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Slay changes course; St. Louis postpones furloughs

Slay changes course; St. Louis postpones furloughs

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Updated at 3:50 p.m. to include President Lewis Reed's comments, and at 4:50 p.m. to include Mayor Francis Slay's.

ST. LOUIS • The city won't institute mandatory employee furloughs this year after all, Mayor Francis Slay's office announced this afternoon.

Slay attributed the good fortune to the Cards' "incredible run to the World Series."

City officials estimated the team's seven playoff games have generated almost $2 million in added tax dollars. World Series games six and seven could add another $900,000, the release said.

And that allows the city to cancel the furloughs, which staff estimated would have saved about $2.7 million.

Slay had supported emergency furloughs — the third in three years —this past August. He said that the one- or two-week pay cuts and corresponding mandatory time off were necessary to keep the city in the black.

But the mayor's counterparts on the city's top financial body  the Board of Estimate and Apportionment  didn't immediately agree.

Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed said the city was underestimating revenues for the year and wasn't sure the furloughs were necessary. Slay sternly warned of financial stability at the meeting, but, in the end, agreed to delay the vote until quarterly financial results were available.

Furloughs were again up for a vote last week. The meeting had to be rescheduled after the mayor's mother died that day. But Reed's chief of staff, Tom Shepard, said Reed had no intention of voting for the furloughs.

Furloughs require the city to declare a financial emergency. And with a surplus after the books closed last year, Reed - who is widely expected to run for mayor in 2013 - didn't think he could call the city's fiscal status an emergency.

"The playoffs make it that much better, but even without the playoffs, we didn't have a legitimate fiscal crisis," Reed said this afternoon. "We were outpacing the original budget projections. We're bringing in more tax revenue without the playoffs."

The Estimate and Apportionment meeting was rescheduled for next week.

But it now looks like the furlough vote won't be on the agenda.

"Back then, we had no idea the Cards would be in the world series," Slay said this afternoon.

Employees, he said, can breathe easy, at least through this summer.

Still, the mayor warned that the city is "far from out of the woods."

"We still have a very serious fiscal issue in the city," he said, and noted increasing pension costs and deferred maintenance.

As for the outcome of the series, Slay said he was rooting for a return to St. Louis for games six and seven (and the corresponding $900,000), but for the Cards to pull it out.

The rest of Slay's release  which does not mention Reed  reads:

To help cover rising pension costs and minimize layoffs, the City for the last three years furloughed managers for two weeks, and workers for one week. "We instituted furloughs to save jobs," Slay said. "That spread the pain around. But, it was still pain. Although the future remains cloudy, I am glad that we can lift this burden off of our employees."

That doesn't mean the City is out of the woods. Far from it. If the City does not address its skyrocketing pension costs immediately, next year's budget will be far worse. Plus, it must address deferred maintenance, especially its aging heavy duty truck fleet.

Because the mayor, the comptroller, and others in City government have made tough decisions, the City credit rating has actually improved since he took office  despite going through two stock market crashes and the deepest recession since the Great Depression. "We must remain fiscally smart and prudent," Slay said.

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