ST. LOUIS • The St. Louis Board of Aldermen approved the city’s $1.1 billion fiscal 2019 budget Friday.
Twenty-two aldermen voted for final passage of the spending plan, while 15th Ward Alderman Megan Green and 1st Ward Alderman Sharon Tyus voted no. Five aldermen were absent.
The $1.1 billion spending plan includes cuts to fill a $10 million shortfall as well as new revenue from two half-cent sales tax increases approved by voters last year.
The biggest changes from the budget’s first draft stem from a deal between 22nd Ward Alderman Jeffrey Boyd and St. Louis Treasurer Tishaura Jones, who will turn over parking revenue to restore 12 of the city’s neighborhood officers.
Neighborhood stabilization officers, or NSOs, act as liaisons between residents and the city, and the $800,000 in cuts to their personnel prompted public outcry and a push from city officials to find that money elsewhere. Jones has agreed to use parking revenue to save the officers, buy new tow trucks, and bolster the city’s savings by $10 million, in exchange for no cuts to her own staff and operating plan.
The amended budget previously hit a snag in the Board of Aldermen’s Ways and Means committee, which passed it out a week later than expected amid concerns from members who said the plan doesn’t adequately address concerns in north St. Louis wards.
What’s in the bill
While the city’s broader financial outlook still has officials concerned, this budget provides millions in new revenue to fund new initiatives through Proposition 1 for economic development and transit improvements, approved by voters in April; and Proposition P for police raises and other public safety needs, approved in November.
Most of the Prop P revenue is allocated to salary increases for police officers and firefighters. The rest is to be spent on staff and raises in the circuit attorney’s office, after-school and youth jobs programs, 11 new recreation positions and two new human services jobs.
Roughly $12 million in annual Prop 1 revenue is budgeted for transit improvements, with about $2 million each allocated for neighborhood stabilization, workforce development, public safety and infrastructure.
Other new expenses include first payments on the city’s Scottrade Center renovation debt and a state audit of St. Louis finances. The cost of that audit will be paid for over two to three years.
The spending plan includes $3.7 million for demolition of vacant buildings, funding for a new cadet program to attract and retain police officers and temporary air conditioning units for St. Louis’ Medium Security Institution, known as the Workhouse.
Additionally, there’s an increase in ward capital funds — a yearly pot of money each alderman receives for neighborhood improvements. They’ll each have $328,000 to work with in the new fiscal year.
The budget also adds $5.5 million to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. The fund was intended to contain a minimum of $5 million a year, an amount voters approved in 2002, but has consistently been shorted for years.
Homeless services will also get a boost, with $775,000 allocated for a new public administrator to advocate for the homeless, two outreach coordinators and improvements to Biddle House.
Overwhelmingly the biggest chunk of the budget goes to public safety: nearly 60 percent is allocated for a department that includes police, fire, the building division, the excise division and corrections.
Some city aldermen, like Green, have argued St. Louis spends too much on policing, at the expense of human and social services.
“Budgets are moral documents,” she wrote on Twitter after voting no on the budget Friday. “Our morals show we value locking people up more than supporting people.”
Others complained there isn’t enough spent to address crime plaguing the city.
“I agree it’s a tight budget. But I also wonder if there’s a lot of stuff in that budget that could have been changed or done differently where public safety would be more of a priority,” said 23rd Ward Alderman Joe Vaccaro.
Other city aldermen said the plan did not address the priorities in their wards, including 1st Ward alderman Tyus, who voted against approving the spending plan Friday amid complaints about the city’s failure to address blight, including keeping the grass cut in her ward.
While Jeffrey Boyd, who represents the 22nd Ward, called the measures to remove vacant homes “almost heroic,” citing hundreds of vacant properties in his ward.
Other aldermen complained the budget process limits their ability to control the city’s spending.
The budget process, including specific deadlines, is laid out in the city charter: The Board of Estimate and Apportionment, comprising Mayor Lyda Krewson, Aldermanic President Lewis Reed and Comptroller Darlene Green, must submit its proposed budget by May 1 every year.
That gives aldermen roughly two months to review it, hear from department heads, propose changes, and send the final bill to the mayor for signature. They can make cuts, but any additions require approval from the Board of Estimate and Apportionment.
“The Board of Aldermen has not had the appropriate time or adequate time to make cuts, to transfer money, or to have a genuine say-so in this budget process,” said John Collins-Muhammad, who represents the 21st Ward and was absent during the final vote on the spending plan Friday. “The current budget is full of unnecessary investment, high-paying salaries to people who do absolutely nothing, lack of a balanced budget and wasteful spending.”
Marlene Davis, who represents the 19th Ward, has noted that the committee’s work won’t end with a new budget.
“We know that we are a city that has less revenue than we’ve had in the last five years. And we know we need to work on it,” she said.
Erin Heffernan of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.