St. Louis alderman wants ward exempted from occupancy fees

2012-05-07T15:33:00Z 2012-05-07T16:31:19Z St. Louis alderman wants ward exempted from occupancy feesBY DAVID HUNN • dhunn@post-dispatch.com > 314-436-2239 stltoday.com

ST. LOUIS • An increase in city occupancy fees moved a step closer to passage today, despite one alderman’s request for an exemption.

The fee increase, from $70 to $100 for one dwelling and from $25 to $50 for each additional unit, will pay for the city’s lead inspection and abatement program, which has lost all of its federal funding.

But Terry Kennedy, alderman in north St. Louis’s 18th Ward, asked bill sponsor and Public Safety Committee chair Greg Carter to leave his ward out.

Kennedy said that he is as concerned with lead poisoning and children’s health as any alderman. But he said some of his residents, fearful that city inspections could lead to the loss of their homes, would not easily agree to the bill.

Currently, the city inspects nearly all homes and apartments before new occupants can move in. Homeowners and landlords pay for that inspection in the form of an occupancy permit.

Kennedy’s ward is one of a few neighborhoods now outside what the city calls its Conservation District. Homes outside the district do not pay the occupancy fee and are not inspected.

This morning, however, other aldermen questioned the fairness of leaving out one ward. Would the fees collected in the rest of the city, they asked, then pay for any lead abatement in his ward?

The city has looked into other funding options for the lead inspections and cleanup, said city Deputy Building Commissioner Frank Oswald, but the occupancy fee increase seemed the fairest.

Without some increase in funding, he said, the city would lose its lead inspection and abatement program altogether.

Grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which have helped the city cut lead poisoning rates from nearly one-quarter – among the worst in the country – to about 3 percent, have dried up. The city got $7 million in 2006 and 2008, $3 million in 2011, but is not anticipating any federal dollars this coming fiscal year, Oswald said.

The occupancy fee increase would raise between $1.6 million and $2.3 million, Oswald told aldermen. Half would go to the city’s general fund, and half to the lead program.

Judith Riehl, executive director of the St. Louis Lead Prevention Coalition, urged aldermen at the meeting to find permanent funding for the program.

Riehl said she has recently seen a small uptick in the number of calls to her office from parents reporting lead poisoning in their children.

“There is no reason any child needs to be lead poisoned,” she said after the meeting. “It is absolutely preventable.”

Aldermen passed the measure out of committee 6-2, but Carter promised Kennedy it would not hit the full board without changes.

David Hunn covers St. Louis government and politics. Follow him on Twitter @davidhunn.

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