A tax to generate funds to improve the Gateway Arch, as well regional parks and trails took a step forward in the St. Louis Board of Aldermen on Friday.
The so-called “Arch Tax” creates a 3/16th cent sales tax. If approved by voters in St. Louis City and County the tax would raise $120 million for the Arch grounds.
It would also raise about $600 million for city and county parks as well as the Great Rivers Greenway park and trail district.
The bill passed overwhelmingly with 24 in favor, 3 against and 1 “present” vote.
While perfecting the bill required a couple minutes of debate in the St. Louis County Council earlier this week, debate lasted over two hours in the city.
“This is a regional approach,” says 11th Ward Alderman Tom Villa. “Whether we like it or not, some very very good people in this city have adopted a bridle of trying to move this region forward by putting their money where their mouth is.”
A vocal minority of aldermen including Antonio French (21st Ward), Scott Ogilvie (24th Ward) and Sam Moore (4th Ward) spoke against the tax.
Ogilvie notes that a $70 million plan to improve the Arch has already been signed off on. “This is not an all-or-nothing situation” says Ogilvie. “We are already getting a much-improved Gateway Arch.”
Another point of criticism centered on whether taxing residents to pay for parks and tourist attractions was a top priority, given more immediate needs such as funding police and fixing schools.
“Improving the Arch is not an urgent priority for my constituents, in many cases these are poor people,” remarks French.
French says some aldermen, who have large institutions (such as Washington University, or Forest Park), which support development in their wards have a benefit that other neighborhoods don’t, and therefore its disingenuous to expect them to line up with the same funding priorities.
“You come to us and ask us to ask our folks to pay more sales tax for your projects and we say, ‘by the way, we’ve got problems too,’ says French, “and you say, ‘well, you’re just not doing your part.’”
17th Ward Alderman Joe Roddy says concerns about more pressing issues overlooks the big picture.
According to his calculations Roddy says it would only take “an additional 50 or 60 tourists” staying in downtown hotels to more than offset the increase in sales taxes.
“They will more than pay for the city’s portion of these taxes,” says Roddy, “And if we do this right, and people come in the numbers that might come…all of a sudden we have a source of revenue to fix that sewer pipe, to hire additional police officers.”
So far, the St. Charles County Council is showing no interest in putting the “arch tax” up for referendum in their county.
Follow Adam Allington on Twitter: @aallington