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Aldermen make no changes to FY11 budget in preliminary vote

By Rachel Lippmann, St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis – The St. Louis Board of Aldermen on Friday gave its preliminary approval today to a $937 million spending plan for the city of St. Louis.

The board made no changes to the budget drafted by Mayor Francis Slay, Comptroller Darlene Green and board president Lewis Reed, and approved last week by the Ways and Means committee. It closes a $46 million gap with cuts, funding shifts and projected revenue from an $11-a-month trash fee that should be approved next week.

"Tensions ran high, but when you're cutting $46 million out of $387-some-odd million after pensions are taken off the top, it's a tough deal," Reed said in praising Ways and Means members for their work. The process started acrimoniously but ended with relatively little dissent, as just four aldermen voted against initial approval.

Sharp drops in revenue and an $11 million increase in pension obligations grove the deficit this year. The Board of Police Commissioners voted to furlough civilian employees and freeze the pay of officers, among other cost-saving measures, to deal with its budget gap. And retirement costs will eat up most of the $1 million budget increase the fire department will receive, which could force layoffs. Firefighters argue that puts citizens at risk.

The budget for FY12 is in worse shape, as pension costs could go up to $83 million - about 20 percent of general revenue. The Missouri General Assembly sets police and fire pensions, and Ald. Jeffrey Boyd had some sharp words for the city's delegation at the Capitol.

"If our state representatives do not support this city, and help us if Jefferson City deal with these pension issues, then they're not really serving the city of St. Louis constituents as they run for office saying they will do," he said.

The budget still needs one final vote before going to Mayor Francis Slay, who is expected to sign it.

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