Arch tax
5:31 pm
Thu December 13, 2012

CityArchRiver Tax Clears First Of Many Hurdles

Updated to correct Alex Ihnen quote.

Despite concerns about the oversight of funds, a committee of the St. Louis Board of Aldermen approved on Thursday a sales tax meant to help pay for upgrades of the Arch grounds.

It's the first step in a long process for the 3/16-cent sales tax, which would help fund local parks and a network of regional bike trails, as well as the $380 million CityArchRiver project. It must also clear the full Board of Aldermen, then get voter approval in April. The legislative bodies in St. Louis and St. Charles counties may also consider the tax, and it has to be approved by voters in St. Louis County for money to start flowing.

Great Rivers Greenway would oversee the tax revenue, which could total $38 million a year. The organization today signed the agreement giving them that power. But it would not have any control over the $250 million in private donations that the CityArchRiver Foundation hopes to raise.

Maggie Hales, the director of the foundation, said the group's board is a work in progress. 

"We believe in transparency," she said. "We are working on it."

Much of the skepticism was driven by ongoing reports of trouble with oversight at the Missouri History Museum.

"It's pretty obvious to me that the shroud of doubt over this morning's hearing is certainly justified because of what's transpired in one of the institution in Forest Park," said Ald. Tom Villa. "We usually don't suffer from this degree of paranoia."

Villa, who had been skeptical of the proposal last week, was ultimately convinced to vote yes.

"There are a lot of unknowns," he said. "But what we do know is that we have a public-private partnership  with people that are willing to raise a whole bunch of private money."

Others, however, were not as easily persuaded.

"I've seen more details from proposals for car washes and gas stations," said Ald. Antonio French, the panel's lone "no" vote.

And blogger Alex Ihnen pointed out that the project was originally sold as being funded by "government and private resources."

"We were not told over the last five years that we'll be coming to the people and asking you, potentially the city itself, for almost $160 million including inflation over 20 years," he said.

Ihnen also questioned how much influence the public will have into the way Great Rivers Greenway uses the tax dollars.

Its executive director, Susan Trautman, says the agency has decided to implement a citizen's advisory panel, as it does for all its projects, despite not being required to by the state law authorizing the sales tax.

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rilippmann