Park bonds
5:00 pm
Fri November 18, 2011

Bonds for St. Louis city parks clear one hurdle, others remain

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen appears likely to meet an end-of-the-year deadline to pass a bond issue for the city’s parks, giving initial approval today to legislation that would issue $64 million in debt to fund major capital repairs at the more than 100 parks in the city limit.

The bill stalled last week after comptroller Darlene Green raised concerns about the fiscal soundness of the measure, and aldermen protested a provision that put Forest Park up as collateral in case the city defaulted. Further delay could have put several million dollars in donations to the park at risk.

A new version given initial approval today eliminates that provision. But the executive director of Forest Park Forever, Lesley Hoffarth, says it doesn't much matter in this case. Here's why:

  • The city will issue $64 million in bonds; $30 million for Forest Park, $34 million for the remaining parks in the city;
  • The bonds will be paid off using a sales tax voters dedicated to parks in 1995 and 2000;
  • Forest Park Forever will buy the bonds meant for Forest Park using private donations;
  • Money that Forest Park Forever receives from the sales taxes will also be re-invested into the park;
  • Forest Park Forever will also raise an additional $100 million for a trust fund that will be used for ongoing maintenance of the park, freeing up city money currently used for that purpose.

"The money we raise, the bonds that we buy, go into a trust that can only be used to build projects," Hoffarth said. " If the city doesn’t pay, they will be in default and hurt their credit rating."

There was no opposition to Friday's procedural move, but Ald. Tom Villa, of the 11th Ward, says he'll vote against it when the time comes.

"Debt is debt," Villa said. "Bonds are not a panacea and they’re not free, and if I’m sounding old and crabby it’s because I am, I just don’t think in this day and age this is the fiscally prudent thing to do."

The measure also needs approval of the city’s Board of Estimate and Apportionment, where two of the three members support it.

Comptroller Darlene Green, E&A's third member has indicated she’ll delay issuing the bonds until 2014, and then issue them in $5 million chunks. A spokeswoman says that Green believes the city needs to have the flexibility to use the parks sales tax elsewhere in the budget if needed.