the Juvenile Diabetes Association Foundation.

Transparency is a big issue and he said the budget should be published on the city’s Web site “so people can see what their money is being spent on.” He also said the city council meetings should be televised so more people can watch them.

“We have a lot of caring people out there who want to see the city succeed,” he said. “We just need to re-evaluate some of these programs.”

Counts is calling on the city to spend more time and study before making decisions. He said the city “waited until the last minute” to pass a sewer fee increase without considering that it would increase people’s bills by 40 to 50 percent and create a hardship for people on a fixed income.

This fee increase also is an example of the city using fees as a means to bypass voter-approved tax increases, he said, something he staunchly opposes. He said the city should have asked for a sewer bond issue long ago to pay for the system.

He is strongly against the city using eminent domain for private use, saying that it’s a “terrible way to treat our business people.” If officials had spent more time working with effected business owners they could have gotten a better result.

Amato, 55, retired March 1, from his career as a manufacturing representative for Lorillard. He has a business degree from St. Louis Community College. He is serving his second term as Ward 3 councilman.

He was first elected to the city council in 1980 when he was 25, and served as Mayor Pro Tem during his first term in office. Though he didn’t run for a second term, he said he remained active in public service by heading up a number of committees to bring improvements to the city, including the first tornado sirens, the public library and the recreation center complex.

Amato was elected to the council again in 2001 and has served since. He also has served on the Jefferson County Library Board of Trustees since 1991, and was a member of the Jefferson County Charter Commission in 2008.

As a councilman, Amato said he always has an 8-point plan to address the needs of his constituents of Ward 3, and he now has a 10-point plan for what he will do as mayor.

His plans are to be the first full-time mayor of the city, without a cost increase for the city; move the city from 12th Most Affordable City in the U.S., as ranked by Money Magazine, to the Top 10; landscape the Interstate 55 interchanges; revitalize the core business district on Jeffco Boulevard; establish a “Shop in Arnold” campaign; improve transparency in the city and cut costs; develop a hybrid solar light program; establish a program to freeze property taxes for seniors and disabled citizens; provide the police department with new technology to detect predators; and establish a property owner’s bill of rights to protect against eminent domain for economic purposes.

There are other mayoral races in the county. In Herculaneum, incumbent mayor Gina Vinyard is being challenged by Wilma Chamis, the wife of former mayor John Chamis, and Jeffrey S. Kendall, the Ward 3 alderman.

In Kimmswick, incumbent mayor Patricia A. Reno is being challenged by Karen A. Moellenbeck, a speech language pathologist.

None of the candidates mentioned in those two cities returned calls for comment.

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