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July court ruling forces budget cuts at metropolitan sewer district

(Flickr creative commons user Joe Shlabotnik)
A \"manhole,\" or sewer entrance.

By Rachel Lippmann, St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis – The Metropolitan Sewer District has cut nearly $16 million from its fiscal year 2011 budget, the result of a court ruling on a new fee for storm water services.

A judge in July ruled that the fee, based on how much of a piece of property could not absorb water, was a tax and should have been approved by voters. The ruling means MSD has to revert to an old system of a flat fee and individual taxing sub-districts.

The impervious fee was expected to generate $46 million this year, said MSD spokesman Lance LeComb. The deficit resulting from the reversion - and the fact that money from one taxing sub-district cannot be moved to another - will mean very limited services for a large portion of MSD's customers.

"If you have a storm water infrastructure problem and you live in West County, or far North County, or far South County, all we'll be able to do for the most part is to go out and say OK, this is the problem, we have it logged, but we will not have money to provide services, we will not have money to fix storm water infrastructure," LeComb said. The district is also shelving major storm water projects because of a lack of long-term funding.

Customers inside Interstate 270 will have slightly better luck, he said, but capital funds in that area will run out in 2012.

The system will continue to do everything necessary to meet federal and state regulations, LeComb said.

"But it's robbing from Peter to pay Paul essentially. The commitment to the regulatory side of the business, while important, and needs to be done, that commitment is going to be done through a sacrifice in service, a sacrifice in projects," he said.

LeComb said any new funding system for storm water service is several years off.


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