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City likely to vote in August on bond issue for critical capital needs; more police review proposed

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An extreme closeup of U.S. currency.

A $180 million bond issue that would fund critical capital needs like new fire trucks and city building repairs remains on track to go to the voters in August.

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen gave their initial approval to the measure Thursday. They will return on Tuesday to send the measure to Mayor Francis Slay for his signature. He must sign the bill, and it must be transported to the city's Board of Election Commissioners, by 5 p.m. on May 26.

"I think five  years from now, if voters approve this, there are going to be a lot of things that we can point to around  the city and say those were achieved through this bond issue, including things that I think we can be proud of," said Alderman Scott Ogilvie, who handled the legislation on the floor of the Board of Aldermen.

The bond issue is the first substantial one for the city since 1999. The vast majority -- $155 million -- will help cover new vehicles for the fire department, upgrades to jail security systems, road repairs and a new centralized and secure 911 dispatch center for the city's police and fire departments.

The remaining $25 million is directed to areas like building demolition, home repair and money aldermen can use for smaller projects in their wards. Steve Conway, the lone alderman to vote against the measure in committee, called it "pork" that put the measure at risk of not passing in August.

"Last April, throughout St. Louis County, almost every tax increase went down in flames," Conway said. "Voters generally are responsive to the fire department, the police department, safety and public improvements -- things they are assured that they will get and they will see." 

In the city, selling bonds requires a 2/3 majority vote. If it's approved, a person with a $100,000 house would pay about $42 more in property taxes a year.

Ogilvie was able to get aldermen to adopt an amendment that divides the money for ward capital improvements equally among the 28 aldermen, rather than by acreage as originally proposed. A similar effort failed in committee last week on a tie vote. 

Police investigations committee

Aldermen on Thursday also got their first look at a proposal from Alderman Antonio French that would provide another layer of review to officer-involved shootings. It comes the same week Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce announced she would not charge an officer in the death of VonDerrit Myers in the Shaw neighborhood. 

Protest at Shaw and Klemm 10-8-14 re Vonderrit Myers
Credit Rachel Lippmann/St. Louis Public Radio
Protesters in the Shaw neighborhood after VonDerrit Myers was shot and killed by an off-duty police officer on October 8, 2014.

French's resolution would create a special committee with subpoena power that would study all such shootings between January 2014 and the end of this year to evaluate possible changes to the city's laws or to police policy. He said it's designed to cover the year or so it will take to get the civilian oversight board up and running.

"I think current circumstances demand that we take a close look at this particular issue, which is causing so much controversy in our city," French said.

Officer-involved shootings are already investigated by a special unit of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department and Joyce's office, but French said that's not enough.

"We don’t leave it up to any department alone to provide oversight of themselves. It is still our responsibility as the Board of Aldermen to provide oversight of departments," French said.

Joe Steiger, the president of the St. Louis Police Officers Association, called the proposed committee nothing more than political grandstanding.

"This is not an extra necessary layer. It’s a witch hunt," Steiger said. "It’s people like Antonio French that are continuing to cause people to distrust the police instead of trying to help mend some of these issues between the police and the community."

The special committee's creation is not guaranteed, and a procedural vote taken Thursday could make that harder to accomplish.

French had wanted the measure to go through the public safety committee, of which he is the vice chair and whose members are potentially more amenable to the resolution's passage. But enough aldermen objected, and the resolution is now in the hands of board's Engrossment, Rules, Resolutions and Credentials committee, chaired by Alderman Marlene Davis. Davis, who would control whether the resolution gets a committee hearing, briefly spoke against the special committee on the floor Thursday.

But French was confident he could steer the resolution out of committee anyway, and get the measure adopted by the full board.

"I think that Public Safety was the appropriate committee for it to go to, but going to the res committee is where resolutions normally go anyway, so we'll do the same thing there and try to discuss this important issue," he said.

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.

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