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Aldermen send earnings tax to mayor, give first-round OK to bonds

Because a pending state bill doesn't pre-empt local minimum wage laws passed before August 28, Board of Aldermen members may act fast on passing a minimum wage increase.
File photo | Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio
The board of aldermen

A required renewal of the city's earnings tax will be on the April ballot.

The St. Louis Board of Aldermen on Friday approved the measure authorizing the vote. Mayor Francis Slay will sign it as soon as possible.

By state law, city residents must vote every five years to renew the 1 percent tax, which makes up more than a third of the city's budget.

"It's ridiculous that we even have to vote on this," said 20th Ward Democrat Cara Spencer. She called the earnings tax "fair," adding that state law restricts St. Louis from finding workable alternatives to the revenue.

"The alternative is, you pay higher real estate taxes," said 19th Ward Alderman Marlene Davis, also a Democrat. "You pay more for your trash collection, you pay for your water bill, you’ll pay more for everything we do here. And then, we’ll probably have to come up with some new things for you to pay for."

The first renewal, in 2011, passed with nearly 90 percent of the vote.

Bond issue

Also on Friday, aldermen gave first-round approval to a $25 million bond issue that will make a small dent in the city's pent-up capital needs.

"What happened in Flint, Mich., recently is a reminder to all of us that local government especially is not about ideologies," said Alderman Scott Ogilvie, the 24th Ward Democrat who is a co-sponsor of the bond issue. "It’s about delivering services that you cannot get any other place."

Funding breaks down this way:

  • $14.75 million for the St. Louis Fire Department, including funds for 10 new fire trucks and 7 new ambulances
  • $2.1 million to retrofit a city-owned building as property custody storage for the St. Louis Metropolitan Police. That is the only thing remaining in the old police headquarters building.
  • $1.3 million for repairs to the city's aging recreation centers. These funds were originally directed to repairs to the municipal garage at Clark and Tucker streets.
  • $2 million to draw down matching dollars for bridge repair
  • $500,000 to make repairs at a variety of city buildings, including City Hall
  • $500,000 for corrections facilities, including new locks
  • $2.5 million to upgrade the computer system used by the assessor's office. The system was last updated in 1984.
  • $300,000 for additional computer upgrades
  • $1 million for four trash trucks

The bond issue secured initial approval without opposition, but also with some consternation.
"There's only one thing that worries me about this bill, and that is the timing," said Alderman Lyda Krewson. "We just learned that we have to make the payments on the Edward Jones Dome and the convention center for the next six years without the funds from the Rams. And I'm worried that it will be a distraction for the earnings tax issue, which needs to be our primary priority here."

In addition to the earnings tax, the bonds would also share the April ballot with two requests from the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District. 

"We have deferred doing some of these bond issues the last decade because the argument was, 'it's bad timing,'" Ogilvie said. "Now we're way behind. We have an obligation to fund our departments in a way that makes them fully operational." 

Aldermen will return to City Hall on Tuesday to send the bonds to Mayor Francis Slay. That is the deadline for issues to be certified for the April ballot.

Follow Rachel Lippmann on Twitter: @rlippmann

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

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