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April 5 election shaping up to be busy for St. Louis voters

A piece of concrete from the city's municipal garage sits on the table in a Ways and Means committee hearing on Jan. 15 2016. Funds in a $25 million general obligation bond would fund repairs to the garage.
Rachel Lippmann | St. Louis Public Radio

April 2016 is shaping up to be a very crowded ballot in the city of St. Louis.

The Ways and Means Committee on Friday approved a $25 million bond issue to fund some critical capital needs in the city. Earlier this week,  the same committee passed legislation that sets up the required voter approval of the city's earnings tax.

If both of those items are approved by the full Board of Aldermen, they'll share space in the April 5 election with two items approved last month by the board of the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District -- a $900 million bond issue that helps the utility address the requirements of a consent decree on wastewater and a property tax increase that would fund improvements to storm water infrastructure.

 In addition to competing for voter's attention, the bond issue requires a 2/3 majority for passage.

"I think if we show people, look, it’s the most essential basic services that the city needs to provide, and it’s not a tax increase, yes, the voters will support it," said Alderman Scott Ogilvie. The 24th Ward Democrat is one of two sponsors of the bond issue.

Not all of his colleagues agree that the bond issue is such a good idea.

The bond issue

Unlike a $180 million bond issue that failed in August, this smaller amount of borrowing would not require a tax increase. It would fund the rehabilitation work at the new property custody building for the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, set aside $2 million to match federal dollars for bridge repair, and make $1.3 million in repairs to the municipal garage in downtown.

The vast majority of the revenue would go to the St. Louis Fire Department to purchase new fire trucks and ambulances.

"We'd like to be able to not only replace half of our fleet, but come up with reserves for everything," said Demetris Alfred, the president of the firefighters' union. "But this small piece allows us to put reserves in critical spots and put some frontline out there that's really needed."

He said the union does not yet have a strategy to campaign for the bond issue, but expects all the members to speak positively about it.

Board president Lewis Reed attempted to direct the $1.5 million for the municipal garage to the city's recreation centers, but withdrew the proposal after Ways and Means committee chairman Stephen Conway of the 8th Ward and comptroller Darlene Green both pledged to find fund for recreation in the fiscal year 2017 budget. Other members of the Ways and Means committee were skeptical of that promise, and concerned about where the money would come from.

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

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

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