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Missouri Supreme Court ruling leaves unresolved the control of St. Louis parking funds

Missouri Supreme Court ruling leaves unresolved the control of St. Louis parking funds

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St. Louis parking revenue runs through Treasurer's office

The Park Louie surface lot adjacent to St. Louis City Hall collects revenue that is administered by the city treasurer's office. Photographed on Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017. Photo by Robert Cohen, rcohen@post-dispatch.com

ST. LOUIS — The question of whether the St. Louis city treasurer controls the city’s parking fund revenue remained unresolved following a Missouri Supreme Court ruling on Tuesday.

While the high court unanimously dismissed Treasurer Tishaura Jones’ appeal of a circuit judge’s 2018 decision voiding state laws assigning her to supervise the city parking commission, it didn’t rule on the merits of the issue.

Instead, the court said it can’t even consider an appeal at this point because the lower-court judge has yet to rule on some points raised by plaintiffs in the case.

The Supreme Court said it can only consider appeals of “final judgments.”

“Accordingly, this court has no choice but to dismiss,” the high court ruled.

Jones’ attorney, Chuck Hatfield, said the upshot is “I would expect we’ll be back on this same issue” before the Supreme Court at some future date with a new appeal.

City Counselor Julian Bush put it this way: “It’s a setback for the treasurer but the ultimate disposition remains in doubt.”

The ruling in question, by St. Louis Circuit Judge Michael Stelzer, had determined that state laws which created the parking commission and assigned the treasurer to supervise it violate the Missouri Constitution.

Part of the constitution bars laws that determine the functions of offices in cities with their own charters.

City aldermen have tried for years to tap into more of the city’s parking revenue.

The total operating revenue from parking meters, violations, city-owned garages, and lots and rental property for the 2016-17 fiscal year was roughly $18 million before expenses were paid.

But under state laws challenged in the lawsuit, only a portion of that money — about 40%, after expenses — goes into the city’s general coffers.

The lawsuit, filed in 2017 by Alderman Jeffrey Boyd, D-22nd Ward, and James Wilson, a former city counselor, sought to bring the city’s parking operations under municipal control.

The treasurer’s office contended that the Parking Commission wasn’t a municipal entity at all but a “county” office.

Judge Stelzer disagreed, noting that the laws in question require the city streets director, the chairman of an aldermanic committee on streets and the city comptroller all serve with Jones and her director of parking operations on the commission.

Thus, Stelzer had ruled, the state law created and fixed duties of some municipal officers in violation of the constitution.

State officials had joined Jones in appealing Stelzer’s ruling.

Officials with the treasurer’s office have said it has consistently given the city the maximum 40% of parking revenue set by state law.

They also say the office funded a study of a proposed new MetroLink route in the city and various economic development projects, and was willing to pay for Enterprise Center renovations.

Elkin Kistner, an attorney for Wilson and plaintiff Charles Lane, said all parties in the case had agreed to hold off seeking court action on certain points of contention while an appeal on the core issue moved forward.

He said among the issues yet to be decided by Judge Stelzer relates to spending by the treasurer’s Office of Financial Empowerment created by a city ordinance in 2014. The office provides credit and student loan counseling, money management seminars and other programs.

Among other issues pending is the legality of a college savings account set up by Jones’ office for all kindergarten students in the city’s public school system. Accounts are opened with $50 in seed money provided by residual revenue from the parking division.

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