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Government, Politics & Issues

St. Louis departments are putting capital needs in budget requests because bond proposal is in limbo

fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson at right
Bill Greenblatt | UPI | File photo
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The delay in getting a proposed $200 million bond issue in front of St. Louis voters is starting to complicate the process of putting together the city's budget for the 2016 fiscal year.

Departments have begun submitting their operating budget requests to director Paul Payne. The city must have a budget in place by July 1 — more than a month before the bond issue could go to voters. Supporters were originally hoping for a November 2014 vote, but the measure's been tabled since July

The city has about $40 million to spend on capital needs a year, Payne said, but much of that goes toward paying off old debt. The bond issue is meant to address nearly $155 million in urgent capital needs, like new fire trucks and updated security features at the city's two jails.

But the uncertainty over when and whether the bond money will get approved means city departments are including their most urgent capital needs in next year's budget requests, just in case.

"It helps to know what your available fund are, and so eliminating those kind of questions would definitely help in terms of how you assign the limited revenues you have available," Payne said. The timing also makes it harder for the city to project how much it will save in vehicle maintenance costs. 

Some of the biggest needs are in the fire department, which has about $46 million in capital needs. It was slated to get about half that to replace ambulances and fire trucks that are more than 15 years old. 

If the bond issue passes in August, it will take about three months for the money to be available and another year until the fire trucks arrive. Fire chief Dennis Jenkerson says he can keep his equipment running until then, but it will take a lot of work.

"I don't want to say we're babying the trucks, but we're paying particular attention to things that might cause a piece of equipment to go down for months on end," he said. "We're watching how we use the trucks, where we use them. I guess you can call it babying, but we have to be careful with them." 

Jenkerson said the department has all the specifications ready to send to the manufacturers as soon as the money is available.

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

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