The St. Louis County Council has voted to temporarily withhold some of the county money that goes to the region’s Bi-State transit agency in a quest to improve security on the MetroLink light rail line.
The council’s action is in response to various violent incidents in recent months on or near the rail line, including one that resulted in the fatal shooting of a county health department employee.
All six council members present Tuesday night voted in favor of a bill withholding $5 million from the county’s funding for Metro security. That’s a fraction of the county’s overall scheduled spending of $157 million this year to help fund all Bi-State transit operations.
Council Chairman Sam Page, a Democrat from Creve Coeur, said the council doesn’t want to harm Bi-State operations but is sending a signal that it wants action.
“What we’ve asked the county police leadership and the Metro leadership to do is to come together and come back within the next 90 days and present their plan for security on Metro and a plan for cooperation and a plan to work together," Page said.
He may get support from his political nemesis, County Executive Steve Stenger.
A spokesperson said Stenger will be studying the bill closely before deciding whether to sign it. But aides signaled that he is likely to go along with the council as long as the bill doesn’t hurt public safety or the county’s bond rating.
The county’s allocation to Bi-State includes money for a key bond payment due Oct. 1. That bond paid for some of the MetroLink construction.
Council changing county procurement process
The council also gave first-round approval to a bill that revamps the county’s procedures and requirements for awarding contracts. But Page said more changes may be made in the measure before a final vote.
The bill’s major provisions include ending the county’s longstanding requirement that companies bidding on county projects must have apprenticeship programs. Labor unions long have backed that provision, but some critics say it often blocks small businesses – including those run by women and minorities – from bidding on county contracts.
Page was among several council members who pointed to a Stenger-administration study that highlighted racial issues with the county’s apprenticeship mandate. But some are seeking a compromise. Councilwoman Rochelle Walton Gray unsuccessfully proposed a revised bill that would have required that minorities make up at least 25 percent of the participants in apprenticeship programs.
The council earlier had removed other provisions that had raised vigorous objections from labor leaders for months.
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