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Government, Politics & Issues

The 2017 city budget primer: Totals, employees, capital needs, reserve fund

St. Louis City Hall
Richie Diesterheft | Flickr
Aldermen have started their work on the budget for the city of St. Louis

St. Louis aldermen began working Wednesday morning on the $1.04 billion spending plan for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

The budget has very few major changes from last year. The city bridges the gap left by the departure of the Rams by shifting some special funds into the general fund, and spending less on things like ward capital projects and demolition.

The Highlights

  • $1.042 billion budget, with a $511 million general fund. Special revenue and other funds make up about $305 million of the budget. The rest is held in enterprise funds, like the water department and Lambert-St. Louis International Airport.
  • Staffing levels remain basically the same as last year. The number of city employees has decreased by more than 400 comparing next year's budget to the 2007 budget.
  • When the general fund numbers from last year and this year are compared directly, the budget grew about 2.4 percent. But budget director Paul Payne called those numbers slightly misleading. Every 11 years, he said, the city has a 27th pay period, a function of the bi-weekly pay schedule. It's covered by a reserve fund, which is moved into the general fund when needed. The actual growth in the general fund, Payne said, is more like 1.6 percent.
  • Some taxes are coming in ahead of projections in the current fiscal year, giving budget officials a bit of a cushion from which to start working on the 2017 budget.

Areas of Concern

  • Telecom and natural gas taxes were down last year. Payne expects a more normal winter, which will bring the natural gas tax up. But he said the erosion in the telecom tax may be permanent. "It's a changing environment," he said.
  • Economic cycles. "We will be, in this next fiscal year, entering the 8th year of economic expansion, which in historical terms is a long growth cycle," Payne said. "And one of the things we should be concerned about is when that next recession hits and are we prepared for that."
  • On a related note, the city has a general fund reserve of about $14 million, half of what the credit ratings agencies would like to see. "When we had the last recession, it was the reserves that saved us," Payne said.
  • Capital expenditures. A $25 million bond issue will address the most pressing needs, especially for the St. Louis Fire Department. But Payne said the city is about $35 million behind on other needs.

What's next?

Department hearings continue until early June. Here is the schedule:

  • May 12, 8:30 a.m. — Building division, Board of Election Commissioners, treasurer and circuit attorney
  • May 18, 6:00 p.m. — Citizen input meeting, 5939 Goodfellow
  • May 19, 8:30 a.m. — Parks, recreation and forestry
  • May 25, 8:30 a.m — Streets, traffic, refuse and collector and revenue
  • May 26, 8:30 a.m. — Department of Public Safety, neighborhood stabilization officers, civilian oversight board, St. Louis Fire Department and sheriff's department
  • June 1, 8:30 a.m — St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department and proposed increases and decreases.

In the grand scheme of things, aldermen have very little power when it comes to the budget. They can add money to programs of their choosing, but only if they take it from somewhere else. And any changes have to be approved by the Board of Estimate and Apportionment before the aldermen take a final vote.
The budget has to be in place by July 1.

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