St. Louis Public Radio News
3:33 pm
Fri June 25, 2010

Aldermen send budget to Mayor Francis Slay

St. Louis – The Board of Aldermen has sent Mayor Francis Slay a spending plan for the city of St. Louis that closes a $42 million gap.

The budget counts on revenue from new membership fees for the city's recreation centers, and the city will also start charging residents who ignore bench warrants.

Aldermen did not restore a controversial $2 million reduction to the budget for the fire department, which the union says will cause layoffs, jeopardizing the safety of residents. And other parts of the budget remained incomplete.

Aldermen still have to vote one more time on an $11-a-month fee for trash pick-up. And proposed furloughs - one week for rank-and-file, two weeks for management - must be negotiated with the unions.

Rising pension costs will make the problem even worse next year. The top alderman on the budget committee warned of 10 percent cuts to all departments if pensions are not brought under control.

Aldermen on Friday did approve a 12 percent increase in water rates that takes effect July 1.

"I know it's not a great time, but it's necessary, and if they don't do this, they will probably be in violation of their bond covenants," sponsor Matt Villa said of the city's water department. A rate hike approved in 2008 is generating $9 million less than expected, and costs for chemicals have skyrocketed. The department will need a second rate increase in January to make it through the rest of the year.

The rate increase would kick in around the same time as the new trash fee, which received enough votes for passage in a preliminary tally on Friday. Alderman Antonio French opposed the fee all along because it doesn't do enough to crack down on illegal dumping.

"We're going to charge on constituents for use of that dumpster behind their house, but it still can get filled with trash that is not theirs," he said. He was also concerned that a senior citizen on a fixed income who owns and lives in a two-family flat would pay more than the owner of a million dollar home in the Central West End because the fee is charged per dwelling.