The St. Louis County Council on Tuesday backed a bond refinancing plan for the Bi-State Development Corporation, which operates light rail and bus services throughout the region.
The move, which could help fund enhanced security services, comes as the transit service is asking for more money from the county — a request that’s going to be the subject of a council hearing in the coming weeks.
The council gave final approval to a bond refinancing plan that Bi-State CEO Taulby Roach said will save between $45 and $50 million. Roach said the deal is structured “to spin out $20 million to fund some of the needed security upgrades we intend on providing for the public.”
The council has been increasingly concerned about security on MetroLink over the past several months.
“Part of my tasking is figuring out how to move security forward across the region — and we’re going to need some money to do that,” Roach said. “What we’re going to spend that money on, we’re not sure yet. And because of that, we’ve agreed with St. Louis County to put it into a trustee account. So that when we get some items to draw down on, whether they be enhanced security cameras or anything like that, we would have to go to the county for approval.”
While there wasn’t any opposition on the council to the bonding plan, Councilman Ernie Trakas said that doesn’t mean his colleagues “don’t have serious questions about how it manages its security” or about its operating budget.
“So you can expect at least two, perhaps more, hearings with respect to its operating budget and security,” said Trakas, R-South St. Louis County.
In a letter to council members, St. Louis County Executive Sam Page wrote that Bi-State “increases the proportion of its funding that comes from the county.” At the same time, Page continued, Bi-State “has announced plans to significantly reduce services in the county, while making relatively slight reductions in services in other areas of the region.”
Councilwoman Rita Days of Bel-Nor said she wants Bi-State to explain its decision-making during the planned hearings. The Democratic councilwoman, who was sworn into office on Tuesday, has made bolstering public transportation one of her priorities.
“Perhaps there’s something I don’t know about,” Days said. “I recognize that I’m new at this. But it doesn’t seem quite right to ask for more money and then cut lines.”
Affordable housing trust fund
In other council business, Councilwoman Lisa Clancy dropped her bill barring landlords in unincorporated St. Louis County from discriminating against potential tenants because of their source of income — such as Section 8 vouchers.
Clancy saw the measure as a way to provide low-income tenants with more affordable housing choices. Some council members, such as Trakas, didn’t like that it would only affect unincorporated parts of the county.
“It’s clear to me that there’s still work to do to build a cross-county coalition needed to get this done,” Clancy said. “Dropping this item doesn’t change my commitment to this issue, but it gives me some time and space to get reorganized.”
The Maplewood Democrat said dropping the source-of-income bill would allow her to focus on establishing an affordable housing trust fund. That fund, which Clancy requested legislation for on Tuesday, could go toward preservation and cultivation of affordable housing. St. Louis has a similar program that utilizes use tax proceeds for affordable housing efforts.
Page said in a statement that Clancy’s bill “will build on my administration’s concerted effort to make housing affordable for all county residents.”
“Eliminating disparities in our county is a must, and this trust fund is a good path forward,” Page said.
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