Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Voters to Decide Fate of $180 Million Bond Issue on Tuesday

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Voters to Decide Fate of $180 Million Bond Issue on Tuesday

Article excerpt

ST. LOUIS * City voters will decide on Tuesday whether to increase their property taxes to pay for $180 million in infrastructure improvements.

The money is supplemental to the city's $1 billion annual budget. It would go to pay for new firetrucks, police department equipment, building demolition and a host of other infrastructure needs.

Officials say the money is badly needed to improve the city's aging infrastructure and preserve a certain level of vital services.

"Because of two recessions and skyrocketing pension costs, the city was forced to put off improvements to basic but important needs such as streets, snow plows, firetrucks, etc. This proposition is needed so we can reinvest in St. Louis and continue the progress the city is making," said Mary Ellen Ponder in an email to the Post- Dispatch. "In an era of contentious politics, it is one of the few things about which most elected officials agree."

The matter comes as questions have been raised about spending from the city's budget on things such as new cars for elected officials or a half-million-dollar cash retirement payout to a fire department pension employee. The bond issue wouldn't cover those kinds of expenses, but they collectively might affect voter confidence in the city's spending priorities.

The bonds would be paid off over 20 years, eventually increasing tax bills by an estimated 17 cents per $100 of assessed value. A tax bill based on a house with a taxable value of $140,000 would see a $50 annual increase. An $80,000 house would see a tax increase of about $28 annually.

The tax applies to real estate and vehicles.

The measure, officially called Proposition No. 1, must be approved by two-thirds of voters to pass. Turnout for the special election is expected to be low because nothing else is on the city ballot, helping proponents to target supporters and help get them to the polls.

The bond issue is the culmination of more than a year of back- and-forth debate among elected officials. Efforts stalled last year and earlier this year as the proposed price tag ballooned to nearly $200 million.

The city's Board of Aldermen eventually settled on $180 million, about a $25 million increase over the recommendations from the city's Capital Committee, which assesses the city's critical needs.

The aldermen added about $4 million for a city-administered home repair program, $2.6 million in recreation center repairs, additional money for building demolition and $10 million in ward capital money that will be spread out over their 28 wards. Each alderman controls a capital account, funded every year by the general budget, for ward improvements.

Lewis Reed, the president of the Board of Aldermen, said it was necessary to spread the money out over all the neighborhoods and give voters "something they like."

Earlier this month, Comptroller Darlene Green declared that she had a "fiscal concern" over the $10 million in aldermanic ward money. …

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