The St. Louis Board of Aldermen Friday gave its approval to a $1.1-billion spending plan that includes more money for vacant-building demolition and help for the homeless.
The 22-2 vote, with one alderman abstaining, marked the end of what had been a difficult budget process. Aldermen had to find ways to close a $14-million gap, despite several new sources of revenue, and the city’s budget committee often had trouble holding meetings because not enough members showed up.
“This was a tough budget,” said Alderman Frank Williamson, D-26th Ward and the chair of the Ways and Means committee. “But we’ve had tougher budgets. One thing we discussed — we cannot continue to tax the residents of the city of St. Louis. We need to do a better job of generating revenue for the city of St. Louis.”
The 2019 budget, which takes effect July 1, includes:
- Additional money for building-demolition and recreation programs
- Full funding of the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, as well as money for outreach to, and advocacy for, individuals who are homeless
- Money to upgrade the Biddle Housing Opportunities Center, the emergency shelters for individuals who are homeless, north of downtown
- Money for temporary air conditioning at the medium-security jail known as the Workhouse (A $50-million bond issue on the August ballot will install permanent air conditioning.)
- Funding for the relaunched police cadet program and for the new Office of Community Mediation
Alderwomen Megan Green, D-15th Ward, and Sharon Tyus, D-1st Ward, were the only two members of the board to vote against the budget. Tyus has not voted for a budget in years.
Green said she appreciated the funding for recreation and for a youth jobs program — both of which come from the passage of Proposition P — but did not like the fact that it was less than the promised amount.
“When Prop P was sold to the voters, we said that $975,000 was going to be going to youth programming,” she said. “And while I understand that some of that money was diverted into the cadet program, I do not feel like that was the intent. That is not what voters thought that money would be used for,” she said.
A deal between Treasurer Tishaura Jones and Alderman Jeffrey Boyd, D-22nd Ward, saved the jobs of the city’s neighborhood-stabilization officers, who help residents deal with nuisance issues. That allowed the Ways and Means committee to restore cuts it had made to the ward capital accounts, which aldermen use for small projects. The deal also included money for trash trucks and set aside $10 million for the city’s reserve fund.
Alderman Terry Kennedy, D-18th Ward, praised Williamson for the work the committee did on the budget, including the decision to hold a Saturday meeting to get input from city voters.
“I did go to that public meeting, and I find it inspiring to see constituents at the meeting, informed about the budget, giving their specific ideas about the priorities the city could have,” Kennedy said.
But unfortunately, Kennedy said, the Board of Aldermen has limited authority to respond to what the residents want. The city charter gives much of the budget-making authority to the budget director and the Board of Estimate and Apportionment, which is made up of the mayor, the comptroller and the president of the Board of Aldermen.
“The administrative branch has from January until May to deal with a budget,” he said. "When it gets here, you’re already under pressure to pass out something that at least reflects the needs as this body sees them. I think we really need to seriously reconsider that and reshape that process.”
The board on Friday also approved a resolution from Alderwoman Cara Spencer, D-20th Ward, that calls for federal and state investigations into Paul McKee and his Northside Regeneration project.
“It is our job as the body that approves these redevelopment agreements to call for investigations when investigations are warranted,” she said.
The city has already moved to declare McKee in default of his deal with the city. His attorneys said in a letter provided to the city on Wednesday that the developer was in full compliance with the latest version of the agreement, which was approved in 2016.
A spokeswoman for the FBI would neither confirm nor deny that an investigation was occurring. The St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department did not respond to a request for comment.
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